Sunday, January 22, 2012

It's been a couple of decades since I've seen this low budget Paramount potboiler, and over the years I remembered it as being pretty deranged...but until a revisit I didn't realize just how brilliant the damned thing really is. Say, if Quentin Tarantino had directed a movie in 1941, it might look something like this genre-bending lollapalooza.

Ostensibly an early-noir courtroom melodrama (with the heroine detailing her abduction into white slavery and ruination), things go literally ape-shit at the halfway mark when mad scientist George Zucco steps in (narratively, from out of nowhere) and...

...transplants her freshly-executed brother's brain into a gorilla's skull!

Also, keep an eye out for imagery towards the end of the clip that makes this seem as if it were ripped from a Ministry video (circa "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste"). Even the soundtrack fits...and dig that crazy transition to the accordion player!

The thing is, while definitely tongue-in-cheek, the movie still plays its absurd premise straight. Which is probably the reason for its general obscurity* The degradation of its protagonists (Capra-esque wholesomeness being sucked into pre-code seediness) must have been perplexing to the moviegoing public at the time. And although it doesn't overtly dwell on the prostitution aspect, the inherent tone still surprises me that the film made it past the Hays Code scissors.

And to a contemporary audience, it's easy to miss the deliberate proto-camp intent of the filmmaker and dismiss it as something akin to PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.

Formerly an editor, this was director Stuart Heisler's second film
(after the 1936 obscurity STRAIGHT FROM THE SHOULDER), although he also served as second unit director on John Ford's THE HURRICANE in the interim.

1941 was a pivotal year for Heisler,
with the psychological horror of AMONG THE LIVING arriving soon after and an adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's THE GLASS KEY following in 1942, establishing him as one of the earliest pioneers of film noir.

Heisler's direction here is assured and even meta at times, but the arch send-ups of established genres of the period also reflects the giddiness of a filmmaker
still searching for his voice.

The movie saw a VHS release as part of the Universal Horror series back in the 90s, but I'm assuming poor sales derailed any hope for a DVD.

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