Dark Passage

April 24, 2012

Vincent Parry is on the lam after escaping from San Quentin where he was doing time for the murder of his wife.  Irene Jensen knows he didn’t do it, just as her father didn’t kill his wife, and she just happens to drive by during his escape from prison.  They become close.  He gets his face rearranged.  He goes to her house to recuperate.

The doc says he has to sleep on his back, with his arms tied to the bed to make certain he doesn’t turn over.  Good morning, Vince. Guess you’re feeling like you’d like to be untied now.


Watch the Skies!

November 6, 2011

The Thing from Another World (1951), is a film that influenced a lot of sci-fi movies that came after it.  I don’t know if there are any similar ones that preceded it, but it surely was the mold for much boring and formulaic stuff that I watched as a boy.  The TV  Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea comes to mind with its standard ‘monster epic’ plotting:  strange, destructive things happen; monster revealed and monster rampages; solution found, monster killed – all is well.  But The Thing, however preposterous it is as a sci-fi story, is a wonderful entertainment because of its characters, pacing, and dialog.

Anyway, just what thing from another world are we talking about?  Men from Mars and women from Venus?  The captain and the fetching assistant in the North Pole station have some romantic missteps from a drunken bar encounter to put behind them:  he suggests that she tie up his wandering hands, and she agrees.  “I’ll bring a rope, ” he says.  He does, and they’re loving it!

The captain’s a crack officer – he leaves off the sexy hijinks to do his duty and check station security.  After a bungled attempt to lift a flying saucer out of the ice – they burned it up by accident – they retrieved the alien pilot from the ice and brought it back to their station.  A negligent guard covered the iced-alien with an electric blanket to hide the ugly sight, but the blanket was on!  Oops again.  The alien broke free as its ice block melted, and proceeded to escape, loosing an arm in the process.

Examining the arm, the chief scientist realizes that the alien is a vegetable.  There’s a metaphor there somewhere.  He is enthralled by the idea of an anthropoid being reproducing with the more efficient botanical method, rather than the messy, chaotic, and uncontrolled sexual technique we inferior humans employ.  “No emotion at all!”  It also turns out that the alien is sustaining itself by drinking the blood of sled dogs it kills.

The characters make many snappy references to army bureaucracy, at one point lampooning the complex and long-winded army regulatory memoranda by which they are supposed to abide, while they repeatedly bungle their work, and the garbled radio messages provide a humorous counterpoint.  A directive to keep the alien prisoner arrives just after it escapes.   At one point, the men point out that according to Army documents, UFOs are simply an illusion, an example of mass hysteria.  Carl Jung agreed.  The men chuckle.

The scientist is a stock character, so wrapped up in his intellectual passion – “It doesn’t matter if we die, we must communicate with it!” that he achieves a sort of comic grandeur.  Of course, his sexual frigidity – the comely assistant is his amanuensis, that’s the only way he uses her – is a funny contrast to her penchant for bondage games with the captain.

How do you kill a vegetable?  The woman supplies the answer:  boil it, steam it, fry it… When will we properly value women’s work as homemakers?  The scientist tries to reason with the green giant, offering himself as disciple to the greater wisdom of the alien.  Mr. Vegetable replies, humor again, with a grunt and a shove.  Then he’s fried, or is he being crucified?

The newsman is finally given permission to broadcast his inspiring scoop to the press, and he concludes with the warning to all Earthlings to “watch the skies.”  Indeed.  The Russians are coming – it’s the Cold War after all, and things are seen in the skies.


La Duchesse de Langeais

April 22, 2009

Hausonville

From Balzac’s History of the Thirteen, we have this novel about a coquette noblewoman who goes a bit too far.  She revels in teasing men and making them think she will be theirs, only to dump them and watch them squirm.  She meets her match in the smoldering General Montriveau, an idealized self-portrait of the author.

Once the General realizes that she is only playing with him, he concocts a scheme to teach her a thing or two – he has his men, initiates to the cabal of The Thirteen, abduct her and prepare to scorch her brow with a hot brand.  Talk about scarlet letters!  There is much knotting and unbinding of wrists and ankles as she is led here and there, blindfolded, to undisclosed locations before being deposited back at her party from which she was snatched.  Her footmen are all drunk – part of the plot no doubt.

The General scorns rape as undignified – she falls in love with him, truly, after being totally in his power, power which he disdains to exercise over her.  (He drops the branding idea when she instantaneously, under the influence of her helplessness, goes from ice-queen coquette to passionate adorer of him.)

Balzac is always very discreet, but the overtones of sadism, misogyny, kinky sexual passions, and brutal sexual warfare are quite strong.  My apologies to J. A. D. Ingres for defacing his masterpiece, Madame Contesse D’Hausonville, now hanging in the Frick Collection in New York, one of my favorite museums.


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