Scanlines

("Scanlines" wishes to thank Encore Movies & Music, I [heart] Video, and Vulcan Video for their help in providing videos and laser discs.)

In Swamp Women (D: Roger Corman (1956); with Mike "Touch" Connors, Susan Cummings, Jil Jarmyn, Marie Windsor, Beverly Garland, Carole Mathews),Lee (Mathews) is an undercover policewoman posing as a gun dame to get the goods on "The Nardo Gang" (Windsor, Jarmyn, Garland) as they stage a breakout from women's prison and venture into the Louisiana swampland in search of a cache of diamonds. The gals run into oil explorer Bob (Connors) and his fiancee, then hijack his boat and take them hostage. Eventually, Josie (Windsor) drags out a bottle of hooch she smuggled along for the trip, and all the girls get tanked, take a hunting knife and cut off their denims to Daisy Duke length, tying their blouses up around their midriffs. After thus making things a little more interesting, they naturally do battle with nature footage of alligators; Bob's girlfriend is of course too whiny to live and eventually becomes gator chow. Bob doesn't get too worked up over it, though; actually he seems to take it pretty well, developing a healthy case of Stockholm syndrome toward his captors. He seems to have a marked effect on the man-hungry females, as they all get the hots for him one by one. Plenty of knock-down drag-out catfights ensue, with Josie stepping in to play referee each time. After a while, Vera (Garland) takes off with the revolvers, plotting to glom the gems all for herself, but the gals track her down and Josie fashions a spear to lob at her, after drawing her pistol fire in all directions so she runs out of ammo. This early Corman swamp romp moves fast and delivers the goods, with plenty of gal-rasslin', gun-shootin'‚ and spear-chuckin' action. Jil Jarmyn is a Marilyn-type named Billie, Marie Windsor is tough as usual (her blonde bleach job came in handy for Kubrick's The Killing), Beverly Garland comes across with snarly dialogue and a nasty delivery, and Mannix... sorry, Connors, is as stalwart as always, as he plays the field with the four female desperadoes. With its short running time, Swamp Women is a fun and furious bayou caper, made all the more interesting by Windsor's horror stories about the dreadful physical conditions of the shoot.

1948's Force of Evil (D: Abraham Polonsky; with John Garfield, Thomas Gomez, Beatrice Pearson, Howland Chamberlain, Roy Roberts, Jack Overman) features Garfield as Joe Morse, a syndicate lawyer lured in by his personal ambition and the allure of quick, plentiful money. He's bent on legitimizing his involvement in the numbers racket, but the obstacle is his brother Leo (Gomez), who refuses to sell out his small independent bookie joint to the mob. Joe finds himself attracted to one of Leo's employees, Doris (Pearson), who is disgusted by him, while bookkeeper Freddy (Chamberlain) commits himself to bringing down the entire scheme. Leo hates himself for his involvement in the numbers game, seeing himself as an honest small businessman caught up in a dirty business, and pays the ultimate penalty for his pigheaded refusal to knuckle under to the big boys. Mousy Freddy is also eliminated after the mob goons catch on to his angle, and the chain of events causes Joe to heed his conscience and come clean. In the noir world, things are seldom as they seem at the surface; morality is often cast in as many halftone shades of grey as the images on the screen themselves. Force of Evil's characters can't differentiate between organized crime and legitimate capitalism; given director Polonsky's involvement with Socialist causes (eventually leading to him being blacklisted by Hollywood), that certainly adds an added dimension of depth to the picture. Garfield's character is a likable heel, inextricably bound to a system and a set of morals that he doesn't fully understand, but Gomez, as Leo, turns in a bravura performance as a man who can't really live with his conscience, but struggles to convince himself that what he's doing is right, thereby justifying his disgust for his brother and giving himself a sense of moral higher ground. Marie Windsor is at her most slinky and feline as Edna, a married femme fatale who has designs on Garfield and manipulates him on behalf of the mob; exuding equal parts lazy, cynical sexuality, and danger; her role is a small but pivotal one. Polonsky often chooses to dwarf his characters with the enormity of New York landmarks in his shot compositions to convey a sense of menace and doom; the action sequences are marked by chaotic, rapid-fire editing that seems more in keeping with films from the Sixties. The dialogue, like many noir films, is highly stylized and rhythmic, but is delivered in naturalistic performances by all the actors. Force of Evil was dismissed as routine crime drama/gangster fare by the critics at the time, but has since been revered by the British and French, and is a provocative, ethically complex film that holds its own nearly 50 years after its release.

Stanley Kubrick's early effort, The Killing (1956); with Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook, Jr., Marie Windsor, Vince Edwards, Timothy Carey, Jay C. Flippen), is a caper film about a racetrack heist in which each member of the heist team has a specific role to play, and all the roles have to be executed in exact synchronization with each other for the operation to work. Johnny Clay (Hayden), an ex-con, is the brains of the gang, rounding up a crew of non-criminals to pull off the job and split the money. The flashback is a familiar device in film noir and crime dramas; however, The Killing uses multiple flashbacks to show the role of each member as the clock counts down to the crucial moment when all the winnings are in the counting room and Johnny bursts in wielding a shotgun. A shot of draught horses pulling the starting gate into position is used again and again as a time reference to illustrate how each member of the crew does his job, eventually fitting all the pieces together like a puzzle. The plan begins to fall apart, however, when Sherry Peatty (Windsor), wife of the browbeaten teller, spills the beans to her boyfriend, Val (Edwards); he comes into the rendezvous point with his henchmen to make off with the loot and a shootout ensues. Though based on the novel Clean Break by Lionel White, the credits read "Dialogue by Jim Thompson," and the plot certainly bears all the fatalistic earmarks of one of Thompson's novels: a ragged cast of antihero misfits who are eventually brought down by their own avarice. Kubrick's camera was well on the way to finding the fluid style of his later work, and the sparse, low-budget circumstances give the film a raw, urgent sort of look. As good as the story and direction are, the strength of The Killing lies in the characters and characterizations. Timothy Carey plays Nikki, the weird, stoned-acting, near-beatnik sniper hired to shoot a horse during the race as a diversion; Elisha Cook, Jr. uses his slightly bug-eyed, hangdog mien to great advantage as the timid teller George Peatty; Kola Kwarian is the intellectual, chess-playing wrestler who starts a riot; Sterling Hayden is at his flinty best as the ringleader of the group. Marie Windsor is purely treacherous, tempting, traitorous trouble (all with a capital T) as Sherry Peatty (according to Marie, Kubrick saw her performance in The Narrow Margin and said, "That's my Sherry"). Her performance is suitably languid in some very uncomfortable scenes in which the poisonous atmosphere of their marriage turns lethal. James Ellroy once stated that "...perfectly planned heists go bad because daring heist men are self-destructive losers playing out their parts in a preordained endgame with authority," and that just about sums up The Killing. — Jerry Renshaw


A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle