Sunday 14 October 2007

Homicidal (1961) William Castle

Miriam Webster breezes into a new town and makes herself noticed. Apart from being a striking blonde, she books a double room at a hotel while making it known she's single, flirts with the bellboy and asks him if he's married, then gets changed while he gets ice. She offers him a two thousand dollar tip for a bizarre plan. She wants him to pick her up at midnight on a specific date, so they can get married and then annul the ceremony. He plays ball, knowing that there's something strange in the request, never expecting that she'll murder the justice of the peace in cold blood the moment after he completes the ceremony.

We follow her home to a very cool house where we soon discover that she's not who we thought, given that the real Miriam Webster comes to visit. She's really Emily, the nurse of Helga Swenson, an old mute woman in a wheelchair who communicates by rapping on the wooden frame of her chair. She's obviously looney tunes but there's obviously some serious method to her madness. Our story is there to answer all these questions, and while it isn't too difficult to work it out ahead of the disclosures, it's done very nicely indeed and is deliciously twisted. Also even with the knowledge of what's going on, it's still notably tense as we try to guess how it's all going to play out.

The cast is varied. 'Jean Arless', better known as Joan Marshall, is superb and very beautiful in a difficult role. I haven't seen her before, but she seems fascinating. Beyond her quirky work here, she was apparently cast as Phoebe Munster, and appeared in the initial pilot that was shown only to network execs, before being replaced by Yvonne de Carlo as the renamed Lily Munster, given that Phoebe was apparently too close to Morticia Addams. She later married director Hal Ashby, who purportedly used her as the real life inspiration for his film Shampoo.

On the other hand, the nominal leads fall flat. Patricia Breslin isn't bad as Miriam Webster, but she's easily forgettable. Leading man Glenn Corbett is a striking cross between Chester Morris and Tony Curtis, but is far less charismatic than say Robby the Robot. He's just a cardboard cutout of an actor, so it's no wonder that he ended up as a regular on Dallas. Stage actress Eugenie Leontovich is great as the mute invalid Helga but she doesn't get a huge amount of screen time.

And of course it's a William Castle movie, so there's bound to be something odd going on, courtesy of the god of gimmicks. This time round there's a hokey on screen introduction from the man himself and a 45 second fright break shortly before the end that involves an actual on screen clock counting down while those audience members who couldn't take the strain could leave for a coward's corner somewhere in the auditorium where they couldn't see the screen.

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