Sunday 19 October 2008

Wicked, Wicked (1973)

You know when a film from 1973 opens with an introductory passage about how it is bringing in 'a new concept in motion picture technique' that it's going to be a failure. If it worked, everyone would be using that technique today and the original would likely look dated; if it didn't work, it would have been forgotten about. Duo-Vision is a great example of the latter: it uses the time honoured split screen technique but doesn't quit, leaving almost the entire film split between two different scenes. The catchphrase was: 'no glasses: all you need are your eyes'.

I guess even MGM, the biggest of the studios, got a little experimental on occasion and this one must have cost quite a bit. Thinking about it, this 95 minute film has about 190 minutes of footage in it, literally enough for two movies or one if you're aiming for an epic. 190 minutes puts it firmly into David Lean territory! There's definitely stock footage here. I'm sure the montage during the bedroom scene comes from the vaults and I did recognise one other bit of film: the Liz Taylor car crash from BUtterfield 8, here her red car is a red herrring.

Surprisingly, while Wicked, Wicked is certainly no classic of whichever genre you want to count it as (mystery, slasher, horror), it's actually not that bad and the duo-vision gimmick is surprisingly effective. I can see why it didn't last though: it's draining on the eyes because we're having to pay extra attention and consistently focus on two separate things at the same time. That's a lot easier to do for a short few clips here and there than a whole movie.

Also, the way it generally works is that one screen tells the main story and the other fills in the rest: whether that be detail shots, alternative perspectives, flashbacks, wish fulfilment scenes, the other side of the conversation and so on. Sometimes it even just provides mood music, with an organist playing excerpts from The Phantom of the Opera. The catch is that there's not always something interesting for the second half of the film to show, so every now and again we can happily ignore it. Amazingly the best shot in the film is one that looks like a split screen but isn't.

There is a story here. There's a psycho loose in the Grandview Hotel and he's killing cute blonde guests and using them to learn about embalming science. There's no real mystery about whodunit or even why he dunit, as they're well defined though the background scenes. Hotel detective Rick Stewart investigates the mysterious skipping out on their bills that these young ladies seem to be doing, only to start to piece together the puzzle. He also gets a personal stake in the matter when his ex-wife turns up to become the new lounge singer, puts on a blonde wig for her act and promptly becomes the next potential victim.

It seems strange to say that there's not a lot here, given that there's actually twice as much of everything, but that's how it feels. We get a lot of background stories, explaining who the characters are and why they are who they are, but the background stories overwhelm the main one to the degree that we really forget about it and concentrate instead on those details. I ended up not caring how Stewart caught the killer, I was more interested in what the killer's evil foster mum got up to when he was younger or how Mrs Karadyne had escaped from her past.

The cast are interesting in a minor way. David Bailey, who plays the detective, is a soap opera actor and looks and acts precisely like one. He was a regular on Another World, a daytime soap, and wouldn't appear in another film for seventeen more years, returning in a comedy short called In a Pig's Eye. Lounge singer and target Lisa James is Tiffany Bolling, who started a singing career for real around this time, which foundered pretty quickly. She did better in a collection of exploitation films, such as The Candy Snatchers and The Centerfold Girls. Mrs Karadyne is Madeleine Sherwood, best known as the Mother Superior in The Flying Nun TV series but who also appeared in earlier films like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth.

It's all definitely more interesting than good though. The gimmick is definitely worth watching once, but you'll probably not want to revisit it again. There's much here to enjoy but once it's done it's done and there's not much past the gimmick to remember.


jervaise brooke hamster said...

Hal, i think you should reveiw Robert Aldrichs 1977 masterwork "TWILIGHTS LAST GLEAMING" its an astonishing and ludicrously under-rated film with a lot of interesting split-screen effects similar to (although not exactly the same as) "WICKED, WICKED". By the way, when you watch the Aldrich movie make sure you see the complete uncut version (with all the political subtext in tact the way he originally intended) as opposed to the edited (although admittedly still very entertaining) version.

Hal C. F. Astell said...

Thanks. I'll keep my eyes open for it. That's a peach of a cast, albeit without the most obvious name for a film with this title.

Oh say! Can you see Rockets Redglare in Twilight's Last Gleaming? Nah, too early.