The Refined Madness of Phyllis Thaxter!

Published March 5, 2013 by biggayhorrorfan

womens-prison-1
Goodness and light! Darkness and spite! Chant that over a blackened pot, throw in some raw hamburger and you have witch’s stew! – Or the career of eclectic actress Phyllis Thaxter!

Steadfast Thaxter lit up such golden age projects as Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) and was a frequent guest star on such classic television anthologies as Climax!, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Suspicion. But her roles in a couple of 50’s era noir films and an appearance on the Boris Karloff hosted Thriller proved just how versatile she could get.

no man of her own4As pregnant Patrice Harkness in No Man of Her Own (1950), Thaxter is all winning sunshine. Taking Barbara Stanwyck’s disheveled, equally pregnant Helen under her wing, Thaxter/Harkness soon meets a violent fate in a train crash. The majority of the film focuses on Stanwyck’s Helen as she reluctantly assumes Harkness’ place and becomes embroiled in murder and blackmail. An almost perfect combination of hardboiled thriller and women’s picture, No Man of Her Own is Stanwyck’s show, but Thaxter provides the film’s heart. Her beaming energy makes Stanwyck’s later guilt and confusion truly believable.

womens prison 2Five years later, Thaxter herself was the emotionally wracked one as the mousy Helene Jensen in Women’s Prison. Convicted for accidentally killing a child in car crash, Thaxter’s Helene works herself into a nervous frenzy over every aspect of prison life. Believably distraught, she even goes into a coma after being placed in a straitjacket. Of course, Thaxter’s character is the typical innocent type that would be the main light of many a juicy ‘women in prison’ flick to follow. But, here the focus switches back and forth between other residents and locked down employees, as well. Other main characters include a sassy pregnant prisoner (noir regular Audrey Totter) and the vicious female warden (the influential actress-director Ida Lupino) who eventually gets her comeuppance. Significantly, despite its excessive exploitation angles, this film points out how even the most prosperous women are often at the mercy of the patriarchy – a chilling denouement.

It was in the 1961 ‘The Last of the Sommervilles’ episode of Thriller that Thaxter proved how potent she could be, though. The story opens up on Thaxter’s Ursula Sommerville casually getting rid of a dead body in the backyard. Things pick up in intensity from there. Ursula has been caring for her ailing and emotionally abusive aunt, Celia, with the obvious intent of collecting the old lady’s fortune upon her death. Even the arrival of Ursula’s cunning cousin, Rutherford, does nothing to dissuade her. One moment Thaxter reacts with calculated sweetness as Ursula and then the next with eye pinching fury. It is truly a multi-layered performance and one of Thaxter’s finest moments as a performer. In a nice twist, this episode was directed by her Women’s Prison co-star Lupino and even features host Karloff, in a one of his acting appearances on the series, as Aunt Celia’s eccentric friend, Dr. Albert Farnham. phyllis thaxter 2

Be sure to check back often as Big Gay Horror Fan frequently exposes the golden women of the macabre!

Big Gay Horror Fan, meanwhile, is always available for fortune hunting relatives at https://www.facebook.com/biggayhorrorfan.com as well!

Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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