She played feisty yet loyal lovers in a series of ‘50s action and adventure pieces like Yankee Pasha and Gunfight at O.K. Corral. Bob Hope also called upon her extravagant sense of humor in such projects as The Great Loverand Alias Jesse James. Her lush looks and rare beauty worked for her in other ways as well, giving the glorious Rhonda Fleming a delightfully tangible way to embody perfect visions of calculating evil.
Eschewing her initial naivete – she and her mother had to look up what a nymphomaniac was when she was cast in Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound – Fleming brought vivid life to a number of noir vixens. 1953’s Inferno capitalized on the 3D phase while also giving her the excuse to bring what was possibly her most evil character to the celluloid universe. As Geraldine Carson, this red headed goddess viciously plots to murder her husband, played with gruff humanity by eternally sympathetic tough guy Robert Ryan. Thus, her dry and dusty downfall here was relished by movie lovers everywhere.
The suave Efrem Zimbalist Jr. also was dealt a calculating blow when dealing with Fleming’s adulterous Cheryl Heath in The Crowded Sky. As a pilot facing a deadly incident, as this film is a precursor to the all star disaster films of the ‘70s, Zimbalist’s character also must deal with the emotional fallout of Cheryl’s heartless manipulations. Viewers, therefore, are not surprised when the film’s fadeout reveals his intents to leave her behind, no matter Fleming’s seemingly irresistible devious lusciousness.
Horror Hall of Fame:
Besides her compelling work with Hitchcock in Spellbound, Fleming brought a steady heart and calm demeanor to her portrayal of the loyal yet doomed Blanche in 1946’s gothic horror The Spiral Staircase.
The one time queen of MGM…and Warner Brothers…and the daytime soap scene, Joan Crawford has a special place in the heart of distinguished horror lovers everywhere. Allowing herself to be humbled for her art, she gave victimhood a special glow in the classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Her subsequent terror offerings may not have been as distinguished as this oft nominated chiller, but they sure were fun! From Strait Jacket to Berserk! to Trog, the lady Crawford always gave her professional best.
She was similarly committed when given a song and dance number to do in The Hollywood Revue of 1929.
Meanwhile, The Best of Everything: A Joan Crawford Encyclopedia covers everything else that this golden age superstar accomplished in her lifetime.
Her specialized take on honorable, suffering women made the distinguished Kay Francis one of the highest paid female stars of the ‘30s. Considered to be “as a responsive as a violin” (by none other than William Powell), Francis used this versatility to expand her career as that decade came to a close.
Cast as Cary Grant’s manipulative wife in 1939’s In Name Only, Francis’ Maida Walker was a woman who could – and did – drive men to suicide. Subtly maneuvering the family of Grant’s unhappy Alec into her corner, Francis’ character almost destroys his future with Carole Lombard’s loving and artistic Julie Eden. A final confrontation with Julie reveals Maida’s true motivations to all, though, and Francis slinks off with shocked elegance at the film’s close out. Subtly underplaying her character’s flint hard anger, Francis shines with sense of brittle control mixed with an acidic softness here, allowing the audience to feel a bit of sympathy for her while also delighting in her downfall.
Taking the vengefulness of Maida a step further, Francis’ dominating Sheila Seymour is a crime boss extraordinaire in 1945’s Allotment Wives. The head of a ring of women determined to milk soldiers of their savings, Francis is coldly charming once again here. Even when gunning down her opposition in cold blood, Francis shines with a hypnotic allure. As with In Name Only, Francis connects fully with the character’s emotional softness, manifested by this character’s beloved daughter, allowing the audience to feel a twinge of compassion for her actions even when they are homicidal in nature.
While not as well remembered as Bette Davis, her professional rival at Warner Brothers, Francis still has her devoted fans and a number of books and a website dedicated to her career and life.
Music has that distinctive power to shoot you into various points in your timeline. A recent listen to Sad Day, the FKA Twigs’ track that owes much sonic inspiration to the genre hopping brilliance of Kate Bush, brought me back to my high school days. As with many LGBTQIA youth, those years weren’t my happiest. One fond memory does linger with me, decades later, though.
My parents always seemed to be late to pick me up from activities. Sometimes I waited for hours outside of buildings or, in happier and warmer circumstances, in lonely, darkened hallways. My senior year I was in a production of William Inge’s Picnic and, after opening night, I found myself all alone in the shadowy caverns of the school cafeteria waiting, once again, to be familially retrieved. I had a huge broken down cassette player with me and I spent the entirety of my waiting time listening to The Kick Inside, Bush’s glorious debut recording, which I had bootlegged from a bootlegged tape of a friend. Soaking in the genius of Bush’s nimble soprano fed lyrics in that solitary state, I realized the space I was in would soon be a distant memory. I felt profound and beautiful, inching a bit closer to the wild creative freedoms of adulthood.
Fans, of course, know that particular recording features Wuthering Heights, a beautiful homage to the world famous gothic novel. Bush would continue to explore those darker worlds in subsequent recordings, including Lionheart’s Hammer Horror. Detailing the travails of an actor being haunted by another while taking on the role of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, this single was a mild chart success in Britain, but is held in high regard by nostalgic horror lovers everywhere.
Queer writer and Midwest bon vivant Aaron Eischeid brought his A game to the holiday episode of Dagger Cast! Promoting A Scry for Help, his demon inspired tale of grief, Eishcheid regaled us with tales of Clive Barker and conjuring….and even answered a few of our goofy questions about Santa tinged slashers!
This episode also marks Dagger Cast’s one year anniversary. It’s been such an amazing pleasure to chat with all of our guests…and to do all those gloriously goofy post show photo shoots! We can’t wait to continue with more sonic (and visual) alternative horror adventures in 2020!
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!
Best known for her enthusiastic portrayal of Pink Lady Paulette in Grease 2and for her famous lineage, Lorna Luft also joined the ranks of horror goddesses with her role in the Tales of the Darkside episode The Shrine.
The veteran of countless musical theater productions, Luft also knows her way around a torch song as evidenced by her take on The Music That Makes Me Dance:
Of course, New Wave enthusiasts are aware that she also backed up the likes of Debbie Harry, most notably on the popular Eat to the Beat track Slow Motion, and Hilly Michaels in the early ‘80s, making this performing dynamo a true delight in almost every entertainment medium imaginable.
With cheekbones that could have cut you like a quick blade, the striking Joan Woodbury actually brought a truly cozy energy to her many screen roles. Whether adopting a slight accent (King of the Zombies) or blonde locks (The Chinese Cat), she always radiated with warmth and easy humor.
The Living Ghost, an old dark house style murder mystery, especially gave her a chance to shine with a screwball wit. Paired against the wisecracking James Dunn, Woodbury truly steals the show here with her glamorous fashions and good natured bantering.
Proceeding Brooke Shields by decades, Woodbury was also the first actress to bring famed comic strip reporter Brenda Starr to life. Although, she is perhaps more significantly known for her multiple roles in the Charlie Chan programmers, including Charlie Chan on Broadway.
But with credits in everything from Bride of Frankenstein to popular musicals (Bring on the Girls, Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies), Woodbury is truly deserving of appreciation from old school film lovers of every imaginable genre in glorious perpetuity.
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!