Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve with Diana Dors



The Siren didn't get you a Christmas present. Or a Hanukkah gift, or a Kwanzaa offering, or anything else, and she's sorry, because she loves you all, she does. So here's her gift to you, for New Year's: a link. Click right here and watch the 1956 British noir/social drama, Yield to the Night, in its entirety. The movie stars Diana Dors and was directed by J. Lee Thompson, who went on to helm Ice Cold in Alex, Cape Fear and Guns of Navarone. It's on Region 2 (and was screened a couple of years ago at the Film Forum) but isn't available on DVD here in the U.S. The link was given to the Siren by the generous gentleman named Dan Leo. And now she passes it along.

The Siren warns you, because she can’t deal with the guilt if she doesn’t, that this downbeat movie will not have anyone clinking the champagne glasses. Still, it does have a New Year’s Eve angle--basically, a PSA--which the Siren will note in due course. But at some point soon, please, carve 90-some-odd minutes out of your schedule and watch. Then come back and read this post.

Did you do it? Good. If you didn't, oh, what the hell; this movie is not about plot twists.

Whoever programmed for the PBS Alabama affiliate during the Siren’s girlhood had a raging obsession with a children’s movie called The Amazing Mr. Blunden, or perhaps had acquired a royalty-paying interest in it. Whatever, the (wo)man threw Blunden on the schedule on a regular basis. The Siren and her sister saw Mr. Blunden so many times we'd talk back to the screen in Bama-bred British that would have had Tom Shone grimacing in pain: "Tew layte, Mistah Blunden! Yew're awwlways tew layte!"

The Amazing Mr. Blunden meant Young Siren thought Diana Dors was a character actress who looked like this




and it was a few years before she found out that au contraire, Dors spent her time at the top looking like this:



Dors has a small part in David Lean's towering version of Oliver Twist and a larger one in A Kid for Two Farthings, Carol Reed's entry in that great genre, "Cry Your Eyes Out Over an Animal.” Neither movie prepared the Siren for Yield to the Night. It was Dors' big acting break and, despite the way her career played out, melancholy proof that she deserved other parts as good as this one.

Yield to the Night boasts a pre-credits opening that starts with a shot of a woman’s feet, surrounded by pigeons, seamed stockings tapering down into high heels. We follow her as though spying, the camera crouching and peering from behind fountains, through banisters and gates. She gets into a taxi and when she emerges we see the back of her platinum head and the sway of her coat with each step. Her black-gloved hand tries a key in an ornate door as a chrome-trimmed car pulls up. The ominous, drumming soundtrack gives way to the cocktail-ready music on the car’s radio as this mink-clad woman’s foot is shown, shoeless on the gas pedal. She slides her elegant pump back on and walks around the front of the car. Through the windows of another parked car, we watch her lean through the open window to gather her packages from the day’s shopping. The mink lady opens her front door, the one we just saw. The blonde’s feet are reflected in a hubcab before we move up to her little cloth clutch, and she takes out what we’ve surely been expecting--a gun. The mink lady reaches through the car window for more packages, and the blonde fires into her back. Then, finally, we get a good look at the face of the blonde as she continues to fire and the victim collapses.



And what do you know--the blonde is Diana Dors, tossing the gun pointedly between the mink lady’s prostrate legs. As people rush to the scene, there’s a zoom to that sensual face as Dors savors the one moment of heavily qualified triumph this character is ever going to get. The expression begins to dissolve into apprehension almost right away, as a man looks up at her in bewilderment.

A socko opening, worthy of being compared to Wyler’s version of The Letter.



As soon as the credits are over, here’s our blonde in prison. No trial scenes--they would be silly anyway, since Mary Hilton (Dors) didn’t exactly try to commit the perfect murder. Yield to the Night is not a whodunit, but on one level a whydunit, Hilton’s time on the British Death Row alternating with flashbacks to show How She Came to This, a noirish backstory combined with chilling prison scenes.

The film quickly establishes prison’s relentless infantilization of the condemned woman. The male chaplain and lawyer call the prisoner “Mrs. Hilton” and talk to her in an optimistic head-patting way that they clearly don’t even buy themselves. But to the women who guard her, Mary is “Hilton,” like a schoolgirl. Regal-featured Yvonne Mitchell plays the guard, Hilda MacFarlane, who forms the closest bond with Mary. In her first scene, MacFarlane fetches sleeping tablets, prescribed to get Hilton through the first night of knowing she’ll be hanged in less than three weeks. Then she lays a black cloth across Mary’s eyes; the lights in the cell are always on, probably to prevent Hilton from using darkness to cheat the hangman.




Hilton can’t choose her books or her pastimes, she can’t even cut her own nails. The guards do it for her while she sits in the bath, perfect skin gleaming with water, arm passively outstretched, in a recurring image that evokes both the birth of Venus and the death of Marat. Yet Hilton still tries to claw back life’s decisions; one of the first things she says to the guards is a peevish, “I don’t want any cocoa.” She demands to go to bed early, she sweeps chess pieces onto the floor, she must be coaxed to eat. Hilton can flash resentment at reminders of her fate, such as late in the movie, when a hapless substitute guard tries to go through the door--always shut and elaborately ignored--that leads to the execution chamber. Dors’ expression and her acid “Not that one” are more frightening than her demeanor when committing murder. Other times, she relishes reminding the guards of their ghoulish duties, telling MacFarlane that a black cloth over the eyes is what you’d put on someone facing a firing squad. The guards fuss over Hilton, making sure she wears her cloak on cold walks, keeping her inside during inclement weather, cleaning and bandaging her blistered heel; it’s an all-female world of denial and futility.




The flashbacks show Mary as a white-hot beauty who asserts herself less than does Hilton, the bare-faced, straw-haired, sullen prisoner. She meets the agent of her doom, the feckless, handsome Jim (Michael Craig), and falls in love with him almost immediately. Mary doesn’t care that at their first encounter, Jim is selecting a bottle of her favorite perfume (“Christmas Rose”) as a gift for another woman. As her affection for Jim grows, his interest wanes, as it always does with such men. All he wants is an easy road to an easy life. Mary--already married and stuck with a dead-end job in a dead-end postwar Britain--can’t give it to him.

The attempts to hold him become frantic after he dumps Mary for the rich woman she’ll eventually shoot dead in the street. Despite his essential worthlessness, Jim is educated, a piano player with copies of poetry lying around his dingy flat. He pretends the books are leftovers from school, but Mary doesn’t believe him. There is, in this wastrel, a thread that she could pick up to a life that isn’t just days behind a counter and evenings with panting men. Those loud, vulgar suitors aren’t altogether bad sorts; they treat her with some kindness, certainly more than she receives from Jim. But Dors’ face as she looks at her lover shows yearning not just for him, but for something beyond the seediness.

At the time she made Yield to the Night, Dors herself was married to a man who could be charitably described as not worth the trouble. The Siren wonders if that parallel ever crossed the actress’s mind, or if she was too in thrall to her husband to note the coincidence. Dors’ looks were extraordinary, a boneless oval face dominated by extravagant lips that today’s actresses spend thousands failing to achieve. And her figure, mamma mia; not to mention that the fashion in British underpinnings was evidently less confining than on our side of the Atlantic. In any event, the Siren finds Dors as strong in the flashbacks as she is in the harsher prison scenes, because Dors makes you believe that a woman who looks like that would still obsess over a man who doesn’t want her. Now of course, this happens in real life all the time; but on screen, many’s the sex symbol who would have a hard time selling that kind of self-abnegation.

The climax of the flashbacks comes on New Year’s Eve, as Mary, ravishing in a white lace dress that she spent her last cent on, waits by the telephone for Jim’s call. And here is the New Year’s PSA: if you are thinking of standing someone up for the first time in 2012, watch this scene and repent. If at some point in your dissipated existence, you already stood up someone, watch this scene, then go to your room and think about what you did.



Movies that stack the deck in favor of an obvious social message seem to fare badly with critics these days, but the Siren simply doesn’t care as long as the drama works; and Yield to the Night is a striking movie whatever your beliefs. In 2006 film scholar Melanie Williams paid tribute in The Independent; she quoted director Thompson: "For capital punishment you must take somebody who deserves to die, and then feel sorry for them and say this is wrong. We did that in Yield to the Night: we made it a ruthless, premeditated murder." The filmmakers were aided by real life; the release of the movie came shortly after the execution of Ruth Ellis, a case later dramatized in Dance With a Stranger. (If you scroll down, there is a good account of the Ellis case at this marvelous London history blog, including an ineffably creepy photo of the bullet holes she left, visible to this day on the wall of a Hampstead pub.)

Yield to the Night is often described as a fictionalized account of the Ellis case, but that isn’t correct. Joan Henry wrote the book and screen treatment several years before Ellis committed murder. Henry herself had served eight months in two prisons for unknowingly passing a bad check, and she spent years afterward campaigning for prison reform, even making an earlier movie with Thompson, The Weak and the Wicked. That film also starred Dors. In a final, cold coincidence, Ellis and Dors knew each other from Ellis’ brief work on a more typical Dors vehicle, Lady Godiva Rides Again.

Life, then, conspired at the time to give Yield to the Night a ghastly relevance. Williams compares its effect to Orwell’s essay on witnessing a hanging, where “it's only when he sees the condemned man do something as simple as walk around a puddle to avoid getting his feet wet on the way to the scaffold, a tiny, futile gesture of self-preservation on the brink of death, that Orwell is struck by the ‘unspeakable wrongness’ of what is about to happen.” More than fifty years on, watching Diana Dors’ last bits of physical affection--a few seconds spent picking up a cat in a prison yard--the Siren still found the movie relevant. She wishes it weren’t.

54 comments:

bitter69uk said...

I'm a hardcore Diana Dors fan and can't believe I've never managed to see Yield to the Night -- widely considered her best film and best performance. The DVD has been on my LOVEFiLM wish list for ages. I'll definitely watch it via your link on Youtube tomorrow when am hung over.

The Siren said...

There's a number of Dors movies turning up on Youtube. So far this is the only one I've watched but it's a lulu.

Dan Leo said...

Excellent, dear Siren. As usual I am in awe of your writing.

One thing I really liked about this movie was the way it avoided some easy redemption for Hilton. You know she's going to be hanged, she knows it, everyone else knows it, and there's nothing good about it. I was so glad they didn't show the execution. After all that had gone before, well, that would just have been too overwhelming. If they had shown it, even just the march to the gallows, I think I would have been bedridden for at least a week.

I did watch one of the other Dors pictures that's popped up on Youtube, the complete opposite of "Yield", but fun, with Dors playing her more typical Monroe/Mansfield part, a very good-natured gold-digging showgirl, and with John Gregson in the Rock Hudson/Tony Randall part, "Value For Money".

Peter Nellhaus said...

I got hooked watching the two part biographical movie about Dors, Blonde Bombshell. Also on Youtube. According to that film, Dors was talked into turning down parts in Look Back in Anger and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which she eventually regretted. Since the some of the names were changed, I had no idea she was married to Richard Dawson.

Trish said...

Well... it's not often I pause the Marx Brothers, but when the Siren calls, it's a given. I remember seeing Diana Dors films on Sunday afternoons, but I honestly don't know if I've seen this one. After taking care of a few domestic chores, I'll definitely sit down for those 90 minutes.

The Siren said...

Peter, she'd have been good in either one; a pity. There's a few others I'd like to see; The Deep End, Tread Softly Stranger. And The Weak and the Wicked, the story of the Iowa caucuses...Anyway, she died at the appallingly early age of 52 but I get the impression that a lot of Brits still love her dearly. Shipman is quite waspish about her and didn't like Yield to the Night either, but obviously I thought it was swell.

Dan, I need to watch more Dors, clearly. I can't thank you enough for pointing me to this one. I wanted to write it up right away but it took me a while; and I also wanted to track down whether or not it was really based on the Ellis case, which it turns out isn't true.

Trish, you may need to cue the Marx brothers back up after this one; it is a dark film. But worth it. And makes you appreciate life, which after all isn't a bad New Year's message.

Which reminds me -- Happy New Year, everyone!

Dan Leo said...

Oh, I totally forgot to give you the heads up, Siren, but the same channel has "Tread Softly Stranger", with Diana in total beeyotch mode: early Kitchen Sink meets Noir. You can almost smell the mold behind the peeling wallpaper in this movie...

Yojimboen said...

I’ve always found it intriguing as to why the U.S. Distributive Powers That Be saw it necessary – or even advisable – to change the (original) title Lady Godiva Rides Again to Bikini Baby.

Seriously, did someone really think that the promise of a scanty bathing suit was more titillating than… well, Lady Godiva? In 1951, evidently someone did.

That said, it’s not remotely a Diana Dors vehicle as many believe (she gets 10th billing – Kay Kendall has more lines and is billed 12th), but rather one of those countless movies that, while it’s being edited, this or that supporting player is suddenly thrust into the public eye and the marketing for the movie is just as suddenly adjusted to exploit the unsuspected treasure. That also said however, when DD does appear 23 minutes in, she gives IMHO the best performance of her rather odd career. Without the famous platinum locks (she’s more honey blonde here), her natural colour somehow springboards a superbly natural characterization. There’s a freedom about her here which demonstrates how good she could be and explodes the sexpot image crap she was hamstrung with her entire career.

Proof positive: In a dozen films around this time she played characters named (I kid you not) Lulu; Candy; “The Blonde”; Pearl; Ruby: Angel and Cuddles.

I so seldom disagree with you, dear lady, I hesitated to write this but, I don’t like Yield to the Night (also renamed for U.S. release as Blonde Sinner); although a much bigger film for Dors, her performance I feel is fatally cosseted by two things: one, the platinum-dyed hair; for me the sheer artificiality of the colour infects everything about the actress (I cannot abide Jean Harlow for the same reason) and two, bad directing. J.Lee Thompson was still learning how to be the major hack he was to become, and it shows.

If I may, I’d much rather remember Dors in Lady Godiva….

It’s a hugely entertaining piece with a marvelous cast: Dennis Price, Stanley Holloway, George Cole, a young and gorgeous Kay Kendall, Dora Bryan, Sid James and Richard Wattis as Franklin Pangborn; not to mention its delicious treasure trove of unbilled surprises like Googie Withers, Anne Heywood, Dana Wynter, Joan Collins, the peerless Trevor Howard and the priceless Alastair Sim.

That said,
A guid new year tae ane and a’
And mony may ye see…!

Vanwall said...

I'm on the road, so limited verbiage here - Dors was a very good actress shoved into a lot of weak films, and promoted as real-live sexpot, rather than getting the plum parts she deserved. This film can be viewed as straight noir, with no social baggage, and it's excellent in that regard. Siren is right, the beginning is riveting, and the interactions in prison are poignantly real-seeming, especially since Dors is as naked as she ever, even more so than was without clothing - no fancy make-up or peroxide. First viewing was so long ago, I remembered it as strictly a prison film. Dors pops up on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in a pair of heartless roles, and is chilling in both. Criminally under-rated overall, IMHO.

Dan Leo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan Leo said...

I obviously disagree humbly with Yojimboen about "Yield", but I do have to add to the list of Diana's dubious names the handle she has in "Tread Softly Stranger":

Calico.

cgeye said...

It seems that with this film and The Unholy Wife (1957), Miss Dors had her own small film cycle on hard-bitten broads walking the last mile.

The fact she was willing to go there, when Miss Monroe was kept on the light end of the scale more often, is remarkable, indeed -- as is Miss Dors varying her haircolor, which back in the bombshell days was as rad as changing one's screen name, if you think about it....

verif: syncesse -- what a gal like Miss Dors' characters earns the hard way....

Rachel said...

Thanks for the tip and the review, Siren. I'm completely unfamiliar with Diana Dors' work and I'm now convinced that I need to rectify that post-haste. Considering the subject matter, I'd love to hear Kim Morgan's take on this film.

I'm also intrigued by the presence of Yvonne Mitchell; she was very good in The Queen of Spades (one of those films I will happily tub-thump for, even when it has almost no relevance to the current conversation). Very elegant beauty, sort of reminds me of Dana Wynter.

"Dors makes you believe that a woman who looks like that would still obsess over a man who doesn’t want her. Now of course, this happens in real life all the time; but on screen, many’s the sex symbol who would have a hard time selling that kind of self-abnegation." Excellent point. Of course on the flip side, there were a few sex symbols who almost always seemed to carry the light of self-immolation in their eyes. Kim Novak comes to mind.

Yojimboen said...

@cgeye - You give the best verifs of anybody here, bar none.

D Cairns said...

Dors had a truly ineffable moment in Dance Hall. Working in a machine shop, working all day just for a chance to get down the local Palais in the evening, she bemoans the lack of romantic prospects in her life.

"I might as well go into a monastery."

"Don't you mean a nunnery?" asks a friend.

The response readable on Diana's face is blank incomprehension -- but it means either "I don't get it," or "I know EXACTLY what I meant, what the hell are YOU talking about?"

The Siren said...

Yojimboen, it isn't so much your not digging Dors or Yield to the Night that is pulling me up short here; it's dissing JEAN HARLOW. Really? Not even her fight with Wallace Beery in Dinner at Eight, one of the funniest marital spats ever put on film? I think she's part of that rare sorority of beautiful women who are also naturally funny.

I thought Yield to the Night was well done, direction-wise, especially that opening. Thompson isn't a supreme visual stylist, going by this one and the ones I named (never seen Tiger Bay, although I should because I love me some Hayley Mills), but he gets the job done and shows some flair. I wouldn't use the word "hack." More like journeyman; a more than adequate serving of the material. A Sam Wood or Vincent Sherman type.

Very interesting thoughts on the nature of blonde. I loved the way Dors' coiffure goes to seed in the prison sequences, looking exactly the way that platinum hair looks if you don't keep it up; that is to say, a stiff, straw-like texture resembling a doll after an eight-year-old has tried to play "beauty parlor" with it. Give-a-damn dark roots on a blonde are sexy to me; bluntly put, they say "No, mister, the drapes don't match the carpet, and don't you wish you could see for yourself!" The one blonde color I am not keen on is Kim Novak's "lavender blonde." The purple tinge is ridiculous to me. No slam intended at Novak, who's often wonderful all the same; more a slam at Cohn, whose idea the rinse was, if I recall correctly.

A few years ago a gorgeous brunette friend of mine went platinum just for the hell of it. She told me the bleach is so strong that the process is pretty much agony for your scalp. Midway through she yelled at the colorist, "You didn't tell me it hurt this much!" And the stylist responded matter of factly, "Nobody ever tells anybody that. If we did, no one would ever get it done." Since the dyes they use now aren't nearly as harsh, I can't imagine how much it hurt back in Dors' day, let alone Harlow's. I read that Harlow had to touch up the roots at least once a week, maybe more.

The Siren said...

One more thing on Lady Godiva -- I'll change that "vehicle" aside. Never seen the film, and what's funny is that I used that term because it cropped up in some of Dors' obituaries, which I found when I was researching this. I spent a lot of time trying to straighten out the facts and get a bead on Dors, whom I really don't know well. What I found was that she was very well loved in the U.K. even by those who found her a figure of fun. And the attitude toward her filmography could be summarized by one remark from one Kenneth Wright (who he? no idea) who said her "more than 60 films include just one (1956's condemned-cell melo Yield to the Night) that bears looking at as a movie, rather than as the filmic equivalent of a lava lamp."

But given what some others are saying here (hi there David Cairns! HAPPY NEW YEAR, old building-and-loan classic film pal) I think there's a number of Dors titles worth seeking out for more than nostalgia.

The Siren said...

Cgeye, there's a none-too-enthusiastic review of The Unholy Wife over on Noir of the Week, and it still sounds pretty interesting, as does Dan's Tread Softy, Stranger tip and Vanwall's mention of the Hitchcock episodes. Could it be that if I see more, I'll realize she should have been typecast more as a mantrap?

Calico. Heh. A woman, or a cat? Both, I guess we're supposed to think.

The Siren said...

Rachel, I barely mentioned Mitchell, I know! As ever, I could go on for days about a movie I haven't seen before and found intriguing, like this one. I mean, I didn't even mention the voiceovers, which are so noir it hurts and range from beautifully apposite to a bit intrusive. And this epic is still 2000 words, which I try to make my limit here at Self-Styled Siren, so as not to have my readers drift off. At some point I just stop writing and wait for comments to fill in the gaps.

But I digress. Yes, Mitchell was wonderful and I'd even say MacFarlane's connection with Mary Hilton is the film's only display of deep human connection. Not even slightly in a sexual sense, just two women reaching out to each other in difficult circs. And she's an amazing beauty in her own right. She's a great contrast to Dors, in that her face is all planes and angles and chin and magnificent nose and enormous eyes.

I have the Queen of Spades around here, I just remembered, and have not watched it. *eyes shift guiltily* Oh well, it is a day for resolutions.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Happy New Year, Siren!

Dors last movie is also Joe Losey's -- Steaming. it doesn't quite work, but it's worth seeing.

Are you familiar with Raymond Durgnat's A Mirror For England ? Yield To the Night gets copious mention in it.
LOVE Dance with a Stranger. What's Miranda Richardson up to these days? Rupert Everett has plastic surgueried himself into the male Anglo version of Isabelle Adjani.

Just thought of another great Dors turn: The Pied Piper. One of Jacques Demy's most obscure efforts it's really quite fine.

The Siren said...

David E, as you often manage you've brought up a thought I had too while noodling around the Ruth Ellis Net archives: where IS Miranda Richardson? I should Google to find out but I always like this stage, where I look around the house and wonder where an actor's been. Dance With a Stranger is fine indeed -- been YEARS but as dark as Yield to the Night is, it still doesn't approach my memory of the pitch-blackness of Dance With a Stranger. I should seek out the Durgnat.

Definitely click on the link in my post and check out that photo of the bullet holes; it will have you shivering.

I saw Everett on Broadway about 18 months ago in Blithe Spirit, with the divine Angela Lansbury, and he looked fine from the eighth row and his comic timing seemed intact. Although Lansbury owned the show.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Well of course.

She's Beyond Amazing. Hard to imagine but she was only 18 when she did Gaslight. And such a sexy little minx she was.

Double-feature it with The Manchurian Candidate and you get an instant Master Class in REAL film acting.

X. Trapnel said...

Whenever I watch They Made Me a Criminal I can never see Claude Raines' hat without imagining its unspoken, Eve Harrington-like thoughts: "I'M the real star; HE's just something supporting me. It's ME everyone is looking at." So it is with certain actresses' hair which seems to have imperialist designs on their entire persona: Harlow, "Marilyn," Bardot, and I suppose Dors whom I've never seen. Harlow's platinum accentuates her bulldog features and she is much more attractive in Libeled Lady where she is allowed fairly normal hair.

Rita Hayworth could always stand up to her astounding hair. I've often wondered why Welles had it sculpted into boring blond handsomeness in Lady From Shanghai.

I've also been curious for some time about Yvonne Mitchell. She wrote a book on Colette.

The Siren said...

XT, laughing so hard imagining a head of blonde hair determined to lay siege to the armed citadel beneath. Odd, though--we're talking blondes and one redhead, Rita Hayworth. Any brunette actresses with Imperialist hair? *ponders*

I love Harlow in Red-Headed Woman, another where her platinum is doused. Her looks can go either way for me; sometimes she strikes me as bordering on plain, other times I gasp at her gorgeousness. But it doesn't matter because with Harlow, it's all about the personality and the truly jazzed-up, swingin' attitude. Which is why I loved Harlow more than Monroe from the beginning. There was something achievable about Harlow's image, something I felt could be imitated in real life, even in a watered-down way. With Marilyn, either you're her or you're not.

And with Dors (to come back full circle), again, from what I've been reading, her fans felt like the looks were hers alone but the cheerful sexpot attitude was also within reach for mortals.

X. Trapnel said...

Siren,

Extracting a laugh from you is a good way to start the year (I ended the last at a party yesternacht arguing with a Republican). I was surprised at how appealing and funny I found Harlow when I first saw her in LL. I have resolved this year to refrain from Marilyn abuse but how artificial and constrained she seems compared to Harlow at her best. Of course that may just be the difference between the thirties and the fifties.

I can think of no instance of brunette imperialism, though I wonder if Audrey Hepburn's eyebrows constituted some sort of fifth column or advance guard.

The Siren said...

XT, the 50s eyebrows in general were some sort of weapons program, although I like them. Better than the hairdos, anyway. My mother and I were discussing this when she came to visit. Hairstyles from all sorts of eras have been revived, from the flapper to the marcel wave to the 40s rolls and snoods to 60s hippie chic. But not something like this. And for good reason. Those poodle cuts look good on no one, not Gene, not Joan Bennett. And according to Mom, who suffered as a kid from perms, every time it rained a permanent wave smelled like a wet beagle.

The Siren said...

In fact, the more I look at that still of poor Gene in Whirlpool, the more I think we so totally need to cut Miss Dors a break on her hair. Mostly it looked terrific, in terms of cut and wave.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Harlow and Marilyn were quite different in both look and effect. Harlow was a wisecracking "girl from the neighborhood" (or the steno pool.) Marilyn was a visiting deity from another dimension, cleverly disguised as "the girl upstairs." In that sense The Seven Year Itch is rather like Duelle.

X. Trapnel said...

I wonder if the 50s aerodynamic eyebrows were some kind of dialectical response to the plucked/penciled brows of earlier decades or as with rocket cone breasts something to be launched at Moscow at the slightest trmor on the DEW line.

With respect, Marilyn was a deity of the comic book drawing board, no more, no less.

The Siren said...

I refuse, absolutely REFUSE to start 2012 with a Marilyn squabble in my comments.

--Can't we have peace in this house even on New Year's Eve?
--You got it mixed up with Christmas. New Year's Eve is when people go back to killing each other.

X. Trapnel said...

sorry

Vanwall said...

Must've been tough to bleach your hair if you had reactions to it - plus you have to double-process your hair all the time, which ain't exactly kind to it; that said MM, who didn't find it pleasant, dutifully bleached her (ahem) 'carpeting' - musn't tarnish Mr. Miller's fantasies, I guess.

Dors was really good in YTTN, and her hair color as reference point to The Outside versus The Inside is a rather insidious riff on prisons, and prisons of one's own making, which she emphasizes with wonderful subtleties throughout the film.

I'm still partial to the reds and bruns, tho.

verif: unwed - a curious corallary to Hilton's wishful thinking.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Speaking of comic strips. . .

The Siren said...

XT, no problem, truly.

VW I did not know that re: Norma Jean's carpeting and WOW that must have hurt.

I like to think the last still I found sort of says it all as far as Dors' transformation. I think she's still wearing some sort of makeup, but the no-makeup kind of makeup.

Rachel said...

Oh God, Vanwall. Poor Norma Jean.

I'd have to think about the brunette women (maybe Ida Lupino--all those curls piled on top of her head), but among the men, if you look at Robert Taylor enough, you start to think that shiny black head of his had some sinister designs. It's just so...shiny.

I'm glad Jean Harlow has made it into the discussion, since I do love her. She also had a more natural look in Wife vs. Secretary, playing the spunky secretary. Hell, in that film, I found her more appealing than Myrna Loy.

One thing I think that Harlow and Monroe and Dors understood very well is that being a sexpot is all fine and dandy, but if your audience doesn't feel friendly with you when you're onscreen, then your shelf life is limited. Sure, they're goddesses but you feel close to them too. They hurt, you hurt. Did anyone ever feel that way about, say, Jayne Mansfield?

All this talk of hair color is reminding me that The Lady Eve is celebrating One Month of Vertigo, starting now.

X. Trapnel said...

I've always been fascinated by S.A. Brugh's hair and how during the cranky period (late 40s onward) it lost its black jello gloss, discomposing itself in oily strands as though reaching out to the now brittle and irritable moustache for sustanance.

VP81955 said...

One thing I think that Harlow and Monroe and Dors understood very well is that being a sexpot is all fine and dandy, but if your audience doesn't feel friendly with you when you're onscreen, then your shelf life is limited. Sure, they're goddesses but you feel close to them too. They hurt, you hurt. Did anyone ever feel that way about, say, Jayne Mansfield?

People probably wanted to -- Mansfield at her best was genuinely likable -- but had she taken her career just a little bit seriously, she might have achieved something considerable instead of being remembered chiefly for her two Frank Tashlin films, good as they were. By 1960, she had fully lapsed into self-parody, and by the mid-sixties, the miniskirted Mansfield was a sadly ridiculous relic. I'm not sure how she could have recovered had she lived past 1967.

Speaking of limited shelf life, one of Dors' later films was in a supporting role for "There's A Girl In My Soup," with one of the leads, Goldie Hawn, as a new generation of blonde. While Goldie's character cavorted in French cut pantyhose with Peter Sellers (and even appeared nude, IIRC), Dors, gaining weight, was yesterday's news. I wonder if this revelation stayed with Hawn, as her character in "Death Becomes Her," wearing a fat suit, has that same disheveled feel to it.

Jeff Gee said...

Diana has the distinction of having been fatally sawn in half on screen not once, but twice: in the late period Joan Crawford movie Berserk! and in the “too gruesome to be shown on network television” Alfred Hitchcock presents episode The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, in which Brandon DeWilde does the sawing. Haven’t seen the Hitchcock episode but in Berserk! Michael Gough gets a spike driven through his head, and there’s also a musical number called “It Might as Well Be You” performed by the bearded lady and the human skeleton and other assorted side show acts, so you get a lot of bang for your buck.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was crucified in both a Conan movie and End of Days, but I have to think there are a lot more movie crucifixions than see-a-lady-cut-in-half-gone-wrongs, so Diana definitely gets the edge here.

Vanwall said...

Dors got whacked on both Hitch episodes she was on - femme fatales to the end. Both episodes had great supporting casts, too. She still easily dominated the screen.

Untouched Takeaway said...

About 3 weeks ago, I watched "Yield To The Night" at the same link. I was a big Dors fan, but had never seen this one, and I'm so glad I did. I also watched "The Weak and the Wicked" - very interesting stuff.

You understated the shit-heeled-ness of her husband at the time, Dennis Hamilton. I cannot think of a scummier "show biz" mate than perhaps Paul Snider. Her widower, Alan Lake, couldn't bear to live after her death and committed suicide 6 months later.

Thanks for a thoughtful tribute.

UT

The Siren said...

Untouched, it is true, I did understate just how bad that first husband was; his behavior was so depressing I couldn't force myself to write it up.

I keep threatening to write a book, Worthless Husbands of the Great Stars, only it would be as long and disgressive as Infinite Jest, and about 1/100 as edifying. You're reading about an actress and one of these leeches shows up and he's like Chekhov's gun. You know that within a paragraphs he's going to abuse her or embezzle her savings or, at an absolute minimum, talk her out of taking a brilliant role because, I don't know, he wanted to play golf that month or something.

You can see these snakes coming even in present-day gossip pages, which is one reason which I try to avoid gossip pages.

Untouched Takeaway said...

Siren:

I wish blogspot had "edit comments" ability (or maybe they do and I can't find it!)

I had wanted to correct it to say "that link". I understand fully why you don't dwell on things like this - because they *are* such cliches now.

UT

Yojimboen said...

I’ll grant Miss Dors has some lovely transport along the way; not just her Cadillac (powder blue, I think) but she also at one time owned what is arguably the best-looking car ever built: The 1949 Delahaye 175 S Roadster (seen here in a rare appearance at a recent retro show).

The Delahaye was reported given to then 17-year-old Miss Dors by a ‘secret admirer’. Hmm…

Hazel said...

Diana Dors was a tabloid superstar in the UK, so much so that for many of us she is more famous for being in the papers than her acting career. And for me, her most memorable role was a Fairy godmother in the Adam and the Ants' video for "Prince Charming". Watch it to the end and you'll also see Adam playing homage to some cinema greats.

bitter69uk said...

Jeff Gee: I love Berserk! (it totally earns that exclamation mark in the title)almost as much as I love Straitjacket (the other great, campy 1960s Joan Crawford horror film). Dors is great in a bitchy, sullen supporting role. Speaking of her hair, it's pretty spectacular in Beserk: a totally immobile shag-bouffant haystack.

I highly recommend everyone investigate 1) Dors's wonderful lounge-singing 1960 Swingin' Dors album(available on CD) and 2) the definitive Dors biography, Come by Sunday: The Fabulous, Ruined Life of Diana Dors, by Damon Wise.

VP81955 said...

Another honor for the Siren: She was selected among the year's top critics at the blog "Film Studies For Free" (which also selected the Media History Digital Library -- a must for anyone doing classic film research -- among its top free resources for 2011):

http://filmstudiesforfree.blogspot.com/2011/12/fsffs-favourite-online-film-studies.html

The Siren said...

VP, oh that's nice! and such good company over there.

Yojimboen, I wonder if Nicholas Ray knew, and coveted, that second car.

Also, just watched Tread Softly, Stranger and can confirm Dan's scouting report. It's very much a kitchen-sink noir--Northern working-class resentment and despair meets botched crime. Dors is a very, very bad lot and seemed to be wearing a wardrobe cut for a woman who was precisely one size smaller than she was. As I expected, she was pretty marvelous and the best thing in it. And her character's name is Calico, as I also expected, but still couldn't quite believe. Maybe the screenwriters anticipated that reaction because the two main male characters utter her name with profound passion approximately every three minutes in this movie.

Between that, and rewatching Auntie Mame with Patric Knowles playing Lindsay Wollsey, I am hoping 2012 brings me characters named Gingham, Rayon, and No-Iron Percale.

DavidEhrenstein said...

BTW, Siren, did you know that Tilda is planning to remake Auntie Mame ?

The Siren said...

Yes, but I'd read, and was not sorry to read, that it was in limbo.

Trish said...

Dors has a meatier role in "Tread Softly Stranger" than in "The Weak and the Wicked", a film where she nicely plays a good girl who makes a mistake. In TSS, she's a tough manipulator of men. I'm not sure I was convinced by the scene where she tries to explain her behaviour, nor her vow at the end of the film. But damn, she's a bad girl and quite entertaining to watch. I also enjoyed seeing young and noirish George Baker, whom I'd previously only known from "I Claudius".

The Siren said...

Trish, still haven't caught The Weak and the Wicked, but I agree with you other points, [VAGUELY SPOILERISH STUFF NEXT] particularly that last vow, which I see her keeping for about a week, tops. It seems like self-dramatizing BS and while I can't get into Dors' head, naturally, it seems to me that's the way she's playing it. Calico is a woman who's always deceiving and role-playing; I loved the scene where she's talking Dave into the heist, so silky and manipulative I was ready to volunteer for the robbery myself. So with that last shot, I was thinking, this is another little scene Calico is playing, for her own benefit this time, and when she's ready to get back to reality she'll be equally believable while convincing herself that a Girl's Gotta Live, After All.

Trish said...

I was waiting for a double cross. I wondered if Dave and Calico had cooked up a scheme to frame Johnny, and thought that she might eventually take off on both of them with the...[SPOILER].. goods. None of that happened, so I'm no good at guessing plots. Anyway, it was on to a garish colour print of "Value for Money" -- a silly trifle with Dors playing a sweet gold digger. Another "life in a northern town" story...

cgeye said...

D.E., whom would Miss Swinton be playing.... Patrick?

Nope, for Mame you need a monster of uncut femininity -- shame that Joanna Lumley's already made Patsy Stone the Mame as Antichrist -- or is that Patsy Stone's mum?

Greg said...

Geez, I am way late on this but glad you saw it and liked it. I wrote up An Alligator Named Daisy a few months ago for TCM and ended it with a tribute to Dors, too undervalued in her time.