Tuesday, July 24, 2012

This Is My Love (1954)


Dan Duryea dancing in a wheelchair to the strains of the "Vienna Blood" waltz is one of those deep cinematic needs you never realized you had until suddenly, it's fulfilled.

Fulfillment came from This Is My Love, an airily romantic title for a snake-mean film. Filmed in PatheColor at RKO in 1954, the Siren's DVD (taped off a British show) had yellowed like an old book, giving the proceedings an even more jaundiced feel. It could be called noir; the movie's certainly pitiless enough. There's also plenty enough sexual inhibition (mention is made of the Kinsey Report) and bourgeois fossilization for a social drama.

The credits roll over vegetation getting drenched by such a downpour that the Siren had the vague impression the movie is set on a rubber plantation, like The Letter. Nope, just a bungalow in California. Vida Dove (Linda Darnell) is at her typewriter, one tear rolling down her face as she types "...THREE WEEKS AGO..." (She writes in all caps, like Film Critic Hulk.) Then, flashback. (An interesting device because the ending all but abandons the framing and when the credits rolled, the Siren had to go back to see that the set-up wasn't something everybody forgot about mid-filming.)





So, THREE WEEKS AGO, Vida was writing a story to ESCAPE THE DREARY MONOTONY OF HER LIFE, and her brother-in-law Murray (Duryea) was wheeling around the house, calling her an old maid who never puts out. Murray is in a wheelchair because--whoops, you're never told. He was a professional dancer who had "an accident," which leaves you to imagine him tossing a partner in the air and having her land smack on his lower vertebrae. Murray began by dating Vida, but soon switched to her sister Evelyn (Faith Domergue). Now they're locked up in this dingy crate, where Vida shares a bedroom with the couple's two kids, in a trim evocation of her life on the sidelines.

Evelyn and Vida wait tables at Murray's roadside restaurant, the Circle Inn. Get it? Circle Inn? drawing around you, like a noose? Almost every name in the movie is like that: Vida, meaning life, as Murray sarcastically points out to her; Evelyn, Evie, the woman who always comes first; Eddie (a wonderfully coarse, braying Hal Baylor), Vida's fiancé, a whirlpool sucking everyone into tedium. Into the restaurant Eddie brings his good-looking pal Glenn (Rick Jason). (Glen, a restful valley, see what they did there?) Glenn and Vida are immediately attracted to one another. But the inexperienced Vida can't respond normally, and her "come hither" rapidly becomes "not that hither." Glenn shifts his attentions to Evie, and for Vida, that's one too disappointment too many.


It's an unsettling, hardhearted movie that refuses to sympathize overmuch with any of the characters, trapped and pathetic though they are all. The idea of casting Darnell as a frigid spinster sounds about as apt as casting her as the Virgin Mary in The Song of Bernadette, but it makes sense (mostly) once you are drawn in. Some men in the movie do respond the way you'd expect them to respond to Linda Darnell. Vida's fear of men is reflexive and, the movie implies in a very proto-feminist Philip Wylie sort of way, largely due to society's hypocritical view of sexuality. Darnell's wounded demeanor gives the character great resonance; her writing seems a desperate bid to make daydreams tangible. Most of her best scenes are played against Murray, the man Vida once wanted and her sister took. Now her brother-in-law is literally castrated, circling and taunting her with the things neither one of them has. She responds in that creamy Darnell voice, and only a fair bit into the movie do you realize that her low-pitched rejoinders are as pointed in their way as Murray's barbs.




The meat of the movie is the relationship between these two hopeless, spent individuals, strangers to sex and therefore, we're meant to believe, to life. Evie and Glenn carry on with their good looks and their unwarped emotions, not realizing that simply being normal makes them charmed in a way that Murray and Vida will never be. Eventually, as she must, Vida unleashes a lifetime's worth of frustration and disabling rage straight into Murray's face, a speech that comes out of Darnell in heaving bursts, like a tear-gassed person gulping for air. It's as good a piece of dramatic acting as Darnell ever offered, and you feel for Vida more than in any other part of the movie. But that's just you. Dan Duryea laughs, because Dan Duryea always laughs at true anguish.

Duryea had what the French call a "tête à claques"--a face you want to hit, only with him you want to use a blunt instrument. Rare are the instances from his heyday where Duryea shows up and isn't murdered by the final reel. Here it's as though some bright person said, "Let's take away Dan's gun, and his fists, and his blackmailing, and his hat, and this time, let's see if we can make the audience want him dead just so's he'll shut up." It works, of course. There was no other actor who could match Duryea's drone, the sound of bad plumbing in an old building; or the way his mouth scrunches up toward his nose like a piece of dried fruit; or that rattlesnake lunge of his head and shoulders when he's ready to go full-bore sadist.




It isn't a great movie, but it picks at you like a scab. The Circle Inn is gratifyingly hideous, with bamboo-covered walls and a leaf-green valence that runs around the ceiling and even continues over the opening between the kitchen and the lunch counter, to make the tunafish sandwiches look fancier when the cook rings the bell, I guess. The furniture in the bungalow has been pushed to the walls so it looks like an ER waiting room, creating a vast empty space, the better for Duryea to roll after Darnell each time she tries to get away from his venom.

Director Stuart Heisler also has The Glass Key, Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman and The Star on his resume, but the Siren only found that out after muttering "Stuart who?" and scurrying to Google. Not a huge talent, but a man with some style, although the Siren attributed the frequent shots of Darnell in her form-fitting rayon slips to the lecher running RKO at the time. This Is My Love is the only pre-1960 movie the Siren can recall that shows a poisoned cockroach dying, close up--a good summary of the atmosphere. When Murray and Eddie play catch in the living room, the thwack-thwack of the ball hitting their hands starts to sound like time itself running down. And that glimpse of the crippled Duryea "waltzing" is unforgettable, the actor swinging his head and his chair in grotesquely precise 3/4 time.

59 comments:

Peter Nellhaus said...

Wow! Not a film I would think of seeing, but this sounds like delirious fun. Also the description of the cockroach would indicate perfect preparation for Heisler's Hitler in 1962.

Caftan Woman said...

Linda gave 100% + in this movie. I think she threw herself into it with Bette like ferocity. If it had had a deep-pockets budget, people would be talking about Linda's finest hour.

john_burke100 said...

I knew someone who claimed David Eisenhower had "the most kickable face in America" but I never knew the French had a word for it. Great post, and thanks for adding "tête à claques" to my vocabulary.

The Siren said...

Peter, I had accidentally cut an important point about how often Darnell lounges around in her lingerie, so I added it back, because I do try to add value here at S-SS. It is indeed some nasty fun.

Caftan Woman, I remembered you mentioning this one on my old Darnell post. One weird thing about the movie is how everybody is playing a part you'd associate with someone else. Darnell = Davis, absolutely, and even if she ain't Bette she's very good indeed. Hal Baylor = Jack Carson, Domergue = de Havilland, although Domergue is no Olivia. Jason = John Gavin. The only except is, of course, Duryea, since basically no one but him could play a Duryea part.

John, that is really funny about Eisenhower, although I have candidates of my own for that title, as I am sure we all do. Yes, tetes a claques is a term we need, like schadenfreude.

Peter Nellhaus said...

I don't know if you saw this: Rick Jason on the making of This is My Love

X. Trapnel said...

"Duryea, since basically no one but him could play a Duryea part."

True, but Robert Ryan just about pulls it off in The Naked Spur, especially as he sends Millard Mitchell over the threshhold of eternity.

Just for old times' sake I submit that the biggest tete a claques belonged to Bob Cummings.

The Siren said...

Yup, it's linked in the post under his name. :)

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I so, so love the way you write.

Especially this chunk: "Eventually, as she must, Vida unleashes a lifetime's worth of frustration and disabling rage straight into Murray's face, a speech that comes out of Darnell in heaving bursts, like a tear-gassed person gulping for air. It's as good a piece of dramatic acting as Darnell ever offered, and you feel for Vida more than at any part of the movie. But that's just you. Dan Duryea laughs, because Dan Duryea always laughs at true anguish."

I've not seen this movie, but I know I will sometime. Just got to.

The Siren said...

Jacqueline, you'll enjoy it I bet. But I don't want to oversell it, which is why I was careful to say that it is not a great movie. As Caftan Woman notes, the budget shows. It's bizarrely mesmerizing though. I would like to see a decent copy. Pathecolor evidently doesn't age well, at all.

The Siren said...

Oh, and I should have noted (but I've tinkered with this one enough) for the benefit of XT and Rosczaphile if he shows, that the score is Franz Waxman and consists mostly of the main theme played over and over. It's a lush little number that Connie Russell, whom I don't know at ALL, sings very nicely at a key point.

Trish said...

Rick Jason? Combat?
Faith Domergue is not the greatest actress but her slutty demeanour makes her worth the price of the rental. And Linda Darnell is up there on a list of my five favourite actresses... I agree with Jacqueline: just got to see it...

X. Trapnel said...

Siren, for all the caveats your description (+ Darnell) makes it sound pretty enticing. And now Waxman. Though classically trained he began as a songwriter. His best is the delectable Sans un Mot, a Darrieux signature tune.

Oh for a film with Dureya and Darrieux. Perhaps Daniel and Danielle as Pierrot and Pierrette.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Don't know this one at all. Sounds FABULOUS!

Yojimboen said...

Italian lobby card # 1:
(Ms Darnell in aforementioned unmentionables.)

Italian lobby card # 2:
(Spoiler Alert!)

Rozsaphile said...

"for the benefit of XT and Rosczaphile if he shows,"

Rozsaphile is your faithful reader, though compelled to keep silent on subjects where his knowledge is lamentably deficient -- such as most pre-Rozsa (i.e., pre-1936) cinema. He does venture to point out that while Rozsa is frequently and variously misspelled (most commonly as "Rosza" by false analogy with Liszt), your version appears to be completely original. Mnemonic: Spells like, and rhymes with, Zsa Zsa!

The Siren said...

RoZSAphile, I have no idea what I was doing there. Perhaps I subconsciously thought if I piled a bunch of sibilant consonants together, some of them would have to be correct. Thank you, Zsa Zsa (born Sári, which really doesn't need to be shortened) is the perfect mnemonic.

This DVD was the final loaner from Imogen Smith, btw, and I seem to have inadvertently Stumped The Band with this one. Ehrenstein has never heard of it, and Lou Lumenick, another man with viewing chops to spare, hadn't heard of it either. Peter hasn't seen it. Yojimboen, how about you? Looks like devoted Darnell fan Caftan Woman is the only other one!

It was an independent production that was distributed by RKO, as Rick Jason points out at the link, and so who owns it at this point is anybody's guess. It doesn't appear to be public domain. It's also based on a published story so it's possible the Underlying Literary Property is a snag.

The Siren said...

By the way, re: Yojimboen's first lobby card, an IMDB reviewer of This Is My Love describes Darnell as looking 'bloated" to which I can only reply, "yeah right buddy, and in all the right places."

Domergue, on the other hand, has her slip hanging off her to such a degree that you wonder if they making a point that Evie even borrows her sister's lingerie.

Yojimboen said...

Eternal gratitude is due John Burke’s friend for finding, finally, a use for David Eisenhower’s face; and yet it’s odd, perverse even, that the only mime in christendom whose tête I never wanted to claquer was Jean-Louis Barrault’s Baptiste; or is that just me?

Apropos TIMY, I had a pristine VHS copy for the longest time but of course loaned it out a few years ago, and have spent the morning – to no avail – trying to remember who to!

Surprisingly the movie isn’t listed in the Republic Studio book – most indies shot there are – it is listed, however, in the "RKO Story", intro’d thusly:

“Producer Hugh Brooke, Director Stuart Heisler and scriptwriters Hagar Wilde and Brooke tossed frustration, deceit, murder and other supposedly standard ingredients of American home life into their sleazy cauldron and concocted This Is My Love…”

In the immortal words of Mr R Stewart:
Every picture tells a story, don’t it…?

Yojimboen said...

That should be TIML of course.

The Siren said...

Y., did you like it? Speaking of a tête à claques, here's a contemporary New York Times review of TIML, whose opening line alone qualifies the mysterious O.A.G. (anybody know who he?). Warning: There's a HUGE spoiler midway down, in graf 3, so stick to the first two grafs if you're wary of such things.

Courtesy of Lou Lumenick, whose research already indicates that Paramount may own the rights to this one.

The Siren said...

Whoops, I realized I don't know if that means it's with the other stuff that Universal owns, or if Paramount owns it...Republic, RKO...

Rights issues, man oh man.

Peter Nellhaus said...

Sorry I didn't pay attention to the Rick Jason link. I did see Heisler's Storm Warning a few years ago, which I enjoyed in spite of its half-baked controversy about "the Klan".

Yojimboen said...

I did quite like it IIRC, mostly for Duryea who never disappoints; I think the movie falls into that category we’re most of us familiar with, viz, there’s no one in the film we’d take a bullet for (they’re all kinda likeable – no one’s too annoying) so it’s easier to make vanish any need for suspension of disbelief; and thus the investment is negligible and voilà, we can allow ourselves to enjoy it he said in a ludicrously flat-footed run-on sentence (sorry).

I’m not myself – I remembered who I loaned my VHS copy to and three phonecalls later found out he died last year. I’m wondering if I should call his widow.
Nah, I’ll find another copy somewhere.

Dave Enkosky said...

You had me at "Dan Duryea dancing in a wheelchair to the strains of the "Vienna Blood" waltz."

The Siren said...

Dave, that's when the movie really had me, too. If I were tech-oriented I'd upload it, it's that good.

The Siren said...

Peter, I didn't exactly flag the link and I should have, it's wonderful -- I was writing in a hurry.

Y., I don't know, there are some around here who would definitely take a bullet for Darnell!

gmoke said...

Duryea plays a happy, boastful, tall tale telling drunk in "The Sacramento Story" episode of "Wagon Train." Oddly enough, Linda Darnell was also in that cast.

I wonder if Duryea ever did an out and out comedy. He seems to have done at least one Jack Benny TV program.

Turns out his first film credit, according to imdb, is in a Carlos Gardel film, "El Tango en Broadway." I wonder if he danced in it. Would be interesting to see him walk to the cross.

johncarvill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
johncarvill said...

Duryea had what the French call a "tête à claques"--a face you want to hit....

Fantastic phrase! I'll be using that.

To be fair to Duryea, he put his tête à claques to good use. Love him in 'Scarlet Street'.

Kirk said...

@gmoke--

Duryea did do an out-and-out comedy. Howard Hawk's BALL OF FIRE. He played a henchman for gangster Dana Andrews.

The Siren said...

Kirk, you beat me to it! There's also Lady on a Train.

And JohnCarvill, I do hope my deep love for Duryea is clear. Having an onscreen face you want to smack is no small talent, when it's an intentional effect and not a byproduct of being a confounded cinematic nuisance.

Karen said...

Oh my GOD do I want to see this now.

mas82730 said...

Isn't Duryea the pond scum who ponded the bruises into Yvonne DeCarlo's lovely back in 'Criss Cross' (off-screen, natch, though Yvonne's not shy about showing them to Burt - and us). I always get my noirs mixed up.
Wow, I've got to see this Darnell soaper.

X. Trapnel said...

To each his own tete a claques. I can't associate the quality with Duryea (though many characters IN the film would surely like to slug him), so much as those who's faces radiate placid self-satisfaction (Bob C.) or terrifying vapidity (Laurence Harvey comes to mind).

"but it is certain that at various times in his life hitable qualities were in his face, as surely as kissable qualities have ever lurked in a girl's lips"--F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Four Fists"

The Siren said...

Karen, it seems to have been so widely blown off by not only the audiences & critics but also the people who made it, that I was quite startled by how much I liked it, despite Imogen's endorsement. My husband, who isn't *quite* the old-movie hound I am (ahem) liked it a lot too.

Mas, that's right, that's Duryea, in fine form in Criss Cross. De Carlo was so gorgeous. I wrote a memorial tribute to her for the old Cinemarati site and when the site got smoked, so did my tribute; forgot to save it. Lesson learned.

XT, funny you should bring up Harvey as Rick Jason looks a lot like him in many shots, only with smoother, more polished skin. A post-dermabrasion Laurence Harvey.

Bob said...

Thank you for bringing TIML to the attention of, one hopes, a wider audience. I'm glad that a mutual acquaintance was able to share with you my DVD of this "epic." I have always hated the term "guilty pleasure", since why ever feel guilty about anything that provides pleasure? However, TIML would seem to epitomize that term.
The main conceit of the film is why Rick Jason would ever choose Faith over Linda. Darnell was luscious, one of the few actresses of that period that would have given me the flop sweats and weak knees if I ever had the chance to meet her circa 1947. Her monologue of pain,regret, missed opportunities, and of always being second best is so passionate and heartfelt, one wonders whether Linda was releasing some pent up demons of her own. I agree. It’s her best piece of acting. Duryea, as always is great, and let's not forget the brief role of the Beav - Jerry Mathers - as Darnell's little nephew.

Yojimboen said...

Oh, let’s just cut to the chase:

Click here, then slide forward to 08:10.

There now, don’t we all feel much better?

Rachel said...

I like to think that Dan Duryea, Richard Widmark, and Robert Ryan have a table together in Heaven.

We've talked a lot about Duryea's face but what about his voice? That wonderful nasal drawl that could suddenly lash out like a whip. I love his little rejoinder to Theresa Wright in The Little Foxes,.

Wright: I can imagine the kind of things you'd do.

Duryea (popping up like a Jack-in-the-box): Ooohhh no you couldn't!

X. Trapnel said...

Rachel,

I think Arthur Kennedy and Van Heflin should also be at that table, all intensely charismatic (though hardly glamorous)and sardonically intelligent actors.

Shamus said...

...Dan Duryea, Richard Widmark, and Robert Ryan...

...Arthur Kennedy and Van Heflin ...

Another placecard (in looping italics, adorned with flowers) at this table would bear the name of Ralph Meeker. Even Dana Andrews is a possible invitee.

Heflin is a favorite but at this table Ryan is Zeus.

Yojimboen said...

…that's Duryea, in fine form in Criss Cross. De Carlo was so gorgeous. I wrote a memorial tribute to her for the old Cinemarati site and when the site got smoked, so did my tribute; forgot to save it. Lesson learned.

(You mean this?)

"The rest of the world may say, 'Oh look, Lily Munster died.' But we at Cinemarati immediately thought of the late Yvonne De Carlo's twisty turn in Robert Siodmak's Criss Cross.... The more famous Siodmak noir is The Killers, also with Burt Lancaster. And that film's femme fatale, Ava Gardner, went on to a much more A-list career. But in Criss Cross, De Carlo gives the better performance in a more difficult part." –
Campaspe Jan 13 2007

Absent my own copy of TIML I watched Criss Cross last night, another solid-as-a-rock Duryea performance. Wow, I’d forgotten how great Duryea, Lancaster and De Carlo were together.

Link here to a storyboard of stills.

I’d vote that here, and in Crimson Pirate two years later (Siodmak again), Lancaster was at his absolute coolest and sexiest.
Add to the mix a glimpse of a juvenile Tony Curtis, a superb score by Rozsa (thanks rozsaphile, I’ll never have to check again); and… our beloved Percy Helton. Not bad for a Wednesday night.

gmoke said...

"The Crimson Pirate" is evidently the first film Lancaster also produced, although he's not credited. His record as a producer is pretty good.

I'd suggest Ernie Borgnine for a seat at that table in heaven.

joel65913 said...

Linda Darnell has been my favorite actress since childhood and I have managed to see a great deal of her work, not all sadly with the elusive The Lady Pays Off and The Walls of Jericho the two that are my most wanted.
Saw this years ago, probably over 30 now, it made a strong impression and have always hoped to see it again. Sadly it seems one of those films that have disappeared into the ether of time.
I do remember the vicious arguments between Linda and Duryea, tremendously cast, and the fact that going toe to toe their scenes were electric. I also remember that Faith while alluring in a sultry rather slatternly way was no match acting wise for her costars. The same goes for Rick Jason who I recall even less about other than he was very handsome.
Hopefully one day it will be included in a noir in color collection or some such and see the light of day once more.

X. Trapnel said...

The Crimson Pirate has a fine score by William Alwyn, in so many ways the British Bernard Herrmann. He composed the sublimely tragic music for Odd Man Out.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Off-Topic: Out 1 is back up at Dennis Cooper's

Jeff Gee said...

Off -topic, but I'm very curious about what the folks here (including, of course, our hostess)think about the Sight and Sound poll. If anybody's published elsewhere on it, links would be appreciated.

Noel Vera said...

My thoughts on the Sight and Sound list

X. Trapnel said...

How many films have been made since Fred Ott sneezed and the Lumiere Express pulled into the station? Citizen Kane has been "demoted," "dethroned," "knocked off its perch"? What rubbish. These lists, however authoritative, are inevitably based on comparing incomparables and if film culture is in fact in decline their influence can only be pernicious: these smart people couldn't find any top 50 space for Ophuls, Lubitsch, Hawks, Reed, Walsh, why, they can't be all that great and certainly not as good as the latest "dark" comic book adaptation.

Shamus said...

I don't think film culture is in decline at all, XT- films may have gotten worse, both in Hollywood and elsewhere but there are amazing amount of riches to be found online on appreciation of film that, for obvious reasons, cannot be physically published, and, even if it were, would be far less accessible.

And, Jeff Gee, this poll would only become really interesting (not to mention educational) when the individuals lists are revealed. That would be sometime mid-August, I think.

But I also remember the inclusion of Ophuls, Resnais, Hawks and definitely more than one Ford on the previous decade's top 50, rather than, well, Wong Kar-Wai and multiple Francis Coppolas. Well, maybe in (the scarily futuristic sounding) 2022, all will be redeemed...

Yojimboen said...

“The 10 Greatest Films of All Time, as chosen by 358 directors including Woody Allen, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Quentin Tarantino…”

Quentin Tarantino?? And the reason to read further is…?

Any poll of the 50 greatest films which excludes Lawrence of Arabia and/or The Third Man has all the value of tits on a broom handle.

X. Trapnel said...

"...there are amazing amount of riches to be found online on appreciation of film..."

Absolutely, but for better or worse it's an underground, a legal samizdat. By decline I'm referring to what goes on in the public space.

Karen said...


Any poll of the 50 greatest films which excludes Lawrence of Arabia and/or The Third Man has all the value of tits on a broom handle.


Hear, hear!

DavidEhrenstein said...

Just for you, Siren! (and anybody else with taste and smarts.)

La Faustin said...

Part of me wants you to be lounging around in a slip all Maggie the Cat/Linda Darnell (it's August, don't you deserve a break?), the other part keeps checking obsessively for a new post. What's your schedule, Siren dear?

VP81955 said...

Siren, here's something you can look forward to this November, and it has nothing to do with politics (in fact, it will give you a reason not to watch the returns on TV that night): http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/535187.html

(Great news for pre-Code fans!)

D Cairns said...

I am so there.

Particularly as I've been getting into Heisler lately: a terrific noir stylist who perhaps never made a top-ranking movie but always seems to make something interesting, even with goofy B-material. Storm Warning, his anti-Klan movie with Ginger Rogers and Ronald Reagan, is quite a thing.

gmoke said...

Kay Francis day at TCM today August 21, 2012. Saw "Confession" all the way through. Who dubbed her singing voice? Basil Rathbone was a consummate cad and deserved his ignominious death.

La Faustin said...

Do you think it could be her own singing? She also has a song in MANDALAY, wonderfully sung and in a voice not incompatible with her speaking voice.

Yojimboen said...

From http://www.kayfrancisfilms.com/2009/03/i-loved-woman-1933.html

“I Loved a Woman” (1933)

“(Edward G.) Robinson didn’t like the script, and made his objections loud and clear. But he did insist on having Kay as his leading lady, much to her disapproval. She wanted nothing to do with I Loved a Woman, and was not surprised when the 5’5” Robinson tried to cut the 5’7” Kay down to his size take after take. In many of their scenes together, Robinson was forced to stand on a box and have Kay lean into him. Years later, Kay still maintained that her best scenes had been cut from the final print, and that the film was a complete dud.

On top of losing her best scenes on the cutting room floor, being harassed by a temperamental talent, and working on something she wanted nothing to do with, Kay’s singing was badly dubbed by Rose Dirman. [Warner Brothers never made any effort to even find a singing voice which pleasantly resembled Kay’s, even though she was a long-term contract star.]”