Friday, December 2, 2011

Southern (Dis)Comfort (Part 1 of 2)

On Veterans Day, the PFA kicked off a series called Southern (Dis)comfort: The American South in Cinema.

As I mentioned, the Roxie picks up the series on December 10 and continues it until the 15rh. The Roxie's 12 films are Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Strange One, Two Thousand Maniacs!, God's Little Acre*, Moonrise, Swamp Water, Hurry Sundown*, Poor White Trash, Wild River, Spring Night, Summer Night, The Beguiled* and Shy People.

Films followed by an asterisk are also screened at the PFA. Elliot Lavine screened The Strange One last year at Not Necessarily Noir.

Unfortunately, the Roxie run of the series overlaps with the Noir City kickoff and the Balboa fundraiser. I'm not sure how many of the Roxie screening I will attend.

I saw three films in the series at the PFA in November.

House By the River starring Louis Hayward; directed by Fritz Lang; (1950)
The Fugitive Kind starring Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani & Joanne Woodward; directed by Sidney Lumet; (1960)
The Story of Temple Drake starring Mirian Hopkins; directed Stephen Roberts; (1933)

I can't say I'm overly impressed with the series so far. Of the three, House By the River stands out. It's the story of a writer (Louis Hayward) who kills his maid. I liked the scene where he hears water in a drainpipe which indicates his maid is taking bath upstairs. This sends him into a sexual frisson. The writer convinces his reluctant brother to help dispose of the body. Eventually, the body is discovered and attention focused on the writer's brother as the murderer. All this excitement inspires the writer's creativity and he begins to write the best work of his career...loosely based on actual events.

There was nothing particular impressive about the film. Hayward, Lee Bowman as the brother and Jane Wyatt as the writer's wife give decent performances and the plot is serviceable but the film was incredibly mediocre in my opinion.


The Fugitive Kind is one of those weird films based on a Tennessee Williams play. The production code eviscerated Williams' film adaptations leaving the audience to look for "codes" and "hints" as to the film's true intent like some cinematic Where's Waldo. I don't know if that was the case with The Fugitive Kind which is based on pair of Williams plays. In the film, people behave in peculiar ways and speak in allegorical terms. Lumet seems to want to make a film that tells a story without actually telling the story.

At times, the film seems like a showcase for Brando's masculinity and smoldering sexuality. Joanne Woodward shows up looking like she stepped out of Lil Abner cartoon. Anna Magnani has the largest female part as the shop keeper, married to a bedridden Klansman who takes on Brando as an employee and to bed in the little storeroom in the back. For his part, Brando's character is tired of being treated like a prize bull by the women he meets.

I'm sure there was something beneath the surface of this film but I didn't find it. I will say that Brando was the female Marilyn Monroe. When he was on screen, you couldn't take your eyes off him. However, Magnani holds her own in her scenes with Brando.


The Story of Temple Drake was based on a novel by William Faulkner. Steve Seid introduced the film and mentioned the film was pre-Code but so scandalous that it is partially credited with introduction of the Hays Code. The poster for the film is particularly artistic.

The film version portrays Temple Drake (Miriam Hopkins) as a coquette who falls in with some rough characters who don't understand what it means when a girl says no. Some may argue that Drake "got what she deserved" which would have made for a fine ending but they tacked on a feel good ending which soured me. I guess we are fortunate because Seid mentioned the producers considered tacking an epilogue that stated after her ordeal, Temple Drake devoted herself to missionary work in China.

Movie Poster for The Story of Temple Drake


I will write about the rest of the films I see in this series at the PFA and Roxie.

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