Karl Malden

Dead Ringer (1964)

Bette Davis Dead RingerIn their youth, twin sisters Edith and Margaret (Bette Davis in a dual role) were both in love with Frank DeLorca.  Even though Frank had been pursing Edith first, Edith’s relationship with Frank comes to an end when Margaret announces that she’s pregnant with Frank’s baby and they are to be married.  Edith doesn’t see Margaret again until eighteen years later when they are reunited at Frank’s funeral.

After the burial, Edith visits Margaret at her home and all of Edith’s past resentment comes rushing back to her.  Frank had come from a very wealthy family so while he and Margaret were living in the lap of luxury, Edith was struggling to make the cocktail lounge she owns financially solvent. To make things even worse, she finds out that Margaret was never really pregnant all those years before.  With so many financial problems hanging over her head, Edith plans to get Margaret to come over, kill her, and switch clothes with Margaret so it looks like Edith committed suicide and Edith can assume Margaret’s identity.

Even though Edith has no problem physically passing as Margaret, she struggles to cover up the differences in their behaviors.  But as Edith spends more and more time living Margaret’s life, she discovers that Margaret had a few skeletons in her closet — specifically one named Tony Collins (Peter Lawford).  And with police sergeant Jim Hobbson (Karl Malden), who had been dating Edith, getting involved, can Edith keep up the act?

I’ve always thought Dead Ringer was one of Bette Davis’ more under-appreciated movies.  What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is generally thought to be Bette’s last significant movie, but she made a few gems after that and Dead Ringer is one of them.  It has its moments of pure camp; the scene where Margaret offers Edith money and Edith yells, “You haven’t got that much!” before knocking the checkbook out of her hands and shoving her into a chair is the stuff Bette Davis drag queen impersonator dreams are made of.  And you have to admit that the whole concept of getting to see Bette Davis duke it out with herself on screen is pretty campy in and of itself.

But on the whole, Dead Ringer is actually a very interesting thriller.  Bette has a field day in this movie; she’s great in both roles. The story has plenty of suspense and twists to keep you wanting more.  I love its supporting cast; Karl Malden is good and even though I don’t generally care much about Peter Lawford, I loved how wonderfully sleazy he was in this.  The musical score by André Previn serves as the icing on the cake.  Dead Ringer also features some fine direction from Bette’s Now, Voyager and Deception co-star Paul Henreid.

A word of warning: If you have never seen Dead Ringer, do yourself a favor and do NOT watch the trailer first! It’s one of those trailers that gives away absolutely everything.

Dueling Divas Blogathon 2013

Thanks to Lara from Backlots for hosting the third annual Dueling Divas Blogathon! Head on over to Backlots to read more contributions.

Ruby Gentry (1952)

Ruby Gentry PosterIn the town of Braddock, North Carolina, social status is everything.  This is a harsh reality Ruby Corey (Jennifer Jones) knows all too well.  Ruby has long been in love with Boake Tackman (Charlton Heston), but since Boake comes from a prominent family and Ruby does not, it becomes difficult for them to have a relationship.  One night, Jim Gentry (Karl Malden) takes some of his wealthy and influential friends, including Boake, to a hunting party at a lodge run by Ruby’s family.  It’s the first time Ruby has seen Boake in a while, and she is determined to resume their relationship, much to the dismay of her religious brother Jewel.

Ruby is close to Jim Gentry and his invalid wife Letitia.  When she was in high school, Letitia had let Ruby live with her and Jim for a while and took Ruby under her wing, showing her how to live the life of an upper class lady.  The next day during the hunt, Ruby and Boake manage to sneak away together and Ruby gets mad at Boake for taking her for granted.  Meanwhile, Boake has been seeing Tracy McAuliffe, who is more on his social level, and becomes engaged to her.  Ruby is angry when she hears the news and tells him she has no interest in continuing to see him on the side.

Not long after hearing about Boake’s engagement, Letitia becomes ill and Ruby comes to tend to her while she is on her deathbed.  After Letitia passes away, Jim proposes to Ruby and they soon get married.  But even after marrying Jim, one of the wealthiest men in Braddock, many of the townspeople still look down upon her for being low class.  Things aren’t helped when Ruby and Boake dance together at the country club, driving Jim into a jealous rage and he gets into a fight with Boake.  Ruby swears it’s Jim she really loves and he believes her.  Their marriage wasn’t meant to last, though, and Jim is killed when he accidentally falls overboard while sailboating.

Ruby really does miss Jim, but the rest of town doesn’t believe it and accuses her of killing Jim for his money.  But she quickly realizes she now has the power to turn the tables on the whole town.  Since Jim had loaned money to so many people to start business, people who looked down on her for so long, she gets her revenge by demanding that money back, putting almost the whole town out of business.  Boake was among the many people who got money from Jim, but Ruby is willing to spare him if he starts seeing her again.  He refuses, so Ruby destroys the business he’s worked so hard to build.  Ruby and Boake meet again at a hunting party at her family’s hunting lodge.  During the hunt, Ruby and Boake begin to rekindle their relationship, but Boake is gunned down by Jewel, leaving Ruby to live as a total outcast in town.

Ruby Gentry is a super melodramatic camp-fest, but it’s a rather fun melodramatic camp-fest.  The plot is essentially that of a fast-moving soap opera and it isn’t particularly well written.  Ruby Gentry is narrated by a doctor we meet in the beginning of the movie, but it’s a pretty baffling narrator choice since the doctor is barely in the movie.  Jennifer Jones and Charlton Heston chew the scenery like it’s a piece of prime rib.  But if you’re a Charlton Heston fan, Ruby Gentry is an interesting movie because it’s an early movie in his career and he doesn’t play the type of character he would go on to become associated with playing.  It certainly isn’t Jennifer Jones’ best performance, but I couldn’t help but have a little fun watching her in this.

All Fall Down (1962)

Sixteen-year-old Clint Willart (Brandon De Wilde) wants to be just like his older brother Berry-Berry (Warren Beatty).  Berry got out of his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio and now spends his days roaming from city to city and picking up lots of women along the way.  When Clint arrives in Florida to give Berry some money he needs, he quickly realizes the locals don’t hold Berry in the same high regard.  In fact, Berry has a reputation for beating up women and is in jail for assaulting a prostitute.  Clint bails him out and is disappointed to be sent back home almost immediately rather than getting to spend much time with Berry.

Clint comes back to Cleveland feeling completely disillusioned.  His parents, Annabell (Angela Lansbury) and Ralph (Karl Malden), are dying to find out what Berry has been up to, but Clint doesn’t even want to talk about it.  We soon find out Clint is the only well-adjusted person in his family; Annabell is overbearing and Ralph is a drunk.  But Clint’s life gets a little bit brighter when Annabell invites her friend’s daughter Echo O’Brien (Eva Marie Saint) to stay with them.  Echo is thirty-one and has never been married, but Clint is infatuated with her.

When Christmas rolls around, Berry decides to pay a visit to Cleveland.  His parents are thrilled to have him back, but it turns out Echo is the happiest to see him.  When she meets the infamous Berry, they hit it off right away and begin a relationship.  She loves him and he wants to love her back.  Berry even manages to stay out of trouble for a while because of her.  But when he finds out she’s pregnant, it brings his violent tendencies back to the surface.  He leaves her and she commits suicide.  Clint wants to kill Berry for what he’s done to Echo, but when he sees Berry in a moment of weakness, he realizes Berry ought to be pitied more than anything.  He’ll never be like Berry, but he realizes he’s dodged a bullet.

All Fall Down is so very close to being a great movie.  The cast is amazing and there are some excellent performances to be seen here.  It features some beautiful cinematography by Lionel Lindon.  This was one of the first films directed by John Frankenheimer and he proves to be a very capable director.

The only thing stopping it from being a great film is its occasionally flimsy writing. Right from the beginning of the movie, we see how Clint adores Berry, but I don’t know exactly what Clint sees in him.  I completely understand how a teenager would romanticize the kind of freedom Berry has, but I’m not sure how he would have been so completely oblivious to this sinister side of his own brother.  In the beginning, Clint says that Berry isn’t a bad guy, so I’m curious as to what made him likeable in the first place because the Berry we see in the movie isn’t likeable at all.

Despite my issues with the writing, I still enjoyed All Fall Down.  The quality of the performances definitely helped carry the movie through its weaker moments.  It’s just too bad to see a movie be great on so many levels but not quite reach its full potential.

What’s on TCM: March 2012

Happy March, everybody!  There are plenty of things I’m looking forward to on TCM this month!  First of all, there’s the tail end of 31 Days of Oscars.  The end of 31 Days of Oscars means the return of Silent Sunday Nights, and it’s back with some excellent silents.  Lovers of pre-codes should definitely keep an eye on the schedule this month because I noticed quite a few pre-codes mixed in there.  Starting this month, Drew Barrymore will take over Alec Baldwin’s co-hosting duties for The Essentials.  Karl Malden is the star of the month and I haven’t seen very many of his movies, so this is a good chance for me to see more of his work.  Every Monday night this month will feature films from the British new wave era, which is something I’m very eager to see.  So, let’s get on to all my highlights for the month:

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