April 25, 2011

She Loved And Trusted Him…Until He Cut Off Her Head!

After my recent review of POOR PRETTY EDDIE here on the Del Valle Archives blog, I remembered SAVAGE INTRUDER, a completely unreal train wreck of a film that was barely released back in 1969 that starred the late great Miriam Hopkins in her last performance. This was the real last gasp of the Baby Jane/horror hag sub-genre of films made to showcase screen stars of a certain age who had seen better days. At least that breaks it down for starters, as this mind boggling exercise in bad taste is right up there with POOR PRETTY EDDIE in the tasteless sweepstakes and it really is neck and neck. Eddie is slightly in the lead with editing and production values since this film has a one time editor as it's director and it shows. Donald Wolfe is more than likely a Kenneth Anger devotee with none of the master's style or talent. The trippy camera angles, the dated evil hippy killer is all stuff we have seen before, yet this film has it's charms especially if you realize going into to this that the filmic pleasures are in the details. Now, Ms. Hopkins was a fine actress and Bette Davis' equal in every way. In fact, Hopkins might have been the better of the two since she could do comedy where Davis could not unless you are talking camp and that’s where Baby Jane comes to mind. The irony that Hopkins would make her own "Baby Jane" too late in the game is just another case of bad timing.

Our lady killer, John David Garfield.
SAVAGE INTRUDER could have been a lot more fun than it is if only a decent director with a notion of editing had been at the helm, like Curtis Harrington for example. The performances of Miriam Hopkins and Gale Sondergaard deserve a better property, but lets make do with what we have, which does have it's share of ripe moments for both of these Oscar nominated ladies. The real psycho of the piece is played by the late John Garfield's son David (his screen billing here is John David Garfield) and he is good  looking enough to make you believe his seduction of those foolish woman in his orbit. We have all seen this before with William Holden in SUNSET BLVD, or more to the point, Albert Finney in NIGHT MUST FALL. Nothing is new in this one and everything is recycled in this grade Z schlock fest.

The Hollywood Sign never looked better.

After what might be construed as the most “artsy” part of the picture (the opening credits are juxtaposed over a dilapidated Hollywood Sign in total neglect as the wind blows, nearly knocking over a letter or two from it foundation), the film begins and continues to rock on with wild abandon in which Miriam Hopkins stars as a movie queen/has been (which she really was at this point in her life) who perceives herself as a still vibrant star who spends her days drinking and dreaming of a comeback that will never happen. She is surrounded by people who still remember her when she was golden (and more should have been made of it if the director who also wrote the screenplay had not been so pleased with himself for securing her services in the first place).

Norma Desmond? Hardly.
The film opens with enough Robert Aldrich touches and none of his style, yet we get it especially when we have Miriam already deluded to the max, sitting in her Hollywood mansion, preparing for a party and her idea of preparation is to consume at least a gallon of Vodka while doing her make-up! She is in full flood as she staggers around her boudoir before making it to the top of her staircase, ready for that close-up, only to fall head first down the stairs injuring herself enough to be wheelchair bound like Joan Crawford for the duration of the film. In other words, Miriam is both Davis and Crawford all rolled into one character. Didn't Donald Wolfe think we might notice?

Our favorite "Spider Woman."
Gale Sondergarad plays her assistant, similar to the role played by Eric von Stroheim in SUNSET BLVD, cleaning up madam's messes while enabling her fantasy of self image befitting a former movie queen in retirement. All this changes with the arrival of Mr. Garfield, who has spent the really trashy prologue of the film hacking up elderly female booze hounds by stalking them down Hollywood Boulevard to their sad abodes, then dispatching them with an electric knife. Once he arrives on the scene, the household of our beloved movie queen is his happy hunting ground and so “goodbye yellow brick road.”

As I mentioned earlier, the film was screened sporadically in theaters and at Drive-Ins from 1969 until the early part of 1971, where it fell into obscurity before being released on VHS in the early 90s (and then on DVD some 20 years later). I prefer the film’s shooting title of THE COMEBACK, although it really should have had a Robert Aldrich title of COME BACK SWEET KATHERINE or something more in keeping with it's roots, dyed as they are. While SAVAGE INTRUDER has a running time of nearly 100 minutes, the best bits, of course, involve Miriam in one way or another.

"Is this a fag or a freak?"
My personal faves are Miriam drunk on top of a float during the Hollywood Christmas parade(!) When asked on camera what she thinks of the event she replies, "Hollywood used to be a great town full of glamour…now it is full of fags and freaks." (Hey, maybe this is really a documentary). Or better still, Miriam appears at a low class Hollywood drug party when she’s asked by a midget drug dealer (are there any other kind?) if she wants some LSD. She answers, “The only trips I take are to Europe."

This film almost qualifies as a “so bad it is good”, except it really isn't, not by a mile, yet it has so many moments that stay with you long after the film is over that it must have some value as a time capsule of what Hollywood became long after the studio system stopped protecting it's stars from themselves and television brought it all home to roost. The opening shots of the Hollywood Sign falling apart before our very eyes stayed in my subconscious until I wrote my book, using that similar imagery as a starting point for my memoirs. The mansion that is used to create Miriam’s world was built by the silent film director Maurice Tourneur and was lived in at one time by Madge Bellamy of WHITE ZOMBIE fame. They credit Norma Talmadge as the owner but there has never been any proof of this to my knowledge.

"What am I doing in this movie?"
There is a treat for THREE STOOGES fans as we watch the last of the Curley's, Joe Besser, play a tour guide/bus driver who must pull his bus over near the Hopkins Mansion so one of the tourist girls can throw up. Taking cues from Bette Davis' Hammer film THE ANNIVERSARY, where we endured Davis rendition of "Rock of Ages”, Miriam sings “Taking A Chance On Love", which is sadly what she is doing throughout the film. We also get to see the star flash her tits before the camera in a jaw dropping moment when she is on her massage table, just like Bette Davis in DEAD RINGER. Of course, what really places the film in the American International school of filmmaking are the acid flashbacks we get to watch courtesy of Garfield junior, where we finally learn what mama did to turn her little boy into the SAVAGE INTRUDER. I hope you will check this one-of-a-kind film out for yourself if only to hear the psycho tell one of his victims the following: “Leslie thought you were in the trunk. She didn't know you were in the flower bed with Greta.”

"Miriam, show us your tits!"
Now that I’ve enticed you into seeing this rare piece of guilty pleasure trash, I must relate two stories about Miriam Hopkins as they were told to me by director Russ Meyer on my cable access show SINISTER IMAGE. Russ directed Hopkins back in 1964 in his soft core take on FANNY HILL. The film was shot on location in Berlin and he remembers Miriam vividly as "a real pistol of a gal." He told me that while they were filming, she took him aside after a particularly long day of shooting and asked if he were free to "do the town with her" as they say. Russ, being no prude when it came to getting down, asked Miriam exactly what kind of scene was she looking to get into in a city like Berlin. Miriam looked him straight in the eye and said "Russ, tonight I am looking to party with the ladies, if you catch my drift." Well, Russ caught her drift alright. He told me they drove deep into the night within Berlin's red light district looking for just the right ladies for Miss Hopkins’ pleasure.

"Miriam, I love you....Just kidding."
The second story Russ told me involved the iconic director Fritz Lang who had directed Miriam in one of her most torrid 30s performances and apparently was very much attracted to her physically as well. Russ said that she delighted Fritz so much to the point where he proposed marriage to her as they were about to board a train together. She was overwhelmed by Lang's passionate attentions and said yes on the spot. Lang had taken the trouble to secure a justice of the peace to travel with them that evening and they were married while still on the train. What followed was their wedding night in which Lang satisfied his desire for Miriam Hopkins. When they arrived at their destination, Fritz then revealed to Miriam that the Justice, was, in fact, an actor and their marriage was not for real. Miriam, would, of course, never forgive Fritz Lang for such an outrageous prank. You could say she got "Punk’d." Russ loved the fact Miriam could be so candid regarding such a personal revelation. Needless to say, Russ Meyer never forgot directing Miriam Hopkins. It is a sad shame he was not around to spice up SAVAGE INTRUDER as well.

1 comment:

  1. All I can say is WOW!!! What a shocking insight into Miriam Hopkins' life. This is a movie I iwll be tacking down for sure along with the film she did with Russ. Thank you for the article, David.