Sunday, April 30, 2023

Noirsville Short of the Month

A archival ride on the now demolished IRT Third Avenue Line ("Third Avenue El") in New York City, 1953. Shot in 16mm Kodachrome by D. A. Pennebaker. Music by Duke Ellington

 Daybreak Express (1935)

by D. A. Pennebaker – Criterion Collection

Noirsville Pulp Fiction / Title Art of the Week



Saturday, April 29, 2023

Kitten With A Whip (1964) A Beatnik / Juvie Delinquent Noir

"You're the only man who did something good for me without wanting something bad."(Jody)

Directed & Written by Douglas Heyes, based on the novel by Wade Miller. 

Hayes was a TV Director of episodes of 77 Sunset Strip, Naked City, Twilight Zone (notably Nervus Man In A Four Dollar Room), Thriller, before directing his first and only film Kitten with a Whip. Cinematography by was by Joseph F. Biroc (It's a Wonderful Life, The Killer That Stalked New York, Cry Danger, Loan Shark, The Glass Wall, Vice Squad, Down Three Dark Streets, and other Noirs). Music was by Henry Mancini (uncredited and maybe some others (there is some good uncredited diegetic jazz from a hi-fi record player).

The film stars Ann-Margret (Once A Thief, Carnal Knowledge, Magic, 52 Pickup) as Jody Dvorak, John Forsythe (The Captive City, The Glass Web, In Cold Blood) as David Stratton. 

Ann-Margret as Jody Dvorak

John Forsythe as David Stratton

Peter Brown plays Ron (Foxy Brown), Patricia Barry (The Tattooed Stranger, Sea Of Love) as Vera, Richard Anderson (No Questions Asked, The People Against O'Hara, A Cry In The Night, Compulsion, Seconds, The Night Strangler) as Grant, Skip Ward (Night Of The Iguana, Kiss Me Stupid) as Buck Vogel, Leo Gordon (Riot In Cell Block 11, Baby Face Nelson, as Police Sgt. Enders).

Richard Anderson as Grant

Peter Brown as Ron, Diane Sayer as Midge, Skip Ward as Buck

With Diane Sayer as Midge, Ann Doran as Mavis Varden, Patrick Whyte as Phillip Varden, Audrey Dalton as Virginia Stratton, Patricia Tiara as a striptease dancer, Nora Marlowe as Clara Eckhart, Frances Robinson as Martha, Maxine Stuart as Peggy, Doodles Weaver as Salty Sam. 

We get an opening sequence that is one on the wildest introductions to a femme fatale ever.

The Opening Sequence

We hear a Jazz Noir, heavy on Bongo drums. (an early affirmation that this is definitely a Transitional Noir and not a last gasp Classic Noir.) The bold upright lines of the title sequence suggest prison bars. These moving and disappearing bars suggest an end of confinement. 

This sequence might be an homage to Saul Bass, it's done in his style or the other possibility is that it's uncredited. Bass did the title sequences for both The Man With The Golden Arm, Anatomy of a Murder, even the Noir TV series Johnny Staccato had a similar in style opening title sequence. 

We can see behind the title bars. It's the grassy, weedy, outline of the top of an embankment. A woman suddenly appears. A silver outline line that fleshed into a blonde in a knee length nightie. She pauses at the edge panting. She looks back. She runs down the embankment. The nightie billows up. It looks like she is wearing nothing underneath. 

This woman runs barefoot into the end of a railyard. A freight drag is pulling out of the world. 

She runs alongside the freight train and grabs at handrail along the side a boxcar momentarily, swings but slips off and runs down the embankment and away from the tracks. 

A railroad switchman who had spotted her and was running after her stops his chase once she leaves the train.

She is still running down the railroad right-of-way along the tracks and past a building site then hops a fence when she spots another watchman with a German Shepherd. 

She finally ends up in a residential neighborhood, At a cul de sac she spots a house that has numerous newspapers laying on the lawn, a sure sign that nobody is home. 

She breaks in the house, finds a little girls bedroom and slips under the comforter. she pulls down one of the stuffed animals hugs it and felon Jody Devorak aka Jody Drew goes to sleep.

The Story

The owner of the house, David Stratton, is a square john who is being groomed for political office. The party's operatives, one of whom is his good friend Grant, want him to run for senator. David gets dropped off by Grant and his wife Vera at his house after his various meetings. 

Grant goes in with David to pick up some papers and while in the living room Grant mentions that he wants David to have Patricia his wife up on the platform when he speaks next Friday "the public image" aka "family values." He tells David  fit's important, then he leaves. David goes to bed even closing his daughters bedroom door, not noticing Jody sleeping in his daughters bed. 

AM. David is shaving in the bathroom. The stuffed animal that Jody slept with falls off the bed and makes a noise loud enough for David to hear. 

He goes to investigate and finds Jody under the comforter. Surprise, surprise, surprise. 

David pulls the comforter off Jody waking her up. David at first assumes Jody is a political dirty trick, i.e. the rival party is setting him up for bad publicity. He asks Jody her name. She tells him Jody Drew.  Davis, asks her it that is the name she was born with? 

David goes through various scenarios, asks her if she walks in her sleep and she just happened to wake up in the wrong bed. He asks her if she's expecting someone?, an indignant father, an outraged husband and photographers? 

When David picks up the phone to call the police, he asks to speak with Lieutenant Woodman, he's put on hold. Jody tries to run out of the house. David hangs up the phone, grabs and stops her.  

Jody begins to sob laying her head on David's chest. He tells her its no good. Jody tells him to go make his call but before he can move the phone rings. It's the Lieutenant. David tells him that he thought he had a problem but that now he thinks he can handle it. Wrong!

Jody starts dissimulating. First she tells David that it was a sonority prank and that her parents will be furious and yank her out of school. David calls bullshit, it's summer vacation. 

David then tells her he'll call her parents. She tells him not to do that. 

Jody then tells a sob story about her family life. She tells Davis that she never knew who her old man was and she doubts her mother would know who he was either. 

It was Barney, Barney the slob, she was running from. Her mom and Barney got drunk, they fight, break furniture, mom passes out, and Barney comes into her bedroom to play hide the sausage. She kicks him in the nuts and makes it out the window, before Barney can grab her, and runs. That is how she got here. 

Jody: You get this? You live behind walls here man, where I come from is outer space. Before I knew it he was all over me, but I got a knee up and it was worth it to hear him howl. I made a dive for the door but he grabbed me but I'm sort of slippery myself I made it out the window, man how I got this far I'll never know. He did this [Jody pulls down the back of her nightgown displaying fingernail scratches on her back]. 

David:  All I've been thinking about is the damage you are doing me.

Jody:  You mean it you wont send me back?

David:  To that? You need help, the juvenile authorities. 

Jody:  [huffing] We've met. They'll either send me back or put me away. What's the difference? That's the Jody doll you wind her up and anyway you point her she turns up lousy.

David: No, well think of something.

Jody tells David that she's got an aunt up in LA and that is where she was headed. Jody tells David that she likes it here better. David tells her she can't stay, but she can't leave dressed like that. Jody asks if David's wife has something she's about to throw away that she can borrow? David tells her that she's not Jody's size and never throws anything away. 

Cut to David in a dress shop getting clothes for Jody. Size 7, dress, bra, and panties. A neighbor of his calls out....

Neighbor: Why, David, I thought I'd never find you in ladies' underwear.

Virginia won't fit it

Then, looking a David's intended purchases tells him his wife will never fit in them. The saleslady tells David that is doesn't come in bigger sizes but all is resolved when David tells them that it's the thought that counts, and his wife can return them for something she'll fit.

Back at the house, Jody shows off her new duds, dress, shoes, and bag to David.

You look terrific!


Jody: Everything's so creamy! 

Jody fawns over David. Gets down on her knees in front of him sitting on the couch and tells him that just saying thank you doesn't seem enough. 

Cut to David driving Jody to the bus station. He slips her $150. She tells him that she'll pay him back some day. She gets out bends over showing some cleavage and says goodbye. Boy Scout David did his good deed for the day. 

It all starts going Noirsville when David goes to his local and meets Grant. They are having a drink and he just starts to tell Grant all about this sad, poignant. encounter he had with Jody. when suddenly her picture flashes up on the TV Screen. 

David tells a waiter to get the bartender to turn up the volume. Jody is wanted for setting fire to the women's detention building at juvenile hall, and then stabbing a matron when she escaped. Grant asks about the encounter he was going to tell him about but David blows it off telling him it wasn't all that important. 

David, driving back to the house, passes a Caution sign on the street. He should have paid attention. He pulls into the garage the walks into the house. 

David finds the TV on blaring cartoons, comic books, hair rollers. makeup, tissues, nail polish, an ashtray all scattered about on the living room rug, and Jody wrapped only in a bath towel. 


 David is pissed. She tells him she just had to dye her hair. 
Jody: Surprised?

David: Jody what in the hell... [he grabs her arm] are you doing"

Jody [angrily]: Hand off buster! Don't you ever bruise me David. God knows what I might do to you if you ever bruise me. Be nice, Don't be mad what have I done to you?

Hands off buster!

David: There's a woman in the hospital who may be dead because of you. 

Jody: She tried to stop me, that was her mistake. 

David: Coming back was yours. [David heads for the phone] 

Jody: don't you want to know why I came back?   

David: I do know the police are looking for you.

Jody: David wait. I'm only a girl I panicked. What if they come and work me over?  Don't you see I'm thinking of you, how you helped me and how they can twist that. David if they work me over it could come out real wild, and wrong.

David [nodding]: And even if they don't.  

Jody: I told you I'd keep you out of it., but I had to dye my hair and I got to lay low for a couple of days.

Here of course.

Jody: Where else can I go? 

Anywhere. Home. Cause you weren't running away from home or Barney. You do remember Barney, Barney the slob? 

Jody: That was the truth, only it didn't happen last night. I was fifteen.

I'm as sympathetic for you as I was this morning, even more so but you need a lot more help than I can give you. Now I hope you understand I'm going to telephone the police. I'm gonna tell them the truth and you, you can tell them anything you want. 

Jody: Put it down! You poke your finger at that dial and that's when I start screaming rape. 

What, you're insane who'd believe you?

The police, your wife, every dirty mind in town. 

Jody: The police, your wife, every dirty mind in town. You don't think so? A girl under eighteen, running scared, a fugitive, but you take her in sure, you tuck her into bed, you give her money, you buy her clothes, for what? Because your so shiny bright in a big white hat or because your a dirty creep whose wife is out of town? Not just a creep, but a sick creep, that's how I'll tell it. That's what started me screaming because you're sick! 

David: I am now. 

Jody: Well go ahead it might be fun. I'll get my claws into you before anyone gets here. We'll both be so torn up I'll get hysterical, they may even pity me for a change. I'll be a celebrity and so will you. Well go on killer throw the dice. 

David: All right!

Just as he is going call her bluff and pick up the phone it rings. Its Ginny, David's wife. What follows is a hilarious sequence because as soon as David says hello Ginny, Jody starts smiling and gets a mischievous look on her face. 

David takes the phone and walks away from Jody but she grabs the cord and starts playing tug of war with David while he's trying to talk. She eventually pulls him off balance and he falls over the couch while she falls to the rug. They knock over a small coffee table. 

Ginny asks if the house is falling down.  The connection breaks.

Audrey Dalton as Virginia Stratton

David: Don't overplay it Jody of so help me...

Jody [takes her hand and scratches his chest ripping his shirt]:  You'll what?

Jody gets up and heads for the bedroom. She comes back out wearing Ginny's nightgown. teasing David. He asks her why is she doing this, why does she want to hate him?, telling her I'm the same man who helped you this morning. Here we get Jody having a realization and acknowledgement of a bipolar moment. She tells David that she's sorry and that she'll go. 

Two minutes later she's busting his balls again, telling him she's changed her mind. She puts her arms around Davids neck, tells him we've got the whole house to ourselves, you be daddy I'll be mommy.... There's a knock on the door. Jody runs for the bedroom. 

Its Grant and Vera with their chauffeur carrying a welcome home bouquet for Virginia. They take it up to the bedroom. Jody hides in the closet. After Vera and the chauffeur leave the bedroom Jody comes out of the closet and grabs the telephone and brings it into the closet with her and there makes a call that accelerates the descent into Noirsville. At this point we are about 35 or so minutes into the film.



Director Heyes ratchets up tension nicely in unexpected encounters with relatives, friendly neighbors, and sudden phone calls that provide the catalyst for various turns and twists. 

Ron (Peter Brown) and Buck (Skip Ward) as the Beatnik baddies babbling beat speak are quite amusing. It may have been really scary to conservative squares back then. It's hilarious now. I would almost accuse Rick Miller of stealing the concept of Ron & Buck and instead of using beat speak and having his two Sin City characters Douglas Klump and Burt Shlubb babbling on about cars, etc., etc.

I first saw this back in the 1960s not in a theater but on a movie of the week or something similar. I was a kid. I hated it because I couldn't relate to the story, and I didn't like Jody's female manipulations. Now I have the lens of time, experience, and maybe have some wisdom now, lol, and I can relate more to the story. 

Ann-Margret is phenomenal in this. She really shows off her acting range chops as she tries out different personalities, sweet and vulnerable to vicious and everything in between. She also displays some surprising agility when she ran along side and tried to hop that freight train. It looks like her and not a stunt woman. 

John Forsythe to me will always be Bentley Gregg from the TV series Bachelor Father (TV Series 1957–1962) and he is playing pretty much the same type of character at first but as he gets deeper and deeper into Noirsville you see that familiar character really unravel. In the series he was a bachelor who was raising his niece whose parents were killed in an auto accident. So it's the same dynamics an adult man dealing with a teenager, though this time it's a teen from hell. He does a great job reacting to Jody's wild swings. Bravo. The ending is still your typical Hollywood Classic Noir ending where everything is tied up neatly. Life isn't neat. 7/10