Thursday, September 3, 2009

Can These Marriages Be Saved?

Has married life got you down? Has your once attentive fiance turned into a couch potato husband? Have your dreams of eternal romantic love scattered to the winds just like the rice pitched at your wedding?

There, there dear. Junk Cinema understands. Over the decades it has featured an endless stream of desperate housewives coping with less than ideal husbands and suburban angst. So before you turn Kate Gosslin-like on your your "lame fish" hubby (who probably deserves it for carrying on with the nurse who assisted with your tummy tuck), please consider how these gals coped with marital disappointment.

"Beyond the Forrest" (1949)-Rosa Malone (Bette Davis) is a "midnight gal" stuck in a "9 o'clock town". Making things worse, she's stuck with a panty waste husband and a smart-mouth teenage maid. Rosa is left with nothing to do but tweeze her brows, sneer at her husband's yokel friends and shoot porcupines. Then she begins a torrid affair with a city slicker who promises to whisk her away to Chicago. He backs out of the deal, of course, and poor Rosa finds herself with an inconvenient bun in her oven. When a withered old coot threatens to reveal Rosa's affair, she shoots him, which takes care of one problem, and then throws herself over a highway embankment, which takes care of her other problem. But not for long. As all sinners must be punished, Rosa develops a lurid brain fever and begins slathering her face with make-up. Then she begins to drag her slowly expiring carcass across the rail road tracks in a last ditch attempt to leave her puny hamlet. "It's tough on a girl like Rosa living in a town like this," a neighbor observes. "It's tough on the town," retorts her friend. Amen.

"The Bride and the Beast"(1958)-Here's a question I bet etiquette expert Emily Post never got asked: how long should a bride wait to tell her new husband after the wedding that she's no longer in love with him, but is in love with gorilla he keeps chained in the basement? Such is the dilemma faced by Laura Carson (Charlotte Austen) in this Ed Wood scripted domestic drama.

Worried that his wife and Spanky the gorilla are becoming unnaturally close, hubby Dan consults with an eminent psychiatrist who hypnotises Laura. What they discover is a corker: Laura was a gorilla in her past life! No wonder she can't resist Spanky's animal magnetism! This revelation, however, may be good for Laura's peace of mind, but bad for her marriage. Realizing she can't deny her true self any longer, Laura dumps Dan and runs off to Africa with live some mountain gorillas.

If this movie has a major flaw, it's what prompts Laura to realize she was a gorilla in her past life: an angora sweater. See, she puts on the sweater and it arouses her past life memories. Viewers are left to wonder why Laura's reaction to angora didn't reveal that her past life was as an angora goat. But that would be too logical and there was nothing Ed Wood avoided more in his movies than logic. The real reason scriptwriter Wood chose an angora sweater for the catalyst to Laura's monkey shines is because he had a thing for angora. Wood put angora sweaters in his movies every chance he got, whether it made sense or not. In "Glen or Glenda?", the angora sweater Glen's confused fiance Barb owns becomes a symbol of their reconciliation and you could argue that made sense (Glen had always wanted to wear it). However, in "The Bride and the Beast", the angora sweater connection doesn't work. The best way to get through any Ed Wood movie is to realize it's his world and your just living in it.

"I Married a Monster from Outer Space!"(1958)-No, this is not the name of Kate Gosslin's new reality show. It's the heart wrenching ordeal of new bride Gloria Talbott, who's dreams of marital bliss are torpedoed on her wedding night. Seems hubby Tom Tryon just can't bring himself to consummate their union. He's also spending a lot of time with his "friends" who are equally uninterested in their wives. Gloria knows something is wrong and boy is she right: her husband's body has been taken over by an alien who wants to mate with earth gals in hopes of reviving his dying race. The problem is the aliens haven't quite figured out the intricacies of human copulation. What will Gloria do when she learns the truth? Will anyone believe her? And if the aliens finally figure out the ways of human love, will Gloria succumb?

Some people have argued that this oh-so-serious sci-fi flick is actually A) a subtle jab at commies-under-every-bush paranoia or B) a subtle jab at closeted gay men who married to keep up appearances. Either way, you can't help but feel bad for Gloria, who wrings her hands in the best women-in-distress fashion and blames herself for all her troubles. However, in this case of marital misery, it's definitely the guy's fault.

"Frigid Wife"(1961)-The title says it all. The only interesting thing about this flick is that double Oscar-winner Sally Field's mom Margaret has the title role.

"Suburban Roulette"(1967)-Love thy neighbor as thy self? Herschell Gordan Lewis takes a break from his usual drive-in blood baths for a look at that seething cauldron of lust, the suburbs. Here folks try and take their mind's off their 30 year mortgages by doing drugs, getting stewed, having orgies, indulging in wife swapping and throwing the occasional barbecue. The real danger in this neighborhood, however, is not unkempt lawns or too loud stereos, but husband and wife switch-hitters Ron and Margo (Tony McCabe and Allison Louise Downe). No gal is safe from these two, including poor Ilene Fisher (Elizabeth Wilkinson) who's foray into suburban sleaze drives her attempt suicide. Although Ang Lee's "The Ice Storm" covered this topic with more taste and restraint, Herschell Gordan--and Junk Cinema--got there first. Not recommended for anyone who wants to respect themselves in the morning or head their local neighborhood association.

Of course, no salute to wifely misery would be complete without mentioning actress Constance Ford. Although best remembered today as the the saintly and long suffering Ada on the defunct soap "Another World", Ford had quite a run in the late 1950's and early 1960's as the ultimate desperate housewife and shrewish mom. Her reign of terror includes "A Summer Place"(1959), where Ford hasn't let husband Richard Egan touch her in years and forces teen daughter Sandra Dee to wear cast iron griddles so she won't "bounce when she walks". In "Claudelle Inglish" (1961) Ford is the bitter wife of a poor farmer who actually encourages her teen daughter Diane McBain to sleep around. When Claudelle refuses to become the trophy wife of rich Claude Akins (and who could blame her?), Constance swipes her kid's best dress and runs off with the future "Sheriff Lobo" star herself. Last but not least is 1963's "The Care Takers", where Robert Stack tries out his controversial group therapy techniques on a zany collection of mental hospital patients (like grieving mom Polly Bergen, ex-hooker Janis Paige and "Breaking Away" mom Barbara Barrie) while head nurse Joan Crawford practice judo moves on the very devoted Constance Ford. Paging Dr. Phil!

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