Thursday, April 4, 2013

Sothern Comfort: Another Heapin' Helpin' of Southern Fried Cinema!

How-dee, movie lovers! It's time to set a spell and savor another high-cholesterol, high-calorie helpin' of Southern Fried Cinema!

On today's menu is the chicken-fried, dipped in gravy hoot fest "Walk on the Wild Side"(1962). Set in Depression-era New Orleans, it features a lovesick cowboy lookin' for his lost love, a jail bait teenager, a diner owner with a faulty Hispanic accent and a flinty bordello madame who's establishment is the most popular place in town.

Yes, sir, with a line-up like that, there sure is gonna be a hot time in the old town tonight!

Our story begins with an impressive Saul Bass title sequence where a slinky black cat prowls the back streets of the Big Easy to a slow, bluesy song. From that high point, however, "Walk on the Wild Side" goes down pretty quick, like a polecat with dysentery.

Englishman Laurence Harvey(!) is cowpoke Dove, hitch hikin' his way back to New Orleans in hopes of reuniting with his former cuddlemate Hallie. Along the way he meets up with runaway Kitty Twist (a pre-"Barbarella" Jane Fonda), who's been sleeping in a drain pipe. The two decide to travel together, thumbin' rides and hoppin' freight trains. In due time, Kitty makes a move on Dove, but because his heart belongs to Miss Hallie, he says no. Miffed, Kitty retaliates by stealing from kindly diner owner Teresina (Anne Baxter, who models an endless array of off-the-shoulder blouses so we won't forget that she's Hispanic). To make up for Kitty's theft, Dove agrees to work for Teresina who, naturally, falls for him.

Now, you are probably wondering about this Hallie person Dove is so crazy about. She's played by high fashion model Capucine with her French accent firmly in place (in case you are keeping score, we have an English man playing a Texan, a Caucasian playing a Hispanic and a French woman playing a native southerner. Is this movie becoming a UN version of "Hee Haw" or what?). Since Hallie and Dove last met, she's become a hooker for the Doll's House, New Orleans premiere bordello. Hallie once had ambitions to be an artist and she's mighty conflicted about her choice of job, sighing, "I've got the run...of the bottom of the well." Lucky for her, flinty Madame Jo (Barbara Stanwyck) is, well, especially fond of her if you catch my drift.

Anyway, Hallie and Dove at last meet, but it takes Dove a long time to figure out that his lady love is a lady of the evening. Even though she lives in a big house where nobody locks their doors. And all the tenants are female. And the front room boasts a large, well stocked bar tended by a cube-shaped bruiser who wields a baseball bat. And some combo is always wailin' away. And, gosh, a lot of men sure do drop by after hours. And the gals are always so happy to see them.

Hmmm...what could that Miss Jo be runnin' here? An Amway dealership? A Mary Kay convention? A Rand Paul fundraiser? I do declare...

Lonesome Dove is disappointed to learn that Hallie is a hooker, but he still wants to marry her. And Hallie still loves Dove enough to give up turning tricks to marry him. However, because Miss Jo likes Hallie a lot she's not about to loose her to some Texas Bible thumper. So she threatens to have Dove sent up the river on a trumped-up morals charge. When that doesn't work, Miss Jo has her goons beat Dove to a pulp. And when that doesn't work a complicated gun battle erupts and poor Hallie gets a bullet in her gut. Soon the police arrive and arrest everybody and the Doll House shuts its doors and Miss Jo goes off to jail...thanks to the testimony of Kitty Twist. Oh, did I forget to mention that Miss Jo hired Kitty to work for her even though she is under aged? Well, she did.

As you can see, a mere recitation of the plot fails to capture the trashy ambiance of "Walk on the Wild Side". Watching this movie is like watching a prim-and-proper spinster reading a trashy book, exclaiming every so often, "This is a trashy book!"--but she wouldn't dream of putting it down. The producers of  "Walk on the Wild Side" were no doubt counting on people assuming the movie was dirty, so they did their best to hype that angle--in the name of responsible entertainment, of course. "This is an adult picture!" ads for the flick screamed."Parents should exercise discretion in permitting the immature to see it"--thus guaranteeing that every "immature" person on the face of the Earth would make a bee-line for the flick.

Adding to the movie's charm/smarm is watching the cast fight it out to see who could produce the most ludicrous corn-pone accent...and the worst performance. Laurence Harvey, who made a career out of playing sophisticated creeps, is out to sea as a Texas buck supposedly in his '20's. The exotic Capucine is equally unconvincing as the regret-filled Hallie. Anne Baxter sports an uncomfortably theeck accent and lots of peasant blouses--because she's Hispanic, you see. Barbara Stanwyck, meanwhile, slits her eyes and flares her nostrils as Madame Jo. And Jane Fonda chews up the scenery as Kitty.

Apparently, making this movie was not as much fun as watching it. Harvey and Capucine didn't like each other--he even compared kissing her to licking a beer bottle! Jane Fonda insisted on rewriting a lot of her dialogue herself. And Anne Baxter was hoping the movie would wrap up before she went into labor: she was six months pregnant at the time.

In the end, "Walk on the Wild Side" proved to be a cinematic dead end for everyone involved--except for the lovers of Bad Movies, of course. Until next time dear readers: keep a song in your heart and a bad movie in your VCR. Cheers!

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