Friday, January 26, 2018

The sweet pain of anticipation

Oscar-winning vixen, Dorothy Malone
Remembering gorgeous Oscar-winning vixen Dorothy Malone ... Oscar musings a la Meryl Streep with a little help from Camus
by Denis Ferrara

“YOU’RE beginning to interest me ... vaguely.”

That was Dorothy Malone, coming on to Humphrey Bogart in Howard Hawks’ 1946 movie “The Big Sleep.”

This is a classic noir jumble of too many plots and not nearly enough hard-boiled dames, with a resolution that after all the twists and turns doesn’t make much sense, but the fun was in the getting there! Malone, famously blonde later on, played an eyeglass-wearing, brunette bookstore clerk to Bogart’s private eye, Philip Marlowe.
“You're beginning to interest me ... vaguely.”
The scene runs short of four minutes — with a fade-to-black transition during which Malone and Bogart share a gin and considerably more. (No, we don’t even see them kiss, but from the moment Malone draws down the shade on the door and murmurs, “Well, it looks like we’re closed for the afternoon” you know that gin is gonna be the least of it.)

Had “The Big Sleep” not also featured the ravishing and insolent Lauren Bacall, and a tempting nymphomaniac in the person of Martha Vickers, Malone’s little scene might have been one of those star-making moments. As it turned out, Malone would toil in Hollywood for ten more years, until bleach, major stardom — and an Oscar — would briefly elevate her career.
Dorothy Malone died last week at age 93. Her last film appearance had been a small role in 1992’s “Basic Instinct” in which she played an aging lesbian murderess. (She was a friend to the film’s protagonist, a younger lesbian murderess, Sharon Stone.) It was a neat and appropriate noir fini to her long career.
Dorothy Malone in "Basic Instinct."
All of Malone’s obituaries cited on top, her four-year run on TV as Peyton Place’s Constance MacKenzie. In certain ways this might be considered the “peak” of her career — some of the obits clearly read that way — but in fact, the series popularity was based on the characters played by Mia Farrow (Allison MacKenzie), Barbara Parkins (Betty Anderson), and Ryan O’Neal (Rodney Anderson).

Like most everybody of my age, I watched “Peyton Place” but now I recall only the real-life drama surrounding Allison/Mia cutting her hair. (In media terms, remember the fuss over Keri Russell, chopping her locks in season two of “Felicity”? Enlarge that 50 times, then throw in Frank Sinatra, and Sinatra’s ex-wife Ava Gardner chortling, “I always knew Frank would end up in bed with a boy!”)
Malone as Constance MacKenzie in "Peyton Place."
I was fascinated by Malone’s dramatic blonde beauty, but Constance was rather a bore. It took me a couple more years to discover the real Dorothy Malone. Or at least the Malone that she very cleverly invented for a few years — flagrantly blonde, flagrantly sexy, flagrantly over-acting; all heaving bosoms, passionately parted lips and flaring nostrils.

Malone had gone blonde to play Doris Day’s sister in 1954’s “Young at Heart.” Always a stunner — with vividly blue eyes, wide-open and strong, larger-than-life features — peroxide seemed to dramatize all that had been waiting in the roots of more natural shades.
Dorothy Malone, Doris Day and Elisabeth Fraser with Robert Keith in “Young at Heart.”
Two years later, Douglas Sirk, the king of psychotic, soapy, Technicolor melodramas, cast Malone as the the hard-drinking, sexed-up oil heiress Marylee Hadley in “Written on the Wind.”
As Marylee Hadley in "Written on the Wind."
The film starred Lauren Bacall (sympathetic new wife) Robert Stack (Bacall’s weak alcoholic hubby and Marylee’s brother) and Rock Hudson, Stack’s stolid best friend who secretly loves Bacall. Hudson is not-so-secretly the object of Malone’s raging desire. (When she’s not throwing herself at Rock, Malone entertains herself by picking up men in bars and at truck stops. And why not?)
Moving in on Rock Hudson in "Written on the Wind."
To watch Malone in this film is to simply stand back in shock and awe. She pouts, she leers, she inhales constantly, making the most of costumes that are either skin-tight or low-cut, or both. Her eyes pop with rage and lust. You can’t look away. The high point of her performance — of her career, really — is “The Dance of Death.”

Brought home by the cops for some sexy misbehavior, Malone retires to her bedroom and turns on the record player — the song is titled “Temptation.” The mambo music soars and undulates — at an ear-splitting decibel — as Malone strips off her cocktail dress and writhes wildly while changing into an equally revealing negligee. Tossing her hair, tossing her torso, kicking up her heels, Malone is in her own world of lusty rebellion. As the song reaches its climax, her much-worried father (Robert Keith) emerges from his room and promptly drops dead. They just don’t make ‘em like they used to!
Later in the film, Malone — dressed in black and sporting a hat the size of Texas — has a terrific courtroom scene and ends the film rather suggestively caressing a four-foot reproduction of an oil rig. (Rock Hudson has escaped her — what else is a girl to do?)

Is it good acting? Not really. Is it great performing? You bet. Hollywood decided Malone’s image change deserved an Oscar. And considering the realities of awards and what they really connote, it was a worthy win.
Malone would use aspects of this persona for the next few years — in “Man of a Thousand Faces” playing Lon Chaney’s neurotic wife ... ”Too Much, Too Soon,” as Diana, the tragic daughter of John Barrymore (a very good Errol Flynn) ... and teamed again with director Douglas Sirk for “Tarnished Angels” again with Rock Hudson and Robert Stack. (A less lurid movie than “Written on the Wind,” but very effective.)
Malone played a neurotic wife in “Man of a Thousand Faces."
In “Tarnished Angels” with Rock Hudson.
By the time Malone was trapped under wreckage in 1960’s ocean-liner disaster film “The Last Voyage” in 1960 (again with Robert Stack) her feature film career was all but over. She would more or less end her big-screen days with the fascinating but little known Robert Aldrich western, “The Last Sunset” with Kirk Douglas, Rock Hudson, Joseph Cotton and a marvelous, young Carol Lynley.
Robert Stack coming to her rescue in “The Last Voyage.”
“The Last Sunset” with Kirk Douglas, Carol Lynley, Dorothy Malone, and Rock Hudson
There were three unsuccessful marriages and two daughters. No scandals, a quiet private life. I couldn’t even find any interviews with her on YouTube!

That hardly matters. Dorothy Malone seared my little movie-loving heart when she mambo-ed her daddy to death in “Written on the Wind.” RIP, you gorgeous Oscar-winning vixen.
“... WE need the sweet pain of anticipation to tell us we are really alive.” ― Albert Camus
WELL, I hate to argue with Camus, but these days I must be really dead. Perhaps my flu, which lingers, is to blame. Nope! I won’t blame a virus for doing what it’s made to do.

The Oscar nominations are out, and there are choices pleasant to me — Sam Rockwell, Margot Robbie, Allison Janney (I still can’t believe Janney lowers herself to appear in “Mom”), Frances McDormand, Timothee Chalamet. As well as choices bound to make me crazy — Meryl Streep. Stop the madness!
Streep as Katharine Graham in “The Post."
While Streep’s performance in “The Post” is shoulders above her nod for “Florence Foster Jenkins” — head and shoulders would be too generous — the mere fact that she was nominated for “Florence” should have put her out of the running for five years, at least. In this cultural climate of punishment without trial, artistic abominations should be dealt with just as swiftly.

Streep — and the Academy — need to take to heart the words of Frances McDormand at the SAG Awards — let’s give younger actors more of a chance. “They need doorstops too!” (Although Frances said that while accepting her umpteenth award for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” she is hardly the annoyingly ubiquitous onscreen presence that Streep is. And I’m still not over Streep’s ludicrous Oprah comment, “Now she has to run!” after Winfrey’s big Golden Globes speech.)
But as far as I’m concerned, the awards could be given out tomorrow, at Pinks on North La Brea Avenue, and I wouldn’t feel I’d lost out on a night of Hollywood glamour.

I merely drifted in and out of the SAG Awards, taking in the above-mentioned McDormand speech, the fact that Sam Rockwell had blessedly shaved, and Rita Moreno’s extreme over-emoting as she came out to present Morgan Freeman with his lifetime achievement award. (Moreno appeared “overcome” by her standing ovation, but believe me, if they hadn’t stood, Moreno would have somehow worked in the fact that she’s won an Oscar, Tony, Emmy and Grammy. And that she still feels Natalie Wood was all wrong for the role of Maria in “West Side Story.”)
I still love movies, old and new. Although I have a feeling that once I am no longer writing from a prone position and get to see the multi-nominated “The Shape of Water,” I might be ejected from the theater, for obstreperous behavior and tossing things at the screen. I’ve already similarly misbehaved here at home just watching the trailers. (My aversion to the trailers probably means I’ll end up loving Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy. I’m certainly a great admirer of Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer.)
Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones in "The Shape of Water."
I guess right now I’m too ... preoccupied, to care about most of the people who make the movies, with their hashtags and social media presence, lack of mystery, lack of sense, lack of taste. Not to mention the stunning hypocrisies that have surfaced over the past few months. (I don’t mind a little hypocrisy, it’s only human.)

Oh, I know — I’m painting with too broad a brush, with a color scheme too dark. There’s still fun to be had observing the vagaries of show biz and its denizens. Yes?

Maybe by the time March 4th rolls around, and I’m watching the show, my mood will have lifted. Maybe Lady Gaga will really be good in “A Star is Born.” (That lands on us in September.) Maybe somebody will have a nice old-fashioned falling-in-love-on-set scandal to amuse us? Or a lovely star callously left at the altar?

Wow. I’m actually longing for the “good of days” of Brad-Jen-Angie or Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. Is this the flu or dementia?
Contact Denis here.