Originally posted on Silver Screenings:
What an exciting first day of the Great Villain Blogathon! Today’s posts look at villainy in men and women – as well as in mysterious flocks of birds.
A Person in the Dark looks at the “misunderstood” Mrs Iselin (Angela Lansbury) in The Manchurian Candidate.
Caftan Woman show us how Raymond Burr throws his weight around in Pitfall.
Moon in Gemini discusses the beautiful cinematography of The Conformist and its disturbing “protagonist” (Marcello Clerici).
Girls Do Film examines Fatal Attraction, and the über 1980s femme fatale, Glenn Close.
Movie Movie Blog Blog features the purely villainous Judge Claude Frollo in Disney’s underrated The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Two Heads are Better Than One tells us why we can never trust birds again with The Birds.
CineMaven’s Essays from the Couch scrutinizes Peggy Cummins’ hold over John Dall in Gun Crazy.
Le Mot du Cinephiliaque analyzes the complexity of Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining.
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Webster defines a “villain” as a cruelly malicious person who is involved in, or devoted to, wickedness or crime.
Given that definition, what kind of person comes to mind? A tall, beefy man with a weathered face and a handlebar moustache? A wiry fella in a pinstriped suit, gray fedora, and shifty eyes? A brassy blonde with sharp features, t-strap pumps and a figure like an hourglass (with a gat in her hand)?
Maybe, maybe not. But chances are that the face that springs to your consciousness is not that of Veda Pierce.
In Warner Bros.’ Mildred Pierce (1945), Veda was superbly brought to life by Ann Blyth. She was petite and lovely, with silky, raven-black hair, a melodious voice, and a way with a wardrobe.
And she was also a villain. Par excellence.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mildred Pierce, this film tells the story of the title character, played by Joan Crawford, who is forced to make a life for herself and her two young daughters – Veda and Kay (JoAnn Marlowe) – when her husband Bert (Bruce Bennett) leaves her high and dry. Mildred does better than make ends meet – she gets rich by opening a chain of successful restaurants, and although nothing is good enough to satisfy her selfish older daughter, that doesn’t stop Mildred from pulling out all the stops in an effort to win Veda’s love and devotion. She learns by the film’s end, though, that she would have done better to expend her energies elsewhere. If you know what I mean.
For my entry in our Great Villain Blogathon – Part Deux, I’m taking an in-depth look at the life and times of Miss Veda Pierce – and why she’s a prime candidate for Villain of the Year. (Tread lightly – spoilers ahead!)
The Early Days
In the beginning, Veda is like a villain-in-training. She’s more brat than brute; more meanie than miscreant. When we first meet her, she’s extricating her tomboy baby sister, Kay (the delightful JoAnn Marlowe), from a street game of touch football with some neighborhood boys. In contrast to Kay, who’s clad in dusty dungarees, Veda’s wearing an A-line skirt and plaid blazer, with her hair neatly tied with an attractive bow. “Look at your clothes,” Veda admonishes her sister. “Honest, Kay, I think you ought to take a little more pride in the way you look. You act like a peasant.” Veda’s persona is further revealed when she tells her mother that the name of the musical piece she’s been working on is “Valse Brillante,” then snottily adds, “That means ‘Brilliant Waltz.’”
As Veda demonstrates her piano prowess, the girls learn from Mildred that their father has left the family. While Kay is saddened by the news, Veda seems completely unaffected, even slightly amused as she inquires about the reason for the split. “If you mean Mrs. Biederhof, Mother, I must say my sympathy is all with you,” Veda says, referring to her father’s “friend” from the neighborhood. “She’s distinctly middle-class.”
More basic bitchery is displayed when Veda tries on a dress that her mother bought her, and complains about the material: “I wouldn’t be seen dead in this rag,” she says. But her self-centered nature and innate cruel streak first rear their collective ugly heads when Veda suggests to her mother that she marry Wally Fay (Jack Carson), her father’s former business partner. “If you married him, maybe we could have a maid like we used to. And a limousine,” Veda says. “It’s just that there are so many things that I – that we should have and haven’t got.” (Sweet kid.)
But the hate really comes out after Mildred gets a job as a waitress, successfully hiding her new vocation from her children until Veda finds her uniform. When Mildred confronts her, Veda lets forth with a spew of venom that leaves no doubt as to her character (or lack, thereof): “I’m really not surprised. You’ve never spoken of your people – who you came from – so perhaps it’s natural. Maybe that’s why father –“ (She doesn’t get to finish that last thought because Mildred gives her a well-deserved double smack, but you get the idea.)
The Middle Years
A few years go by. Kay, sadly, dies after a brief bout of pneumonia, Mildred gets rich off of her restaurants, and Veda begins to grow into her villainy. She starts out by borrowing money from the waitresses who work at her mother’s restaurants, but this is small potatoes. Her next move is to secretly marry the son of a wealthy local family, get the marriage dissolved, and blackmail the family into forking over a $10,000 settlement by saying that she’s expecting a child. When Mildred learns that Veda lied about the impending joy bundle, Veda’s true colors come shining through again: “Why do you think I went through all this trouble? Why do you think I want money so badly?” Veda inquires. “With this money, I can get away from you. From you and your chickens and your pies and your kitchens and everything that smells of grease. I can get away from this shack with its cheap furniture. And this town and its dollar days, and its women that wear uniforms and its mean that wear overalls. You think just because you made a little money, you can get a new hairdo and some expensive clothes and turn yourself into a lady. But you can’t. Because you’ll never be anything but a common frump whose father lived over a grocery store and whose mother took in washing. With this money I can get away from every rotten, stinking thing that makes me think of this place or you!”
To Mildred’s credit, she sees Veda – for, perhaps, the first time –for the “cheap and horrible” person she really is. She tears up the $10,000 check, kicks Veda out of the house, and goes on an extended trip to Mexico. By the time she returns, though, she seems to have forgotten all about Veda’s cheap horribleness – when Mildred learns that Veda is singing in a dive owned by Wally Fay, she asks her daughter to come back home. But Veda refuses. “You still don’t understand, do you? You think new curtains are enough to make me happy. No, I want more than that. I want the kind of life that Monte taught me, and you won’t give it to me. . . . the way you want to live isn’t good enough for me.” (Yikes. If I said that to my mother, I would be spitting out teeth.)
The Later Years, or Villainy in Full Bloom
Veda tearfully returns to her mother, but only after Mildred has sold herself in marriage to her former lover, Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott), in exchange for a third of her business, and spent a mint refurbishing his run-down mansion. This, finally, was “good enough” for Veda. And her homecoming, typically, was chock full of promises: “I’ll change, Mother, I promise. I’ll never say mean things to you again.” (Yeah, yeah, put it to music.)
You’ll notice she didn’t promise not to steal her mother’s husband, though.
The proverbial poop hits the fan on the night of 17th Veda’s birthday party. After discovering that she is losing her business (because Monte decided to sell his share), Mildred goes looking for her double-crossing spouse and finds him at their beach house – in a lip lock with Veda. “It’s just as well you know. I’m glad you know,” Veda tells her mother, sharing that the affair has been going on since before she returned home. “He never loved you – it’s always been me. I’ve got what I wanted. Monte’s going to divorce you and marry me. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Mildred pulls out a gun, but she drops it and leaves after Monte
desperately wisely counsels her to “use [her] head.” To his credit, after Mildred’s departure, Monte tells Veda that he has no intention of marrying her: “You don’t really think I could be in love with a rotten little tramp like you, do you?” But Monte pays for those words when Veda empties her mother’s gun into his body.
Hearing the gunshots, Mildred returns to the house and is greeted by Monte’s dead body and her daughter’s tear-stained rationale for the shooting: “He said horrible things. He didn’t want me around anymore. He told me to get out. And then he laughed at me. He wouldn’t stop laughing. I told him I’d kill him. He said I didn’t have guts enough. I didn’t mean to do it. I didn’t mean to, I tell you. But the gun kept going off, over and over again.”
Veda then turns to her mother – the same mother whose husband she stole (and MURDERED) – and asks her for money to flee. When Mildred instead tries to phone the police, Veda tries to talk her out of it – and actually puts the blame on Mildred! “Think what will happen if they find me. Think what will happen . . . Give me another chance. It’s your fault as much as mine. You’ve got to help me. Help me, Mother. Just this once. I’ll change, I promise I will – I’ll be different. Just give me another chance. It’s your fault I’m the way I am!”
Once again, Mildred is suckered by the one-two punch of her love for her daughter and Veda’s tears, and she gives in, fully intending to go as far as taking the responsibility for the crime. But the jig is up when Veda is caught trying to escape, and offers these emotionless last words to Mildred: “Don’t worry about me, Mother – I’ll get by.”
The Final Analysis
It occurred to me recently that Veda might not have grown into a full-fledged villain if it had not been for the death of her sister. Kay served as the common-sense adviser to Veda, as well as her confidante and conscience. Once she was gone, though, this barrier to villainy was removed, leaving Veda vulnerable, impressionable, and ripe for the double-barrelled influence of Wally Fay, who had dollar signs for eyeballs and would sell out his own brother for a buck, and Monte Beragon, a wastrel and a spendthrift with the morals of a gerbil.
Don’t get me wrong – Veda was far from angelic; after all, anyone who tries to pimp out her mother for a new house and a limo definitely has the necessary seeds to sprout a full-grown villain, no question. And there’s also no doubt that even if Veda hadn’t been driven to murder, she could qualify as a villain simply by virtue of her self-centered, narcissistic, avaricious nature (not to mention calling her mother a common frump!).
Still, sometimes (usually after a glass of wine or two), I like to think that maybe, just maybe, Veda isn’t the complete sociopathic wretch that she appears to be, and that, at her core, is just misunderstood.
A gal can dream, can’t she?
This post is part of The 2015 Great Villain Blogathon, hosted by Ruth at Silver Screenings, Kristina at Speakeasy, and yours truly.
Click the picture to the right to check out the many great posts being presented as part of this event!
You’ll be glad you did.
Graced with one of screendom’s most menacing visages, Ted deCorsia was a natural for the gritty, realistic characters that were a staple of the film noir era. A performer from an early age, the actor also possessed a deep voice and gruff manner that transferred well over the airwaves and he was a prominent figure in New York radio for a number of years. In addition to roles in more than 60 feature films and appearances in some of television’s highest rated series, deCorsia was seen in a total of nine films noirs: The Naked City (1948), The Lady From Shanghai (1948), The Enforcer (1951), The Turning Point (1952), Crime Wave (1954), The Big Combo (1955), Slightly Scarlet (1956), The Killing (1956), and Baby Face Nelson (1957).
Edward Gildea deCorsia was born on September 29, 1903 (some sources state 1904 or 1905), in Brooklyn, New York, the only child of vaudeville performers Edward deCorsia and Helen Le Sage. Because his parents’ career took them from town to town, deCorsia attended schools in cities all over the country. He also inherited his parents’ affinity for the stage – his first experience as a performer reportedly came at the age of six, when he appeared in a play written by his father called Red Ike.
As a young man, deCorsia attended night school, earning money during the daylight hours as a plumber, electrician, and salesman. He also worked for a time as a short-order cook, which led deCorsia to open his own restaurant in Brooklyn – the venture was “an artistic success but a financial flop,” the actor later said.
With his failed restaurant attempt behind him, deCorsia decided in 1924 to try his hand in the relatively new medium of radio, and found that he was an instant success – he not only possessed a distinctive voice quality, but he was able to mimic more than 50 different dialects, which made him a popular addition to a wide range of programs. He would continue his radio career for nearly three decades, playing on thousands of network shows, and serving as the narrator on the long-running series The March of Time. deCorsia’s versatility in radio was the stuff of legend – on one occasion, he was scheduled to perform in a two-man dramatic program, but before the show went on the air it was learned that the other actor could not make it to the station. So deCorsia went on alone – playing both parts. At one point, deCorsia was a member of Orson Welles’ famed Mercury Players (which would figure significantly in his later career) and eventually, the actor formed his own company, The Monticello Players. As deCorsia’s radio career continued to flourish, he took time out to appear on Broadway in The Father Returns, which closed shortly after its May 1929 opening, and the 1930 production of Scarlet Sister Mary, starring Ethel Barrymore, whom deCorsia labeled “the greatest actress in America and the most interesting person I have ever met.”
But the actor’s life was not completely focused on his career. He married a woman named Mary Robertson – in the early 1930s, it is believed – but the two were divorced in 1935. Several years later, in 1939, he wed Rachel Thurber, with whom he had two daughters, Carey and Deidre.
In the late 1940s, deCorsia’s old pal from the Mercury Theater days, Orson Welles, asked him to come to Hollywood – Welles had gone west several years earlier with a number of the performers from his radio company and had made his mark on the silver screen in such films as Citizen Kane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). deCorsia readily agreed, and traveled to Hollywood to accept a featured role in Welles’ production of The Lady from Shanghai (1948). After filming on Shanghai was complete, deCorsia returned to New York for his second film – The Naked City (1948), which was released several months before Shanghai and became the actor’s film debut.
The Naked City was a hit with audiences and critics alike, and deCorsia was singled out in the New York Times as “especially good . . . as an athletic thug.” After the release of Shanghai (which was described by one critic as a “frequently illogical story that spins so dizzily it’s almost impossible to follow”), deCorsia began shuttling between New York, where he continued his successful radio career, and California, appearing in a series of films over the next several years, including The Life of Riley (1949), starring William Bendix as the bumbling patriarch; A Place in the Sun (1951), the George Stevens-directed classic, in which deCorsia portrayed a judge; and The Enforcer (1951), his third film noir. Here, in one of his most unforgettable roles, deCorsia played gang leader Joseph Rico, who, as the story begins, is being held in protective custody, expected to testify the following day against his much-feared boss, Albert Mendoza (Everett Sloane). For his standout performance, deCorsia was hailed by numerous critics, including the Los Angeles Examiner’s Ruth Waterbury, who raved, “Ted deCorsia . . . etches a portrait of naked terror that is goosebump-making of the first order.”
During the next few years, deCorsia racked up roles in several more noirs: The Turning Point (1952), where he played a small part as a mobster; Crime Wave (1954), where he was seen as an ex-convict who makes life miserable for a former fellow inmate; and The Big Combo (1955) – one of my personal favorites – in which deCorsia makes a brief but memorable appearance as a shipman who is able to tie a vicious mobster to the disappearance of his wife. By now, deCorsia began expanding his performing horizons to include the budding medium of television, where he would be seen during the remainder of the 1950s and throughout the following decade on a wide variety of programs, from The Twilight Zone, The Untouchables, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents to I Dream of Jeannie, Green Acres, and The Monkees. He also starred as Mike Hammer, one of his few “good guy” roles, in the series, The Mickey Spillane Mysteries.
Between television appearances, deCorsia didn’t slow down his film career. In 1956, in addition to The Steel Jungle, a low-budget crime drama with newcomers Perry Lopez and Beverly Garland; and The Kettles in the Ozarks, the eighth in the “Ma and Pa Kettle” series, the actor was featured in two more films noirs. In Slightly Scarlet, one of the few noirs filmed in Technicolor, deCorsia was a standout as Sol Caspar, a powerful crime boss who is contemptuously described by one character as “a low-grade moron with delusions of grandeur.” In his second noir of the year, The Killing, deCorsia portrayed a corrupt cop, Randy Kennan, who is in debt to local mobsters.
Also in 1956, deCorsia was featured in The Conqueror, branded in at least one book as one of the 50 worst films of all time. Starring John Wayne as Genghis Khan and Susan Hayward as the daughter of a Tartar king, the picture was saddled with atrocious dialog and terrible casting. More notable than these failures, however, was the fact that a number of the scenes from the movie were filmed near Yucca Flat, Nevada, where extensive atomic bomb testing had taken place. Over the next several years, nearly half of those who worked on the film – including Wayne, Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, Pedro Armendariz, and Dick Powell – would contract various forms of cancer. The link between the diseases and the shooting of the film would not be discovered until decades later.
Meanwhile, with the debacle of The Conqueror behind him, deCorsia was seen the following year in a string of box-office hits, including Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), the acclaimed retelling of the battle between Wyatt Earp and his friend Doc Holliday against the nefarious Clanton brothers. Also that year, deCorsia was featured in his final film noir, Baby Face Nelson (1957), starring Mickey Rooney in the title role. Here, deCorsia portrayed Rocca, a 1930s-era mobster who arranges for the prison release of a small-time hood named Lester M. Gillis, who would later be known as Baby Face Nelson (Rooney).
deCorsia was seen in a handful of mostly forgettable films during the rest of the decade, but he was back to the blockbusters in 1960 with a small role in the big-budget epic Spartacus, starring Kirk Douglas, Jean Simmons, and Lawrence Olivier. By now, deCorsia spent most of his time on his television appearances; his best films during this period included Nevada Smith (1966), a violent Steve McQueen vehicle in which deCorsia portrayed a bartender, and Five Card Stud (1968), a western starring Robert Mitchum and Dean Martin that flopped at the box office, but deserves a second look.
With both his television and film careers now winding down, deCorsia took on only a few roles in the early 1970s, including The Delta Factor (1971), an action film based on a Mickey Spillane novel, and The Outside Man (1973), an offbeat crime drama. The latter film – in which deCorsia, fittingly, played a mob boss – marked the actor’s last big-screen appearance. He died on April 11, 1973. (There seems to be some discrepancy as to whether he died of natural causes, a blood clot, or a heart attack.)
Although Ted de Corsia was never one of Hollywood’s household names, he was a gifted character actor who found success in radio, television, and film. Along with his talent for expertly depicting a variety of dialects, and his commanding screen presence, deCorsia was, at his best, one of the screen’s meanest personages.
We remember him today.
Originally posted on Silver Screenings:
Mwahahaha! The Great Villain Blogathon is almost here!
Starting next Monday (April 13), we’ll be focusing on the Bad Guys in film and why we love (or love to hate) these scoundrels.
Below is the schedule of miscreants. Because some of these dastardly folks are so popular, there were some duplicate choices. In that case, we went with your second choice if your first selection was already taken. (In other words, “We are altering the deal. Pray we don’t alter it any further.”)
Just let us know if there are any oversights in the schedule below.
|Now Voyaging||Victor Grandison from The Unsuspected|
|Caftan Woman||J.B. MacDonald / Pitfall|
|Sister Celluloid||Lewt McCanles, Duel in the Sun|
|The Stop Button||Kasper Gutman and friends in The Maltese Falcon (1941)|
|Moon in Gemini||Marcello Clerici, The Conformist|
|GirlsDoFilm||Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction|
|Part Time Monster||Frankenstein/Frankenstein’s creature|
|Movie Movie Blog…|
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My Pre-Code Crazy pick for April was a no-brainer. As soon as I saw Night Court listed in the TCM “Now Playing” guide, I knew what my selection for the month would be! The film stars Phillips Holmes, Anita Page and Walter Huston, and offers everything you could want in a pre-Code feature.
What’s it all about?
Cab driver Mike Thomas (Holmes) and his stay-at-home wife, Mary (Page) are a blissfully married couple, and their family is made complete by their bouncing baby boy. Their serene existence is rocked to the core, however, when Mary is imprisoned by a corrupt judge (Huston) on a trumped-up charge, and the couple loses custody of their baby. It’s up to Mike to put the pieces of his life – and his shattered family – back together again, and nail the judge who was the cause of all their woes.
Who’s the cast of characters?
Mike Thomas is young, hard-working, devoted to his pretty young wife, and a little prone to displaying a hotheaded streak of jealousy. Case in point, when Mike arrives home from work one morning, Mary tells him that she hasn’t been all alone: “He didn’t tell me his name,” she says. “[He was] very handsome, with big blue eyes and curly hair. . . he got kinda familiar. He bit me.” Mike instantly flies off the handle, declaring that he’ll kill the guy – until Mary reveals that she’s referring to their baby. He also exults in his wife’s innate goodness: “Gee, you’re sweet,” he tells her. “You know, when I think of them dames I gotta run around in my cab all night – and then you home here, so sweet and clean…” These two characteristics – Mike’s appreciation for Mary’s innocent nature, and his hair-trigger jealousy – combine with interesting results when he learns of his wife’s arrest.
Mary Thomas is the very embodiment of the happy homemaker. It’s obvious that she couldn’t be more delighted with her lot in life; in one scene, she tells her baby how lucky he is: “You’ve got the grandest father in the world. A great, big, tall, fine man with a grin on him that would take the heart out of any woman. And a home that’s a palace! Four great big rooms! Think of it – four rooms! With a real bathtub and a gas stove – oh, gee, we’re lucky!” She’s also as kind and thoughtful as she is “good” – but it’s the manifestation of her compassionate nature that lands her in hot water with the law.
Judge Moffett, who presides over the night court of the film’s title, is as crooked a jurist as you’d ever want to meet. Taking bribes, doling out unnecessarily harsh sentences, woefully bereft of empathy or any sense of justice – and keeping a juicy blonde on the side – this guy is a real winner. He’s also self-preservation personified, stopping at nothing – and I do mean NOTHING – to ensure the safety of his own neck. He himself tells his sidepiece: “I’m going to take very good care of myself and my future.”
What’s my favorite scene? (I’m glad you asked!)
Early in the film, we see a parade of detainees in Judge Moffett’s court that serves to both give us a flavor of the times, and a revelatory portrait of the character (or lack thereof) of the judge. There’s the tragic woman who is unable to find work and is arrested for prostitution: “Everything I had is gone . . . I want food, and when I ask for it, they think I’m trying to sell myself. Well, I will! Sure, I’ll sell myself! Who wants to buy me?” And the trio of oily gents who are clearly guilty, whose case the judge summarily dismisses, having previously received an under-the-table cash payoff from their defense attorney. But my favorite is the rotund, hiccupping drunk chick, who goes from insisting that she’s never touched a drop of liquor in her life, to cheering the 90-day sentence the judge gives her (“Atta boy, judge – atta boy, atta boy!”), to telling the judge to give her a kiss, to calling him a “big stiff!” I could watch her brief appearance again and again. (And I do.)
Why should you watch this film?
- First off, there’s not a dull moment in this 92-minute feature – it gives us assault, torture, larceny, bribery, mendacity – even murder.
- Admittedly, there’s far too little Anita Page for my liking, but a little Anita is better than none!
- Walter Huston, as always, serves up a top-notch performance, creating a character who is at once relentlessly corrupt and filled with self-righteous defiance. He steals every scene he’s in – you simply can’t take your eyes off him whenever he’s on the screen.
- The oh-so-satisfying climax is full of justice and well-deserved comeuppance. You’ll cheer!
Anything else? (You bet!)
- Night Court was based on an unproduced play co-written by Mark Hellinger, who went on to produce such film noir classics as The Killers (1946), Brute Force (1947), and The Naked City (1948) before his untimely death at the age of 44.
- The film’s director was Woody Van Dyke, who would later helm several entries in the Thin Man series.
- The cast also included Noel Francis as Walter Huston’s chick-on-the-side. You may not recognize her name (at least, I didn’t), but I bet you’ll know her face. She was also in Smart Money (1931), Blonde Crazy (1931), and I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932), but her film career was over by 1937. Reportedly, she later became a radio producer in San Francisco, but she died in 1959 at the age of 53.
Night Court airs on Monday, April 6th on TCM – make an appointment to catch this pre-Code goodie. And don’t forget to pop over to Speakeasy to see which pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending for this month!
You only owe it to yourself.