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.
It’s the last day of a most awesome blogathon, ladies and gents — an event jam-packed with scintillation, sauciness, and sin sin SIN!! And it’s not over yet! So don’t just dip your toe in this bawdy body of water — dive right in and immerse yourself in today’s collection of pre-Code posts!
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The Old Dark House (1932) at Speakeasy
The Censorship Battle of Baby Face (1933) at I See a Dark Theater
Call Her Savage (1932) at A Person in the Dark
The Sign of the Cross (1932) at Queerly Different
How Stanwyck filmed Night Nurse (1932) at Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Film Locations (and more)
Freaks (1932) at Prowler Needs a Jump
I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932) at The Cinematic Packrat
Day 2 of The Pre-Code Blogathon – brought to you by Danny of Pre-Code.com and yours truly – is shaping up to be a most awesome day filled with decadent dames and flashy fellas. In other words, a veritable banquet of naughty! Be sure to visit Danny’s blog for the great posts served up on Day 1!
Today’s lineup of sultry sinners consists of the following – don’t miss a single one!
Phillips Holmes at The Chiseler
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Five Star Final (1931) at The Hitless Wonder Movie Blog
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Scarface (1932) at Classic Movie Hub
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Lot in Sodom (1933) at Author Melanie Surani
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The Cuban Love Song (1931) at Once Upon a Screen
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Blonde Venus (1932) at The Movie Rat
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Love Me Tonight (1932) at The Man on the Flying Trapeze
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Little Caesar (1931) at Shameless Pile of Stuff
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The Unholy Three (1930) at ilgiornodeglizombi
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The Marx Brothers at The Joy and Agony of Movies
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The Phantom of Crestwood (1931) at Silver Scenes
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And don’t forget to visit Danny’s blog, Pre-Code.com, tomorrow for Day 3!
The party continues!
“This is our house now – yours and mine. Think what that means, Douglas. Every morning I can come downstairs and fix the flowers. And Hilda and John will be here, too – and they’ll say ‘Yes, Mrs. Proctor’ to me, as they did to her. And there won’t be any low, vulgar women in the house, with their dirty desires.”
Guest in the House had a lot to recommend it.
Anne Baxter – the Eve which All About Eve was all about – was the star, and the cast included such reliable performers as Aline MacMahon, Ralph Bellamy, Ruth Warrick, Jerome Cowan, and Margaret Hamilton. The screenplay was by Ketti Frings, who also penned such winners as The File on Thelma Jordon and Come Back, Little Sheba. The film’s cinematographer, Lee Garmes, was responsible for the look of numerous classics during a career that spanned seven decades and included City Streets, An American Tragedy, Scarface, Duel in the Sun, Nightmare Alley, and The Desperate Hours. And while director John Brahm didn’t have a boatload of screen credits, he did helm one of my favorite noirs, The Locket, starring Laraine Day.
Quite a pedigree, huh?
But the film didn’t quite live up to its promise. At least, not in the way I’d expected. But in another way, it far exceeded every expectation. Let me explain. (And, incidentally, watch your step – this entire post is one gigantic spoiler.)
But first, a brief overview of what the movie’s about. It centers on Evelyn Heath (Baxter), who is visiting the family of her doctor fiancé, Dan (Scott McKay), following a recent hospital stay, and proceeds to wreak complete havoc throughout the entire household. (I told you it was brief.)
As the picture begins, the family is excitedly awaiting the arrival of Evelyn and Dan. There’s Dan’s sister-in-law, Ann (Ruth Warrick), her artist husband and Dan’s big brother Douglas (Ralph Bellamy), their precocious, blonde moppet of a daughter, Lee (Connie Laird), and Aunt Martha (Aline MacMahon). And when Evelyn finally makes her appearance (at the side door instead of the front, where the family was all congregated), we know – even if the family doesn’t – that something ain’t quite right with this dame. She gingerly enters the room, as if she’s stepping onto a cloud, and holds up one hand, saying breathily, “Please. Don’t move, any of you. Don’t say anything. . . . I want to remember this moment always. This wonderful house, and Dan’s own people.” And then she proceeds to personally greet each family member – even the housekeeper (Margaret Hamilton), and Miriam (Marie McDonald), who lives in the house and works as a model for Douglas. She calls them each by name as if she’s known them always, and she quite mesmerizes the group, and us, too – until she gets to the little girl. Lee gazes at Evelyn in awe and remarks on her beauty, but when she reaches out to stroke her face, Evelyn’s previously dulcet tone turns hard: “No dear, don’t touch me!” she snaps, recoiling slightly.
Can you say “Red Flag”?!?
And those crimson banners just keep on coming, one after another. There’s Evelyn’s screaming fit when Lee tries to present her with a parakeet as a present – turns out she’s been afraid of birds since her childhood. (Why? I DON’T KNOW.) And her request to have her bedroom “fumigated” when she learns it was previously occupied by a friend of the family. And the vague, slightly ominous references to her alcoholic father. And her mysterious, never explained “illness” that causes her to sleep half the day and slink about in her nightgown and robe the rest. And her diary, which she reviews one night in bed, and which contains passages like: “Why is it I like to control people? And if I do, then I hate them.” And: “I wonder what it’s like to die. Or to kill someone.” And when she adds a line to the pages of her diary on her first night in the house – Foreshadowing Alert! – “Today I think I met the man I really want.”
It really doesn’t take but a few minutes in Evelyn’s company to realize that she’s as nutty as a Snickers bar. (Mm, Snickers.) Why Dan hasn’t seen it and given her the gate long ago is beyond me. But instead of telling her to hit the bricks, he puts up with her hysterical rants and willingly leaves the house like a BIG DUMMY when she suggests that he go away for a month or two. (“Will you write me every day?” he asks. What a sap.) And once he’s gone, Evelyn REALLY goes into overdrive.
Using Lee as her “cat’s paw,” (look it up if, unlike mine, your mom never used that term), Evelyn manages, in a very short amount of time, to turn the entire household against Douglas’s voluptuous model, Miriam. And before you can say “Bob’s your uncle,” Miriam has packed her duds and is riding off into the moonlight – leaving Douglas three sheets to the wind, Ann in tears, and Evelyn with a satisfied smirk on her pan.
As the weeks go by, the household begins to practically implode. Evelyn replaces Miriam as Douglas’s model. Lee starts imitating Evelyn by refusing to get dressed and complaining of constant illness (“I feel weak . . . I can hardly get my breath.”). Ann’s perfectly put-together appearance starts to resemble something dragged in by the cat. It takes a visit from a family friend, Ernest (Jerome Cowan), to get Ann to realize that their troubles began the day Evelyn set her tiny little foot in their house. During a raging thunderstorm (naturally), Ann confronts Evelyn, and boy, does the crazy poop hit the fan! No longer wide-eyed with faux innocence, but with real lunacy, Evelyn tells Ann that Douglas is in love with her, and when Ann insists that she’s leaving the house, Evelyn isn’t a bit fazed: “I bet I don’t!” she counters. And she wins that bet. When Douglas enters the house, Evelyn runs to him, crying and lying, and of course, he falls for her hysterical tale of woe – like his brother, it looks like Douglas is a few tacos short of a fiesta platter, if you know what I mean. (“Aren’t you ashamed?” Douglas later says to Ann. “Blaming someone else for your own mistakes is a shabby trick . . . I can’t stand by and see you wreck the life and health of a girl who hasn’t done anything to you!”) Utlimately, it’s Ann who winds up leaving the house, taking their daughter with her.
Evelyn sees this as her chance to move in for the kill, practically smothering Douglas with her overblown desires and plans and dreams for the future – and when she finishes spouting off all this claptrap and prepares to plant a big wet one on him, he FINALLY realizes that she’s cuckoo for coco puffs. It kinda reminded me of the scene in All About Eve when Eve puts the make on Margo Channing’s man, Bill. And like Bill, Douglas doesn’t waste any time getting the heck out of Dodge. He locates Ann at the local train station, offers up numerous heartfelt mea culpas, and returns home with his family, where he informs Evelyn that they will pay for her to enter a sanitarium that can give her the care she so obviously needs. (“We’ll even go into hock to keep you there,” he promises.) (Har.) He adds, though, that they will offer this sweet deal on only one condition – she has to write to Dan and, over time, gently break the news that she is ending their relationship.
But Evelyn has other plans.
The first thing she does is leave her diary on the desk in the living room. The second thing she does is place a call to Dan.
Next morning, Lee shows up with the sad news (and necessary plot development) that her bird is dead – her family offers their condolences and she and her father bury the bird in the front yard, leaving the empty cage in the living room. Remember that. It’ll be important very soon. Moments after the bird burial, Dan shows up and just when I think this movie can’t get any wackier, it does! Evelyn tells him they can be married – today! “I’m sure Douglas will want to congratulate us, won’t you?” Evelyn smarmily inquires. Just then, Douglas finds Evelyn’s diary on the desk and tries to use it to reveal to his brother that Evelyn’s as crazy as a sack full of ferrets. But Dan already knows about the diary – “She used to read it to me sometimes,” Dan says. (WHAT???) And when Douglas reads the part Evelyn wrote about falling in love with him, and Dan appropriately withdraws from Evelyn’s embrace, Evelyn urges Douglas to read the last page – which, of course, claims that she only thought she loved Douglas, but that she really loves Dan! Even Douglas is blown away by this latest plot twist: “You can’t believe that, Dan?” he asks his brother, who responds, “Yes, I can.”
What a maroon.
So after all this reading of diaries and whatnot, we finally find ourselves at the finale of this epic tale. (And not a minute too soon.) In a nutshell, this is it: Evelyn tells Douglas to keep the diary so he’ll always remember her (burn!), Douglas and Ann go outside for a breath of
non-crazy fresh air, Dan exits stage right to retrieve a few items, and Evelyn is left alone in the living room with Aunt Martha. Evelyn starts going on about how she might not love Dan tomorrow, but she loves him today, blah blah blah – when suddenly, she spies the empty bird cage and proceeds to go bat poop nutty! She’s screaming, whirling around the room, looking for the bird (“Where IS it?!?!”), and Aunt Martha is needling her all the way, deviously nudging her toward Bonkersville, telling her that the bird is flying around in the house – and when Evelyn runs out the front door, Aunt Martha tells her, “There are hundreds of birds outside! Everywhere! Look!”
And that’s all it takes – Evelyn completely loses it, y’all. As Martha stands blocking the doorway (looking for all the world like Samson holding up the pillars), Evelyn clutches her head, screams, and runs down the walkway and off camera. Second later, we hear Evelyn scream again and Martha suddenly looks stricken and covers her face with her hands. Then we’re shown a shot of a craggy cliff and some crashing waves below – and then a close-up on the crashing waves. And then:
That’s right. You read it. THE END. Talk about abrupt!
I’m not even sure what else to say about this movie. Except you HAVE to see it. It’s brimming with plot holes and over-the-top performances, but it’s never boring and it’s quite honestly a hoot and a half. Seriously. You can see for yourself by popping over to YouTube – do check it out, won’t you?
You only owe it to yourself.
P.S. Guest in the House was reissued as Satan in Skirts. Just thought I’d throw that out there.