In today’s Journal we look at two classics – Vincente Minnelli’s THE CLOCK and Herk Harvey’s CARNIVAL OF SOULS. In each film, time has its way with our protagonists and the hands of destiny and fate linger over every frame. Each film has a different way of conveying this. In THE CLOCK, we see a light romantic treatment for this problem which every person finds themselves cursed with. In CARNIVAL OF SOULS, it’s a psychological horror film designed to chill you to the bone. But in both films, destiny is waiting. And the clock is ticking….
DAY 23: FEBRUARY 14, 2013
THE CLOCK (1945) – first viewing – Soldier Joe Allen (G.I. Joe – get it?) is given a two-day leave in New York City while his ship is in port. He meets a young secretary named Alice and since he’s never been to the city before, she agrees to show him around. This is the framework for this romantic drama in which the two will fall in love with one another over a 48 hour period, their time running ever shorter with each passing moment.
Robert Walker stars at the smitten G.I. Walker was a young, talented actor who had a number of intriguing films to his credit, including SINCE YOU WENT AWAY and Elia Kazan’s SEA OF GRASS. In the early 1950’s, he starred in one of Hitchcock’s greatest films, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. Unfortunately, he died shortly afterwards due to a lethal mixture of prescription drugs and alcohol. He was only 32 years old.
Walker is quite good in THE CLOCK, totally believable as the starstruck farm kid, intrigued by the fast-paced city life, even though he’s just a small town boy at heart. In a rare non-singing role, Judy Garland is fantastic. Director Vincente Minnelli seemed to transfer all his love and affection to her every moment on screen. The effect winds up being one of the most surprising Garland roles I have seen. I thought her overrated in the past and I hereby state that I was a fool.
However, it isn’t all wine and roses. Despite the two great leads and skilled direction, the script is light as a feather. Opportunities to indulge in the type of conflict that may emerge in such a whirlwind romance, a race against time, might inspire are typically wasted in useless Hollywood set-pieces. This is of course the pre-television age when motion pictures did not only serve to tell stories, but to show sights and sounds to audiences they might never get a chance to see otherwise. Hence, you have a lot of New York City vanity shots and a bunch of schtick that is not necessary to the story. Most egregious is an extended Keenan Wynn cameo (one of his earliest roles), playing a comical drunk that does not elicit one smile. ★★½ (out of ★★★★)
CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) – A bunch of young, vibrant women decide to race some small town guys, only to have their car plummet from a rickety bridge. As townspeople start dragging the lake, Mary (Candace Hilligoss) emerges from the water – dirty, shaken and seemingly the only survivor.
A skilled organist, she decides to take a job in a church out in Utah in order to get away from it all. She has no religious beliefs, it’s merely a job to her. On her way out there, she is haunted by the sight of an abandoned amusement park. Something inside seems to be calling to her. She tries to forget it but when after she settles into her boarding house and begins her job, her sanity begins to unravel. People comment on her detatched demeanor and she seems to be pursued by a ghoulish old man (director Herk Harvey).
CARNIVAL OF SOULS was produced by a group of people working for Centron, a company that specialized in making industrial films. Harvey took a very small crew of people and used their combined experience to create a horror film swiftly and cheaply (Estimated budget: $33,000). Which is not to say that CARNIVAL OF SOULS has anything in common with most of the horror B-pictures of its day. In fact, Harvey’s film was completely unique and if you’ve seen anything similar, it was usually by someone ripping this film off.
Instead of being about monsters or homicidal maniacs killing people, the spectre hanging over this film is fate itself. There seem to be no rules that the denizens in the carnival are playing and it is only once the film is ended that things come full circle. Harvey proves that fast and cheap doesn’t have to mean shoddy, as he creates moody images that haunt the viewer long after the film is ended.
John Clifford’s screenplay deserves a praise all its own. In a genre notorious for short-changing its characters, he writes Mary as an intriguingly three-dimensional figure. The film touches upon feelings of detachment from the mundane, everyday life, feeling like you are somehow unable to humor yourself with the same mindless exercises that placate everyone else. There is a subtle layer of sexual repression to the character that would be worthy of any psychological study. Hilligoss completes the picture in her very human performance, showing Mary becoming more unglued as the film commences.
CARNIVAL OF SOULS is very different from anything else that was being made at the time. Criterion released a great two-disc DVD of it a long time ago. Who knows, maybe they’ll do something similar for Blu-ray. In the meantime, the film is widely available and in the public domain, so there’s no reason not to see it.
Oh and by the way, I watched this film twice over the past few days. Once because it is a favorite of mine and another time with the Rifftrax commentary. You’ll recall that Rifftrax is made up from some of the people from the old MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 television show, and features them making fun of the film. It was a funny track, even if it’s not one of their more classic bits. I have supplied ratings for both formats. And no, the rating I give the Rifftrax has nothing to do with my enjoyment of the original film. They have skewered some of my favorite films in the past and my love of the Rifftrax guys is completely separate from my love of the films themselves. Original Version: ★★★★ (out of ★★★★) Rifftrax Version: ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN (1985) – A young housewife (Rosanna Arquette) is unsatisfied with her own life and lives vicariously through the lives she imagines for the people in the personal ads. She decides to follow her main fixation, the figure named Susan (Madonna) as she meets up with her boyfriend. Unfortunately, she doesn’t meet Susan, but a thuggish gangster. She winds up knocking herself out and getting amnesia.
THE SLUGGER’S WIFE (1985) – first viewing – Hal Ashby directs this Neil Simon story about a young Atlanta Braves batter (Michael O’Keefe) who falls for a nightclub singer (Rebecca DeMornay). The two date and marry, but his possessive nature winds up suffocating her as she tries to have a life of her own. This is compounded by the idea that he has attributed his baseball winning streak to his involvement with her.
And yes, these are 1985 films. What do you want from us? Our FILMS OF 1985 podcast gives you way more entertainment value than I could cram in here. Check out the episodes we’ve done and check out what’s coming soon on our schedule. And yes, these two films will be in there. Check out Episode 6, in which we look at a bunch of 1985 flicks including THE BREAKFAST CLUB!
Total films watched in 2013 so far: 74
My soundtrack for February 14, 2013: