The Raven, 1963. 6.5/10

Roger Corman doesn’t hold back in this snarky psuedo-Poe horror film. Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, and Peter Lorre star as magicians (Doctors Scarabus, Erasmus Craven, and Adolphus Bedlo, respectively). They’ve each got some issue. Craven’s wife, Lenore (Hazel Court) has died…or has she? Bedlo’s been changed into a raven by Scarabus. Lenore (is she ‘lost’ as Poe said?) has been spotted at Scarabus’s castle.

To help sort out the spells are Bedlo’s son, Rexford (Jack Nicholson), and Craven’s daughter, Estelle (Olive Sturgess). Although 1935’s The Raven owes nothing to this interpretation, Karloff was featured in the earlier film as well.

Nice atmospheric introduction: Vincent Price reciting The Raven, with a hallucinogenic lava lamp background. That effect segues into castles, foggy graveyards, and, finally, Craven in his sitting room. He’s drawing a raven into existence, well, a spectral one, just for practice, it seems. Next thing we know, he’s dusting off Lenore’s coffin.

He freaks out as Estelle appears right next to him, with his glass of warm milk (!). Now we hear something knocking, gently rapping at his chamber door, it’s…our raven. “Are you some dark-winged messenger from beyond?” He asks of it. “How the hell should I know?!” Quoth the Raven.

The Raven wants to be changed back to its “rightful form.” Does Craven have jellied spiders and such like? Not at hand (he’s a vegetarian), but maybe in the old laboratory. Lots of cool ingredients (entrails, eyeballs, dead-man’s hair). Well, it’s quickly brewed up, and the Raven partakes of it. Shazam! It’s Bedlo.

Apparently, they’ve met at a “sorcerer’s convention.” Of course, there’s still an issue: Bedlo has a feathery look because Craven’s concoction wasn’t strong enough. They’ve got to scare up some more dead man’s hair. Where? The graveyard? No need, there’s a family crypt handy. Anyway, Craven asks Bedlo how he got turned into a bird–Scarabus won a duel of spells with Bedlo–thus the enchantment.

Another problem: Craven’s dad’s corpse grabs him, moaning “beware…” They get the snippet of hair. Bedlo sees a miniature portrait of Lenore; at first he thinks that Craven’s scared her off or whatnot, because Bedlo’s seen her at Scarabus’s. Ladlo has to journey to that guy’s place, anyway, as the other magician took possession of Ladlo’s magic “equipment.”

Sounds like a road trip. But first, check Lenore’s coffin–a convincingly horrid corpse nesting in there. Perhaps, though, Scarabus has possession of her soul. Craven’s servant, sent out to prepare the coach, is overwhelmed and dazed. He returns with an ax, ready to kill them all (Estelle is up and about too). Just as she’s about to be cut up, Craven is able to zap him. He collapses.

When he comes to, it’s obvious that he has no idea what he just did. A Scarabus victim, no doubt. At this point Rexford makes himself known. So, they all make off in Craven’s coach. It’s clear that Estelle’s mission is to get to know Rexford. For his part, Rexford seems to have fallen under a Scarabus spell; he’s pretty much trying to crash the coach.

They make it to Sacrabus’s castle; it’s an obvious prop, probably a drawing, though well-done. As is usual in these situations, the door opens on its own, and the foursome enters. It’s certainly an ominous place–Scarabus appears “I bid you welcome” as Bela Lugosi did to his visitors in 1931’s Dracula.

He summons Lenore; but it’s not actually his Lenore, says Craven. Nice banter ensues between Bedlo and Scarabus, as the former complains about being turned into a raven. Scarabus: “but sir! You tried to kill me!” Bedlo: “So what?!” The competition between Bedlo and Rexford is great too. Scarabus is certainly playing the gentleman-magician role.

They talk magic. But Bedlo isn’t ready to let byegones be byegones. He gets his case of equipment back, anyway. Bedlo tries a spell or two on Scarabus, to no effect (even Bedlo’s magic wand droops). He does, however, conjure a pretty good storm; but, probably thanks to Scarabus’s intervention, he destroys himself!

Well, the Cravens are spending the night. Big deal, what about the ‘fake’ Lenore? Rexford enlists Estelle’s aid in talking her father into somehow saving his dead dad. Rexford prowls about, trying to get to Craven’s chamber. Hey! Lenore (the ‘real’ one) appears at his window. She’s obviously in cahoots with Scarabus, as his mistress.

Seems weird that she would take up with an old fossil like Scarabus; yes, he’s rich and powerful, but Craven’s no peasant himself, and about half Scarabus’s age. Next surprise is that Rexford is jumped in the dark by…his father. Dad not only didn’t die, he’s not even changed into a bird “what am I? A ghost?” Rexford tells his dad that Scarabus is holding Estelle prisoner.

Meanwhile, Lenore and Scarabus are up to something. Rexford rescues Estelle, while Bedlo distracts Scarabus; we discover that Craven’s magic is Scarabus’s object now. Craven’s awakened by his daughter and Rexford; they’re going to split. Will Scarabus try to turn Bedlo against Craven? Lenore taunts Bedlo, who’s easily preturbed.

Scarabus doesn’t like guests leaving without saying goodbye. He turns Craven into stone, and Bedlo is encased in ropes. Soon, all of the ‘good guys’ are tied up in the dungeon. Lenore is enjoying their discomfort; Craven wonders if she’s under a spell…could be. Bedlo is pitiful–trescherous once again, he’s unceremoniously turned back into a raven.

Estelle is used as bait–either Craven turns over his magic secrets to Scarabus, or his daughter’s burned with irons. Surprisingly, Ledlo/the raven comes to the rescue by pecking away at Rexford’s restraints. Rexford jumps the jailer, which leads to a sort of laser fight between Scarabus and Craven.

Scarabus says they should have a “duel to the death” (I thought that’s what they were doing ). A snake is turned into a scarf into a bat into a fan….eventually, into a cannon. The cannonball is now the focus…but it’s turned into confetti. Now the stone gargoyles come to life, and end up as puppies. And so on.

Scarabus turns into a corpse, and spears Craven. But it’s not the real Craven. Are they going to run out of spells? More laser beam fights. The green (good?) energy prevails. All seems well–but Craven doesn’t buy Lenore’s I-was-under-a-spell excuse, and leaves her as the whole place goes up in flames.

Remarkably, she and Scarabus survive, albeit with little magic left amid the ruins. Back at the Craven’s, there’s time for some Raven quips before we leave these nuts. The end.

It’s amazing how easily the three masters of horror–Price, Lorre, and Karloff–can retune themselves into macabre jokers. Some of the one-liners are great. This works because each interprets their roles differently: Karloff is sort of Jack the Ripper dastardly, Price is smug and sarcastic, Lorre is just hapless. Nicolson, even at this very earlier stage, plays along famously.

The atmosphere and settings (even with the cleverly faked castle) complement each other quite well. There’s that pesky too-clean look, though, even in the dungeon; at least the lab in Craven’s place looks suitibly neglected. Other than the costumes, the 15th century may as well be the 19th; that’s not much of a big deal–there’s no ‘real world’ to get in the way with annoying tell-tale stuff from the wrong era.

The premise is something different, and leaves a lot of possibilities open. It would seem that the primary goal is for Craven to win Lenore back. It is, but, ultimately, he loses interest. That’s a bold switch. I think what it does is shift the focus to the magic itself; what goes on among the three magicians, particularly the climatic battle, pretty much takes on a life of its own.

In a way, the two women are just sort of there, in that incidental way that so many women’s roles were in movies of this sort. Nonetheless, it’s Lenore who gets the ‘good guys’ to invade Scarabus’s castle. And it’s hard to think that Scarabus would be so hostile to Craven if the two guys weren’t in effect fighting over her for almost the entire movie.

The fact that the plot sort of implodes with Craven’s renunciation of Lenore is, in a way, the nuttiest thing that could’ve happened. The entire story is thematically meaningless, because Craven really doesn’t want his wife back. Well, at least he knows that she isn’t dead. But is that better than knowing that she’s unfaithful? Maybe I’m taking The Raven too seriously.

As entertaining as this was, the goofiness made it essentially cartoonish. Despite the legitimate creepiness all around (the coffin inhabitants in Craven’s crypt most notably), it’s clear almost immediately that no one is really going to get killed off. Consider that Bedlo, despite incurring Scarabus’s wrath more than once, is indestructible (if not necessarily human).

I suppose that a slightly more serious tone, along with a palpable sense of danger, would make for a more interesting movie. This is worth seeing for the star power alone–these guys don’t disappoint. But, in this case, the whole doesn’t equal the sum of its parts. 6.5/10

Lola, 1961. 9.5/10

A romantic drama with Anouk Aimee, Marc Michel, and Jaques Hardin. After many years, Roland (Michel) runs into old flame Cecile/Lola (Aimee), a cabaret singer. She’s estranged from Michel (Hardin), the father of her son. Cecile wants Michel back; Roland wants Cecile. Making it more interesting is Madame Desnoyers (Elina Labourdette), who wants Roland, who isn’t interested in her.

Lots of longing and disappointment in store it seems. There’s also Desnoyers’ daughter Cecile (Annie Duperoux), who resembles the adult Cecile; yet another suitor for Lola, Frankie (Alan Scott), Michel’s mom, Jeanne (Margo Lion), and Claire (Catherine Lutz).

We see a guy in a cowboy hat driving a white Cadillac Eldorado up to the beachfront (the film is shot in Nantes, on the French Atlantic coast). He dodges some U.S. sailors as he drives much too fast through town.

Roland comes into a bar, he’s late for work. The barmaid, Claire, asks him about Jeanne. He’s kind of got an Angry Young Man attitude. Michel’s mom arrives, frantic, and asks for help; something about Michel. Then we learn that it was Michel in the Cadillac; he left seven years ago, and reappeared suddenly. His mom’s in a fit because she had a premonition about his return.

She relates to Claire and Roland how Michel left his wife and infant son years ago. Jeanne leaves, and so does Roland (Claire bugs him about being a lazy whiner). When he gets back to the office, his boss is upset about his chronic lateness “you have a major fault. You’re off in the clouds.” Sounds like Claire, doesn’t he?

Incredibly, his latest excuse is that he lost track of time trying to finish a novel. While conceding that it’s a great book (apparently an existentialist novel), the boss tells Roland, in so many words, to get lost. Out on the streets now, he goes into a theatre; the group of sailors we saw earlier try out the cabaret. They’re regulars, it seems.

The dancers are rehearsing; but then they start dancing with the sailors. one, Frankie, asks for Lola. He brings her whiskey and cigarettes, and he wants to sleep with her “again.” No dice on that. They go back to her shabby place, though, while her son plays outside. With the exception of Michel, who’s been talked about plenty, but only seen at a distance, we’ve met the main characters, all of them interesting.

Another street scene: the Desnoyers are shopping. They duck into a bookstore; mom complains to the clerk about the novel Justine “scandalous!” Oh, and Roland pops in just now. He gets a hand in the conversation by telling Cecile’s mom that he has a dictionary the girl might find useful.

He tells them that Cecile looks like ‘his’ Cecile (Lola). Anyway, he arranges to bring the book around to them. Then we segue back to Lola and Frankie; he’s no fresh-off-the-boat drunken sailor type–he seems like a good guy, and his French sounds fluent. She tells him that he looks like someone she loves (Michel).

Roland finds the dictionary, then goes to the bar. He complains “We don’t know how to live anymore. Me with my boss, you with your drunks.” He says he wants to travel. Claire tries to talk him into getting another job. On the street, he bumps into…Lola. they almost instantly recognize each other. It’s been ten years.

They’re both instantly enchanted, and arrange to meet later. When he goes to see about the job, however, everything seems mysterious. There’s travel involved, but for what? From Amsterdam to Johannesburg. Must be smuggling–he’s given a fake passport. Back with young Cecile and her mom.

Roland comes calling, they chat. He tells them his dad was a sailor, but his mom divorced him. He sums everything up by telling them that he has a date with the other Cecile. It’s as though meeting the girl Cecile foreshadowed meeting the woman Cecile. “Maybe I’ll look like her later” says the 14-year-old.

The mom really wants him to come back; he agrees to come for the girl’s birthday the next night. Young Cecile goes out shopping for dinner, and runs into Frankie, who coincidentally buys the last copy of the comic book title that she likes. He gives it to her anyway, and, then, kind of strangely, he walks with her. They talk about the upcoming fair. Another coincidence: he has a sister her age, who looks like her.

She runs off. At the cabaret the dancers talk. Lola practices a song. She has to rush off for her date with Roland, but Frankie’s outside, waiting for her. She sends him on his way. She’s talking non-stop, obviously excited, maybe nervous too. He tells her “Last time I saw you, you had braids” in contrast, that is, to her dancer’s get-up.

He tells her about his various jobs–that he’s no longer ambitious “I’m the quintessential failure.” He also admits that he was in love with her. They also talk about children; he says he likes kids, but it’s hard on kids who weren’t “wanted.” She takes that to mean that he wasn’t wanted.

Anyway, at the restaurant where they have dinner, she describes how she met Michel. At a fair, when she was fourteen. Come on, we’ve got another fourteen years old Cecile, who, like Lola, meets a blond sailor at a fair (Frankie). “I fell in love with him on the spot.” Then he (Michel) left, and came back “When I told him I was pregnant, he disappeared.” She’s carrying a huge torch for him.

Uh, oh, there’s that white Eldorado, parked right by the tobacco shop. “He’s probably fat and bald by now” Roland tells her. She thinks that’s hilarious. But he doesn’t waste time getting to the point; she says, however “don’t bother about me… I’m just a silly girl.” She starts sobbing, reminiscing, taking stock of her life all of a sudden “It’s all crashed down on me. It’s so stupid.”

She still thinks Michel is coming back–well, he has. Roland says goodbye in front of the cabaret. In the morning, Michel pulls up there too. She’s still with Frankie. As if by a signal, Michel takes off just as Lola and Frankie leave. Meanwhile, Roland goes to the bar and tells Claire about his furtive mission “A mysterious deal with a briefcase.” He tells her he doesn’t want to go through with it because he’s found love.

Roland wants to scout out the crooked hair saloon operator, but is distracted by seeing Lola with Frankie. His curiosity, if not his jealousy, is piqued, and he follows them back to her place. Oddly (not so much for this movie), Roland brings her son the same toy that Frankie did. Roland walks with her and the boy, as she talks in general terms about the sailors at the club.

He tells her that he’s not going after all, because he’s in love with her. He tells her, very romantically, how he’s thought about her all these years, and is overwhelmed on meeting up with her again. “You gave me a reason to live.” She says, however, that she doesn’t love him; it’s hard to know if they were even close as kids, as she says that she hardly knows him.

“I’ve never had a male friend, just guys chasing after me.” Good point, but he’s upset when she says that she’s going off with the sailor–and that the story about Michel might be just–a story. He won’t wait around for her to explain, and leaves. Now, at home, there’s Frankie, who says that he’s shipping out. (She did make up a story all right, but not about Michel). Frankie just says that he “really liked” her, and simply goes.

Segue back to young Cecile. Frankie happens to be walking by; she wants to give him the comic book back. Anyway, she decides to go to the fair with him. Hmm. Shouldn’t she ask mom? Guess not, more trusting times sixty years ago. The other thing is, like other motifs in this movie, the fair has more than casual meaning for the characters. They try the bumper cars, and other rides.

There’s some slow-motion as he lifts her out of a ride. It’s charming…nearly romantic. They’re hand-in-hand, running, then walking. Abruptly, though, he brings her up short; he’s after all shipping off soon and won’t see her again. It’s a poignant scene, but more symbolic of other partings in the movie than sad in itself.

Her mom’s a bit upset–where has she been, etc. She admits that she saw Frankie “My daughter out partying with serviceman!” mom wails. As planned, Roland comes for dinner. He’s obviously preoccupied, and tells moms the reason, that his love left with another man. He seems to have accepted it, at least to keep things pleasant for his hosts. Cecile asks him to explain about first love, and how it’s special and different.

Now it’s mom’s turn to feel bad, losing her husband, being stuck raising a daughter alone. He takes his leave; he’s departing on his journey too. He tells Jeane the situation. What’s this? Police and a crowd around the underground hair salon–diamond smuggling? Gee! Well, his timing’s good, as he’s still clean.

He sees Lola; they both apologize. She admits that she made up the thing about leaving with Frankie. “I thought you’d forgive me [for not loving him] if there were someone else.” She’s going to Marseilles. “We’re alone. And we stay alone.”

She playfully taunts “You think I should throw myself in your arms and and thank you?” He says: that would be a “miracle.” She says “it may happen.” She’ll be back in two months, and they’ll go from there. One last non-coincidental coicidence–young Cecile has gone to Cherbourg, ostensibly to her uncle’s, but we know it’s to intercept Frankie. Actually, her ‘uncle’ is her real father, which Cecile doesn’t know.

Well, no surprise to see that Eldorado again–Michel better be quick, as seemingly everyone is off to somewhere–Lola to Marseille, Cecile, and then her mom to Cherbourg, and Roland, still on his mission, or something. Finally Michel lands, so to speak, coming into the bar. He tells his mom that he’s come back to marry Michel. Next, of course, Roland just happens to pop in; he gets the lowdown on Michel’s return.

Roland says that he doesn’t want to stick around to meet the happy reunited couple; obviously they don’t know that it was Lola whom he was in love with. She’s taking her leave at the cabaret. And, viola! here’s Michel. Her co-workers are a more than a bit taken aback. He has his excuse ready-made, naturally: broke, stuck in the colonies, but “…if you still love me…” She does.

Driving away, she sees Roland walk by, and takes a last, full look at him. Not without a touch of regret in her eyes, she tells Michel, who noticed her sudden, odd reaction, that it was “nothing.” That is, nothing but first love, memory, longing–the theme of the film.

Lola is an incredibly romantic movie. It’s essentially about love–mostly unrequited love. It shows how the element of chance, and timing (very appropriate for the existentialist mind-set) can influence our most intense emotions. For example–if Roland had a shot at Lola before Michel came along (and, although it was in youth, he did). If Cecile (the younger) were in fact a bit older, then Frankie would take her more seriously.

If Roland were a bit older, he might be interested in Cecile’s mom. If Michel hadn’t returned, or came either before or after, he might’ve missed the boat with Lola. Frankie falls between two stools–two Ceciles, to be specific. The oddest thing is that the Michel/Lola relationship, which does ultimately work out, seems the least rewarding of all the other possibilities.

Maybe that’s a function of Michel’s character. He’s almost a blank slate, not really emerging until the very end, and not showing a great deal of personality even for that bit. We seem instead to root for Roland; nothing would be finer than for things to play out after she gets back from Marseilles. But then, of course, Michel torpedoes that.

Luckily, though, Roland has become a bit more resilient, both in love, and in life. I think the point is that everyone, even innocent Cecile, will be ok. In a mythic sense, the various journeys the characters embark on are as much psychological as physical. Actually, Roland’s Johannesburg thing can’t be taken literally anymore, because the heist had been nipped in the bud.

Lola is as complicated as Roland; she has three men more or less in her life, and only wants one. That being Michel, who’s virtually a ghost for most of the time. She’s in the unenviable position of attracting too much attention; which, in a sense just makes work for her. Even Roland, who genuinely loves her, is needy and demanding much of the time.

The maze of plot overlaps and motifs (the sailor, the 14-year-old girl, the fair, the absent father figure, the two Ceciles, all the journeys and departures) are maybe a bit too clever. The script is heavily psychological without the almost dreamlike layering of characters and scenes. On the other hand, the strong emotional content plays out within a very palpable atmosphere that’s anything but remote or escapist.

Everything fits, if we buy this magic realist tone. It’s something like recounting one’s life on a psychiatrist’s couch, from multiple perspectives. A character-driven movie if there ever was one, full of life, and therefore full of surprises. 9.5/10

Clash By Night, 1952. 9/10

A love triangle energizes the plot in this drama. Barbara Stanwyck is Mae Doyle D’Amato, back in her hometown after a long fling with a married man back East. She gets acquainted with both Earl Pfieffer (Robert Ryan), a local bad-boy, and nice guy Jerry D’Amato (Paul Douglas).

Meanwhile, Mae’s brother Joe Doyle (Keith Andes) makes time with Peggy (Marilyn Monroe). Jerry’s dad is Papa D’Amato (Silvio Miniciotti), and there’s his Uncle Vince (J. Carrol Naish).

We start with a picturesque Monterey Bay panorama; seals, gulls, a fishing fleet. And, Peggy waking up. Geez, she works in a cannery. Meanwhile, Mae gets off the train by the pier. Sauntering into a bar, she perches on a stool.

Jerry comes in to sort of rescue his dad, who’s miserable. “Hey, ain’t you Mae Doyle?” Asks Jerry, as Pops bumps into Mae. She’s sort of ‘yeah, whatever’ when Jerry tries to reacquaint himself with her, even though he mentions that her brother works for him. Anyway, Peggy gets off work, meeting up with Joe.

“When I want you to kiss me, I’ll let you know!” Peg tells the aggressive Joe. Oh, well. Mae greets them at the old homestead. It’s been ten years. What, no entourage for Mae? “There isn’t any car, there isn’t any husband.” In other words, her game folded up. Joe grudgingly welcomes sis home.

Peggy tells Mae that Joe wants to marry her, but she’s not so sure she wants to. Segue back to the docks. Joe and Jerry talk about Mae; Joe encourages him to ask her out. Next thing we know, Jerry is all dressed up for a date with her. He, Vince, and Pops verbally joust.

So, Jerry comes calling on her. He talks about how “everything was easier in the old days.” He mentions Earl, the movie projectionist. After the movie, they visit with Earl. He’s got an odd comment on the movie, that it would be better if the actress were “cut-up a little bit, [because] she’d look more interesting.”

Earl tells Mae that his wife is in burlesque, in St. Louis. Hmm. Then he muses “a man without a woman has nothing.” About his wife, he says “some day I’m going to stick her full of pins!” A voodoo doll? Mae doesn’t like him. Back home, Peg and Mae are hanging a clothesline. They talk about guys, Mae says “I’m tired of looking after men. I want to be looked after!”

I’d say that she and Earl are equally bitter, but in different ways. Jerry wants to go to the Pavilion at Earl’s invitation. She tells Jerry, a bit disdainfully, “you don’t know a thing about me.” She figures that he’s in love with her; but she’d be “bad” for him. But he says that he’d do “anything” for her. Hmm.

Joe and Peg are clowning at the beach; they cruise into a nice place. Earl, who seems to know everyone, starts complaining about the service. Peg tells Joe that Earl looks “kind of exciting, and attractive.” Joe doesn’t like that, and, not so playfully chokes her with a towel. Earl’s not the only jerk, then.

When Joe goes on an errand, Earl comes on to Peg; then Mae and Jerry slip in. Joe and Peg go out for a walk, so Earl shifts his attention to Mae. When they dance, Earl basically tells her that Jerry’s a great guy, but, y’know, he’s Jerry. “You’re like me,” he tells Mae. Jerry’s gone missing.

Now Earl’s wife is in Pittsburgh. Time for a song, and a smoke. Jerry reappears (another Pops crisis). She more or less tells Jerry to buzz off for being overly solicitous. More bitter talk with Earl. She: “Last time I looked you had a wife.” He: “Next time you look, maybe I won’t.” He moves in to kiss her, but she demures. He retorts “I know a bottle by the label.” Slap.

Back inside, Joe whisks Peg away from Earl. Then Earl gets stiffed by Mae all over again. She unexpectedly says that she will marry boring old Jerry. So, there’s an Italian-style wedding (Jerry being about the least Italian-looking guy possible). Naturally, Peg makes a spectacle of herself, and Pops gives a genuinely salutary speech.

Of course, Earl insists on kissing the bride. Anyway, things start off swimmingly for the newlyweds; Mae’s had a baby already, Gloria. Strangely, Vince needles Jerry about Mae; the jist is that she’s too controlling. Anyway, some more domestic bliss for the little family. Meanwhile, it seems that Earl has finally got his divorce.

Funny thing is, Jerry feels sorry for Earl. Well, look who’s calling, drunk as a skunk? Earl. He’s only had “two tiny quarts.” As drunks will do, he gets philosophical “Divorce is like the other person dying.” Ok, but what’s this? Mae looking out the window at the sea.

Next day, Jerry sets off to the boat; that leaves sleep-it-off Earl in the house with Mae. “How did I get here?” She tells him. Pop pops in; he gives Earl a quick dirty look and says “you don’t like work, heh?” Of course, Earl gets down to brass tacks with Mae immediately, asking her if she’s happy. He’s certain that she isn’t.

He doesn’t respect the fact that she’s married. “Don’t you know I love you?!” For all his machismo, Earl is weak and needy. Peg comes by–she’s showing off her ring–she and Joe are engaged. Earl rolls out some demeaning quips. When Peg leaves, Mae tries to get rid of him; but he grabs her, after some struggling, they embrace and kiss.

On the boat, the crew gets the news that there’s another Pops crisis, and that Mae’s gone to the fair with Earl. Vince claims he didn’t know anything about Pops going bezerk in the bar. But Vince mentions Earl…is word seeping out about Mae carrying on with the lout? Yep, that’s it.

Jerry quizzes his dad about the fight; the fact that Pops just cries confirms the cuckolding situation. Not only that, but Jerry finds some stuff that only Earl could’ve given her. At that point, Earl returns with Mae. Well, Earl’s busted; he tries to pass the gifts off as little doodads, but Jerry is livid.

He tells Earl off. Basically, Mae feels bad about it; but she’s defensive, giving Jerry the line that married life is boring. This is a long, powerful scene. Turning on his wife and Earl, Jerry lambastes them with “what are you, animals?!”

A segue with clouds and landscape. Here’s Earl and Mae on the beach; “this is my last shot at happiness” he says. Ditto for her. Earl is so delusional, saying that Jerry “can’t take care of himself.” Earl has no idea who he is, or what he wants to do; and Mae’s not much different. They talk about the baby like it’s a bargaining chip, if not just a nuisance.

Working up to a wild denouement, I think. Anyway, when she gets home, Jerry says he’s willing to forget the past, if they can have a future. She just says that she’s going to leave the next day with Earl. What a dummy. He offers to sell the boat so that they can “go away.” When he tries to force his affections on her, she threatens him.

He’s so pissed when she says that she’ll take Gloria, that he pushes her out. Vince tells him that he should take her back, whether she likes it or not. “Blow his brains out!” urges Vince, Earl’s brains that is, if he has any. Joe walks in on Peggy and Mae–his turn to tell Mae off. And then, to the impressionable Peg, he talks about what marriage means to him “you’re just as much responsible as I am!” Sounds reasonable.

Earl is back in the projection room; doesn’t that make him an easy target? It’s not Mae that comes up, it’s Jerry. Uh-oh. He’s definitely out for blood; they struggle, Jerry nearly strangles Earl, but Mae intervenes just in time. No harm done, legally. That night, Mae swings by to pick up the baby and say goodbye to Jerry.

But Pops says that Jerry has split with the baby; and tells off both Earl and Mae. Earl calls Gloria “that kid.” She wonders if she should follow through and leave with Earl. He calls responsibility a “trap.” It’s obvious that he could care less about the baby. “Somebody’s throat has to be cut.” For once, she realizes that Earl’s attitude is selfish. Now she doubts that she loves Earl.

He’s possibly right that her new personality makeover is a phase of some sort “you played me for a chump!” Another apt comment: “you may lose both of us.” She goes to the boat; Jerry’s not exactly calmed down. “I wasn’t your husband, I was nothing!” She admits that she’s not a safe bet. Finally, Jerry says “I have to trust you…you got to trust someone, there ain’t no other way.” So, they each give in, to make another go of it. The end.

I was very surprised that no one was killed. That’s definitely a hint that character, and not action, is our focus here. We’ve stepped up from melodrama to the more sophisticated, nuanced level of drama. Both Jerry and Mae change significantly; Jerry’s heightened awareness shows up much sooner than Mae’s, who realizes, only at the very last minute, that Earl is an immature schemer and dreamer.

Earl, Mae, and Jerry are presented as very different, and very distinct people. Jerry’s uncomplicated and easily satisfied (as exemplified by his dad, who thinks things should be set in stone). Earl is the exact opposite: rootless, restless, and unappreciative. Mae is pretty much a female version of Earl, and attracts men as easily as Earl attracts women.

Its good that Jerry seems like such a ‘big lug’ compared to kool-kat Earl; otherwise his nebulous, almost beatnik-like non-conformism would seem useless next to the practical, down-to-earth (down to the sea?) Jerry.

Peggy and Joe make an interesting reflection of the married couple. Joe is somewhat like Jerry, but he has his Earl-like bossy, even abusive moments with Peggy. In their case, Peggy is actually more like Jerry, just wanting someone who will love her without telling her what to do. In fact, it would make a sort of poetic justice if Joe winds up with May, and Peggy with Jerry.

What connects the two couples is the predatory Earl. He certainly lives up to the cliche which posits that the ‘bad boys’ get the ladies. The script kicks him to the curb, ultimately; he ‘gets’ nothing, in fact, the town probably gets rid of him.

Joe’s bit about the responsibility in marriage being mutual really gets at the heart of the theme. This is fairly progressive stuff for the era, and belies a lot of the misogynist posturing and actions by both Joe and Earl.

The performances of the main characters are outstanding. And well cast: Stanwyck does her alluring, world-weary indifference so well; Ryan pretty much is one of his film noir anti-heros–minus the crime; Monroe is vulnerable, but resilient and deeply sensuous; Douglas’s role is enigmatic, the guy who gets wise to himself.

The beautiful locale helps to sort of set off, even amplify the characters’ issues. It doesn’t need to be stated that this is a natural paradise, with a village-like charm. So why are all these folks in turmoil? In a way, the setting mocks the drama, as though it’s a veneer of a civilization–which Pops seems to think–is already lost.

Actually, there’s some truth to looking at both facets of Monterey. Or anywhere, really. Some folks can blend in, as Jerry does; or, like Earl, and for the most part, Mae, they can be outliers. There’s another possibility too, as Peggy seems to show; one can be restless, but accept the situation that they’re in at the moment.

Clash By Night makes us think, an indication of an interesting, well-made movie. 9/10.