Au­thor and critic Kim New­man ex­plores the dark cor­ners of cin­ema

Empire (UK) - - REVIEW -

THIS ROUGH-HEWN, black-and­white New York City psy­cho-thriller was scripted by comics leg­end Arnold Drake (co-cre­ator of Dead­man and Doom Pa­trol for DC) and di­rected by Joseph Cates. Drake also wrote the won­der­fully lurid ‘mi­cro­scopic mon­ster’ movie The Flesh Eaters, but Cates spent his ca­reer on un­ex­cep­tional tele­vi­sion va­ri­ety and awards shows. Just this once, al­most at ran­dom, they turned out some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary. Once re­fused a UK cer­tifi­cate for gen­eral moral un­health­i­ness, it still feels seamy — not quite porn, but 17 city blocks away from be­ing proper. It’s blunt, crude, po­etic and oddly truth­ful, in the Amer­i­can tabloid tra­di­tion of Sam Fuller or James Ell­roy.

Sin­gle girl No­rah (Juliet Prowse), who spins se­ri­ously groovy records in a tiny disco-club, re­ceives anony­mous, ob­scene calls from co-worker Lawrence (Sal Mi­neo). The heavy breather seems to be work­ing his way up from pest to rapist, but also gives off sex­u­ally mixed sig­nals. A baby­faced gym rat, Lawrence ca­resses his own naked body while mak­ing his calls and wears a suc­ces­sion of tight, packed, white Tom Of Fin­land out­fits. No­rah also catches the eye of Mar­ian (Elaine Stritch), the pro­tec­tive but preda­tory les­bian club man­ager, and Dave Mad­den (Jan Mur­ray), a sin­gle-fa­ther cop whose wife was raped and killed on the way home from a movie and is cop­ing with grief by putting in over­time on pervert cases. Dave and Lawrence, for dif­fer­ent rea­sons, have desks full of kink books, which the cam­era lingers on. This is a valu­able doc­u­ment of what passed for smut in 1965, with slow pans across Times Square shop-win­dows full of lurid pa­per­backs and Beat lit­er­a­ture, re­veal­ing un­der­wear and pin-ups.

Oddly art­less but com­pelling, it of­fers long scenes of ex­tras jiv­ing wildly to great tunes, equal-time ogling for male and fe­male leads, and a po­lice plot which ad­vances by fits and starts.

It’s raw stuff, with an ar­ray of seedy or strange sup­port­ing char­ac­ters and kick-in-the-teeth mo­ments like Dave’s daugh­ter (Di­ane Moore) ly­ing awake in bed lis­ten­ing to his taped notes on the ob­scene calls play­ing back in the next room, or Lawrence’s child-woman sis­ter (Mar­got Ben­nett) found hid­ing in a wardrobe. The weird, whiny theme song is an ear­worm too — “Who killed Teddy Bear, doesn’t any­body care… that I neeeeed him…”

At the cli­max, three da­m­aged peo­ple col­lide in un­ex­pected ways — start­ing with No­rah show­ing the up­tight Lawrence how to dance, and Mi­neo strut­ting some de­mented moves, end­ing with a cinévérité chase through the early morn­ing city streets and a Nou­velle Vague freeze-frame. It’s ex­tra­or­di­nary stuff.


Above: Sal Mi­neo’s Lawrence makes a move on and Juliet Prowse’s No­rah.Be­low: Sex­u­ally am­bigu­ous Lawrence in a fully clothed scene.

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