Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Very Man Bait Christmas

We watched two Hammer movies Dr. Theresa gave me for Christmas: MAN BAIT on Christmas Eve, ha ha! And BAD BLONDE on Christmas Day. MAN BAIT is not as saucy as it sounds. It is virtually sauce-free. In fact, the first five minutes are just bookstore workers puttering around in a bookstore. Puttering around! Finally Diana Dors (pictured) showed up and I yelled "MAN BAIT!" And then I giggled. I couldn't say the title without giggling. Sometimes I giggled until I cried, Dr. Theresa standing by to dial 9-1-1. Dr. Theresa was amused by the low stakes in MAN BAIT. The big villain's plan is to get a hundred pounds from a bookstore manager. A hundred pounds! From a bookstore manager! (In the accompanying illustration here, he is TRYING UNSUCCESSFULLY TO STEAL A BOOK!) Things escalate. Sort of. There are some murders - I guess. Kind of accidental murders. The bookstore manager's "invalid" wife dies from reading a letter, for example. MAN BAIT! Well, BAD BLONDE had more of the old pepper to it. It was a brazen rip-off of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE. It even had opera in it, Cain-style. Someone should (and I'm sure someone has) write an article about how, for Cain, opera is always tied up with betrayal and murder. I seem to recall that Cain wanted to be an opera singer but his mother - who WAS an opera singer - scoffed and jeered at him and told him he didn't have the voice for it. Freudian! I can't remember where I read that, but I used to proclaim it forcefully to my hardboiled class all the time, so it is probably true. The BAD BLONDE in BAD BLONDE was Barbara Payton. She had a lot of lines like, "It's too hot to sleep," in which she invested special meaning. And she literally licked her chops at the sight of her "prey," a young boxer. That's another thing! MAN BAIT started with a host of sad sacks glumly and quietly preparing a bookstore for daily operations and BAD BLONDE started with a boxing match at a seedy carnival. One of those is a better way to start a movie. Hey, remember when I went to an auction of Bob Hope's personal effects but I couldn't really tell you about it because I was going to write about it "professionally"? I've done a little bit of that, in an article on the Atlantic's "web" site, which you may read by "clicking" here. I mention it because Barbara Payton makes an appearance. Looks like, knock wood, I will be able to squeeze a good bit more juice out of that Bob Hope auction in the coming year. I'll let you know. Allow me to make a closing observation about MAN BAIT, ha ha! It will contain spoilers. So there is the inevitable "good girl" character in MAN BAIT. Her chief rivals for the affection of the bookstore manager (!) are the MAN BAIT (Diana Dors) and the bookstore manager's "invalid" wife. Thanks to the psychotic, if not very ambitious, criminal, her rivals are eliminated. I have half an idea here, something about how the "psychotic" characters in movies often reward the "good" characters by acting out the "good" characters' dark and unspoken impulses, and wow, as I'm typing it boy does it sound obvious and boring. STRANGERS ON A TRAIN deals with the idea explicitly, though maybe I am thinking about movies in which the filmmaker seems unconscious of the implications... hmm... My one consolation is that no one has read this far.