I Married a Witch (1942)

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It’s very cliché to say that a film is “ahead of its time,” but I can’t think of a better way to describe René Clair’s comedy, I Married a Witch. For a film that debuted in the early 1940s, it’s got a very different style of humor when compared to other comedies that came about during that era. When I think of films of the 1940s, I think of Casablanca, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Meet Me in St. Louis, so watching a film that is about a resurrected witch that preys on a soon-to-be-married man just feels so scandalous!

The film begins with a good old fashioned witch burning in Salem, Massachusetts. Jennifer (Veronica Lake) and her father are outed as witches by Jonathan Wooley (Fredric March), causing them both to be burned at the stake. Jennifer doesn’t let Jonathan’s crime go unpunished as she places a curse on his family that will cause all the Wooley men to have unsuccessful marriages. After a hilarious montage showing generations of Wooley men suffering from the curse, the film flips to a present day scene (1942). One of the descendants of Jonathan Wooley, Wallace Wooley (Fredric March…again) is having a party to celebrate his upcoming marriage to his fiancé, Estelle (Susan Hayward), as well as his candidacy for governor. During the grand event, lighting strikes a nearby tree where the ashes of Jennifer and her father were buried centuries ago. The lightning strike causes both witches to be resurrected in the form of clouds of smoke. As they’re floating around outside of the party, Jennifer realizes that Wallace is a descendant of Jonathan, and she decides to torment him by making him fall in love with her. She eventually gets a body, and the shenanigans begin. After she has several unsuccessful attempts at making Wallace fall in love with her, she conjures up a love potion because, well, that’s just what witches do. Her plan completely backfires when she accidentally drinks the potion, causing her to fall head over heels for Wallace. Needless to say, everything still works out as planned because Wallace does eventually fall in love with Jennifer. This movie isn’t called I Married a Witch for nothing.

Lake is absolutely hilarious in her role as Jennifer. She’s totally a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but in the best way possible. Wallace is a stereotypical vanilla politician, and Jennifer is possibly the bubbliest witch in the history of cinema. Watching the two interact is so comical that after seeing this film numerous times, I still catch myself laughing out loud. But it’s Jennifer’s father, Daniel (portrayed by the hilarious Cecil Kellaway), that reigns supreme as the funniest character in the movie. He too eventually gets a body, but he spends a good part of the film as a cloud of smoke that finds himself trapped in various bottles of liquor. There are also several scenes where he is too drunk to perform spells, and he eventually loses his body and gets trapped in a liquor bottle for all eternity. This is why I will forever refer to him as the funniest, drunkest witch dad to ever grace the silver screen.

I Married a Witch is entertaining from beginning to end, and what I love most about this movie is that it is completely re-watchable. I’ve seen the film numerous times and it has yet to lose its charm.

-Britnee Lombas

Sing Street (2016)

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threehalfstar

I can relate to the teenage punk wannabes of Sing Street more than I should probably admit. The film’s depiction of an all-boy Catholic high school as an oppressive hellhole shaped by a Kafkaesque adherence to The Rules & a constant, violent power play of toxic masculinity rang particularly true, though it’s an environment I experienced in mid-00s New Orleans, not mid-80s Dublin. So, what do you do in that creativity vacuum where the priests are worse than the bullies and your drab homelife only serves to feed your depressive teenage angst? You start a punk band with your fellow angsty friends, dummy. You shamelessly mine music & pop culture knowledge from people who actually know what they’re talking about (in this case a stoner older brother) & you start holding band practice in your friend’s garage. The only things that don’t ring true about Sing Street‘s central conceit for my own experience is that its high school punk band is actually pretty good (mine was a goofy mess) and that it was mostly formed to impress/woo a girl. That latter point is actually where the film loses it’s way, too, as it forgets to focus on what makes it special as an against-the-odds rock ‘n roll story in favor of a much less distinct sappy romance fantasy.

I don’t know if the titular teenage band of Sing Street would necessarily categorize their music as “punk”. They seem to prefer the term “futurist,” which is apparently a grey area between new wave & new romanticism that formed in punk’s mid-80s European ashes. This is a pop culture environment where Duran Duran’s music video for “Rio” is considered revolutionary art and teens form all over Ireland & rural England are flocking to London to become part of the scene. Sing Street doesn’t follow those kids, though. It instead tells the story of the less-wealthy punk wannabes who can’t afford to move to London & have to stay behind. The film’s early proceedings play like a less fantastical version of Moone Boy as our “futurist” rock heroes try to assert themselves as small town radicals, wearing makeup to a Catholic school & filming dirt cheap music videos for each new song in Dublin’s back alleys. The coming-of-age aspect of the film works quite well, especially  in the way the central band is allowed to start shitty & gradually improve as they mimic each passing fad in the music industry. Unfortunately, a lot of this goodwill gives way to a story about “getting the girl,” a preposterously rose-tinted tour through heartfelt teenage romance that drags down a lot of the film’s good vibes & aesthetic specificity into mind-numbing tedium. Sing Street is a great exemplifier of the dreaded critical cliché “third act problems.” The film drops a lot of what makes it interesting to clear room for its will-they-won’t-they teenage romance (something that never lasts, no matter where you leave off by the end credits) and an extended concert sequence that drags the pace down to a crawl with its diminishing returns musical numbers.

I don’t want to sound too down on Sing Street as a whole, though, even if my own enthusiasm was greatly deflated by its concluding half hour of romantic doldrums. At the very least I enjoyed it more than I expected to, based on the fairly generic trailer. It’s a pleasant film more than a challenging or ambitious one, but it does recall some feel-good aspects of (better) recent works like We Are the Best & God Help the Girl. You could do much worse for a lazy afternoon’s entertainment than enjoying Sing Street for its catchy mid-80s pastiche soundtrack or its period specific visual cues, like its wardrobe’s overindulgence in denim & wire-frame glasses or its accurate lampooning of the era’s music video clichés. The film just loses a little steam when it stops cheering for the band to succeed & starts cheering for an obviously doomed romance instead, with little to no implication that it knows how improbable that couple’s chances really are. Once you start to realize that only one or two members of the six piece punk, uh, futurist band are going to be developed into any kind of full-blown characters, it’s difficult not to feel at least a little disappointed. This is a pretty good movie, but if it stuck to its original trajectory it could’ve been something truly great.

-Brandon Ledet

A New Leaf (1971)

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threehalfstar

Walter Matthau plays Henry, an entitled man-child who squanders his trust fund taking his Ferrari into the shop after every time he drives it, wearing tailored suits, and having his butler take care of his every need. After he loses all his money with no other financial prospects, he does what any self-important ex-rich playboy would do and decides that he will marry a rich woman and murder her. Elaine May (who also directed the film) plays Henrietta, a plain-Jane botanist with an immense fortune and no interest in spending any of it. She is clumsy, uncultured, and infantilely clueless. Henry, seeing Henrietta as the perfect target, woos and marries her. With a synopsis like that A New Leaf seems like your typical straightforward black comedy where you’re lead along the entire film wonder if he will or won’t kill her, and in a way it is. Although much of what would be considered straightforward here seems actually more like subversive satire. Henrietta doesn’t get a makeover that involves removing her glasses. Henry doesn’t gain more affection for her and have a change of heart. They both just end up being frustratingly useless enough to deserve each other.

Henrietta is such an endearing character, before you find out how helpless she is. Her only dream in life is to discover and name a new species of fern.  May shines as a clueless nerd, with the awkward muttering and the soft exclamations of, “Oh, heavens.”  I, being a little bit of a clueless nerd myself, loved every awkward outfit, the bizarrely fitted hats, drab cardigans, and huge framed glasses. She is the perfect incompetent foil to Henry’s scheming, manipulative brooding. But eventually you realize she can’t even button her own shirts right.

A New Leaf is told mostly from Henry’s point of view. There’s a lot of handheld shots, grotesque close-ups from his perspective, and even a dream sequence. Though we’re constantly viewing everything from his side, we’re never expected to sympathize. If anything it only exaggerates his insufferable jackassery. Though, there is an interesting thing this movie brings up from his side: there seems to be some sort of underlying gay subtext. He is horrified at the idea of women. He’s never been married. There’s many jokes about the fact that he would even consider marriage. It’s a shame it’s played as a joke.

Elaine May had her own cut of the film that ran 180 minutes long. It was taken and re-edited to it’s released length of 102. The original cut of the film may not exist any more, so there’s no telling if the extra length added to the kooky absurdity. As it is, A New Leaf is one of the most warm and charming black comedies I’ve seen. It’s an awkward story about how two differently awful people deserve each other.

-Alli Hobbs

Vamps (2012)

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Amy Heckerling directed two of the most iconic teen comedies of all time, Clueless & Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and yet she hasn’t been afforded much leeway as a filmmaker. Outside her work on television there’s a dispiritingly low number of titles to her name and while I’m not willing to fully go to bat for either Look Who’s Talking or Johnny Dangerously, I will say Heckerling does have at least one credit to her name that’s criminally overlooked: Vamps. A madcap romcom about two party girl vampires trying to survive the afterlife in the big scity, Vamps is wildly fun & immediately endearing, recalling Herckerling’s best work to date in the high school satire Clueless. The two films’ connection runs much deeper than the directer reuniting with actors Alicia Silverstone & Wallace Shawn, however. They both have a genuine empathy for all of their characters, even the high school mean girls & bloodsucking undead (as well as their respective “enemies”), and they both find plenty of room for personality & biting wit within the rigid romcom formula. Vamps is Heckerling at the top of her endearing-but-satirical game and every time I revisit it I become more  baffled that it has yet to cultivate a solid cult audience.

An ultra-feminine precursor to What We Do in the Shadows, Vamps follows two NYC roommates as they navigate big city nightlife & supplant their thirst for blood (held at bay by feeding on rats) with an endless eternity of clubbing & casual sex. Silverstone more or less reprises her role as an all-growed-up Cher “Clueless” Horowitz & her bestie is played by Krysten Ritter, who’s essentially a much-less vicious version of her Don’t Trust the B character Tall Slut No Panties, uhh, I mean Chloe. Except, you know, they’re vampires. Injecting a little horror movie fantasy into this Sex and the City worldscape of trying to find the right guy by sleeping with all the wrong ones livens up the format a great deal. It’s amusing to watch these women lie about their age by hundreds of years, attend Sanguines Anonymous meetings, find work modeling clothes for other vampires who can’t use a mirror, and check out hot guys’ jugulars as they, in turn, check out their cleavage. That’s not where Vamps gets the most mileage out of its vampire genre gimmick, though. Its combination of sisterly camaraderie with old world nostalgia is its true undead heart. Silverstone’s character in particular struggles with memory of a world before cellphone addiction & cancer-causing sugar substitutes and it’s her combination of Luddite philosophy & aggressive femininity that affords this film it’s own unique voice.

Vamps feels a little like an entire sitcom’s run conveniently contained at a romcom’s length. It’s by no means breaking any molds in terms of genre or humor, especially recalling other feminine horror comedy genre mashups like Hocus Pocus, Death Becomes Her, and Sabrina The Teenage Witch. Its playful mix of bloodlust, fashion, cute guys, and immortality might not feel entirely fresh in the 2010s, but Heckerling keeps the mood consistently light, endearing, and bizarre. Besides, the movie delights in feeling outdated in a modern world it has little reverence for. Big time supporting players like Sigourney Weaver, Maclolm McDowell, and Dan Stevens are all just as charming & effective as the main cast and a few inspired gags like a rat blood spit take & a vampire’s hideous spray-on tan find some unexpected, as-yet unexplored territory in a genre that’s been mined beyond death. It’s Heckerling’s specific, unmistakable comedic voice that makes Vamps feel remarkable despite what you’d expect from it’s genre trappings & modern age griping. Unfortunately, because that voice is so rarely heard these days it’s a sound for sore ears.If Herckerling has any other projects cooking that are half as charming as Vamps we’d be lucky to have them in our grotesque modern world. I’m afraid they’d also go noticed & unappreciated, though. There’s little evidence in the last twenty years of her work’s public reception that would make me think otherwise.

-Brandon Ledet

Sleeping With Other People (2015)

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fourstar

“Are we in love with each other? What are we going to do about it?”

Sometimes the universe will provide you with the perfect contrast-and-compare examples to show you how a movie formula is done right & how it’s miserably flubbed. Consider the difference between Ryan Coogler’s inspired Rocky sequel Creed & last year’s other boxing world drama, Southpaw. Both films use the structure & tropes of the tried & true boxing picture to tell their respective stories, but Creed was so much more distinct & powerful in comparison that it’s easy to forget that the punishingly mediocre Southpaw was even released that same year. A more recent & much less macho example of that dichotomy would be the pairing of How to Be Single & Sleeping With Other People. How to Be Single is one of the least enjoyable films I’ve seen so far this year (it’s no Gods of Egypt, but it’s not far off) and yet it shares a lot of DNA with the low-key charmer Sleeping With Other People, a brilliant utilization of the traditional romcom format that feels entirely modern without ever working like an arms-length subversion. Sleeping With Other People is a feat in genuine emotion & sincerity in a genre that can often lack both, but it’s also remarkably similar to a recent film that gets it all so very wrong. There’s a lesson to be learned in the difference between how those two titles play onscreen & it’s almost certainly a question of craft.

A will-they-won’t-they romcom with an unfathomably stacked cast of talented actors (Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie, Jason Mantzoukas, and Natasha Lyonne to name a few), Sleeping With Other People is a story of the star-crossed & emotionally damaged. Two recovering sex/love addicts form a sexless, but deeply romantic bond while carrying on affairs with people they care far less about (hence the title). A lesser film would use this scenario to slyly poke fun at or sarcastically subvert the tropes of the romcom genre it operates in, but the brilliance of Sleeping With Other People is the way it feels sexy, smart, adult and, above all, honest all while operating within its genre boundaries. It commits. The film may admittedly be a little more vulgar than what we’re used to from the genre, though. It’s not likely that you’ll ever hear lines like “In your specific case I think you should fuck that sex addict,” or watch a woman learn how to masturbate as demonstrated on an empty juice bottle in My Big Fat Greek Funeral or Garry Marshall’s Veteran’s Day Eve. However, Sleeping With Other People is still instantly recognizable as a by-the-books romcom that delights in the way it plays by the rules. From its onscreen text message exchanges to its falling-in-love montages to the basic confines of its “We’re not a couple, but we act like one” plot, this is a true blue romcom with little to no pretension of being anything else. It just also happens to be well made, uproariously funny, and brutally truthful, a credit to both its writer/director Leslye Headland (who also helmed the underappreciated dark comedy Bachelorette in 2012) & its two stunningly-talented, sincere leads.

There’s recently been a sort of rejuvenation of the romcom format both on the big screen (Wetlands, Obvious Child) & on television (Love, Master of None) that’s encouraging for a genre that for a while seemed like it was on its last legs. How to Be Single felt like a growing pains process for bringing the low stakes romantic comedy into the modern era, never fully committing to letting go of its old-fashioned values despite what the title suggests. Sleeping With Other People, a film that shares two actors & a sex-addicted chauvinist protagonist with that lesser work, is much more adept at balancing a modern sensibility with that same timeless comedic structure. It’s likely there will be plenty of romcom junkies who enjoy How to Be Single well enough, but Sleeping With Other People has much more universal appeal to it. It’s a great movie first & a romcom second. I’d love to know if anyone else senses even the slightest correlation between the two (there’s always a chance I’m dead wrong about these kinds of arbitrary connections), but for me their differences & similarities are as clear as day. It’s also just as clear to me which one will stand the test of time.

-Brandon Ledet

Eagle vs. Shark (2007)

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threehalfstar

Falling in love with Taika Waititi’s last two feature films, Boy & What We Do in the Shadows, has recently prompted me to revisit his debut, Eagle vs. Shark. It turns out that Waititi’s quirky indie romcom beginnings seemingly have improved with time. Either that or it’s become easier for me as an audience to connect with Waititi’s particular aesthetic in his first film, which felt much more generic when I first gave it a try a few years ago. Not to confuse you with too many animal species here, but Eagle vs. Shark is a total wolf in sheep’s clothing situation. What I remembered as being a straight-forward romance between two hopelessly awkward nerds is actually something much darker & more amusing in retrospect. It doesn’t sport the vibrant, unmitigated success of Waititi’s two follow-ups, but it’s a perfectly wonderful debut for a comedic director in its own nuanced way.

Released almost simultaneously with Flight of the Conchords (another Waititi creation), Eagle vs. Shark is most notable as being an early glimpse of the series’ breakout star Jemaine Clement. Clement appears here with the most horrific haircut in known existence and the poisonously boisterous personality of any Danny McBride character you could think of to match, yet still serves as an oddball sex symbol for the painfully awkward fast food worker Lily, played by Loren Taylor. There’s a twee cuteness in Lily’s attraction to Clement’s ultra-nerd caricature that could possibly be a turn-off to folks who shy away from the muted, manicured comedy of names like Wes Anderson, Jody Hill, and Jared & Jerusha Hess. What a lot of people miss when they dismiss these kinds of works is the dark soul lurking within. Clement’s self-centered man-child learns no easy lessons here. He ruthlessly breaks Lily’s heart, stranding her among strangers in a fruitless attempt to impress the world  by mirroring the footsteps of his deceased, suicidal brother (played by Waititi himself in old photographs & home videos). Instead of chumly thinking to yourself “What does she see in this guy?”, you’re instead horrified by the depths  of depravity she’ll allow him to go while still maintaining her affection. Eagle vs Shark may be dressed up like a sugary romance, but its core is thoroughly rotted & decayed.

It wouldn’t be surprising if a lot of folks brush this movie off as empty twee preciousness. Indeed, I remembered it being cute, but kinda vapid when I first watched it. I mean, the film features a stop motion music video about two apple cores falling in love to Devendra Banhart’s “The Body Breaks“. I’m getting twee overload readings on my B.S. scale just writing that down. Once you get past the handmade animal costumes, dinosaur-themed cinemas (Cinesaurus Rex, for the curious), and the very cheap Mortal Kombat knockoffs, (things I actually like, but feel very Etsy) the film is funny & sweet and great at making you feel like total shit. I think it might help to get used to Clement & Waititi’s world-class deadpan before approaching Eagle vs. Shark to fully appreciate its off-center sense of humor. Boy & What We Do in the Shadows are two unimpeachable comedies in my mind, but Waititi’s debut works well enough on its own terms as a dark, muted character study with a well-established visual eye & an unexpected mean streak. It’s a minor work compared to what he’s accomplished since, but I find it has gotten a lot better over time, despite what you might expect based on its mid-2000s twee tropes.

-Brandon Ledet

Scott Valentine’s Other Over-Sexed Demon Feature: To Sleep with a Vampire (1993)

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As Boomer mentioned in our Swampchat discussion of April’s Movie of the Month, the romantic horror comedy My Demon Lover, the film’s star Scott Valentine had struck it somewhat big as a bad boy heartthrob on the televised sitcom Family Ties, but mostly failed to convert that success into a long term film career. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though. Valentine had a long string of starring roles in minor titles throughout the 80s & 90s, but his turn as the titular monster in My Demon Lover would mark the high point of a career that never truly took off. Topping out with My Demon Lover might help explain why the actor later returned to the antiheroic position of romantic love interest/supernatural threat in the straight-to-VHS oddity To Sleep with a Vampire six (six six) years later. To Sleep with a Vampire & My Demon Lover are two vastly different films working in two entirely separate genres (the erotic thriller & the romantic comedy, respectively), but Scott Valentine’s starring roles as the dangerous, titular love interest in both works serve as a clear connecting piece between them.

Some of the genre markers of To Sleep with a Vampire are seemingly at war with themselves. The film opens with Scott Valentine stalking back alley as if he were the brooding antihero in a self-serious neo-noir, immediately announcing himself as a vampiric threat. Once the film shifts gears, Valentine does his brooding in a cheap strip club, revealing the film’s true nature as a sleazy erotic thriller. To Sleep with a Vampire commits a little too earnestly when it reaches the strip club, indulging in so many passionless strip teases that it started to feel like a strange, vampiric modernization of the Ed Wood-penned “classic” Orgy of the Dead. Thankfully,the film eventually moves on and blossoms as being . . . actually pretty great? Valentine’s vampiric sex demon materializes at a sleazy strip club not only to oggle, but to search for a potential victim, one he finds in a down-on-her-luck stripper who is hopelessly suicidal due to an estranged relationship with her young son. The stripper, who’s essentially hit rock bottom on this particular night (and, thus, more attractive to her vampire predator, since killing someone suicidal is justifiably more ethical), is convinced to follow the bloodthirsty beau back to his bachelor pad (lair?) to discuss the delicacies of mortality until he plans to feast on her blood just before sunrise. Eventually, they bone.

A straight-to-VHS triviality produced by Roger “The Best There Ever Was” Corman, To Sleep with a Vampire is far more entertaining than it has any right to be. At times threatening to devolve into a deeply misogynistic masturbation fantasy for immature man-children, the film gradually reveals itself to be something much more poignant. Its all-in-one-night plot structure eventually morphs the film into something of a glorified stage play (from way, way, way, way off Broadway) akin to Steve Guttenberg’s passion project PS Your Cat is Dead. It’s far from the vampiric romance of titles like The Hunger, Near Dark, Only Lovers Left Alive, Innocent Blood, or A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night in terms of quality, but there’s still an interesting back & forth in the film’s understanding of gender politics through a vampiric lens & Scott Valentine’s monstrous heartthrob really does have great chemistry with his sex worker victim (Charlie Spalding) despite the predatory aspect that relationship dynamic implies. This is an atmospheric work where the gloomy, horny atmosphere is often undercut by an overbearing sense of camp, but it’s a compromised formula that works surprisingly well. In particular, the objectively bad acting of the two leads makes their overwrought characters seem all the more “human”. In a more tongue-in-cheek work, the exchange “Tell me about the daylight. How does the sun feel on your skin?” “How the hell should I know? I work nights,” might’ve been worthy a hearty eye roll, but the deadpan performances sell it wholeheartedly here.

That’s not to say that To Sleep with a Vampire is anything more than a campy trifle. There’s plenty to scoff at here: the black & white vampire cam, the titular antihero’s oversensitive concern with vampire stereotypes, weird exchanges where the mismatched protagonists become physically a combatitve & then immediately make out, an inevitable love-making scene that nearly outdoes The Room in sheer audacious cheese, etc. However, the movie still has a surprising emotional weight to it, especially in its exploration of the vulnerability in following a complete stranger home for casual sex. Scott Valentine also shows a surprising amount of range here. His two portrayals of sex-obsessed demons could not be more different. In My Demon Lover he’s pure cartoonish id, not unlike a murderous version of Rik Mayall’s performance in Drop Dead Fred. In To Sleep with a Vampire he goes full Batman in his performance (this was the Tim Burton era of the character’s popularity spike, mind you): gruff, brooding, misunderstood, conflicted. Again, it’s difficult to discern which is the better film out of To Sleep with a Vampire & My Demon Lover because they are so artistically disparate (and so politically regressive in their own unique ways), but both are transgressively entertaining in an odd way & both do their best to showcase Scott Valentine’s talents as a dangerous bad boy sex symbol. My Demon Lover is more readily recommendable to potential Scott Valentine fetishists in its (minor) cultural significance & its commitment to let the actor run wild, but To Sleep with a Vampire features the 80s semi-icon wearing only a pair of leopard print bikini briefs on a moonlit beach, so who’s to say which is more essential in that regard? Either way they compliment each other nicely & they’re both worth a watch for the shlock-inclined.

For more on April’s Movie of the Month, the 1987 romantic horror comedy My Demon Lover, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film, this look on how it reflects the work of director Ate de Jong, and last week’s unlikely, uncomfortable look at how it compares with Harold Ramis’s 2000 remake of Bedazzled.

-Brandon Ledet

Bedazzled (2000) as the Gender-Swapped My Demon Lover (1987) of My Nightmares

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During our Swampchat discussion of April’s Movie of the Month, the romantic horror comedy My Demon Lover, I proposed than a potentially interesting way to remake the film for a modern audience would be to swap the genders of its protagonists. In the 80s version there’s something really off-putting about the idea of a crass man who turns into a literal, life-threatening demon every time he becomes horny. When the film tries to make you root for this demonic loverboy’s romantic connection with a schleppy, single woman trying to make it on her own in The Big City all you can do as an audience is scream for the love interest to run for her life. There’s a predatory aspect to this gender dynamic that I think could be entertaining in the context of a raunchy modern comedy if the two leads’ genders were swapped. I’m picturing an Aubrey Plaza or an Ellie Kemper transforming into a murderous demon every time they’re turned on and I’m chuckling instead of fighting back the urge to call the police.

The problem is that I have seen a similar concept play out on the screen before in the 2000 Harold Ramis comedy Bedazzled. A remake of a darkly funny Dudley Moore classic, Ramis’s Bedazzled changes up the formula of its predecessor by casting The Devil as (gasp!) a woman, supermodel Elizabeth Hurley to be exact. The plot lines of My Demon Lover & Bedazzled don’t exactly run parallel, but both films do tell the stories of lovelorn losers shaken out of their romantic ruts by the supernatural intervention of eternally-horny demons. Instead of seducing her schleppy victim over the course of several balloon-themed montage dates in Central Park, however, Elizabeth Hurley’s Devil is much more metaphysical in her intervention. She’s not a devil, but The Devil, after all. When recent MOTM vet Brendan Fraser’s geeky office drone wishes of a fellow coworker “Dear God, I would give anything to have that girl in my life,” Hurley’s Princess of Darkness takes him up on the offer. She pressures the foolish wimp into signing a contract that cedes his very soul in exchange for several wishes designed to win his crush’s hearth through magical coercion. Each wish, of course, blows up in the dolt’s face and The Devil takes full advantage of his hubris & naivete.

There’s a little more to the difference between these two films’ central premises than gender-swapped leads & a third party romantic interest. There’s also a major shift here in terms of character likeability. In My Demon Lover the lovelorn schlub Denny is instantly endearing in her down-on-her-luck romantic struggles & the demonic Kaz is revolting in his attempts to woo her. Bedazzled works sort of in the opposite way. Brendan Fraser’s self-absorbed, Nice Guys Finish Last nerd is unlikely to inspire anyone to wish for his happiness and Elizabeth Hurley’s large than life antagonist is, well, devilishly fun to watch. If the two characters had also swapped their allotted screen time, Bedazzled might’ve actually been a campily fun romp with an occasional mean streak. Hurley has a blast here, going through more costume changes than a millionaire drag queen (nurse, meter maid, fashion bitch, etc.) & cheekily intoning lines like, “Most men think they’re a god. This one just happens to be right,” and [in response to the indignation of “You can’t have my soul!”] “What are you, James Brown?” The problem is that nearly every minute without Hurley is an eternity of agony. Only the most devoted of Brendan Fraser fanatics could possibly stomach all seven or so versions of him on display here. As he cycles through personalities like dimwitted basketball player, oversensitive poet, and Colombian drug lord, each more broad than the last, it’s easy to see why in his heyday his comedic stylings were mostly relegated to children’s media where he could find reasons to wind up shirtless.

There’s a lot more going against Bedazzled than just the imbalance of Hurley & Fraser screen time. As soon as several racist, offensively lazy gags play over the opening credits, its easy to tell that this isn’t the young, inspired Ramis of Ghostbusters & Groundhog’s Day yesteryear. The film only gets lazier & more insensitive from there and when Fraser appears in brownface as a Colombian drug lord in the first wish segment, I was in shock that I actually saw this piece of shit movie in the theater with my parents as a kid. I don’t think Bedazzled exactly stands as a warning against my desire for a gender-swapped My Demon Lover, though. If anything, Elizabeth Hurley’s horny demon antagonist was the sole bright spot in a film that could’ve used a whole lot more of her sinful charm. Bedazzled is more of a warning that gender-swapping My Demon Lover‘s central characters isn’t enough of an instant fix to patch all of the film’s moral pitfalls. There’s plenty of room for the premise to stumble without the right creative minds to steer the ship. In other words, be careful what you wish for or the results could be a nightmare. Bedazzled taught me that, but perhaps not in the way it intended to.

For more on April’s Movie of the Month, the 1987 romantic horror comedy My Demon Lover, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film, and last week’s look on how it reflects the work of director Ate de Jong.

-Brandon Ledet

Movie of the Month: My Demon Lover (1987)

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Every month one of us makes the rest of the crew watch a movie they’ve never seen before & we discuss it afterwards. This month Boomer made ErinBrandon, and Britnee watch My Demon Lover (1987).

Boomer: I think that this was bound to happen sometime, and I’m pretty sorry that it happened with regards to a Movie of the Month that was my suggestion: My Demon Lover is not as much fun as a rewatch as it was in my memory. The male love interest comes across much more low-key predatory than I remembered, and the love story overall suffers as a result. Still, the two lady leads are just as likable as I remembered, which helped make this a more tolerable experience than it otherwise could have been.

My Demon Lover tells the story of Denny (Michele Little), a perpetual loser who falls for crappy guys like her latest man, who leaves her on her birthday for having the audacity to want to throw a party for herself. How dare she?! Her best friend Sonia (Gina Gallego) is a modern woman with lots of lovers and no boyfriends, an occasional psychic who runs a new age store. After an encounter with lovelorn loser Charles (Xena alum Robert Trebor, virtually unrecognizable without his trademark beard), Denny is ready to give up on men, until she has a charisma-free meet cute with horndog Kaz (Scott Valentine), a homeless man that she immediately takes into her home. Although there are a lot of problems with this scenario, the narrative focuses on one in particular: Kaz was cursed by the mother of a girl with whom he was sexually experimenting in middle school. As a result, when he becomes aroused, he turns into a monster called a pazatzki, complete with scaly prosthetics and monstrous claws. As a series of murders of young women rack up and are attributed to a serial killer dubbed “The Mangler,” Kaz starts to wonder if he is the one at fault. Sonia has a vision that implies he is, and everything comes to a head in a random castle that appears to be smack in the middle of Central Park.

Debuting at number ten on the week of its release and then quickly falling off of the box office charts, My Demon Lover netted nearly two million dollars in its first week despite not being a particularly good movie. Part of the reason for this was that Valentine was a bit of a hot item at the time, having garnered attention for his portrayal of Nick Moore, the boyfriend of Justine Bateman’s character on eighties sitcom standard Family Ties, appearing in 44 episodes. The character was so well-received, in fact, that there were three separate attempts to spin him off into his own show, titled The Art of Being Nick. One script idea made it all the way to the pilot stage, where Nick’s new love interest was played by Seinfeld star Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and his sister was played by future Buffy mom Kristine Sutherland. Nick’s grandfather in the pilot was portrayed by Herschel Bernardi; Bernardi’s sudden death, combined with NBC’s hesitation to let Valentine leave Family Ties, led to the series not being picked up.

Despite the fact that his character in the film commits lots of micro-and macro-aggressions (including grabbing women on the street like an eighties YouTube pickup artist), Valentine himself has a lot of charm. Little is also very likable as the put-upon Denny, even if the character reads as a parody of unlucky eighties leading ladies. Gallego’s Sonia stands out in her role as the unapologetically sexually liberated modern woman, bringing warmth and sincerity to a role that one would expect to see treated more critically in a film of this era. These are all characters that would have been more successful in a movie wherein the leading man didn’t start out as such an unrepentant creep, and it’s a testament to Valentine’s likability as an actor that Kaz seems at all redeemable, given the aggressions cited above. It’s too bad that what could have been his breakout performance ended up burying him and relegating him to guest appearances in things like Lois & Clark, JAG, and Walker, Texas Ranger.

What do you think, Brandon? Are the likable characters who populate this film charismatic enough to partially cover the more unlikable elements here, or are the performances just adhesive bandages on a fatal wound?

Brandon: I do think you’re being a little harsh on My Demon Lover as a whole, but I can also see how a rewatch could make you cringe pretty hard. The opening stretch of the film constantly, confrontationally raises the essential question “Aren’t you supposed to like the male lead in a romcom? Or at least be able to tolerate him?” The demon lover hobo at the film’s center is a walking, breathing personification of street harassment, the kind of scummy cretin who must’ve scattered & disappeared when Giuliani cleaned up Times Square in the 1990s. My Demon Lover presents the most salacious version of NYC we’ve covered since former Movie of the Month Crimes of Passion & its male romantic lead thrives in its grimy, sex-soaked environment, often as a deadly threat for women navigating the city alone at night. You’d think that a romcom that begins with a man who turns into literal demon when he gets aroused & puts the women around him at risk would have virtually no chance of bouncing back, but My Demon Lover somehow pulls it off. A lot of this has to do with, as Boomer points out, the lady schlub charms of Denny as the demon lover’s love interest, but I somehow was also won over by the demon lover himself before the end credits rolled, a completely unexpected turnaround.

I think I can pinpoint the exact moment my opinion changed on the demon lover Kaz. There’s a really sweet, impossibly vapid falling-in-love montage where the devilish sex fiend learns the meaning of intimacy over a series of Big City dates with Denny that include props like hotdogs, park benches, and balloons. At this point it becomes kind of tenderly sad that Kaz can never become aroused by a woman without becoming a physical threat. It’s an affliction that keeps him from knowing the simple pleasures of romance and helps to explain how his sexuality remains predatory & juvenile without any chance for positive growth. The movie later does a lot of damage control to further repair the demon lover’s character by making his demonic form sort of cartoonishly pathetic & also making it explicitly clear that (huge spoiler) the serial Mangler murders were not his doing. However, it’s silly moments in his getting-know-Denny stretches that first began to redeem the poor little devil in my eyes. In those moments Kaz’s behavior seemed less monstrously brutal & more in line with obnoxious, emotionally stunted, magical characters like Drop Dead Fred.

Erin, you & Britnee both called the narrative twist of the real Mangler’s identity long before the movie revealed the true killer. Do you think that the murder mystery aspect of this film was a mistake, delaying how long it would take to learn to love the demon beau as a cursed goofball? Or was the act of gradually changing your mind on Kaz’s merits as a love interest more entertaining than the film would’ve been as a straight romcom fantasy? What does the Mangler murder mystery add or take away from My Demon Lover’s campy charms?

Erin: You know, I think that the kitchen sink nature of My Demon Lover is part of its appeal.  The movie would function without the mystery of The Mangler, and it would be a perfectly sweet monster-flavored romcom.  I do think that including The Mangler allows for an edge – it gives Kaz’s initial characterization a tinge of danger.  Though he is completely disgusting in his own right, the implication that he is murdering women in the streets makes his meet-cute (meet-gross?) with Denny so much more troubling.  We as an audience already know that she has terrible luck with relationships, and even without being led to believe that he is a blood crazed slasher it seems like a terrible idea for her to keep speaking with him and letting him sleep on her sofa.  Adding The Mangler’s subplot gives the redemption story a stronger and sharper flavor, as we end up having to cover so much more ground to see Kaz as a protagonist.  Instead of zero to hero, it’s like he’s starting at -50.

On the other hand, starting the movie with the implication that Kaz is The Mangler makes the second act of My Demon Lover really jarring and awkward at times.  It’s hard to enjoy sappy love montages and gratuitous makeouts when you have the unsettling feeling that an ingenue is going to be slaughtered in her sleep.  The nightly murders and rising hysteria about The Mangler are also at odds with the main plot of two goofy kids falling in love.  I’m not sure if the incongruity is intentional, or if watching My Demon Lover in 2016 increases the gap in mood.  I think that audiences today might be more sensitive to the portrayal of violence towards women in cinema.

It’s hard to choose the strangest element of My Demon Lover, though.  The magical rules seem inconsistent, with Kaz’s pazzazion manifesting in a thousand different ways.  Denny’s friend Sonia is inexplicably the best character in the movie, and for some reason sleeping with the DA.  The NYPD are following a procedure unknown to any police force in the world.  The balloon budget is strangely high.

Britnee, what do you make of My Demon Lover? What aspect of the movie caught your attention, the romcom elements or the monster movie side?  Do the production values of the movie detract from its charm or add to it?

Britnee: I honestly didn’t expect My Demon Lover to be much different than the other hundreds of campy 80s comedies out there, but it actually does a great job standing out on its own. At first, the film didn’t seem like it was going to be anything but a cheeseball comedy about a fruit burger-eating airhead that falls for a perverted homeless guy who may or may not be a killer demon. Thankfully, things become much more interesting as the film goes on.

The monster movie and romcom elements of My Demon Lover come together to create a rare combination that makes for one hell of a memorable flick. I think that the romcom features of the film stood out more for me than the monster movie elements. If all of that demon jazz was taken out of the film, I think it would still be just as wacky and entertaining. It seems as though we all agree that Kaz is not your average romcom heartthrob, and I think that’s what made this such an amusing experience. I actually found Kaz and Denny to be very annoying lead characters, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Their ridiculously irritating traits make them a hilarious, dynamic duo. Denny’s lack of self-respect and poor life choices mixed with Kaz’s disturbing mannerisms and erratic personality work very well together. I remember thinking, “God, these people suck, but is that why I’m laughing so hard right now?” while watching the film. This is the stuff that romcoms are made of.

As for the film’s production values, I would have to say that the film benefits from its cheap qualities. The poorly made demon costumes, Kaz’s limited wardrobe, and, as Erin previously mentioned, the large amount of balloons adds to the movie’s comical value. My Demon Lover wouldn’t have been half as much fun if it was some fancy schmancy high-quality production.

Boomer, of all the strange happenings that occur in My Demon Lover, the portion of the film that takes place in the Belvedere Castle in Central Park caught me off guard more than anything else. It seemed very displaced. Did you feel as though this part of the film seemed like a completely different movie? Also, if you had to choose a different location for The Mangler’s lair, where would it be?

Boomer:  I have to admit that, up to this very moment when I looked up “Belvedere Castle,” I had no idea that there really was a castle in Central Park. I thought that the Central Park castle was a total fabrication! With that knowledge, I’m a little more forgiving of the film’s climax (sorry) for taking place there. It still doesn’t quite work for me, but I can see what the intent was. Just as the vaguely racist “Romanian curse” enacted on a modern man draws a line of connection between the sexpolitik of the Old World and the contemporary one of the film, so too does a climactic castle rooftop showdown with modern weapons (and a little shaggin’ to make the magic happen). Still, you’re absolutely correct, Britnee, in that it doesn’t feel quite right.

I think a more industrial or warehouse location showdown would have been better suited to the film’s aesthetic and its placement in then-modern New York. At the time of the film’s production, it would have been impossible to predict the rise of Giulianni and the Disneyfication of New York that would follow in his wake (Times Square Red, Times Square Blue by Samuel Delany is essential reading to understanding this dichotomy). My Demon Lover is like a time capsule from the real New York, and diverting the narrative to such an Old World location when the story could have had a meatpacking district fight sequence or a battle of wills at a dead subway stop (just think of the passing trains and the potential for interesting lighting schemes!) would have been more in line with the presentation of the city up to that point. There are arguments to be made for shooting in either atmosphere, but I really would have loved to see more of 1980s NYC and its eccentricities (Fruit burgers! Occult shops with weapons that can actually kill a demon!) rather than a locale that seems almost formulaic, even for such an oddball flick.

Brandon, raunchy comedies seem to be popular in brief cycles, with watershed sex flicks like Porky’s, American Pie, and Forty Year Old Virgin inspiring imitators and followers for a few years before the madness dies down and the fields of film are left fallow to allow the next hit to germinate. Do you think that, in the wake of the bro-aggrandizing movies of the past few years (like Neighbors), a modernized remake of My Demon Lover would have the chance to reach a wide audience in the way that the original did not? And, if you were drafting a script for it, would you keep Kaz’s street harassing ways intact (all the better to discuss the issue and create a stronger arc) or forego that character trait altogether (making him a more sympathetic lead from the outset)?

Brandon: It’d be interesting to see a script take a thoughtful, pointed jab at hyper-masculine sexuality through this film’s formula. It could maybe even update Kaz’s toxic sexual persona with recent targets of online feminist social commentary: “manspreading”, “negging”, commands like “You should smile more!”, etc. The truth is, though, that a satirical comedy with ambitions that high would have to toe a thin line to succeed.

A much easier way to update My Demon’s Lover‘s formula would be to swap the genders of its protagonists. My favorite raunchy sex comedies of the past few years have been the ones lead by women. Films like Appropriate Behavior, Wetlands, The Bronze, The To Do List, Bachelorette, and (to a lesser extent) Trainwreck have breathed fresh air into a stale format by making its overgrown, oversexed adult children women for a change, which has been an exciting development when it’s done right. I know it’s not a sex comedy, but consider, for instance, Paul Feig’s upcoming Ghostbusters reboot. In almost every scenario a new Ghostbusters film sounds entirely unnecessary & gratuitous, but with that cast of talented women on board, it actually sounds like it might be kind of worthwhile?

Erin, picture for a moment My Demon Lover with Denny & Kaz’s roles reversed. Kaz is a bumbling nerd who always seems to attract emotionally abusive women & Denny is an oddball love interest who turns into a literal monster every time she gets horny. Would this gender reversal change the film’s fabric in an essential way or would their dynamic remain just as off-putting?

Erin: Oh man.  A gender flipped My Demon Lover might be a lot to process even for modern audiences.  I have two thoughts on switching the genders of Kaz and Denny (could we keep the names? probably?).  I’m also going to assume that you mean a full gender-flip, and that The Mangler is also going to be a female character.

First, I think that a gender flipped My Demon Lover would be a hard sell for the same reasons that other raunchy, female-led comedies seem to struggle.  American audiences are still coming to terms with actresses having full comedy range – comediennes are criticized for being pretty, and therefore unable to be funny, or being funny because they are unattractive and have nothing else going for them, and who wants to watch or listen to an unattractive woman, or trying too hard to be “one of the boys” with gross-out humor, or being unrelatable because their humor is about female experiences, or just being unfunny because women obviously have no sense of humor.  As difficult as it is for an audience to get behind Kaz as a protagonist (and he starts pretty freakin’ low), I think that it would even more difficult to make the turn around for a female character who’s meet cute involves digging through trash and spewing half-chewed food at their romantic lead.  There’s also a lot more judgment leveled at women who are unabashed horn dogs.

Secondly, I think that it might be more difficult to hold the tension that My Demon Lover has with its Mangler plotline.  We still have a hard time convincing the general public that men can be the victims of sexual or violent assault by women.  I’m not sure that audiences will see a female Kaz’s butt-grabbing crawl through Manhattan as the same kind of inappropriate as the male Kaz’s.  The only edge that My Demon Lover has is with the early implication that Kaz is The Mangler, and it could be very difficult to convince audiences that The Mangler’s brand of slash-and-dash is being performed on male victims by a woman, pazzazed or not.

That being said, I think that if the right director came along with the right vision, a gender flipped My Demon Lover would be interesting.  I can’t imagine that it would be worse than the original.  I’m actually pretty curious to see the redemption plot line work out with a gross-out, uber-horny lady lead and a thoughtful, cutie pie dude.  I think that the only way to fix some of the issues that I list above is to push them in public arenas, to familiarize audiences with new concepts and characterizations.  So throw in a few lessons with everything else in My Demon Lover, I’m not sure that you could possibly hurt it any more than it hurts itself.

I think my final assessment of My Demon Lover is that its goofiness makes it fun, but that some of the sexual politics are dated enough to make it uncomfortable to watch.  What do you think, Britnee?  Am I over analyzing a movie that’s intended to be funny and gross and inappropriate, or is there anything to be gained from talking about the parts that came across strangely when we watched the movie?

Britnee: I don’t think that you’re over analyzing this film at all. Yes, My Demon Lover is a total cheeseball of a movie, but the parts of the film that involve Kaz being a total perv are really obnoxious. Kaz’s inappropriate behavior towards women doesn’t add to the film’s comic value like I’m sure it was intended to, but being that this film was released in 1987, this wasn’t too much out of the norm. It’s interesting to think of what the response to the film would be like if it was a current release. I doubt that many viewers would walk out of theaters or pop the DVD out of their players, but I’m sure it would piss off a hell of a lot more people now that it did in ’87. It’s refreshing to know that we all felt discomfort in Kaz’s behavior in the film’s beginning. It’s a sign that the times are changing (though not quickly enough).

All that aside, My Demon Lover was a blast. Any time a film can make you laugh out loud as much as this flick made me, it must mean that something was done right.

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Lagniappe

Britnee: When I first heard the film’s title, I couldn’t help but think of how amazing Judas Priest’s “Turbo Lover” would be if “Turbo” was replaced with “Demon.” It would be a great song for the film’s credits.

Boomer: I’d like to voice my support for a gender flipped MDL, and nominate the following: Grant Gustin as Denny and Kat Dennings as Kaz. I’d like to vary up the whiteness of the original film, but putting a POC in either of these roles seems inappropriate (given the real historical and racist oversexualization of WOC in the West). I’ve voiced my general distaste for Emma Roberts in many of my writing projects, but I feel that she could pull off the role of The Mangler with more subtlety than Robert Trebor does here. I’d cast Michael B. Jordan as Sonia (Sonny?) and replace the irascible police chief with Michelle Rodriguez. Plus, because I seriously wish she was in everything I watched, Angela Bassett as Fixer. 

Erin: It must have been a lot of fun to do the monster effects in My Demon Lover.  It looks like the effects team had a pretty long leash and enjoyed every gross minute of it.

Brandon: I’m just going to piggyback on what Erin’s saying here. The visual effects in those demonic transformations are of the highest, almost Rick Baker-level quality. I was surprised to see Britnee call the demon designs “poorly made” since that’s just about the only thing on display not shoddily slapped together. I particularly like the detail of Kaz’s ears being sucked inside his skull in that first transformation. I might forget large chunks of My Demon Lover in the coming years, but those ears receding into his head will likely haunt me forever & they were the first thing that stuck out to us as a crew when we watched the film’s trailer (which is a work of art unto itself).

Upcoming Movies of the Month:
May: Brandon presents Girl Walk // All Day (2011)
June: Britnee presents Alligator (1980)
July: Erin presents [TBD]

-The Swampflix Crew

 

One Plot Two Ways: No Man of Her Own (1950) and Mrs. Winterbourne (1996)

I was first introduced to the zany Mrs. Winterbourne by a good friend of mine.  We giggled over the ridiculous plot, the fun overacting of Ricki Lake, the suaveness of Brendan Fraser – all of the things that make Mrs. Winterbourne its fabulous self.  It’s an entertaining, lighthearted, and strange movie.  It’s fun to see Ricki Lake and Brendan Fraser in full 90s getup attempting to set up a plot about unwed mothers, literal train wrecks, domestic abuse, and murder into a screwball comedy.

Years later, I would search Netflix for “noir” and scroll through a list of noir films.  No Man of Her Own caught my eye, a 1950 film starring the ever-moody and beautifully tense Barbara Stanwyck.  It was somewhere around the train accident that I started to experience a strange sense of déjà vu.  Sure enough, the desperate pregnant woman wakes up panicked and decidedly un-pregnant at a hospital, only to find herself misidentified as a dead man’s wife.

What, I thought to myself, is going on here?  Could Mrs. Winterbourne be a remake?!

No, it turns out, it’s not.

Mrs. Winterbourne and No Man of Her Own are both based on the same book, I Married a Dead Man, written by Cornell Woolrich and published in 1948.  This book is firmly described as a drama, appropriate for a story dealing with mistaken identity, blackmail, and murder.  No Man of Her Own definitely sticks more closely to the original spirit of Woolrich’s novel.  [Full disclosure: I haven’t read the novel]

The broad details of the movie are, of course, the same.  An unmarried pregnant woman is rejected by the baby’s father.  She takes a one-way train away from a nasty ex-boyfriend and meets a charming, rich couple.  The female half of the couple is also pregnant, leading to bonding between our protagonist and the other lady.  The charming couple is killed in a terrible train accident, but our protagonist survives and is mis-identified as the other woman .  She gives birth in the hospital while in a coma, and wakes to find that it has been arranged for her and the baby to be taken in by the family of the dead couple.  She and the baby are welcomed into the family’s home as their daughter-in-law, where she meets the brother of the dead man.  As she commits to living a stolen life and she and her “brother-in-law” fall in love, the baby’s real father finds her and starts to blackmail her, leading to a third-act murder mystery.

Despite the broad plot points (and a few smaller similarities, like the maid’s double-bun hairstyle), No Man of Her Own does several important things very differently.  First of all, No Man is firmly a drama.  The atmosphere is one of tension and anxiety, brought beautifully to screen by Stanwyck.  The chemistry between Stanwyck and John Lund is much more natural and less showy than the relationship between Fraser and Lake, which is one of my main complaints about Mrs. Winterbourne.  The focus on the film is much less about blooming relationships and personal growth.  I’m sorry to report that there is no tango scene.  No Man of Her Own is a much darker movie, which is appropriate for the content of the plot.  The pacing is tight and fast, and feels shorter than the hour and 38 minute run time.  There aren’t any scenes that leave you wondering what the hell the director was thinking (I’m looking at you, “On the Sunny Side of the Street”).

The differences that I found the most interesting are some of the more subtle ones.  Helen isn’t happy about the baby, but never has the option to consider keeping the pregnancy or not.  It is a given that she will have the baby as an unwed mother.  She also makes the conscious decision to masquerade as Mrs. Harkness much earlier on, before she leaves the hospital, instead of being browbeaten into by others.  Bill isn’t played as a stiff necked prat, but as a charming sweetheart who calls easily befriends Stanwyck’s Helen.  No Man of Her Own focuses less on the blooming relationship between the protagonist and her ersatz brother-in-law, and is much less interested in the personal growth of the characters. There is less interest in the class difference between Helen and her adoptive family as well, and though she is invested in the luxury of her new life, she is portrayed as polished and classy, running up and down the stairs for the baby’s bottle in heels and speaking in the same beautiful Mid-Atlantic accent as everyone else. Helen’s potential giveaways are about her knowledge of Hugh, her dead “husband”, not her inability to eat dinner without blurting out crude words in a Joisey accent.

There are a few things that Mrs. Winterbourne does better.  Shirley MacLaine’s portrayal of Grace Winterbourne is really lovely, and shifts the heart of the movie to her character in a way that makes sense in the plot as the protagonists in both movies are motivated to protect Bill’s mother from life-threatening stress.  I think that Mrs. Winterbourne does a better job of showing the confusion and heartache of a family that has just lost a loved member.  Grace Winterbourne’s reaction of attempting to drown Connie and the baby in gifts and kindness is portrayed much more strongly and Bill Winterbourne’s suspicion and coldness make sense as reactions to a death in the family.  Mrs. Winterbourne’s Steve, portrayed by Loren Dean, is so perfectly scummy and dramatically sociopathic that he makes Lyle Bettger’s slick and cold Steve look bland.  The charm of Miguel Sandoval as the sassy and wise Paco is missing from No Man of Her Own, and Helen is left to her own devices to figure out a course of action.

No Man of Her Own and Mrs. Winterbourne are on opposite ends of the genre spectrum – noir drama and screwball comedy.  Even so, I think that a comparison can be made between the two movies.  No Man of Her Own is very watchable, and an interesting entry in the noir genre because of its female protagonist.  Stanwyck’s Helen is much more self-determined than Lake’s Connie, taking action for herself and bringing more agency to the screen.  No Man comes across as more comprehensible and cohesive, while Mrs. Winterbourne sometimes leaves the audience incredulous.  Honestly, it’s a better movie than Mrs. Winterbourne, though I concede that it’s less entertaining. No Man might be a more difficult sell for modern audiences as well, and I have to admit that I’m a noir enthusiast to begin with.  Mrs. Winterbourne would probably be my pick for a movie night (and . . . it was, for the Swampflix crew) because of its humor.  It’s interesting to see two such completely different takes on the same plot, and I hope that you get the chance to compare the two for yourself sometime.

For more on March’s Movie of the Month, 1996’s Mrs. Winterbourne, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film and last week’s peek into the film’s press kit.

-Erin Kinchen