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August 01, 2008

Cinematic Denver: Gene Fowler, Jr.

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I Married a Monster from Outer Space
Gene Fowler, Jr. - 1958
Paramount Region 1 DVD

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The Rebel Set
Gene Fowler, Jr. - 1959
Alpha Video Region 1 DVD

With the circus, er, Democratic Convention coming to my town at the end of this month, I thought I would have some postings on some film people born in Denver, and maybe a couple of films shot here, during the month of August.

It may have been genetic that the two most famous films directed by Gene Fowler, Jr. have titles that could have been the screaming confessional headlines found on a tabloid newspaper. I Married a Monster from Outer Space and I was a Teenage Werewolf almost tell the entire story in a few words. Gene Fowler, Jr.'s father was Gene Fowler, famed journalist for "The Denver Post", who never let the truth get in the way of telling a good story. With a famed newspaper man for a father, it should be no surprise that as a film editor, Gene Fowler, Jr. worked with another tabloid journalist turned filmmaker, Samuel Fuller. The other significant collaboration for Gene Fowler, Jr. was as the editor of choice for Fritz Lang.

That Fowler worked with two of the more famous names associated with some of the darker films of the Fifties should put his two best known films in perspective. I don't think it is much of a stretch to describe Werewolf and Monster as film noir for teenagers. Just as Lang and Fuller made films primarily for adults addressing the anxieties of the time, Fowler's films could be seen as less directly discussing the emotional turmoil of their intended audience. Werewolf is an exaggerated version of being an adolescent male, with the uncoordinated physical changes, emerging body hair, and screaming hormones with no where to go. The "I" of Werewolf was every guy watching the film, with lust for Yvonne Lime, or her real life equivalent, and not quite knowing how to let her know that you want to be more than just friends.

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Monster deals with an even scarier thought, what it means to be an adult. The film starts of with a bachelor party, actually just a few guys at a table in a bar. Bill, the one getting married the next day, stops his car when he finds what appears to be a dead guy in the road. Touched by an appendage that is clearly not human, or of a recognizable animal, his body is covered by smoke which disappears. Bill shows up late for his own marriage to Marge, distracted, or if a bad pun is allowed here, "spaced out". Much of the film's narrative owes a big debt to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Stripped of the science fiction and horror elements, Monster can be seen as similar to so many other films where one spouse discovers a horrifying truth about the other, accompanied by feelings that the person they married is now a stranger. While a conventional reading of the title would make the "I" of the title, Marge, one could also read the title from Bill's point of view. It is he who travels through galaxies with the hope of keeping his life form from becoming extinct. That Marge, first unknowingly, acts in ways that threatens Bill's existence could be interpreted as monstrous. Whatever marriage might ideally be, it is also a trap loaded with issues ranging from sexual performance, fertility, to dealing with the expectations of friends and family. Even if your spouse doesn't come from the Andromeda galaxy, marriage can still be a scary experience.

Away from the fantasy of Werewolf and Monster, the film The Rebel Set offers fewer pleasures. The title would indicate a film about beatniks, but most of the film is heist thriller that does some petty theft of its own with elements taken from Treasure of Sierra Madre and Asphalt Jungle. The best reason to see this film in its current smeary DVD form is for the kick of seeing Edward Platt play against type. Best known as James Dean's policeman pal in Rebel without a Cause and the Chief in the "Get Smart" television series, the bearded Platt is the owner of a coffee house that serves as a front for his criminal activities. Platt recruits three men, a failed writer, an actor looking for his first break, and the criminal son of a movie star, to enact his robbery of an armored car because they are not beatniks. Later, Platt shaves the beard to be disguised as a killer priest, sometimes spouting pieties while dispatching anyone in his way. It may not make The Rebel Set that much better, but a sharper version might have been nice considering that the cinematography was by Karl Struss, his third from final film. There are fleeting moments, especially in the final chase scene, that suggest the work of someone who was once associated with Griffith and Murnau. Beatniks are peripheral to this film, only to be seen at coffee house featuring some passable faux jazz composed by Paul Dunlap. There is one character, a poet named King Invader, probably modeled after beat stand up monologist Lord Buckley, played by supporting player I. Stanford Jolley. His scene is of his attempts to recite his poetry with the jazz band while constantly interrupted by a square in the audience. The more interesting theft to take place in The Rebel Set is of those brief moments when Jolley steals this show.

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Posted by peter at August 1, 2008 12:45 AM

Comments

Good post.

Posted by: Brina at October 22, 2008 11:04 AM