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November 30, 2018

Mamie Van Doren Film Noir Collection

mamie blu ray.jpg

The Girl in Black Stockings
Howard W. Koch - 1957

Guns, Girls and Gangsters
Edward L. Cahn - 1958

Vice Raid
Edward L. Cahn - 1959
KL Studio Classics BD Region A two-disc set

Mamie Van Doren? Yeah, sure. Film noir? Depends on if one is a genre purist. To put it bluntly, these three films were originally made to provide product in lower tier movie theaters as either the bottom half of a double feature featuring a more prestigious film, or as part of a double feature package for a less than discriminating audience. None of these films are examples of what Manny Farber described as "termite art". There is none of the identifiable stylization of directors Farber had praised like Allan Dwan, Budd Boetticher or Samuel Fuller, all of whom were making films at that same time, with films that continue to be of interest to the serious cinephile. Not every film has to have high aspirations, and these three productions were produced to serve as brief cinematic divertissement and hopefully make a modest profit.

There is the cult fandom for Mamie Van Doren, the platinum blonde bombshell from an era of blonde bombshells. Known for her ample curves, large breasts, and form fitting outfits, Van Doren was a big star in small movies, with a career that peaked in the late 1950s. The blu-ray comes with a brief interview in which Van Doren looks back at the films in this set as well as a few others with a sense of humor. For some viewers who would have been too young to have seen any of the films at the time of release, these would be the kind of titles one might have come across on late night broadcast television sometime well after Midnight during the Sixties or Seventies. Younger viewers might simply take a look out of curiosity, when sex in mainstream cinema was all about mild innuendos, euphemisms, and the imagination of the audience. Two of the three films are examples of how filmmakers were arguably hindered by the restrictions of the Production Code.

Not only do we barely see the title character, The Girl in Black Stockings, but Mamie is hardly to be seen as well. A serial killer is on the loose in a Nevada resort. The girl of the title is the first victim of the killer, with just her legs visible to the viewer. The resort is run by a misogynistic cripple, unable to use his arms, the psychosomatic result of being ditched by a former girlfriend. He lives with his sister who takes care of his needs. The owner is played by Ron Randell who has incongruously chosen to perform his role with his mouth tightly clenched, doing a bad impersonation of Humphrey Bogart. Frequent film noir bad girl Marie Windsor is the sister. Lex Barker, the putative star, is the owner's lawyer, while milquetoast Anne Bancroft is his girlfriend as well as resort receptionist. Mamie plays the girlfriend of an older actor. This is the kind of story that would have benefitted from more graphic visuals to successfully convey the sense of horror. Of some interest are early screen performances by Stuart Whitman and Dan Blocker. Howard Koch could be intermittently entertaining as a director, but his real career highlights would come later as a producer briefly for Frank Sinatra, and later with a tenure at Paramount during the late Sixties and early Seventies.

Guns, Girls and Gangsters - well, the title pretty much says it all. Professional sleaze Gerald Mohr has a plan to rob an armored car outside of Las Vegas on New Year's Day. He enlists lounge singer Mamie, the wife of Mohr's San Quentin cellmate. The cellmate, the eternally evil Lee Van Cleef, escapes from the pen, getting in the way of Mohr's plans. Off-screen narration sternly advises the viewer regarding the veracity of the story and reminding all that crime does not pay. The highlights here would be Mamie's two musical numbers.

Mamie gets together a second time with director Edward Cahn in Vice Raid. And the more obvious lurid elements are hinted in the story of a modeling agency serving as a front for a prostitution ring. One could see more skin in the pages of a Sear's catalogue with their models in underwear, than in the "girlie" magazines seen here. Mamie wears a one piece white bathing suit for a photo session with undercover cop Richard Coogan. Brad Dexter plays the syndicate chief who hires Mamie to frame Coogan. There is one funny line, with Mamie describing the apartment she's set up in as "early Skid Row". Cinematography was by Stanley Cortez, most famous for his work with Orson Welles and The Magnificent Ambersons. That there is little visually creative here may be attributed to Edward Cahn's lean and mean filmmaking. Mamie did like the way Cortez lit her blonde hair which is why Cortez worked with Mamie two more times while the actress' career was in its steep decline. I also liked the performance of supporting player Joseph Sullivan, seen here as a cop on the take, caught between the pragmatic choice of illegally augmenting his salary, and trying to live up to his ideals.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 30, 2018 08:29 AM