David Morrell signing Murder As A Fine Art
Based on the novel by D.H. Lawrence, director Rydell moves the setting to snowy Canada.
In an attempt to become independent and get away from the city, two young women (Sandy Dennis and Anne Heywood).are managing a small farm. Keir Dulleau, whose grandfather once lived on the farm, turns up offering to help with the work.
The only threat to this idyllic setting comes from a fox that preys on the chickens. Miss Heywood cannot quite bring herself to kill the fox, although she sees it several times. Dullea finally shoots it; but, of course, Dullea is also a fox, preying on the two women.
After Dullea and Miss Heywood announce that they plan to be married, Sandy Dennis comes completely undone.
Angela Lansbury turns in a neat performance as an unlikely temptress. She shows a glimmer of her monstrously manipulative mother soon to be unleashed in The Manchurian Candidate, a performance that earned her a third Academy Award nomination. As Doris Hillman she can flip the switch from sexy dame with dulcet voice and shapely gams to terrible termagant ready to slap a man's face and scream a torrent of abuse.
He-man hunk Keith Andes is Edward, the mark with a love of money and booze. In a gratuitous shirtless scene the viewer knows our hero is a manly man from the get-go. As the movie unfolds we may be watching him slowly wrapped around Doris' fingers but the director wants us to know that though he's weak of mind he's no Casper Milquetoast in the physique department. We also get to watch him fall in love with his framed $1000 bill, a chunk of cash that will come back to haunt him repeatedly.
As Doris' kid sister Madge, Claudia Barrett proves to be the biggest surprise of the movie. At first we think she's just hanging on to the muscular, lantern-jawed hero for a little thrill, stir up some sisterly jealousy. By the midpoint, however, she'll prove to be every bit as wily as Doris and her scheming husband. She adds a double dose of the twists to the plot with schemes of her own. The $1000 is released from its prison of a picture frame transforming itself from prop to a sort of a supporting character.
I liked this movie a lot. The plot seems heavily borrowed from Cain's novel but there's a delicious quirkiness to this movie's self-conscious low budget attitude. Offsetting Andes' mostly wooden monotone acting is the polished and sparkling performance from Lansbury and occasional inspired bits from Barrett combined with several expertly shot noirish scenes that lift A Life at Stake out of the realm of forgettable B flicks to make it something of a cult classic.
Other highlights include Jane Darwell in a cameo as a suspicious landlady and Douglass Dumbrille as Doris' urbanely menacing husband Gus. The melodramatic score is by Les Baxter and the clever script by B movie actor turned screenwriter Russ Bender. Another B movie stalwart, Paul Guilfoyle (dozens of character parts in films like The Grapes of Wrath, Mighty Joe Young, The Mark of the Whistler, Mad Miss Manton and White Heat) does a fine job in his directing debut. Guilfoyle teams up with neophyte cameraman Ted Allen (also his debut as Cinematographer) in creating some moody shots heavily influenced by classic noir movies of the 1940s and getting the most out of his capable cast. Maybe Guilfoyle could have cracked the whip a bit more on Andes. His strongman body deserved and could've taken the blows.
There are a couple of absurdities in the story (like a cabin in the woods with French windows that open onto a cliff side deck that was never finished) and the acting sometimes slips over into grandiose scenery chewing and posing for the camera, but it's such an odd film I was willing to overlook the few faults. In fact, by the midpoint when I realized the plot was headed straight into the land of weirdness I almost wanted more of the absurd and surreal. This is a little known movie that deserves full fledged cult status. It can be seen in its entirety on several streaming websites for free. As it's one of several movies that has slipped into the public domain you should feel no guilt about watching it on YouTube or downloading it as I did. I've watched it about four times in the past few months and as derivative and hokey as it may be I still find things to enjoy about A Life at Stake.
“Tall, thin with lizard-green eyes, yellow robe and black cap embroidered with coral bead, Fu Manchu was the very picture of warped genius. Such unusual potions as spiders, scorpions and plague-carrying tsetse flies were just part of Fu’s prescription to foreshorten the white race’s actuarial expectations. Master of super science and creative toxicology, he . . . was the Yellow Peril.”
Although it is believed that Kaiser Wilhelm coined the term “Yellow Peril,” it was Sax Rohmer who profited most from the idea, largely through the villainous Dr. Fu Manchu. Little wonder that countless pulp writers, from Walter B. Gibson and Norvell W. Page to Robert E. Howard and George Worts, turned to the devil doctor to find inspiration for their lurid pulp tales.
To begin PulpFest‘s celebration of the 100th anniversary of Sax Rohmer’s infamous creation, Rick Lai looks at “The Pulp Descendents of Fu Manchu,” beginning at 8 PM on Thursday, July 25th in the Fairfield Room located on the second floor of the Hyatt Regency Columbus. Rick will discuss the influence of Sax Rohmer’s devil doctor on the pulps with a look at villains such as Wu Fang, Shiwan Khan, The Blue Scorpion from Peter the Brazen, and Robert E. Howard’s Skullface and Erlik Khan.
Best known for his articles expanding on Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe concepts, recently collected by Altus Press as Rick Lai’s Secret Histories: Daring Adventurers, Rick Lai’s Secret Histories: Criminal Masterminds, Chronology of Shadows: A Timeline of The Shadow’s Exploits and The Revised Complete Chronology of Bronze, Rick lives in New York. His short fiction has been collected in Shadows of the Opera (Wild Cat Books, 2011) and two upcoming Black Coat Press collections to be printed this year–Shadows of the Opera: Retribution in Blood and Sisters of the Shadows: The Cagliostro Curse.
Hutchison, Don. It’s Raining Corpses in Chinatown. Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House (1991).
Jerome Rozen’s menacing cover art for the March 1936 issue of Popular Publication’s The Mysterious Wu Fang.
|US Edition 1981|
|Horwitz Edition 1984|
This title appeared on August 2011 in a slightly different form.
Marcia Clark: I was a big reader from the first moment I was able to sound out "See Spot Run." The next thing I did was investigate what was making Spot run. I knew there was some nefarious crime afoot. :-)
|ROC, 1995 Edition|
“As a young doctor, I knew even better than our leaders just how hopeless our war had become. The public knew General Lee had been forced to cross the Potomac with ten thousand men who lacked shoes, hats and who at night had to sleep on the ground without blankets. But I knew—in the first six months in this post—that our men suffered from influenza, diphtheria, smallpox, yellow fever and even cholera; ravages from which they would never recover; ravages more costly than bullets and the advancing armies of the Yankees.”The Confederate army is disintegrating from the costly war, and its men—in fact mostly young boys of 13 or 14—are beginning to desert. The narrator’s camp is different; none of the men have yet to desert, and its preparations for war continue. This changes when a single soldier is brought into camp. He has no visible wounds, but he is comatose with a disconcerting look on his face. When he is brought into camp the commanding general physically flinches at the sight of his face and immediately puts him in quarantine.
The soldiers face is never completely described in the story beyond the camp’s priest’s description—
“It’s God’s face. I had a dream last night. The man’s face shows God’s displeasure with the war.”
|Leisure, 2004 Edition|
My story "Kathy McDonald's Mother" is up on YELLOW MAMA. Thanks to Cindy Rosmus.