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Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema II: The Female Animal (1958)

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Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume II: The Female Animal (1958)

It is said that when a woman fights for a man, she is like an ANIMAL!

Vanessa Windsor (Hedy Lamarr), a spoiled Hollywood star, and her daughter, Penny (Jane Powell), fall head over heels in love with the same man, Chris Farley (George Nader), and they aren’t even aware of the other’s interest in him!  Tabloid headlines, here we come!

"The Female Animal, which would be Lamarr’s final role before she entered a life of seclusion, is definitely a wild romp of female flesh and exploitative trash"


Farley, after saving Windsor from what could have been a nasty injury on the set of a movie, soon becomes the caretaker of her beach house and then her live-in boyfriend and, with his family’s blessing (as they are all fans of Windsor’s movies), Farley starts living a heck of a life in Malibu.  There’s sex on the beach and drinks around the clock, but he’s not in love with his Sugar Mama.

So when he rescues her daughter from a bad situation, a hot and heavy affair begins.  Of course, he has NO IDEA who Penny is and, for that matter, neither does she, but the two are quickly inseparable as Farley learns how to balance her with his Sugar Mama.

Yes, indeed, this is one example of Hollywood - approaching the 1960s - trying to sex it up a bit as producer Albert Zugsmith (The Incredible Shrinking Man) pushes the envelope of good and acceptable taste as Lamarr and Powell - cast as duelling mother and daughter types no matter how dysfunctional they are - are sleeping with the SAME GUY.  Think about it for a second.  GROSS. 

And Windsor can’t help but parade Farley around, which brings the movie some of its filthiest lines of dialogue thanks to the jealousy that another aging star (Jan Sterling) feels about Farley.  “Keep him sharecropping, my dear,” she coos, “it’s the only way.”  Oh, there are a few other gems in this tale as screenwriter Robert Hill pits mother against daughter, with their clueless man caught in the middle. 

If the movie sounds too tame and tawdry and a little unbelievable, trust me, The Female Animal, which would be Lamarr’s final role before she entered a life of seclusion, is definitely a wild romp of female flesh and exploitative trash that it teases thanks to Zugsmith’s involvement.  Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume II: The Female Animal (1958)

Lamarr, who would later go on and sue Warner Bros over the use of her name in Blazing Saddles (after years of living in seclusion), is only 44, but when next to the gorgeous Jane Powell, well, she doesn’t stand a chance.  Of special interest is the fact that the film is told as one long and twisting flashback after, at the beginning of the movie, we witness her drinking herself into a drunken stupor and then falling off a set designed to look like a bridge crossing a waterfall.

And it’s all because she sees her daughter with George Nader.  Blurry vision gives way to a tumble off the high, high set into the water below!  Truth will out!  Or does it?  And at what sacrifice?!

That’s the soap opera-ish territory of Kino Lorber’s final film in the three-film set that makes up Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume II.  Sure, sure, it’s no crime picture, but this is a very interesting flick due to its subject matter and the CinemaScope work from director of photography Russell Metty which renders every scene with an intense sheen due to the inherently high contrast of the sizzling black and white picture.  Two years later, Metty would be shooting Spartacus, so all his work here is damn fine.

Tawdry soap opera, yes, but hidden in the situations and the subtext, is a classic Noir-like flick that deserves to be in this set.  The Female Animal is now on blu-ray - newly remastered in HD - as a part of Kino Lorber’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume II, a three movie set which includes Thunder on the Hill and The Price of Fear.

3/5 beers

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume II: The Price of Fear (1956)

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Home Video Distributor: Kino Lorber
Available on Blu-ray
- May 12, 2020
Screen Formats: 2.35
Subtitles
: English SDH
Audio:
DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; three-disc set
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

Never come between a woman and her prey in the wickedly entertaining film noir The Female Animal! Hollywood star Vanessa Windsor (Hedy Lamarr, The Strange Woman) is saved from a terrible on-set accident by handsome studio extra Chris Farley (George Nader, House of 1000 Dolls). In appreciation of his skills and good looks, she sets him up as the “caretaker” of her beach house. When Vanessa’s sultry daughter (Jane Powell, Royal Wedding) meets Chris, the claws come out as both ladies try to stake out his affections in this campy and lusty battle for love. Stylishly directed by Harry Keller (The Unguarded Moment) and beautifully shot by the great Russell Metty (A Touch of Evil), with a strong supporting cast that includes Jan Sterling (Female on the Beach), Jerry Paris (Marty), James Gleason (Here Comes Mr. Jordan) and Gregg Palmer (Magnificent Obsession). 

Directed by Harry Keller. Written by Albert Zugsmith, it is now on blu-ray thanks to a remastered HD scan by Kino Lorber Studio Classics as part of their Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume II release.

Video:

With a crisp black-and-white transfer, The Female Animal  lands on blu-ray thanks to the crackling efforts of Kino Lorber.  Shadows, while not too terribly detailed, are thick and atmospheric throughout. Presented with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the film looks marvelous and easily beats the poor appearance on television and on home video DVD that has previously dogged it thanks to its 1080p handling and its CinemaScope black-and-white sizzles. The blacks and grays are handled expertly by the transfer.  Beads of sweat are visible, wet city streets, textures in clothing, and even the dirt in the pavement is all visible with fine textures throughout.

Audio:

Bang! Bang! Bang!  Shots are fired on the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which accompanies this film noir flick.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • There is a commentary by Film Historian David Del Valle attached to The Female Animal.

Special Features:

  • Original Theatrical Trailer

Blu-ray Rating:

  Movie 3/5 stars
  Video  4/5 stars
  Audio 3/5 stars
  Extras 2/5 stars

Overall Blu-ray Experience

3/5 stars

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume II: The Price of Fear (1956)

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