Friday, January 24, 2014

DEVIL DOLL (1964)

Among groups whom cinema has treated unfairly, magicians and hypnotists are likely to be the most maligned.  Even in the bad old days, at least Sidney Poitier or Mantan Moreland would garner some audience sympathy.  But can you think of one example of an admirable movie stage magician?  They all debut looking like this and then the movie happens and all the stereotypes get reinforced all over again.


The Great Vorelli sure isn't smashing those stereotypes.  Like pretty much all horror movie wizards, he plays it straight on stage and saves his sneering and grimacing for the backstage area.  Vorelli is a pretty solid hypnotist, but his most lucrative gimmick is a dummy named Hugo.  The majority of their act is meh/whatever, your standard sawdust jokes and such, but when Hugo walks off on his own and delivers his lines right at the footlights, rave reviews.


DEVIL DOLL obviously didn't have gobs of money at hand, but they could've done a better job at Hugo's design.  I like the chola eyebrows, but otherwise he looks really cheapjack.


Vorelli and Hugo cross paths with rich British babe Marianne, who is dating an American named Mark ENGLISH(!!!).  Yvonne Romain is pretty resplendent, looking a lot like a Russ Meyer girl from the white cliffs here, and I admire her commitment to makeup, which extends even to sweaty semi-comas.  Plus, chola eyebrows, again!


So crass, as if looks are the most important attribute an actress brings to the silver screen.  But it fits well with DEVIL DOLL's general atmosphere of burgeoning sleaze.  You can feel this movie pushing hard against the loosening standards—tight shots of hands fumbling at legs abound, heaving breasts are barely contained in diaphanous blouses.


But probably the proto-scuzz par excellence here happens when we spend five minutes watching Vorelli's Botticelli-blonde assistant wrapped in a sheet.  DEVIL DOLL teases the viewer for aeons before finally delivering a split-second nip-slip.  Allegedly, there's another cut of the film that includes legit lengthy nudity, possibly intended for more lawless regions.


The slight sex distracts from the seedier elements of DEVIL DOLL.  If you've wasted your life watching lots of exploitation, you'll recognize a lot of artifices here that recall the grand old masters.  We get plenty of close-ups of feet walking, straight outta the Doris Wishman playbook.


And it's rare to get anything other than a set-concealing tight shot, pretty reminiscent of some of H.G. Lewis's oeuvre.  


The best economy element here, though, is the amazing "front page" newspaper that pops up briefly.  This won Most Believable Prop at the 1964 Academy Awards.


This was intermittently interesting.  The uncertain eroticism and the budget-minded filmmaking were compelling, but it did get draggy and grating at times.  I wouldn't go out of your way to see it, but, if it happens on accident, you probably won't feel too cheated by the experience.  Probably right in the middle of the rankings for killer-doll films.


RATING: 5

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