Friday, November 2, 2012


It was just about ten years ago when I bought my first DVD player. It was a golden age when amazing new titles appeared in book stores and electronic stores every week. A dependable highlight of each month was Something Weird Video's multi-feature releases, distributed by Image Entertainment, and it was an early sign that the golden age was ending when Image stopped putting them out and Something Weird reverted to mail order and online sales. So it was a nostalgic, heartwarming moment when I learned that Something Weird and Image had rejoined forces, and I now have one of their new releases, a two-disc, six-film collection of Weird Noir B-movies made between 1953 and 1963. There aren't any incredible supplements or easter eggs like there used to be, but when you figure that you're getting six features for the price of two or three back in the day, I can't complain too much, and I'd rather celebrate this mighty team of yore getting back in the retail game.

The oldest film of the six by a good six years is Joseph Lee and Arthur J. Beckhard's carny noir Girl on the Run. This Astor Pictures release (the company later distributed Plan 9 From Outer Space and La Dolce Vita) clocks in at 65 padded minutes, and what story there is seems like an excuse for carnival cheesecake -- not that there's anything wrong with that.

There is a girl on the run in the picture, but the story is more about her boyfriend, journalist Bill Martin (Richard Coogan), who's just lost his newspaper job after seeing his vice-ring investigation squelched by his editor. When the editor turns up dead, presumed-disgruntled Bill becomes a prime suspect, but girlfriend Janet (Rosemary Pettit) has information that points to a hit ordered by the local political boss, Clay Reeves (Harry Bannister). The good guys need more solid evidence to clear Bill and hope to find it at the carnival. Failing that, they hope to infiltrate the show and cross the state line with it to escape Reeves's police goon squad. Meanwhile, Reeves is in a war of wills with the carnival's dwarf boss, Blake (Charles Bollender), who has dirt from a source close to the mysterious vice boss that implicates Reeves and subjects him to blackmail.

Little big man: Charles Bollender rules the carny in Girl on the Run.

Our heroes manage to infiltrate the carny, Bill as a volunteer fighter who beats the champ and gets hired as a shill, Janet as a reluctant showgirl. In the claustrophobic, cop-ridden environment the characters circle one another, loyalties are uncertain, and every corner promises a twist in the plot. But who cares about all that when the girls are on?

Above: Cat-Women of 1953;
Below, Renee de Milo steals the show.

Girl on the Run probably passed for "adults only" product in the innocent early Fifties and probably played at the same theaters that ran the burlesque features collected by Something Weird in the past. For such audiences, the highlights of the film have nothing to do with the plot. The main attraction was more likely Renee de Milo as Gigi, the carny's star dancer, who gets two long solo numbers that get the film over the hour mark. Otherwise, she's a spectator for the main story. The rest of the girls are a motley bunch with realistically mediocre figures and talent. They fit in the semi-documentary environment of the picture, which combines actual carnival footage with a bare-bones set representing the space between the tents where characters lurk and stalk each other. The film's been remastered from a 35mm print and looks almost impossibly good, showing off the cinematography of Victor Lukens in its best possible light and darkness. The acting leaves a lot to be desired, with veteran character actor Frank Albertson the only real name in the cast and a high number of bungled line readings from the rest. Steve McQueen is said to be an extra, but I neither sought him out nor noticed him in the film.

The remaining films in the set were made between 1959 and 1963 and will likely show a different sensibility, coming closer to the "Weird Noir" organizing principle than Girl on the Run. The older film has a quaint appeal, albeit more camp than noir, and to say the very least the dancing girls perform with enthusiasm. Think of it as a warm-up for the deeper weirdness to come, but come back soon to see whether Image and Something Weird really live up to their tremendous heritage.

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