Friday, June 21, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Monkey on My Back (1957) at the Noir City Film Festival

My final evening at this year's 21st Annual Noir City Film Festival in April was an interesting "1957" double bill featuring 35mm prints of THE MIDNIGHT STORY (1957) and MONKEY ON MY BACK (1957).

The evening was doubly special thanks to the appearance of Kathy Garver, best known for her role as Cissy on FAMILY AFFAIR (1966-71).

Garver plays Dianne Foster's little girl, Noreen, in MONKEY ON MY BACK.

Here's Kathy chatting with the Film Noir Foundation's Eddie Muller during intermission in the Egyptian Theatre lobby:

Eddie interviewed Kathy before the film:

The entire interview is available for viewing at the Film Noir Foundation website; it runs a little under 12 minutes. As may be seen, Kathy is a delightful, effervescent lady. Little did I know that evening that I'd be able to enjoy seeing a lot more of Kathy just a few weeks later in Palm Springs.

Incidentally, when Eddie mentions a Tweet a minute into his introduction, that was one from me!

MONKEY ON MY BACK was an absorbing film which was worth seeing, although the gritty subject matter doesn't lend it what I call "re-watch value." It's a harrowing story, though thankfully it's ultimately uplifting.

Boxing champion Barney Ross (Cameron Mitchell) is a bit immature and has a gambling problem, but when he shapes up and is ready to become a family man, his girlfriend Cathy (Foster), a single mother, agrees to marry him.

Barney joins the Marines, which might just be the making of him. He becomes a hero on Guadalcanal and comes home to a good job with the grateful father of a man whose life he saved.

Unfortunately Barney also comes home with a morphine addiction after receiving it while suffering from malaria while stationed in the Pacific. When Cathy finds him breaking into their daughter's piggy bank for drug money, she's ready to call it quits.

After learning that his pusher (Paul Richards) has been arrested, Barney is ready to confront his addiction and hopefully save both his life and his marriage. He checks into a hospital for a grueling extended fight trying to get the morphine "monkey" off his back permanently.

As one could imagine, this is not always a "fun watch," but it's interesting, and Mitchell is very good and believable as a man whose desperation for his next "hit" leads him to push away those who love and care for him the most. I'm just thankful that the story ended well -- not really a spoiler, as it's based on a true story -- or it would have really been tough to watch.

Foster doesn't have a great deal to do here, spending a lot of time looking pained as Barney makes bad choices or suffers from his addictions, but it's always nice to see her in a film. As I wrote earlier this year, her son told us in the last year or two that she is doing well and still receives fan mail.

MONKEY ON MY BACK runs 94 minutes. It was directed by Andre De Toth and filmed in black and white by Maury Gertsman. The supporting cast includes Lisa Golm, Jack Albertson, and Barry Kelley. Look for Scotty Beckett, who himself sadly came to a bad end due to drugs, in a small role.

This movie, originally distributed by United Artists, has been released on DVD by MGM. It also had a Region 2 DVD release in Spain.

It's been shown in the past on Turner Classic Movies, so it could turn up there again in the future.

There's currently a trailer available on YouTube.

It was another great Noir City Festival! I saw 13 films over the course of the festival's first eight evenings, only missing the last couple of nights due to other plans or lack of interest in the films. On three of the evenings I left after the first film for a variety of reasons, and the other five nights I was able to see the complete double bill.

I'm so appreciative of the many great movie experiences I've had at Noir City -- not only this year but for the past decade!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the things I know DIANNE FOSTER from is an episode of THE BIG VALLEY. A lot of people were probably surprised by the subject matter-especially back then-because it had Dianne (whose character is married to an older man) after her own stepson! KATHY GARVER did an ep of THE BIG VALLEY also. She played LAURA HAYDEN, a wealthy schoolgirl who is the ward of lawyer JARROD BARKLEY. Classic TV Fan

10:32 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'll have to watch for that BIG VALLEY episode with Dianne Foster, I enjoy her a lot. I know I saw all the episodes in reruns as a teenager but neither of these are jarring a memory. Thanks for the info!

Best wishes,

12:22 PM  

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