Sunday, September 06, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Female Animal (1958) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

THE FEMALE ANIMAL (1958) is another enjoyable Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber's Dark Side of Cinema collections.

For those who may have missed the info in past reviews, Kino Lorber released its first Dark Side of Cinema set in 2016.

The series then resumed this year with three additional Dark Side of Cinema collections released since May. THE FEMALE ANIMAL is part of Volume II, along with THUNDER ON THE HILL (1951) and the previously reviewed THE PRICE OF FEAR (1956).

THE FEMALE ANIMAL, a Universal Pictures film, stars Hedy Lamarr in her last feature as movie star Vanessa Windsor, who embarks on a love affair with movie extra Chris Farley (George Nader, SIX BRIDGES TO CROSS). They "meet cute" after he saves Vanessa's life during an on-set accident, and Chris is soon set up as the caretaker of Vanessa's beachfront cottage.

Vanessa's life is complicated by her adopted daughter Penny (Jane Powell), who has some deep-seated emotional problems, including feeling like an ignored "prop" in her famous mother's life.

And then Penny chances to meet and fall in love with Chris herself, without a clue he's been seeing her mother...and Chris is torn between the two women.

THE FEMALE ANIMAL has flaws, detailed below, but I'll say at the outset that I really enjoyed it. The two lead actresses are longtime favorites, the "insider's look" at moviemaking is fun, the supporting cast is solid, and the movie is a nicely paced 84 minutes. Despite its issues, it's simply an entertaining romantic melodrama.

The film has some problems surrounding the depiction of Vanessa and Penny's relationship. Powell was 29 but in terms of what would make sense storywise, the character should have been several years younger. Powell's just a little too old and mature for the story, and the roughly 14-year gap between Powell and her movie mother, Lamarr, was also too close for believability.

The mother-daughter relationship is also confusing insofar as Penny says her mother doesn't care about her, yet every scene they have together shows Vanessa expressing genuine love and concern for her daughter, whether it's caring for Penny when she's drunk, making sure that Penny is the first to hear about her engagement, or putting on a "performance" at movie's end to ensure that her daughter will be happy.

But then again, Penny has never in her life seen her mother's hideaway beach cottage? (An interesting aside is that varied sources say the film was to have originally been titled HIDEAWAY or HIDEAWAY HOUSE.) The movie's inconsistent depiction of the mother-daughter relationship is confusing and keeps it from being a better movie.

Nader's Chris isn't particularly admirable, but one might say he's realistically flawed; he lets both women in his life run over him while he spends a lot of time staring at each in stunned silence, whether it's Vanessa announcing they'll be married or Penny trying to get him to express his feelings. In fact, when Penny tells her mother near the end that Chris loves her and not her mother, my first thought was "He does?" He's not exactly a man for expressing his feelings. He does attempt early on to end things with Vanessa when he starts feeling like a gigolo but is talked out of it; he finally explodes near the end and lets what he wants from a relationship come tumbling out.

Beyond the age issue, Powell does well in a non-singing part. Her leggy physicality and frank sensuality as Penny will come as a surprise to those who know her best from her teenage singing roles.

Jan Sterling plays an aging, unhappy actress with a string of boy toys whose life serves as a warning to both Vanessa and Chris. The supporting cast includes Jerry Paris as Chris's agent, Casey Adams (aka Max Showalter) as a studio production employee, and Ann Doran as a nurse, along with James Gleason, Mabel Albertson, and Gregg Palmer.

The movie was directed by Harry Keller.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray picture is excellent, nicely showing off the attractive widescreen black and white cinematography by Russell Metty. The sound is also top-notch.

The Blu-ray disc includes the trailer, two additional trailers for films available from Kino Lorber, and an audio commentary by David Del Valle.

Additional Dark Side of Cinema reviews posted to date: ABANDONED (1949) and THE SLEEPING CITY (1950) from Volume III and SIX BRIDGES TO CROSS (1955) from Volume IV. More Dark Side of Cinema reviews will be forthcoming, but based on the Blu-rays I've seen to date and my knowledge of the other films in the collections, all three sets are highly recommended.

Update: Here is my review of the final film in the Dark Side of Cinema II collection, THUNDER ON THE HILL (1951).

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

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