Blogging "Angel, Angel, Down We Go" aka "Cult of the Damned"

Written and directed by Robert Thom who scripted “Death Race 2000”, need I say more as an introduction? It’s a safe bet that if you loved “Death Race 2000” you’ll at least find this movie interesting, which was initially released in 1969 under the title “Angel, Angel, Down we Go”, then quickly changed to “Cult of the Damned”, capitalizing on the Manson murders which occurred the same year. Spoilers galore follow as I’m blogging it straight through, because it’s yet to be rereleased. I used to have an old VCR copy I made off the television when I first saw this film back in the early 90s and realized a few seconds in that this was a real winner. But it was lost somehow and so I recently purchased another copy that was probably made off TV then multi-generations VCR, the quality of which was even worse than mine!

The songs, by the way, were composed by Barry Mann, who also brought us Love is only Sleeping, We Gotta Get Out of this Place, You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling, Kicks, Sometimes When we Touch, Magic Town, Who Put the Bomp, The Shape of Things to Come and Blame It on the Bossa Nova. So if you you are able to get past the music performance visuals and catch a whiff of talent, that’s why.

Not that I’m saying the performances are bad in this flick. The low budget level of cinematography could perhaps be masking acting that with better angles and editing might have been punch-in-the-gut raw. Y’think? No? Should we say the actors did their best and leave it at that? Did they cry over subtler, several dimensional, character defining moments left on the cutting room floor? If nothing else they are to be distinguished by their bravery? Forget it? The performances *are* over the top a good bit of the time, but I’m not inclined to hold in contempt at least the starring actors, after having watched it a few times over the years.

Want some visuals? Here’s the 1969 trailer which doesn’t begin to hint at the bizarre gloriousness of this film, except for the very last image of the screw through the world.

* * * * * * *

Essential Background, The Perfect Parents

Beat of the tom-tom, Tarzan yell, zoom in on a painting and continue down a night-shadowed California mansion hall past statues and statuettes, a woman’s voice over (Holly Near as Tara Nicole Steele) announcing her first memory was that her parents were perfect. The camera enters a bedroom, tinkle-tinkle childhood music box music beginning, pans over the ordered muchness of her dad’s precisely organized closet, a wall of trophies and photos signifying some renown, the door opens onto a bathroom with red carpet, sounds of water running, and there’s dad and a young man soaping up together in the shower.

Tara says, “It’s not true that my father was a homosexual…”

Cut to

CULT OF THE DAMNED

FORMERLY ANGEL ANGEL DOWN WE GO

“My father was a sheik, all the women loved him madly,and he was also a king of the financial jungle.”

Credits run over Robert Rauschenberg styled photo/paint collages of daddy dear as sheik, as muscle man (another Tarzan yodel).

“All those millionaire Greek tigers and German apes were afraid of him. He was captain of industry and very very rich. A test pilot who flew and flew and flew…he owned airlines and oil and steel and half of Peru and all of Guatemala, he knew everybody and some of his paintings were acquired from some of the most important Nazis before and after that particular war, and even during. There was no one who didn’t want to know him, and naturally, I loved him.”

Cut from the photo collages to dad terrible yelling at the nanny over his daughter being allowed to run up to his bedroom, while at a pool table stands the young shower dude, nonchalantly naked, smiling, playing with billiard balls.

Cut to mom wrapped in mummy sheets being lavishly primped and beautified.

“My mom was not only perfect, but a great beauty. She was working as a cigarette girl when she met my father. It’s not true that my mother made stag films. My mom was Cinderella…”

More pans and zooms on collage, now featuring mom, and a charming fairy tale clatter of footsteps on stairs at this point.

“…Sleeping Beauty, a Queen on a Glass Mountain. She was one of the greatest hostesses in the world and everyone wanted to come to her parties…”

Cut to a succession of heavy bling being wrapped around mom’s swan-like neck.

“And my father gave her jewels, and jewels, and jewels. I adored her! You had to adore her!”

It’s mom’s turn to yell at the nanny, little daughter having taken scissors to her toddler hair and bawling as mom bitterly complains.

Cut to a fine restaurant and little daughter about eight or so, dressed in too big pink hair bows, bored, tormented and embarrassed, as drunken mom (Jennifer Jones as Astrid Steele) rages drama queen style at dad (Charles Aidman as Willy Steele) that he could at least spend one night with his daughter, he yelling at her to shut-up, she saying its her own business how she picks her friends whether they run restaurants or be call girls etc., he telling her she can’t behave like a hooker in his house and she tosses her drink at him and the cardboard maitre d’ crosses his arms over his chest

and man this is some bad 1969 B grade cinematography, one thinks, as Jennifer Jones exclaims, “My house is my palace. There’s no man living I’ve enjoyed it with, anyway. In my heart of hearts I’m a sexual clam.”

Jennifer Jones? THE Jennifer Jones? Nominated for 5 oscars and winner in 1944 for her role in “The Song of Bernadette”. Yes, yes, THAT Jennifer Jones, here proudly declaiming herself a sexual clam with all the bravado she can muster, like she knew at 50 years of age (a lovely 50 years of age) this was her last sexually-viable woman film hurrah, perhaps her last chance at a second Oscar which she was well aware she wasn’t going to be getting for this Hollywood/society Grade B slap down, but by god she was showing SOMEBODY something, her dead husband David O. Selznick spinning in his grave. Remember, after all, this was the man who produced “Gone With the Wind”, for whom Astrid’s daughter is named. I’m not saying there’s any kind of commentary going on about Selznick in the film, no, but it’s hard to get around the fact that grudge-bearing Tara, is Tara! Oscar-winning Jennifer Jones could have said, “No, don’t think so,” to little Robert Thom, but she didn’t.

“You’re a damn fish wife!”

“At least I’m normal!” shoots back Astrid.

“You have all the manners of the gutter. Of a prize blue-ribbon pig!”

Astrid’s lips tightening, she stands, proclaims her unending hatred for her husband, and huffs off in her white shoulderless designer gown. Drunken dad calls the maitre d’ over and stuffs some bills in his hands, telling him to make sure his daughter is on that night’s plane to her school in Switzerland. But the plane doesn’t leave until the next night and the child stays at the maitre d’s house with his wife and children playing poker.

“They really loved me. Most people do. And I grew and I grew and I grew. I grew too large in fact. Fat, one might call it. My name is Tara Nicole. My last name is Steele. And I’m a fairy princess.”

You’ve still not had time to recover from the shock of Jennifer Jones, and wham the Significant Plot Theme of The Fat Debutante comes out swinging. Just as at the end of the film you’ll still be in shock over Jennifer Jones, wondering, “What in the hell was she thinking?” even if you don’t have half a clue who she was (it’s evident she’s Somebody), so you shall still be reeling over everything this movie has to offer, including activist Holly Near (who will later star as Barbara Pilgrim in “Slaughterhouse-Five”, and who says that her one episode on “The Partridge Family” made her a feminist) relentlessly offered up as fat, gloriously, gorgeously, awfully, degradingly, elevatingly, Tara-full fat.

“Willy, do you think Tara Nicole will be prettier when she comes home?” Astrid asks, the days at finishing school come to a close.

“She’ll be fat, Astrid. Fat.”

Her nude shoulders exposed above something like a chinchilla blanket wrap (I guess, what do I know about chinchilla) Astrid rises from the sofa where she and filthy rich hubby have been relaxing, exclaiming, “Willy, we’re going to give her the biggest coming out party anyone’s ever seen in this idiot City of the Angels. We’ll get (so-and-so) to fix her and (so-and-so) to do her make-up and her hair, and simple jewelry, one uncut diamond, and we’ll invite all the young people! Nancy Sinatra and the Mamas and the Papas! And Mama Cass will help her feel…oh, Willy, Willy, I’ve been faithful for you to ten years, God help us…” as Willy, excited, passionately nuzzles her neck.

The Beginning of the End: Tara Returns Home from Finishing School

Cut to Tara being dressed up for show in a sparkly, pouffy, not-so-very-attractive gown, being told by her attendant she is beautiful, she the hefty, chew-the-scenery tragic-comedian saying yes if only mom could wait until she’s lost 75 pounds, “Boy, could we flatten them then!” Cut to her being made-up, half her face pancaked clown white, dismayed by what confronts her in the mirror. “That’s what I need to look like?” She excuses herself to the bathroom for a half-hearted attempt at slicing her wrist, “Well, God bless my bleeding heart…”

Cut to blood red guillotine to dad in the billiard room post the gay shower scene. She dresses her wound. Cut to Astrid fondling her swan neck and then Tara in the bathroom fondling hers in imitation of her most beautiful mother in the world who blazed the screen in “Duel in the Sun”, then sticking out her tongue at the mirror. Cut to jewels laid out all over the bed and Tara in 60’s designer Marie Antoinette tragically ratted bird nest hair asking her dad what’s left for mummy to wear, he saying she’s wearing the greatest necklace in the world. “Marie Antoinette lost her head over it and so did your mother. In fact, I don’t think your mother’s wearing anything but the necklace.” Already drunk and stumbling, Tara says she should wear all the jewels and be a mountain of love beads. Her father lovingly fastens a necklace about her neck telling her she’ll look beautiful.

“I’m fat!” Tara moroses and wraps a pearl necklace about her cut. Seized by something like loving guilt, her father says he’d give her everything. She bitterly exclaims he gave her everything already, even flying lessons, and one day she, Tara, will have them all up in a plane and teach them all the dirty tricks she knows. He acknowledges Tara’s misery, saying he couldn’t stop Astrid from thowing the party. For her mother to show off her bod and beads, Tara says, then launches in on how mumsie was a cigarette girl and that must have been some package of cigarettes she sold her dad, his private parts going up in smoke.

SLAP!

Tara retaliates, “I’m a rare species! An 18-year-old Virgin Americanus! Not many of them there kind left!…I’ve been finished at finishing school and untouched by human hand! Oh, my God, mother!” As Astrid appears in Tara’s mirror.

Enter mom and Tara nearly falls on her knees, adoring. Mom admits that the party is for herself and she knows Tara must be miserable, but mom has dreamt of this day ever since she was ten and selling cotton candy at the Santa Monica Pier. She hates herself for doing this to Tara but it is her dream, so buck up, girl, and carry through! In a rare bonding moment, she compliments Tara on her hands, each of her fingers bogged down with huge rings, and pretties up her hair.

Tara Eats Eclairs

Cut to Tara floating slow motion down the dark California mansion stairs to 60’s psychedelic kind of music (kind of), her eyes fixed on something distant, floating past black tie and gowns and miniskirted dancers and mom swinging her bling…

Angel angel down we go, where you’ve never been before
Angel angel down we go, through the door

Cut to shirtless Jordan Christopher as Bogart Peter Stuyvesant as shades of Jim Morrison, sinuous, virile front man singer (with helmet hair) rising snake like tempter from the stage floor, who had been the focus of Tara’s entrancement, he singing…

Take my hand, trouble follow me, to the shores of pure eternity.
Whirling, swirling, ever so slow.
Streaming, screaming, angel, angel, down we go…

Virgin child it’s time you tried to fly

From Tara gasping in virginal shock and lust for life, cut to a close-up of Bogart’s leather clad pelvis. She flees. Literally.

You can’t be reborn until you die
It’s beginning, look out below,
Spinning, grinning, angel, angel, down we go…

The camera goes from a close-up of devilish grinning Bogie to a table stuffed with a thousand kinds of deserts and over ripe bananas and Tara wolfing down éclairs. The band plays on.

When you don’t know where you’re going, and you don’t know where you’ve been
There’s just one way of getting out, and it’s getting in.

When you don’t why you’re sinking and you feel like you’re gonna die
The only way I know of going up is going down, going down, going down
Angel, angel, down we go…

Tara is Warned not to Dream around Bogie (Who Can’t Be Rasputin Reincarnate as Rasputin Would Have Left Him Crying Like a Baby, You Can Tell)

Through the gardens of the mansion Tara flees past people frolicking in the pool, dancing under palms, breathless, shouting, “Hi everybody! Groovy!” running down the empty drive where she collides with a car and falls to the asphalt. “That’s where I need to be! On my hands and knees!” She stumbles up and begs the driver, “Well, what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“Almost killed you baby!”

“Yeah, well you didn’t…you want to try again?”

“Not now. Get in…”

What do you know? It’s the singer. And Tara, wholly captivated, stumbles into the car.

“I just can’t stand those parties for fat girls!” the singer confides, exhilarated.

“I’m the fat girl.”

“I know. And you can pilot a plane. They told me that, too.”

He’s Bogart, as in the real Humphrey. His mother went into labor pains during a Bogart flick (machine gun ratta tat tat) almost dropped him in the lobby, borned him in he back of a Ford. His father was a cop. Long live Bogart!

“I don’t give a damn about your money. I just sold one of three record companies for two million dollars!”

So why was he there?

“I wanted to see Freaksville. Your father just gave away half a million acres of redwoods for a National Park. Is that any way to run an airlines, baby? You bet it is!”

“Where are we going?”

“You fly, I jump. What does it matter to you where we go? Your family, your body, your past,” he taunts her, “you’ve lost everything already.”

Befuddled, captivated, psychically-flogged Tara is fit to burst into tears.

“Bet a dollar and a half you’ve never been had. I bet you think I’m kinky, right? But I’m not a loser. You are! Right up until right now!” Bogart runs his hand up Tara’s leg.

Cut to woodsy scene and Tara and Bogart having sex, foreplay being his attempting to feed her his big gold necklace and exulting, “Wow, your breath stinks! No, no! I dig it!”

The music is distractingly bad 60s-70s crime show music and throughout there is the cutting to collages of Tara with photos and paintings, cutting back to Tara with lover boy on a wild cat print blanket, then post-coital the collages turn ugly with blood pouring around smiling Humphrey Bogart, a film clip of knights on horses riding into Stonehenge as Tara desperately removes her rings and places them on Bogie’s chest, sirens, screams, dead women, pistols, slaughterhouse cows, sausages, more blood, meat being butchered. Tara has the presence of mind however to rethink the situation and slip the rings (were they offerings to love?) back on her fingers.

Horror show organ music and laughter as three of Bogie’s band members appear in the dry ice background fog–a blond and pregnant woman dressed as a miniskirted puritan, Lou Rawls and Roddy McDowell.

Yes, yes, Lou Rawls and Roddy McDowell. You read it right. They laugh and come running forward to kneel beside the couple.

“He’s dreaming!” the blond laughs. “Bogie owns us!”

“He steals dreams. Don’t dream around him,” says Roddy.

“Unless you want your dreams to happen,” warns Rawls.

“He’s the analyst gone mad. Born inside a movie house, inside a television set,” adds Roddy.

Rawls saying, “Lots of violence in that scene.”

It’s Bogie’s new group. The Rabbit Habit.

Cut to Bogie’s pad and Roddy McDowell turning somersaults, Tara voluptuous dancing in a long gauzy gown as Bogie sings (and it’s actually a fun song)…

Little, skinny people who look like barber poles, have little skinny minds and skinny hearts, skinny souls.
Now, who ever said that you have to look like that.
We say hip hip hooray for fat!

Growing up and growing out, that’s what life is all about.
Growing high, growing wide, leaving lots of room inside (or to decide).
Come on, do it fast, do it slow, but don’t you be afraid to grow.

Take a bony body, what does it really mean
It’s just a skeleton with skin and nothing in between
Now those kind of folks are no fun to have around
So when we pick our friends, we pick them by the pound.

Growing up and growing out, that’s what life is all about.
Growing high, growing wide, leaving lots of room inside (or to decide).
Come on, do it fast, do it slow, but don’t you be afraid to grow.

Bogie laughs as Tara, ecstatic, liberated, having the best time in her life, writhes upon the floor. He crawls over and kisses her.

Cut to a white illuminated globe. The bandmates lie around Bogie’s pad, its walls collaged with bigger than life images of Bogart and presidents and Einstein and performers and military men. Tara gazes on the scene from the bed, breast exposed, euphoric, envisioning blood streaming down various historical canvases of women and their children, moving along to her mother. Then it’s morning and Bogie, in his skydiving suit and jaunty scarf, wakes her up telling her she’s going to fly his plane. He would trust her with his plane, she asks?

“Nobody goes skydiving because it’s safe. An underaged, unknown pilot, you’ve just (something) kicks, lady. Or don’t you believe in the fall of the American Empire? Rome? Where’d you go to school at?”

“London, Switzerland,” says the bewildered Tara. “Finishing school.”

“Finished. You’re quite finished all right. American Imperialism is your dream.”

“I don’t know anything about…”

WHAP, right in the kisser he slaps her, nearly ruining her good time, but she’ll forgive him soon enough.

“You have a right to that dream,” Bogie half-assures, half-raves in frustration. “You’re not a bloody dropout. Enjoy yourself and screw anyone who hates killing!”

Jennifer Jones Says the Word “Dyke”

Cut to what could be a scene straight out of “Gone With the Wind” with Jennifer Jones seated at her dressing table in a drop shoulder gown, a masseuse working on her neck, her husband on a settee behind and Astrid saying they must declare their daughter a missing person. Her husband points out she gave the party so Tara could meet someone, and Astrid spits back, “Who would want her?!”

“She’s worth a half billion dollars!”

“Stop it, you’re hurting me! You bloody, sadistic dyke!” Astrid snarls at the masseuse.

Astrid insists their daughter’s in trouble and Willy knows it too or else he’d be in Hong Kong. “Mother love, who would scarcely dream,” Willy taunts her. Suddenly reflective, Astrid says their daughter is all each of them really has.

“I don’t have you?”

“You don’t have me. You own me.”

“That’s the only way any one can have any one, any thing, free love and communism not withstanding. As for Tara Nicole, she belongs to the world and you’ve missed your chance at being dear momma! You’re growing old, Astrid!”

Cut to the sky-high airplane.

Bogie climbs out on the wing, taps his shoulders with a baton, says, “Demon drives!” The blond does the same but says, “Bogie drives (and something about her child).” Roddy says, “Boggie is God” Then the bandmates all leap from the plane, go through a baton-passing ritual, play leap frop, release their chutes, and glide to earth.

ET Channels Bogie

Back at Bogie’s pad afterwards, Tara goes on about her mother the hooker, and her dad buying up all her stag films, then counters herself, “All untrue! Bitch. She only sold cigarettes!”

“Phone home! Phone home!” exclaims Bogie, leaping up.

After all, her father’s probably calling his buds that he met in the war to form a head-hunting search party.

“I sat on General McArthur’s knee when I was two,” Tara reminisces.

“Did it excite him?” Roddy asks.

“I was only a baby girl!”

Bogie says she’s got to call her mother, that he’s got to go in for a recording session, he’s got to make a money maker. Republicans (something, can’t tell what he says). He aggressively pushes her around, she begging to stay instead of returning home, but he’ll have nothing to do with it. When she says something about love, he collapses on the floor and rolls around. “Don’t be ashamed to take me home to mom and dad. Our town, a boy and a girl, a man and a woman, say you’re going to bring friends home…The Rabbit Habit, the Chutes, the Freefalls, what am I going to call them…I didn’t kidnap you!”

Where’d that come from?

“You did!” Tara snaps at the opportunity.

“I want ransom then. Maybe your mother!”

Tara screams and throws herself on the ground before a vision of her mother dying, her eyes seemingly gouged out.

“Or maybe I’ll take your father, the male Amelia Earhart.”

“He didn’t get lost.”

“He got rich instead.”

Cut to the billiard room post gay sex scene only this time it’s Bogie, naked, grinning, at the billiard table.

“Of course your father doesn’t know much about throwing parties.” But they could teach him. With momma.

Tarzan yodels. The band dressed in skins carry Tara tied upside down to a pole, slaughtered game style. “Hi everybody, it’s groovy, we’re having a party!” Tara exclaims, her mother leading, her party gown dreamily blown by the breeze. Adoring Tara yells, “Mommy, I love you! You’re the most beautiful woman in the world!”

“Damn right!” Astrid froths from her high horse. “You were born rich. I was born poor, but I have class. You don’t. You don’t get class in a finishing school…even in stag movies I knew chauffeurs were chauffeurs and beneath me. My father read books behind the cotton candy counter. Your father reads the Wall Street Journal.”

“Ah, lady, the baby needs tender loving care,” Bogie says.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? The Nut Case Who Wouldn’t Shut Up

At Tara’s house, her parents sit in stupefied but finely appointed awe as Bogie goes on and on about how he wants to marry their daughter, how she’d make a great mother, an ENORMOUS mother, about how he’s one of a kind himself, how he doesn’t know if they want to raise their children in America, how he’s ready to retire, how he’s rich, God bless America, it depresses him seeing poor people here but not poor Frenchmen or starving Hindus as they’re not “our kind”, not poor Americans. How he used to be poor, how the next war is going to between the blacks and the whites and no one’s safe here, not that wouldn’t give his life for Joe (Lou Rawls) but guess who’s coming to dinner? He’s got a brush of the tall hair himself, 1/32nd pure purple black Afro-Negro. Then somehow ends up reminiscing on how the first chick he ever laid was standing up behind a garage (Astrid writhes in her seat), oh, sorry, locker room talk, but the path of true love always did jump over a couple toilet jokes. If he doesn’t shut up they’ll think he’s a nut case, but Saint Francis talked to birds and licked the wounds of lepers and if he did that today he’d be locked up. Shakespeare said Joan of Arc was six months pregnant when she was burned. To hell with George Shaw! You’re a great looking couple and I want to marry your daughter!

Willy says he believes they ought to stay for dinner.

The band says they believe they’ll stay the night.

Up in Astrid’s room, she and Willy argue about the wisdom of having the band stick around after Willy says that some of what Bogie had to say made a lot of sense.

“He’s the new public enemy number one! He has a machine gun! He’s the petrified forest!” Astrid rages. she gulps pills, saying she doesn’t believe his name one bit. Her husband reminds her that Tara was named for “Gone With the Wind”.

“I liked ‘Gone With the Wind’,” Astrid excuses herself.

He’s The Type Who Makes You Take Lots of Tranquilizers Before Breakfast (His Mother Probably Said That, Too)

The next morning. all sit around the pool, waiting for Bogie to dive into the water (when he does it’s slow motion and presages the acrobat diving-flying scenes in the 1972 “Vampire Circus”), the father excusing himself to leave for Hong Kong, Tara asking her mother if she likes Bogie and Astrid saying yes, but he is the type who makes you take lots of tranquilizers before breakfast and wash them down with Bloodies, isn’t he? Bogie, running over, nestles down between mother and daughter, notes Astrid’s weakness for pills and drink, says it would be a great song and tells Astrid she’s his shining star, says maybe she’ll adopt him, or maybe he’ll adopt her.

Mother lover! the band begins to sing…

* * * * * * *

Shades of Oedipa, is self-constraint fated out of the question?

What do you think?

* * * * * * *

Husband out of town, Lady Astrid has accompanied her daughter to the recording studio, duddied up as ever in her black fur stole over a white pantsuit. Her eyes fire thunderbolts as Bogie sings a song written apparently about her.

Let me tell you about a lady, someone everybody knows (mother lover)
Let me tell you about a lady, always comes up smelling like a rose (mother lover)
She’s everywhere you go, you know who I mean, slipping nips and popping pills she’s the all American Mother Machine

Oh, momma momma, you’re my shining star
Oh bloody momma, what a mother, what a mother, what a mother you are

Now I just met a mother and I ain’t telling you her name (mother lover)
I’m just telling you this mother puts the others all to shame (mother lover)
Bigger that they are, the harder they fell
Lookee here, what’ve we got, the biggest mother of them all.

Finally, Astrid flees the studio, her daughter following, and Bogie, frustrated by her running off, kicks a guitar across the room.

“Well, they made up a song about me, too, mother. About a fat girl, and how she grew and grew…”

“But you are a fat girl, you idiot! I don’t know why anyone would touch you!”

And off stomps Astrid.

Oh, bloody mother now you’ve gone too far

End Up Losing The Restaurant Scene Somehow And Have to Reblog It

All dining now at the restaurant in which Astrid declared herself a sexual clam, Tara looks at a statue of Queen Victoria, a statuette of Cupid. Downcast she drinks as Bogie educates Astrid on getting high.

Bogie, “You’ve got to get high, Lady, Lady. To see. High, high, high, high, on a diving board, jump off an airplane, lady lady, climb to the top of Mount Everest!”

Blond, “You know birth control can be controlled in the mind. You don’t need a pill. All you do is say I’m not going to get pregnant and you don’t get pregnant. It’s mind over all that sort of matter. Everyone thinks I don’t know who the father of my baby is. I do, but I don’t tell. There’s no privacy in the world anymore, except in your skull.”

Roddy, “I knew a man once, did a girl in. Kept her in a gallon of Lysol in the bath.”

Astrid, “I don’t understand a word…”

Bogie, “You never jumped out of an airplane!”

Rawls, “And your husband is William Gardner Steele…”

Blond, “World’s largest producer of jets, turbo jets, prop jets.”

Roddy, “Is he a fag?”

Blond, “Was he a fag?”

Bogie, “How old are you?”

Button punched, Astrid rises and storms off yelling they’re all insane. Bogie pursues, telling the others to follow in a couple of hours. He catches Astrid on the stairs.

Bogie, “Hey, stop making decisions, mother. You’re caught, lady, lady!”

Astrid, “I don’t know why even Tara Nicole puts up with you.”

“Even…”

Astrid, “I didn’t mean that.”

Bogie, “Oh, no, that’s all right. You can mean anything you want to. That’s the big secret.”

Astrid questions whether the Blond, Olivia, is pregnant because of him. Maybe, Bogie says. He’s fairly lovable, after all. But not in the old fashioned way. He kisses Astrid who then exits, he following.

Tara looks up to see the Matire d’, which whom she once stayed, smiling lovingly, pityingly, upon her.

Flashback to that night, she sitting at the poker table with the Maitre d’ and his sons, the Maitre d’s wife raging about Tara’s family having left her with them, the Matire d’ taking pity on Astrid who he says comes from hell, his wife not caring much for that all and going off about how she’s never had diamonds or maids.

More photo/painting collage of Astrid and Willy plummeting from perfect grace, ending in an image of Astrid in a nun’s habit! Shades of Bernadette?

Bogie’s Mother Had A Hairy Mole

Cut to Bogie in the car with Astrid who’s going on about how she really doesn’t understand, she’s not of his generation, she only drinks and takes pills, she doesn’t get high. “I don’t get high, jump off high places. You and your friends, do you want me or do you want my daughter?” Bogie asks if they’re mutually exclusive and she says there’s a word for him but she doesn’t know what it is.

“Polymorphous perverse.”

“Why don’t you leave my daughter alone?”

“Like you did.”

“How dare you!”

“How dare you…you see lady, lady, I’m just a country boy. Born on Avenue B in New York City, every night from 6 to 16 I washed out my socks and jockeys, my mother had a mole with hairs growing out of it. She used to punch me in the mouth when I said anyone who stood up during the Star Spangled Banner was freak. You’re the most beautiful woman in the world, no matter how the hell old you are. A mind snapper, that necklace, the one you wore the other night at the party like you had nothing else on. That. I want that.”

Snuggle kiss snuggle.

Tara on the Ceiling

Tara, stuck on the ceiling of her bedroom, while the band mates watch from below, she sobs, “Bogart doesn’t love me. He doesn’t want to ask my mother about…” Marrying her?

“He’s married to me, all of us,” Roddy says.

“HOW CAN I GET DOWN OFF THIS CEILING?”

Rawls, “But, you’re not on the ceiling, baby.”

“I AM!”

Rawls, “Only 11 percent of Americans are black. They ain’t going to let us win. We were supposed to win something but I forget what it was. I don’t think it’s the vote though as those guys who run for president they have to dye their hair my color…”

Tara, “He’s with my mother! He’s got to be making love to my mother!”

Cut to Astrid in bed with Bogie, she only in her necklace and satin sheets, moaning how she can’t dive, she can’t dive.

Fat Tara is Fat America

Back to Tara. “Somebody help me!”

KERPLUNK! She lands on the floor.

Rawls, “Don’t be afraid of it when it gets too real, baby.”

“What’s it?”

Blond, “Only the poor know.”

Roddy, “Only the very poor.”

Rawls, “America doesn’t know. America’s fat baby!” He grasps Tara’s leg. “Good and fat!”

Roddy, “God is America fat!”

Blond, “And Bogart…loves his country! He’s a patriot.”

Back to Bogie and Astrid, he encouraging her to JUMP.

Back to Tara leaping from her bed to the floor, saying, “I don’t know if I was a virgin or not.” Followed by a flashback to the poker night at the Maitre d’s, and his two sons crawling into bed with her, the younger of the two young boys telling his brother not to fool around.

Bogie Snags The Necklace And I Just Typed This Part Into WordPress and Saved it And Watched a Paragraph Disappear Before My Eyes

Bogie reclines on one of Astrid’s comfy chairs, wearing nothing but her necklace over his…machine gun…sweetly serenading her.

Lady, lady, lives in her tower. Dines on her diamonds, drinks of her tea.
Her pleasures are plastic, her pain is elastic, stretching over the years.

Lady, lady, once gave her favors in assorted flavors, savored by kings
Now she’s for the taking, her making and breaking, by any young gypsy who sings.

Lady, lady, looks in her mirror, reading her future in every line
It’s too late to reach her, it’s too much to teach her, lady’s run out of time.

Despite the rather morose lyrics that Bogie sings from a feathery white pillow embracing him from behind so he looks like a cherub with angel wings playing a lyre, Astrid, pulling on her red robe, kisses and embraces him adoringly and kneels with her head on his knees.

“Did you make stag movies?”

“With a cast of thousands. Or dozens, maybe.”

“Why?”

“Just a born communist, I suppose. Share the wealth.”

“Everyone in town says they’ve slept with you.”

“The ones who say they have, haven’t.”

“How much are the beads worth.”

“Literally millions. Our twentieth anniversary. Years and years of virtue.”

“Your husband know you make out?”

“No one knows it. Not even you know it. And I don’t make out. I gave all that up!”

“You do one hell of a good imitation.”

As he dresses, Astrid says, surprised, “I love you!”

Bogie taunts her that she’s too old to jump, that he really is with an old lady, juggles her necklace in his hands, which begs Astrid to chase him and retrieve it. “El toro!” they make their way down the hall, Astrid becoming ever more desperate. Into Tara’s room where the band mates play at tossing the necklace over Astrid’s head, keeping it out of her reach. Finally, Astrid sobs and falls to the floor in front of Tara, “Oh, baby!”

“Save your soul, Tara Nicole!” Bogie says, tossing Tara the necklace. Befuddled, she examines it as they laugh, then joins in the laughter, draping the necklace around her neck. Cut to collages of Tara as the 700 pound fat girl, as a muscle man, as a chest pounding ape, a lion, as the Statue of Liberty!

“Mother, mother,” she says.

Cut to Tara and her mother relaxing on a sofa, Astrid looking appropriately stupefied. The phone rings. Bogie demands that he answer the call which is undoubtedly from Hong Kong. Doing so, Astrid begs her husband to return home, saying she has meant none of the cruel things she’s said to him, that she really has loved him all these years.

“People don’t seem to fall in love any more. The children don’t…Willie I’m going to go skydiving!…it only takes guts to jump!”

Willie, naked on a massage table with masseuse trodding his back, sensing disaster, says of course he’ll come home. Bogie jumps on the fun to say hello poppa. Agh! Visions of Poppa on the end of a noose, dangling from the diving board, pop to Tara’s mind.

Astrid Falls Screaming into the Pool, Which Doesn’t Bode Well For the High Jump

Back to the swimming pool, Astrid flat on her back in a green gown or nightgown on the high diving board with Bogie bending over her and all else below taunting, naturally. Bogie is insisting they “go today”, and Astrid insisting she wants to stop first at the Santa Monica Pier near where she was born.

“Is that the color of your hair? I love you! Oh, lady, lady, dive for me!”

“I can’t!”

“Oh, lady, lady wants to jump instead of dive! Are those false eyelashes?” and Bogie pushes her off the diving board, she screaming as she hits the water. And he laughs, laughs, laughs, his face turning to the sun, uhm, sunflower like.

Cut to Astrid preparing for her trip to the Santa Monica pier, in a long green coat, wrapping a green scarf around her hair. She and Tara and the band members are playing a game, Tara asking her who was her governess after Paulette. Tara has to remind her it was Fannie the Nazi.

Rawls, “That’s 8 points against the very white lady.”

Astrid, “I don’t understand the game.”

Tara, “Fannie was the one with the tattoo.”

Bogie, “That would make her a Jew, not a Nazi!”

Tara, “It wasn’t a number tattoo.”

Roddy, “Where was the tattoo?”

Tara, “I can’t tell you.”

Rawls, “You’re not playing the game baby.”

Tara, “Inside her leg, on her thigh.”

Blond, “Was it bigger than a breadbox?”

Tara, “A mermaid.”

Astrid, “I don’t believe it.”

Bogie, “Truth, truth, you must believe it.”

Astrid, “Why did I fire her?”

Tara, “For stealing.”

Astrid, “That was Annie.”

Tara, “Fannie, the Nazi.”

Rawls, “Nine points against her.”

Tara, “Annie stole too but Fannie was better. In fact I helped her.”

Astrid, “Steal what?”

Tara, “Your perfumes were missing.”

Astrid, “That was Annie.”

Tara, “Fannie!”

Rawls, “Ten points!”

Break something!

And they bust out the mirror reflecting Astrid.

The Trip to Santa Monica Pier

Cut to Bogie and the gang riding down the street on he way to the Pier, poor Astrid still protesting she doesn’t UNDERSTAND!

Astrid, “Truth, truth! To hell with all of you! I made thirty stag films and I never faked an orgasm!”

Blond, “You really are a great lady!”

Next they are at the Santa Monica pier. Tara protests she doesn’t want to be there, where her mother came from, her mother never having brought her there before. Cut to Astrid staring glassily on at pink cotton candy being spun and handed to her on a stick. She asks, dumbfound, uncomprehending, why it’s 35 cents? And don’t they have green? She removes her bedazzling bracelets, and leaves them on the counter in lieu of the 35 cents, then wandering off she limply, bewildered, lets fall the cotton candy to the ground. Bogie, taking notice, rushes up and grabs the jewelry, explaining that he’s her son and she’s “out on a visit”, not quite right. Down the sandy beach, Astrid walks, the bandmates and Tara following, laughing. Finally, she makes a break and runs for it. Bogie catches up and flings her around.

“You’re running out on me, lady! No one ever ran out on me!”

“I’ve never felt anything before.”

“But you do now.”

“She’s my daughter.”

“You live in another world, lady, and that world is dead.”

The Blond joyously talks about how she read in the Fiji islands the parents are made to climb the palm trees and the young people shake them down, sending them to Paradise before they lose their teeth and are bald and feeble.

Then it’s night and the bandmates and Astrid sit around a campfire on the beach. “And you’ll give me back the necklace?” she asks. Tara says, yes, that she doesn’t even want it, it’s too large and vulgar. She kisses her on the mouth. Bogie explains to Astrid how as they fall they pass the baton, eventually and lastly to her.

More Music

Sigh. Back somewhere. Bogie’s pad. More music.

There’s no road leads to salvation, no way to paradise.
And the fires they keep on burning, calling for a sacrifice.
Sing hallelujah! Hallelujah. Sing hallelujah!

There is pain in revelation and joy in judgment day
And there’ ecstasy in knowing, someone’s going to have to pay!
Sing hallelujah…

Bogie, going over to Astrid, slams a bottle on the ground next to her, she flinching away in surprise. As he continues to sing, she stands and exits to the deck, everyone following.

(something) your soul, and count your sins, if you want to be released
Sister, get down on your knees, truth is still the highest priest
None of us can be redeemed, we’re all hemmed (?) by what we dream
We all know that it’s too late, so lift your voice and celebrate
Nothing is and No one am so wash your hands in the blood of the lamb.
Hallelujah, sing hallelujah. Hallelujah!

Whereupon everyone for some reason, on cue, each carrying a wine bottle, like it had been scripted or something, breaks that bottle at Astrid’s feet.

Roddy’s Speech

Roddy holds a chalice.

“You see, the draft board told me to go home. They asked me if I was a homosexual.” He dips a wafer in and eats it. “I said, man, I am just sexual. Only sometimes I can just stare at a carrot…and baby man even that carrot can turn me on.” Takes a sip from the chalice and passes it on.

Witchy Poo’s Speech

Olivia takes the chalice.

“I’m afraid of dying. I’m afraid to have the baby. When I was born and they brought me to my mother in the hospital, and she unwrapped me, she said there was blood between my legs, she said it was a sign. She said it meant that if I ever had a child that I would die. I want to live to be old, an old, old, old maid.”

Rawls, “Who cares about a thirty-five year old virgin?”

Roddy, “God cares.”

Tara, “Birth mother, what was birth like?”

Astrid, “I don’t know. I had the best doctors and they put you out. I don’t remember.” She drinks. “Why do you hate me? I didn’t go after anyone, ever.”

David O. Selznick Produced “Gone With the Wind” So This Thing With Tara as Jennifer Jones’ Daughter Is The Most Bizarre Thing In The Film

Rawls, “She didn’t promise you a rose garden, Tara Nicole.”

Bogie, “Ah, this love of the land will come to ya, Katie Scarlett O’Hara.”

Roddy, “The good earth of Tara!” (Note: Thanks to MoroccoMole for supplying the correct line.)

Tara, “Could you still have children, mother?” (I guess that’s what she says.)

Astrid, “You really are retarded! I could bring forth nations!”

Bogie, “Too late, too late, Astrid Steele.”

Tara, “But you didn’t. You brought forth me.”

Astrid, “Why aren’t you in the army, Bogart…”

Bogie, “A war hero, like your husband, in the last, lovely major war?”

Astrid, “Yes!”

Bogie, “Why should I go out and kill me strangers when there are much more luscious pickings right here in my own backyard. In my bedroom! This is my bedroom, you know! And (something) dreams. Do you dream about dying, Astrid Steele?”

Tara, “I am the last old fashioned girl. Fat girls are a remembrance of things past. Twiggy only dates back to Buchenwald.”

Ouch

The band packs its parachutes and as they pack this song is sung.

Ain’t it a magical morning, ain’t it a dream of the day?
You’ve got nothing to lose by throwing your blues away.
For you’ve got (something), eh, hey hey
Well, get yourself some good time, get up and go.
Eh hey hey and a high ho
I’m all for trying a little flying to get too high when you’re low.

(Yikes, don’t the lyrics remind of “Oklahoma!” Remember, “Oh, what a beautiful morning; oh, what a beautiful day; I have a something something feeling, everything’s going my way!” Jennifer Jones was born and, I think, raised in Oklahoma. Hmm?)

Astrid, glaring at Tara across the parachute packing table, “All right, Tara. Don’t worry about mummy. I was champion leg wrestler at Santa Monica High my first year.”

Tara, “The year you dropped out?”

Astrid, “All sports I’ve picked up easily. I was a great beauty. I’m still a great beauty. I gave you nine months of my life and you’ve stolen my necklace.”

Tara, “I promise you’ll be buried in it. I’ll make father promise that.”

Cut to outside the plane, Bogie lowering Astrid’s goggles over her eyes, telling her she’s a natural. A horn honks, Willy’s limo driving up, but Bogie doesn’t allow Astrid to approach him, insisting she instead just wave.

Each performs the ritual of touching their shoulders with the baton, as they prepare to jump, and making a salutation to the air.

Rawls, “Peace in our time!”

Blond, “Peace that passes understanding!”

Roddy, “Each man kills!” (?)

Bogie, “Nothing to fear but fear itself!”

Bogie tosses the baton back in the plane and pulls out the necklace. Having leaped they instead use the necklace as the baton, passing it back and forth, and finally to Astrid. They form a circle of hands through which she tumbles, catapulting to earth, clutching her necklace.

Cut to the ground, red flashing light of a police vehicle. Tara turns away from her mother’s apparent gruesome death (not shown) in shock. Bogie smiles and glances sly at poppa. Flash to a collage of muscle man Bogie holding poppa’s severed head.

Tara Having In Side Wise Fashion Killed Off Jennifer Jones, The Wife of David O. Selznick, It’s Daddy’s Turn

Cut to the limo, poppa riding between Bogie and Tara. Bogie says, “Don’t worry, poppa, we’ll take care of you, too, truly.” Runs his hand over poppa’s knee.

Tara’s voice over, “I never really thought of having a profession. But my, how I’ve dabbled. Daddy’s captain of industry. That America!” A smile wipes away her tears.

Cut to a a nude and sweating Bogie flogging poppa with chains.

“But to be a useful person always seemed to me to be particularly hideous. Which is my America. Lazy, lovely, relaxed.”

Bogie, “Oh, poppa, poppa, you didn’t want children!”

Willy, “Why?”

Bogie, “They only come into this world to slaughter you. Cannibals! Eat America! Oh, poppa, poppa, poppa!”

Bogie sounds almost…pained, himself.

What The Hell Happened, My DVD Copy is Too Poor For Me To Tell

Tara floats slow motion down the mansion hall, through the gloaming dark.

“My childhood was perfect. Paradise, lost. Now, one is driven forward into the future by the storm sailing out of paradise.”

Shot of looks like Tara’s nearly nude dad lying dead head first down the stairs, body partly bound in something but what it’s difficult to tell.

“But for a fairy princess everything always works out perfectly, and everyone dies on schedule, beautifully. I’ve always been lucky and everyone always loved me. But I’m sure I’ll never marry, much too fat, y’know. Unless I open an Italian restaurant, and I was momma, momma in the kitchen. Or unless I was a peasant and came with a large dowry. Several pounds my weight in gold.”

Tara seated in a comfy chair, musing, holding the guitar-lyre, the camera panning over what looks like Bogie stretched out dead near her, his body extending upside down off the bed, or seems to be, draped-bound in diamonds and pearls, looking, gee, relatively peaceful, beatific. At least, my best guess is it’s Bogie but seems more likely to be the Tarot’s Hanged Man as something like Dionysus or Orpheus.

We’re Normal

“The rest of you, you’re normal. But oh dear God, I’m frightened. My kingdom’s come. My will is done.” To the camera. “I love all of you out there. But you just don’t know the burdens of reality.”

THE END!

* * * * * * * *

Now what would be lovely would be if Jennifer Jones had a diary of her time spent involved with this film and what she hoped to achieve and what went through her brain every time she said “Tara”. It’s one of my main preoccupations with this film. I know it’s going to sound weird but if you’re a student of film history (which I’m not) it would seem you’ve got to watch this in conjunction with “Gone With the Wind” because it seems a response and commentary on it which demands watching because of Jennifer Jones’ involvement. Personally, I was never a fan of “Gone With the Wind”. When I finally saw it about the age of 19, I got up and walked out of the theater half way through, though I did watch it in its entirety later out of curiosity, because it was so huge. After having seen “Angel, Angel, Down We Go”, when I think of “Gone With the Wind” I see it on one side of a balance and this film on the other, the two forever paired in my psyche.

I kept wondering what poor Holly Near was going through, depicted as Fat America. (I read that she believes the film deserves to be burned.) A few years late she played the daughter of Billy Pilgrim in “Slaughterhouse Five”. (Note: THanks to MoroccoMole for the correction. I accidentally placed her initially as playing the wife.)

Would’ve loved to have known what Roddy McDowell felt about this movie.

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Juli Kearns

Juli Kearns is the author of Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine and Unending Wonders of a Subatomic World (or) In Search of the Great Penguin. She is also an artist/photographer, and the person behind the web alter of "Idyllopus Press".

9 thoughts on “Blogging "Angel, Angel, Down We Go" aka "Cult of the Damned"”

  1. I’ll ask Michael if he knows….he was a good friend of Roddys…..I left you a comment on Tell Me a Story, but don’t know if it went through or not…it says only 3. but there should be 4

  2. Gin, thanks! I’d love to know.

    Your comment went through. Someone else was having problems earlier this week and was unable to get a comment posted, but yours went through. I’ve responded.

  3. Oh, Gin, P.S., I read that after Selznick died, Jennifer Jones did one other movie before this one. It was with Michael Parks as her leading man, he playing her young lover. It also hasn’t been rereleased. Then after this one she did “The Towering Inferno”, so her last three movies were “The Idol” with Michael Parks, in 1966, then this one in 1969, then “The Towering Inferno” in 1974.

  4. I loved “The Idol” and I do know that he was meeting with her after she married the guy that built the museum…rich rich rich, but I can’t think of his name….I know she wanted to do another with Parks, and I have a funny story to tell you about that when I see you next…he has always been his own worst enemy…and still is….but one of the good guys

  5. Screens: August 10, 2007

    http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/story?oid=517929

    Down We Go

    Revisiting Renaissance man Robert Thom’s prolific and hellish Hollywood visions
    By Louis Black

    The opening credits include the American International Pictures logo followed by “James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff Present.” Any longtime film fan instantly knows what this means. AIP was the Saks Fifth Avenue, the Wal-Mart, and the discount dollar store of exploitation drive-in productions all at once. It released the best and the worst of these movies, nurtured Roger Corman, and had the longest tenure among similar independent studios.

    Just before the film begins, while these titles are still running, we hear the sound of jungle music. The first shot is a close-up of a gold statue; then, the camera pulls back to reveal a grand hallway of traditionally great art, including paintings, furniture, and statuary. The first shot is synchronized with the soundtrack of Johnny Weissmuller’s famous Tarzan call and the sound of drumming.

    Finally, the camera lurches around to a stairway as a voiceover begins. A sweet but strangely toned voice lilts: “What is your first memory? My first memory is that my parents were perfect.”

    The camera heads up the stairs, past artwork to shelves of clothes neatly laid out, mostly sweaters except for a row of riding boots on the bottom. It continues across the room to display a case full of equestrian medals and statues and then along a wall of photographs of such notables as Eisenhower and LBJ. It tilts down to some bathrobes and bedclothes strewn on the floor leading into the bathroom. In the shower are a young man and an older one soaping themselves up.

    The voice says, “It’s not true that my father was a homosexual,” as the drums keep going.

    Now the film’s title appears. Depending on which print you’re watching, it’s either Angel, Angel, Down We Go or Cult of the Damned. Soon, the camera will plunge into a more modern art: rich crayon lines wrapped around a photo collage.

    Angel, Angel Down We Go (the title I prefer) is a masterpiece of fingernails-on-chalkboard cinema. Its layered contradictions are not only the ideal way to introduce the film but also its maker, Robert Thom, who wrote and directed. If it were all he had ever done, I’d honor his career. But there is much more.

    The eerie voice belongs to a young lady, the notably unattractive daughter of fabulous parents … except that Dad likes young men and Mom adores, well, Mom. A 20-year-old Holly Near plays the girl. Yes, that Holly Near, she of protest songs, political concerns, and women’s music. Near managed her own record label and was an early and very open champion of lesbian and feminist music. Over the years, she has recorded songs with Cris Williamson, Mercedes Sosa, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Rhiannon, Brian Green, Inti-Illimani, and Ronnie Gilbert (of the Weavers).

    Now as active and engaged as ever, Near talks of how she began performing at the age of 8 and at the age of 21 was appearing in Hair on Broadway. Biographies of her mention appearances on All in the Family, The Partridge Family, and The Mod Squad. In 1969, she entered the theatre-arts department at UCLA.

    But Near never talks about how that same year she starred in Angel, Angel, Down We Go. None of the write-ups on her mention it, either. This not only comes as no surprise but also demonstrates common sense and good taste.

    In the film, she is deliberately made up to appear as outrageous, ugly, and bizarre as possible; it is crucial to the character’s trajectory. Even if this weren’t the case, she would pale next to her mother, played by the beautiful Jennifer Jones (in one of her last roles). In every conceivable way, Near is framed and presented in the context of Jones, dooming her to looking even less attractive by contrast.

    The story is about a poor little rich girl who, as a child, is left with a waiter to take her to the airport for an international flight because her parents are busy. Dad is often seen with a naked young man whose lower half is hidden behind a pool table. Dad adores her, but not really. Mom loves to use her because she looks even more magnificent standing next to her daughter.

    The plot involves first the daughter hooking up with the lead singer of a band of too-hip crazies who are drug-loving anarchist spirits. The rest of the family follows. The charis- matic, almost demonic singer is played by Jordan Chris-topher, the poor man’s Christopher George (who himself is the poor man’s Jordan Christopher, but let’s not pursue this). Fellow band members include Lou Rawls and a hyperkinetic Roddy McDowall.

    There is sex, drugs, music, skydiving, dysfunction, disappointment, and ever more unsettling scenes as the film deliberately spirals out of control. As with any masterpiece of nails-on-the-chalkboard cinema, about halfway through you find yourself thinking the same questions over and over: “Who the hell is the audience for this film? In making it, whom did they think would enjoy seeing it?”

    In cultural histories, there are people who pop up at different times in different places doing different things but always in a way that is influential and notable enough that they became legends. Oscar Wilde wrote plays, poetry, and novels as well as being a famed man-about-town. Robert Frank shot photos, was a cinematographer, and made his own films. Leonard Bernstein conducted, wrote plays, and composed music.

    Sometimes, however, the sporadic appearances are not drawn together. Although the creator makes any number of important cultural contributions — and though they might be noted separately — no fame or legend is attached; no mythology grows. Rather, time and history leave the name behind. If one of the most significant contributions of this artist was in popular media innovating street culture, the odds are against recognition. If the aesthetic is pulp and outrage, often they are deliberately ignored.

    Robert Thom pops up in a variety of places during the course of his unique career. He graduated from Yale, where he was regarded as a promising poet and playwright. He took over writing the play version of Compulsion after Meyer Levin, the book’s author, had a falling out with a producer. Two of the first mainstream Hollywood movies to acknowledge the beat generation were written by Thom. He co-authored episodes of The Defenders and the television play The Legend of Lylah Clare, the latter directed by Robert Aldrich and adapted to the screen for one of his odder movies in 1968. The film followed the director’s Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte by a few years and was made right after The Dirty Dozen and right before The Killing of Sister George, so the term “odder” is not being used lightly here.

    The late Sixties through the mid-Seventies were a time when exploitation drive-in movies were America’s true renegade cinema. In many ways, speaking in cinematic language, they were almost as one with mainstream films. In many other ways, however, they were unique unto themselves, combining politics and sex, creating or reinventing genres (biker movies, women-in-prison films), and yielding, both in front of and behind the camera, at least two generations of filmmakers who would mature into some of the medium’s greatest talents.

    Thom wrote the scripts for four of the most significant and best of these movies: 1968’s Wild in the Streets (D: Barry Shear), 1970’s Bloody Mama (D: Roger Corman), 1975’s Death Race 2000 (D: Paul Bartel), and 1975’s Crazy Mama (D: Jonathan Demme).

    When I first wrote about Robert Thom for the Chronicle in October 1984, my lead went something like this: “Uptown Beatniks, Hollywood Bohemians, Classic French Literature, American Sub-cultures. Racine and Kerouac, art and Acid. Women, Children and Television, Mothers and Daughters — Armed and Dangerous, Mothers and Sons — Incest and Deranged. Music, Revolution, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Oppression, Outlaws, Politicians, Poets and Perverts. An Hieronymus Bosch vision as conceived by Freud, Detailed by Jung and Rendered in Day-glow, Neon, Blood and Sweat. With Car Crashes, Politics, Sex and Violence, and more Sex and more Violence.”

    At Yale, his dissertation was a verse play published in 1956. The next year, Thom’s off-Broadway play, The Minotaur, starring Dean Stockwell and Janice Rule, opened at the Westport County Playhouse. Thom married Rule; they had a baby girl and soon divorced. (Rule would become a therapist and was later married to Ben Gazzara.)

    In 1956, Levin had published a novel titled Compulsion based on the Leopold and Loeb case in Chicago, where those two well-off young men murdered a 14-year-old distant cousin of Loeb’s more or less out of curiosity. In 1957, Levin began working on adapting his novel for the stage. Levin was fired after conflicts with the producers, and Thom was brought in, largely rewriting the play. It ran for about five months.

    In 1959, 20th Century Fox released the film version, which did not credit Thom. (Hitchcock had already tackled the Leopold and Loeb case with Rope, released in 1948. Director Tom Kalin remade Compulsion as Swoon in 1992.) He still ended up in Hollywood. He received script credit on two significant releases in 1960. His script for The Subterraneans was the first film adaptation of a Jack Kerouac novel. The film starred Leslie Caron, George Peppard, Roddy McDowall, Jim Hutton, and Rule. The score was by André Previn, who also appears in the film along with Gerry Mulligan, Art Pepper, Carmen McRae, Shelly Manne, and Art Farmer. That same year, All the Fine Young Cannibals was released. Leonard Maltin’s TV Movies likes neither of these films, noting of the latter, “Cliches abound in this romantic soap opera that was actually inspired by the life of jazz trumpeter Chet Baker (whose role is played here, somewhat improbably, by [Robert] Wagner).”

    During the early Sixties, Thom mostly worked as a television writer, authoring scripts for The DuPont Show of the Week and Kraft Suspense Theatre. Thom wrote several scripts for The Defenders. In 1962-’63, he won an Emmy for co-writing the episode “The Madman” with the show’s creator, Reginald Rose.

    Esquire published a story of Thom’s titled “The Day It All Happened” about a pop star becoming president. He was hired to transform the story into a film script. Wild in the Streets, released in 1968, earned some surprisingly good reviews. One in The New York Times, credited to Renata Adler and Vincent Canby, noted, “Wild in the Streets is a kind of instant classic, a revved up La Chinoise or Privilege for the drive-ins in summertime.” The film starred Christopher Jones, Shelley Winters, Diane Varsi, Hal Holbrook, Richard Pryor, and Millie Perkins. Perkins’ most famous role was also her first, that of Anne in The Diary of Anne Frank. Previously married to Stockwell, she would become Thom’s second wife.

    The next year, Thom wrote and directed Angel, Angel, Down We Go. After its failure, he went to work for Roger Corman, writing the script for Bloody Mama, which Corman directed. When Corman transitioned to producer, Thom ended up writing two scripts for him. Death Race 2000 is regarded as one of the great American exploitation films. Although not as well-known, Crazy Mama is an even better movie. Bartel and Demme told me that Thom’s scripts were grotesque and fantastic but also completely unfilmable. Although rewritten, much of their greatness remains his.

    As I said about Angel, if Thom had only written these four films, my interest in his work would not suffer. Horror films are often about the nuclear family, exposing that underneath a facade of normalcy there is something terribly wrong with it. The true horror in Thom’s world — when contrasted with the insane and usually bloodthirsty shadow family (The Hills Have Eyes, Texas Chainsaw Massacre) — is that the nuclear family has no facade and there is no normalcy. In and of itself, it is as terrifyingly inhuman as any band of cannibals. Only instead of carving up bodies, the family destroys souls. (Only Crazy Mama transcends this, because in director Demme’s hands, it becomes a compassionate, feminist black comedy.)

    The line between entertainment, politics, and violence is gone. There are moments when the most common of popular culture offers observations (often through exaggeration) not readily available elsewhere. Thom is holding up a truly twisted fun-house mirror, but one that reflects reality.
    ————————————————————————

    Author’s note: Robert Thom, who died in 1979, wrote only a couple more films. The Witch Who Came From the Sea, starring Millie Perkins and directed by Matt Cimber, is supposed to be the most interesting of these and among his best scripts. I haven’t seen it.
    ————————————————————————

    This is the first of several articles on Thom that will appear sporadically and on no set schedule. The series will include, at the very least, one piece on Angel, Angel Down We Go and another on his four exploitation-film scripts.

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    Copyright © 2008 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.

  6. The line that Roddy McDowall quotes from GWTW is actually “The good earth of Tara.” And Holly Near plays Billy Pilgrim’s daughter, not wife, in Slaughterhouse-Five. But this is a great piece! I’m still trying to wrap my head around this movie.

    I saw a new 35mm print at the American Cinematheque in L.A., and there’s no shot of the dad hanging dead from the high-dive that I’ve read about in some plot synopses. Does that appear solely in the “Cult of the Damned”–titled prints?

  7. Thanks for the corrections. I’ve made the changes and noted your assistance.

    I’ve no idea about any differences in different prints. Sorry can’t help you out there.

    It is a strange movie, to be sure.

  8. Please, what is a name of this song in the movie: “….Lady, lady, lives in her tower. Dines on her diamonds, drinks of her tea. Her pleasures are plastic, her pain is elastic, stretching over the years…”

    Thank you very much.

    Robin

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