A young woman revisits the wilderness retreat she & her late father so loved. She’s come for his memorial, to spread his ashes over the paths they once rode together. Galloping hard on the dangerous route they shared, she pushes against her tight leather saddle, nearing an auto-masturbatory climax. She lowers the urn with her father’s ashes and positions it between her legs, the precious metal phallus sacred and upright. Climax is achieved at the crest of the trail; the urn pops open and her father’s ashes triumphantly ejaculate to the right & left of the horse's rearing flanks. Ecstasy, exhaustion . . . relief, release. This scene, surely the most sexually perverse image in cinematic history won’t be found in LAST TANGO IN PARIS, GOING PLACES or SALO, nor should you look for it in the collected work of David Lynch, Russ Meyer or even DEBBIE DOES DALLAS. Astoundingly, it’s in this mainstream studio success made at the very height of Hollywood’s self-censoring Production Code under the watchful eyes of the all-powerful Catholic League. And it’s only the first in a series of outrages committed under the cool gaze of beautiful, balmy Gene Tierney, impassive as a sphinx in sunglasses in John M. Stahl’s TechniColor masterpiece on the evils of over-possessive love. Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain, Vincent Price Darryl Hickman and an unborn child are the main victims in this gloriously ripe melodrama, but they couldn’t have done it without the remarkably consistent efforts of technicians & designers who made the locations (fabulous house interiors, abstracted courtroom, shimmering lakes & woods) and costumes (Tierney often changes a wrap just to match the wallpaper) perfectly wed to story & character arcs. (Leon Shamroy’s TechniColor lensing is simply loaded with iconic images.) And even at its most outrageous, when you expect to see Carol Burnett peeking around the corner, taking notes for a parody, you might also find Douglas Sirk, Nicholas Ray & Vincent Minnelli standing in line to take their shot at the form, with CinemaScope added to the mix.
DOUBLE-BILL: The link between the underappreciated John M. Stahl and deservedly anointed Douglas Sirk is particularly strong since Sirk remade two of Stahl’s best, IMITATION OF LIFE/’34;’59 and MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION/’35;‘54. Sirk didn’t remake this one (though there is a lousy tv version to avoid), but he did make WRITTEN ON THE WIND/’56 which shares some of the good girl/bad girl/man-in-the-middle situations and courtroom flavor of LHTH.