DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
SCREAMING MIMI (director: Gerd Oswald; screenwriter: Robert Blees/from Fredric Brown's novel “The Screaming Mimi”; cinematographer: Burnett Guffey; editors: Gene Havlick/Jerome Thoms; music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff; cast: Anita Ekberg (Virginia Weston/Yolanda Lange), Philip Carey (Bill Sweeney), Gypsy Rose Lee (Joann ‘Gypsy’ Mapes), Harry Townes (Dr. Greenwood), Linda Cherney (Ketti), Romney Brent (Charlie Weston), Alan Gifford (Captain Bline), Oliver McGowan (Walter Krieg), Red Norvo (Red Yost), Raoul Reynarde (Gift Shop Owner), Stephen Ellsworth (Dr. Joseph Robinson); Runtime: 79; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Harry Joe Brown/Robert Follows; Columbia; 1958)

 
"This twisted thriller is a scream in all the wrong ways."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This twisted thriller is a scream in all the wrong ways. It's based on the 1949 novel by Fredric Brown. The film is badly handled by the lackluster direction of the German born filmmaker Gerd Oswald ("Paris Holiday"/"A Kiss Before Dying"/"Crime of Passion"), who fails to make it provocative despite it screaming out to be provocative. It came out with its own shower slasher scene two years before Hitchcock's famous shower scene from Psycho, though its shower scene stinks in comparison. One can only speculate what a master director like Hitchcock could have done with such tawdry material that was ready-made for a good suspense story. The film's main problem is that the plot written by Robert Blees is so muddled that it's rendered senseless. It's interesting mostly to watch the enchanting bad performance by the busty Swedish actress Anita Ekberg, who is most fun when she writhes into an S&M dance number. Screaming Mimi when released bombed playing the second end of double bills in grindhouse theaters without any publicity, but in modern DVD times has gained a substantial cult following mainly due to Anita's and stripper Gypsy Rose Lee's presence.

Virginia Weston (Anita Ekberg) is an exotic dancer from New Orleans visiting her step-brother, the sculptor Charlie Weston (Romney Brent), in his rustic seaside cottage in Laguna Beach, California, when she's attacked by an escaped mental patient with a big knife while she's taking an outdoor shower. Charlie kills the inmate with his rifle, but Virginia suffers from a severe traumatic shock and is sent to the Highland Sanitarium, where she comes under the care for the next six months of Dr. Greenwood (Harry Townes). The dubious psychiatrist treats her for free and falls madly in love with her, as he risks his career to get her a release even though she's not sane and becomes her Svengali. After quitting his hospital post, Greenwood goes with her to San Francisco where she takes the name Yolanda Lange to be the featured exotic dancer at Joann Mape's (Gypsy Rose Lee) the El Madhouse nightclub and the controlling Greenwood, who tells his patient "you are nothing without me," takes up the position as her possessive business manager and uses the name Green. Sleazy nightclub beat reporter for the Daily Times Bill Sweeney (Philip Carey) moves in on the voluptuous blonde, thrilled by her sexy dance act and mystique. After Bill flirts with Yolanda in her dressing room, the gruff Green enters and makes him leave. That same evening Virginia, while walking down a dark street with her Great Dane guard dog named Devil,, is attacked by a knife-wielding man and is slashed across the chest. Bill investigates and finds it odd that not too long ago Lola Lake, also a dancer, was killed by "The Ripper" in a similar attack whereby also by her side was the nude statue of a screaming woman dubbed the Screaming Mimi. The reporter uses that clue to trace the statue back to the artist, Charlie Weston. When Bill meets with Charlie, he's told the story about his sister Virginia being the unwitting model for his Screaming Mimi and that Dr. Greenwood wrote telling him his sister died (it seems unbelievable that Charlie wouldn't confirm that at the hospital or wonder why there's no funeral). In any case, the muddled story has Virginia/Yolanda so insane that the Screaming Mimi somehow sets her off to be the killer instead of the vic (don't ask and I won't tell how this happens, since I never figured that one out) and in the end Greenwood meets with tragedy and Virginia is taken back to a mental institution after telling the reporter "You're not my doctor, you haven't got a white coat."

Everything about this unhinged '50s B-movie is a bit kinky, and even the reporter hero is an obnoxious sort who is taken by Yolanda because of her big boobs and is generally perceived as an unlikable pushy know-it-all character, who seems to be in love with himself. While Greenwood is so shrill and acts so wooden and crazed, that it's hard to imagine that he's a shrink. It's a delusional film that seems fit for fetishists, voyeurs, those seeking a lurid oddball film with innovative noirish B/W photography by the great Burnett Guffey and, is especially suited, for lovers of bad-movies.

REVIEWED ON 6/1/2008        GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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