How’s this for a fun bad movie premise: queen of fluff Lana Turner plays an unhappy married woman who along with her suave but intense lover—portrayed by the ever one dimensional Anthony Quinn —want to get rid of Lana’s terminally-ill but abusive wealthy husband so they can live happily ever after. Of course their plan goes horridly wrong, and before you can even chuckle at the absurdity of it all—in comes Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee Sandra Dee who would love nothing more than to expose her step-mom’s true colors. You see, she never really warmed to her, and while aware that something fishy is going on, she still has a hard time proving it. Even to her hunky beau John Saxon, whom she has been courting for quite some time. Following me so far? Good.
The fun really kicks in when the greedy business associate of the late husband—played with aplomb by Richard Basehart who’s another evil man in poor little Lana’s life—discovers what’s actually going on. How? Simple: a near bullet hit to his head (by Quinn) and the realization of foolishly having fell for Turner’s little white lies. What results is a bad movie moment you have to see to believe. Turner is hair-pulled, slapped, thrown across the room while looking both pained and demure, when not pushing back her curls nervously to compensate from some serious acting. Then trying desperately to hold her suffering in check (while still looking great in a Jean Louis creation), she is almost hit by a poker but is saved just in time by Quinn who finally shoots Basehart dead. And thank goodness for that, for what ensues is even more insane.
To dispose of the body, Turner is asked to drive a car, but since she doesn’t know how, Quinn has to cajole her into doing it—a kinder gesture than shattering her reflection in a mirror with a candlestick, which he does later on. Of course she accepts. Does she really have a choice? Then, horror on wheels: everything from poor visibility to a sudden thunderstorm to cops showing up occurs in this overlong but outrageous scene. That, plus a Turner fit of all fits in front a precipice (Devil Slide in California) makes PORTRAIT IN BLACK a definite must in bad cinema magic.
Based loosely on a ‘40s Broadway play once associated to Joan Crawford as a film project (!), PORTRAIT IN BLACK only saw the light of day when producer and ultra glam king Ross Hunter got involved some 15 years later. Shot all around San Francisco and using a Vaseline-covered lens whenever aging Lana’s around, PORTRAIT IN BLACK is, indeed, pure guilty pleasure. What Hunter seems to fervently want with this gem, however, is to captivate us with such a fast moving plot and serious situations that even bad movie experts like yours truly will overlook (or feel stunned by) the film’s true identity (nice try, though). But pay him no mind. Because what you get behind this big Technicolor production thriller. penned by original "Charlie's Angels" co-creator Ivan Goff and directed by PILLOW TALK fame Michael Gordon, is one wacky melodrama that will definitely leave some scarring tissues to the eyes and mind. Enjoy.
Until next post—Martin