Friday, August 17, 2012

Worth Mentioning - Dames with Claws

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody flips for a femme fatale and rollergirls make their triumphant return.

DETOUR (1945)

Edgar G. Ulmer, the director who pitted Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff against each other in 1934's The Black Cat, helms this melodramatic film noir, which pits a mopey guy against a manic, tough-talking femme fatale.

Al Roberts had it good in New York, even if he was always a complainer. He worked as a piano player in a nightclub, making a living and romancing beautiful singer Sue Harvey, a woman he plans to marry. Then she drops a bomb on him: she's leaving town, following her singing dreams to Hollywood. Al is devastated that she's choosing to pursue inevitable failure over the security of their relationship and takes no comfort in her hopeful talk of staying in contact and picking things back up someday.

Life proves Al right. Sue doesn't make it as a singer, she ends up working as a waitress. So Al decides to head out to Hollywood and get this wedding business wrapped up. Low on cash, he hitchhikes across the country. Along the way, he gets picked up by Charles Haskell, a pill-popping lech who rambles on while Al stays soft-spoken and monosyllabic. When Al takes note of some deep scratches on Haskell's right hand, Haskell explains that they're from a female hitchhiker he picked up before. She dug into him with her fingernails when he got fresh with her. "There oughta be a law against dames with claws."

Al takes a turn behind the wheel while Haskell takes a nap... a nap that he doesn't wake up from. When Al opens the passenger door to check on him, Haskell's body tumbles out of the car, his head smacking into a large rock. Al panics, sure that he'll be arrested for harming Haskell. He drags the body off the road and takes the car, assuming Haskell's identity so he won't get in trouble for driving it.

That works out for Al for a while... until he makes the decision to pick up a female hitchhiker. At first, the woman appears to take a nap, but it's just the calm before the storm. Soon her eyes open, she sits up quickly, and starts rattling out rapid fire questions, revelations, and accusations. She knows that the car isn't his, she knows that he's not Haskell. She's the hitchhiker who clawed Haskell's hand.

She is Vera, she's played by Ann Savage, and when she starts going off on Al with her eyes open wide, with awesome 1940s lines and phrases speeding out of her mouth, that's when this movie became worth mentioning for me. Savage is amazing in this, a delight, I don't know how someone could watch her performance in these driving scenes without having a big smile on their face.

Thankfully, Savage sticks around to cause trouble throughout the second half of the movie, as Vera makes Al her captive of sorts, forcing him to continue to pretend to be Haskell, coming up with plans for how to make money off of the dead man's life. It doesn't go well for anybody. Except for the viewer watching Ann Savage.


Hell on Wheels begins with a quick lesson on the history of roller derby - originally conceived as an endurance sport with co-ed teams circling a track for 57,000 laps, in the 1930s it evolved into a more straightforward sport of matches and scoring. Roller derby was very popular for decades, before crumbling in the 1970s.

This is a documentary of its rebirth, the story of the rise and fall and rise of the groups that got the sport back up on its skates. The resurgence begins in the early 2000s, in Austin, Texas. Initially brought together by a man with roller derby dreams, four women go on to form a league called Bad Girl, Good Woman - BGGW - and start assembling the skaters and teams.

Roller derby became very theatrical over its years of popularity, and the modern version keeps the theatricalities and fuses them with a punk feminist style. Teams we see or hear of have concepts like cowgirls, angels, demons, schoolgirls, and they have the short-skirted outfits to match. The sport is dominated by badass women, usually heavily inked and not shy to drop some vulgarity. They have stage names like Hot Lips Dolly, Queen Destroyer, Sugar, Iron Maiden, Tinkerhell, Buckshot Betty, Miss Conduct, Sparkle Plenty, etc.

Covering three years, the documentary follows the building of BGGW from the dirty DIY ground up. Things go well, soon they're playing in front of crowds of more than 700 people, comedian Dave Attell visits them for an episode of his show Insomniac. But it's not smooth going for very long. There's tragedy, injuries, legalities come into it, money is lost, there are disagreements over rights and ownership. There's a huge split, a rival league is formed...

It's a very interesting watch that kept me fully engrossed the whole time, a strong look at human drama with the roller derby aspect adding entertainment value.

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