Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 33: "Anatomy of a Psycho" (1961)

Anatomy of a Psycho has an extremely opportunistic title, wouldn't you say?


"I walked down the alley and through the door of this little studio, and there behind a desk in this very dingy, small office sat Boris Petroff, who wanted me to write an ad. I said, 'It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Petroff,' and did all the bullshit that you usually do when you're trying to get as many ads out of somebody as you possibly can so that you can make a little more commission."
-writer and director John D.F. Black

Tor Johnson as Lobo in The Unearthly.
Boris Petroff. Yes, we've heard that name before around here, though it doesn't show up until page 207 (out of 231) in Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. and even then makes only a fleeting appearance.  Both low-budget independent filmmakers trying to make a dollar and a cent in the brutal business we call show, Petroff and Wood crossed paths several times in the late 1950s and early 1960s, perhaps more often than has been documented.

Let's refresh ourselves on the most obvious connections between these two men. On his 1970s writing resume, Eddie proudly credited himself with the screenplay for the Petroff-directed Shotgun Wedding (1963), along with another supposed Petroff production called Talk Sexy, Y'all, which Grey speculates is merely an alternate title for Shotgun Wedding. Moreover, Boris' infamous non-shocker, The Unearthly (1957), features Wood regular Tor Johnson as a lumbering henchman named Lobo, the very same character name Johnson used in Ed's films Bride of the Monster (1955) and Night of the Ghouls (1959). The only difference between the Lobo in Petroff's movie and the Lobo in Ed's movies is that the former can (sort of) talk. No true fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 will ever forget Johnson's immortal line, "Time for go to bed!" Otherwise, the characters are nearly identical, and Johnson never played Lobo in any other films.

According to its credits, The Unearthly was co-written by "Geoffrey Dennis" -- a pseudonym for erstwhile Star Trek scribe John D.F. Black -- and Boris Petroff's wife, Jane Mann. Jane was the one who, along with the elusive and likely nonexistent "Larry Lee," a man with no other titles in his filmography, got onscreen credit for writing Shotgun Wedding. Since Ed Wood was only too eager to claim authorship of that film, it is possible that Jane Mann was given a vanity credit by virtue of being the director's wife. As for her supposed contributions to The Unearthly, here's what John D.F. Black had to say on the subject in an interview with author Tom Weaver in a book called Science Fiction Confidential: Interviews with 23 Monster Stars and Filmmakers (McFarland, 2002):
I was working on the script [for The Unearthly], delivering pages, and then I realized it would become a nightmare if I kept doing it that way. So I just didn't show up for ten days, and finished it. I delivered it to Mr. Petroff, who gave it to Jane, his wife, who typed it. I can't type. [...] And then it was time for the picture to be edited and for credits to be discussed, and it turns out that Jane Mann, who was the one who typed the script last, put her name on it. And Mr. Petroff was not gonna pay me.
Writer-actor Don Devlin
Very interesting, wouldn't you say? John D.F. Black has an extensive, thirty-year career as a writer in film (Shaft) and television (everything from Charlie's Angels to Murder She Wrote), while Jane Mann has only three movies to her name... all of them directed by her husband. If Black is to be believed, Mann was nothing more than a typist on The Unearthly. And if Ed Wood is to be believed, Shotgun Wedding's script was all his doing. So if Jane Mann didn't really write The Unearthly or Shotgun Wedding, it is reasonable to assume that she didn't write Anatomy of a Psycho either. Then who did? Well, one obvious answer is the film's credited co-writer, Don Devlin (1930-2000), who has an interesting and varied filmography as an actor, including a pivotal role in Anatomy of a Psycho, along with credits as a producer (The Witches of Eastwick) and a screenwriter (Thunder Island, which he co-wrote with Jack Nicholson). But a dark horse candidate is Edward D. Wood, Jr.

The IMDb doesn't list Anatomy of a Psycho among Eddie's writing credits, and neither Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy nor Rob Craig's Ed Wood, Mad Genius include it in their coverage of Wood's career. But Philip R. Frey's invaluable website Ed Wood Online does include Anatomy in its filmography section, and the film isn't even shunted off to the "Apocrypha" there but instead is nestled between Shotgun Wedding and Married Too Young (1962), the film I'll be covering next week. Incidentally, if you are at all curious about the career of the Russian-born director Boris Petroff, who almost always worked under the pseudonym "Brooke L. Peters," I'd highly recommend that you locate a copy of Tom Weaver's Science Fiction Confidential. In its chapter about The Unearthly, John D.F. Black comments in more detail about Petroff's appearance and personality than I was able to find anywhere else.

After poking a little fun at Petroff's heavy Russian accent, Black recalls, "He was a charming man, I would guess somewhere between five-ten and six feet; on the heavy side but not fat." Black also supplies an intriguing little anecdote about actor Tor Johnson:
He was playing Lobo... and he was sick of playing characters named Lobo. [...] He asked, "Why did you name me Lobo?" and I said, "I didn't. Boris did!" He had his "Lobo suit," which was slightly adapted, and that's what you see in the picture [The Unearthly]. That was his own wardrobe. He was a sweetheart. 
Again, let me say that I can find no record of Tor Johnson playing Lobo in anything other than the two Ed Wood movies and the one Boris Petroff movie. Apparently for Tor, those were more than enough.

ANATOMY OF A PSYCHO (1961)

A misleadingly racy lobby card for Anatomy of a Psycho.

The best DVD of the film.

Alternate titles: This film's title is its best selling point. Why give it any other name? In South America, though, the title translated as Young People Without Conscience.

Availability: As a public domain movie, Anatomy of a Psycho is widely and freely available. You can stream or download it from Archive.org if you so desire, for instance. It's also been included in any number of boxed sets, including Psycho-Rama (St. Clair Entertainment, 2009), Pure Terror (Mill Creek, 2010) and Psychos (BCI/Eclipse, 2003). It's available alongside Mario Bava's Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970) on a DVD called Killer Creature Double Feature (Madacy Records, 2001), which also contains some extra cartoons. In addition, Anatomy of a Psycho has been released as a standalone disc (Alpha Video, 2006). By all accounts, however, the DVD which offers the clearest, sharpest print of the film is a double-feature Drive-In Collection disc (Vinegar Syndrome, 2013) which pairs it with Richard Hilliard's The Lonely Sex (1959). Although the disc is light on special features, its picture quality far surpasses that of the public domain versions floating around out there.

The backstory: Why am I including this movie in my survey of Ed Wood's career when both Rudolph Grey and Rob Craig skipped right past it in theirs? The culprit is probably writer David C. Hayes, who included this speculative passage about Anatomy of a Psycho in his book, Muddled Mind: The Complete Works of Edward D. Wood, Jr. in a chapter temptingly titled "The 'Lost' Films":

The onscreen writing credits for Anatomy of a Psycho.
This film has been on the tail end of drive in double bills for years. It contains juvenile delinquency (what else) and has the patented crazy Wood characters, senseless violence, and an ambiguous moral. For novelty effect, Ronnie Burns stars as the delinquent (he is the real-life son of George Burns and Gracie Allen). Directed by Boris Petroff (for whom Ed had worked previously), the writing is credited to Larry Lee. Poor Larry must have been shunned in Hollywood after Anatomy because he has written nothing since. Unless... yes! Larry Lee is another Ed Wood pseudonym! Here is the evidence: there is a character named Duke (after Wood's friend, Duke Moore), there is a character named Marco (after Wood's friend Paul Marco), there is a character named Shirlee (because Wood loves that name), the film uses the same music as Plan 9 from Outer Space and the characters and dialogue is [sic] really awful and strange. Besides, Rudolph Gray [sic] (a noted Wood expert) also believes that Ed Wood wrote Anatomy of a Psycho.
That's a densely-layered paragraph, so let me address some of the salient points individually:

  • Since Anatomy was a cheaply-available exploitation film, the assertion that it played for years on the drive-in circuit seems quite plausible.
  • Like many of the writers and directors of his era, Wood did tackle the issue of juvenile delinquency in such films as Jail Bait, The Violent Years, The Sinister Urge, Night of the Ghouls, and the unfinished Hellborn, as well as such pulp novels as Devil Girls and Hell Chicks.
  • It's a matter of personal taste whether the "crazy characters" and "senseless violence" in Anatomy of a Psycho are particularly Wood-ian in nature. We'll discuss that in the "viewing experience" section. As for the issue of morals, Ed Wood was in many ways a very conservative man, and he had no tolerance whatsoever for juvenile delinquency. His films and novels, therefore, often employ a no-nonsense brand of justice with severe penalties for wrongdoers.
George & Ronnie Burns
  • Ronald Jon "Ronnie" Burns (1935-2007), the adopted son of George and Gracie, is the top-billed actor in the film, but his character is the wholesome hero, not a delinquent. Although a rather uninspiring presence onscreen, Burns is nevertheless an intriguing pop culture footnote. He may have been one of the first high-profile examples of a child being adopted by celebrities, thus making him a role model or icon to other adopted children. Ronnie, who according to his wife "lived a pretty charmed life growing up," is probably best known for appearing as a fictionalized version of himself on his parents' 1950s TV show. Anatomy was one of his few film roles, but he worked in television into the 1960s, including his own short-lived vehicle called Happy, then ditched acting to pursue boat racing and real estate.
  • Anatomy of a Psycho was released two years before the first documented Wood/Petroff collaboration, i.e. Shotgun Wedding. The Unearthly predates them both, but there is no evidence that Wood had any direct involvement in that film. So the assertion that Eddie had worked for Boris Petroff previously is dubious.
  • One-and-done screenwriter Larry Lee is the credited co-author of Shotgun Wedding, not Anatomy of a Psycho. Jane Mann and Don Devlin are the writers whose names appear at the end of the film.
  • The movie does have a character named Duke Marco (played by William Salzwedel) as well as Duke's two siblings: Pat (Pamela Lincoln) and Chet (Darrell Howe). There's no Shirlee or Shirley in the film, however. The closest is a duplicitous girl named Sandra, whom the IMDb calls "Sandy." However, the fact that the character Patricia shortens her girly-sounding first name to the androgynous nickname "Pat" is reminiscent of the female characters in The Violent Years.
  • Though the film has a credited composer, Manuel Francisco (aka Michael Terr), there is some unmistakable stock/library music on the soundtrack, including "Grip of the Law" by Trevor Duncan, which also served as the title music in Plan 9. Furthermore, a party scene in Anatomy of a Psycho uses some of the same gushy romantic music heard at the home of Jeff and Paula Trent in Plan 9. Elsewhere in the film, it's possible to hear some of the same music Ed Wood used in Final Curtain (1957). So Petroff and Wood were definitely drawing from the same musical well, so to speak, but I think these directors generally delegated such responsibilities to their respective music supervisors.
  • Again, it's up to the individual viewer to decide whether the plot and characters of Anatomy of a Psycho are "awful and strange" in the Ed Wood tradition. I'm more comfortable with the second adjective than the first.
  • If Rudolph Grey (whose last name is spelled with an e) is convinced of Ed Wood's authorship of Anatomy of a Psycho, he doesn't bring it up in Nightmare of Ecstasy. Like I said, Boris Petroff himself barely merits a mention there. Perhaps Hayes is referring to a printed interview or even a personal conversation with Mr. Grey.

Pamela Lincoln
Make of all that what you will. In any case, while Ronnie Burns is the most notable member of the cast of Anatomy of a Psycho, there are others in the film worth mentioning as well. I've already alerted you to the fact that the film's co-screenwriter, Don Devlin, gave himself a good-sized role as an ex-Marine turned thug named Moe. Resident "good girl" Pamela Lincoln  (b. 1937) was once the sister-in-law of TV's Dobie Gillis, Dwayne Hickman, and made sporadic film and television appearances from the late 1950s to the early 1980s. Readers of this blog will probably be most interested to know that she was in William Castle's The Tingler.

Resident "bad girl" Judy Howard had a less-impressive film and TV career, the highlight of which is probably a one-off role on The Monkees. She dropped off the Hollywood radar sometime during Richard Nixon's first term. Ruddy-faced, barrel-chested Michael Granger (1923-1981), who portrays a streetwise but good-hearted police lieutenant here, spent most of his 25-year career on the small screen and seems to have played an awful lot of cops during that time.

The titular psycho is played by Darrell Howe, for whom this movie is most certainly the highlight of his largely-undistinguished career. Anatomy is the first and last of his theatrically-released feature films. His only other big shot at stardom came in the form of an unsold pilot (directed by Ida Lupino, no less!) called Teenage Idol in 1958, a year when the pop charts were dominated by the likes of Fabian and Frankie Avalon, i.e pretty boys with pompadours. This failed, forgotten attempt at a rock 'n' roll sitcom would have featured Howe as the awesomely-named Swivelhips Jackson, but it never got past one episode. Apart from that and a few scattered TV guest shots in the 1960s, Howe's cupboard is bare, daddy-o.

A tale of two anatomies. 
The viewing experience: Though its title obviously evokes both Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Psycho (1959) and Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), Anatomy of a Psycho has very little in common with either of those films, which at the time were recent and controversial hits. About the closest this rather quaint movie comes to those groundbreaking classics is the "jazzy" lettering of the main title, which is vaguely similar to the Saul Bass title sequence from Anatomy of a Murder. Okay, while we're being extremely generous, let's point out that Boris Petroff's film does have a sensational murder trial, like the Preminger film, and features a thin, dark-haired young man who holds a knife at least once, just as in the Hitchcock film. But, really, drawing any other connections between them would be stretching it.

At heart, you see, Anatomy of a Psycho is not a courtroom drama, nor is it a psycho-sexual horror film. This is a pretty straightforward, revenge-themed juvenile delinquent film, and until the last reel, its central character is more of a brooding, sullen young antihero in the Brando/Dean/Mineo mold than he is a psychotic maniac. Anatomy of a Psycho is technically a youth-oriented film, but neither Petroff nor his screenwriters have much of a feel for American teenage culture. The actors, as you might guess, are largely too old for their parts, and there is only the barest hint that rock 'n' roll music exists. We hear one rock tune -- a catchy number called "Round Round Round" -- in the background at an otherwise quite square party. But more importantly, the film is old-fashioned, even reactionary, at the genetic level.

Hitchcock's Psycho gave audiences a glimpse of the future and might thus be termed the first "modern" horror film. Petroff's Psycho, on the other hand, is firmly rooted in the past, its stodgy storytelling style lifted from the chintzy, second-tier noir films of the 1940s and 1950s. This is one of those pictures in which much of the narrative heavy lifting is done by screaming newspaper headlines and blaring radio announcers. Want to show that time is passing? Easy. Just have one of those montages with the flipping calendar pages. Want to establish that a character is in prison? No sweat. Just rig up one of those lighting effects which casts a big striped shadow across the actors' faces.

After a few viewings, I can't really agree with David C. Hayes' assessment that the film is "really awful and strange." Apart from a couple of wonky process shots and some stilted line readings by secondary characters (particularly two little kids who run away from danger), Anatomy of a Psycho is a perfunctory, almost anonymous, by-the-numbers JD flick. Its one big concession to the youth audience is its lingering focus on violence, which as usual is nominally "justified" through a lot of preaching from adult authority figures and the unsubtle message that breaking the law has serious consequences.

Our main character gets his face cut up pretty badly a few minutes into the proceedings and goes through the rest of the movie with a nasty scar on his face as he commits a few brutish if commonplace acts -- one deliberate beating, a few messy scuffles, one debatable act of arson, and a single, semi-intentional stabbing. Hardly the kind of numbers which get you into the Hall of Fame, so to speak. If this is the "pornography of violence," it's strictly softcore. And if you're thinking of that other kind of pornography, forget it. Anatomy of a Psycho is studiously sexless.

I won't waste much of your time or mine with a rehashing of the frankly not-that-interesting plot. The basic setup is not a million miles away from the more serious entries in the East Side Kids franchise. We have a lot of the common ingredients of those films here, including (but not limited to):

  • An at-risk youth who has a bunch of loyal friends and hangs out with them in a sort of clubhouse atmosphere, in this case a dilapidated residence called "the Shack."
  • A brother in the death house for a crime he says he didn't commit.
  • A morally-upright older sister who frets over the at-risk youth and is romantically involved with a very moral and very dull man.
  • A cop who is unusually involved in the lives of the youngsters on his beat and is able to banter back and forth with them.
The obvious difference is that Petroff's film takes these elements and tells a pessimistic, consequence-heavy story with them (it's no coincidence that one character name checks Crime & Punishment), while the ESK films preached redemption and rehabilitation.  In Anatomy of a Psycho, a career hoodlum named Duke Marco (William Salzwedel), who stole to support his siblings after the death of their parents, is now on death row awaiting execution for murder.

Back on the homefront, straight-laced sister Pat Marco (Pamela Lincoln) -- who is convinced Duke is guilty and deserves to die -- tries in vain to keep her wild-card younger brother, Chet Marco (Darrell Howe), in line. Against Pat's wishes, Chet visits his older brother right before he's sent to the gas chamber, and Duke swears that he's innocent. (The movie never really does come right out and say whether or not Duke was lying, but all of the movie's most "respectable" characters say that he is.) After the execution, Chet vows revenge on everyone who sent poor Duke to a premature grave, including the judge, the District Attorney, and the trial's star witness.

But here's the catch: Pat is first dating and then engaged to Mickey (Ronnie Burns), the star witness's son! And here's the other catch: Chet's social-climbing, materialistic girlfriend Sandra (Judy Howard) has just ditched him in favor of sleazy rich kid Arthur (Pat McMahon), the son of the judge! You sometimes get the sense that maybe there are only about twelve people in this town. Considering how intermingled their lives are, the characters are remarkably clueless about the true nature of their own relationships. The situation is exacerbated by a script which requires them to withhold information for no good reason, then reveal shocking truths at very inconvenient moments. Mickey, for instance, tells fiancee Pat about his father's involvement at Duke's trial while the couple is attending a fancy party at the home of a judge!

Anyway, vengeance-hungry Chet beats the living snot out of the DA's son, puts Arthur's head through a mirror, and starts a fire at the home of the judge. Mickey, Pat, and local beat cop Mac (Michael Granger) all suspect that Chet is committing these antisocial acts, but nobody can prove nothin', see? Things get too hot to handle when Chet's best friend, Moe (Don Devlin), winds up on the wrong end of a knife, and pure-as-the-driven-snow Mickey goes on trial for his murder.

The film's third act is of particular interest because this is the point in the film at which Chet finally strips his gears and goes into histrionic, pseudo-Brando ("Steeeellllaaaaaaa!") mode. You have to slog through a lot of workaday exposition to get there, though. After 73 or so minutes, all of these story threads are either resolved or abandoned, and the audience is allowed to leave.

Chet, Sandra, and a soon-to-be-broken mirror.
But you don't care about any of that, do you? What you want to know is whether or not Edward D. Wood, Jr.'s influence can be felt in Anatomy of a Psycho. Though the dialogue and plot aren't nearly as baroque or ornate as prime Wood, there is a hint of the master's touch here. Most obviously, the film is a good companion or twin to Ed Wood's Jail Bait (1954). Just like Clancy Malone's Don Gregor in the earlier film, Darrell Howe's character, Chet Marco, leads a restless, haunted existence and spends a lot of time wandering the dark, shadowy streets of an unnamed city, unsure of what to do next.

The relationship between the Marco siblings in Anatomy is very similar to that of brother and sister Clancy Malone and Dolores Fuller in Jail Bait. The older sister worries, but the younger brother just won't toe the line. Like Fuller, who falls for cop Steve Reeves, Pamela Lincoln's "responsible older sister" character is also romantically linked to the squarest, dullest character in her movie, in this case Ronnie Burns' colorless dullard. Anatomy concerns a young man who avenges the death of his criminal brother who became a substitute father to him. In so doing, he takes out his anger on the sons of the men responsible for his older sibling's death. This is another iteration of the "sins of the father" theme which popped up in both Jail Bait and Son of the Renegade (1953).

The film's most deliriously Wood-ian creation is the money-crazed, status-seeking blonde Sandra, who throws Chet over for wealthy cad Arthur because he has "class -- something you wouldn't know anything about!" Sandra, easily the film's most fun (and underused) character is an obvious cognate of the gold-seeking women in both Revenge of the Virgins (1959) and Orgy of the Dead (1965). If Eddie has an onscreen surrogate in Anatomy of a Psycho, it's Sandra.

Other Wood-ian touches pop up here and there. Like Eddie himself, Don Devlin's character is described as an ex-Marine, for instance, and it's noteworthy that psycho-boy Chet takes solace in alcohol in his lowest moments. The District Attorney in Mickey's trial makes a textbook Wood-ian demand for "the facts!"

And I'd like to think that it was Ed Wood who crafted the film's single most memorable line of dialogue. When Pat Marco is trying to convince Chet that he should return to school, her reasoning is airtight: "I'm a girl. I don't need to go."

Next week: Another week, another disputed Ed Wood movie starring the son of a famous screen comedian! What can I tell you, folks? It's an awfully small world. And to make things even more confusing, the movie I'm about to review has a title nearly identical to that of a completely different Ed Wood movie which was made a full decade later! Are you still following me? No? Don't worry. In seven short days, this will all make sense. I promise. That's when you and I will travel back in time to the magical year of 1962, when in order to have sex with your girlfriend, you had to marry her. No, really. That's how it worked back then. Bras literally would not open unless you had a marriage certificate. Those were tough times for horny guys, and you can read all about them when I cover Married Too Young (1962).

11 comments:

  1. Hi
    Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.dave burke

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    1. Is there any evidence that this sort of thing ever works? If there is, I'd like to see it.

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    2. It must have at least once. Right now, we're in the middle of an election season in my neck of the woods, and I keep getting those robocalls from wannabe judges and wonder if those methods work either. They must. Right now, my strategy is to vote for anyone who doesn't call me.

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  2. I'm confused by those conflicting taglines. Is Anatomy of a Psycho a "terrifying searching expose" or a "towering searching expose"? And if it's the latter, what does it "tower" over, exactly? Certainly not Anatomy of a Murder or Psycho.

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    1. Anatomy of a Psycho is a horse trader's mule of a movie, so the purpose of the taglines is to obfuscate rather than illuminate. "Throw a bunch of words at 'em so they get confused and stagger into the theater."

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  3. Phuck a ducky duck phuck! I never even, nor evenly or odd nor oddly, heard of this film by Savior Wood. Thank you, Joe.
    I must seekith it, now.

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    1. I'm not exactly sure where I heard of it first. But after my friend Craig J. Clark reviewed it at his blog -- I knew I had to include it.

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    2. Here is CJC's review. He included a cool detail I skipped: the fact that Chet and his gang wear homemade masks when they beat up the DA's son.

      http://dada.warped.com/movies/1311.html#13390anatomy

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    3. My abiding interest in masks made it imperative that I include one shot of them with my write-up.

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