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THE SCREAMING MIMI (1958) on TCM 5/31


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On Saturday, May 31 TCM will air for the first time one of the 1950s strangest noir films: Gerd Oswald's sensational and twisted 1958 psycho-shocker THE SCREAMING MIMI. Based on a pulp novel by the great Fredric Brown, this is one film that devotees of the truly bizarre cannot afford to miss.

 

Alcoholic newspaper columnist Bill Sweeney (Philip Carey) becomes entwined in a string of grisly murders that appear to revolve around exotic stripper Yolanda Lange (Anita Ekberg!!). Seems that Yolanda shot a man to death a couple of years earlier who tried to stab her while she showered. Traumatized by this event, she seeks out the help of psychiatrist Dr. Greenwood (the ever creepy Harry Townes) for some quick and dirty therapy. This poor man's Svengali falls in love with her (natch!) and soon insinuates himself into her life, even going so far as managing her career by getting her a job at the El Madhouse, a seedy nightclub run by "Gypsy" Mapes ("Gypsy" Rose Lee!). But before long a series of brutal murders begin to occur and poor Yolanda looks to be the prime suspect.

 

Anyone looking for or concerned with conventional logic might likely be put off by this wildly lurid and threadbare melodrama; nothing quite makes sense in this demented Fulleresque nether world. But those hungry for the wonderful cheap thrills only to be found in nightmare B movies of the fringe variety will probably come away from the table more than satisfied. Artfully photographed by Burnett Guffey, THE SCREAMING MIMI probably looks a lot better than it deserves to, and Gerd Oswald's eccentric direction doesn't hurt either. Oswald, as many might recall, later went on to produce and direct many of the more stellar episodes of TV's "Outer Limits" in the early 60s. THE SCREAMING MIMI provided him with the most stunningly perfect testing ground imaginable.

 

Of note to jazz fans: the incredible Red Norvo Trio is featured as the house band at the El Madhouse.

 

Most highly recommended!

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The Screaming Mimi sounds utterly fascinating, especially so thanks to your wonderful review, Dewey. Thank you for providing us with such a tantalizing heads-up. I shall tape it.

 

It's always good to see you around.

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I've read a little Fredric Brown. This, despite that my introduction to his work was MARTIANS, GO HOME! I gather he was a big name in pulp (if there was such a thing). Now he's all but forgotten. SCREAMING MIMI is a cute little novel, dealing with alcoholic blackout, obsession and mistrust. Isn't there a film of Brown's THE FABULOUS CLIPJOINT? Also a pretty good book. But SCREAMING MIMI is better. I've seen neither film.

 

I love that there are obscure little movies of obscure little crime novels. There are a couple from James M. Cain. SERENADE, not his best book. And MONEY AND THE WOMAN (or THE EMBEZZLER), I can't remember which title they used. And our friend Mr. Woolrich! Somebody should make a movie of his story!

 

RR

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Hey, Red...

Brown really was a big name in the pulps, especially during the 40s and 50s where his short stories were staples in both detective and science fiction magazines. A number of his stories wound up being adapted for TV shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents. "The Fabulous Clipjoint" is a very good novel; I'm not aware of a film having been made from it, but it's possible (under a different title maybe.) My favorite of his science fiction novels is "What Mad Universe," a really terrific and suspenseful book. In the early 60s he came out with a book called "Nightmares and Geezenstacks," which were terrifying short stories, all only two or three pages long!

 

Have you read the paperback suspense novels of David Goodis? A number of his steamy paperback originals wound up being excellent noir films: "Dark Passage," "Nightfall," and "The Burglar" are but just a few.

 

And yes, no one comes close to Cornell Woolrich, the King of Noir. If you haven't done so as yet, get ahold of his biography, "First You Dream, Then You Die" by Francis Nevins. It's an exhausting tome, but well worth the effort. (I believe our mutual friend ChiO is undertaking it at the moment.) Until you mentioned it, I'd never thought about a movie based on Woolrich's bizarre life. Steve Buscemi would be my choice to play the man.

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I have not read David Goodis. The local bookstore has a copy of...I forgot! Seems like a tropical setting. I'll check it out. It's part of the 'Hard Case Crime" series. Some very good stuff. Some sensational nonsense. But I like it.

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Steve Buscemi would be my choice to play _any_ bizarre life, but especially good for Mr. Woolrich.

 

Instead of a biopic, I see a movie based on one of his works, but with Cornell added, appearing as the Greek chorus. Directed by...David Lynch, David Cronenberg or Werner Herzog? Or, maybe, Guy Madden?

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The closest Woolrich the Man has come to being portrayed on film is in I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941). The original story was written by pulp veteran Steve Fisher, a contemporary of Woolrich in the "penny-a-word" racket. For this story Fisher conceived the character of a darkly twisted, sexually obsessive police detective (played brilliantly by Laird Cregar) intent on pinning the murder of starlet Vickie Lynn (Carole Landis) on sports promoter Victor Mature. His motives were truly and terrifyingly perverse and he loomed over the film like a tragic specter. His name...Inspector Cornell. A charmingly apt homage.

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So happy to see you again. Your extensive knowledge of pulp fiction, sci-fi, and just about everything else, is addictive, I just love reading your posts and getting all this information. You're like a college course!

 

I'm there for MIMI.

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Hi Ben - Most of the writers commonly associated with the term "pulp fiction" began their careers in the so-called pulp mystery magazines of the 1930s and 40s. (Pulp referring to the cheap paper stock used to print them.) Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, who were eventually elevated to the status of literature, first appeared in magazines like "Black Mask" and "Dime Mystery." Their early short stories have been reprinted in many paperback collections over the years and are fairly easy to find. The original pulp magazines themselves are now quite expensive and not that easy to find. Lots of great stories by lesser known writers have been reprinted in softcover anthologies over the years; check your local bookstore. Some of the more interesting writers you'll come across are Fredric Brown, Cornell Woolrich (essential; he also published under the names William Irish and George Hopley), Robert Bloch, Frank Gruber, Steve Fisher, W. R. Burnett and tons more.

Many of these guys turned to writing novels as well, with many relegated to the dungeon of "paperback originals"---the 50s and 60s equivalent of the pulps (the literary B movie). Check out guys like David Goodis, early pre-"Travis McGee" John D. MacDonald, Jim Thompson (my own personal favorite!!), Horace McCoy (great!), James Hadley Chase (check out "No Orchids For Miss Blandish", Mickey Spillane, Harry Whittington, Thomas B. Dewey, Charles Williams, Charles Willeford ("The Pick Up" and "The Woman Chaser" are my favorites of his!), Lionel White (he wrote "Clean Break" which later became Kubrick's "The Killing"), Geoffrey Homes ("Build My Gallows High" became Tourneur's "Out of the Past") and on and on. I know I'm leaving off many favorites, just too many to list off the top of the head.

There's a wonderfully twisted world of tawdry fiction awaiting you out there. Get going!

I might also recommend chasing down a book called HARDBOILED AMERICA : THE LURID YEARS OF PAPERBACKS by Geoffrey O'Brien. It's a beautifully written survey and will provide you with much food for thought.

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I just read THE TRANSGRESSORS. It's OK. But very similar to THE KILLER INSIDE ME. I like that a lot more. I'd probably like THE GETAWAY and THE GRIFTERS. But thanks to the fine movies inspired by them, I feel I must know the story already. The local library has a copy of THE NOTHING MAN. Do you like that one, Dewey?

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I love *THE NOTHING MAN*, a strange and powerfully evil book. If you like the films they made from *THE GETAWAY* and *THE GRIFTERS*, you're likely to enjoy the books even more. In both instances, the film versions completely copped out and softened the endings. The novels are incredible. Also try to get hold of *SAVAGE NIGHT* and *A HELL OF A WOMAN*. Both are insanely incendiary and unforgettable! Jim Thompson is a one-in-a-million writer.

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> {quote:title=ChiO wrote:}{quote}

> Steve Buscemi would be my choice to play _any_ bizarre life, but especially good for Mr. Woolrich.

>

 

Glad to see I'm not the only one who appreciates Buscemi's talents in this regard. ;)

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Ben - Another suggestion might be to grab a copy of *THE BLACK LIZARD BIG BOOK OF PULPS* which was published just last year by *Vintage Books*. Well over 1,000 pages of original great pulp short stories by most of the acknowledged masters: Chandler, Hammett, Woolrich, Paul Cain, Steve Fisher, James M. Cain, Horace McCoy, Erle Stanley Gardner, and many others. It's probably still in print and runs about twenty bucks.

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