BluRay/DVD Reviews

WALK ON THE WILD SIDE

By • Feb 10th, 2004 •

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Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment) 1962
114 mins / 1.85:1 AP / B&W

Even the notes on the back cover of the DVD case describe the film as ‘lurid,’ an adjective that carries negative connotations, though the dictionary lets it off somewhat more moderately. The story starts with farmer-turned-indigent Dove Linkhorn (Laurence Harvey) finding refuge for the night in a section of a giant cement pipe on the side of the highway, inadvertently disturbing the sleep of teenage sociopath Kitty Twist (Jane Fonda) who has already commandeered a neighboring pipe-home. It’s a clever prelude for a tale of decadence in New Orleans as witnessed by our hero-on-a-quest, and would have set the tone perfectly were it not for the self-consciously edgy delivery of Ms. Fonda.

The story, really, is set up far more successfully before these first narrative moments, by what may be Saul Bass’ greatest title sequence. How he loved to find the visual metaphor for each film he worked on, and this one – the predatory black cat stalking the night to Elmer Bernstein’s memorable, jazzy score – is just perfect. If only director Dmytryk could have stayed in stylistic synch with it somehow…

Speaking of Bass’ title sequence and Bernstein’s score, these are two wonderful reasons to own the disc, and reason enough. The other 110 minutes can almost be regarded as icing on the cake. But those 110 minutes have their rewards as well. If you approach the film as Tennessee Williams light, with real New Orleans locations circa ’61, with moving performances by Laurence Harvey and Capucine that rise well above the level of the script (and that’s even more interesting given that both of them are too old for their roles), you have some good elements beyond just the titles and the score. The rest is uneven. Fonda manages to recover nicely in the third act, her hyper-activity mostly gone, replaced by wary impishness. Barbara Stanwyck feels awkward as the madame of the ‘Doll House’, but it’s still good to see her. Anne Baxter’s Spanish accent worked for me, and Richard Rust as Oliver, the enforcer at the house of prostitution, is smoothly menacing (whatever became of him? I see a Richard Rust as Jason Vining on TV’s GENERAL HOSPITAL in ’75, and otherwise, nothing.)

Dmytryk’s direction…well, I’ll bet things were more than a little volatile on the set. It’s certainly on a level with his other melodramas like THE CARPETBAGGERS, but not nearly up to his best work. Still there’s rich B&W camerawork, areas of compelling art design, and the diffusion filters on Capucine and Stanwyck are disruptively sensuous.

1962 was a busy release year for Laurence Harvey. In addition to WALK ON THE WILD SIDE, he appeared in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM, the first three-panel Cinerama narrative feature released in the U.S. Given to bad-mouthing his films in the press, which one of these did he choose to lavish praise on? THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM!?


Credits:
Directed by Edward Dmytryk.
Produced by Charles K. Feldman.
Music by Elmer Bernstein.
Title sequence by Saul Bass.

Cast:
Laurence Harvey,
Capucine,
Jane Fonda,
Anne Baxter,
Barbara Stanwyck.

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