Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Blood Runs Cold," but the Hair Runs High!

Rare is the day when I follow up one movie tribute with another (they are typically quite labor intensive), but this time I couldn't help myself (and I do try to be unpredictable!) Hot on the heels of profiling The Big Cube (1969), I happened to stumble upon 1965's My Blood Runs Cold, a movie I'd wanted to see for many years and damn near missed due to not paying attention to the TV schedule! The moody romantic-thriller marked a turning point (in more than one way) in the careers of teen heartthrob Troy Donahue and for pouting minx Joey Heatherton.

Unlike most of Donahue's movies, this was shot in black and white, probably to increase the atmosphere of it ala Psycho (1960), What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and others of the thriller ilk, but in truth it screams out for color, what with the seaside location and the sometimes sumptuous settings and costumes.

Directed by William Conrad, a busy radio actor who segued into film and TV roles and found success as the rotund star of Cannon (1971-1976) and Jake and the Fatman (1987-1992), the movie opens with a quote from Lord Byron. The quote provides the movie with its title and, if you're anything like me, you ALWAYS associate Lord Byron with Troy Donahue and Joey Heatherton! It's a no-brainer.

A young lady in period costume (resembling Heatherton) looks out at the sea before returning to her house along the shore. We know it's in the past because a burlap-like filter has been placed over the picture! Next we see Heatherton in contemporary gear (but with a similar scarf) zooming down the road with Nicolas Coster in the passenger seat as he implores her to slow down. They're on their way to a dedication of some sort and she says they can't be late.
She'll have none of his pleading and, when she comes upon a stopped truck on her side of the road, she swerves into the other lane where an oncoming motorcyclist (Troy Donahue) is forced to zoom off into some brush while she and Coster careen into the surf!
When Donahue lays his eyes on Heatherton, he's quite clearly stricken by her. Her name is Julie, but he calls her Barbara and says he has a picture of her to prove it. Coster thinks maybe he's a bit shaken up from the accident and Heatherton suggests getting him to the hospital.

In an all-too-brief moment, we see their friends John McCook and Linda Meiklejohn. McCook, in his big screen debut here, would later go on to a lengthy and prosperous career on soap operas such as The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful. Though he is billed in the opening credits this little scene is all we see of him, sadly, and suggests that maybe another sequence or two was edited out prior to release.

(Fun fact: Cleft-chinned McCook was the husband of actress/dancer Juliet Prowse from 1972-1979 and they had a son together. The year after their divorce, he married his presetn wife Laurette Spang of Battlestar Galactica fame.)

We next see an empty set of folding chairs and the remains of what had been the grand opening of a new marina, courtesy of wealthy local figure Barry Sullivan and his sister Jeanette Nolan. Sullivan is Heatherton's father and he isn't pleased to see her tearing into the parking lot about two hours late for the dedication.
Nolan is done up in an ostrich plume hat that is as striking as it bizarre, though despite its audacious-ness is nothing more than an appetizer of what is to come from her. There is not one frame of Nolan in this movie that doesn't feature either a preposterous hairdo or a hilarious costume or sometimes both! Do not mistake me as disapproving of this, however. Jeanette Nolan's hair in this movie is nothing short of life-changing and is the kind of thing I take to and proceed to love forever!!

Nolan meets Donahue for the first time, him having been brought along by Heatherton and Coster, and is intrigued by him, especially when she hears his name. He is invited to come to their mansion for champagne as a token of their thanks for not making too much of a deal out of the smash-up with his bike.

At Sullivan's beautiful home, Heatherton has her hair piled up in a delightful 'do, but Nolan unveils her own concoction, sort of a follicle-filled, interstate clover-leaf in which she rolled it with cans of Campbell's soup and then slid them out after shellacking them to rock hardness! (She wouldn't have been out of place on Star Trek had she moseyed over to the Desilu stages in between set-ups for this movie...)
Donahue is clearly obsessed with Heatherton, though she is chilly towards him in return. Besides, she's practically promised to even-keeled Coster. Nolan is worried that Heatherton is behaving too recklessly and impulsively and hopes that she will settle down and marry someone nice (in her view, Coster.)

Heatherton is busying herself with restoring a family home called Spindrift, which is the one we saw at the start of the movie. It's been closed up for years, but she's decided to refinish the furniture and bring the accessories and decor out of storage. While there alone the next day, she turns on the radio and begins shimmying around the room (this IS Heatherton we're talking about after all!) Just then, Donahue appears and starts to spout some gobbledegook about how he and she are reincarnated lovers.
He even presents her with a locket that contains a picture which looks very much like her, only it's over a hundred years old. (I was going more for Sally Ann Howes in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang myself...) Needless to say, she is disturbed by all this and orders Donahue to leave, though in her heart she's still not exactly sure what to think!

She takes the locket to a local jeweler (Howard McNear, best known as Floyd the barber on The Andy Griffith Show, 1961-1967!) who assures her that it is indeed old and authentic.

She arrives home to find Sullivan, Nolan and Coster at dinner, dressed to the nines and wondering where she's been. He's not pleased to discover that she was up at the old house unchaperoned with Donahue (the elderly caretaker of the place has apparently gone missing.) Sullenly, she apologizes and says that she cannot eat, nor attend the concert as planned. Here we get my very favorite Nolan look as her hair is piled to the ceiling and she's sporting dazzling earrings and an encrusted evening get-up.

Nolan tells of how Heatherton's great-great grandmother was impregnated by a sailor she loved and proceeded to have his baby before dying in childbirth. The baby was then adopted by their ancestor and the family line continued on down to them. In short, their family tree was spawned from (in her words) a “bastard!” As the family historian, Nolan knows where all the bodies are buried, but this news is a bit of a shock to Sullivan and Heatherton.

Heatherton is miserable and Nolan attempts to console her and listen to her, but with Sullivan possessing such a domineering persona and Coster patiently hovering, it's difficult for her to focus on what she want to do or should do.

Sullivan takes it upon himself to visit Donahue down at the sloop where he lives on a sailboat and tells him to stay away from his daughter. He hasn't even pulled out of the parking lot when in swoops Heatherton in a nautical sun dress and with a picnic basket, determined to go for a spin with Donahue! She informs her father that she is twenty-one and will do as she pleases.

Donahue sets sail with Heatherton and tells her that beneath her seaside property is an under-ground cavern where the two of them met in their former lives and made love. She denies the existence of such a place, but he swears he'll take her there personally if she will only trust him. They don their swimsuits and dive into the ocean, swimming towards the entrance to the grotto.
I love anything that involves underwater swimming, including the lunatic jaunt shown here in which the twosome seems to dive underwater far sooner than necessary and then thrash around below the surface until they reach the hidden entrance which, once there, looks like it could be reached within a couple of feet!

I must say that once they are inside, though, we are treated to some rare imagery, that being the sight of Miss Heatherton with her hair wet and with minimal (for her!) makeup. A soft mist is falling and that, paired with the lighting, gives her a moist, luminescent glow that is quite becoming and which ought to please any one of her heterosexual fans (or all three of them!)

He shows her where he retrieved the locket, left there many years before in a heavy wooden box stuffed in a crevasse, and the couple shares a haunted, erotic moment in which their wet bodies cling to one another as soft mist bears down on them.

I will add that this movie also has the rare distinction of displaying a shirtless Donahue for extended periods of time. Most often in his prior movies, he would wear a shirt or sweater with his swim trunks because, while slim, he wasn't known for his impressive physique. Even here he is not what one might call “cut,” just skinny.

They next head up to Spindrift where Heatherton heads upstairs to put on some dry clothes. Donahue looks around the room where he spies a box that has an old,jade statuette in it that seems to trigger some disturbing memory for him. He thrashes around, knocking over dishes and winding up bent over the table in a position that he might possibly have discovered about the time his agent Henry Willson discovered HIM!
When Heatherton discovers him in this state, he tells her that the statuette is one that he gave to her all those years ago. Again, she is torn about what to believe since the whole thing seems so fantastic and yet otherwise unexplainable.

Meanwhile Sullivan is holding a board meeting for his company and reveals a pretty ruthless attitude. (One of his associates, seen here, is played by Ben Wright who, this same year, played the villainous Nazi sympathizer Herr Zeller in The Sound of Music.)

Coster is rather appalled at Sullivan's cutthroat decision-making and tells him so. Here we find out that Coster does actually possess a backbone and is not quote the milquetoast that Sullivan has believed him to be.

Still bothered by everything going on, Heatherton is back at the old house when her aunt Nolan (in yet another zany get-up, this one as if she's taking in much wampum at an Arizona trading post!) suggests that she take a nice, mind-clearing walk.
Heatherton strolls along the CRAGGY terrain for her relaxing walk and stumbles right into the soggy, seaweed-strewn body of the missing Spindrift caretaker! In her hysteria, she's sure to get a piece of the kelp caught in her hand after its been wound around his bloated, rotting body, so that she can smear it in her face!

(This still photo shows Heatherton's makeup being reapplied after her incredible histrionics down at the shore with the corpse. Amazing the way she had to be picture perfect even when screaming and crying over the discovery of an old, dead body!)

Now, Donahue is in trouble because the caretaker disappeared right about the time he arrived on the scene and began spouting his reincarn-ation spiel. Sullivan has it in for him anyway for interfering with his daughter against his wishes and has him arrested. Heatherton, though, by now, is beginning to have feelings for him and stands by him at the station.
Donahue's sweater in this scene is quite interesting. It's thick, woolly and coming a bit unraveled and he wears it with nothing underneath.
Back on his boat, he undergoes another one of his spastic, convulsions, like something out of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde! He thrashes around all over the cabin and buries his head in the bed before raising up to reveal his hair all smushed forward.

It's entirely possible that this is the first instance in Troy Donahue's film career that his hair was every shown mussed up! He was always photographed with such staggering care that this had to be something of a jolt to his fans. (Of course, what we see here is now a current hairstyle! But back then, this was an unheard of look.)

He goes to see Heatherton, but is threateningly turned away at the door by Sullivan. However, just as it was at the marina, she arrives directly after their exchange and Donahue convinces her that he loves her and gets her to run away with him.

As they head to the marina to board his boat and elope to Mexico, she realizes that she at least owes Coster some sort of goodbye.

She calls Coster from a pay phone and breaks the news to him that she is leaving with Donahue. She asks him to tell her father and aunt the good news!

Coster heads over to the mansion to inform the family and we are greeted with Nolan in one of her more demure (though still considerable) looks, hair-wise. She knows that something is wrong and demands that Coster tell her what has happened.

Once the word is out, she lays into Sullivan, blaming him for driving Heatherton into Donahue's arms with his domineering ways. She reminds him that his controlling attitude also cost him the love of Heatherton's mother.

Naturally, a storm is brewing at sea as our young lovers are sailing for Mexico and it's knocking the boat around like crazy. A frantic Sullivan wants the coast guard to find the boat and bring his daughter back, but there's nothing to be done in that weather.

The following morning, Heatherton is awakened by the nuzzles of a smitten Donahue, though he does ask her to fix coffee and breakfast! He goes out on deck to man the helm while she rummages around for the food. He has a third mental and physical convulsion while she has come upon something troublesome in one of the boat's storage compartments.
That morning, we are treated to one more doozy from Nolan as she descends the stairs (a staircase, by the way, which was featured in many Warner Brothers movies including Auntie Mame, 1958, A Summer Place, 1959, Parrish, 1961, and Rome Adventure, 1962, the last three starring Donahue!)

We're meant to believe that she woke up after an anguished night of fretting over the missing Heatherton and whipped up this insane coiffure?? It's deliciously preposterous. She and Sullivan have one more showdown before coming to an understanding with one another. He gets word that the coast guard has spotted his daughter and bolts out the door with Coster.
Many of the lobby cards and stills for this film feature the climax in them. I don't care to spoil the story any further, but I will say that the finale is pretty protracted and a bit tedious, perhaps because it starts to go the way we've seen so many other movies and TV shows have. It's conventional and something of a let down, though not without some degree of visual interest (a lot of it occurs at a sand plant, which is at least an unusual locale.)

My Blood Runs Cold signaled the end of its stars place in the Hollywood studio firmament. Donahue, unhappy with the roles he'd been given previously and despite this shot at something different, departed Warner Brothers and was subsequently (according to him) blackballed from consideration for decent roles with any other studio. Heatherton, whose only prior films were Twilight of Honor (1963) and Where Love Has Gone (1964), began to focus on her career as a singing and dancing dynamo and didn't return to the cinema screen until Bluebeard in 1972.
Donahue's peak years as a teen idol were 1959 to 1965, after which he struggled to find meaningful employment as an actor and eventually turned to alcohol and drugs (which in turn led to financial ruin and even a period of homelessness!) He did rebound to a degree in the mid-1970s in low-budget films and TV appearances (also enjoying a small role in The Godfather: Part II, 1974, playing a character with his own real name Merle Johnson.)

Having Donahue, whose big blue eyes and swath of blond hair inspired a legion of fans, in a black and white movie is akin to having Shirley Temple minus her curls or Esther Williams without the swimming. While I understand the case for black and white, even understanding that candy colors might have diffused the atmosphere of this movie, I still would love to have seen it in color. This still shows the hue of his aforementioned big, furry sweater.

Donahue died in 2001 of a heart attack at age sixty-five, having navigated a bumpy road after the reasonably short period of success he'd previously enjoyed.

Heatherton also faced rough times after this. While she proved herself to be a captivating singer and an eye-popping dancer on many variety shows, her personal life was fraught with difficulty. In 1969, she married Dallas Cowboy football star Lance Rentzel, but he wound up battling a lot of personal demons that manifested themselves via indecent exposure to underage girls.

Following her 1972 divorce from him, a degree of success on TV, including Serta mattress ads, and the occasional low-budget movie gave way to a string of incidents in the '80s involving monetary disputes, assault and drug possession. Precious little has been heard from her since the early-1990s, though she is still with us today at age seventy.

Sullivan is a member of the Underworld Disaster Movie Club thanks to his appearance in 1974's Earthquake. Though he possessed a certain presence and could be of good use in supporting roles, I've never been able to reconcile that severe face for use as a leading man (such as he was in Queen Bee, 1955, and Forty Guns, 1957, among others.) He enjoyed a busy, fifty-year career in the movies and on TV before passing away in 1994 at the age of eighty-one from respiratory disease.

Coster, who some folks might be surprised to discover was born in England, is best known for plenty of work on daytime soaps including Another World, Santa Barbara and As the World Turns, though he has always remained busy on all sorts of television. Now eighty years of age, he still pops up regularly, including quite a few appearances on the The Bay (2000-present), a soap opera available on the web.

Nolan is another member of the Disaster Movie Club (an organization that exists solely in my head!) for her work in 1978's Avalanche. Already thirty-seven when she made her first film appearance (as no less than Lady Macbeth in the 1948 Orson Welles film, Macbeth, as seen here), she went on to a prolific career before the camera.

In fact, she racked up fifty years worth of on-camera work, ending her career in 1998 with a role in The Horse Whisperer, the same year a stroke took her life at age eighty-six. Four times Emmy nominated, she played everything from dangerous dames to kindly grannies to haggard old biddies. Fans of The Golden Girls might recall her guest spot as Rose's (later to be deemed adoptive) mother in a 1985 episode. She also had one of Tinseltown's most successful marriages, to frequent costar John McIntire, which lasted from 1935 to his death in 1991.

In all honesty, Miss Nolan could sometimes be guilty of overacting, though she was often terrific nonetheless. Here, though, she really delivers a balanced, thoughtful performance, regardless of all the silly cosmetic trappings, and reserves her bigger moments for those times when they are appropriate. I can honestly say that after seeing this movie, I have a newfound affection for her as not only a actress, but as a major league hair hopper!


Speaking of hair, the “Supervising Hair Stylist” for My Blood Runs Cold was Jean Burt Reilly, a Warner Brothers employee from the mid-1940s till the mid-1970s. (She's seen here assisting Petula Clark.) In 1976, she won an Emmy for Eleanor and Franklin, a TV-movie (and was nominated also in 1979 for Ike: The War Years, but lost to Janice Brandow for The Triangle Factory Fire Scandal.) She died in 1981 at age sixty-five, having recently worked on Ordinary People (1980), Raging Bull (1980) and True Confessions (1981.) It's no wonder I was gaga over her work here since she is also the one responsible for the hair in The Towering Inferno (1974)! (God knows no one had better have lit a match next to Nolan's shellacked 'dos in this movie!)

As the hair was my very favorite thing about this movie, I leave you with a series of "highlights."