Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Giving "Devil's" Its Due!

Hurtling ourselves once more into the TV-movie time tunnel, we brush up against this gem from 1973, The Devil's Daughter. In the wake of Rosemary's Baby (1968), a tidal wave of films (feature and television) involving Satanism, possession, voodoo and God knows what else came crashing onto screens everywhere. This delightfully brief (72 minute) telefilm from the golden days of such, has a neat cast of actors going through their devilish paces under the skillful direction of Jeannot Szwarc. Szwarc had helmed nearly 20 installments of Night Gallery and continued to do scads more TV (along with a few high-profile cinematic disasters like Santa Claus: The Movie, 1985!)

Daughter begins in a beautiful old church with elegant stained glass windows, handsome wood furnishings and a distraught woman praying the Rosary. The lady turns out to be Diane Ladd, a haunted, emotionally-devastated woman who's living in virtual squalor and relies on alcohol to self-medicate.

It's a cameo role, for she's dead before the credits roll, but Ladd gives her part everything she possibly can, effectively conveying all the fear, hurt, turmoil and despondency she can muster in her brief screen time. Just two years after this, she would score her first Oscar nomination for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1975.)

At Ladd's funeral, we meet her now-orphaned daughter, Belinda Mont- gomery, who's been away at school for most of her life, only seeing her mother a few times a year and never having even known her father.

After the service, a vintage limo pulls up and out comes vintage Shelley Winters with her mute chauffeur Jonathan Frid in tow. She introduces herself as a longtime pal of Montgomery's mother and invites the mourning girl to come back to her home with her.

The home, a lovely old estate, is filled with unusual antiques and a rather ridiculously forbidding portrait over the fireplace! A pretty obviously evil-looking man with glowing eyes and a mystical staff crouches menacingly against a red background...! Just the sort of thing you want to dot your living room decor.

A dejected Montgomery is fawned over by the doting Winters (who is decked out with gobs of gold jewelry.) She convinces the young girl to stay with her in her spacious home until she has decided what she's going to do from here on.

A pair of sisters who live next door drop by for a visit. Needless to say they make quite a pair (Velma Carpenter and Lucille Benson) as they dress practically identical yet are clearly fraternal, if related at all! LOL

Her first morning at Winters' estate, she is greeted with breakfast in bed. Frid (legendary to fans of Dark Shadows for his role as Barnabas Collins) is clearly devoted to Winters and yet can't help seeming to encourage Montgomery not to get in too deep.

Winters offers her young guest a ring that Ladd had once given her for "safe keeping." The distinctive design is one that Montgomery will be coming across more and more during her stay with Winters...

She comes upon the next-door sisters again and they invite her to come for lunch the following day for apple strudel. (Wasn't it an apple that brought down The Garden of Eden?) Benson, a highly unique performer, excelled at demonstrating ebullient kindness while also suggesting a hint of menace underneath. Carpenter was chiefly a stage performer who occasionally work in movies and on TV.

Montgomery finally notices that the ring she is wearing shares its design with not only the staff in the portrait over the fireplace, but the label on the Spanish cigarettes that Winters is endlessly smoking. Winters explains that it's nothing but a local symbol that finds its way into many items around California...

Not long after, Montgomery stumbles upon a scrapbook bearing this same insignia and inside it are photos of herself from childhood almost to the present as well as photos of her mother from the 1940s. This would be enough to send me packing, but she still isn't disturbed enough!

The local priest drops in and suggests to her that she move in with a young lady he knows who is in search of a roommate in town. Finally, Montgomery opts to take a hint and get out of the creepy mansion.

Perky Barbara Sammeth is the gal with the cute apartment with whom Montgomery decides to bunk. Sammeth, who had not appeared on-screen since her 1969 debut in Winters' The Mad Room four years prior, was an actress of a particularly prevalent type in the 1960s & '70s: very "on," superficially stylized and artificial in tone. Sort of "That Girl" times ten when one was plenty...

Winters is apoplectic when she finds out that Montgomery has chosen to move out, leading to a confron- tation between her and her young charge.

Later, while Montgomery is waiting at school for Sammeth, a young boy with a ball (which he dribbles in the most strenuous way) nearly walks into oncoming traffic, as if driven to it by someone. Two creepy cretins watch from behind some playground equipment.

After that harrowing bit of activity, Sammeth takes Montgomery to the stables to meet her beloved horse, but the animal is uncharacteristically spooked by the newcomer.

Back at the apartment, Winters has payed an unexpected (and unwelcome) call to see what sort of digs Montgomery has chosen in preference to her own.

Winters, who pretty much has a ball throughout this telefilm, is decked to the hilt in a silvery fur hat and stole.

She takes special interest in Sammeth's delicate glass horse collection, delivering a lengthy monologue while fingering one small one in particular. This was one year after her Oscar-nominated role as Belle Rosen in The Poseidon Adventure and she was balancing TV-movies with colorful roles on the big screen. This same year she played the outrageous villainess in Cleopatra Jones.

Montgomery, still not having learned her lesson, heads to Winters' home for a party in her honor. The place is packed with people she mostly doesn't know.

Suddenly Winters appears in sparkling gold eye shadow, thanking her for coming and gleefully introducing her around.

The twin sisters are on hand. Black Carpenter fondles a white cat while white Benson cuddles a black one! Note the sculpture in the foreground with a dangling red glass apple...

Next we meet rather fishy (get it?! ha ha!) anthro- pological researcher Abe Vigoda (yes... Abe Vigoda!) who offers to demonstrate one of the dances he picked up during his travels. Thankfully, his participation is just a few steps here and there; less than one would see from an expectant father in a hospital waiting room.

The main event turns out to be Mont- gomery, who starts swaying and sashaying around, tossing her glorious mane of brunette locks everywhere. When she's done with her impromptu exhibition, the party guests offer her a crown bearing the ever-present insignia and announce that she is the daughter of Satan!

The next day, Montgomery is informed that her (long absent) father has left her a $15,000 trust fund, overseen by kindly judge Joseph Cotten. She confesses the bizarre circumstances of the night before, but he tells her that it's mumbo-jumbo and cannot hurt her if she doesn't believe in it.

That same day, she is heading back home with some purchases when she "meets cute" a new tenant in the building who is carrying his mattress up the stairs behind her and knocks her down with it!

Inside her apartment she's horrified to see members of the coven inside, uninvited! They inform her very bluntly that, while they're sorry they sprung on her that she's Satan's offspring, that's not all. She is also set to wed a demon!

And... even though he has the thickest eyebrows ever to emerge on planet Earth, the demon is not Abe Vigoda.

Sammeth is all set to go on a date with the guy who moved in upstairs, Robert Foxworth. After flouncing around in her new dress, she discovers that Foxworth and Montgomery had a bit of a tiff out front when he moved in, but now they've settled their hash.

Foxworth is nice looking and all, but to anyone who saw him in Airport '77 or Damian: The Omen II (1978), he isn't going to be getting off without at least a little bit of skepticism! Before long, Sammeth is dispatched and he begins to get to know Montgomery better.

Winters is still relentless in her pursuit of Montgomery, with phone calls emphatically emphasizing her plan of action.

To get away from the harassment and bad feelings, Foxworth suggests a trip to see his mother and enjoy the splendor of her ocean-side estate. We're treated to some really gorgeous location scenery and the two begin to fall for one another.

Foxworth's mother is played by Martha Scott, who endearingly portrayed Charlton Heston's mama a couple of times and who went on to play Lee Majors' mom on The Six Million Dollar Man and a fretful nun in Airport 1975.

Montgomery heads back to town from her soul-replenishing visit with Foxworth and his mother and informs judge Cotten that she has agreed to marry her handsome suitor. Cotten expresses concern that it's all a bit sudden, but finally gets on board and even agrees to walk the orphaned bride down the aisle at her ceremony.

Prior to said ceremony, Montgomery stops by Winters' estate to inform the coven that they can take their devil's daughter crap and stick it where the sun doesn't shine.

The blushing bride is all decked out for her big day, aided by Foxworth's mother, resplendent herself in pale blue chiffon and silver jewelry.
The ceremony gets underway to the bliss of both the bride and groom. But has Winters had her final say? All through the movie, as one does, I kept trying to figure it all out, thinking that surely there might be a twist ending. There is an alleged twist ending, but for the life of me it's the very one I was predicting all along!! I guess the whole thing's just been done too many times by now.

However, this little movie has the benefit of atmosphere and a gallery of interesting performers in it. Several of Frid's fans bemoaned the fact that his role is smallish and that he isn't permitted to speak in it, but he's still giving it a lot of thought and feeling without ever reaching the hammy heights of Miss Shelley at her best/worst. Frid did a lot of varied stage work, but his screen career was limited almost completely to thrillers, chiefly related to Dark Shadows. One year after this, he departed the screen completely until making a cameo in Dark Shadows (2012), dying prior to its release.

This TV-movie can be seen in its entirety, commercial free and in a very good print right here. If it looks interesting to you or you're a fan of Winters at her zany, domineering best, I recommend it highly. It'll only take an hour and fifteen minutes to watch.


Gingerguy said...

Spooky coincidence? I think not, a friend just sent me this on youtube yesterday. He's an underworld fan and clearly beat me to this post. I can't wait to watch at lunch today. I spent 10 years catching all the episodes of Dark Shadows so it will be fun seeing Jonathan Frid out of his cape.
I Love Lucille Benson, I seem to remember a television commercial? will look it up.
Abe Vigoda is so not scary. He did bit part on Dark Shadows once, so wonder if this movie is a Dan Curtis production?
I didn't remember Lee Majors had a Mother on Six Million Dollar Man but have seen that actress. Saving the best for last, Shelley Winters really chews the scenery in these kind of roles. You have whetted my appetite for some Devil's Daughter Poseidon!

Poseidon3 said...

Shoot, Ginge, I didn't mean to skip over this comment. I hope you weren't too disappointed in Frid's wordless role. I thought he could have been used better, but his very final frames seemed to display a lot of inner emotion anyawy... I don't believe Dan Curtis had anything to do with this, but he probably could have/should have. Lucille Benson has a hooty part in "Capricorn One." The weird thing about Martha Scott playing mother to "The Six Million Dollar Man" is that she actually showed up MORE on "The Bionic Woman" because Jaime Sommers lived on her farm/ranch!