The Hustler (1961)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jim LaMotta is one of Pittsburgh’s premiere wrestling announcers, as well as a great writer. This article originally appeared on Steel City Underground. You can follow Jim on Twitter.

In another example of the “Mr. Braddock classics,” I originally saw The Hustler a few decades after its 1961 debut as my dad recorded it from the Turner Classic Movies channel, a network that shows films uncut and unedited, and had the name of the movie written in blue pen on the VHS tape. A side note, my uncle, the late legendary, Willie Visconti actually ran a pool room in Braddock, PA in the 1970s. The Braddock Free Press once ran a note about his birthday, January 7th, describing him as “the popular proprietor” of the Braddock Recreation Center. As mentor to my dad in many ways, Uncle Willie let him run the hall when he was busy, despite the fact that my dad was still in his teenage years. Between the Pepsi machine, pool tables, and some concessions, the venue remained popular for most of that era before Uncle Willie decided to sell the building and take part ownership in a small convenience store in Braddock until he passed in the early-90s. To this day, my dad really enjoys telling stories about his late mentor and it’s always comical when he recounts the many times that Uncle Willie would “randomly” show up to visit when he knew my dad was cooking. “Oh, Jim, you cookin?” “Yeah, Will, why don’t you come in and eat?” “Oh well, I guess so, I’m here now.” I have to say up front that this film is really an incredible example of American cinema and those much better versed in the interpretation of film have done much better analysis of the movie, but after I saw it in my middle school years, my appreciation for the complex narrative has only grown since that time. Initially seeing it more than half my lifetime ago, the Robert Rossen-directed drama went from just a cool movie about pool with charismatic characters to an example of some of the resounding themes of life as I watched it through older eyes. Based on Walter Tevis’ 1959 novel of the same name, the film unites an all-star cast to chronicle the turbulent travels of “Fast” Eddie Felson, a pool hustler brilliantly played by the legendary Paul Newman. Before he had a “Cool Hand,” made sauce for charity, or buckled up as a race car driver, Newman took aim with a pool stick to portray “Fast” Eddie, who some have speculated was based on real-life pool shark, Eddie Parker, but even before this iconic role, Newman, who has dozens of notable titles on his resume, was already considered a major name in the industry with roles in A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Exodus, and other films.

The opening scene is simplistic in its presentation, but reveals the theme of the film to the audience, it’s all about the hustle. Fast Eddie and his backer Charlie, played by Myron McCormick, stroll into a small bar that has “pool” advertised in the windows. The pair of pals claim they are appliance salesmen on their way to a convention in Pittsburgh the next day, but stopped off on their drive for a drink and some retreat from the muggy weather before they complete the final two hours of the trip. They start a friendly game, with Felson indulging in an occasional whiskey between shots before the supposed salesman wants to wager a few dollars against Charlie. The games continue as the two exchange wins before an apparently intoxicated Felson makes an incredibly difficult shot to finish a game. Charlie wagers that Eddie can’t hit the shot again and his near staggering pal misses before protesting that he wants to make another bet. Charlie, not wanting to take advantage of his bumbling buddy, declines and heads to the car. However, the spectators in the bar are more than eager to take some easy cash, including the hard-nosed bartender. The stumbling Felson empties his pocket of $105, a week of commission for the biggest bet of the afternoon as the bartender matches it right from the cash register, not wanting to let the chance at easy money pass him by before Felson sobers up. With the cue ball and the eight ball in place, “Fast Eddie” gives up a slight smile before he connects on the trick shot, taking the cash with him. The next shot shows Eddie with a smile as he hands Charlie his portion of the winnings, inviting the audience in on the game, the partners worked the spectators into believing that Felson was drunk, but the facade was only to get them to put their money on the table before he took them for the most money possible. It’s all about the hustle.

In a direct contrast, the next scene finds the two pool partners at their actual next destination, the next pool hall on the road to find some action. However, this particular establishment has “Billiards”  printed on the windows instead, the proper name alone suggesting it’s a more serious venue. Upon their arrival, a sign at the front desk ironically says, “no gambling allowed” and the gruff manager informs them, “no bar, no pinball, just pool” as the gullible onlookers from the previous day are replaces with unimpressed viewers around the room this time. Without booze as a potential set up, the two have to look for another angle and Felson finds it as he begins to confidently brag about how much money he’s going to win, proclaiming a goal of $10,000 in one night. One of the locals walks over and lets Fast Eddie knows the patrons of this pool room are well aware of his hustling reputation, and that if he’s there to play Minnesota Fats, the kingpin with legendary status among the smokey nine-ball tables, he should think twice about it. The gritty guy attempts to insult Charlie, who Felson fiercely defends, setting the record straight that Charlie is an equal partner, an aspect that provides some insight into their friendship. But with Felson’s pride insulted with the notion that he can’t defeat Minnesota Fats, he becomes determined to show up the well-known player.

As promised, Jackie Gleason struts into the pool hall at exactly 8 PM with a lavish overcoat and his hair slicked, nothing out of place to distract from the presence he brings to the smoke-filled room. After introductions are made, the terms of the game are agreed upon and Fast Eddie gets to square off with Minnesota Fats. Gleason’s work here is top-notch because with Fats’ introduction to the film, his lines aren’t anything profound, but the way he presents the character brings depth to the persona. When he glides around the table, finding the perfect angle for each shot and calling them in the process, his body language projects that pool isn’t a game for him, it’s a serious business. As he focused in on a shot, he put down his lit cigarette because it’s not a leisure time for him, it’s his work as he precisely dust the cue stick with chalk to ensure a clean shot.

With an upbeat jazz tune to accompany it, a montage shows the hours wear on with the shots, the racks, and the money exchanged. Gleason has the advantage before his opponent gets a chance to take over the game, but “Fast” Eddie begins to spout about his skills while he aggressively sinks shots in each pocket, suggesting this exhibition is more about ego than business for him. The jazz rejoins us and the montage continues, this time with odds tilting in Felson’s favor. When Charlie tells Eddie that he won $1,000 so far, the hustler wants to up the bet, asking Fats’ if they can wage a thousand a game. Gleason accepts, calling for a drink and the arrival of his financial backer, George C. Scott’s Bert Gordon, who arrogantly sips a glass of milk in the pool room as he viewers the game. More jazz brings along another montage of called shots, racks, and Charlie nervously chain-smoking from the sidelines. After 25 hours and $18,000 of profit, a weary Felson is slumped in a chair. Fast Eddie refuses to conclude the game until Minnesota Fats says it’s over. Despite Charlie’s pleas, Eddie angrily grabs his cue stick while he chugs more whiskey. On the flip side, Gleason is diligently washing his hands and getting cleaned up before he slips the suit jacket back on to continue the game. Felson ignored the most important rule of gambling, you have to known when to walk away. Bert Gordon smirks from his chair, knowing that Eddie is in over his head and he looks to take joy in Felson’s downfall.

Not surprisingly, Felson loses everything except his original $200 start up cash. Ironically, the actual intoxicated Felson couldn’t keep pace with the pro that Gleason was. As Eddie stumbled around the table, Minnesota Fats looks on with a combination of concern and disappointment while Bert gleefully enjoys the foolish display. Gleason rejects the offer to play a final game for the remaining $200, mercifully sparing Felson some money and leaves the pool hall. Still drunk and almost delirious from the lack of sleep, Eddie collapses, prompting Charlie to check on his fallen protegee. Back at the hotel, Eddie stays true to his word, leaving his partner half of the remaining cash and goes to the bus station, where he meets Sarah Packard at the diner. Still hung over, Felson falls asleep in the booth, but when he goes to the bar at the bus station he runs into Piper Laurie’s character again. With booze to replace the coffee from earlier, the two actually get to know each other, revealing that they both ended up at the bus station that morning simply because they had no where else to go. Sarah explains she enjoys a drink and attends a few college classes during the week, sounding as if her plan was more to pass the time than to pursue any higher education.

Without much in common other than a lack of direction in life, the two lonely souls decide to get a bottle of scotch and go to Sarah’s apartment. They kiss at her door way before she reconsiders the plan, and Eddie leaves quietly, finding a cheap dingy hotel room for the night. He hustles a few dollars at a low-end pool hall the next day before he goes back to the diner for coffee when he’s reunited with Sarah. This time they go back to her apartment and the next scene finds them discussing their plans the next day. Again, they seem to be brought together more by desperation than anything since Eddie is too embarrassed to meet up with him mentor and Sarah seems to be hopelessly lonely. With her school books, groceries, and booze in tow, Sarah arrives home the following day and we find that Eddie has brought over his belongings from the shady motel room. Despite barely knowing him, Sarah allows Eddie to stay with her. Eddie insists on paying for his share of the groceries, providing a level of depth to the character. He might be pool shark, but he believes in fairness for those not involved in the hustle. He even suggest that Sarah shouldn’t drink and get help before a knock at the door reveals that Charlie found Eddie.

A tense discussion shows that Felson wanted a rematch with Minnesota Fats while Charlie wants to go back on the road. Charlie explains that he doesn’t care about the money Eddie lost in the game, showing that their friendship isn’t just about dollars and cents. Charlie reveals that he saved some of the winnings for him, but Eddie refuses his offer to return to the road, ending their partnership in the pool rooms. With sadness in his eyes, Charlie leaves the apartment, a sign of the end of their friendship as well.

A few weeks later, we find Sarah next to a half empty bottle of scotch and as Eddie gets ready to go to the next local dive bar to find some action, even intoxicated, she finally makes some realistic statements about their relationship and the fact they don’t really know each other. Instead of finding pool, Eddie runs into Bert Gordon at the bar, who offers to become his new money backer with the proposition that takes a hefty portion of the winnings for fronting the cash. When Bert won’t budge on the percentage of the offer, Eddie refuses before Bert gives him a warning about walking into the wrong pool room. That night, Felson goes to hustle at the wrong place and a group of thugs breaks both of his thumbs, taking him out of the pool scene indefinitely.

The next scene finds Eddie at the door and when Sarah answers, she finds him bruised with the broken appendages. The next few weeks show her finding stability through caring for Eddie, as she opts not to get a drink when she writes an assignment for class. The two enjoy a picnic and Eddie discusses the possibility of defeating Minnesota Fats if he stays focused. After that we see him approach the apartment door with his hands out of the casts and his thumbs healed as he surprises Sarah with the news of his recovery. He thanks her for caring for him through the injury. She might be an alcoholic, but this sequence shows that a flaw instead of necessarily someone’s defining trait. The same way Eddie’s mishaps in the game against Fats didn’t define him as a pool hustler.

Speaking of the game with Fats, Eddie is back at the bar where the original game took place to practice, attempting to get some flexibility back in his hands. He runs into Bert Gordon, who heard about the incident at the dive bar. Bert emphasizes the importance of character in winning, offering again to back him on the road and eventually in another game with Gleason. This time, Felson accepts and tells Sarah that he will be traveling to Louisville with Bert to hustle some games against wealthy businessmen at a lavish party. Sarah gets drunk and hysterical, as she fears Eddie will decide to leave her. In the drunken rant she reveals that her father left the family when she was young and now sends her money to make up for it, but won’t be involved in her life so she has financial security, but feels completely unwanted by her family. This scene reveals just how flawed and fractured she is from the trauma in her life.

To reassure Sarah, Eddie makes arrangements for her to take the trip with them. Upon their arrival, while Eddie is practicing, Bert takes the opportunity to tell Sarah that he only tolerated her on the trip because of the money to be made from Felson’s pool hustling. After they attend some horse races, the trio meet up with Findley, played by Murray Hamilton, who famously had the role of Mayor Larry Vaughn in the 1975 classic, Jaws. Bert arranged the game with Findley, who invites his guests to the party that evening. Knowing that Eddie is being exploited, Sarah gets drunk at the party while Eddie loses, by design, to the snarky businessman. She begs him to leave, but after Eddie sends her back to the hotel, Bert agrees to back him for $1,000 a game. At the end of the night, Findley owes $12,000 and Bert looks satisfied while Eddie seems disappointed because of the argument with Sarah earlier in the night. Even getting his share of the cash, Eddie is disgusted with himself because he argued with Sarah just to win money. Despite the arrival of a cab, he opts to walk to the hotel, which meant Bert arrived first. Finally showing what a coward he is underneath the tailor-made suit, Bert takes a drink before he enters Sarah’s room and fabricates a story that Eddie wants her to leave. When Felson gets back to the hotel, he finds the authorities in his room and that Sarah committed suicide in the bathroom because she thought she was abandoned again. Bert sheepishly tries to explain what happened before Eddie jumps at him, pummeling the shady businessman before the police restrain him.

Back at the billiards hall, “Fast” Eddie shows up to challenge Minnesota Fats in a rematch at $3,000 a game, his share from the Louisville trip that led to Sarah’s death. With Bert watching from his usual spot, Eddie, focused more on a form of self redemption than proving anything to anyone else, takes Bert to task. As he sinks each pool ball with precision, Eddie tells the businessman that his lavish lifestyle doesn’t make up for his lack of character, as he only knows how to exploit others for his own personal gain without knowing the true value of anything. Eventually, Minnesota Fats hauls the games, acknowledging that Eddie is the better player on this occasion. As the pool shark puts his stick back in its case, Bert Gordon has the audacity to attempt to collect a percentage of the winnings, referencing their deal in Louisville. Gleason looks concerned for Eddie’s safety when Bert reveals that he was the one who had Felson’s thumbs broken in the dive bar. Newman does an incredible job in this scene with lines where Eddie explains that Bert could get his thugs to break his thumbs again, but he would come back to kill Bert if there was anything left of the broken pieces. Knowing the hustler was serious, Bert agrees to let Eddie walk, but cautions him that his career as a pool shark is over.

Eddie’s run as a hustler was finished anyway because he realized the value of friendship and companionship were much more important than his reputation as a pool hustler or the money that came along with it. In some ways, Eddie has to lose everything to understand what was actually important in the first place. Almost 60 years after its original release The Hustler remains one of the most stellar examples of character development, storytelling, and drama in the history of American film.

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

Hammer had already made films for Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, and The Mummy. Surely it was time for the werewolf, with this being the first furry horror film shot in color, as well as Oliver Reed’s first starring role.

This wolf — Leon — has a wild origin story. His mother (Yvonne Romain, Devil Doll) was a mute jailer’s daughter who was assaulted by a beggar who had the gall to complain at a nobelman’s wedding and ends up imprisoned for 18 years. She had turned down the rich man herself and was sent to the dungeons, which caused her to be impregnated. Once released to “entertain” the nobleman, she kills him instead and runs into the forest.

She gives birth and dies. Because the beggar had died right after attacking her, that makes young Leon an orphan. He’s raised by Don Alfredo Corledo and his housekeeper Teresa. As he was born on Christmas Day, that means that he’s cursed to become a werewolf, already hunting for the blood of goats before he’s even out of puberty.

Leon finds work in a winery, but become despondent when he realizes that his station in life will never allow him to marry the owner’s daughter. When a co-worker takes him to a house of ill repute, his wolf nature comes out and he ends up killing one of the girls and his friend.

Too late, our hero learns that the love of a good woman can keep the wolf in check. Seriously, British werewolves are crazy, because you can become one without being bitten. You just need to not be born on December 25th. And man, if you’re unlucky in love, people are going to get, well, wolfed down.

Eventually, Leon’s adoptive father must make a silver bullet and take care of matters. All of this period drama longing seems to take forever to get to that transformation though. I remember this airing on UHF TV in my single digit years and just fiending for the moment that the man became wolf. It takes nearly sixty minutes of the movie’s 93-minute run time before we get to see Reed go fully hirsute.

Before being released, the British Board of Film Classification gave Hammer Films this edict: This movie could either have scenes of sex or violence, but not both. So they went with violence.

The publicity shots for this and the images of Reed in full werewolf mode were pretty popular. The actual film doesn’t live up to what was in my mind as a kid, but it’s still pretty fun.

Espiritismo (1961)

Benito also directed Munecos InfernalesSanto vs. the Zombies and the astoundingly titled Frankenstein el Vampiro y Compania. This time, he’s sending his movie up north where Espiritismo will become Spiritism thanks to K. Gordon Murray.

This goes the Monkey’s Paw one better by having Satan himself grant the wishes. I mean, when the Lord of Lies is giving things away, that’s when you start questioning things.

This movie features a character so clueless that she goes to a seance for herself, which sounds like a joke I should be saving for the next time someone wants to play The Dozens against me.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Munecos Infernales (1961)

Better known by its U.S. title Curse of the Doll People, this movie was directed by Benito Alazraki, who also was behind Santo contra Los Zombies and Espiritismo, both made the same year as this film.

Four men have stolen an idol from a voodoo priest. I don’t have to tell you what a bad idea that is in any country. Soon, evil dolls begin killing their family members years before we even heard of Puppet Master. It’s actually based on the book Burn Witch Burn! by A. Merritt, which has nothing to do with the movie of the same name. That British-American film was originally called Night of the Eagle and based on the Fritz Leiber novel Conjure Wife.

Speaking of that movie, it had a Paul Frees-narrated prologue in which he read a protective spell for the audience, who were also given further occult defenses via a special pack of salt and the words to an ancient incantation.

This movie has no such assurances.

K. Gordon Murray, who brought The Brainiac and Santa Claus up north, as well as the writer of Shanty Tramp, also brought this movie to America, but not before adding some new scenes.

Ramon Gay, who was in all of the Aztec Mummy films, stars. He was one of the brightest lights in Mexican cinema when a dispute over the affections of the actress Evangelina Elizondo ended with her estranged husband shooting Gay dead.

You can watch this on Tubi.

El Mundo de Los Vampiros (1961)

A year after making this movie, which translates as World of the Vampires, Alfonso Corona Blake would direct Santo vs. Las Mujeres Vampiro

Count Sergio Subotai is a vampire who is seeking to wipe out the descendants of his greatest enemy. I’d like to state for the record that he is played by Guillermo Murray. When I was a nino taking el espanol, anyone named Bill was called Guillermo, which means William. So this vampire is really named Mexican Bill Murray.

Another fact that this movie taught me is that instead of a stake through the heart, sunlight, garlic or a cross, music is the best weapon to use against a Mexican vampire. I take that back — stakes are also used.

That said, there are some attractive female vampires and an organ made of human bones and skulls, so this movie isn’t all bad.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Santo Contra los Zombis (1961)

Predating Night of the Living Dead by seven years, Santo was already battling zombies before it was cool, then played out.

That’s because the police can’t deal with the shambling walking dead, so they turn to the man in the silver mask to drop elbows on them.

There’s one harrowing scene where the zombies set an orphanage on fire, then decide to beat up every child inside. Luckily, Santo jumps through a window — wearing a cape no less — and starts hitting chops on them. He battles nearly all of them, who can’t be stopped by bullets, even when two cops get felled by just a punch. One of the zombies seems to favor stomps and he does so to, as they say, stomp a mudhole in our hero. Don’t worry — he gets a big babyface comeback.

Look for luchas Black Shadow, Gory Guerrero (father of Eddy and inventor of so many wrestling moves) and El Gladiator.

This was Santo’s first starring role — at the age of 41 no less — and he makes the most of it. He’s pretty much Batman in the best of ways, except he refuses to wear a shirt and has, as mentioned before, a glamorous cape. I can’t even quantify how much I love this movie. The funny thing is, somehow Santo’s films would grow even stranger, encompassing spy films, whatever was hot in horror at the time and femme fatales who just had to possess our masked hero. He made over fifty of these films and I wish he’d made five hundred more.

You can watch this on YouTube:

Five Minutes to Live (1961)

It doesn’t matter how many hipsters embrace Johnny Cash. Cash transcends labels and goes beyond demographics. As a teenager, that photo of him violently thrusting his middle finger toward the camera got me through high school. And his book, Cash: The Autobiography is filled with the kind of amazing BS stories that probably aren’t true but totally could be, like him wandering in a cave to die, walking until his flashlight gave out but being lured back out by June Carter’s picnic cooking.

Along the way, Cash made Five Minutes to Live, also known as Door-to-Door Maniac. He’d appear in only movie that I think is stranger than this one, his 1973 vanity project Gospel Road: A Story of Jesus.

Cash is Johnny Cabbot, a man who uses his guitar skills to be a door-to-door teacher as a scam to kidnap a bank president’s wife, but the bank guy wants to run away with his mistress instead (Pamela Mason, first wife of James). There’s also a young Ron Howard and an impossibly young Vic Tayback, too. And Cash’s guitar played Merle Travis is also in here.

Yeah, Mel from Alice and the Man in Black in a gangster movie. Cash wrote the title song after hearing that his friend Johnny Horton died. I’ve also heard that the song “When It’s Springtime in Alaska (It’s Forty Below)” is also for him. Horton was the second wife of Billie Jean Jones, the widow of Hank Williams.

You can watch this on Tubi.

The Devil’s Partner (1961)

Directed by Charles R. Rondeau and produced by Hugh Hooker, an actor and stuntman. The two teamed up before in 1958 to make The Littlest Hobo. Hooker would do stunts for years while Rondeau would work mainly in TV after this.

Writer Stanley Clements played one of the East Side Kids, Stash, and when Leo Gorcey left the Bowery Boys in 1955, Clements took over as their leader. Starting with 1965’s Fighting Trouble, he played Duke Coveleskie until the series ended its run in 1958 with In the Money.

We open with Pete the hunchback who lives in a shack in Furnace Flats. While this sounds like the start of a filthy limerick, Pete obliterates your senses by killing a goat and making a hexagon on the floor with its blood.

Pete’s gone and replaced by Nick Richards. They’re both played by Ed Nelson from Peyton Place, so some Satanic silliness is going on. He’s fond of using animals to attack people, like having dogs maul their owner’s faces and cows sacrifice themselves to cause car crashes. He wanted revenge and he’s gonna get it — in a way that has nothing to do with the poster for this movie.

Look for Edgar Buchanan (Uncle Joe Carson from Petticoat Junction, Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies) and Richard Crane (Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe‘s sidekick Dick Preston).

This movie film gathered dust until it was acquired by Roger and Gene Corman and paired with  Creature from the Haunted Sea.

You can watch it right here.

 

PURE TERROR MONTH: Anatomy of a Psycho (1961)

The only thing this movie has in common with Psycho is the title, but that seemed like reason enough to try and drag people into the theater. It does have Ronnie Burns, the son of George and Gracie, as the lead, which is something, right? And Pamela Lincoln from The Tingler!

After his brother is sentenced to death at a trial, a teen rebel named Chet goes bonkers. No one can help him — not his sister, his best friend or even his girl. He loses any semblance of reality and attacks the son of the attorney who sentenced his brother to death.

Michael Granger, who plays Lieutenant Mac, the cop who gets involved, followed up being in movies like this and Creature With the Atom Brain by appearing on Broadway in Fiddler on the Roof. Russ Bender shows up, too. He’s in a ton of B and lower grade movies, everything from Panic In the Year Zero! to Maryjane. Don Devlin, who was in Blood of Dracula and later became a producer, plays Moe.

This is directed by Boris Petroff, who was also in the chair for Shotgun Wedding and The Unearthly. For its time, it’s interesting that all three of these films were written by a woman named Jane Mann. You’d think that, but Jane Mann is really…Edward D. Wood. If you’re wondering why all of the music from this movie comes directly from Plan 9 From Outer Space, now you have your answer.

You can check this out for free on the Internet Archive and Amazon Prime, if you don’t have the Pure Terror box set.

Night Tide (1961)

Written and directed by Curtis Harrington — one of the leaders of New Queer Cinema and also the director of Queen of BloodWhat’s the Matter with Helen?Who Slew Auntie Roo?, Ruby and so many more — this film was always one I wanted to see as it features Marjorie Cameron in a small role.

Harrington had also shot a documentary about her — The Wormwood Star — and I’ll forgive you if you have no idea who she is. Cameron was many things — an artist, poet, actress, and probably most essentially, an occultist. A follower of Crowley’s Thelema, she was married to rocket pioneer and nexus point of all things 20th century occult, Jack Parsons. In fact, Parsons believed that he had conjured Cameron to be the Whore of Babylon/Thelemite goddess Babalon as part of his Babalon Working rite, which he conducted alongside L. Rod Hubbard. No, really. It may have also opened our world to the aliens that have obsessed us since Kenneth Arnold reported a UFO in 1947.

After a suicide attempt and being institutionalized, Cameron gathered a group of magic practitioners around herself that she called The Children, whose sex magic rituals were to create a moonchild. She was now pregnant with what she referred to as the Wormwood Star, but that ended in miscarriage. Many of The Children soon left, as her proclamations of the future had grown increasingly apocalyptic.

Cameron’s orbit — much like her husband’s — unites both the worlds of art and the occult, straddling appearing in the films of Kenneth Anger, working with UFO expert and contactee George Van Tassel and appearing in Wallace Berman’s art journal Semina.

Why did I tell you all this? Because it fascinates me that she’s in Night Tide.

Johnny Drake (Dennis Hopper!) is a young sailor on shore leave who meets Mora (Linda Lawson, who is also in William Castle’s Let’s Kill Uncle), a woman who makes her living appearing in a sideshow. They fall in love before he learns that her past boyfriends have drowned under mysterious circumstances. That may — or may not — be because Mora is a siren, a legendary creature who exists to lure men to their deaths. Adding to her suspicions is the mystery woman (Cameron) who calls to her and demands that she follow her destiny.

One evening, under a full moon, she invites him deep sea swimming, but cuts his hose, forcing him to surface so that she isn’t tempted to kill him. She then swims into the depths of the ocean, fulfilling the call of the mystery woman. And when he returns to the boardwalk, her dead body is still in the mermaid sideshow, now there for visitors to gawk at her dead eyes.

Despite a police confession as to who the killer is, the strange woman in black and her call to the sea is never explained.

Anton LaVey discussed this film in Blanche Barton’s The Secret Life of a Satanist: The Authorized Biography of Anton Szandor LaVey. “There’s a whole genre of films that are just little evocative low-budget gems that I certainly wouldn’t call schlock but that are also being revived as a consequence of more attention in those directions. Director Curtis Hanington’s first movie, Night Tide filmed around the Santa Monica Pier and Venice. California in the late ’50’s, is a psychologically intricate story about a young sailor (Dennis Hopper) who falls in love with a mermaid It’s just wonderful to see these precious works of art being finally given the attention they merit.”

According to Spencer Kansa’s Wormwood Star: The Magickal Life of Marjorie Cameron, Anger introduced Cameron and LaVey, who was delighted to meet the actress, having been a fan of the film.

You can download this movie from the Internet Archive or buy the Kino Lober blu ray. Or check out the gorgeous restored version at Nicholas Winding Refn’s ByNWR site. Refn also owns the film’s original print.