Strangers on a Gondola

The Italian film poster for THE DESIGNATED VICTIM (1971).

The first Patricia Highsmith novel to be adapted to film was the author’s first book, published in 1950, Strangers on a Train, which Alfred Hitchcock made into a movie the next year. Yet, with the exception of U.S. television which adapted some of Highsmith’s stories for the small screen (The Talented Mr. Ripley for Studio One in Hollywood in 1956, The Perfect Alibi for Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre in 1957, Annabel for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1962), no American film director would attempt another Highsmith screen adaptation for many years. European filmmakers, however, have returned again and again to her perversely fascinating thrillers which are marked by their disturbing psychological detail and macabre humor. Among these are René Clément’s visually stunning Purple Noon (1960), an adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, Claude Autant-Lara’s Enough Rope (1963), based on the novel The Blunderer, Wim Wenders’ hallucinatory noir The American Friend (1977), adapted from Ripley’s Game, This Sweet Sickness (1977) by French director Claude Miller, and most famously Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). Yet, one of the least known – and uncredited – adaptations is La Vittima Designata (English title: The Designated Victim, 1971), which is a very loose, revisionist version of Strangers on a Train with colorful Italian location shooting in Venice, Milan and Lake Como.  

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Johnny Cash in His Film Debut

Even hardcore fans of the “Man in Black” might not know that back in 1961 the bad boy of country-western music decided to dabble in motion pictures and made his film debut in a low-budget wonder entitled Five Minutes to Live (aka Door to Door Maniac). It’s an enjoyably trashy genre mash-up that is part bank heist thriller, part home invasion psychodrama and part family sitcom in the style of Father Knows Best. Plus, in addition to Cash chewing up the scenery, the cast includes Country Music Hall of Famer Merle Travis as a bowling alley manager, little Ronnie Howard (who was already appearing on television in such series as Dennis the Menace and The Andy Griffith Show) and Vic Tayback, the Emmy-nominated co-star of the TV series Alice. It’s not their finest hour but if you’re a Cash fan or appreciate wild card obscurities like Blast of Silence (1961) or Shack Out on 101(1955), you know you want to see it.       

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The Family Mole

If you are a post-WW2 baby boomer, you are probably familiar with the term ‘the Red Scare,’ which refers to a time in the late forties-early fifties when anti-communist sentiment in the U.S. was at its height (The “red” refers to the color of the Soviet flag). This Cold War era paranoia was not just reflected in American politics and daily news stories but he popular culture as well, especially movies. Some of the more famous examples are the Howard Hughes’ produced noir I Married a Communist (1949 aka The Woman on Pier 13), the 1951 tabloid-style expose I Was a Communist for the F.B.I. and John Wayne as an undercover commie hunter in Big Jim McLain (1952). Yet, of all the cinematic depictions of Communist infiltration in America, few are as blatant or as infamous as My Son John (1952), which was released when the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) was at the height of its power and Senator Joseph McCarthy was still fanning the flames of a political witch hunt that had already taken its toll on the entertainment industry.

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