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DIRECTOR WILLIAM CONRAD'S PSYCHO-NOIR DOUBLE FEATURE

Troy Donahue on a foreign poster of My Blood Runs Cold 1965
From his sinister beginnings as one of the two title hitmen who cast an ominous shadow across a small town diner in THE KILLERS, taken from an Ernest Hemingway short story that only involves a single act of what became a three-act classic Film Noir...

While igniting the career of Burt Lancaster, William Conrad was recognized; a b-side to Orson Welles, including the rich, deep voice, he would later be known as a tough old cop on TV's popular series, CANNON. And few people know, Conrad was also a director, and while not one of the best of all time, the big man was pretty darn good, especially given the b-movie scripts for a pair of low-budget thrillers, BRAINSTORM and MY BLOOD RUNS COLD, both made in 1965 and for director Conrad, along with the comparably weak horror TWO ON A GUILLOTINE, it was a busy year...

BRAINSTORM! Year: 1965 Rating: ****
BRAINSTORM: The second of two "New Noir" vehicles (referring to a Film Noir made after the 1950's, before being deliberate and referred to as "Neo Noir") and yet, this somewhat unknown picture (most think of Natalie Wood's posthumous sci-fi starring Christopher Walken) is considered a Psychological Thriller or Suspenseful Melodrama, and yet, as far as Film Noir is concerned, the proof's not only in the pudding but the ingredients:

A handsome young man working with big important computers saves a beautiful young rich wife from a train, then attempts doing the same from her surreptitiously vicious millionaire husband who won't set her free – our hero, in the almost-STAR TREK Captain, Jeffrey Hunter (from the rejected pilot episode THE CAGE), is at first reluctant to accept any and all invitations from blond beauty Corrie Benson, played by Anne Francis, who, while Washington D.C. advisor Dana Andrews as Cort Benson is away, she and her drunken society friends play and play and play.

"I killed The Wizard! I killed the Wizard!"
Conrad's direction is bound tightly to the main character, never losing perspective on the intriguing yet extremely familiar plotline...

In the usual Noir fashion, the poor young guy needs to rid of the rich old man to save the lovely young wife and, how this particular stranger perceives a very strange land of jazz-blasting endless parties...

Within the built-in jazz score highlighting wonderfully played vibes... liken to a "modern" Great Gatsby, is as awkward and offbeat to the observer through particular shots that, while not literally wielding his point-of-view, the audience is tethered to his every step, being dragged further and further.

The primary cast does a good enough job, especially for such a low budget venture, and it's yet another filler role for the once A-list leading man, and this month's spotlight, Dana Andrews, who had, at this point, been a b-movie player so long that his rhythm and cadence of speech are tailor-made to the soapy fare, and he embodies evil like a smooth glove...

A George Clooney looking Dana Andrews with trophy Anne Francis
Meanwhile, Hunter (who, over a decade earlier, co-starred with Andrews in THE FROGMEN, and in the remake LURE OF THE WILDERNESS he played Dana's character from SWAMP WATER) is neither shady or flawless in a role that slowly takes him to the bottom rung...

Also, for pop culture's sake, one scene of dialogue, Andrews may have influenced Pink Floyd's brilliant concept album The Dark Side Of The Moon...

"What goes on inside the head of a crazy man? Are there explosions? Color flashes? Or is it just a slow paralyzing blackness that creeps over your mind like the eclipse of the sun?" Bass playing lyricist Roger Waters might've seen/heard this, and jotted down a note to finish Dana's line with, "And the sun is eclipsed by the moon."

Dana Andrews as a non-nonsense yet professional villain
Last but certainly not least, Anne Francis puts almost too much energy with that strong voice, often sounding like she were performing in a Tennessee Williams adaptation opposite Paul Newman instead of, this...

Not that she overacts since her character, forced between true love and remaining a rich captive to keep her young daughter safe, is very real...

Enough so that Hunter's plight (which includes being blackmailed by Andrews, who at one point, hires sexy Kathie Browne to accuse him of dirty prank calls) is equally genuine while Andrews' high society voice is fitfully creepy and degrading to coax both into desperation. With Francis, one gets the sense she's attempting to make more of what Andrews and Hunter are perfectly adjusted to: relax, Honey, it's only a drive-in flick!

Strother Martin Brainwash handshake
The mystery element isn't of the whodunit nature but how far will the put-upon hero go? Once that's settled, much too easily, thus begins... well... not exactly a third/final act but what seems an overlong extension of what should be a much quicker, more satisfying finale, taking place within the blandly nightmarish interior of a loony bin as the movie drags despite another terrific older actor, Strother Martin, as an initially friendly turned progressively annoying and perhaps even dangerous inmate, along with future 007-thug icon Richard Kiel as an intimidating giant...

Richard Kiel Brainwash hand-grab
And last but not least, aged yet still alluring Noir starlet Viveca Lindfors (pilot's wife in Jeff's Jesus Christ role feature KING OF KINGS) provides a needed, sultry and mysteriously intriguing cushion in an extremely uncomfortable place and, as the editing gets more crafty, cunning and surrealistic, she's an 11th ray of hope for a leading man stuck in a twisted Noir nightmare... Anyone familiar with that genre knows the protagonists are usually as lucky as any on an episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, which BRAINSTORM, unlike the next feature, is slightly reminiscent of.

Wordy Poster
MY BLOOD RUNS COLD: Few remember or piece together the fact that one of the worst actors appeared in one of the best movies ever made: Troy Donahue's two mumbled lines as gold-digging "himbo" Merl, semi-spooked in Al Pacino's darkened den: "Can I have a drink or something?" and, after Mama Corleone says something outside, obviously spiteful, in Italian, he asks Talia Shire: "What did she say?" – providing a glimpse into an oblivious dolt swimming in a pool of sharks, and Francis Ford Coppola made terrific use of the former blond poster boy who had gained genuine fame in a string of b-movies, and was a teen (fan) idol/heartthrob during the 50's and 60's, co-starring in one of the two vehicles directed by tough and tubby actor William Conrad where, in both features, a mentally troubled/tortured, handsome young "stranger" falls for a gorgeous rich girl.

Joey Heatherton in MY BLOOD RUNS COLD Year: 1965
While not as energetic, creative or multilayered as the same-year's Noir thriller followup, BRAINSTORM!, this partially-surreal romantic melodrama works despite itself as Troy's pretty much everything: So important to the story that even off-screen, his character's being discussed – by either blonde bombshell Joey Heatherton's powerful, manipulative rich father (Barry Sullivan) or token nice guy Nicholas Coster, a square-jawed, preppy-handsome yet still somewhat average looking actor who'd work plenty in years to come, on television and movies alike.

The deeply dramatic music score, with the usual heavy bursts of symphonic orchestration, is invaded by a ghostly harpsichord whenever the past is brought up – and MY BLOOD RUNS COLD is all about backstory yet only shows the Victorian romantic sequence during the prelude: Then we roar into "modern times" with Heatherton's wild girl recklessly driving a hot-rod convertible with Coster's safe-seat beau and possible fiancĂ© timidly riding shotgun – after clipping a bike-riding Troy Donahue, the stranger is invited to a plush dinner by her uptight dad and wise aunt and, it's when Donahue and Heatherton, a perfect looking couple with zero chemistry, talk in private that the "problem" arises: he's convinced she's really her great-grandmother, and he was her lover, both having shared a lovely yet tragic Shakespearean-style romance.

Joey Heatherton & Troy Donahue
Possibly thanks to director Conrad, the wooden Donahue is actually, miraculously convincing as a possible con artist who may just be the real thing (aided by the fact we caught a glimpse of their "past" in the opening)...

Blood Runs Cold Score: ***1/2
He seems to be a living/breathing ghost of some kind but mostly because Heatherton, an extremely gorgeous and legitimately talented actress (who all but stole her courtroom drama catapult, TWILIGHT OF HONOR), reacts her way through the picture with an eclectic array of emotions that, backed by a picturesque exterior seaside-castle location, underwater sequences and creative camerawork, is time well spent...

But the movie kind of hits a wall when embracing the inevitable turnaround – the leading man, as already spoiled in the summaries (including the back of the Warner Archives DVD), has deep-rooted mental problems. No surprise that the limited Donahue has trouble conveying emotion, and his true psychosis relies mostly on spastic physical tantrums as Heatherton, with her best scenes well behind, winds up on a stolen yacht, kidnapped, sort of, and facing potential peril while frowning her way through the rest of the movie – but it's that confident yet vulnerable "poor little rich girl" she'd sold us earlier that all the laurels are rested upon.
Joey Heatherton thinking she's alone and daydreaming in MY BLOOD RUNS COLD
Joey Heatherton My Blood Runs Cold Joey Heatherton
Both MY BLOOD RUNS COLD and BRAINWASH (Anne Francis, pictured) ingenues are blonde beauties with full pouty lips
Jeff Hunter's POV of this "perfect" couple Dana Andrews Anne Francis Brainstorm Dana Andrews Anne Francis
Noir is being warned to STOP and still following the wrong instincts... And always 'cause of a dame...
And that dame's the usual rich beauty with lame user loser friends making a fool of the poor sad who's smitten
And there's always the bad old husband who needs knocking off, or does he? Dana Andrews, Brainstorm
And perhaps the sexiest is the oldest dame, Noir actress Viveca Lindfors ending the show in BRAINSTORM
From BRAINSTORM a double shot of the usual Noir-inspired pallid trophy wife (Anne Francis) and evil rich hubby (Dana Andrews)
The same year, 1965, Dana Andrews and Anne Francis were loving father and daughter in THE SATAN BUG, and...
Five years earlier played friendly stewardess and fatherly mentor pilot in THE CROWDED SKY
Anne Francis with The Crowded Sky and best yet, BRAINSTORM co-star Dana Andrews in The Satan Bug
Jeff Hunter, Anne Francis and Dana Andrews in Brainstorm review by James M. Tate
Being adversaries, there aren't many shots of Dana Andrews and Jeff Hunter together in BRAINSTORM
From 1951's THE FROGMEN about BRAINSTORM: Dana Andrews and Jeff Hunter go back a while
Jeffrey Hunter Dana Andrews Brainstorm Dana Andrews Jeffrey Hunter Brainstorm Jeffrey Hunter
Robert McQueenie with cute blonde Kathie Brown in BRAINWASH Kathie Brown
Jeff Hunter and Dana Andrews in BRAINSTORM
Not a condom ad, it's Anne Francis and Jeff Hunter in Brainstorm: love that fishing boat on the left
Scene... no, movie-stealer Viveca Lindfors' study of Jeff Hunter in the final act of BRAINSTORM is the best
"Come on, Jim... look at the pictures, not at ME." Viveca Lindfors, Jeff Hunter, Brainstorm
Great bedroom set pieces in Brainstorm including the merry go round and Bugs in the corner
Dana Andrews and portraits of dead dames go together well (from Laura to BRAINSTORM)
Jeanette Nolan literally feeling for her lovestruck niece Joey Heatherton in MY BLOOD RUNS COLD
Iconic soap (and otherwise) actor Nicolas Coster with Barry Sullivan, My Blood Runs Cold
Robert Mitchum's brother John Mitchum as the "I Gave My Love A..." Singer in BRAINSTORM
Jeff Hunter in BRAINSTORM with the director cameo to his right: William Conrad smoking a cigar
Jeffrey Hunter with Anne Francis in BRAINSTORM
Kathie Browne in BRAINSTORM
Kathie Browne on her sexy episode of STAR TREK where she slows down time on The Enterprise
Joey Heatherton slowly warms up to Troy Donahue in MY BLOOD RUNS COLD
Nicolas Coster and Janette Nolan in MY BLOOD RUNS COLD
Joey Heatherton being given auntily advice from Jeanette Nolan MY BLOOD RUNS COLD
Bottom half of the top poster for MY LOVE RUNS COLD aka Cita Tragica
My Blood Runs Cold and Brainstorm original blue cover Warner Archives DVDs
Poster for Cita Tragica i.e. My Blood Runs Cold
And so Dana Andrews husband of Brainstorm's Anne Francis is bad because he's rich, and speaks gravely

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