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BLACK NOON, 1971. Dir. Bernard L. Kowalski. Cast: Roy Thinnes, Yvette Mimieux, Lyn Loring, Ray Milland, Henry Silva and Gloria Grahame.
A former child actor, Bernard Louis Kowalski was enjoying a successful run as a television director when Gene Corman hired him to make to helm the low-budget theatrical feature HOT CAR GIRL in 1958. All of 29 years old, Kowalski so impressed Corman that other drive-in collaborations soon followed, culminating with the campy Yvette Vickers swamp classic ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES.
The Sixties would see the filmmaker returning to the small screen with a vengeance, directing and/or producing the pilots for MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (which he co-owned), THE RAT PATROL and THE WILD, WILD, WEST. Kowalski’s gift for delivering stylish, fast-paced entertainment on a modest budget soon saw him graduating to the Hollywood A-list. By 1970, his theatrical resume included the all-star Cinerama adventure KRAKATOA, EAST OF JAVA, the popular Harold Robbins adaptation STILETTO, and the violent Spaghetti Western homage MACHO CALLAHAN with Lee J. Cobb and Jean Seberg.
1971 would see Kowalski bringing CALLAHAN’s surreal, mythologized atmosphere and nihilistic sexual politics to middle America with the excellent and transgressive movie of the week BLACK NOON (a cranky aside – elitist IFC types who believe television directors are inherently unworthy of the label auteur are strongly urged to watch these two films back-to-back. Checking out the man’s gothic TWWW episode THE NIGHT THE WIZARD SHOOK THE EARTH would be a good idea, too).
The story by (by Andrew J. Fenady, scenarist of John Wayne’s CHISUM), casts Roy Thinnes as John Keyes, an itinerant preacher stranded with his wife (played by Thinnes’ real-life partner and frequent co-star Lyn Loring) in the sweltering Southwest. Dehydration brings them to the brink of death when a small band of settlers from the quaint village of San Melas, led by town patriarch Caleb (Ray Milland) and his statuesque deaf/mute daughter Deliverance (Yvette Mimieux, perfectly cast) happen upon them. As Milland resuscitates Keyes and his wife, Kowalski telegraphs that there may be more to this “rescue” than meets the eye with a brief but astonishing sequence in which Mimieux, unobserved by the others, calmly stares down a menacing rattlesnake – coiled and ready to strike – using nothing but her icy gaze.
Once the good minister and his ailing wife are under the care of the townspeople, the director ratchets up the suspense in what can perhaps best be described as the apocryphal story of Lilith as envisioned by John Ford. A Satanic gunfighter (Henry Silva), fever dreams, burning desert cathedrals and an epic fall from grace all figure prominently in a film that was an obvious influence upon such later and better-known films as RACE WITH THE DEVIL and (especially) Robert Fuest’s THE DEVIL’S RAIN.
As is typical in Kowalski productions, the acting is superb throughout. Thinnes, so good at playing sympathetic but flawed heroes, shines as the Man of God who silently struggles with his faith, and the always-excellent Milland wisely underplays his role as the grinsomely evil Caleb Hobbs. As for Mimieux, well, the director utilizes her glacial, almost impenetrable beauty to almost hypnotic effect.
And look out for that final act – Kowalski delivers at least one haunting image that still disturbs today; I can only wonder how it went over with Fundamentalist, God-fearing clans who watched this subversive tale unfold while munching their Swanson TV dinners in Peoria back in 1971. And leave it to the director to tie up the last of the loose ends with an astonishing final image that gives the entire film a cyclical feel worthy of Pynchon. And speaking of authors, with character names like Deliverance, Moon, Hobbs and Keyes, there’s symbolism a-plenty for the literary sophisticate to chew on if so inclined.
To my knowledge, BLACK NOON has never received an officially licensed VHS or DVD release. Here’s hoping that the likes of Blue Underground acquire this property soon, for this influential little gem is a “perfect” thriller the same way the Blue Oyster Cult’s DON’T FEAR THE REAPER is a perfect song – it’s short, supremely well-crafted entertainment with philosophical, moral and spiritual underpinnings that don’t get in the way but are there if you want them.
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vBulletin now features a single sign-on integration with Facebook. What this means is that users of AVManiacs.com forum will be able to connect their vBulletin account with their Facebook account, and then log-in using the Facebook Connect button.
We are asking all of you who are Facebook users to use this feature and to also use the “Like” button whenever you see fit.
This, among other things, is our continuing quest to get up in the search engine rankings (like Google etc).
The Facebook connect button is in the header at the top of every forum page.
Thank you for your help and support.
Just writing a quick post to let AVManiacs readers know I have joined the reviewing staff here. I previously contributed reviews to the site between 2004 and 2008. Edwin invited me to contribute once more and I’ll be chiming in with periodic reviews of cult movies new and old. Plus, I’ll be working with Edwin to re-post a bunch of reviews I did for the site during my first stint. I’d also like to take this opportunity to let you know about my blog, Schlockmania. It covers the same kinds of movies this site covers and also includes music reviews, book and magazine write-ups and much more.If you’d like to check it out, just click on this link: http://www.schlockmania.com
Thanks for reading,