When You Get Really Close to a Movie Screen, Film Emulsion Looks like…
Boiling Sand
Ann Savage…

A chipper Ann Savage with Wm. Gargan in MIDNIGHT MANHUNT.

I’m about 48 hours behind the rest of the Blogosphere in commenting on the passing of Ann Savage.

Two reasons for this…

Number One, I decided to sit back last night and enjoy her performance in MIDNIGHT MANHUNT on DVD while savoring some leftover eggnog.

Number Two, I realized that Ann Savage and my mom were born only a few months apart in the same city.  I started to wonder: what if “Vera” from DETOUR had been looking into my crib during my formative months?  [SHUDDER…]

For the global film community, Ann Savage = the character Vera in Edgar G. Ulmer‘s 1945 DETOUR, the Kafkaesque nightmare of a movie shot on a poverty row budget.  She had other roles, other films, but the core is and always will be DETOUR; the rest is ephemera.  So strong is the reverence for this cheap-o classic that a shot-for-shot remake was filmed in the early 1990s (with the leading man’s son playing his father’s role and using the same car — not the same make car, the same car! — that was the setting for most of the movie), and (here in Austin) Richard Linklater chose Detour for the name of his production company.

The re-discovery of DETOUR started around 1980 in Los Angeles, when critic Myron Meisel wrote a series of articles on director Edgar G. Ulmer in tandem with screenings of his films at USC followed by Q&A with the director’s widow and daughter (both had worked on his films).  After the DETOUR screening, the buzz was huge around L.A. for the next week.  The fandom for the film and its star, Ann Savage, hit the accelerator and drove it into Cultdom.

Let’s face it:  there has never, ever been a character like Vera.  How did Ann Savage build that character?  What murky subconscious did she have, or what unspeakable acts could she have witnessed, to bring up enough technique to collage the sustained performance of that film?  That secret, I guess, has died with her.

Last night’s viewing of MIDNIGHT MANHUNT showcased a hardbitten Savage, yet one who also has spunk and humor.  The film is the story of two battling newspaper reporters trying to get the scoop on a corpse that keeps getting moved around.  It’s like an amalgam of HIS GIRL FRIDAY and THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY but without the pace or energy or wit or professionalism (did I leave anything out?).  In this one, George Zucco K.O.s Savage in one scene, but she returns the favor in the final reel.  It’s fun to see her do some comedy for a change.  I’m glad her face wasn’t always fixed in the sneer of contempt she maintained in DETOUR.

I have a copy of MIDNIGHT MANHUNT because it’s part of that great “Video Thrift Store” pack of 250 mystery films that I recommend on my website.  I’m continually amazed as I filter through its contents.

Pace, pace, mia diva…Ann Savage. (1921 – 2008)

Doug / PoMoJoan

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