Mon 24 Sep 2012
THE TATTERED DRESS. Universal International Pictures, 1957. Jeff Chandler, Jeanne Crain, Jack Carson, Gail Russell, Elaine Stewart, George Tobias, Edward Andrews, Phillip Reed, Edward Platt. Director: Jack Arnold.
Back in the 1950s, Universal Studios had two really fine trashy directors under contract: Douglas Sirk did garish melodramas like Written on the Wind, and Jack Arnold handled the more overtly pulpy stuff, Westerns and monster movies like Tarantula and Creature from the Black Lagoon.
The Tattered Dress finds Arnold encroaching on Sirk’s territory with a tawdry tale penned (or typed, as the case may be) by George Zuckerman, who churned out Written on the Wind and the engaging scripts for Dawn at Socorro and The Brass Legend. The results in Tattered maybe aren’t purely successful, but they’re at least fun to watch.
The story starts in a small desert town where wealthy Phillip Reed murders the guy who seduced his wife (said wife played with classy trampiness by Elaine Stewart, one of three actresses here who deserved better). Reed gets arrested by that perennial comic foil Jack Carson, playing a hick-town Bozo-Sheriff, and Jeff Chandler shows up as a high-powered attorney hired to defend him in court.
Chandler coolly gets Reed acquitted by making a fool of Carson on the witness stand (not a terribly difficult task, given Carson’s persona) and prepares to go back to the Big City — only to find that the sheriff isn’t such a hick ass he seems, and Chandler is on the receiving end of some rather sticky and perhaps deadly revenge.
Jack Arnold always seemed to like desert locations, and he does well with this one, evoking a lonely isolation where passion and violence seem to simmer below a hot, dusty and deceptively still surface. Zuckerman’s script has its slack moments, but director Arnold gets through them as quickly as possible to highlight the occasional scenes of tension and violence.
As far as the acting goes, Jeff Chandler delivers his usual clapboard performance, and Jeanne Crain simply marks time in a role so thankless as to make her casting seem positively churlish, but Gail Russell, a sad-eyed actress who died tragically young, does a fine job in an interesting bit, and Jack Carson trades on his buffoonish image impressively as the apparently-dumb cop.
It’s not a totally riveting ninety minutes, but The Tattered Dress has its moments, and it sure won’t put you to sleep. I might add that this was produced by one Albert Zugsmith, an auteur too colorful to explore here in any depth, but definitely a subject for further research.
Editorial Note: The video you see above consists of only the first four minutes of the movie. For some reason I haven’t been able to embed the entire movie, but you can watch it on YouTube, here.