Specter of the Rose (1946)

“He is not a man; Andre is a shadow on the wall that flickers when the music plays.”

Synopsis:
While a poet (Lionel Stander) shadows a mentally unstable ballet dancer (Ivan Kirov) suspected of killing his wife, a smitten ingenue (Viola Essen) falls in love with Kirov despite the warnings of her stern ballet instructor (Judith Anderson).

Genres:

Review:
Although best known as a prolific screenwriter, Ben Hecht (co)directed a number of interesting titles, such as Crime Without Passion (1934), The Scoundrel (1935), and Angels Over Broadway (1940). Unfortunately, this later effort is much more of a mixed bag, coming across as an intentionally stylized dramatic extension of a dance (per the careers of the main characters) punctuated by overly literate dialogue (Standing’s gravelly-voiced character — what is he doing here, exactly? — is the worst culprit; “And my heart… performed a minuet… in an ashcan”) and odd strains of humor — viz. a flamboyantly fey producer (Michael Chekhov) with a Bob’s Big Boy-esque pompadour who swoons over Kirov’s bare chest and is constantly avoiding payments to his set designer and musicians. Meanwhile, Anderson plays it straight as a dour grand dame of dance, but one wonders what kind of movie she thinks she’s acting in. The strengths of this low-budget film lie in its visuals (Hecht worked with DP Lee Garmes as usual) and the unexpectedly humorous earnestness of its lead characters; during a particularly noteworthy scene, Kirov and Essen make love to each other with and through their eyes: “Hug me with your eyes… Harder.” George Antheil’s unique score is also worth a mention.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Numerous unusual sequences and lines (“You’ve got wonderful knees. Most girls’ knees look like plumbers’ fittings.”)
  • Lee Garmes’ cinematography
  • George Antheil’s score

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look.

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2 Responses to “Specter of the Rose (1946)”

  1. First viewing (12/19/18). Not must-see. As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “I’d like to pick you up right now and hold you until you’re tattooed on me. …Hug me with your eyes. …Harder.”

    ‘Specter of the Rose’ (1946): Ben Hecht once said, “A movie is never any better than the stupidest man connected with it.” That gives me pause… considering he wrote and directed this film. Sometimes we finish watching a movie and think it was bad – other times… such as here… we’re left with “What the fuck did I just watch?!” I think – before setting out to make ‘The Red Shoes’, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger saw ‘Specter’ (a film about ballet) and came out convinced that they (or anyone) could make a better movie on the subject. It’s also possible that Powell mentioned the plot to Leo Marks – who would eventually write the script for Powell’s ‘Peeping Tom’. …Because ‘Specter’ holds both ‘The Red Shoes’ and ‘Peeping Tom’ in one flick. Ben Hecht is a piece of work: he was one of Hollywood’s big-shot writers but, when left to his own devices, he would come up with the daffiest of dialogue – ‘Specter’ is full of it. It often smacks of Clifford Odets – esp. in the hanger-on poet played by Lionel Stander, doing some weird shtick that George Sanders would perfect in ‘All About Eve’. One-note though she is here, only Judith Anderson seems to remember that, no matter what, good acting is still the call (or cry) of the day. That’s something that simply eludes both the young male and female ballet dancers who engine this wacky runaway train (but neither of them ever appeared on-screen again, so there’s that).

  2. I was surprised to visit IMDb and be reminded that Hecht HAD co-directed a number of really unique AND successful little dramas… It does seem notable that what’s different here is he was on his own (other than assistance from Garmes). He didn’t have anyone around to tell him to ax some of his overripe dialogue.

    I didn’t go into the performances by the leads in my review… Kirov seems to simply have been a super-hunky dancer, plain and simple (not an actor). Essen died at age 44, and one wonders what her story was after NOT making it big in Hollywood. She’s earnest as all get out, and trying hard.

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