Screaming Mimi (1958)

“I know there’s gotta be a story when two sexy blondes are knifed the same way — and both have the same taste in statues!”

Synopsis:
After nearly being killed by a psychopath, a voluptuous blonde (Anita Ekberg) is sent to a sanitarium, where her psychiatrist (Harry Townes) falls obsessively in love with her and helps her get a job working as an exotic dancer at a nightclub run by Joann “Gypsy” Masters (Gypsy Rose Lee). When Ekberg is nearly killed once again by an unknown assailant, a journalist (Philip Carey) who’s fallen for Ekberg does what he can to solve the mystery — and save her life.

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Review:
This atmospheric serial killer flick (directed by Gerd Oswald) remains a minor cult flick due primarily to the lead presence of voluptuous Anita Ekberg, two years before her infamous appearance in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita; while no great actress, Ekberg is so outrageously endowed that she projects an undeniably magnetic presence on-screen. The opening scene — in which Ekberg is nearly killed by a knife-wielding psychopath while taking an outdoor shower — holds cinematic interest as well, given that it predates the infamous “shower sequence” in Hitchcock’s Psycho by two years. And fans of the legendary Gypsy Rose Lee will be grateful to catch a rare glimpse of the diva on film (though her performance of “Put the Blame on Mame” is tepid at best). The storyline itself — a psycho-horror tale involving mind control and mysterious sculptures known as “Screaming Mimi”s — is overly convoluted, but Burnett Guffey’s superbly noir-ish black-and-white cinematography helps to elevate the film a notch above its pulpy, B-grade script.

P.S. Any devoted film fanatic will immediately notice that much of Screaming Mimi‘s soundtrack is lifted directly from On the Waterfront — a seriously annoying distraction.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Anita Ekberg’s sultry nightclub dances
  • Burnett Guffey’s atmospheric b&w cinematography
  • The Red Norvo Trio (performing at Gypsy Lee’s nightclub)

Must See?
Yes, for its status as a cult favorite.

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One Response to “Screaming Mimi (1958)”

  1. A must: call the bad-movie-loving gang and tell ‘em t’come over! This one has hilariously jolly dancing waiters, a man calming an angry Great Dane by reciting a mixture of the Gettysburg Address and what? a nursery rhyme?, statue fetishism, implied lesbianism (“Sorry, girls, I didn’t know it was ‘tea for two.'”), a plot you’ll give up caring about midway (if you ever did) – all this and more wrapped around the considerable Ms. Ekberg.

    She is the lead but, from the size of both, it seems the star is really her chest and hair. Combined, they easily fill half the screen, attempting to force everything else off.

    What’s perhaps most entertaining about her performance is what other people say about her:

    Gypsy Rose Lee (re: Ekberg as a dancer): She’s the greatest thing in the history of nightclub entertainment. [Uh...well...]

    Townes: In a little while, we’ll have enough money to go to Europe to live. We won’t have to hide anymore. …There’ll be no more men staring at you. [Uh huh.]

    Hospital doctor: I gave strict orders that the patient wasn’t to be disturbed. [But she is!]

    Unfortunately, Ekberg herself isn’t afforded much in the way of memorable lines – but, again, those around her are:

    Carey: How tall are you, Yolanda?
    Ekberg: With heels?
    Carey: With anybody.

    I don’t really mean to be hard on Ekberg (even if her ‘interpretive dance’ number here – which, lucky us, we see twice! – is listless at best). But apart from her looks, her purpose in just about any film is suspect. Fellini’s use of her in ‘La Dolce Vita’ was economic and probably did show her off (as it were) well. And, to be fair, I recall her being…I wanna say ‘ok’…in a segment in ‘Woman Times Seven’. [Note to self: see 'Killer Nun'.] But her performance here is anything but. Still, it’s not to be missed.

    And, yes, the look of the film is a real plus!

    cf: Gypsy Rose Lee’s fun bit in ‘The Trouble With Angels’ [Another note to self: rewatch 'Wind Across the Everglades' and 'The Stripper'.]

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