Saturday Matinee: Back from the Dead (1957)

Avoid walking along the cliffs in your neatly wrapped scarf

BACK FROM THE DEAD (1957)

You know I can’t help but wonder whether Hitchcock saw this before he made Vertigo the next year, but of course I am too lazy at present to do any research on either film. In any case, if he did yer man also decided ‘But why don’t we focus on the man who clearly is the most important thing to consider as all women are cheats and liars.’ Okay, putting words in his mouth but —

I was hepped to this film by Steve Bissette as we were talking about occult body-swapping in The Witches and other related things. I’d never heard of it. I have a paperback of the novel coming: both it and the script were written by Catherine Turney. Pitched more as Gothic than horror, the films lets us know from the start that good is with god and then there is evil. A touch heavy-handed? Yeah, but once you get past that there is some fun though not as much occult shenanigans as I would have hoped for. Turney was one of the first women writers contracted by Warner. She had a hand in writing for a lot of the big women stars, too, though not given credit for Mildred Pierce and thus missing out on its Oscar. She turned to writing for soaps, novels, and biographies, doggedly working without much recognition.

Music is credited to Raoul Kraushaar, though IMDB also lists Dave Kahn as contributing. Both had long careers in film and television, neither of them suggestive of the fascinating piece of music that the dog hates and causes a kind of psychic break which opens the way for body hopping. SPOILERS here on [and a CW for miscarriage] — (image captures via one of the variously poor prints on YT)

The dog hates that LP.
Concerned sister Kate and husband Dick wonder why poor pregnant Mandy collapsed: occult sonic vibes!

As she awakens in her bed we have a clumsy shift between sweet blonde Mandy and dark (severly made up) Felicia. Peggy Castle does a good job of effacing Mandy when it’s Felicia’s turn, but we have so little memory of Mandy, it’s hard to remember that she was nice. Hard-hearted Felicia doesn’t care about the baby Mandy lost. Of course no one believes that Felicia is back, though she’s desperate to get Dick (or Dickens as she always calls him) to be happy about it. However, he’s glad to have seen the back of her and never looked into her mysterious death six years ago where they only found her ring in the belly of a shark.

That has to be better in the novel, I hope.

Look at those eyebrows! Clearly evil Felicia.

The men in this film are good men, supportive, but not especially effective because they just don’t have any imagination. A very Yellow Wallpaper sort of doctor tells them to not antagonise Mandy/Felicia let her pretend to be Felicia — after all, a wife is a wife. But Felicia has some flirting and mayhem to carry out. First stop: mom and dad’s. Mom is delighted, dad is appalled. But they believe. Architect pal John, who first resents being fixed up with Kate because after all Felicia went after him the night she died and he doesn’t like that kind of woman, decides he likes Kate because she has spunk — and he has to convince her to abandon her sister for an afternoon so he sees her as hard to get.

Mom surprised but pleased; Felicia pre-Novak peplum suit and coiffure

Kate is the key (of course I’m going to root for a Kate) and she is clearly 1) faithful and 2) spunky, not caring about what others think when it comes to rescuing her sister from the body snatcher Felicia. She even makes an appointment to see Maître Renall, the devilish cult leader who arranged the body swap….somehow. It’s not clear. They spend almost no time on the body swap. When they grab another body to sneak Felicia away (Mandy’s is no good anymore because Kate is so persistent), it’s clear that they have to have a ceremony and drain all the blood. There’s a hint of this at the start, when we get the voiceover about ‘not believing things like this happened in the 20th century!’ and what we later discover [if we remember: I was thinking ‘where did I see that door knocker before…?’] to be Renall’s house of occult shenanigans. But when we get the story of her apparent demise from John who witnessed her fall from the cliff, it doesn’t add up and they never go back to it. Maybe it’s explained better in the novel.

Actually not an occult moment though great scythe peignoir combo.
Disappointing occult shenanigans: innocents confront Maître Renall in his hood while unconscious body waits for swapping in chamber meant to be…scary, I guess. It’s got candles and shadows anyway.

Fortunately, Kate is not one to let Felicia’s candlestick to her noggin stop her for long; she gets Dick/Dickens and John then takes them to where the action is–before the the innocent can be bled, stopping Renall, who has to deal with his jilted piggy bank (AKA sucker) who realises he’s going to run off with Felicia and leave her behind. Without a body to hop to the very ex ex feels her time is running out and the opposition of the faithful is too much.

Bye, Felicia (you know I have been writing this whole thing to get here). Looking forward to reading the novel.