With this blogathon, we had to provide the option of two films, one film produced in a year ending in an even number and another ending in an odd number. The blogathon host would then flip a coin and decide which option to assign to the author. My two films were: Walk on the Wild Side (1962) and Once a Thief (1965). I was told to write about my “even” choice. Stay tuned for my eventual entry about Once a Thief, with the beautiful Alain Delon whom I just discovered last year, thanks to guest programmer, Dana Delany on TCM!
Everyone’s favorite critic, Bosley Crowther, described Walk on the Wild Side as a “lurid, tawdry, and sleazy melodrama.” With this ringing endorsement, I knew I had to see this film! Plus, it also featured two of my faves, Barbara Stanwyck and Jane Fonda! With these two powerhouse actresses in the cast, I figured that Walk on the Wild Side, if anything, would be entertaining. I first tried to watch this film in February 2019 when my husband was in the hospital. I discovered that it was streaming on Amazon Prime. But between being tired due to trying to sleep in the uncomfortable hospital chair and then being constantly bothered by the hospital staff, and then falling asleep while trying to watch the movie, I had to give up trying to watch it. Sadly, the film dropped off Prime and I didn’t get to see it.
I finally got to see Walk on the Wild Side last year when Criterion Channel featured the film during a series they had on Jane Fonda. I was so excited to see it.
It was worth the wait.
Walk on the Wild Side opens with some awesome Saul Bass-produced opening and closing credit sequences. As the opening credits are displayed, a black cat slinks its way through an urban landscape as an exciting jazz-inspired score plays. The black cat walks through the grimy neighborhood, passing broken fences, old cement pipes, rusted out plumbing and chain link. Eventually the black cat spots a white cat and picks a fight. This opening sequence is the perfect metaphor for the events that unfold in Walk on the Wild Side. The closing credits are just as fun with the black cat seen walking over a newspaper headline providing an update to the characters’ fate whom we just saw at the conclusion of the film.
Walk on the Wild Side takes place during the Great Depression. It opens with Kitty Twist (Jane Fonda) sleeping inside of a large, cement tube somewhere in rural Texas. Dove Linkhorn (Laurence Harvey), a cowboy, spots her and wakes her up. Kitty is a young woman who has spent many years as a bit of a vagabond, doing what she needs to get by. The filmmakers try to make Jane Fonda look a little rough around the edges, but despite some messy hair and baggy clothes, she still looks great. Fonda also affects a Southern drawl, much better than the one she uses in Period of Adjustment. Dove tells Kitty that he’s on his way to New Orleans. His father has died and Dove decides that this is the time to find and reunite with his lost love Hallie. He gets wind that she’s in New Orleans.
(DOVE has this completely absurd and ridiculous reminiscence about his time with Hallie. Seriously nobody would ever say this)
DOVE: “I’ll never forget the first time I met her. We went swimming together. It was at night. The way she moved in the water, like a kind of white flash. It was then I kissed her for the very first time. She gave me something I’d never known before. Something I a’int experienced since. Afterwards in the moonlight, we danced like we were celebrating a miracle. Crazy kind of dancing. We sang and shouted like it wasn’t real, as if we were in another world. Sometimes I think it never really happened to us.”Laurence Harvey as “Dove Linkhorn” in “Walk on the Wild Side” (1962)
Kitty, not really having anywhere else to go or having anything else to do, decides to travel with Dove to New Orleans. Along the way, she shows him the ropes on hitchhiking and hopping freighters. Kitty also shows Dove the tools that women have at their disposal to get by in the world when she trades her baggy clothes in for a tight, form-hugging dress that shows off her assets to their highest potential. The ruse works and Kitty is able to get them a ride in the back of a box truck to complete the final leg of their trip. It’s obvious by this point that Kitty wants to get into Dove’s pants, but he rebuffs her every advance.
(KITTY is trying to seduce DOVE)
DOVE: “Sure I like you Kitty, but I don’t feel like foolin’.”
KITTY: “I’ll make you feel like foolin’.”
DOVE: “When I want something, I’ll ask for it!”
KITTY: “Who are you savin’ it for Dove? What’s her name?”
DOVE: “Hallie. Her name is Hallie.”
KITTY: “She’s in New Orleans?”
DOVE: “Hope so. I a’int seen her in three years.”Jane Fonda as “Kitty Twist” and Laurence Harvey as “Dove Linkhorn” in “Walk on the Wild Side” (1962)
Upon arriving in New Orleans, Kitty and Dove stop at a small diner run by a kind Latina woman, Teresina (Anne Baxter. Yes, really. We’ll look past this for now). Kitty senses an opportunity to take advantage of Teresina’s hospitality and feigns illness after eating her meal. Teresina takes Kitty into the small bedroom behind her cafe to rest. As soon as Teresina is out of sight, Kitty loots her drawers, looking for something of value to steal. She eventually settles on Teresina’s beautiful rosary. Kitty emerges from the bedroom and she is very rude to Teresina, threatening to sue her for “poisoning” her.
(After TERESINA implies that KITTY was feigning illness while KITTY pitches a fit about being “poisoned” by TERESINA’S cooking)
KITTY: “Imagine, an innocent person walkin–“
TERESINA: “And of course, you make your living by walking.”Jane Fonda as “Kitty Twist” and Anne Baxter as “Teresina” in “Walk on the Wild Side” (1962)
Me-ow! Kitty’s behavior at Teresina’s restaurant leads to a fight between her and Dove. As they’re leaving, Dove discovers the rosary in Kitty’s pocket and forces her to return it. They return to Teresina’s cafe and return the rosary. Kitty storms off and disappears for about half the film. As the action of the film progresses, it becomes obvious where Kitty will re-emerge. Dove’s honesty appeals to Teresina and she gives him a job at her cafe. With a place to stay and some income, Dove continues to search for Hallie. He ends up discovering that she works works at “The Doll House,” a brothel in the French Quarter in New Orleans.
Now for the best part of the film–Barbara Stanwyck. My queen, Barbara Stanwyck, plays Jo, the proprietor of The Doll House. It seems that Jo discovered Hallie in New York City and brought her back to New Orleans. When Dove finds Hallie, she tells him how she came to live at The Doll House. Hallie’s story implies that she and Jo became lovers, which Hallie was receptive to because she was so lonely. Jo is very protective of Hallie, both out of a personal interest and a business interest, because Hallie is the #1 girl at The Doll House. Dove and Hallie reunite and resume their relationship, much to Jo’s chagrin.
Eventually, Kitty re-joins the film (looking amazing I might add) when she’s picked up on vagrancy charges. Jo apparently bailed her out and perhaps in repayment, Kitty becomes an employee at The Doll House. Jo then figures out that Kitty and Dove are acquainted with one another which is where Jo finds her ace in the hole. Kitty is apparently underage (which we wouldn’t know looking at her). Dove and Kitty traveled together from Texas to Louisiana. Jo sees this as an opportunity to threaten Dove, stating that she will tell authorities that he transported a minor over state lines for the purposes of immoral activity and statutory rape. However, she’ll keep quiet if Dove leaves, without Hallie. However, Jo isn’t the type to just let things go.
JO to HALLIE: “I want to know what’s going on between you and that boy. Are you in love with that Texas dirt farmer?
(After further arguing between JO and HALLIE)
JO: You may be weak, but I’m not. I’ll find your dirt farmer and that will be the end of that.”Barbara Stanwyck as “Jo” in “Walk on the Wild Side” (1962)
This film is kind of trashy, but in all the right ways. It is not quite as trashy as one of my other faves, Valley of the Dolls, but it’s up there. Laurence Harvey has the personality of a wet mop, so there isn’t much to say about him, except that he’s miscast. Harvey is British playing a cowboy. Capucine isn’t much better. She epitomizes ice queen, which does not seem like the ideal quality for a prostitute. She seems like she’d be the type of prostitute who’d come with a big laundry list of things that they “won’t do.” Anne Baxter’s casting as a Latina is baffling. Her affected “Mexican” accent is even worse. The filmmakers could have cast someone else, like Katy Jurado, if they wanted a Latina accent. If they really wanted Baxter, I don’t think changing the character’s nationality would have made much of a difference. While I love Baxter, she has such a deliberate way of speaking, with. each. and. ev-ery. syl-a-ble. so. clear-ly. em-pha-sized. Regardless, Baxter’s miscasting just lends to the fun. That’s how I look at it.
The real stars of this film, in my opinion, are Fonda and Stanwyck–the two actresses for whom I watched this film. Fonda is excellent as the conniving young woman who does whatever she wants, takes whatever (or whomever) she wants. She doesn’t care who she hurts as long as she gets what she wants. Fonda brings a spark to her scenes with Harvey, which is desperately needed since he’s so boring. I love that she’s allowed to be a little more loose in this film as she was a bit too stiff in her earlier films like Period of Adjustment. Stanwyck is amazing and she did an excellent job as the villain of the story. She is so cruel and ruthless. Jo is a woman who is so clearly in love with her star girl, that no man, and especially not a drip like Laurence Harvey, are going to come between her and the woman she loves. Poor Barbara Stanwyck’s legless husband. He doesn’t stand a chance.
This film also features gorgeous 1960s gowns, except, oops. This movie takes place during The Great Depression. But hey, if Anne Baxter can be Mexican, then Capucine can wear 1960s Pierre Cardin couture. Sartorial anachronisms aside, Walk on the Wild Side is a great film if you enjoy a slightly trashy film. The early 1960s black and white, gritty aesthetic really makes the film. It’s a fun film to watch if you don’t take it too seriously and just go with whatever is presented on screen. I was so happy when Sony saved this film from out of print oblivion by releasing a new blu ray of the movie this past September. You better believe that I bought it.