When I read of the death of Jill Haworth earlier this month, just sixty-five, I found myself turning into a blogging Elvis:
Retrospective praise comes easy. It also feels like an obligation, a mark of respect, to lavish praise on those just departed, almost as if they'll somehow take it as consolation. Much better, if you really loved them, to tell them so when they're still alive.
.Yes, that is Frankie Avalon as her boyfriend. Let's hear it for British horror movies, ladies and gentlemen.
But by the time she made these films, without which I wouldn't even know her name, she'd already had two proper careers.
First, she was Otto Protégé's preminger. The big man with the bad temper plucked her from English obscurity, aged eighteen or something, and launched her with a big splash in Exodus and a couple others. He knew his job to that extent: epics about the founding of Israel are all very well on one level, but a bit of Jill Haworth helps to get it over at the Drake Cinema, Plymouth. That didn't take for some reason. She's back in In Harm's Way and another one, but the old Faith Domergue handling had the old Faith Domergue result; I can never decide if it's a good or a bad thing that he let her go in time to avoid Skidoo.
Then she was the original Sally Bowles in the Broadway run of Cabaret, and despite bad early reviews (worse: bad reviews for her, in raves for the show) she stuck with it for two years and was much disappointed not to get the gig in the movie.
Not half as disappointed as I am. I've had that film on DVD for years; I don't doubt it's good - it's a Monogram movie after all. But there's always something I need to see more. Had it been Jill in the lead it would have probably melted from overuse by now.
Career number three - relegation to cheapo British horror - was not pleasing to her, I fear, and it's a wonder she even stood for it. But it is pleasing to we who persist in finding a dark kind of beauty in those things. Such flawless glamour is not to be expected in these movies, among the tawdriest in the Brit-horror catalogue.
You can tell she's not into it; there's a remote, icy quality to her work in British horror - she knows we don't deserve her here. Perversely, it's one of the most attractive things about these performances; a sense of sadness and frustration, the obvious feeling that here is a butterfly of Hollywood on the wheel of Wardour Street. It's one thing to do this on the way up, but when it's clearly a step back down - well, it's no wonder that she always seems disdainfully apart from the other characters.
But I love all of her horror movies a great big lot, however tacky or mired in their eras or occasionally demeaning they seem. However much, for that matter, she appears to be just going through the motions in them. If you only watch one actress going through the motions this year, watch Jill Haworth going through the motions. There are motions and then there are motions, after all.
I never got to see It! (1967), though one of the key images of my Alan Frank horror education was that mad shot of her in a nightie and cute little slippers being carried off by the Golem. (Oh what a time it was to be going to the cinema!)
But the other three: Haunted House of Horror, Tower of Evil, The Mutations... Now you're talking!
Of the three, Haunted House of Horror is the most purely fun, a typical Tigon barn dance that should go down well with anyone who enjoyed The Beast in the Cellar (that'll be YOU, dear reader), but with the added attraction of Richard O'Sullivan, Sid James's son from Bless This House and two women so outrageously beautiful the film needs no further endorsement, instead of Flora Robson and Beryl Reid. (Gina Warwick is the other one: another inexplicably non-starting career.)
But as anyone who has listened to director Michael Armstrong's fascinating DVD commentary will know, it could have been much, much more. The film he originally delivered was a cynical attack on the values in which it superficially trades, an anti-swinging sixties film that takes the beautiful people and exposes them for the self-obsessed, mean-spirited and superficial crowd of wretches they so surely were. Much has been made of the daffy things Tigon did and tried to do with the movie (attempts to get Karloff into it persisted in various forms almost until the last minute) but far more important is the insidious damage done to its thematic framework.
Editing, reordering and extensive reshoots (with which Armstrong was not involved) relentlessly softened and humanised the characters; in an effort to make them more - or even vaguely - likeable, the new material serves only to make them uninteresting, and to leave many of their motivations obscure and some of the plot developments decidedly opaque.
One of the worst hit characters is Haworth's, now turned into a typically bland damsel in distress with not much going on under her sensational architecture, but given every once in a while to what now seem like inexplicable flashes of petulance that have lingered from Armstrong's original cut. As written, her character is a prize bitch; spiteful, resentful and sullen. For what is ostensibly the heroine, the girl in whose last-act peril we are expected to care, this was audacious indeed.
That said, she's still hardly what you'd call sympathetic, and a bit of a primadonna, even in the soppy recut. She and her boyfriend (Frankie Avalon, you'll recall) appear to have come together through a kind of social inevitability: they are the stars of the London party scene and could never be seen with anyone lesser on their arms. But they don't give any indication that they actually like each other.
The Mutations is hardly the most savoury of films, but at least some of it is shot in real, daylit exteriors, so it feels like a holiday in the Bahamas after Tower of Evil. By any other standards it's still pure sleaze, though.
And there it ended, and now, it ends for all. Natural causes they say, and thank God for that. But surely there's nothing natural about any causes that can take Jill Haworth away.