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My Blood Runs Cold

My Blood Runs Cold(1965)

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teaser My Blood Runs Cold (1965)

Produced in the wake of Psycho (1960), What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), and Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), My Blood Runs Cold (1965) channels the modern gothic thriller into a romantic ghost story of sorts. It even begins with a flashback to an earlier era, where we see a comely young woman in 19th-century dress (Joey Heatherton) venture out of a grand manor and into the dark forest for... what exactly we aren't told, but when we jump a hundred years to the present we find the same young woman in an entirely new setting. Clearly the past holds some sway over the fate of this beauty.

Julie Merriday (Heatherton again, now in a stylish cropped hairdo) races down a winding coast highway in a convertible and recklessly runs a motorcycle rider off the road. Troy Donahue is Ben Gunther, the young, dreamy, somewhat otherworldly mystery man who survives the incident with a few scrapes, and Barry Sullivan is Julie's father, a rich, controlling businessman who has spoiled her rotten while mapping out her future, including her marriage to his junior business partner and protg Harry (Nicolas Coster). Ben is intense and adventurous and lives on his own private boat, the opposite of the cautious, conventional Harry. He also believes that he is the reincarnation of a past love returned to fulfill Julie's destiny.

Tall, athletic, and good looking, Troy Donahue became a teen heartthrob after starring opposite Sandra Dee in A Summer Place (1959). He signed with Warner Bros., which kept him busy in movies like Rome Adventure (1962) and Palm Springs Weekend (1963) and on the TV shows Surfside 6 and (in its final season) Hawaiian Eye. My Blood Runs Cold was a calculated choice to break with his teen idol image and the light romantic romps the studios favored. Ben Gunther gave him a chance to create an intense, ambiguous identity behind the blond hair and blue eyes that made him a Hollywood heartthrob, and add a dangerous edge to his All-American persona.

Joey Heatherton had been acting since she was a child--she was in the original Broadway production of The Sound of Music and graduated to TV and movies, often playing neurotic young women--but is better known as an entertainer, singing and dancing and doing light comedy with Perry Como, Andy Williams, Dean Martin, and Bob Hope's USO shows. "Show business is in my blood," she told Peer J. Oppenheimer in a newspaper profile piece. My Blood Runs Cold plays off that image of the reckless wild child enchanted by the earnest intensity of Ben, an old-fashioned romantic in the body of a modern hunk.

William Conrad is remembered today primarily as an actor, voicing Marshall Matt Dillon on the original radio version of Gunsmoke and starring in the TV shows Cannon and Jake and the Fat Man, but in the 1960s the esteemed character actor was a prolific director and producer for movies and television alike. My Blood Runs Cold was one of three films that Conrad produced and directed for Warner Bros. in 1965 alone, and he worked with Oscar-winning cinematographer Sam Leavitt (The Defiant Ones, 1958) on all three. Leavitt delivers a handsome B&W image in the widescreen picture, which is more mood piece than dramatic thriller.

The film opened to disappointing reviews and poor box-office, which hit the careers of the young stars pretty hard. Warner Bros. dropped Donahue's contract and Heatherton put her efforts back into singing and dancing, returning to the stage and TV variety shows and specials. Curiously enough, both actors inspired satirical caricatures in TV comedies in later years. Troy McClure, the B-movie actor and infomercial pitchman voiced by Phil Hartman during the first ten seasons of The Simpsons, was a reference to Donahue and Doug McClure, while Lola Heatherton, created for SCTV by Catherine O'Hara, was a flamboyant variety show entertainer inspired by Heatherton and Lola Falana. Though they made fun of the performers, they were affectionate caricatures and may have actually introduced later generations to these stars of the sixties.

As a trivia note, My Blood Runs Cold is referenced in the 1993 thriller True Romance, directed by Tony Scott from a Quentin Tarantino script. The poster can be seen hanging on the wall of Brad Pitt's apartment. Hard to say who's responsible for that particular touch but it gives the film a Tarantino connection, which is a pretty cool pop culture credential.

By Sean Axmaker

Sources:
"Joey Heatherton: The Switched-On Kid," Peer J. Oppenheimer. Sarasota Herald Tribune, April 16, 1967.
"My Blood Runs Cold" film review, Howard Thompson. The New York Times, March 25, 1965.
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