For some viewers, the identity of the mysterious killer might not be as puzzling as why The Girl in Black Stockings (1957) is being aired on Turner Classic Movies, but the answer is simple. This is a CLASSIC sleazefest and definitely several notches above the standard exploitation drive-in fare that tantalized audiences in the late fifties before the advent of more explicit films like Blood Feast (1963). For one thing, the oddball casting alone is worth a look. Anne Bancroft, in the key role of Beth, a potential victim of the roaming psycho, would probably like to burn all the copies of The Girl in Black Stockings. But admirers of Bancroft's later work (acclaimed films such as The Miracle Worker (1962) and The Graduate, 1967) will enjoy seeing her make the most of her deceptively innocent character in this film, one of many B-movies like Gorilla at Large (1954) that convinced Bancroft to leave Hollywood and focus solely on a theatre career beginning in 1958.
Of course, it's impossible to talk about The Girl in Black Stockings without mentioning Mamie Van Doren who steals every scene she is in and it's not because of her acting. Clad in tight-fitting outfits from The Pink Poodle boutique, Mamie flaunts her body for all it's worth in her brief scenes, prompting unwanted comments to her date from the other male clientele like, "You outta keep stuff like that under lock and key." Other cast members you'll recognize include Marie Windsor, one of the great 'faces' in film noir cinema (see her in The Killing, 1956) and Lex Barker, a former screen Tarzan who married Lana Turner and became a well known child molester (The ugly details are revealed in the best-selling book, Detour by Cheryl Crane, Lana Turner's daughter). In smaller roles, look for Dan Blocker as a bartender (He played "Hoss" on the popular TV Western, Bonanza) and Stuart Whitman as a police officer.
Even better than the oddball cast is the demented screenplay by Richard Landau which features such strange dialogue exchanges between the characters that you'll want to replay the scenes just to make sure you heard THAT correctly. It's like Mickey Spillane on acid. Consider, for example, this terse line from the investigating detective: "Somebody died last night - a dame - somebody got nervous with a knife." Then, there's the odd clinical detail: "Those arms! Carved up like some crazy jigsaw puzzle!" And how about that nutty diner scene when Lex Barker gets philosophical with Anne Bancroft and says, "How did two people start out like we did, then get so lost? So many things seem to have gotten in the way. Worse part of it is, I don't think it's stopped. Well, enough about that - let's talk about us!" The fact that hardly any relationship at all has been established between the couple when Barker makes this little speech only adds to the movie's kookiness. There's also plenty of sick humor, like the scene where the little girl discovers a floating corpse in the swimming pool - "Look at that funny man" - only to have the coroner complete the joke with his kiss-off comment, "Got himself the start of a nice sun tan."
Despite the presence of Mamie Van Doren and other Playboy pin-up wannabes, The Girl in Black Stockings also swings the other way, playing up the homoerotic overtones between some of the male characters in certain scenes. Lex Barker, who spends most of the movie lounging around in his bathing suit, not only functions as an unofficial 'male nurse' for invalid Edmund Parry (Ron Randell), lighting his cigarettes and hauling him in and out of his wheelchair, but also as an intimate confidante of the local sheriff (played by John Dehner) who tells Barker, "I guess I can let my hair down with you." It's also hard to ignore the incestuous overtones of any scene between Parry and his possessive sister (Windsor). A favorite exchange is the one where Windsor is tending to her brother in bed and says, "Can I get you some hot milk before I leave?" His reply, delivered with venomous self-loathing: "Milk? I'd like to get so drunk I'd look in a mirror and spit at my own face!"
Yes, The Girl in Black Stockings is everything you'd expect from a lurid murder mystery, custom made for drive-in audiences, but it's also much more. Beautifully filmed in crisp black and white at Lake Tahoe by William Margulies with a lounge music score by Les Baxter, The Girl in Black Stockings is exploitation filmmaking at its finest - which means it's degenerate, campy, irredeemably sexist, and compulsive viewing for anyone who owns a copy of The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film.
Producer: Aubrey Schenk
Director: Howard W. Koch
Screenplay: Richard Landau, based on the story by Peter Godfrey
Production Design: Jack T. Collis
Cinematography: William Margulies
Film Editing: John F. Schreyer
Original Music: Les Baxter
Cast: Anne Bancroft (Beth Dixon), Lex Barker (David Hewson), Mamie Van Doren (Harriet Ames), Ron Randell (Edmund Parry), Marie Windsor (Julia Parry), John Dehner (Sheriff Jess Holmes), Diana Van der Vlis (Louise Miles), Stuart Whitman (Prentiss).
by Jeff Stafford