In a 2010 interview with the British minor cult director Pete Walker informed us that he attempts to conduct his movie scenes to get a noir feel using an old fashioned approach normally to be found in movies from the 1940’s and 50’s. Die Screaming Marianne (1971) does not forefeel this promise, it may be a thriller, but as a film noir it undoubtedly fails.
Marianne (Susan George) is a nightclub dancer and appears to be on the run from some dubious looking villains and is pressured in to a registry office by a slime bag called Sebastian (Christopher Sandford) but ends up marrying Eli Frome (Barry Evans) the best man, for reasons that I’ll not go into here. Maybe this desperate attempt to marry the girl has got something to do with the fact that she is about to turn 21 and will inherit a large monetary legacy from her deceased mother. Also included in this inheritance are some legal papers that will incriminate her father (Leo Genn), allegedly a crooked Judge. Daddy invites Marianne to join him at his large villa on Portugal’s Algarve, which also houses her sadistic stepsister Hildegard (Judy Huxtable) and a strange manservant called Rodriguez (Kenneth Hendel) ‘a game of cat-and-mouse ensues’.
The clunky script was written by Murray Smith, a floor manager for Granada, who had met the director in a pub where Smith had produced a press cutting from the News of the World about the misdemeanors of a young couple that was to become Cool it Carol (1970). Die Screaming Marianne followed in 1971. The character of Marianne was alleged to be a more grown up role for Susan George and Walker admitted he was lucky to get her as she was very much in demand at the time with Straw Dogs released the same year. Barry Evens was also a well-known actor having starred in Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1967) and the Doctor TV series between 1968 and 1971. Ian McShane was first chose for the film but unfortunately was unavailable. The Director admitted that the film would have worked better with a ballsy actor like McShane. (One of my problems with the film is its unconvincing acting from everyone associated with it) Leo Genn, who had appeared in Lucio Fulci's A Lizard in a Woman's Skin the same year, is the most experienced actor in the film; he was a friend of Walker's and appeared for less than his usual fee. Anorexic looking Judy Huxtable was a model, the face of Bacardi Rum and Fry's Chocolate and Peter Cooks second wife and had appeared in Les Bicylettes de Belsize in 1968. Christopher Sandford, another old friend of the director who had also appeared in Cool it Carol but more famously had starred in the TV soap Coronation Street during 1963 - 64 as Walter Potts, add to this a short lived recording career.
All the young actors were deemed to be faces of the time and were full of them selves which resulted in personality clashes on the set and things were gradually getting out of hand placing a lot of responsibility on Walker and his crew to sort it out. All this delayed the very low budget movie resulting in the original script being depleted to save time. Walker threatened to close down production and cancel the picture! This was announced on a Friday when the director flew back to the UK, with the waiting press providing a great deal of bad publicity for the young stars, and by Monday morning all was back on track.
The sleazy opening credits, with Susan George showing her moves, and almost appears to be a trailer for the movie. The film did better in America but Walker did not get paid, the company that released it went bust! Problems with budget coupled with the well-publicized problems with the cast, its mumbled dialog and the fact that the movie wasn’t very accomplished explains why this is film was never very successful; it was released after the Swinging London period so slightly behind its time frame. Pete Walker admits it was not his best film and describes it as ‘glossy and interesting but not a good example of his work’, in fact its not a good example of film making in general for the reason I have given – fans of this genre will find more minuses than plusses I’m afraid.