Friday, November 23, 2012

Satan in High Heels

Now that is a title. Fitting one, too. Satan in High Heels is a movie that doesn't mess around. We're dropped into some black-and-white verite footage of a carnival -- heavy on the carny. At the Burlesque tent, a barker is promoting the ample charms of lead cooch dancer Stacey, played by pinup queen Meg Myles. The yahoos gawk, the ferris wheel spins, Stacey chomps her gum and shows off the goods.
Within the first seven minutes, she has peddled her wares, demanded a raise, quit her job, reconciled with her fresh-outta-the-clink and barely-reformed junkie husband, fleeced said husband for his savings and has fled to New York City wearing nothing but a bustier, a trenchcoat and stilettos. She is one chilly bitch.
As is prone to happen in the movies, Stacey/Meg immediately lands a gig in a club in New York -- her single-scene transition from carny burley girl to high-class club headliner is up there with Marlene Dietrich's waterfront hooker-to-Parisian superstar in one fadeout  from Blonde Venus. She shows up on the arm of a pickup, belts out a number in a sorta Shirley Bassey whitegirl style and gets the gig.
It all happens under the very appraising eye of Grayson Hall, who you may recognize from Night of the Iguana or, more likely, Dark Shadows. As HDIC (Head Dyke in Charge) of the club -- you can tell she runs it, the piece of what is obviously paper tacked above the door of what is obviously an apartment building says so -- she decides to remake Stacey into a star, no matter what it takes. Or, as she puts it: "I don't care if you can breathe or not: You'll wear a girdle and smile."
Out Antiheroine is rehearsed endlessly in a leotard by Hall and her peroxide-blonde queen choreographer. Stacey also finally gets a much-needed deep-conditioning treatment, along with an extensive wardrobe of slick leather outfits, the better to drink martinis and not give a fuck in. ("Miss Myles' Leather Wardrobe by Samuel Robert. Furs by Milton Herman. Shoes by Sydney's of Hollywood....")

But not matter what anyone does for Stacey, she remains blase and icy as hell. She's the kind of broad who drinks her liquor straight and fast, who knows what you want but is more interested in what's in it for her. And there had better be something in it for her. The world of Satan in High Heels is one where women are clearly commodities: The best they can hope for is to benefit themselves rather than someone else
Stacey vamps Grayson Hall long enough to reel in the wealthy businessman who backs Pepe's club. He promptly ditches his current paramour, a washed-up broad in an ugly hat who "used to be in pictures" and the kiss-off scene only reminds us why a worldly-wise lady like Stacy would choose to take the initiative and be ruthless rather than passively wait to be used up.
After being instantaneously swept up n' kept by Big Business, Stacey meets Big Businesses' ne'er do-well, home-from-college son... and you can guess where that goes. How this woman manages two boyfriends, a full-time career, fends off a bevy of backstabbing bitches at work and never knocks her beehive askew or gets a smudge on her shiny pants is beyond me. 

Along with the slick outfits, there's also a lot of sweet vintage rides. Also, the vivid, jazzy soundtrack by guitarist Mundell Lowe, all cinematic crescendo and big band brass. Satan in High Heels is also fun for its ridiculous/marvelous nightclub milieu, where everyone is drunk, greedy, horny, pretentious, ambisexual or some combination of the above. 

We also briefly run across some kind of ostensible professional rival to Stacey. Sabrina is a sort of British Jayne Mansfield, white trash with a big rack, bad teeth and eyes that are too close together and completely empty. One hopes for bitchy repartee but Sabrina is so clearly overmatched that their interactions fizzle out fairly quickly. One wishes that Sabrina's musical numbers were over as fast and not just because she's wearing a white evening gown while singing about being on the rag...

Still, Stacey is the star of the show. Myles delivers her songs respectably especially her trademark number, "The Female of the Species" -- "I'm the kind of woman/Not hard to understand/I'm the kind that cracks the whip/And takes the upper hand" -- how did the Cramps not cover this!?
Meg Myles plays Stacey without a trace of girlishness, doesn't excuse her heartlessness with immaturity or self-absorption. She is a grown-ass woman who doesn't have a whole lot of options and, as such, is intent on maximizing every single one. It's a hardboiled performance up there with Ann Savage in Detour. She might throw you an "Hey, I dig you, dig me." but she won't give you a second chance to get on her good side and then it's "Choose your weapons." As you can imagine, Stacey's playing both ends against each other, the middle and any other angle she can dream up eventually become too much even for her. But, until then, she rules Satan in High Heels.

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