Oct 1, 2011

So Sad About Gloria (1973)

Director, Producer: Harry Thomason
Writer: Marshall Riggan
Cinematographer: James W. Roberson
Music: Jerald Reed, Terry Trent
Centronics International; 90 min; color

Lori Saunders (Gloria Wellman), Dean Jagger (Fredrick Wellman), Robert Ginnaven (Chris Kenner), Lou Hoffman (The Psychiatrist), Seymour Trietman (Mr. Bellinger), Linda Wyse (Janie)

One of most interesting "where are they now" stories of the days of regional horror films is of director-producer Harry Thomason, who went on to produce such successful TV series as "Designing Women" and "Evening Shade", after having paid his dues the previous decade with a quartet of drive-in genre pictures made in his native Arkansas. The horror anthology Encounter With The Unknown (1973); the rural comedy The Great Lester Boggs -AKA: Redneck Country (1975)- of which I may be its one admirer; and the delightful rock-bottom 1950s sci-fi homage The Day It Came To Earth (1979); proved that he was no Eisenstein, but at least managed to deliver medium-grade entertainment on low budgets. For years, I had sought his other film, So Sad About Gloria, after catching only a glimpse of it on Elvira's old TV show way back when (before switching channels to watch Any Which Way You Can instead), which was also released on video with the less-interesting title Visions of Evil. Of the four films, this one is perhaps the most competently acted, sentimental and character-driven.

Like a piece of classic Southern Gothic fiction, So Sad About Gloria explores the themes of insanity and longing, as our heroine Gloria is released from a sanitarium, after having experienced trauma from her brother's death, into the care of her uncle Fredrick. ("I don't feel much like The Madwoman of Chaillot".) Back into the real world, Gloria yearns to settle down and have a happy, normal, simple life, contrary to the wealth that her estate provides. ("She sees wealth as an intruder on her self.") However, despite this ambition, Gloria still has visions of a mysterious man dressed in a black cape, who hacks away at a coffin in a train station (what Bunuel would've done with this!). Nonetheless, Gloria meets and marries Chris, a writer, and they move into their new home, oddly enough, the scene of an earlier seen murder of a young woman, still unsolved. Of course, strange things occur: the house resonates with chimes from a musical box; chains are heard rattling; and her apparitions return.

The second act takes forty-five minutes of its 90-minute running time to begin, as much time is spent in the courtship of Gloria and Chris, and even in moments between our protagonist and her friend Janie. Before the terror truly kicks in, the screenwriter wisely lets us get to know Gloria as a person before the trauma occurs once again. Gloria and Chris spend two montages together playing on swings, canoeing, and visiting the zoo before tying the knot. Yet still, there is a hint of melancholy beneath this exterior with James Roberson's autumnal cinematography and the odd piano-trombone score. But even when this turns into a mid-Western Gaslight, the film doesn't generate much excitement. It spends even more time flash cutting to the mysterious man with the coffin, as Gloria's danger increases, which fast becomes a tiresome gimmick.

The conclusion is rather astonishing, but most may not decide to stick through this leisurely melodrama to get there. At best, this movie serves as a good vehicle for Lori Saunders' talent. The dark-eyed beauty (from TV's "Petticoat Junction") shows her seldom-used dramatic, natural talent: in the many romantic montages of the first half, the camera just simply records the actress being herself, thus giving this woman-in-peril a three-dimensional persona. It's just unfortunate that the effort is lost in a weak movie that relies too much on one gimmick.

ABOVE: (left) Dean Jagger; (far right) Lori Saunders

Watch the trailer right here.

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