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LIZZIE (1957; Just For the Hell of It).

Hugo Haas is a true original. A star in 1930's Czechoslovakia, he relocated to the US when the Nazis rolled into power and sunk his own money into a series of wonderfully campy, B-level potboilers -- such as HIT AND RUN, PICKUP and ONE GIRL'S CONFESSION -- with himself directing and often starring! Based on Shirley Jackson's novel "The Bird's Nest", this insanely melodramatic tale of a fractured personality was released five months before Joanne Woodward's Oscar-winning turn in THE THREE FACES OF EVE, and spun a similar story on a fraction of the budget and with a goldmine of unintentionally kitschy laughs. Triple-Oscar-nominee Eleanor Parker (CAGED) stars as Elizabeth Richmond, a timid twentysomething who dresses plainly -- skirts well below the knee, no make-up, tied-back hair -- and avoids friendships with her museum-job colleagues (including a pre-HAPPY DAYS Marion Ross as one of her sophisticated co-workers). Elizabeth never suspects that after dark, a totally different personality takes over her body and slutty party-girl 'Lizzie' hits the town's seediest dives. By day, 'Elizabeth' can barely speak to the museum's swarthy handyman, but as 'Lizzie', she'll latch onto this manly-moron and suggest skipping off to Mexico! When her secret life is finally exposed, enter pre-HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL Richard Boone as sympathetic head-shrinker Dr. Wright, who tries hypnosis -- and only 30 seconds into her session, Elizabeth is devulging long-repressed secrets! Gosh, this psychiatry crap is a snap, kids! In high-fallutin' medical terms, poor Elizabeth has "stopped up the main pipeline of her mind," and Wright eventually uncovers a third persona named 'Beth'! No question, it's a hilariously simple-minded tale, where even the most problematic patient can be saved in a few weeks with the aid of a handsome doctor, and with Elizabeth's Insta-Cure rooted in a lack of parental love and childhood trauma. Parker claws into this juicy role, nailing its emotional highs and reaching Joan-Crawford-level hystrionics during a 'shocking' showdown between the various personalities. Joan Blondell co-stars as Elizabeth's tipsy Aunt and gets some of the choicest lines (when Elizabeth turns down a bourbon shot because it makes her sick, mortified Auntie replies, "Don't you dare talk that way about bourbon!"), Dorothy Arnold (Joe DiMaggio's ex) plays Elizabeth's slutty platinum-blonde mom during flashbacks, and Haas takes the supporting role of a caring neighbor. Plus look for 21-year-old Johnny Mathis as a barroom crooner, performing "Warm and Tender" and his first Top-5 hit, "It's Not For Me To Say." That's some local tavern! Tech credits are passable, with sturdy b&w cinematography by Paul Ivano (who shot most of Haas' films, as well as studio-oddities like FLESH AND FANTASY and CAPTIVE WOMEN).

© 2008 by Steven Puchalski.