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02.27.08

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Phaedra

Portrait in Black/Madame X

Two discs: Universal Studios, $14.98

By Michael S. Gant


For sheer, hooting guilty pleasure, this twofer of glossy soapers producer by schlock czar Ross Hunter and starring Lana Turner cannot be beat. In 1966's Madame X, Turner marries up to diplomat John Forsythe, whose mother (golden-age vet Constance Bennett) doesn't approve: "You're still just a shop girl from San Francisco, and you should have stayed on the other side of the counter." When Turner tries to break off an affair with ascot-wearing Ricardo Montalban, she sputters, "You're a contemptible, rotten ..." and he smoothly ripostes, "Never leave on a dangling insult." Montalban falls down a flight of stairs, but it is Turner who takes the fall. After loveless years wandering Europe, she returns to the States for a twist ending involving Keir Dullea and a case of mistaken identity that defies rational explanation. A better movie, 1960's Portrait in Black features some Vertigo-like footage of San Francisco. Turner, second wife to a shipping baron, embarks on a murder plot with her doctor lover (Anthony Quinn). The plot thickens (hell, congeals) when stepdaughter Sandra Dee and tugboat captain John Saxon stumble on some damning clues. The best scene finds Turner's character, who can't drive, forced to pilot a fabulous '50s tail-fin job down the coast highway in a rainstorm. Both films rely heavily on swaddling Turner's robust figure in furs. The gloriously excessive romantic piano music sounds like Richard Clayderman after a couple of workout training sessions with Roger Clemens. No extras, but who really needs them?


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