The Dark Beauty of Faith Domergue (Part Two)

*contains spoilers

In Where Danger Lives, the couple are railroaded into marriage as the radio declares Faith had undergone “significant psychiatric treatment”. Here the film has a dig at Faith’s depression, her emotional “psychosis” and running off to marry her first husband.

Faith needs “significant psychiatric treatment” in Where Danger Lives

As it turns out, Faith did murder Rains and for all the echoes of her real life, she gets some great close-ups from Farrow in this film – she deserves them – as she faces being taken advantage of by nefarious characters because of her situation before the movie ends with her getting shot dead. She redeems herself slightly before her death.

If Hughes tried to break Faith by not working her after painting her as a ruthless “dementia praecox” patient who does it for the money – he failed! Her performance matches the material.

“Nobody pities me,” says Faith as she dies, once trapped in her loveless marriage, now by the police and so it would seem, by RKO studios.

Nobody pities me!

While she raised her babies while not working for RKO, Faith was loaned out to Universal-International for Duel at Silver Creek (1952) starring Audie Murphy early in his career and was working there again the following year in the Jeff Chandler film The Great Sioux Uprising (1953). Both are in colour and, not surprisingly, westerns. Her husband at the time Fregonese was working at Universal on minor westerns during this period, which may have had an influence on her being employed there.

Duel at Silver Creek is fondly remembered by Murphy fans and children of the era alike and was filmed at Vazquez Rocks park in the Sierra Mountains in northern Los Angeles. The location was first used in Universal’s Werewolf of London (1935), sitting in as Tibet and since it’s so close to the studios, has been used often ever since. Duel is a reasonably good movie and Faith plays a bad girl nicknamed Brown Eyes. But it is co-star Susan Cabot who gets the better role and gives the better performance. It is an early film by director Don Siegel who directed Clint Eastwood in several movies including Dirty Harry.

Duel at Silver Creek (1953) trailer

As for Sioux Uprising, apparently there were ambulances standing by as the Yumatilla Indians in Oregon where it was filmed, knew nothing about riding horses, compared to the Sioux. So they were always falling off!

But it was this pair of relatively uninspired westerns that led to the busiest and most iconic period of her career – mainly a pact to make films at Universal-International – in 1955.

Faith with John Payne

The first of these was Republic Studios Santa Fe Passage (1955) filmed in Trucolor. In one interview, Faith said about the film, which she appears opposite John Payne, that it was the favourite of all her movies. She must have been playing up to a western loving interviewer, because this is an average western about a wagon train and Indians. Faith’s full lips are as red as they get in the rich colour process, her eyes are radiant and her neckline plunging, but she’s relatively flat chested when compared to Jane Russell. It is about a par for a film from Republic, not known for producing many bona fide classics.

Cult of the Cobra (1955), which is about taking pictures when you shouldn’t, was also in production at Universal, while she made Sante Fe Passage.

Those eyes in Cult of the Cobra (1955)

“For a hundred dollars of your money I will show you she who is a snake… and yet a woman,” says a snake charmer, somewhere in India, at the end of the war.

The soldiers who pay the money for the show dress in hooded cloaks and mingle with the sect members. There they see exotic male dancers perform with snake women. All so secret! Until a soldier’s camera flash spoils the scene.

“One by one you will die,” cries out the sect leader, played by Get Smart’s chief Ed Platt (1916-74 suicide, depression), as one of the soldiers steals a basket, which contains… something.

Cult of the Cobra (1955) trailer

Faith appears wearing a veil in her first scene – oh, those eyes – but the film is in black and white. So the snake woman, who takes snake form, follows the soldiers back to the US after killing the one who stole the basket with a fatal bite.

Marshall uses a hat-rack to get rid of Faith

It’s Faith, aged thirty and yet in full bloom. With her dark flowing locks in Cult of the Cobra, she charms the soldiers one by one to their deaths. David Janssen (1931-80 heart attack) probably dies the best as his car rolls and wrecks a city street after being bitten on the neck. Jack Kelly (1927-92 stroke) then falls from a great height, while William Reynolds (1931-) we suspect is bitten to death off-screen, but it is Marshall Thompson (1925-92 congestive heart failure) who saves the day with a hat-rack, tossing Faith, in snake form, from a high window. As you do! Of course, her body regains human form after death. The transformations are cheap with little more than just a shadow of Faith lapsing into one of a snake. I like the film, but it is Faith’s next film which is her masterpiece – This Island Earth (1955).

This Island Earth, which is a follow-up to the Universal-International’s sci-fi hits It Came from Outer Space (1953) and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) – dispenses with Richard Carlson this time as the hero. Here we have Rex Reason (1928-2015 bladder cancer), who is more modern and virile compared to Carlson’s pipe-smoking intellectual. Either Carlson asked too much money… I don’t know but it was obviously time to move on as his career had peaked. There is a homage with a character named Dr Carlson played by Russell Johnson (1924-2014 kidney failure) who was the professor in Gilligan’s Island (1964-67). Johnson was of course in It Came from Outer Space.

Rex Reason is a more virile replacement for Richard Carlson in This Island Earth

As the film opens, Reason’s super-intelligent scientist plays off well against Robert Nichols (1924-2013 heart failure) as a book-wormy lab assistant when they are sent items that can’t possibly be produced on Earth. One of the items comes in 2486 parts, which they must put together, called an “Interociter”. It’s some sort of televisual communication device to speak to aliens from another world. Putting it together is some sort of aptitude test to pick the world’s best scientists and take them to join their secret team somewhere on the mainland.

Reason is flown there practically blindfolded and met by Faith at the other end – a magnificent luxury country resort somewhere in Georgia populated by scientific geniuses.

Faith in a more relaxed moment with the invading aliens

The colour in the film is beautiful and Faith wearing a little eye shadow over those eyes and short curly hair denies knowing Reason despite them almost skinny dipping a few years earlier.

It should be noted that Faith’s name is Dr Adams, echoing actress Julia Adams who starred in the previous year’s Creature from the Black Lagoon. She takes him to Exeter, a high-foreheaded alien played by Jeff Morrow – he with the sonorous voice – who wants men of vision to put an end to war. He is interested in Reason’s research into turning lead into uranium. It’s all a bit mysterious otherwise. Carlson and Adams read: Johnson and Faith are frightened that Exeter and his alien friends which run the place have a “thought transformer” to brainwash those who don’t conform fully to their lab work. Why? And there’s a hidden flying saucer.

In the flying saucer of their way to Metaluna

As it turns out, Exeter is from another world under attack from enemy bombardment and it needs large amounts of uranium to keeps his planet’s force field up and running.

This leads to the second and final act on the planet Metaluna and some of the most beautiful colour special effects ever imagined for the period. See it on Blu-ray! Reason and Faith are taken to Metaluna where they see a world destroyed by another race with technology far more advanced.

Pity Earth should it get invaded in such a way!

Can’t get past those eyes

The script for This Island Earth may not be full of memorable and quotable dialogue, but this sci-fi epic’s vision of another world sure makes up for it – something unseen at the time of production.

On Metaluna, we see the iconic “mutants” who are not the enemy aliens but are in fact little more than some form of insect used to do menial work.

The flying saucer, both inside and flying through space, the acclimatisation tube scene and the surface and attack and final destruction of Metaluna are all effects really never before seen in colour at this time. The scenes with the meteors crashing to the planet surface seem to be the same used in It Came from Outer Space however.

Faith tangles with a mutant in an iconic scene

That today we waste our deposits of uranium on warheads instead of for purposes of power generation are reflected in a strange way in This Island Earth. Someday we will be exhausted of uranium just like Metaluna. The inhabitants of Metaluna, which seems devoid of females, or so it would seem, want to relocate to Earth before the end comes – a peaceful relocation… which may see the Earthlings live without free minds, with use of the thought transformer used en masse. Can we trust Exeter when his superiors don’t seem as nice?!

The mutants just won’t leave you alone!

“My mind is my own and nobody’s going to change it! I’m not going into that room!!,” cries Faith just before bumping into a mutant. The mutant may be insect-based but they are “larger of course, with a higher degree of intelligence”.

Anyway they escape the mutants and Metaluna, as the planet perishes. Exeter is fatally wounded and he releases Reason and Faith before his saucer crashes on Earth in a fireball.

This Island Earth (1955) trailer

Serials of the 30s and 40s aside – This Island Earth really is the first space opera! Forbidden Planet came the following year. And the flaming saucer at the end obviously inspired Ed Wood’s “epic” ending to Plan Nine from Outer Space (1959).

Faith followed this up with one of special effects legend Ray Harryhausen’s earliest movies – he had made the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms in 1953 – Colombia Pictures’ It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955). The title, which riffs on It Came from Outer Space, uses one of the male stars from Fathoms and builds on Faith’s appearance in This Island Earth. It’s probably the peak of Kenneth Tobey’s (1917-2002 natural causes) career and, you could argue, Faith’s. The quality of her roles was starting to slip with this one.

Faith in It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) with Kenneth Tobey on the right

Playing a professor, and an important one, Faith is drafted to help battle a creature of astronomical proportions, sinking ships and menacing submarines off the Pacific coast.

Tobey of course tries to pick her up between experiments!

“When you drive that submarine of yours… Do you have much time for romance?,” asks Faith, fondling a test tube.

“It” could only afford six tentacles

It’s great that Faith, even though she started her career late, could slip into roles of mature, intelligent and sexy women. In contrast, Lana Turner, who was discovered by the same talent agency, had her first major screen role at seventeen, whereas Faith was over 25 when Vendetta got released in 1950!

It Came from Beneath the Sea isn’t well directed except for the Harryhausen stop-motion scenes. Otherwise it tends to be a set up the camera, line-up the actors and shoot type of work ethic.

Director Robert Gordon (1913-1990) was responsible for the semi-cult Allied Artists’ horror The Black Zoo (1963), which is of note, but little else.

The Black Zoo (1963) trailer

It’s not surprising that most scenes in the movie were done in a single take and this was a time of peak output of low budget producer Sam Katzman (1901-73) who produced fifteen features for Columbia alone in 1955.

The monster in this film is a giant octopus disturbed from deep in the ocean by hydrogen bomb testing. The budget was so low that the octopus model had only six legs instead of eight!

Romance gets in the way, too, but as Faith ponders Tobey, it’s with full use of those big brown eyes – although the film is in black and white.

Tobey can’t help but romance intelligent and sexy Faith

It Came from Beneath the Sea was released as a double bill with Creature with the Atom Brain and for its reported budget of $150,000, it took in $1.7m in the US alone. Percentage-wise it mopped the floor with This Island Earth, whose budget of an estimated $800,000 only pulled in the same amount of $1.7m.

In the end, It Came from Beneath the Sea is cheap but effective.

“You know, you were right about this new breed of woman,” says Tobey at the end of the movie to a colleague when Faith elicits a kiss.

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) trailer

Faith’s career slipped when she made her final film in 1955 in Britain – Timeslip aka The Atomic Man (1955). It was always a bad sign when a star went to Britain to make cheap movies.

Based on a novel and adapted by the author, the film also stars Gene Nelson (1920-96 cancer) and “introducing” English actor Peter Arne (1918-83 bludgeoned to death in a murder/suicide) who was also in the cult item Battle Beneath the Earth (1967). Shortly before his murder he was in the excellent Blake Edwards musical Victor/Victoria (1982).

Arne in Battle Beneath the Earth (1967)

There are two cuts of Timeslip and I have seen the longer English version that clocks in at around ninety minutes. The US version shaves approximately fifteen minutes.

Faith stars as a press bureau photographer, who along with reporter Nelson look into a case of a man pulled from the Thames barely alive. He is a dead ringer for a nuclear scientist – but this guy talks in riddles when he regains consciousness and photos of him turn out foggy.

“The guy’s a living A-bomb,” says Nelson about poor Arne, whose radiation dose is enough to kill – yet he lives, talking sense, yet nonsense.

There is definite chemistry between Faith and Nelson

The “timeslip” of the movie is that Arne died for almost ten seconds and that everything he says is ten seconds ahead of time! It’s an interesting premise but that’s all there is once it’s revealed and the rest of the movie is a bit of a fizzer. What is good about the movie is the chemistry between Faith and Nelson – now that is good. That, along with the final sequence where a nuclear pile threatens to explode! Maybe the shorter American version plays better or what sort of a mood the film strikes you in.

Apparently it was around 1955, or just before, that Faith’s marriage to Fregonese began to unravel. So, as a single mother of two, she had to seek work to support her children, thus the large amount of work in that year. She divorced Fregonese in 1958 and by that time had made a couple more films in Britain – the unremarkable Soho Incident (1956) and the hard to see Man in the Shadow aka Violent Stranger (1957) with Zachary Scott, which has a better reputation.

Timeslip aka The Atomic Man (1955) trailer

By the time of Escort West (1959) Faith was still looking good but it was obvious that the beauty, so apparent and luminous in 1955, was facing middle age. The role in this movie is smaller and her character is unpleasant to say the least.

By California (1963), she was playing a bar-maid and the bloom was gone, now a lined face in what is a poor and cheap western.

She made 1965’s Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet for Roger Corman with a crazy beehive hairdo, a film that was cobbled together from footage pillaged from the Russian space movie Planet of Storms (1962). Basil Rathbone collected a check along with Faith. It can’t have been much.

There were a couple of bit parts in the Italian giallos Perversion Story (1969) by Lucio Fulci and 1971’s The Man with Icy Eyes, but they were little more than cameos.

Faith was popular in westerns on TV in the 60s

Faith meanwhile was popular as an actress on television, particularly on western shows such as Bonanza, but she was trading on her name now and not her looks. In the end there was a trio of horrors: Blood Legacy aka Legacy of Blood (1971), So Evil, My Sister aka Psycho Sisters (1974) and The House of Seven Corpses (1974).

Blood Legacy is amateurish, and poorly directed, technically, with bad sound upon a first viewing – but it improves! There’s a good scene where Faith takes what she thinks is a ham covered in foil from the fridge, only to discover it’s a head!!

Faith discovers it isn’t a ham in Legacy of Blood (1971)

She also has the best line in the movie with: “I think we’re loners in the patchwork of insanity.” The ‘bee in the eye’ moment at one point of the film is also effective. Apart from that, it has the distinguishing feature of having three endings. The last is the worst.

Psycho Sisters is very much a 1970s film and is a good short mystery with a running time of 75 minutes or so. One character wears a light turtleneck sweater with a brown leather jacket, so you know what you’re in for!

Psycho Sisters poster

Faith stars as a woman who is trying to keep her head together after being released from a sanatorium. Susan Strasberg is her sister who loses her husband in a fiery car crash in the beginning of the movie. They live together as Faith tries to help Strasberg recover from her loss by lacing her coffee with mind-altering drugs. Is Faith insane? But then the police are investigating Susan’s husband’s death because he was dead at the wheel before the crash. What about the axe murderer Faith met in hospital who lives in the basement!!??

There are some good twists in Psycho Sisters and while it is very cheap, it’s also effective enough to view again. It’s great Faith had the opportunity to make this one.

Seven Corpses is a favourite although it used to send me to sleep whenever I tried to watch it when I stayed up late at night as a child. With a cast that includes John Carradine and John Ireland, it is a low budget horror film about the making of a low budget horror film. That Faith is playing an ageing actress with limited talent means she almost fitted the bill perfectly.

Faith had a face-lift by the time of The House of Seven Corpses (1974)

By the time of this trio of horror films, Faith had undergone a facelift and removed the baggy eyes, which once sexy, had become too baggy. She looks pretty good in Seven Corpses as a cat lover whose cat gets murdered and a zombie stalks the old house where the film is being made. One by one the cast and crew are murdered.

“At Metro that would have been a week’s work,” says Faith, snidely, after they film a scene in one low-budget take.

The House of Seven Corpses (1974) trailer

Working on Vendetta at RKO, who knows? Two weeks?

It probably didn’t take many more to do the sequence in The House of Seven Corpses, which isn’t a badly directed movie, although it suffers from a television look with its lack of exploitation nudity and gore. Thus is has no real audience.

“You’re gonna find out how tough it is for a middle aged beauty queen to get a job in the acting profession,” says Ireland when Faith threatens to walk off the set. “Or even the profession I first found you in!”

Not a happy end to a film career!

Poor Faith doesn’t leave, preferring to remain an actress and her last moments of screen time have her silently creeping around the house before being killed off-screen by the zombie, her body found hanging by a rope. How’s that to end a career!?

Faith married for a third time in the 1960s and was widowed several years before her death from cancer in 1999.

Faith was a beauty alright!

Faith Domergue was no great actress, she may not have even been a good one, but she survived being a bauble of billionaire Howard Hughes to become ever so briefly a dark beauty of the silver screen. For the year of 1955, this mother of two lit up the screen with her big brown eyes and radiated both intelligence and sex, best encapsulated in the classic science fiction film This Island Earth. Faith’s career sits among the constellation of movie stars, a small lone planet, just like Earth, forgotten or just, as yet, undiscovered.

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