The first time I saw this particularly melodramatic moment from Mark Robson’s 1957 adaptation of Grace Metalious’s notorious novel Peyton Place, I found myself marveling at how much emotional anguish she projects through her hands. She grasps at the railing as if it its physicality were the only thing allowing her to hold down her emotions; however, since this is a melodrama we’re talking about, of course Lana has to sink to the stairs and sob as she clutches to the posts, which is the sort of thing that reduces me to a haphazard assortment of gay male stereotypes. That’s just how these things how these things work, and you can’t brush them off as cheap cliche when they play out so exquisitely.
Anyways, as I was watching this scene over again, I realized how exceptionally realized this moment is. Cinematographer William C. Mellor’s use of shadow is stark and expressionistic; the way he hides Lana’s face to draw attention to her hand–particularly those richly colored Victory Red nails that make me want to strap on some gay claws and swish it up another notch (or twelve)–is magnificent. You would think that I would cry foul on account of anybody daring to obscure FACE; but as David Bret noted in Joan Crawford: Hollywood Martyr, Victory Red was an Elizabeth Arden lipstick shade that linked many of the Classic Hollywood divas with devoted gay followings. So even if we’re not necessarily talking that precise shade–or, in this instance, even lipstick–that slight yet potent pop of red is at the heart of my oh–so–ever–predictable love of this image.
Oh, and do be sure to click to enlarge and appreciate the clutching-fingers, hidden-sad-face fabulousness of it all.