Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Devil’s Hand: or To Make Your Fortune, You Have to Take a Gamba

Dateline, 1962: a low-rent Cary Grant quits his job due to his chronic insomnia, leading to tension between him and his strangely-accented fiancee Donna. He's troubled by night visions of a woman in a sheer gown dancing in the clouds, as if transposed there by double exposure! He soon learns the dancing woman whose visage haunts his dreams is actually resides in his neighborhood, albeit in Barbie-doll form. Entering the doll shop to inquire about the uncanny likeness, Cary is drawn into an exclusive, white-collar club that meets in the doll shop’s basement, whose stodgy white members have gained material wealth by committing their souls to the worship of the Great Devil-God Gamba!

Oh, and the doll lady is real and puts out a lot more quickly than the fiancee, so soon enough Cary is a devil-worshiping fool. Natch.*

Though there’s no explanation as to how all these crackers got into voodoo, the doll-shop basement is festooned with Hindu god statues, a Crowleyan altar, and a Congo-playing black drummer and two black dancers. The dancers are the only black couple presented as members of the group, and their purpose seems to be to get up and do jungle dances for all the white folk. In 1962, I can’t help thinking this was a big deal, and the undercurrent of Anglo-centrism is unmistakable, but so quaint-seeming and silly now that it’s hard to get offended at. Plus, I imagine they and the drummer are the only people in the room who probably realize that this is totally not how voodoo works.

After Cary meets the girl of his dreams, she puts a voodoo-doll curse on Donna and moves in to take the sick girl’s man. Cary promises his soul to the Great Devil-God Gamba! for riches and possession of the blonde dancing witchy woman, with predictable Faustian results. Most fun here is the aforementioned silliness in the Gambese religion, the innuendo that flies fast and furious between Cary and the witchy girl (until it becomes out-and-out-uendo), and the doll shop owner Mr. LaMont (dummy!) who is actually pretty creepy as the Great Devil-God Gamba!’s high priest, recalling Boris Karloff in The Black Cat. And the respectable-people-in-a-devil-cult theme here prefigures Rosemary’s Baby by more than ten years, so that’s cool too. 1.5 out of 3 thumbs, a solid C--good enough to graduate and stay on the football team!

*So think about it ladies, what's more important--respecting yourself in the morning, or keeping your man out of a devil-god-worshiping cult? I think you know the answer.

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