Review of “The Leech Woman” (1960)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday night pizza and bad movie entry. We watched it with Svengoolie and the last of the New Year’s Eve champagne.

Plot:

Endocrinologist Dr. Paul Talbot (Phillip Terry) is researching ways to reverse aging by advertising for elderly women and trying various treatments on them. He has a dream of becoming rich. He also has an alcoholic wife who is ten years old than he is.

The movie opens with a bent-over elderly woman (Estelle Hemsley) walking into Talbot’s office. The Talbots have a fight that ends with Mrs. Talbot (Coleen Gray) downing a glass of whiskey “for the road” and agreeing to a divorce. Dr. Talbot says to let her lawyer draw up whatever she wants.

After overhearing her on the phone with her lawyer, the elderly woman tells Mrs. Talbot, “You will never divorce your husband. You won’t have to. He will die… You are the one in my dreams of blood.”

Mrs. Talbot runs out the door.

Dr. Talbot examines the elderly woman and runs standard blood tests. He learns is named Malla. She says she is 152 years old. She and her mother were captured by Arab slave traders. She shows him a mark above her left breast.

Talbot doesn’t believe her story. She then shows him a power she calls naipe (pronounced like “nigh-pee”), which has so far staved off death for her. Added with another substance, which is known only to the high priest of her people, the Nandos, it will make her young again. She asks for money to return to her people to become young once more. To demonstrate the power of the naipe, she mixes some of the powder with water, drinks it, and asks him to rerun his tests.

At the same time, June Talbot is home with her lawyer, Neil Foster (Grant Williams), discussing the terms of the divorce. Dr. Talbot comes through the front door, almost dancing. What’s all this silly talk of divorce? Pack your bags for Africa, honey! We’re gonna be rich!

Thoughts:

There are no leeches.

Malla is going home to die, but she also wishes to be young and beautiful one more time before that happens. This comes with a price and an additional catch. The transformation is only temporary.

Once in Africa, Paul and June Talbot hire a guide, Bertram Garvay (John Van Dreelen). No one ever calls him “Bertram,” however. He’s Bertram only in the credits. In the movie, he’s “David.” Perhaps Bertram was the guy who told the Talbots how much the Nandos hate “Europeans.” David is the guy that looked at the check Paul Talbot wrote and said, “Okay.”

So they’re off to darkest Africa or, as Svengoolie pointed out, the land of stock footage. In their trek to the Nandos’ village, they come across elephants, lions, hippos, and crocodiles. The only critter that gives them pause is a snake in a tree. Granted, it is a large snake.

The porters (all shirtless black men) flee long before the Nandos show up. There is something in the wind. Even the usual predators avoid the area. So, Bertram/David, is that check still looking good?

Paul, David, and June are captured and taken to the village. Eventually, they meet Malla, who explains the source of the naipe. She invites them to watch her turn young again.

Seated in a high-back rattan chair, she tells our three heroes:

“For a man, old age has rewards. If he is wise, his gray hairs bring dignity, and he’s treated with honor and respect. But for the aged woman, there is nothing. At best, she’s pitied. More often, her lot is of contempt and neglect. What woman lives who has passed the prime of life that would not give her remaining years to reclaim even a few moments of joy and happiness and know the worship of men? For the end of life should be its moment of triumph. So it is for the aged women of Nandos—a last flowering of love and beauty before death.”

Clearly, this movie is about women being valued only for their appearance, and since looks fail with age (so conventional wisdom would have it), even the most beautiful woman will eventually become worthless. Things have changed since 1960. June Talbot was desperate to be loved, if not by her husband, then by someone. She was dependent on him for emotional support and dependent on alcohol. She becomes dependent on men for her very life. A woman won’t do. Well, let’s keep this clean. She might be an alcoholic and a serial killer, but at least she isn’t a lesbian.

Guide Bertram/David slavers over young, hot June, knowing full well how she got that way. He mumbles stuff about caring for her. When the youth potion fades, he can’t run fast enough.

One of the odd and unpleasant things about watching this is that there is no innocent. Even Talbot’s receptionist, Sally (Gloria Talbott), who is not having an affair with her boss and whose fiancé wanders, is ready for a little violence when it suits her.

The depiction of black Africans is pretty standard for the time. They dress in ways that would get them thrown out of public school, play drums, wave spears, and dance. The important people wear lots of bones on their heads, lots of feathers everywhere else.

While there are some silliness and a lot of melodrama, I mostly got sadness from this movie. I did like looking at the various critters, however.


Title: The Leech Woman (1960)

Directed by
Edward Dein

Writing Credits
David Duncan…(screenplay)
Ben Pivar…(story) and
Francis Rosenwald…(story)

Cast (in credits order) awaiting verification
Coleen Gray…June Talbot
Grant Williams…Neil Foster
Phillip Terry…Dr. Paul Talbot
Gloria Talbott…Sally
John Van Dreelen…Bertram Garvay

Released: May 1960
Length:  1 hour, 17 min.

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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