What’s the Buzz?

Much as I try to like Roger Corman’s work, every so often he hits a note so flat it gives me an ear-ache. Case in point: “The Wasp Woman.” This trim 63-minute 1959 entry from Corman’s own Filmgroup organization, is a poor man’s version of Fox’s bigger-budgeted “The Fly,” but is still generally regarded as one of his best, and I like it myself but for one little thing. The film is supposedly set in New York City. Corman used exterior stock footage to establish that fact. Now mid-way through the film, the title character, owner of a failing cosmetics empire, unwisely tries using wasp enzymes to restore her fading beauty. She begins to experience those predictable side-effects, without which we would have no movie, and seeks the help of the itinerant researcher who brought the discovery to her attention. He, however, has been injured in a hit-and-run accident and is now lying comatose as a John Doe in a hospital bed. Here’s where the trouble sets in: she hires a detective agency to find her missing miracle-worker.

Now this being a B-movie, Corman could simply have followed the shot of her discussing the problem with the investigator with a follow-up shot conveying the news that her man had been found. Audiences might have rolled their eyes at the speed with which this case was solved–and truthfully, I don’t think many would have–but Corman decided to give his fans more. So now we have inserts of a completely different guy in a short-sleeve shirt with a clip-board going around asking people if they’ve seen this missing person–only all of the inserts were shot in California. Everything looks wrong. The clothes are off, the building and streets are off–even the people being interviewed don’t seem like the sort of folks that any logical detective would be questioning. The scenes look like they come from a public-service film on census-taking.

Corman could have left well enough alone and kept things confined to office and lab sets, instead he chose to “open it up,” but did so in so cut-rate and cheesy a manner that he undercut whatever visual unity there was and gave this viewer the uncomfortable feeling that he, the director himself, had contempt for his own work.


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