Let’s go to Italy: Mimsy Farmer, Part I

June 6, 2011 | By | 1 Comment

"Leave Mimsy alone, you filthy swine!"

After appearing in several sexpot roles in the United States, Mimsy Farmer must have seen the signs that staying in Hollywood would either have yielded a lot of banal TV guest roles, or tumbling into obscurity, with the odd U.S. B-flick coming up now and then.

A good case in point is British actress Pamela Franklin, who began as a child actress in the classic shocker The Innocents (1961), had significant roles in her teens in film such as the lurid The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), and made sure viewers cared for the terribly victimized psychic in Richard Matheson’s chilling supernatural shocker The Legend of Hell House (1973), but once she settled in Hollywood and began to appear in TV series, she slid away from feature films, and spent the bulk of her career wasting perfectly good acting chops in the Idiot Box – a role here, a mini-series there, but nothing memorable compared to her heyday in the sixties.

Farmer’s move to Italy probably began innocently – a few opportunities to work with new Italian talent, and a trip to Italy. Actors such as Frank Wolff (Salvatore Giuliano, The Lickerish Quartet [M]) and Brett Halsey (The Atomic Submarine, Four Times That Night) realized they could spend a chunk (the rest?) of their careers in more B-movies, or have fun making arty films, programmers, and B-films in Italy, with good food, wine, weather, and a slightly different pace of life.

For them, it became a no-brainer, and they enjoyed fairly steady work until the genres – giallo, spaghetti westerns, police thrillers, cannibal films, zombie films, etc. – had been exhausted by good and hack directors. Halsey went back to the U.S., whereas Farmer chose to stay until she probably felt it was time for a change; most likely, many of the more interesting directors from the late sixties and early seventies were no longer as active, and what remained were hack directors and TV work.

And maybe genre smasher Joe D’Amato, but he was the ultimate last resort for actors wanting to remain in film regardless of what they were doing.

Farmer eventually shifted gears after 1991, and now focuses her energies on painting and sculpting, but it is peculiar she’s never been approached by genre historians to discuss her work during a unique period when ex-pats were working quite actively in Italy, and for a while, having fun.

'Dinner is served.'

Like Franklin, Farmer’s early career included child and teen roles in TV series such as My Three Sons (1962), Lassie (1964) and Mister Roberts (1966) before making a splash as the high-strung, long-mane sexpot in Hot Rods to Hell (1967). Her shrill character is an experience rather than a performance for audiences, but her career opportunity changed when she appeared in Barbet Schroeder’s More (1969), Georges Lautner’s Road to Salina (1970), and Dario Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971).

What followed was a flurry of roles in genre films, and among the more interesting was the little-seen 1974 giallo Perfume of a Lady in Black [M] (Raro Video) by newcomer Francesco Barilli, a screenwriter (Who Saw Her Die?), and perhaps influentially, a working painter and sculptor.

Perfume is one of the dreamiest gialli ever created, and Farmer’s perfectly cast as a woman who notices her reality is starting to crack into little jagged pieces. It’s also a film that upon first viewing will baffle; the second viewing, like Psycho (1960), yields little clues to the evil plot underway; and a third viewing will probably convince one that Barilli’s weird film is a mini-masterpiece.

It’s a giallo in the sense of a character tormented by a past horror that blossoms unconsciously and compels her to see, fear, and perform things new and awful, but it’s also an art film with a wonderful mood, superb early score by Nicola Piovani, and amazing cinematography. If Raro Video gets into Blu-ray, this has to be one of their first endeavors, because Perfume is one of the most beautifully lit, Bava-esque films around.

Mimsy is quite puzzled by sun spots.

1974 could be read as a turning point for Farmer, in terms of a career that was cresting, because where Barilli exploited what subtleties the actress could deliver to meet the demands of a giallo and create a sympathetic character, director Armando Crispino just used her body and femininity in Autopsy / Macchie solari [M] (1975), a junk giallo by a patented hack.

There’s no artistry or clever direction at play in Autopsy (Blue Underground), just a teasing concept that’s abandoned in favour of a weird misogynistic streak, where men are constantly in heat, and all women need to keep a machete in one hand in case they hear from behind a zipper being undone.

Crispino’s film has a fromage factor, but it’s such exploitive rubbish, and I’ve reviewed it for contrast: artistry vs. lecherous commerce, and the kind of choices actors had to face if they stayed too long in one groove, and their options narrowed severely.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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  1. M F Berry says:

    “…it is peculiar she’s never been approached by genre historians to discuss her work during a unique period when ex-pats were working quite actively in Italy, and for a while, having fun.”

    Hey Mark, this is Mark! Re the above, actually Mimsy has been approached by one genre historian — me! — and the result was the big cover feature interview in the March-April issue (#161) of VIDEO WATCHDOG magazine! Mimsy discusses her entire career from its very genesis sitting at a cafe after a day of high school, through her big A-list debut film, her B-pictures for Corman and Katzman, how and why she made the move to Europe, her various giallo turns, and lots, lots more. Check it out if you get the chance, and keep up the great work with mondomark!

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