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Saturday 5 December 2020

Burl reviews The Naked Flame! (1964)


Good day, it’s Burl! Yes, I’m in the mountains today to review a picture about Doukhobor unrest in the airy peaks of Alberta Province! Ha ha, this is an odd one all right - a combination of wilderness adventure, romance drama, cultural study and nudie picture, all wrapped into a thing known variously as Deadline For Murder and The Naked Flame!

I’ve chosen to review it under the latter title, because there are flames and nudity in the same frame, but, although there is murder, it’s not committed on any kind of deadline! The tale takes place in a small mountain town populated by both Doukhobors and regular folk! The Doukhobors, a religious group also known as Freedomites or Sons of Freedom, were fond of protesting things by stripping off their clothes and occasionally burning things down, and therein lies the exploitation hook!

Our characters include lovey-dovey young couple, Bob (Barton Heyman from The Secret of My Success) and Cathy; and whereas she is a Freedomite, he is not, and this kind of intermingling is evidently frowned on by the sect! Meanwhile the local bully-man, Sorkin, a slobby, bearded Son of Freedom with a thick but unplaceable accent, wants Cathy for his bride, and so is happy to gin up the Doukhobor outrage against her union with Bob! Bob’s father, who manages the local mine and is played by Mort Van Ostrand, is against the union, and Cathy’s father, a Sven Svensson type, had at one point apparently betrothed his daughter to the unspeakable Sorkin without her knowledge! Into all this wades a mining company lawyer called Paul, played by Dennis O’Keefe from Top Hat and The Leopard Man, who is there to investigate the culture clash, but has his own history with the Doukhobors! Indeed, he too had fallen for a Freedomite girl, Elena, played by Kasey Rogers from When Worlds Collide, but she now hates him for helping imprison her brother on charges of arson!

While the Freedomite ladies of the town get their kit off and fire up the torches to protest Paul’s return, the nasty Sorkin, played by Al Ruscio from Deadly Force and Jagged Edge, feels some incendiary urges of his own! He lights Cathy’s house on fire, then, when she runs out, pursues her in a weird little foot chase, then - thankfully off screen - rapes and strangles her! When Cathy’s body is found, Bob swears blood vengeance on the perpetrator; and then when Sorkin is blasted with a shotgun by persons unknown, Bob is the natural suspect! He flees and is caught by a Mountie with a radio announcer voice, and Paul, believing him innocent, becomes his lawyer for the courtroom-based final act! And yes, there’s a little murder-mystery twist ending!

It’s an odd sort of a movie, with the brief scenes of bare skin seeming both an afterthought and the central reason for the making of the film! Also, it treats the Doukhobor culture at once with a strange anthropological seriousness and an exploitative disinterest in fact! The courtroom scenes threaten to get boring, and the story perpetually promises to get a little deeper but never does! And the conclusion relies on not one deus ex machina, but two! On the other hand, the unusualness is itself an asset, and there are a few perfomances, like that of Ruscio as the dreaded Sorkin, that are perfectly entertaining! It’s not exactly a gem, but if you think you might be interested in a picture like this, it’s decidedly worth watching! I give The Naked Flame one and a half sunflower seeds!

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