THE CUTTING ROOM coming attraction: “She Drives the Men to Crimes of Passion!” by Genevieve Valentine
Over the next two weeks, in celebration of Halloween and the new anthology The Cutting Room: Dark Reflections of the Silver Screen, Tachyon and editor Ellen Datlow present excerpts from a selection of the volume’s horrifying tales.
Today’s selection comes from “She Drives the Men to Crimes of Passion!” by Genevieve Valentine.
The scene was this: Cocoanut Grove, Saturday night, packed so tight you had to hold your drink practically in your armpit, and the band loud enough that you gave up on conversation and nodded whenever you heard a voice just in case someone was talking to you.
You never went to the Grove on the weekends if you had any kind of self-respect at all—by 1934 all the stars had turned their backs on the Grove and fled to the Sidewalk Café, where they could drink themselves onto the floor without any prying eyes. The reporters had given up trying, and now they came to the Grove to dig up dirt on the third-rate bit players.
It was fine for the bit players, but I had some prospects.
Well, one picture. It hadn’t done well. I knew they were talking about putting me on pity duty with the melodramas that shot in four days on the same set. No extras, no stars; nothing to do but come to the Cocoanut Grove and look around at the bit players you were going to be stuck with for the rest of your life.
“You need a friend in the studio, fast,” said Lewis. “Come down to the Grove with me. There’s bound to be someone.”
I nursed my Scotch and grimaced at the crowd for an hour, looking for a studio man I could talk to.
None. Damn Sidewalk Café.
I was on my way across the floor to leave when the music ended, and the dance floor opened, and I saw Eva.
She’d been dancing—strands of her dark hair stuck to her shining brown skin, a spiderweb across her forehead. If she’d been wearing lipstick it was gone, but her lids were still dusted with sparkly shadow in bright green and white that shone in the dark like a second pair of eyes.
I saw her coming and held my breath. I could already see her at the end of the lens—turning to look over her shoulder at the hero, giving him a smile, tempting him to do terrible things.
“You should be in pictures,” I said, and it sounded like a totally different line when you meant it.
Her audition alone got me into Capital Films for a feature with her. I knew it would.
There was no point in making her into an ingénue (exotic and ingénue did not mix), so we went right to the vamp. I made her a fortune-teller in On the Wild Heath. She captivated the lord of the manor, put a curse on him when he scorned her, and got shot just before she could lay hands on the lady of the house.
The Hollywood Reporter called her “Exotic Eva” in the blurb—couldn’t have planned it better—and went on for a paragraph about the passion in her Spanish eyes. They wrapped with, “We suspect we haven’t seen the last of this sultry siren.”
Capital signed me for another flick, and started making us reservations at the Sidewalk Café.
Eva wore green satin that matched her eyes, and as we danced under the dim lights there were shimmers of color across her skin.
“I think I love you,” I said.
She said, “You would.”
It sounded ungrateful, but I let it go. There was time for all that; right now, our stars were rising.
Capital didn’t want her being a heroine yet. (“Keep her mysterious,” they said. “The fan magazines can’t even tell if she’s really Mexican or if it’s just makeup. It’s perfect.”)
I made her a flamenco dancer next, in Stage Loves.
The lead, Jack Stone, was nothing much—I was doing the studio a favor just having him—but at least he looked properly stunned whenever she was in the frame.
Originally Stone’s theatre patron was going to seduce her and leave the virginal heiress for a life with the variety show, but word came down that Capital was going to start getting strict about the Production Code, so the hero sinning was right out.
So instead Eva seduced the patron, and got strangled by the jealous stage manager in the last reel.
(The poster featured her bottom left, with a banner: “Eva Loba is Elisa the Spanish Temptress—She drives the men to crimes of passion!”)
The new script must have worked just as well; the studio asked for two more movies as soon as the film was in.
For information on The Cutting Room: Dark Reflections of the Silver Screen, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover by Josh Beatman.