Perks of the Trade looks at the varied filmography of Anthony Perkins, the queer performer forever associated with Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest onscreen killer, Norman Bates.
I was 19 years old and Marty was way too old for me, his manly body already going soft around the ages. He also never finished college and worked at a grocery store during a time when I thought being a conservatory trained soap opera actor was the only occupation to aim for. Still, I wanted him much more than I wanted the handsome, curly haired carpenter who ran his own construction business and the muscular, blonde pre-med student who adored me and followed me around the dance floor of Christopher Street, the then Mecca of Chicago gay bars, with an unmitigated devotion. Attraction is mysteriously undefinable, a strange beast.
These unpredictable notions of romance often ran through my head when viewing 1962’s Phaedra, the lushly histrionic soap opera that finds Melina Mercouri’s maturely exotic title character rejecting Raf Vallone’s viral and passionate shipping magnet for his strait-laced son, played by a skinny, nervously intense Anthony Perkins. At the time of its release, the majority of critics rejected this grand operation outright – claiming that Mercouri’s amply charmed lass couldn’t seriously have found a moment’s fascination with Perkin’s anxious playboy. But the actor’s fresh-faced desirability does show through here on occasion, pointedly proving why his lighter contrasts might have appealed to Mercouri’s magnificently aging creature.
Thus, one wonders if director Jules Dassin had directed the seduction scenes with less tragic melodrama and more angular kink that the whole enterprise might have played differently. Perkins’ powers reside in his eccentricity and despite finding the quiet strength within himself to go toe-to-toe with Vallone during some climatic sequences, he truly comes alive here during the hysterical sequence when he drives himself to a madly howling death in a European sports car. Delightfully, this entire sequence is included as a track on the movie’s soundtrack album, with Perkin’s strangulated yowls making for one of the most unusual audio experiences ever committed to vinyl – a blazingly creative achievement in and of itself.
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!