Cobra Woman

With Maria Montez, John Hall, Sabu. Costumes Vera West, sets Russel A. Gausman, Ira Webb. c.117 min

USA 1944. Dir Robert Siodmak.

A star of Universal’s Technicolor escape films in the 1940s, the Dominican-born siren Maria Montez became the centrepiece of Jack Smith’s Hollywood idolatry two decades later. (Smith famously singled Montez out in his essay ‘The Perfect Filmic Appositeness of Maria Montez’.) The star who founded her own fan club and who reportedly once exclaimed ‘When I see myself on the screen, I am so beautiful, I jump for joy’ was a blueprint for the (admittedly more knowing and parodic) campness and narcissism of Jack Smith’s stars. With reference to Montez, Smith stated that bad acting can in fact expose a priceless slice of life, an approach echoed in Andy Warhol’s cinema. In Cobra Woman Montez is cast in a dual role as Tollea of the South Seas and her evil sister Naja, priestess of the Cobra People on a forbidden island. The film showcases her charms in Vera West’s sensuously soft, pastel gowns as well as more gaudy outfits. West was a former fashion designer trained by Lucile and became the doyenne of costume design for horror and monster movies in the ’30s and ’40s.

Museum of Moving Image Saturday 23 Apr 2011, 2:00 pm