BANG BANG

“The filthiest man I ever met!”

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This was my late friend, assistant director Lawrie Knight’s recollection of Ken Hughes, who once sub-let a flat from Lawrie, and had to be turned out after complaints from the landlady about his rowdy and disgusting ways. Infuriatingly, I know no more about this.

Hughes, best remembered as director of children’s perennial CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, began his career with a lot of little thrillers, and as a BANG BANG fan I always wanted to see some of these. Turns out several can be downloaded and there are collectors of obscure UK stuff who have accumulated others. So I got my sweaty mits on CONFESSION and, even more excitingly, THE ATOMIC MAN.

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“This film is f*cked,” protested Fiona, pronouncing the asterisk very distinctly, at first sight of the fuzzy copy of CONFESSION, and refused to watch it. I persevered, partly through an interest in Sydney Chaplin. Son of the rather more famous Charles, Syd always appears as a passionate and interesting witness in documentaries about his dad’s life, so I was intrigued to see if he had the same impact as a screen actor. Not quite, sadly. Maybe he had to grow into his talent, and by the time he had, the heat had gone out of his acting career. As a youngster, Sydney was a strikingly handsome fellow, like a beefier version of Chaplin Snr, but his looks had faded a little by the time he appeared in Hughes 1955 crime thriller, as a crook who tries to kill the priest who heard the confession of a man he killed… it’s complicated, but at any rate he doesn’t have sufficient faith in the sanctity of the confessional.

It’s not a strong film, alas. The climax, with a convincingly gruesome death plummet (you hardly ever see bodies actually hit the ground in these things, which always frustrated me as a bloodthirsty kid, but Hughes plays faitr and includes the final earthly impact) is pretty good, as our baddie is blasted from the belfry by swinging bells — killed by God! And the first killing, set to the screeching of a nearby train, is pretty dynamic and effective. But too much of the film is just our man ambling around, not feeling particularly guilty as far as we can see, and not taking any dramatic action, nefarious of otherwise, to resolve his problems.

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Reviewers liken the movie to Hitchcock’s I CONFESS, and say that the narrative problem is a tricky one — how to spin a compelling drama out of the priest’s conundrum? But Hitchcock makes that problem work just fine (I’m sure it works even better for Catholics) — his real problem is with a priest as hero. No romance, really. No humour, much. Hughes, who scripted his own movie, uses the priest as a minor plot device, and isn’t really exercised by the same issue, but fails to come up with a compelling dramatic problem to replace the priest’s. He doesn’t even seem to have really decided who his main character is. Clearly it ought to be former Hollywood bad boy Sydney, but Hughes seems reluctant to make an out-and-out villain his hero. A shame.

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THE ATOMIC MAN has a lot more momentum and panache and silliness. Set in a Britain bursting with Americans, including a loutish Gene Nelson (“Delaney”) and a peevish Faith Domergue (“Lebowski”), it details the enigma of a man hauled from the Thames with a bullet in his back, whose presence causes photos to fog and who resurrects after pronounced dead. Is it Jesus? No, Jesus was not atomic. This guy is atomic.

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They try to x-ray him, but he ends up x-raying them, or something.

Wait, if he can’t be photographed, how come we can see him in this film?

My enjoyment was marred slightly by this copy being even more f*cked than CONFESSION. It looks like the print, which is scratchy and embossed at several points with a giant apostrophe -

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- has been projected onto choppy water and then video-taped by an ancient camera whose tube has been scorched repeatedly by Arthur C. Clarke’s laser. It’s like watching a movie from inside Fritz Lang’s lung.

Never mind that, is it good?

Better say diverting. But there’s one hugely enjoyable conceit — our atomic fellow has been mentally blasted 7 seconds into the future: though his body remains in the here and now, his mind is there and then, which means he tends to answer questions before they’re asked. This blows rather a big hole in the concept of free will if you ask me, which I notice you’re not. If he answers your question, doesn’t that mean you’re now compelled to ask it?

A similar space-time infarction seems to be taking place when, in the midst of all this sci-fi espionage (fat Brazilian spymaster, plastic surgeon, impostor, project to transmute base metals), Barry and Domergue are interrupted mid-muse by the spectre of Charles Hawtrey, CARRY ON-film regular, giving exactly the same comic performance of dirty-minded gay schoolboy that he would give in countless low comedies for Rank. He bursts through a door and snaps “‘ello ‘ello, what’s going on ‘ere, I wouldn’t be surprised!” and his appearance smacks so much of refugee-from-another-film syndrome that it’s doubly surprising when anyone else actually acknowledges his presence. One had assumed he was the result of a printing error at the lab.

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When the explanation for the time-shift comes along, it’s insanely protracted, hideously convoluted, and utterly nonsensical. Starting from the semi-sensible springboard idea of the character having been clinically dead for 7 seconds, the neuro-psychologist mouthpiece character delivering the expos soon finds himself on very thin ice, and shortly thereafter at the bottom of a wintry pond of pseudo-science and 14-carot baloney. But I found it enjoyable.

Alec C. Snowden, who produced and fronted for Joseph Losey on what I call THE INTIMATE FINGER, produced this one as well. Good!

This has been a Fever Dream Double Feature.

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19 Responses to “BANG BANG”

  1. Actually Catholics have had big problems with ”I, CONFESS”. Scorsese said in interviews that his neighbourhood priests and other friends told him that the dilemma Monty Clift goes through is ridiculous. Him becoming a priest because Anne Baxter left him was considered silly because the tests and vocation people chose in the seminary didn’t allow for people who aren’t serious to last very long. Scorsese agrees with that and sees that as a big problem with the film.

    Similar complaints came from other people I know who are Catholic.

  2. That may be true (Hitchcock was raised Catholic, btw) but I don’t think it detracts from the dilemma of whether the priest should clear his name or be faithful to the absolute seal of the confessional. I thought that was dramatised about as effectively as it could be.

    But obviously I’m wrong to say that the film is more effective for Catholics!

  3. Actually Ken Hughes is best known today as the director of Sextette — Mae West’s swan song maudit.

  4. ——————-
    (Hitchcock was raised Catholic, btw)
    ——————–

    He was and remained a practising one apparently. But Hitchcock really regretted the compromises on that film. He initially asked Graham Greene to help write the screenplay but he refused(Greene disliked Hitchcock for some reason) and then Joseph Breen really held the film back.

    Peter Bogdanovich asked Hitchcock if whether in the scene of Anne Baxter’s flashback(which is told in a totally uncharacteristic florid style by Hitchcock), the two of them had sex in that small shelter during the rain, before that judge caught them tomorrow morning. Hitchcock said, “I hope so, although far be it from me as a Jesuit to encourage that kind of behaviour.”

  5. Wasn’t there a story going round about Hughes involving himself Diana Dors a 2-Way Mirror and a dinner party (including Dors’ husband) watching on the other side? I wish more was known about his “filthy” love life-and whether any of it inspired scenes in “Sextette”

  6. Sextette is inspired purely from the fevered imaginings of Mae West herself, the film’s true auteur. Fortunately it’s all very inexplicit, because whenever the octogenarian star gets close to a male costar, it feels terribly uncomfortable.

    Let it be said — Mae totally pulls off the campy sex icon thing in Myra Breckinridge. But some years had past in the interim…

    You’re right about the Dors story, I’d forgotten that. Hughes said of his spectated bedroom romp, “I knew I was putting on a show, so I made sure I gave them a damned good one.” Mr Dors later died of tertiary syphilis — which has killed relatively few in the late 20th century — you have to really avoid medical treatment to let it get that far!

  7. Greene’s dislike of Hitchcock seems to go back to his film criticism days. And I suspect he disliked the idea of playing second fiddle to a director. Someone like Carol Reed would defer to Greene in a way that I doubt Hitch would.

  8. Somewhere in my cloudily distant childhood, I saw “The Atomic Man.” On television, in the afternoon. I mean … it had the leading lady of “This Island Earth,” didn’t it? (This was during a period when I even *paid*, G-d help me, to see “Cult of the Cobra.”)

    All I can remember is Domergue looking non-commital and attractive and that whole “7 second” gimmick. Well, it was at least as dynamic as Montgomery Tully’s “The Electronic Monster” — which I don’t remember either.

  9. One can never pass by a Domergue movie without stopping and looking. Like a traffic accident in the guise of a beautiful woman? No, because she’s oddly appealing — as you say, non-commital, which can be quite refreshing if everybody else is trying hard.

    Haven’t seen Cult of the Cobra but it sounds FANTASTIC.

    Haven’t seen The Electronic Monster but have seen, and blogged, something by Montgomery T, I think it was Clash By Night (but not the one by Fritz Lang). Not a good director, but there for you in a pinch.

    Just got Hughes’ Joe Macbeth, which for obscure non-reasons I’ve always wanted to see. The Scottish Play re-imagined as a gangster movie in a London once more populated, a la Atomic Man, by American C-list stars (Paul Douglas, Ruth Roman, the inexplicable Bonar Colleano). Got to be worth a look.

  10. Oh, and Robert Arden’s in it! Hooray!

  11. Just realised it’s set in New York, though filmed in the UK, with British supporting thesps doing Amurrican accents. Should be amusing.

  12. Must we badmouth Ruth Roman?

    Anyone with “Strangers On A Train” and “Beyond The Forest” to her credit, not to mention “Love Has Many Faces,” deserves a lot of affection.

  13. I tend to find her a little dull, especially in Bitter Victory, but I guess there’s more to her than that. Joe Macbeth sees her as a gangster’s moll, which is certainly a departure, and it looks like she’ll be good fun in it.

  14. Ruth Roman’s in The Window, with Paul Stewart and doomed child star Bobbie Driscoll. She also had a role in Champion, which also had Paul Stewart in it come to think of it. Champion’s maybe the darkest of all the boxing noirs, since Kirk Douglas played one of the most unsympathetic sons of bitches ever to sully a screen. His death provides the film with something like a happy ending. I know what you mean about Roman though, I look at her, and I can see she’s an attractive woman, but still her screen presence is so slight, like there’s a part of her that’s not quite there. She was also in another noir with Steve Cochran, called Tomorrow is Another Day. There’s a clip from this film on YouTube that shows Cochran fresh out of prison washing down three pieces of pie with a bottle of beer. Yuck.

  15. Ruth Roman was one of the survivos of the Andrea Doria.

  16. Wow! (Had to look that one up.)

    I can’t decide if my problem with Roman is a slightness of presence, or a lack of interesting stuff being DONE with the presence she’s got. But it’s not universally the case. Now that Chris has defended her I’m going to take off my shades for a better look.

  17. Well, there’s always the Vidor-directed “Lightning Strikes Twice,” with Roman opposite Mercedes McCambridge …

    Perhaps David has seen her in the Curtis Harrington-directed “The Killing Kind”? I certainly haven’t. I was amused, though, when a review in CampBlood.org (“dedicated to all things queer in Horror Cinema”) described Roman — at least circa ’73 — as “the tobacco-stained goddess of denim pantsuits herself.”

  18. I can’t even imagine Roman sharing a frame with McCambridge, although I can guess to which one my eye would go. MM is quite the scene-stealer.

    Haven’t seen the Harrington, alas. That’s a lovely description — thinking of it already makes me like her more.

    I’ll give her the full benefit of my attention in Joe Macbeth (after all, the alternative is looking at Paul Douglas) and see what fresh conclusions I can reach.

  19. [...] 1) A distant bell tolls each time a kingpin dies. When Douglas has offed his boss (Gregoire Aslan, a surprisingly gallic mafiosa), the bell is accompanied by shrieking birds, and the killer’s moral torment is reminiscent of Sydney Chaplin’s downfall in Hughes’ CONFESSION. [...]

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