The ’68 Comeback Special: The Long Day’s Dying
“There ARE men dead. I know of men dead. And, and I know of a girl dead. This girl, this girl was loved by one of our lads who was asked questions and had lighted cigarettes pushed into his face… but survived. And came home, to bed and beauty. And she kissed him in the night, asleep. With love. And he stuck a knife in her, without waking, up to her heart. He woke up in Broadmoor.”
As my partner-in-crime Dave Scout Tafoya wrote last week, the would-be 1968 Cannes Film Festival contained good as well as bad competitors for the Palm D’Or, I’ll be writing about at least one of the British duffers later on, but it’s heartening to report that I’ve just seen a British entry which, though little-known and rarely-seen, proves to be a terrific piece of cinema.
Peter Collinson’s career is mysterious — the only quality linking most of his films is their tendency to be chamber pieces, either with a fringe theatre influence or tending more towards the suspense potboiler. One of the few filmmakers to carve out a distinct oeuvre at Hammer un-influenced by the major commercial trends at that establishment, Collinson gave us the fascinating oddities THE PENTHOUSE and STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING. More conventionally, he helmed FRIGHT and THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE.
Right before this one he was responsible for UP THE JUNCTION, the film adaptation of a kitchen sink TV play originally directed by Ken Loach — I think this is what gave Collinson the respectability to be considered for Cannes. Right afterwards he made THE ITALIAN JOB, his biggest hit and the film he’s most remembered for. In the window in between he made the movie with the highest artistic ambition, but on a small scale and tight budget.
A LONG DAY’S DYING follows three British soldiers lost somewhere in Europe in WWII. Charles Wood adapted the screenplay from Alan White’s novel — the previous year Wood scripted HOW I WON THE WAR and the same year he wrote Tony Richardson’s THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE. He also contributed heavily to the screenplay for PETULIA, another film due to have been screened at the abortive Cannes ’68. A sort-of-pacifist who is also an enthusiast for military history, Wood brings acute authenticity to his army stories, combined with a surreal sensibility which makes for rather thrilling, disconcerting contrasts. The main manifestation of this here is the internal monologues he gives to all his characters, which seem to talk to one another at times in a kind of faulty telepathy. The characters are always either overhearing each others’ thoughts or else failing to do so. Sometimes they shout-think their voice-overs at each other in a pathetic attempt to be heard and understood. It adds a strangeness to the simple tale of survival (or the failure to survive).
The Brits are David Hemmings (heart-breakingly youthful — a baby-faced killer) Tom Bell (before he got raddled — actually dishy) and Tony Beckley (also in THE ITALIAN JOB). The lone German is Alan Dobie, who sadly can’t do the accent — he sounds Russian. That, and some heavy-handed music choices at the start and (especially) the end are the film’s only major flaws.
Sadly, many of Collinson’s films have vanished from view, and this one could only be found on a rip made from a faulty VHS tape, which was a pan-and-scan butchering to begin with. The movie is strong enough to deserve DVD resurrection by the BFI’s Flipside label, I’d argue. Particularly with such a strong Hemmings perf. As a result, the cinematography is impossible to assess — even its atmospheric, earth-tone loamy quality may be simply a result of a bad transfer.
John Trumper’s editing survives better, although obviously the visual rhythms are thrown off by the cropping. Trumper, who would cut GET CARTER, has an edgy way with violence, cutting the graphic moments short and leaving us blinking in disbelief. At one point, Beckley’s character is warned that a grenade will go off in his face one day, and we cut not-quite-subliminally to Beckley’s bloody face and torn lips, as if it’s happened, and then back to reality. Disconcerting.
Collinson also throws in some slow-motion falls, and it’s tempting at first to see this as standard-issue action film-making. But this is 1968, and BONNIE AND CLYDE is only just coming out, Peckinpah hasn’t been allowed to use slomo yet, and so Collinson is ahead of the curve with only Kurosawa as his obvious influence.
It really is only the use of Elgar at the end that spoils this film. Fiona thought the freeze-frames were also overdoing it, but had they unfolded in silence I think they could have been starkly effective, even with all the overuse of that device in the ensuing decade. Collinson’s tendency to over-eggery may be the reason most of his films aren’t so well-remembered — that and, to be fair, his tragic early death at the hands of Ricky Schroder.*
*For legal reasons, we would like to make it clear that child actor Ricky Schroder did not in fact kill Peter Collinson.
This entry was posted on September 26, 2013 at 11:30 am and is filed under FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics with tags A Long Day's Dying, Alan Dobie, Cannes, Charles Wood, David Hemmings, Elgar, How I Won the War, John Trumper, Peter Collinson, Petulia, Ricky Schroder, Straight on till Morning, The '68 Comeback Special, The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Italian Job, The Penthouse, Tom Bell, Tony Beckley, Up the Junction. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.