Archive for Jean Simmons

Never to be Forgotten

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on January 23, 2010 by dcairns

RIP Jean Simmons. This was kind of a shock — she never seemed actually old. Maybe because she played Cleopatra early on, and age cannot wither her. At a more suitable time I must collect together my friend Lawrie’s amusing tales from the production of CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA, not a great film but a great source of anecdotes on the absurdity of the film business and the personalities involved.

For now, here’s Jean at somewhere near her most beautiful, lit by Jack Cardiff in BLACK NARCISSUS.

Exposition

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2009 by dcairns

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Looking at Hitchcock’s THE LADY VANISHES reminded me that there was another version of the story idea — SO LONG AT THE FAIR, directed by Antony Darnorough and Terence Fisher.

Terrific thriller! It’s based on a sort of urban legend, about a couple (in the story it’s a mother and daughter, in the film it’s a brother and sister) who travel to the World’s Fair (but which one? the filmmakers wisely plump for the Paris Explosition of 1896, with the Eiffel Tower), where one of them promptly vanishes. Everybody at the hotel denies that the vanished relative ever existed.

This is one case where I’m not going to get into spoilers, although if you’ve read Hitchcock-Truffaut, you’ve read the solution. It works pretty well in the movie, and Hitchcock later recycled it for a TV episode.

Two things are striking about the film –

1) It’s successfully starry: Jean Simmons as the frightened heroine, who feels she’s losing her mind as reality is rewritten by conspiracy around her; Dirk Bogarde as the artist/swain who eventually comes to her aid; also, as if that weren’t enough, Honor Blackman; and David Tomlinson as the vanishee.

2) It’s from that period where British cinema was apparently bent on suicide, eradicating anything of interest domestically (Powell & Pressburger), while hemorrhaging talent abroad, and yet it’s a convincing film, compelling and exciting and stylish — but the talents were instantly dispersed to prevent the experiment being repeated.

Fisher of course boomeranged off to Hammer films, where he was productive and successful within that niche/ghetto of the genre sausage-factory. Darnorough, who had just collaborated with Fisher on a Noel Coward adaptation, THE ASTONISHED HEART, plunged into producing for a few years, before abandoning the industry. Jean fled to America and the waiting fingernails of Howard Hughes, Dirk fled to Europe and an amazing reinvention as art-house star. Honor became the first woman to do King-Fu in leather on telly in The Avengers, and Tomlinson was scooped up by Disney. And the writers, Hugh Mills and Anthony Thorne, who did an incredible job escalating the suspense and creating endearing protags, were allowed to slip out of the industry, despite a collaboration with Rene Clement on MONSIEUR RIPOIS for Mills.

For this one brief moment, they’re all together, producing a great entertainment. Simmons and Bogarde are great together. When he volunteers to rob a hotel safe to verify her story, she gasps, “Will it be dangerous?” “Goodness, I hope not, why?” asks Dirk, genuinely surprised. What a lovable chap!

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I don’t know how the co-directing worked. Fisher had already helmed a few little movies at this point, so presumably didn’t need help. A few suspense sequences have real panache, popping out from the rest — Fisher’s work? The production design is impressive, with flags waving from special-effects towers at the Exposition, and a fatal balloon ascension, and madly cluttered Victorian rooms. Cathleen Nesbitt (THE PASSING OF THE THIRD FLOOR BACK begins to seem like a central hub of British film), as the steely hotel-keeper, is so convincingly French she convinced the French. The wrapping-up at the end is satisfactory, especially as the film is a new romance, weaving an elaborate thriller plot just to bring together a charming young couple.

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Freaking Cronenberg

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on November 6, 2008 by dcairns

The scene which terrified David Cronenberg.

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The sailor is drunk. “You haven’t got an arm / and you haven’t got a leg,” he sings.

A skull, left behind by someone who no longer required it, starts to rise into the air. Unbenownst to the sailor, there is a snake, inserting its little noggin into the discarded cranium, causing it to elevate in this eerie fashion.

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His vision and mind blurred by drink, the sailor flees in terror and falls to his death.

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Cronenberg notes that Frank Launder’s THE BLUE LAGOON was not a film anybody thought children should be protected from, but it scared every last heebie-jeebie from his childish frame. Thus we see the difficulty, bordering on futility, of the censor’s job. I do think a ratings system, however fatuous, is probably a useful thing to help parents avoid taking their kids to see DEBBIE DOES DALEKS or whatever by mistake, although such advisory labels as the X Certificate are by their nature blunt instruments, of limited application.

As far as protecting kids from disturbing imagery — Cronenberg doesn’t seem to regret seeing THE BLUE LAGOON. I don’t think any of us regret seeing the stuff that freaked us out as kids. It’s part of our development, and it remains in our memories, not as a scar, but as, I don’t know, a merit badge or something. “I saw that and it terrified me,” we think, warmly.

Or is that just me?

Incidentally, my suspicion is that Launder’s LAGOON, a passable but not very distinguished part of his oeuvre, is unavailable on DVD due to censorious panic over the little girl running around without a shirt. I hope I’m wrong — I hope nobody’s terrified of that image, which seems to me harmless.

The film fades out shortly after this sequence, and rejoins the kids several years later, when they have transformed into Donald Houston and Jean Simmons, and we learn that Jean has only just stopped running around topless the previous week. Why couldn’t we have faded up a week earlier?

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