Archive for Lawrie Knight

Rex and the Single Girl

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on October 2, 2014 by dcairns

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To celebrate the Joseph L. Mankiewicz retrospective in New York, The Forgotten this week looks at a very engaging late work.

Excitingly, I had a chance to speak to Peggy Cummins on Wednesday morning. She worked for Mankiewicz twice (THE LATE GEORGE APLEY, ESCAPE) and Sexy Rexy once (ESCAPE). I mentioned to her that my friend Lawrie had worked with Rex and found him difficult. She wasn’t having any of it!

The Wizard of Osric

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2012 by dcairns

A lovely Dublin bookshop had a large collection of second-hand film books, all dealing with British or Hollywood topics — I got The Westmores of Hollywood (from which much classic movie lore and gossip derives), The Celluloid Mistress or The Custard Pie of Dr Caligari, which I don’t yet know how to describe, and The Film HAMLET, which deals with Olivier’s movie in a pretty in-depth way for 1948, and for such a slender volume.

I was taken with the stuff pertaining to Peter Cushing’s Osric (the film features both Cushing and Christopher Lee, though Lee’s role is minute and they never meet onscreen) ~

“Osric, that sinister Beau Brummell of the Danish Court, fell pat into place. Casting our stage production of ‘Born Yesterday,’ in the autumn of 1946, Laurence and I had seen a clutch of young actors for the juvenile lead, among them a striking looking character, Peter Cushing, who stuck in our minds by a frank refusal even to attempt an American accent. Weeks later, watching another actor at the Q Theatre, I was struck by a performance of the Frenchman in ‘Where the Sun Shines,’ so true in style and accent that I looked for a French name on the programme. It was Mr. Cushing, and he speaks no French. Here evidently was an actor, and his test for Osric disposed of the last of our problems on the male side.”

Casting director Anthony Bushell there.

Cushing must have been thrilled, being a great Olivier fan — he admired Larry’s athletic approach, and you can see his emulation of it in the vigorous climaxes of CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA, and the swashbuckling approach he takes to playing Sherlock Holmes in HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. Holmes is constantly exulted by his own intelligence, so that he spends the film on an adrenalin high.

Here’s costume and production designer Roger Furse’s sketch of Osric ~

My late friend Lawrie was an assistant on HAMLET, and described the ghost’s appearance in the opening scene — Olivier had wanted a pounding heart on the soundtrack, like Rouben Mamoulian’s in DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE (the director recorded his own elevated heartbeat after charging up and down a flight of stairs), so a junior employee was sent racing around the sound stage to get his pulse pounding. A microphone was pressed to his abdomen — “Nothing but indigestion,” reported Lawrie. When you see the film, the role of the heartbeat is played by a big bass drum.

But the cool thing is the way they’ve used an optical printer to make the shot throb in and out of focus each time the infernal heart beats…

Follow That Camel

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on January 15, 2011 by dcairns

Gabriel Pascal, the penniless Hungarian émigré who somehow convinced George Bernard Shaw he was a genius, and got the go-ahead to adapt MAJOR BARBARA, PYGMALION, and CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA as movies.

I couldn’t remember, offhand, which of my late friend Lawrie’s stories I’d perpetuated here on Shadowplay concerningproducer/director/charlatan Gabriel Pascal. I found some of the stories here, but there are more. Pascal was Lawrie’s first boss in the film industry, as he exited WWII and entered the less murderous but not dissimilar madness of the motion picture industry.

All Lawrie’s stories are true — the ones I’ve been able to check, anyway. Some of the unconfirmed ones seem decidedly fantastical in a David Niven kind of way, and it’s worth recalling that Lawrie doubled for Niven in A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH…

Lawrie entered the film business after exiting the armed forces under circumstances I wasn’t quite clear about. The war was still on, and he was in the Air Force Air Sea Rescue. His war stories are as colourful as his film stories. He mentioned something about pretending to be suicidal so he could  escape duty for a day and go to the cinema, which worked fine until the men with the straitjacket came for him a few days later. He also talked about being adrift at sea alone in a lifeboat, with only a newspaper for company. In the paper was an article about the film producer who discovered Leslie Howard. Lawrie resolved to look the man up and ask for a job, if he ever got out of this…

On his release from the army, he presented himself to the producer. “I’ve come about a job,” he said. The man looked delighted. “Oh, thank God! What kind of job do you have for me?”

Only slightly deterred by this early proof of the shakiness of a career in moving pictures, Lawrie went to Rank Denham. The doorman was going to send him away, but when he gave his name as Knight, the man asked “Captain Knight”? Lawrie lied and said yes, and was shown in. (Captain Knight was a celebrated explorer and sometime actor, who appears, with his pet eagle, in Michael Powell’s I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING — and Powell would play a major role in Lawrie’s career). Lawrie was show in to see the top man, who was in conference with Claude Rains. His imposture was immediately rumbled, but he somehow landed a job as assistant on the current super-production, CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA.

The movie was insanity itself. “We shipped sand to Egypt for the desert scenes!” exclaimed Lawrie. “During wartime!” He also reported that when a group of local extras was outfitted with soft sandals, they immediately ate them. A scenic artist painted elaborate murals all over the sets, and director Pascal chose to shoot all the action in front of the only bare wall in the studio.

But Lawrie’s most unlikely anecdote concerned a camel. It was supposed to be led into a shot, bearing one of the stars on its back, and halt on its mark. But in take after take, it refused to do so. Pascal was apoplectic. The camel wrangler tried to explain to him that a camel simply could not be made to perform as precisely as Pascal demanded. Pascal dismissed this, and promtly put on the camel herder’s costume and did the scene himself.

The camel stopped exactly where it was supposed to. “There!” exclaimed Pascal, gesturing in satisfaction, and the camel bit him. Everybody crowded around the bleeding hyphenate, who insisted he was alright. “We’d better get you a doctor.” “No, I’m fine!” “But what about the VD?” “What are you talking about, VD? I don’t have VD!” “No, but all camels do. We’d better get you a doctor.”

The doctor was called. He bandaged the wound.

“What about the risk of VD infection?” asked a crewmember.

“I doubt you have to worry. But if you really think it necessary, I can give the camel some penicillin.”

As I say, this story may not be absolutely truthful. All I can say is, the stories Lawrie told which I was able to check, were.

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