Archive for Mark Robson

Let’s Kill Gandhi

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2011 by dcairns

NINE HOURS TO RAMA is Mark Robson’s two-hour Gandhi snuff film, a well-meaning, sometimes-skillful fictionalisation of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, gone awry in its own commercialism…

Starting promisingly with a snazzy Saul Bass title sequence, in which Malcolm (BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI) Arnold provides authentic-sounding (to me, anyway) Indian music, the movie gets itself in trouble as soon as acting is called for — while numerous small roles are taken by Indian performers, the major parts, except that of Gandhi himself, are played by western stars — I mean stars in films made in the west, not cowboys, fortunately. John Wayne would have been too much.

As it is, Jose Ferrer is remarkable acceptable-looking, and doesn’t try to talk or act in any kind of embarrassing faux-Indian way. In fact, he doesn’t seem to act at all, which makes him rather impressive — just the right kind of figure to lead the policier part of the story. Unfortunately, handsome Horst Buchholtz is not greatly more convincing as an Indian than he was as a Mexican in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, and his role, as a tortured fanatic with a traumatic backstory, calls for lots of histrionics and hysterics. Not only is he fervid and shouty, he’s probably the screen’s most incompetent killer, getting drunk, picking up a prostitute (Diane Baker, typically excellent once you get over the shock of the sari etc), practically telling her his mission, being so pissy to his superiors that they plot his own assassination as soon as he’s finished the job…

Nelson Gidding (THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE THE HAUNTING) gives Buchholtz lots of flashbacks to motivate him and build sympathy, which doesn’t work because (1) Horst is inescapably a whiny little bitch in this film and (2) he’s going to kill Gandhi. The movie’s trying to get us to root for him to change his mind, but mainly we’re rooting for him to fall under a bus.

Robert Morley, looking like a rugby ball.

It’s odd, this racial miscasting. One can admit the need to have stars in order to get the film made at all, and so we have Jose and Horst, but were Robert Morley and Harry Andrews really thought to contribute that much of a box office draw? Both good actors, they elicit a shudder of discomfort immediately upon recognition in this unsuitable context. And even allowing that two more familiar names in the credits might have some influence upon an undecided customer pondering which film to see, can the same be said for Francis Matthews or Harold Goldblatt? A shortage of Indian actors can’t be the excuse, since the location work was all performed in India and one can see from Satyajit Ray films of the period that the middle-class characters tend to pride themselves on speaking good English…

Fortunately, J.S. Casshyap plays Gandhi, and he’s excellent, as is the writing in these scenes. It’s inspiring sometimes to have basic stuff about non-violence spelled out by someone who can convincingly embody it. Casshyap, more commonly a writer than actor, underplays magnificently and is as compelling as Ferrer, over whom he also has an ethnic advantage.

Giddings’ solution to writing a series of characters who would not in reality be speaking English is to strip the speech of idiom and contractions, making everybody sound like Data from Star Trek, and then he throws a persistent mannerism of saying “isn’t it?” a lot, so that everybody has that Paul Verhoeven oddness to their delivery. Still, that’s far less damaging than his habit of hamstringing the dramatic tension by jumping back into flashback at every opportunity, so that the promised countdown is devalued — it’s Nine Hours to Rama, then ten years to Rama, then eight hours, then six months…

Robson’s editorial background shows itself in some slick sequences though, and his experience as assistant on CITIZEN KANE no doubt influenced his handling of the flashbacks, cued by long dissolves with theatrical lighting fades which cause Horst’s face to hang about in the frame as his surroundings melt away. This is done rather more obviously than in KANE –

The best bit is the ending — spoiler alert: Gandhi dies. If you don’t plan on seeing this movie, by all means watch the ending here, it’s quite impressive. Horst’s mild-mannered cohort has worried about whether their victim will bless them when he’s killed — such a thing is perversely horrifying to both would-be killers.

Pretty bold stuff. But, from a commercial point of view, if you’re going to do an assassination movie based on a true life political figure where we all know the end result, maybe it’s more satisfying to pick an incident where the assassin doesn’t succeed. Unless the subject is Hitler.

Stock Company

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on January 12, 2009 by dcairns

After worrying about the vexatious question of KING KONG/SON OF KONG stock footage in CITIZEN KANE, it’s a pleasure to pin down another example of stock footage in an RKO movie.

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The ship in KING KONG, the Venture.

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The ship in Val Lewton and Mark Robson’s THE GHOST SHIP — the Erutnev.

Not really, of course. It’s the same ship, same footage, flipped into mirror-world by the optical printer in order to create a different shot for the Lewton movie. We’ve heard for ages that Lewton was ordered to make a shipboard movie in order to make use of an existing set — was the set the ship from KONG too? It seems unlikely that it would still be in place ten years after Cooper and Schoedsack’s ape movie was shot, although the Skull Island gate was apparently still there by the time they started shooting GONE WITH THE WIND in 1938-9, when they supposedly set fire to it as part of the burning of Atlanta (what colossal threat did the antebellum Atlantans fear so much that they constructed this giant barrier? Perhaps the thought of a 50ft high black guy carrying off white women was preying on their superstitious native minds.)

Unfortunately, all ships look alike to me, so I find it hard to tell if the deck of the Kong boat is the same as that in Lewton’s modest masterpiece — I will leave this to someone more nautically expert.

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