Archive for Milton Rosmer

Mortis Loch

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , on March 8, 2014 by dcairns

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SECRET OF THE LOCH (1934) deserves its place in history as (1) a fairly crummy British B-picture of the thirties and (2) the first film to use an enlarged iguana as its monster. Except that’s not true, is it? The Fairbanks THIEF OF BAGDAD was there first.

Fiona’s been reading a book by a skeptical cryptozoologist, which seems fascinating. We didn’t know there WERE any sceptical ones. Basically, I guess they study animals unknown to science which they don’t believe in (although like any good skeptic they say they’re willing to be convinced). The book patiently explains the colossal impact the 1933 KING KONG has had – there were no newspaper accounts of Nessie until Willis H. O’Brien brought dinosaurs to the screen in convincing detail and lifelike motion.

And so we get Milton Rosmer’s film, which borrows freely from Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, but substitutes Inverness for Doyle’s South American plateau. Seymour Hicks, famed for his stage and screen Scrooge, plays the irascible/demented Professor Heggie, a crustier version of Doyle’s Challenger, and Frederick Peisley plays the callow journalist hero. Most surprisingly, Gibson Gowland, hulking protagonist of Stroheim’s GREED, is on hand as a celtic henchman, or “henchmon” if you will.

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“The monster doesn’t scare me, I’ve worked for Von Stroheim.”

While KONG established the correct pattern for monster movie success, making the audience pant through an opening act with nary a sign of monstrosity, then wheeling its creation on and having him dominate the proceedings until the dying moments, Rosmer’s lightweight farrago does what innumerable cheapjack exploiters would do, holding off any sight of its star creature until we’re in sight of the fadeout. But Nessie is not Harry Lime, and this kind of super-delayed entrance may save on the effects budget but it’s untenable as a narrative device, since any cretaceous eruption into a contemporary drama must happen early enough or risk being rejected by the host body.

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There you have it — the monster’s existence  is attested to by the Daily Mail. “…the watery depths harbour some fantastic and abnormal creature, probably of Polish origin. Heil Hitler.”

Film history being full of ludicrous surprises, this movie was edited by David Lean. The poor young cutter has terrible trouble building a climax out of the footage he’s been handed, where they seem to have rather struggled with their rear projection. If Peisley isn’t standing in front of the iguana, blocking our view, he’s standing on the wrong side, making the beastie seem shortsighted as it advances implacably off to his left, intent on some offscreen tidbit. Still, the science of interpolating footage of actors in deep-sea diving apparatus with blurry lizards padding amiably towards the lens must have been major addition to the budding filmmaker’s palette. Whether one regrets that he never included an enlarged herbivorous lizard in BRIEF ENCOUNTER or DOCTOR ZHIVAGO depends upon one’s personal taste, and upon whether one is a raving idiot.

Barn Storming

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2008 by dcairns

Hello, it’s Tod Slaughter again! And up to his old tricks — you know, murdering, and that.

Only two killings take place in MARIA MARTEN, OR, THE MURDER IN THE RED BARN, and one of those is Tod’s eventual and inevitable execution. The movie begins in a theatre where the cast of the play are introduced, making the theatrical nature of the events explicit — and since the hangman is presented as the final member of the dramatis personae, the end cannot be much in doubt.

Director Milton Rosmer (also an actor, and a regular player for Michael Powell) doesn’t make anything of the transition from stage to “realistic” film studio sets, and doesn’t add much in the way of cinematic appeal, tracking in from wide shot occasionally at the start of a scene. George King, who brought a little more panache to the shooting of CRIMES AT THE DARK HOUSE, acted as producer on this one.

Amusingly, it turns out that the central plot of MARIA MARTEN is recycled verbatim in CRIMES, adding an extra murder to the plot to keep things suitably juicy. Star / rampant hambone Tod Slaughter plays a corrupt squire who “ruins” local lass Maria M, then shoots her so she can’t interfere with his upcoming marriage to a rich lady. His plan hinges on framing Carlos, the gypsy boy who had wooed Maria. Carlos is played by Eric Portman, famed for playing a squire himself in Powell & Pressburger’s A CANTERBURY TALE. Flamboyantly miscast here, he plays Carlos with the cut-glass accent of an Eton undergrad, clashing preposterously with the other actors who play gypsies and yokels with a wide variety of Lancastrian-Mancunian-West Country-Cockney accents, but at least staying within a fairly narrow bandwidth of the social spectrum. Carlos’s mum must be regretting sending him to that posh finishing school.

Alas, Tod doesn’t have a moustache to twiddle in this film, and with only one rape and one murder to his name, his opportunities for salacious leering and barmy cackling are more limited than fans might like, but when caught in tricky situations he does reveal another string to his bow — he can squirm with outstanding effectiveness. As the heat is turned up, Tod’s entire form begins to wriggle and contort with discomfort, like a population of eels crammed into a carnival effigy. Delightful stuff.

Once again, it’s clear that the crudity of the drama and performances (“Winterbottom the village idiot” was a particular favourite among the supporting cast — the British film industry has changed so little!) are paradoxically sophisticated — the audience is meant to guess the plot turns long in advance, the better to savour them, and Slaughter’s overacting invites his public to share in his wickedness, blow by blow, with no evil thought or unhealthy appetite left untelegraphed. With everything nicely externalised, there’s no sense that we are guilty of the same evil desires, and our sense of moral superiority is secured by the happy ending, when we can watch in satisfaction as evil is extirpated.

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