Archive for The Man Who Could Cheat Death

Hazel.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2008 by dcairns

Was saddened to read on Tim Lucas’ Video Watchblog that Hazel Court has died. I always felt she didn’t get her due as an actress — her wicked comic turn in Corman’s THE RAVEN is a high point in a film also loaded with stars Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre, all of whom are very funny. Corman’s advice to juvenile lead Jack Nicholson was “Just try to be as funny as the old guys.” The callow Nicholson failed, but Court more than holds her own. The fact that she’s astonishingly lovely and voluptuous helps, of course.

In her other roles — many of the most memorable ones in horror films — she doesn’t get to shine comedically, but she’s a sultry satanist in MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, engaging in a bizarre hallucinatory, sado-masochistic ritual in order to be initiated into DARK SECRETS OF THE OCCULT. Gamely, she allows cinematographer Nic Roeg to distort her lovely face this way and that with his WEIRD LENSES (actually, maybe an optical effect?)

Hammer films tended to cast her in good girl roles, as in CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN or THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH, mostly thankless parts for an actress of Court’s range, although she always played plucky heroines rather than bimbos.

I’ll be raising a glass of whatever’s handy in honour of the great H.C. when I get a copy, at last, of DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS, possibly her first genre film, in which a shiny-costumed lesbian dominatrix from space terrorises H.C. and Adrienne Corri in a Scottish pub, thus neatly fulfilling a requirement of Brit sci-fi-horrors, according to I.Q. Hunter’s excellent study, British Science Fiction Cinema – at some point the protagonists must and should RETIRE TO PUB AND AWAIT END OF WORLD.

A partial list of RTPAAEOW films:

THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING

THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE

QUATERMASS II

QUATERMASS AND THE PIT

SHAUN OF THE DEAD

…but there are many more.

Anton Diffring’s Arse is on Fire…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on March 22, 2008 by dcairns

…in Terence Fisher’s THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH.

Pfffft!

Sparky

Fiery

I try to find something to say about almost everything I see, but this wasn’t too interesting. It did have fun performances though (especially from Diffring), plus the burning backside and one or two nice images…

Court of Appeal

Hands Across the Table

The Green Room

Fisher’s very traditional approach is such that he can appear stodgy if the material doesn’t deliver regular thrills. And he has a tendency to cut together single shots where one character doesn’t look at the other for the longest time, until you suspect he’s mismatched the eye-lines… then at last Character A turns to face Character B and you realise he’d just been staring into space. Fisher does this in STOLEN FACE as well, the most recent Fisher-Hammer flick I watched, and it’s disconcerting in a way that doesn’t seem too helpful…

But there are lots of good qualities in Fisher’s work, as I’ve previously mentioned — and shall again dot dot dot…

A Facial Feature

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on March 12, 2008 by dcairns

Face / Off 

STOLEN FACE is an early production from Hammer Films, directed by Terence Fisher, the team who would later unleash CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and (HORROR OF) DRACULA upon an ill-prepared world. Like Fisher’s first film for Hammer, THE FOUR-SIDED TRIANGLE (a tedious tale about creating artificial life of the female variety), the 1952 movie looks forward somewhat to the horror films he would make his name with in a few years, and like the earlier movie it’s a somewhat dreary affair that takes forever to get going.

Paul Henreid (blacklisted in the States but still fairly popular with audiences) is hard-working, philanthropic plastic surgeon Paul Ritter. This being a Hammer noir, Ritter is not only kind-hearted (Jekyll-style, he is first encountered restoring movement to a child) he also nurses a crackpot theory: that many hardened criminals are really acting out the frustrations caused by suffering some facial disfigurement. He’s obviously seen A WOMAN’S FACE, either with Ingrid Bergman or Joan Crawford, and it’s deeply impressed him.

Like a lot of B pictures (FIRST MAN INTO SPACEis a classic example), STOLEN F starts the action before anything’s due to happen and just sort of drifts around hoping some promising line of narrative development will suggest itself. The real master of the premature opening at Hammer was Michael Carreras, idiot son of the founder Sir James, who would later run the company into the ground in the ’70s. He begins CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT with his central characters being born, and then just kinda follows them around as they grow up, on the assumption that sooner or later something interesting is more or less bound to happen, it being the Stone Age and all. (This assessment proves over-optimistic.)

A Swollen Face

As STOLEN FACE ambles aimlessly through its first thirty minutes, Paul (so relaxed, it’s a pleasure to spend time with this actor), meets Lizabeth Scott, treating for a head cold when he’s on holiday and falling for her. But Liz is already engaged to vacuous plot function André Morell (a fine, authoritative performer, hopelessly miscast as loverboy) so she gives Ritter the elbow, leaving him to assuage his desire by sculpting a scar-faced cockney kleptomaniac into an exact replica of his lost love, and marrying her. Oh dear.

This at least justifies the title, and gives the film it’s weirdest pleasure: the buzz of hearing Mary Mackenzie’s cockney guttersnipe dialogue emerge from the lips of a classy Hollywood star.

Face to Face

The holiday romance doesn’t seem QUITE intense enough to justify this bizarre, VERTIGO-like course of action, but one is relieved that at least something is happening. Before you know it, Ritter is attempting to mould his new wife’s personality as he did her physog, and she’s bridling at his controlling behaviour and starting back to her felonious ways.

Anyway, Morrell gives Liz the heave-ho and she hastens back to Henreid, only to learn the peculiar truth: she’s mildly disappointed. “Oh Paul,” she remarks. This doesn’t seem to quite meet the dramatic needs of the scenario. The Scott duplicate goes from bad to worse and is sort-of accidentally chucked out of a moving train. The emergency cord is pulled and various British Rail personnel gather round the corpse to offer their expert views. “Must’ve been a pretty girl,” and “At least she’ll never know what it is to go through life disfigured,” they observe, as Paul and the unusually forgiving original Liz walk off down the tracks, arm in arm.

What a deeply conservative film! When Ritter goes off the deep end and starts trying to transform a captive subject into his lost love, without telling her, we expect tragic consequences — for HIM. But his actions, while destroying his victim, don’t rebound upon him at all. The only conclusions to be drawn are that cockney criminals are just no good, and that a woman is better dead than disfigured. This would be bad enough as a message, but since 90% of the story is concerned with Henreid, whose psychological drama never resolves itself at all, the film is both reactionary and incoherent. This wouldn’t be the last time the inherent conservatism of Hammer Films would come oozing to the surface in an unpleasant way. Comparing the film to VERTIGO is a fascinating exercise in narrative construction — one film takes the least dramatic and satisfying route, while the other drags its characters through admittedly improbable story developments, but undeniably pushes them to breaking point — and beyond.

Face Time

(Weirdly enough, for a film concerned with duplication, the copy of STOLEN F which I got my mitts on refused to be duped. The VHS tape held two off-air recordings, a later Hammer horror called THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH, and SF, but while the first film yielded readily to my DVD recorder, the second firmly resisted, and the recorder flashed up a sign saying “You May Not Record This, You Bad Boy.”)

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