Terry-Thomas IS Cinema.

I say!

There’s a very entertaining and extraordinarily unrevealing autobiography by this man, which I once held in my hands. He’s Terry-Thomas, the archetypal English silly ass in scores of British and international comedies. his book was written late in his life, when he suffered very much from Parkinson’s Disease, which afflicted him with a debilitating tremor and a peculiar inability to walk through doorways, although he found that he could sometimes DANCE through them. 

Anyway, one chapter of the book is simply a collection of TT’s favourite jokes, which he offers to the reader for free since he reckons he has no further need of them. They are all very long and absolutely terrible.

But the filming anecdotes are superb, and two in particular, about Rod Steiger, stayed in my mind. They are funny, odd, and intensely cinematic: one can’t help but imagine them in terms of shots, or I can’t, anyway. Here’s one:

Rod Steiger always looks as if he’s defecating.

TT and RS were co-starring in some unimaginable Italian war epic/comedy, and Rod had a big death scene to do. This being Rod, we’re talking about a seriously BIG death scene. Terry-T watched in mild astonishment as Steiger, peppered with machine-gun fire, staggered about for a full minute, clasped his bosom, fell to one knee, turned his face to the sky, mouthed a silent prayer, winced, fell over, spasmed, reached out impotently to the heavens, then fell still.

At which point, before the awe-struck director could whisper “Cut,” Terry-Thomas wandered into shot with a mildly solicitous expression on his face. “I say, are you absolutely all right?”

I think we can all agree that if this fragmentary out-take survives, by some miracle, then it is worth more, in artistic terms, than the entire oevre of, say, Roberto Rossellini.

“I was appalled by that gap in his front teeth. This man seductive? But what he lacked physically he made up for in charm.” — Frank Tashlin, interviewed by Robert Benayoun.

I seem to recall that in one of Nancy Friday’s collections of women’s sexual fantasies, there’s one woman who had a particular erotic fascination with that toothy gap. So there you go.

More on Frank Tashlin soon!

3 Responses to “Terry-Thomas IS Cinema.”

  1. Thanks! Nice to finally get a comment on this one!

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