Archive for December 21, 2007

Now about these Women…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2007 by dcairns

 A Representative Woman

Odd — isn’t it? — how many title like these there are:

TWO WOMEN

THREE WOMEN

SEVEN WOMEN

EIGHT WOMEN

EIGHT AND A HALF WOMEN

Whereas titles concerning numbers of men tend to be about specific KINDS of men: angry men, men in a boat, horsemen of the apocalypse. It’s as if men alone, of any number, are not enough to constitute a catchpenny attraction: there must be a modifier to imply some enticing dramatic situation. The Hollywood model: narrative is all.

Whereas women belong to the European tradition: the image is all. A title implying images of women is allure enough: “Psst! Wanna see some women?” “Why yes, now you mention it, I believe I do!”

All these women...

Be that as it may, TWO THOUSAND WOMEN is a female P.O.W. movie by Frank Launder, of the Launder-Gilliat writing team that scripted Hitchcock’s THE LADY VANISHES (What kind of lady? Doesn’t matter) and later brought us the ST TRINIANS FILM, rather more often than was strictly required.

Launder, the more comic of the team, had heard stories from British women who had been interned in occupied France and thought the subject ripe for a propaganda piece but, feeling the public might be tired of grim reality, decided to keep the film jaunty. In later years he regretted this a bit, and the light tone does seem to rob the film of some of its potential appeal, slackening suspense and softening agreeably hard edges the moment they appear. STALAG 17 in skirts, in other words.

Launder was limbering up for the St Trinians films’ all-female environments, which seem to have had some attraction for him. His first feature, MILLIONS LIKE US, co-directed with Gilliat, spends plenty of time in a factory staffed by “mobile women” drafted and relocated to help the war effort. Patricia Roc, pudgy-faced and doe-eyed and with the delivery of Stan Laurel, stars in both films, effective as a placid working girl in MLU (her initial response to a proposal of marriage is “I don’t mind,”), rather incredible as a showgirl-with-a-shady-past turned nun. She nails the nun, the hoochie defeats her.

Come in, Houston

But really, Renée Houston is the whole show. Entering showbiz as a jazz singer with her sister Billie, and later typed as a harridan in Carry On films and the like, here she’s a force of nature as a former girls’ school teacher (obviously at St Trin’s) whose educational experience enables her to organise escape attempts and floor nazi agents with a powerful right hook. Her Scots accent tinged with a little American twang, she’s never more than a notch away from the archetypal Mad Auntie, that spectre at the banquet haunting all Scottish gatherings, but she hoists the film up by its collar and old school tie and shakes it until it puffs and splutters like Erskine Sanford in CITIZEN KANE.

Harridan Stanton.

Renée’s capacity to instill terror is well used in Polanski’s REPULSION, produced by the late Tony Tenser, where we find her, prone, at Vidal Sassoon’s salon, playing Miss Balch, presumably named after Anthony Balch, the William Burroughs associate and later director of HORROR HOSPITAL, who was moving in Tenser’s sex-film circles at around this time…

Good poster!

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Vindictive Cutlery.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2007 by dcairns

 The Norse Whisperer.

I was keen to see KNIVES OF THE AVENGER as I’d never seen either of Mario Bava’s Viking mini-epics, and had heard about the Norse ships he made out of pasta. But this movie doesn’t show any sign of linguine long-ships, though there’s an effective matte shot of a distant boat.

I was also very curious to see how Bava’s low-tech, low-budget saga-let would hold up against the C.G.I. 3.D. phantasmagoria of Robert Zemeckis’ BEOWULF. My feeling about that movie, discussed at length in an earlier post, is that the modern technique wasn’t in any way useful in capturing the timeless or ancient qualities of the myth it’s based on.

Bava scores heavily against Zemeckis, and right away. His first images are of sand, sea and stones. Runic-style symbols etched in the shore with a stick. Carved rocks. The pounding of the sea. Simple images, but everything in them is genuinely prehistoric, even older than the story being begun. Rather than distracting us with ultramodern razzmatazz that can’t evoke anything more that the number-crunching of geeks, Bava gives us, as much from necessity as choice, an atmospheric still-life captured by his gliding camera eye.

The film isn’t one of the maestro’s meisterwerks— but it is a pretty good spaghetti western in Scandinavian drag (I think it’s actually better than Bava’s “real” westerns), with a very smart and unexpected plot twist a half hour in, and some beautifully lit cavescapes for the climax. Somebody should, er, borrow that plot twist for a better movie.