Melvin and Medusa

Madame Medusa 

One fun thing about this joint — from MY point of view anyhow — is that I can see in my Blog Stats exactly what kind of web searches people use to find the site. Yes, I am looking into your dark hearts as you navigate the murky waters of the web and come into dock in my cyber-harbour.

As a result, I have become aware that two of the personages I’ve mentioned in passing have attracted quite a lot of notice. They are ’60s British character star Murray Melvin, and Greek mythological character Medusa.

the sexorcist

The Woman in Green

So, whopping great whore that I am, I thought I’d prepare a special blog posting about Murray Melvin and Medusa. Oh, and I’ll throw in this random mention of ST TRINIAN’S head girl Gemma Arterton too, since so many of you seem to find her so damn interesting.*

What's she got that's so special?

Medusa was head girl of the Gorgons. She had snakes for hair.

Murray Melvin has hair for hair. He starred in A TASTE OF HONEY and pops up in Ken Russell’s epic film maudit THE DEVILS, and Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON (the litmus test film that hardcore Kubrickians admire most, and that nobody else likes all that much).

Medusa had a petrifying gaze.

Murray Melvin is a petrifying gay.

Actually, I have no private information about Mr. Melvin’s sexuality at all, so I take that back. He was cast as gay in A TASTE OF HONEY and it kind of stuck. He played highly repressed characters in THE DEVILS and BARRY LYNDON, and is a sort of Poster Boy for British Sexual Ambivalence (B.S.A.). I find it interesting (and definitely regrettable) that British cinema has made so little use of him since the swinging ‘sixties and ‘seventies. My theory is that Melvin’s camp quality is out of fashion in a world that either wishes to ignore homosexuality, or is eager to present images of gay men that don’t fit the camp stereotype. But some gay men ARE camp, if you want to use that word, and Melvin is an excellent actor, so where’s the problem?

It reminds me of the way Hollywood discovered racial sensitivity in the ‘forties and slowly phased out most most of the actors who’d made a living playing “comedy negroes” and servants. Replacing them with…virtually nothing. There’s an argument that flawed representation is better than NO representation.

The possibility also arises that M.M. was acting camp in films because the roles demanded it, and could just as easily play Dead Butch. It would be slightly surprising to me, but it’s still possible. In which case his recent disuse by our national cinema is even sillier.

Don't look at his eyes!

The last time I saw M.M. at the cinema was way back in Scots director Bill Douglas’ COMRADES, which also featured Barbara Windsor and Robert Stephens, who likewise should have been in far more movies.

Walpamur Petrifying Liquid

When Harry Hamlin Perseus lopped off Medusa’s serpentine head, her stare maintained its terrible power after death. Still going strong in his seventies, Murray Melvin likewise maintains his momentous powers of dramaturgical dazzlement.

*”Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” ~ Johnny Rotten.

20 Responses to “Melvin and Medusa”

  1. He’s gay and very camp. Kind of like Kenneth Williams’ more serious younger brother. He was amazing in,I. A Taste of Honey and The Devils. Delightful in The Boy Friend. But he triumphs in Barry Lyndon — the film I firmly believe has The Great Ending of All Time.

    That’s because it shows the one thing no other film has dared — signing the checks.

    “They are all equal now.”

  2. Yes, it’s quite a conclusion. “I don’t find it nihilistic,” insisted Kubrick.

    I thought I was on safe ground with MM’s sexual persuasion, but one doesn’t like to be presumptious. Speaking of KW, did you ever see Terry “Insignificance” Johnson’s TV play “Cor Blimey!”, or the stage version, “Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick” which detailed the relationships of Barbara Windsor, Sid James and Kenneth Williams?

    Moving stuff! Hits that tragi-comic tone associated with so many British comedians. The phrase “end-of-the-pier humour” has a melancholy ring, doesn’t it?

  3. No I never did. Sounds fascinating.Dennis Cooper had a “Kenneth Williams Day” on his blog last year. He remains a much-loved figure. Very complex man. Deeply unhappy for all his fame and quite closeted for all his screaming obviousness. Of course he wasn’t as bad as Paul Lynde. No one is.

  4. “Fantabulosa”, a recent BBC play also profiled Williams, which Michael “Tony Blair” Sheen in the role. He was very impressive (he always is).

    Williams always described himself as “celibate”, which allowed him to avoid the question of what he WOULD be doing if he were doing anything. Stephen Fry was “celibate” for a while too, on the shrewd supposition that the British public was ready to accept him being gay, but not quite ready to actually imagine him “at it”. After they’d gotten used to the idea of his preference in the abstract, he could become openly “active”.

    I’m not sure any of that rigmarole was necessary, since Fry has always been much loved here, but it seems to have got him to a good place.

  5. “Ceibate” was alos Morrissey’s descriptive claim — though those of us who kept tabs on him during his 13-year sojourn in L.A. know Moz was a regular at Silverlake leather bars.

  6. Amazing how some straight people seem to be reassured by the celibate line. “You can be gay as long as you’re not actually having fun.” The state supplying methadone is almost the same logic: it’s OK to take drugs as long as you can’t get high.

  7. I love Murray Melvin. I love every word you’ve wrote. But you are bloody mad))) I have a collection of his movies (may be, I’m alone in whole world), but I never had some thoughts about Medusa! You killed me)) I forgot your bloody language… Sorry, I’m shocked)))) Yes, I love ya)))

  8. Nice to hear from you! MM is a neglected megatalent, I feel.

    Anyhow, now that you’re here, how about nominating some Euphoric Cinema? It can feature MM if you like!

  9. Euphoric? What does it mean?)) Escuse me, I speak English little,

  10. HAPPY! People choose little moments in movies that make them happy, and I blog about it.

    Like this one:

    You’re Rumanian? I have a good friend from Budapest!

  11. Oh, there are so many exciting movies to made people happy) But I never watch one film for many times. I prefer to see new one, you know.

    No, I’m not Romanian) You’ll be amazed, but I’m from Russia. More precisely, from Siberia))

  12. Ah, sunny Siberia! I’m impressed that Murray Melvin’s fame has spread so far!

    Have you seen the deleted scene from THE DEVILS? Ask for it and I’ll post it here.

  13. I’m impressed too) I even don’t know anybody who’d note MM)) But I did)

    You mean “The Rape of Christ”? I saw it. It’s very… unusual)

  14. It certainly is. Censored at the time because of the ridiculous blasphemy laws in the UK. I also have a documentary on the film featuring Mr. Melvin.

  15. Wow! “Hell on the Earth”, isn’t it? I envy to you) It would be wonderful to watch it)

  16. It’s a lot of fun. I’ll try to post a moment from it sometime.

    Or if you have anything to trade, I could mail you a DVD.

  17. Anzthing to trade… I have few Kubrick’s movies, but you can simply buy it by yourself. I’d offer Cocteau’s films, but we have different DVD-regions. It would be wonderful to trade)

  18. I can play any region, and if I copy you a disc it should be region-free. I have a few Cocteaus, but not all. What do you have?

  19. Thank you) I have “Orpheus” (with English subtitles), The Testament of Orpheus (without), Beauty and the Beast (with English translation). I can offer some other films. “The Guns of Navarone” with Gregory Peck and David Niven, “Wilde” with Stephen Fry, “Shout at the Devil” with Lee Marvin and Roger Moore, Tony Palmer’s “England, My England”, “Christopher Columbus” with Gabriel Byrne… and some films with Robert De Niro or Al Pacino.

  20. The Tony Palmer is quite rare, I think! Definitely that one!
    Email me at and we’ll trade addresses.

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