Misadventures in Babysitting

This is a low-budget kids’ short I made for BBC Scotland and Scottish Screen’s Tartan Smalls scheme. It was fun to do Joe 90 sci-fi props and muck about with a childs’ eye view. But I guess I’ll never be Carol Reed or Alexander Mackendrick when it comes to directing kids. These boys were really good, but I didn’t know how to get the best out of them. I gained a lot of experience directing a couple episodes of a kids’ show called INTERGALACTIC KITCHEN afterwards, and feel I could do a lot better now.

But here’s how it SHOULD be done:

I like how the (very) little girl doesn’t seem to have been CONTROLLED, so much as turned loose with her dialogue. She swivels around and fidgets and she’s constantly in RANDOM MOTION, like a real kid.

It’s from THE NANNY, script by Jimmy Sangster, directed by Seth Holt. S.H. was an interesting chap whose career crosses from Ealing (he produced THE LADYKILLERS) to Hammer (he died — of hiccups — while making BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB). Holt was singled out by the iconoclasts at Movie magazine as representing the best hope for British cinema to escape its literary-inspired “tradition of quality” and achieve some kind of robust, authentic, home-grown cinema. It didn’t quite happen.

Holt’s NANNY star Bette Davis described him as “a tower of evil” and “the most ruthless director I have worked with apart from William Wyler,” which I assume was intended as praise, since Bette had a tempestuous affair with Wyler and made three great films with him. I wish she’d made more with Holt! Perhaps his failure to sleep with her ended that collaboration.

Come to Nanny

I can see why Movie rated Holt so highly — he’s gutsy, clever, and in THE NANNY, genuinely inventive and capable of exercising a tight grip on the audience’s emotions. TASTE OF FEAR (AKA SCREAM OF FEAR), the film Movie singled out as showing signs of real promise, is an above-par DIABOLIQUES clone with effective frissons (a corpse seated at the bottom of a murky swimming pool traumatized a young Tom Hanks when his mother mistakenly took him to see the film!). Even a piece of hokum like BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB has points of interest, from its frenzied character performances to its knock-out ending, which seems to anticipate Polanski’s THE TENANT.

More kidstuff: THE NANNY also features a turn from Perky Pam herself, Pamela Franklin, a Shadowplay favourite for her work in THE INNOCENTS and AND SOON THE DARKNESS.


6 Responses to “Misadventures in Babysitting”

  1. The sight of Pamela Franklin naked in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie ushered in my adolescence. I still get crushes on brunettes with glasses.

    Can’t view your movie while at work, but I wonder if a lot of the trick in directing children might not be having the time and money to cast the right ones.

    I haven’t yet had a breakthrough with Holt, despite his graceful visuals. I hear he was a relative of Robert Hamer, who also died young, and who I think is a great and underrated filmmaker.

  2. When The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was done on Broadway with Zoe Caldwell in the lead, the naked one was film-critic-to-be Amy Tauben.

    Time to put in a good word for Seth Holt’s Nowhere to Go with a young Maggie Smith (yes, she was actually young once) and post-Hollywood George Nader.

  3. dcairns Says:

    Maggie was rather stunning when young, but then she seemed to grow into graceful middle age very rapidly. Somebody said “You’d need to spread her face out on a table to see what she once looked like,” which seems a bit harsh.
    I have a student who looks a lot like Pamela Franklin but there doesn’t seem any appropriate way to tell her so I’ll just let that pass.
    I hadn’t heard of the Hamer-Holt connection — I see they were brothers-in-law. I believe Tavernier wants to make a film about Hamer…I would imagine that would be a lot wasier to fund if Hamer were an underappreciated FRENCH filmmaker.
    I have a bad copy of Nowhere To Go which I should look at again. Apparently Ken Tynan wrote it with the express purpose of bringing Ealing Studios to an end!

  4. dcairns Says:

    Dan: I agree that having a huge talent pool to draw on is probably 75% of getting great kid performances. Although I doubt they had many choices for The Fallen Idol (English-speaking French kid)…
    But kids NEED direction more than experienced adults, and it’s real easy to send even a great performer off in the wrong direction, or just confuse them, if you don’t have a coherent strategy, or if you haven’t read Judith Weston’s Directing Actors…

  5. Laughton understood that. It’s quite apparant from the outtakes of The Night of the Hunter which are archived at UCLA) that as frustrated as he often was by little Sally Jane Bruce he quite adored her — and she him.

  6. Laughton clearly has a unique approach, taking full advantage of his abilities as actor. And SJB is wonderful in the film, she adds to the insane melange of performance styles going on.

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