Cracking Cheese

No, not the Fritz Lang movie.

This CLASH BY NIGHT is a British “B” picture from 1964. And by “B” I really mean “W”, or possibly “Y”.

I didn’t get much out of it except enjoying greatly the above shot, from right at the beginning. The guy in the foreground has just lost a heap of money on a dog race. The guy on the right is Stanley Meadows, playing a gangster here just as he did in Cammell and Roeg’s seminal PERFORMANCE six years later. And he’s equally impressive here — a cool, crisp, naturally frightening actor who was terribly underused by British cinema. Plus he looks great in motorcycle goggles (his cunning disguise).

And I loved this shot — Peter Sallis (Wallace from WALLACE AND GROMIT) in the role of halfwitted lunatic “Victor Lush”, threatens everybody with a lit match in a paraffin-soaked barn.

That’s basically the plot — a coach full of of prisoners and their guards are imprisoned in said barn while a gang boss makes his getaway. Since all the jailbirds are required to do is sit put until dawn, there’s not much suspense – -except that it’s Guy Fawkes’ Night and fireworks are flying hither and yon.

The transporter full of hardened stereotypes put me in mind of CON AIR, and made me wonder if there’s another variation to be pulled on this appealing set-up. Apart from that, the film boasts an appearance by what appears to be future cheesemeister Ray Austen (VIRGIN WITCH) as the world’s most inept sexual predator. “My husband will be home shortly,” says Jennifer Jayne, whereupon he rips her blouse and is promptly socked to death by the returning hubby. Which is all just by way of illustrating that our appallingly stiff middle-class hero is AN INNOCENT MAN UNJUSTLY CONVICTED. Which turns out to have no bearing on anything, really.

CLASH BY NIGHT has an ability to just barely hold the attention by delivering unnecessary flashbacks, improbable coincidences, pathetic cop-outs and other narrative blunders at a rapid-fire pace. If it were any better it wouldn’t really be any fun. Sadly, the only major character who DOESN’T get a flashback is the religious zealot who’s been arrested for “trying to take brotherly love a bit too far.” Even in the wake of VICTIM (1961) this film didn’t feel able to go any deeper into THAT. Given the portrayal of Sallis’ character — is he insane? Is he mentally handicapped? Do they know there’s a difference? — it’s unlikely the results would have been terribly illuminating.

Oh, and there’s some quite fun X-rated cursing, or “pervasive language” as the MPAA would say. The actors can barely conceal their glee at being allowed to say big grown-up words like “bastard”. My Dad once told me that he and his friends used to read Mickey Spillane “for the swearing”, so they’d have dug this.

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13 Responses to “Cracking Cheese”

  1. I’m seeing a whole gag weekend film festival showing inferior movies with the same titles as famous, celebrated movies. Sorta like the CD mix my co-worker has been threatening to make with songs that steal the titles of more famous songs (like Yo La Tengo’s non-cover “We’re an American Band”). It wouldn’t work though, since here in Atlanta nobody would even come out for Lang’s “Clash By Night” unless it involved free beer.

  2. It’s a lovely idea — I presume Hitchcock’s Mr and Mrs Smith features prominently?

  3. Marilyn is no longer a draw?

  4. It’s not Marilyn’s fault – nothing available on DVD is a draw anymore. I go to Emory’s 35mm film screenings of classic films and find myself there alone, and even the Landmark’s cult/midnight screening series was cancelled due to lack of attendance. Or maybe they just don’t advertise enough, since the George Kuchar screening last month was well attended.

    Oh yes, Mr and Mrs Smith. And Cronenberg’s CRASH should clear the theater.

    Look at me trying to attract people to the theaters AND scare them away at the same time.

  5. Well the best way to do that would be to show Salo.

  6. People seem to only want to see things that everybody else is seeing. The Da Vinci Code was publicised with the slogan “Be a part of the phenomenon,” and that does seem to be a central motivation in mass market cinema — see what everyone else is seeing.

    Hopefully the people who come here are more interested in what NOBODY is seeing!

  7. >showing inferior movies with the same titles as famous, celebrated movies.
    >And Cronenberg’s CRASH should clear the theater.

    Wait a minute, if you’re showing Cronenberg’s CRASH, that implies it’s “inferior” to the 2004 film?????? That’s funnier than a Sturges’ gag.

  8. Oops! Misread. Ignore.

  9. I have to admit that I was a little annoyed that Boorman chose to make a film with the title The General…

  10. We could have a competition to see who hates Haggis’ Crash most. I’ll bet it’s me..

  11. Jerry Lewis should remake THE HOTTIE AND THE NOTTIE

  12. Playing both roles?

  13. I still haven’t seen the crashing Haggis, But I should warn you, David, that Chris’ hatred is a white-hot thing.

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