“…I shall think that insubstantial death is amorous…”

I’ve given up commemorating birthdays here on Shadowplay because whenever I do it, the subject promptly keels over in a state of rigor mortis. I homaged Richard Widmark and Jules Dassin in my first month and look what happened to them. I thought about mentioning Hazel Court, missed the date, and she STILL died. So, no more birthday celebrations here.

Obituaries, however, are fair game — I can’t see what harm I can do there. And Friday’s Guardian obits page was fairly thronging with film talent: Tristram Cary and Julie Ege have both crossed the river to the Western Lands. The link between them is Hammer films.

Alec the dalek

Cary scored THE LADYKILLERS, which is enough to make him a Shadowplay hero in itself. That film is one of the most perfect feats of stylisation in British cinema, and the score plays a big part: Cary not only wrote the music, but also arranged the sound effects, to create the kind of unified effect often rendered impossible by the compartmentalisation of film production. The big bass drum that sounds as characters topple from a great height into a freight train is an example of music crossing over and BECOMING sound. The build-up to Alec Guinness’ entrance is a symphony of music and sound in perfect harmony, with Peter Sellers impersonating a parrot and a ringing doorbell as seamless parts of the mix.

The producer of THE LADYKILLERS, Seth Holt, used Cary again for the little-known but rather fine BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB, but it’s his work in electronic music, at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and elsewhere, that is Cary’s other great claim to fame. Apart from scary electronica for Dr. Who, Cary crafted many of those oddly neutral-but-bleak themes used in BBC educational programmes in the ’70s. They create quite a strange mood, like lying in a flotation tank and thinking about the relentless march of time, destroying all things.

A different sort of mood is associated with Norwegian model-turned actress Julie Ege. A genuinely guilty pleasure, Ege’s career touches on greatness with ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (the best Bond film, the best Bond!) and Robert Fuest’s THE FINAL PROGRAMME, but is more customarily found amid the depths of NOT NOW DARLING, THE AMOROUS MILKMAN, UP POMPEII, etc. A film festival gathering of her comedy output could easily induce mass suicide, but that’s not her fault. The simple fact is that prior to the late ’60s, the British low-brow sex comedy was about sexual failure — grotesque, cheerfully depraved working-class halfwits failing to get their end away. The moment anybody actually scored the laughter died in your throat, because nobody wants to picture Sid James engaged in the physical act of love. Not even with Julie Ege.

Ege’s scream queen career ought to have offered more quality, since there were some decent horror films made in the ’70s in the UK, but her roles were in LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (standing decorously by as Hammer films jump on the Kung-Fu bandwagon), CRAZE (getting picked up by Jack Palance at the Raymond Revuebar) and CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT (the third of Hammer’s dinosaur movies — the one where they left out the dinosaurs, story, and the tops halves of the fur bikinis), films that seem to compete with the sex farces for sheer depression and poverty of imagination. These are all important works for the true student of dreadfulness. Julie Ege’s beauty and casual approach to clothing makes them perhaps slightly less unwatchable than they might have been, but her greatest contribution to society was becoming a nurse, something which we really should value more highly than a willingness to appear onscreen without knickers.

My fondest memory of Ege is a parody of this archetype in The Making of the Goodies’ Disaster Movie, a spin-off book from the legendary TV comedy The Goodies. Ege appears in the book’s copious illustrations, playing a starlet who is outraged at the film-makers’ suggestion that she keep her clothes on for a part, even if it IS essential to the plot.

Julie’s movies, while nearly all terrible, provided sex-starved Brits with cheap thrills during the years when America was getting its rocks off to DEEP THROAT and the like, and by contrast the British films are quaint and sort-of innocent, if sexist. That’s really the reason I can’t celebrate Ege’s contribution to film more wholeheartedly — she made many of us happy by baring her bits, but she did so in films that were dismal celebrations of bimbosity, often portraying women not as objects, as feminist criticism usually argues, but as mentally deficient obligatrons, autonomous, apparently sentient beings whose desires and behaviour just happen to conform to the densest fantasies of the average Razzle-reader.

NOT NOW DARLING is available to rent or buy.

10 Responses to ““…I shall think that insubstantial death is amorous…””

  1. The Legened of the Seven Golden Vampires was released in the U.S. as The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula. I was assigned to review it and as you might expect my opening line was “No, this isn’t a sequel to Seven Brides For Seven Brothers.”

  2. A pity! It could have lead to a whole series of musical/horror crossovers (no dumber than horror/kung fu!). They could have had Frankenstein Meets Me in St Louis, The Creature From the Ziegfield Follies, and On a Clear Day You Can See the Invisible Man.

  3. My lord, someone *else* who’s seen “The Final Programme”! I haven’t seen it since a screening in the ’70s at the Nuart in Los Angeles. Being a Michael Moorcock fan, I had to see it. My reaction? A mess, indeed, but with a lot of good moments. Certainly preferable to Fuest’s “The Devil’s Rain.” I also have good, if indistinct, memories of “Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb.”

    David’s line about “The Seven Brothers” reminds me of a joke in a George Baxt — screenwriter for “Night of the Eagle” and “City of the Dead” — mystery. The milieu is theatrical. In the midst of a party we find a tweedy matron of a certain age offering to fund a musical version of “The Well of Loneliness” entitled, yes, “Seven Brides For Seven Brides.”

  4. David K Says:

    The Best Bond?! Oh dear lord.. OHMSS is a good film though..

  5. Fuest gets very upset when anyone mentions The Devil’s Rain, which was horribly butchered by the producers. The result pretty well killed his career, certainly in America. But with his talents and the amazing cast, it should have been pretty good.

    I don’t quite see why Moorcock dislikes The Final Programme, which strikes me as just about as good as a limited-budget film of the book could be. I miss the astronaut’s book (300 pages of “Ha ha ha ha ha…” prefiguring Jack’s “novel” in The Shining) and the middle is a bit episodic, showing Fuest’s Phibes tendency to string together set-pieces, but it’s an AMAZING film overall. The French DVD is lovely and sort-of affordable.

    Baxt has interesting credits — it makes sense that there’s a single talent uniting Shadow of the Cat, Night of the Eagle and City of the Dead!

  6. Lazenby rocks my world in the final scene of OHMSS. Connery couldn’t have pulled that off. And he’s hilariously stiff elsewhere, which makes him fun. With his orange rubber face and burnished hair and collection of inappropriate leisure-wear, he’s an “interesting” choice throughout. Connery was an odd choice too, in many ways, but it’s become hard to see how bold the casting was, we’re so used to him.

  7. David K Says:

    Fair enough. Sorry by the way to yet again drag down a proper discussion of interesting and somewhat obscure films by banging on about stupid James Bond films.
    But Lazenby always stuck me as a sort of bizarre imposter, like he’d won the chance to play Bond by collecting loads of Coke bottle lids.
    I was in a quiz the other night and one of the rounds was to match a selection of lyrics from James Bond theme songs to the film.
    We got 10/10. It was embarrassing.

  8. That’s a MASTERFUL description of Lazenby, and it’s what makes him the Shadowplay Bond. Of course, he proved himself a dick on set by acting to the manner born, rather than like somebody who got stupendously lucky, which is why he wasn’t asked back.
    Tim Lucas’ Video Watchblog has a Bond song that was never used — a reject theme from Never Say Never Again. Good for EVIL trivia quizzes, like the kind I would create if I created trivia quizzes.

  9. Another fan of Fuest’s The Final Programme here – I’ve watched it an embarrassing number of times, and I suspect that if they had managed to get the end right – and it really, really isn’t right – it might have done okay. It’s difficult to see how any audience could avoid feeling their noses had been very rudely tweaked when Jon Finch turns into a hermaphrodite ape rather than some sort of glorious Ubermensch. Oddly, one of the first people I watched the film with turned out to be – totally by coincidence – related to its producer, Sandy Lieberson (who also did Performance among others). She said that his recollection of Fuest was that he stayed in his trailer drinking all day long. I don’t think that can be right – his style is all over TFP, and what about that bravura tracking shot of Jenny Runacre? Not the work of a soak, I think.

  10. The story I heard is that Fuest would lock himself in his trailer at lunchtime with a bottle of whisky and “create”. Thus emerging inspired for the afternoon’s work. It seems incredible, but then Peckinpah achieved some amazing work while rat-arsed. Ozu and Kurosawa don’t quite count since they apparently could absorb two bottles of vodka apiece without showing any signs of inebriation. But there are plenty of drinking directors who achieved great work.

    I LIKE the ape-man-woman! I guess it’s a random solution to Moorcock’s unfilmably epic last page, but Finch plays it beautifully, and to me it seems in keeping with the dark flippancy of the movie.

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