Ten Bad Dates With Roddy McDowall

“It was all going so well! And then I had to say that thing about the bridge. Stupid! Stupid!”


You really don’t need to see this film, unless like us at Shadowplay you grew up with a copy of Dennis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies in the house, or regularly borrowed from the library. Other monster movie books might also do the trick, or Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine (I only ever discovered one outlet that carried this publication as a kid. While on holiday. I could only afford two issues, which was a wrenching choice to make as they all looked so tasty. There was no possibility of buying more… There was a big article about BARBARELLA, which my mum wouldn’t let me watch when it came on TV, and an ad in the back for something called EQUINOX.)

If, like me, you were exposed to the right kind of literature in childhood, you probably saw a still of the big stone guy in this movie. You probably marvelled at his massive stone body, mighty stone limbs, big stone skirt and pointy stone head. He doesn’t look like any other monster. And what you demand most of all from your monsters is NOVELTY, so that has to be good. Having seen quite a bit of Dr. Who, you might have suspected that the Golem would be less impressive in motion that he is in a still image. And you’d have been right. But children of the pre-C.G.I. age, we expected our monsters to lumber, didn’t we? If they jerked across the screen in a Harryhausen strobe of animation, so much the better. But we certainly never wanted them to slink around, weightless, in a series of algorithms.

Anyhow, CURSE OF THE GOLEM is written and directed by Herbert J. Leder, auteur of such cinematic goitres as THE FROZEN DEAD and THE CHILD MOLESTOR.  Good luck with that career, Herbert.

One hates to judge a film-maker’s personality by their work (gloomy Bergman was known to his friends for a great deal of jollity, sentimental Frank Capra once punched his wife unconscious), but going by this film I would probably characterise Mr. Leder as a BIG IDIOT. Roddy McDowall, as Arthur Gordon Pym (!) finds he can command an ancient Jewish statue to do his bidding. Since he lives with his mother’s decayed corpse (though this has no real bearing on the story, and no explanation), he’s probably not the best person to be granted this awesome power. He uses it to kill his boss, and in a failed attempt to impress Otto Preminger babe Jill Haworth. It seems golems are good at bludgeoning irksome employers, but utterly useless as an aid to modern dating.

Paul Wegener doing his cute, Susannah Hoffs-style look-to-the-side.

The golem seem to me an underused monster. Paul Wegener portrayed the animate clay statue thrice, in DER GOLEM of 1915, sequel THE GOLEM AND THE DANCING GIRL two years later, and prequel/secret origin THE GOLEM: HOW HE CAME INTO THE WORLD, which is the version that survives.

Although he was certainly some kind of influence on Hollywood’s FRANKENSTEIN, the golem never surfaced in a bona fide Hollywood remake, instead emigrating to France, where he raises his ugly head in Julien Duvivier’s characteristically stylish LE GOLEM of 1936, which incorporates imagery from FRANKENSTEIN while essentially reprising the original Golem legend dramatised by Wegener. Many of the pre-Nouvelle Vague filmmakers deserve to be rediscovered, and I carry a special torch for Duvivier, whose PANIQUE and LA FIN DU JOUR strike me as truly major works, on the verge of being completely forgotten.

1951 gives us an authentic Czech golem at last, in THE EMPEROR’S BAKER AND THE GOLEM, a comic fantasy directed by Martin Fric, which guest-stars a wonderfully monumental golem who can’t actually articulate his limbs, and therefore walks like a chair.

Since then, there doesn’t seem to have been a really truly golem-centred movie, although ceramic heavies have occasionally disported themselves upon the screen in a supporting capacity. I’d welcome a good remake, or else an adaptation of Gustav Meyrink’s fantastic novel The Golem, in which the colossus does not actually appear, but assumes a kind of allegorical omnipresence in the story. My colleague, B. Kite, the Brooklyn Behemoth, himself a stony homunculus enlivened by rabbinical sorcery, once co-authored an atmospheric and highly imaginative screenplay based on this work.

Anyhoo. Some Youtubing genius has helpfully provided this abridged version that allows you to consume the whole thing at a single, ten-minute sitting. Had I realised this I could have saved myself eighty minutes or so.

Here, by way of a palette-cleanser, is the great Jiri Barta’s animated THE GOLEM, a pilot/trailer for a feature Barta hopes to complete. The collapse of communism in Europe (a good thing in itself, don’t get me wrong) has left many brilliant artists like Barta and the incomparable Yuri Norstein stranded in a marketplace they have no experience dealing with. Somebody help!

The more numerate Shadowplayers among you may have noticed that this post contains only one bad date with Roddy MacDowall. I maintain that one bad date with Roddy is worth ten with anyone else, but I’m happy for you to nominate nine more if you feel up to it.

STOP PRESS! What the heck is THIS?


22 Responses to “Ten Bad Dates With Roddy McDowall”

  1. My friend Bob was actually dating Roddy toward the end of the Lord Love a Duck star’s life. Roddy kept having Bob over for dinner. Just dinner. Clearly he wanted more but at that stage wasn’t up to it. For his part Bob, a great film fan and Hollywood enthusiast, was hoping to learn all sorts of things from Roddy about the Golden Age as Roddy not only knew absolutely everyone but kept up an extensive correspondance with all manner of stars both famous and obscure. However as soon as Bob ventured to ask a question of even the mildest sort Roddy would say “Oh I couldn’t possibly talk about that! It’s much too personal!”

    However one evening a call came from “Elizabeth” that Roddy took immediately right in the middle of dinner. The FIRST Michael Jackson pedophile scandal (Jordie Chandler, the son of celebrity dentist and aspiring screenwriter Evan Chandler) was at its height and she of course had complete access to the perp. Roddy nodded and “hmm’ed” sympathetically for some time then bade goodbye to the goddess, hung up, paused dramatically and then opined “And to think, none of this would have happened had that little boy not started growing pubic hair.”

    So there you have it: Ten bad dates and one pretty good one.

  2. Superb.
    I was once informed, not wholly reliably, that Roddy had the biggest, er, rod, in Hollywood, and Jayne Mansfield — or was it Lana Turner? — would have him get it out at parties, to the wonderment of all. So I can well imagine that just about everything he knew about the Hollywood Greats was of a sensitive nature.

  3. There’s a pic floating around (I have a Xerox of a Xerox) of Roddy giving himself a blow-job. Not too sharply focussed but its definitely Roddy.
    When I told Ian McKellen about it on the set of Gods and Monsters during a lunch break, he yelled out to all and sundry “PUT IT UP ON THE INTERNET!!!!”

  4. Bwahahahaha!
    According to comedian Richard Herring’s Talking Cock — at last! a Vagina Monologues for men! — 70% of men have tried to “do a McDowall” at some point in their lives, and 19% succeeded.
    I think McKellen’s right.
    We adore Gods and Monsters, btw.

  5. I personally witnessed the fearless Aidan Shaw (co-star of John Maybury’s Remembrance of Things Fast with Rupert Everett and Tilda Swinton), give himself a blow-job during a round of “Truth or Dare” with a bevvy of other gay porn stars in a hot tub in Palm Springs a number of year back.


  6. I’m suddenly realising what a sheltered life I led! I wonder whether in David Ehrenstein’s initial story whether Mr McDowall was referring to the Jordie Chandler boy or Michael himself?

    Thanks for pointing me towards It! – that video contained at least two laugh out loud moments: the ‘was it a murder or just stupidly getting caught underneath a falling statue?’ moment and the brilliant line by the character bent next to the statue’s crotch “have you made a rubbing of this yet?” Classic!

    So the mummified mother doesn’t pay off in the film and is there only to add a Psycho vibe to the film?

  7. Yes, mummy-mum is a complete red herring, and she successfully destroys any sense of normality at the start. Love Roddy’s sexy dream sequence though. Oh — that might be in part two, which is on Youtube somewhere. Great atomic climax!

  8. Interesting, colinr. I expect Michael Jackson has his pubes shaved on a regular basis. He certainly doesn’t want to diddle any boys with hair down there, hence Jordie was given the heave-ho.

  9. Ahem. Luridly fascinating as this amazing topic is….

    “like us at Shadowplay you grew up with a copy of Dennis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies in the house..”

    YES I did! Those images are seared into my memory; Lon Chainey Jr’s rictus grin, all those living skulls, Eyes Without a Face. What an education for a nine year old. That and Bert Fegg’s Nasty Book for Boys and Girls.

  10. I’m very glad somebody picked up on that bit of nostalgia.

    It’s Chaney Snr with the rictus though. Have you seen The Man Who Laughs? It doesn’t disappoint!

    Fiona was thrilled when we watched Kill Baby Kill! “That kid at the window! THAT’S what that shot’s from! I painted that at art school!”

  11. Fee here, Davids common law missus. Chaney Snr and his rictus are in ‘London After Midnight’ not ‘The Man Who Laughs’. (That’s Conrad Veidt)
    LAM has now been reconstructed in stills after being ‘lost’ for decades. MWL has been restored and is absolutely gorgeous. Hope that sorts out any confusion.
    PS – I ‘stole’ the face at the window image from Gifford’s book and recreated it as a drawing for my art school portfolio in the hope that people would think I was a spooky genius. It’s so obscure I think I got away with it. It’s still the best ‘face at a window’ I’ve ever seen in a film.

  12. In James Whale’s great The Old Dark House you can witness the birth of Charles Addams’ “Thing” in the long shot of the stairway when a hand suddenly appears on the top of the bannister in the upper left hand corner of the frame.

  13. The best bit is when Karloff appears, seemingly the hand’s owner, then descends the stairs, leaving the hand still on the bannister behind him.

    Maybe I should make it my mission to see every film illustrated in Gifford’s book. Actually, I think I DID make it my mission when I was about ten, without realising it. Flicking through the frontispieces, I see I still haven’t caught up with Terror in the Midnight Sun, a Swedish-American monster epic from 1959.

  14. […] Just wrote a bit about him on my blog, but I should warn those of a sensitive disposition that the comments section gets a bit x-rated… Ten Bad Dates With Roddy McDowall SHADOWPLAY […]

  15. […] revelations here about Roddy McDowall’s double-jointed sexual ouroborous (Comments section, here), I wrote a light-hearted piece speculating upon the masturbatory habits of the great film […]

  16. That still or frame grab from EMPEROR’S BAKER & THE GOLEM is fantastic. I haven’t seen a pic of this film since the first Famous Monsters yearbook from 1963!

    The “what the heck is this?” movie is, I believe, a French TV production of The Golem from @1966. The actor in the funny mask (who is supposed be the Big G, I guess) is one Andre Reybaz.

  17. Wow, they made good TV in them days! Thanks for the info. I’ll watch out for copies of that, I can get my translator friend to do a simultaneous translation if I can’t get a subtitled copy.
    I found the Emp Baker shots online, so I can’t take full credit!

  18. I’ve seen a poor quality photo of McDowell in a flaccid state. It looked like a relief map of the Pennines.

  19. I just Googled a relief map of the Pennines in order to understand this. Did he have some kind of terrible skin condition?

  20. I was thinking of the backbone of England Pennines. In the fuzzy photo I swear it looked like a mountain range.

  21. […] this a sequel, of sorts, to that long-ago post, Ten Bad Dates With Roddy McDowell. This time, it’s John Carradine who doesn’t seem set to enjoy much […]

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