Archive for August 11, 2008

Wreaking Havoc in Busy Centres

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2008 by dcairns

If I had seen this film at age eleven, I would probably have had to saw my own head in half just to prevent the rest of my life from being one long anti-climax.

As it is, I have NEVER seen this film. Maybe I shouldn’t?

THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN, AKA XING XING WANG,  AKA GOLIATHON (my favourite, sounds like a charity event for victims of giantism), AKA COLOSSUS OF CONGO (these title translators are a geographically confused bunch).

Anyhow, my older self seriously digs:

1) The way the Shaw Brothers logo is embossed on a frosted glass lavatory door. Genuinely beautiful.

2) It’s called THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN but they’re so proud of having shot it “on location in India”.

3) The naive assumption that an audience primed to see a GIANT MAN-APE will be tickled to death by something as banal as “stampeding elephants” or “fierce tigers” or even “leopard fighting with snake”.

4) The special effects: some great, some inexplicably terrible, but all rather imaginative, using unexpected angles quite different from the standard process-shot proscenium compositions you get in, say, Harryhausen.

5) “Whole leg gone, eh?” The way the “fierce tiger” just nips the fellow’s knee then makes off with his lower limb. So suave!

5) Peking’s face — a slightly hairy bloke. MUCH better than the usual blank gorilla mask. If you’re going to be cheap and eschew stop-motion animation, having an expressive Cantonese bit-part player in some fake whiskers seems a good fall-back option. Although Robert Florey’s solution in MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE is the best of all: simply cut in shots of a real chimp’s grimacing physog whenever you go to close-up. Genius.

6) “The modern Hong Kong audience isn’t going to be satisfied with just jungle savagery and a giant man-ape. We must give them a topless blonde!” Although I was disappointed that a bilingual title didn’t strobe up when the jungle bimbo appeared, screaming “TITS”. Based on my friends’ hysterical reactions to Victoria Vetri in WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH, who disrobed at a matinee to our astonishment, I believe that if we’d seen Evelyne Kraft as “Lady Tarzan”, we would have instantly CONGEALED into a single solid mass of pulsing child.

7) The date: 1977. The same year as Dino DeLaurentiis’ KING KONG remake but that is MERELY A COINCIDENCE. But mentining the KONG gives me an excuse to end on a John Guillermin story. My old friend Lawrie knew Guillermin quite well. I once read out a review of Guillermin’s EL CONDOR from a TV guide. “Nasty, slick and superficial.”

“That’s John,” remarked Lawrie with a chortle.

Lawrie said that he was working (probably as assistant director) on an early Guillermin film in the ’50s (regrettably, I have no idea which) when he got a panicked phone call from the director the night before shooting began.

“We can’t start tomorrow,” barked the Franco-Irish auteur, “I haven’t slept with the leading lady. And I ALWAYS sleep with my leading lady.”

“Well, we’ve GOT TO start tomorrow,” insisted Lawrie.

A couple of hours later, the phone rang again. “It’s OK, we can start tomorrow.”

Now, it might be tempting to make a list of Guillermin’s female leads, from Kathleen Byron and Donna Reed, through Inger Stevens and Yvette Mimieux, to Jessica Lange and Linda Hamilton, but I would caution against jumping to any conclusions.

Let’s all be careful out there.

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Locked Room Mystery

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on August 11, 2008 by dcairns

Actor Steven McNicoll, in addition to his invaluable services to the nation as actor and funnyman, has a stockpile of thespian anecdotes second to none. Here’s one you might enjoy.

Wilfred Lawson, left, in THE WRONG BOX, suffering from the advanced stages of Wilfred Lawson Syndrome.

I’ve written before of Wilfred Lawson, character actor and celebrated inebriate. One of the few actors who could function quite well with a skinful, and who always seems quite drunk anyway when you see him in films. But there are limits, and you had to get him onstage or in front of the cameras before complete paralysis set in. 

It seems he was to do a live radio show. A minder was given the task of keeping him from the demon drink. The minder escorted Lawson to a dressing room and locked him in. The room had been thoroughly searched, and did not contain a trace of liquor. Lawson was sober when he went in, and had no booze on his person. There were no windows, and the only door was securely locked from the outside. The minder had the only key.

Returning after an hour to collect Lawson for the broadcast, the minder finds him utterly rat-arsed, pissed beyond language. How was this possible?

Readers of John Dickson Carr might have the advantage in guessing this one, since Carr performed so many variants on the classic Locked Room Mystery during his long career (yet there are only a few movie adaptations, THE MAN WITH THE CLOAK being perhaps the best). In The Hollow Man, Carr’s obese detective, Dr. Gideon Fell, actually lists all the different solutions possible to an L.R.M. And it STILL doesn’t help the reader reach an answer to the problem at hand.

For the record, the basic gimmicks are:

1) The crime was committed BEFORE the room was hermetically sealed, despite appearances (see The Mystery of the Yellow Room).

2) The crime was committed AFTER the room was unsealed, despite appearances (the husband rushes in and quietly throttles his fainted wife while his friends are going for the doctor).

3) The room is not 100% sealed — there exists some kind of ingenious secret access (see The Murders in the Rue Morgue, where an inaccessible window turns out to be perfectly accessible — if you happen to be an orang-utan).

4) The crime was self-inflicted, with a cunning mechanism designed to disguise the fact (such as an elastic band that yanks the fatal pistol up the chimney when it is released from the victim’s hand, thus concealing the ugly truth of suicide).

I suppose I ought to tell you the answer to this one, but I’m quite curious to hear your suggestions first.