Crippen Yarns

Lots of interesting thoughts spring to mind while watching Robert Lynn’s DR CRIPPEN, photographed by “Nick” Roeg, though not many of them have little to do with the film at hand —

1) Good to see Inspector Walter Dew in a movie! Not only did this real-life copper arrest Dr. C. (Donald Pleasance) for the murder of Mrs. C. (Coral Browne), but he was in reality one of the first officers on the scene when Mary Kelly, last of Jack the Ripper’s victims, was found dead in her flat. Dew actually seems to have slipped in the blood.

2) Striking how much of the Crippen story finds its way into REAR WINDOW. Like Crippen, murderer Lars Thorwald is a henpecked husband with a young mistress who murders and dismembered his wife and attempt to abscond with his mistress. The voyeurism angle in Hitchcock’s film is so strong that it actually helps for the murder to be simple, archetypal and rather familiar.

3) Poor Coral ends up buried beneath the fuel in the coal bunker, which reminded me that “Coral” is only one letter away from “coal”.

My friend Lawrie told me a Coral story. She was rehearsing a play, and was wearing a rather strange and voluminous fur hat. Distracted by this, the director asked her if she was quite comfortable in it. “No,” she replied, in that cultured and tremulous, yet formidable voice, “to be quite honest, I feel as if I’m looking out of a yak’s arsehole.”

4) The most interesting moment is when Browne suddenly becomes sympathetic, pleading for her husband’s affection. The film switches track and she reverts to full-on castrating nastiness soon after, but the change deepens everything, and stops the movie becoming a sort of misogynist tragedy of a downtrodden male.

5) “Why is (young, glamorous) Samantha Eggar attracted to (bald, eerie) Donald Pleasance?” I wondered, before a rather striking moment when he slides down out of shot while kissing her and the camera holds on her ecstatic face. A Nicholas Roeg moment? The suggestion seems to be that Donald has powers of eroticism unknown to the typical Edwardian male. As a doctor, his familiarity with ladyparts allows him to pleasure his mistress in a manner not normally possible in British historical drama…

6) Eggar looks funny in drag. Like a prehensile Edward Fox.

7) Beautiful shot:

7 Responses to “Crippen Yarns”

  1. That “slides down out shot” sounds a lot like the notorious moment in Joseph H. Lewis’ “Big Combo” involving Jean Wallace and off-camera activity.


    Your Coral Browne story reminds me of one I read in the Joe Orton diaries. Supposedly, when asked by Vivien Merchant about playing Lady Macbeth, her response was that the single most important question connected to that character was “What do you do with that f*cking candle?”


    And have you heard about how, in the stage version of “One Touch of Venus,” the first act finale of that Kurt Weill/Ogden Nash score was a song retelling the Crippen saga?

  2. Yes, the Big Combo connection is a sound one. Don’t know if it was a deliberate swipe.

    I think it was possibly Edith Evans who had a Lady Macbeth theory as well: “Dreadful part! What do you do about the missing scene?”
    “Missing scene, Dame Edith?”
    “Yes, all of a sudden she’s gone mad, but she was perfectly alright at supper.”

    Didn’t know about the Cripen song, now I must find the lyrics!

  3. It was recorded on one of the Ben Bagley “Revisited” albums — “Kurt Weill Revisited, Vol. 1”, to be specific, with Chita Rivera singing it. As to the availability of that 1989 album …

  4. … I wonder if it’s downloadable? Pretty much the whole universe seems to be downloadable now!

  5. aaahhh crippen

    now my heart is full

  6. Aaaahhh Crippen, now my heart is full!
    Aaaahhh Crippen though you’re a loathesome ghoul,
    You fill me with an unexpected lust!
    Your powers of oral pleasure are a must!
    And your wife lies still amid the coal and dust!

    Aaaahhh Crippen though they’ll hang you sure,
    Aaaahhh Crippen but our love is pure!
    In your arms I become a helpless toy,
    I even suffer you to dress me as a boy!
    And the feeling that it gives me is pure joy.

  7. […] movie relevance, fear not: Spilsbury worked on the Crippen case, referenced on this blog, and […]

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