Towers of London

face_of_fu_manchu_poster_01

A disrespectful obit.

Regular Shadowplayer Paul Duane alerts me to the demise of noted B-movie god and sleazemeister Harry Alan Towers, whose low-budget Penny Dreadful-type Fu Manchu films excited my childish imagination when I was about, oh, thirty-eight. Also when I was eight.

I’m sure somebody will correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe HAT was such an enterprising, globe-trotting producer, that he made literally dozens of films while officially wanted in the US for violating the Mann act (transporting women across a state line for “immoral purposes”). This had something to do with sex slaves for UN delegates, if I’m correct. (Sorry to bring this up in an obit, but seriously, how could I not?) And wasn’t the matter quietly dropped when Harry argued that among his clients was JFK? Some immoral purposes are more respectable than others.

My late friend Lawrie Knight had a HAT story, and once again, it’s not really the kind of thing one should recount in an obituary, so I’m going to recount it. HAT took Lawrie out to dinner, with Richard Attenborough. Towers was no doubt trying to impress Dickie, perhaps in the run-up to starring him in some sixties low-grade spectacular, but the waiter arrived at the end of the meal and told HAT that his mother had called, and said not to accept any more of his cheques, because she wouldn’t be paying his restaurant bills anymore. Embarrassing.

Still, the positive side of HAT was that he wouldn’t let that kind of thing stop him. Jesus Franco said that the man could raise some money in Paris or somewhere, fly to Brazil or South Africa to make a movie with it, and type the screenplay on the flight over. He also said HAT was great because he never interfered, you never saw him during the shoot. The trouble was, you never saw the money either.

HAT said of Franco, “I seem to attract these weird characters. I saw one of Franco’s films a few years back and he was STILL doing that thing of pointlessly zooming in and out.”

In fact, there’s something to be said for Franco as a filmmaker, but I’m not going to say it here. I will say that HAT’s production of CALL OF THE WILD is worth seeing for Chuck Heston, Mario Nascimbene’s haunting score, and the ending, which follows Jack London more closely than is usual. I suspect Towers, who specialized in public-domain classic novel adaptations, saw no reason to tamper with his sources, since tampering takes time, and time is money. His COUNT DRACULA is far closer to Stoker than the Hammer movie, which I imagine is how he snared Sir Christopher Lee’s services. (The movie is also much worse than the Hammer version, but it did give us Pere Portabella’s mesmerizing CUADECUC-VAMPIR.)

In whatever branch of the celluloid inferno Mr. Towers now finds himself, I hope they’re making him comfortable. I imagine he’s already written an exploitation adaptation of Dante’s DIVINE COMEDY on his way down there. As long as he doesn’t get into trouble transporting women from the eighth to the ninth circle for immoral purposes, I’m sure he’ll be quite at home.

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24 Responses to “Towers of London”

  1. Terry McDonald Says:

    They made “The Face of Fu Manchu” in my home town (in North County Dublin, Ireland) in 1965. A friend of my Dad’s got 10 shillings for lending them his bicycle (left on the street beside a victim after the Evil One gassed “Fleetwick”) and they filmed this bit (at the start of the clip) in my uncle’s house – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kk1B5aRyUCw .

    I love the movie because it’s a perfect snapshot of how the town used to be when I was growing up there.

  2. Full of marauding Chinese bandits? How I envy you!

    Great to hear this, I never knew they shot in Ireland. I suspect Towers filmed a few productions there, tax conditions permitting. Saw this movie in b&w on TV as a kid, which ages me, though not as much as it ages Towers.

  3. […] Harold Baim, Herman Cohen…. Here are some more links for Harry, including a few stories: Towers of London shadowplay I'M IN A JESS FRANCO STATE OF MIND: HARRY ALAN TOWERS (1920-2009) B-movie guru Harry Alan […]

  4. I once worked with Piers Haggard’s actress daughter Daisy (recently seen as Snow White in BBC2’s Psychoville). I suspect her dad would rather be thought of as the director of Pennies from Heaven or even Blood on Satan’s Claw. He was undergoing extreme health problems last time I saw her, but seems to have recovered, thankfully.

  5. I really have to recount my favourite HAT story, which Burt Kwouk told me years ago when I was interviewing him for Michael Weldon’s much missed Psychotronic Video magazine.
    Seemingly, HAT called up Herbert Lom to attempt to talk him into joining the cast of his misconceived ‘update’ of the Harry Palmer character. HAT’s selling point was realism – they were planning to shoot deep in Russia, in authentic Russian scenery, in a location that nobody else had used, a top-secret and amazingly photogenic place. Knowing HAT’s cheapskate ways, Lom was having none of it, and cross-questioned HAT mercilessly until he sheepishly confessed that the location he had in mind was – Chernobyl.

  6. Ooh boy. HAT was trying to beat Howard Hughes’ record for most crewmembers irradiated, perhaps.

  7. Christopher Says:

    imagine Nigel Green in your home!…..??Whats Scotland Yard want with me??

  8. I love Nigel Green. That schizoid, glassy gaze! It’s like he’s really seeing beyond.

  9. jason hyde Says:

    This is sad news indeed. Towers was one of a kind, for better or worse, and we won’t be seeing his like again.

    FACE OF FU MANCHU’s still the best thing he did, in my opinion. A genuinely thrilling effort that’s more perfectly evocative of that particular school of British adventure fiction than any other film I’ve ever seen. BRIDES is nearly as good, but the absence of Nigel Green takes it down a notch, even if Douglas Wilmer does as good a job replacing him as anybody could. Green’s not an easy act to follow.

    I wonder where this puts the Fu Manchu film rights. I’m pretty sure Towers still had them, even if the likelihood of a new Fu Manchu film is slim, to say the least.

  10. I remember an interview where he said he’d got the rights back, about ten years ago. And I seem to recall he made some kind of straight-to-video Sumuru movie (The female Fu).

    Hollywood ought to jump on the idea of a Fu Manchu movie, that’s prime mental real estate. You just need some positive oriental characters, and real Chinese actors to play them all, and the curse is lifted.

  11. Christopher Says:

    Nigels my fave movie Hercules in Jason and the Argonauts..His comradere with Hylas gives the film an added punch…
    I’m all for a new Fu Manchu film..

  12. I think my favourite Green is Andre DeToth’s Play Dirty, a really deeply cynical war movie. He’s outstanding in The Ipcress File too.

  13. Tony Williams Says:

    I remember reading sometime in the late 1950s that Harry Alan Towers was on the run for some charge. Also, in his ACTOR’S LIFE, Charlton Heston laments, “I’m sorry I screwed up Jack London.” This CALL OF THE WILD has a very interesting scene showing a fantasy of Thornton’s demasculinzation at the hands of the heroine but is otherwise uninteresting. THE CALL OF THE WILD is a very difficult novel to film and the best version I’ve seen is an animated once since it remains true to Buck’s perspective in the original novel.

  14. I’d need to see it again, but I remember some nice things: Chuck under the ice, and the wildly overdone score…

  15. jason hyde Says:

    Green’s Nayland Smith in FACE really does seem madder than Fu Manchu at times. It’s a great performance, and definitely the only time in any of the films where you really got a sense of the rivalry between the two. There might actually be more to Green’s one shot at Nayland Smith than there really was in all of Rohmer’s books, where he’s a pretty stock hero. At least that’s how I remember him. It’s been a long time since I read them.

    He’s great in Deadlier Than The Male, too. And there’s an episode of Jason King where he played the domineering half of a rather obviously meant to be gay couple using the plots of King’s books to plan their own crime spree.

  16. Nayland Smith is pretty damn fervent in his xenophobia, and Green captures that manic quality nicely. The character is a blander version of Holmes, really, but Green plays him balls-out psycho.

    New Shadowplayer Andrew Coates once made an excellent short film called The Insidious Dr Fu Manchu in which the good doc is completely innocent and Smith is a disturbed racist in thrall to his own delusions, with Dr Petrie a sort of dim Sancho Panza dragged along in his wake.

  17. Tony Williams Says:

    Yes, Chuck under the ice begins and ends the film, the nearest he ever gets to a Dreyer type perfomance!

  18. What with this and Planet of the Apes, Chuck may have spent more time frozen than any other actor.

  19. Am I hallucinating or did Nicholas Cage play Fu Manchu in one of the Grindhouse trailers?

  20. Yeah, he’s in Werewolf Women of the SS. The funniest moment in that one. Plays on the fact that casting Cage as ANY well-known figure is automatically ludicrous.

  21. […] for Harry, including a few stories: Towers of London shadowplay I'M IN A JESS FRANCO STATE OF MIND: HARRY ALAN TOWERS (1920-2009) B-movie guru Harry Alan […]

  22. Marion Towers Says:

    Hi, I am trying to do my family tree. Can anyone please tell me who was the late Harry Alan Towers father ?

    thanks

  23. According to Wikipedia he was a theatrical agent, but that’s all I know. His mother, Margaret Miller Towers, is more fully documented.

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