Archive for March, 2010

The Strange Case

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2010 by dcairns

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. RX, with its strange title, might never have crossed my path had I not been inspired to track it down as part of my lunatic quest to see all the films illustrated in Denis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies, a compendium of horror movie lore that served as a combination of holy writ and porn-stash when I was about ten years old (monsters are the equivalent of porn for ten-year-olds, right?). This mission of madness, known as “See Reptilicus and Die” has caused me to peruse some screwy movies in the last couple of years, and if RX doesn’t take the cake, it at least might be said to hoover up the crumbs.

Really this is a comedy thriller, high on jinks and low on both scares and production values. Patric Knowles and Anne Gwynne are bickering investigators, he a private eye and she a crime writer whose research has a history of getting her into scrapes. It feels like this duo were intended to run into a whole series, and to try and get things off on a good footing screenwriter Clarence Upson Young equips them with enough backstory for twenty films (some of which sound more fun than this one). CUY wrote the similarly lightweight THE GHOST THAT WALKS ALONE and NIGHT MONSTER, but his most exciting credit is LOVE, HONOR AND OH BABY! — a title which made me laugh for about a minute, though I have no particular interest in ever seeing the picture, which does not appear in A Pictorial History of Horror Movies.

Our intrepid couple are investigating a killer who apparently strangles criminals who have escaped justice thanks to the machinations of a slick defense lawyer. All the bodies are marked with a calling card, signed “Dr. RX” — meanwhile Lionel Atwill is at large, as Dr. Fish, looking very suspicious in pebble glasses and leer. Walking racial insult Mantan Moreland is also on hand as Knowles’s man, and at the movie’s climax has to help the hero face not only the mad doctor, but also Nbongo the gorilla, inevitably played by Ray “Crash” Corrigan, who in his long career in furs also played great apes named Naba, Bonga, Nabonga, Pongo and Willie. You can see why he wasn’t called Ray “Versatility” Corrigan.

The film is chiefly interesting for its sheer silliness, which sometimes disrupts the narrative to a disturbing degree (when you find time for a bit for Shemp Howard of the Three Stooges, that’s likely to be the result) — the end shot, of Mantan Moreland, his hair turned prematurely white, laughing insanely, is sufficiently upsetting to have probably guaranteed that Private Detective Jerry Church and his sparky wife never returned for another adventure.

Like a negative image of Rodney Dangerfield.

The Monster

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics with tags , , on March 30, 2010 by dcairns

Kirby Dick’s documentary TWIST OF FAITH is a very fine work, although perhaps not quite as atmospheric as these screen-shots suggest. In fact, since he gives cameras to two of his central characters, professional polish in the filmmaking is rather beside the point, although actually the really evocative images often come from this footage. But KD unfolds his story with enormous assuredness and patience, and he seems to have discovered the most compelling way in to the ongoing saga of child abuse by Catholic priests.

His protagonist is a firefighter, sexually molested at age 14 by his priest. Despite this trauma, he’s built a good life for himself, his wife and two kids. Then he buys a new house and discovers that his former abuser lives five doors down. The wound is reopened, and there’s now the necessity to do something about it — he can’t have this man as a neighbour, after all. But, assured by his bishop that no other allegations of abuse have been made, it seems he’s powerless.

Then it transpires that there are in fact over a dozen other allegations, which the bishop was apparently sitting on — frustratingly, the guy dies before he can be made to explain himself (and, it is to be hoped, goes directly to Hell). Our brave hero launches a class action against the church, but he’s up against impossible odds — the Church is unbelievably rich, and apparently determined to admit no wrongdoing. Our man’s wife, who converted to Catholicism when they married, doesn’t want him to leave the Church, his childhood friends are more concerned that his faith might be in danger than about the ordeal he’s going through in the search for justice, and even his mother would seemingly prefer he just forgot about it.

The film is pretty sympathetic to everybody except the abusers themselves, and those who covered for them, but it’s hard not to resent the ineffective support group surrounding this beleaguered man — people who should care most for him, but who are so devoted to their faith that they will put his suffering second to the authority of the very institution which abused, and continues to abuse him.

Father and daughter.

Watched this with Fiona and Mary Gordon, a documentarist and former accommodation office for the Edinburgh Film Festival. Mary has her own way of ranking filmmakers, not just on cinematic merit, but also on how easy-going they were about their accommodation (Filmmakers beware! The Accommodation Officer sees all!). Kirby Dick fell somewhat short of her standards, though he was by no means the worst case she’s had to deal with, but I think by the end of this impressive and moving work, she was ready to forgive. For my part, when I attempted a fumbling and ill-equipped interview with Mr Dick last year, I found him to be patience and good grace personified.

Buy KD here: This Film Is Not Yet Rated

News Flash

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , on March 29, 2010 by dcairns

Had a fun start to the day when an anxious senior staff member at the art college where I work phoned up and told me I had to get a form filled in, that I was the last member of staff not to have done so, and that if I didn’t get it in today the entire college would lose 20% of its funding. Fantasized about what would happen if I dropped dead on my way in to work. I always assumed these forms were of no real significance since they always ask me for information I don’t have and which the college already has. Or else you can just make up figures and nobody will ever know — what percentage of my “research activities” (which bizarrely seem to include this blog and my screenwriting work) are paid and what percentage are unpaid? Since I don’t click on a stopwatch when I start to write, any more than I walk about with an odometer strapped to my leg, I have no real idea.

So, I was briefly more important than I have ever been in my life, then I handed the form in and slipped back to insignificance.

The Important Announcements.

1) THE WHITE SHEIK has been watched and will be reviewed for our little Film Club on April 1st.

2) This means that the April Shadowplay Impossible Film Quiz will appear on April 2nd. Those who want to keep their brains free and uncluttered are advised to put a budgie cage cover over their monitors that morning.

3) Coming soon — Cornell Woolrich Week! A Noirathon devoted to the pulp poet of doom-laden romantic mystery and the films his work spawned. Look for this in a week or two. More info to follow. If any fellow bloggers or writers would like to come in on this, they’re welcome.