Go a go-go

Felicitations to Guy Budziak for supplying me with a copy of THE YIN AND THE YANG OF MR GO which refused to play, breaking up into mosaic pixillations of Francis Bacon flesh-smear, sound stuttering in digital orgasm — a vastly improved experience from the actual film, which I subsequently watched.

I’m now ready to draw two conclusions from comparing this with Burgess Meredith’s previous outing as director, THE MAN ON THE EIFFEL TOWER — firstly, that a top-notch cinematographer like Stanley Cortez can work wonders for a no-talent director; secondly, that the classical Hollywood style covers a multitude of sins. Freed of its conventions, BM lets it all hang out with this would-be-sixties super-spy farrago, and the results are audio-visual atrocity. Shonky hand-held lurching, unmotivated angle-changes, jagged transitions and incoherent storytelling, and that’s before we get to the dialogue scenes rendered inaudible by “background” music.

If the film were at least professionally made, there would be more pleasure derived from its random casting and insulting stereotypes. The first scene features Meredith himself as oriental herbalist “Dolphin” practicing acupuncture on James Mason, cast against type as a Mexican-Chinese gangster. The dialogue has a certain fey wit, which barely registers through Mason’s grotesque false teeth and the sloppy shooting, but some degree of freakshow promise is conjured up. The fact that the screenplay, seemingly written in vanishing ink, such is the perplexity of its cast, is narrated by Buddha, who has the plummy English tones of Valentine Dyall, also endeared it to me.

Soon, however, it becomes clear that this movie has the power to nullify everything in its orbit: an athletically built young newcomer named Jeffrey Bridges is cast as a James Joyce wannabe living off his girlfriend in Hong Kong (where better to write the next Dubliners?). Bridges’ natural charm is utterly negated by the character’s total prickishness, as he betrays his country, patronizes his girlfriend and hits Jack MacGowran in the face with a kettle. He can just fuck off.

MacGowran’s physical body tries hard to inhabit the role of an FBI agent pretending to be a publisher, but his mind is clearly elsewhere, as evidenced by his dead-eyed stare, boring into our souls in a manner not entirely conducive to the traditional goals of wacky comedy. As his boss, Broderick Crawford is dropped into the film like a collapsing pudding, his scenes entirely shot in one fussily-wallpapered boardroom, as the rhinocerosian thesp numbly reprises his J. Edgar Hoover turn.

Even more uncomfortable is Peter Lind Hayes, cast against type as a closeted gay military scientist (Mr Zabladowski, what are you doing?), queer-bashed by Bridges and blackmailed by Mason before vanishing from the movie in a cloud of shame and bewilderment. The film’s unsympathetic approach to same-sex love is heightened by a performance by Mason’s real-life wife, as a butch villainess named Zelda, who tries to rape Bridges’ girlfriend, Irene Tsu.

But why stop there? The film has so much more to offend us with, beginning with the casting of pasty white thespians in yellowface — somehow much worse because it’s 1970, not 1940, and because it’s so badly done! Mason’s hair is brown. The actual orientals do well to play their scenes without resorting to mutinous violence: Tsu is joined by famed martial arts filmmaker King Hu, playing Japanese about as convincingly as Mason plays Chinese, as a banker named Suzuki (and the film is sufficiently dumb we can assume he’s named after the motorbike, not the filmmaker).

My suspicion is Meredith probably drew “inspiration” from THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST, another seeming free-for-all of wackiness, but actually a tightly-controlled, slyly acted and beautifully shot and scored movie, to which MR GO cannot hold a scented candle. Theodore J Flicker’s pop-art meisterwerk is actually tightly controlled, drawing nearly all its zany tropes from the combination of psychoanalysis and spycraft — had Burgess M used Chinese mysticism and industrial espionage as his lynchpins and tethered the plot tightly to both, having fun with the collisions, he might have had something — but lazily, the moviemakers assume that just throwing a bunch of random shit at the screen will in some way hold our interest. It sort of does, because the choices are so erratic and obnoxious, but all respect is forfeited.

Fans of skin-crawling embarrassment should check this out.

What the movie does have is an arresting title — in fact, two, since it alternately goes by the name of THE THIRD EYE. That’s SUCH a good title — it draws in psychic and mystical elements, as well as suggesting private eyes and THE THIRD MAN, working as a multi-layered evocation of genre-mixing ingenuity… none of which is to be found in this dog’s breakfast.

Screenplay is co-credited to Meredith and a few other guys, including soft-porn/exploitation producer Dick Randall, described in his IMDb entry as “jolly and colorful” — I haven’t a doubt it’s true, but he sure kept it off the screen. His credits include the intriguingly titled EROTIC ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE, which I like to imagine consisting of ninety minutes of solo masturbation by a man in a progressively lengthening fake beard. Don’t disillusion me.

19 Responses to “Go a go-go”

  1. There was a lot of anti-Asian weirdness in many 60’s era pop films. Think of “Oddjob” in Godlfinher or Dr. No, played by Joseph Wiseman in slant-eyed make-up.

  2. It was clearly just considered acceptable, long after blackface had been ruled out. Whites as Chinese only got picketed when Peter Ustinov played Charlie Chan in the late seventies. And then Alec Guinness got poorly reviewed as an Indian in A Passage to India, so that became more or less unacceptable.

    One unintended effect of political correctness is that filmmakers who want to play safe and don’t really understand what is and isn’t offensive, tend to just avoid portraying other races and religions altogether. So you don’t get the stars being created who could play major ethnic roles, and so those movies don’t get made, and it feeds into itself.

    The solution, of course, isn’t to go back to insensitivity, but to apply the lessons correctly, and also take a few chances with less famous actors, rather than making House of the Spirits with Jeremy Irons…

  3. La Faustin Says:

    Didn’t the same sort of thing happen after the application of the Production Code? If ethnic actors couldn’t do their defamatory schtick (let alone clinch with a star at the close), what was the point of hiring them? From such respect you could die of hunger …

  4. Those guys carried on into the early forties. But then people started to feel embarrassed about them, so you get a dearth of colours until Poitier comes along.

    What the Code did mean was that any hint of “miscegenation” was out, so you tended to get more caucasians in disguise to avoid any hint of interracial hanky-panky.

  5. Not that I;ve *seen* it, mind you, but “Madame Sin” would seem to fit in with the ’50s anti-Asian nonsense of which David E speaks.

    Anything with Bette Davis at its center is worth looking at at least once, though, and director David Greene did have his moments.

  6. I enjoyed Madame Sin quite a bit. It’s relatively easy to ignore the dragon lady archetype since Bette just plays it as herself. The ending’s so good it’s surprising they never made a series out of it, as planned.

    It’s certainly tosh of a superior order to Mr Go.

  7. I watched most of this embarassment but never made it all the way through. In answer to how come “Man on the Eiffel Tower ” has some good scenes, but this one doesn’t, I read somewhere that Meredith had Charles Laughton direct the Eiffel Tower scenes in which Meredith appeared. That would certainly explain the good direction in the Eiffel Tower scene where Meredith’s thick eyeglasses are broken – a scene so memorable that it was reprised by Meredith and director John Brahm in a famous Twilight Zone episode more than 20 years later.

  8. The eyeglasses break in the murder house scene, which Laughton directed. All the stuff in the lonely villa is terrific.

    I’m not sure who directed the Eiffel Tower ascent, it’s impressively scary and real but not particularly elegant the way the house scenes are.

  9. This convincingly sounds awful. But nothing is likely to dissuade me from that cast.

    On a happier note, I’m delighted to find a fellow devotee of The President’s Analyst, which among its other virtues picks a supervillain who would outlast the Iron Curtain and bothers to motivate the bizarre doormatness of its ’60s love interest.

  10. Burgess M was a good screenwriter though. He wrote the screenplay for Renoir’s version of “Diary of a Chambermaid” starring Paulette Goddard and himself – a delightful film!

    “Mr. Go” is terrible, but not all its terribleness can be blamed on Burgess Meredith. According to his autobiography, the released version contained “many major scenes that we hadn’t shot” – including those with Broderick Crawford. He thought Mason was “brilliant” and described his own performance as “wickedly funny.”

  11. I wish there were twenty more Theodore J Flicker films. Apart from anything else, he has the best name a filmmaker could ask for.

    You’ll find a little about The President’s Analyst on Shadowplay somewheres.

    The Broderick Crawford scenes certainly look like they’ve been airdropped into the movie, but they don’t do it much harm. They’re conventionally boring rather than actively bad.

    Maybe Meredith just needed the structure of a book to adapt. His first scene here is well-written, then the filmmaking swamps everything, and there’s no shape to any of it.

  12. Sorry to read of the problems the DVD gave you. I tried burning a copy to send but was unable to do so, which is why I sent you the original to view. Guess that’s why it wouldn’t burn. I’d watched the DVD before with no problem, perhaps time has caused it to deteriorate, but I suspect it was cheaply produced to begin with. Looks like you may have watched a VHS copy, no? Truly awful film, I acquired the DVD for TRAPPED on the flip side, an Eagle-Lion with Bridges’ dad Lloyd. But, stunning in its awfulness, interesting because of Jeff’s film debut (though not so good), and Mason’s involvement (what was he thinking, or was he?). Meredith: eh.

  13. Mason seems to have accepted some roles based purely on the likelihood nobody would ever see them. He made a spaghetti western, Bad Man’s River, that embarrassed him by getting wide distribution.

  14. And then, of course, there was MANDINGO.

  15. …a movie that now has quite a few fans.

    After Mr Go, it was quite a relief seeing him being moving and wonderful in 11 Harrowhouse, even with an unconvincing working-class London accent. And most of his scenes are with Gielgud so it’s a joy.

  16. Kind of a delayed reaction…

    Seem to be a “funny” quality to 60’s “yellowface”, like it was a misunderstanding of camp and somehow ellided with it. Indeed there was an element of orientalism in 60’s camp, but it plays out very differently in a “straight” film.
    As a child, I remember “made in Japan”, meaning a cheap or badly made product. as a part of the colloquial cultural fabric, as well as others.

  17. Yes, Made in Japan, then Made in Taiwan.

    You had Peter Sellers as both Charlie Chan and Fu Manchu in the 70s, Joseph Wiseman as Dr No as David E says, Christopher Lee as Fu. Brando.

    Nick Ray’s 55 Days at Peking embarrasses me for all the Brits playing Chinese.

  18. And Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s

    Also, Peter Sellers in the Party.

    Two of the most controversial.

    I’m almost surprised that there wasn’t a “yellowface” villian in the 60’s Batman.

  19. Both from Blake Edwards.

    I guess Batman’s foreign enemy, Rhas Al-Ghul, hadn’t been invented in the 60s. And when he did show up, he was Liam Neeson!

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