Archive for August, 2011

Shadowplay Day

Posted in FILM with tags , , on August 31, 2011 by dcairns

Today we have a limerick, dealing with Roger Corman’s HOUSE OF USHER, over at Limerwrecks. Here.

Also, it’s international Shadowplay Day. This means that if you enjoy Shadowplay, you have to pick an article, an old favourite or else one you stumble upon by using the “Search” fucntion to your right, or clicking randomly on a date — then tweet it, Facebook it, “Like” it, “share” it by Reddit, Stumbleupon or Digg, link to it from your blog, phone a friend, or otherwise get the word out.

I’m just curious if a popularity spike can be created by the simple, barefaced means of asking for one. It’ll make me happy. (And you thought Shadowplay Day would mean something nice for you…)

If you don’t want to go browsing, here are some readymade links —





La Cava!

Blind Tuesday #2: Waterloo Sunset

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2011 by dcairns

David Melville’s away on holiday so his A-Z of the Cine Dorado takes a break, and we return you to our semi-regular Blind Tuesday feature, examining sightless person thrillers of yore.

23 PACES TO BAKER STREET has a nifty title going for it, even though when it actually turns up in the film’s dialogue it proves to be a complete red herring. Henry Hathaway directs with his usual efficient, slightly bloodless efficiency, although his use of widescreen in confined spaces is reasonably imaginative, exploiting the opportunity to show activity in two rooms at a time… The screenplay is by novelist Nigel Balchin, and fans of the Powell-Pressburger classic THE SMALL BACK ROOM can find fascinating connections with that movie, which is based on a Balchin book. In both stories the disabled hero is good at his job but lacks confidence and is tortured by his injury, which he takes out on a long-suffering girlfriend. The l-s gf is nicely depicted as someone who refuses to be a doormat, she’s supportive but somewhat aggressively so — she won’t take any of the hero’s defeatest self-hating bullshit.

But this is a blind person in jeopardy film, so Van Johnson’s disability has much more to do with the plot than David Farrar’s tin foot. He’s an American playwright in London for the West End opening of his latest mystery, and he uses a tape recorder (no dictaphone, but a big chunky reel-to-reel job, think THE CONVERSATION) in his work. His ex, Vera Miles (yay!) is vaguely trying to get back into his life, and like all movie dysfunctional couples, what they need is an adventure.

Adventure comes in a kidnapping plot overheard in the local pub — we see the shadowy silhouettes of two people, Van hears what they’re saying and smells a whiff of perfume. Hastening home he reconstructs the conversation, doing both voices, on his tape deck, and tries to interest the authorities. Better yet, he enlists the aid of Vera and comedy relief Cecil Parker to gather evidence.

The blind leading the bald: Van Johnson, Cecil Parker and Maurice Denham.

Cecil Parker is the whole show! Damnably funny and adding much-needed humanity and humour, compensating for the inevitably Van Johnson drag factor. Van’s not bad, by any means, but one can’t help imagining a lot of other, preferable actors in the part. Or a sturdy wardrobe, come to that.

Patricia Laffan has an interesting part too, but she’s underused.

Seems to me, if we’re going to have remakes, this is the kind of film that should be remade — it’s very well constructed, which means it’d survive updating, and while Cecil Parker can’t be improved upon, the film can. Masterpieces ought to be respected, with no nonsense about “introducing them to a new generation” by trying to supplant them with new versions. A stronger lead would be enough reason to do this one over. Still, I’m just as happy if they leave it alone.

Most interesting character is the shadowy Mr. Evans, kidnap plotter — years later, this seems to have inspired a character in Grant Morrison’s amazing Doom Patrol comic, The Shadowy Mr Evans — 0nly here he was basically Noel Coward with a periscope coming out the top of his head. I don’t think that would have fit in 23 PACES TO BAKER STREET, but it fit perfectly in Doom Patrol. Just shows you what a good comic that was.

The Mysterious Mr If, Part the Fourteenth

Posted in FILM with tags on August 29, 2011 by dcairns

Part fourteen — nearing the end of the second act, if this script had such a thing.

Last we saw, Sheena McQueen, tour guide and glamour icon, had been abducted by the Mysterious Mr If, Victorian supervillain reborn. Detective Inspector Turner and Howie, the human exhibit at Edinburgh Zoo, have been powerless to prevent this, or anything else.

Now read on…


Turner and Howie exit with Edward Woodward in a pet taxi.


 He’s ahead of us at every turn. It’s like he knows what we’re going to do before we do it. Or like he’s everywhere at once.


 Maybe he’s God. It would explain a lot.

The blindfolded Nurse is still there, holding out a small orange.


Nectarine, Sirs?

Turner grabs her arms and shakes her.


Where is If? What do you know about this? Who told you to be here?

The Nurse lowers her blindfold flirtatiously.


 Would you like to do sex with me?

Turner turns away in disgust.


 Come on, Howie, we’ll get nothing from her.

He has to drag Howie away.

Upon reaching the car they find it covered in potatoes. Turner glowers at the Nurse. She raises her blindfold again and smiles sweetly.


The receptionist, a PIMPLY BUREAUCRAT, amends a logbook.

If strides in, flanked by ballerinas bearing violin cases.

If himself drags a double bass case.


Public Information Bureau?

The Bureaucrat eyes him condescendingly.




I’d like to make a withdrawal.

The Borzoi Ballet open their cases and brilliant illumination obliterates the Bureaucrat’s petrified visage. Wow!


A blank white printout spews forth.

The Prof swears –



– and bangs at his computer with a mallet. It produces a drawing of a teepee.


Turner and Howie glare at each other across the former’s desk, a single lamp containing them in a wigwam of illumination. Edward Woodward licks his arse.


Call yourself a policeman?




Solve the case, you big dummy! Isn’t that what I pay you for?


I wasn’t aware that zoological specimens contributed to my salary.


 We do our bit. Go on! Arrest somebody! Haven’t you got the guts?


Who should I arrest?


The culprit! Start with him and work your way up the chain of command.


For all I know, you’re him. You’re a pretty suspicious character.


Listen to us! Quarrelling like otters. As if you really suspect me… or I you. Let’s agree to work together: you with your methods, I with mine.

Turner looks like he wants to punch Howie. Thrower enters with a handcuffed FROGMAN.


Hey, Detective Inspector, where do you want this scumbag?


A big empty room with expressionist shadows painted on it.

If’s double bass case stands in the centre.

A follow spot beams from the dark and illumines If.

He taps on the double bass case lid with a cane.



If opens the case. Sheena is inside, wearing a blindfold made from the eyes of the Turin Shroud. She’s been got up in a straitjacket and a fabulous wedding dress made from surgeons’ white rubber gloves.


Hello indeed, my lovely. I have taken the liberty of preparing…your death!

He gestures and the spotlight picks out a grandfather clock wearing a big bra stuffed with owls. It bongsmidnight.


I was hoping, when you read of my exploits, you would see the attraction of unreality. To plumb the unthinkable, conquer possibility, undo the is… that is my dream…

He mops a tear away with another piece of Turin Shroud – Christ’s lips. Blows his nose.


But you spurned my love and turned up your nose, lips and nipples at me. I offered you nothing and you threw it back in my pants.

Igniting the fragment of Christ-face with a kitchen match, he lights a pipe and puffs. Sheena’s nose wrinkles at the smoke.


My clock is stuffed with dynamite. Atnoontomorrow it will erupt. You have twelve hours to enjoy the processes of respiration and peristalsis before your indubitably nubile form is sprayed like foam from a rusty fire extinguisher over this empty pantomime fools call the world.

He rises. We see for the first time the apron he is wearing made of the torso bits of the Turin Shroud, with the words WORLD’S BEST CHEF scrawled over the midriff in lipstick.

If’s Ballerinas pirouette in and raise him on their shoulders. We watch from above as they head for the door through a large and convoluted maze.


(calling back to Sheena)

 Meanwhile I’ll lead your friends a merry dance. Mr. Howie has chosen to represent mankind at the zoo – I’ll show mankind what I think of it.

The lights go out. Sheena struggles with her straitjacket.

A projector beam whirs into flickering life, throwing a big monochrome close-up of If on a wall. The movie If wears theatrical makeup and enunciates too much.

MR. IF (in film)

This Is A Talking Pic-ture.


12.30 am on the wall clock.

Turner and Howie, despondent in Turner’s office. Edward Woodward watches them from the desktop, ignoring PC. Thrower’s efforts to interest him in a cat toy.

Howie spots the little note from If.


“Skin jury the chef use if huge germ.” What’s this crap?


A clue. You wouldn’t understand.


Clue, bollocks. You police just muck about, don’t you?


For your information, that is a direct communication from the man responsible for…

(gestures helplessly at the cat)

 …all this. I’ve already decoded the first sentence.


Yeah? Well this bit sounds like something to do with a restaurant health inspector to me. You know – “chef, huge germ” that kind of thing.


It’s not much, but it could be a lead.

Turner gives him a disgusted look. Picks up the phone.


Get me the Health Department.

(to Howie)

 The clock’s ticking.


The clock TICKS. Sheena is still struggling helplessly in her straitjacket. On screen, Mr If drones on in monochrome.

MR. IF (in film)

 …but I am not the first to doff the fetters of prevalence and shake a fist at being. One thinks of Augustus Rhombus, a humble Roman hat blocker who drew lines between the stars with a great sword made from his own faeces.

The screen shows an animated star map, irrelevant Roman murals, and a flashing caption IT’S ALL TRUE!

MR. IF (in film)

Folding along the lines, he planned to crumple and bin the universe, but was struck by a comet and devoured by wolves before he could succeed.

Sheena gets her straitjacketed arms into a new uncomfortable position, but it’s not clear this is going to help.

MR. IF (in film)

 Then there was the Reverend Stoatman Broadney. They called him an obese dullard, yet in 1566 he attempted to end the world with a special canoe.

Shots of medieval murals, dodgy animation.

MR. IF (in film)

Carved from catgut and iron, the mighty vessel could carry THREE men, and was christened the Lorne Greene. It sank.

Sheena gets an arm out. She’s sweating from the effort.

MR. IF (in film)

Then came Sir Pelé Lovelace, who took control of the elements in 1712, weaving great wings from toffee and lead. He sought to blow creation inside out, but succeeded only in hurting his back.

Animated engraving of periwigged stooge falling down.

MR. IF (in film)

Pioneers all! Men of savage willpower who foresaw an end to the blind forehead of truth and pertinence and tried to make things crinkly that had once been smooth.

Sheena gets free! Hesitantly, she removes her blindfold.


Escapology. Benefits of a Catholic education.

Onscreen, the Roman, medieval and Georgian figures cavort in jerky stop-motion against a nicely etched sunset.

Sheena sees the exit. It even has an illuminated sign: EXIT.

MR. IF (in film)

Heroes! Madmen! Visionaries! This hollow glove salutes you. I follow humbly in your splayed and tottering footsteps, face blanched and torso gleaming. Let there be an end!

Sheena reaches the door, reaches for the handle, but her hand seems to pass through it. The handle is painted on the door. The door is painted on the wall. There is no door.

The clock face appears in close-up on the cinema screen.

MR. IF (in film)



Turner’s badly dented car SCREECHES up to the swank eatery.


 You inspect the health around here?


Turner is talking to a HEALTH INSPECTOR, as he’s giving the French restaurant the once-over. The health guy is methodical and cold. Howie meddles with some pans in the background.



 Well – some of it.

Turner flips him the note.


What do you make of this?


“Skin jury the chef use if huge germ.” What language is this?


The universal language of crime.


It’s true I did just finish jury duty. A case of a larcenous dermatologist.


(tasting a soup)

“Skin jury,” eh?

The swing doors crash open and a SKIER flies into the kitchen, knocking everyone flying and caroming off the stove. A soup pan is upset over the Health Inspector.

The Skier propels himself out the back exit.

Howie gazes at a bread knife embedded in the floor between his legs. And spots the sodden and steaming Health Inspector.


Skin jury – ski injury! It all fits!

Freeing himself from a pot pile, Turner lurches after the dry-skiing felon.


The Skier is hampered by the lack of snow, and Turner brings him down with a rugby tackle amongst rubbish bins. They tussle amid discarded foodstuff.

The Skier lands a powerful blow on Turner’s jaw. Turner grabs the gloved hand. The ski glove comes off, revealing a delicate hand with painted nails.



A woman!

He rips off the ski mask, preparing to punch.

A sheep mask.



Turner frowns and pulls the sheep mask off.

Mr. If – with Dracula fangs and an eyepatch!

If smashes Turner with a pair of dustbin lids – a CLANG of cymbals. Turner, dazed and deafened, falls off If.

Howie bounds from the restaurant and slips on a banana skin from the spilled refuse. He staggers across the alley and slips on a second skin. This propels him onto a third.

Mr. If  inserts a whistle between his whited lips and begins to direct a delicate off-screen traffic maneuver. Forward! Left a bit! To me, to me…

Howie lands in a pile of banana skins and slips incessantly.

Turner staggers to his feet, rubbing his head, as If runs from the alley. The BUZZ of a rapidly receding vintage scooter.

Howie crashes into Turner, who catches him. But Turner’s attention is on an old school desk If has left in his wake.

On the surface of the desk is a sheet of paper – a computer printout of a snail. Beside this, a pen protrudes from the inkwell. There is also an old phone and a sheep skull.

Driven by some inner compulsion, Turner sits and lifts the pen. Howie flinches as if it might explode.

In a trance, Turner writes. Red ink.

He stops.


What have I written?


“Serge herd high her crag retch egg fleck.”

Turner lifts the note and stares at it suspiciously. Howie notices a spilled bin.


I’ll take some of this fish for the cat.


The phone on the desk trills. Howie and Turner look at it.


Howie reaches for the receiver but Turner grabs his wrist.


No – run!

They scarper from the side-street. The phone suddenly goes into a freakish, drawn-out, warbling RRrrRRrrIIiiNNnnGGg – and the sheep skull starts to laugh hysterically.

A low-budget EXPLOSION.


To be continued…