This Strangler Fellow

In THE VULTURE, Akim Tamiroff plays a man who can mutate at will into a giant scavenger bird. It all takes place in Cornwall, you see. I remember being disappointed by this film, which might strike you as odd, considering the subject. But nothing could be more desultory than a film about Akim Tamiroff as a Cornish man-bird, made with so little enthusiasm and flair — those involved apparently don’t realize that such a film ought to be fun. And it’s 1967 — cinema is being reinvented! OK, not in Cornwall, but the influences are abroad in the air. To give you an idea of how sad and insipid the film is, the last scene is devoted entirely to hero Robert Hutton (a man who carries a shroud of tedium about him like a medieval miasma) to whoever the leading lady is, just how Tamiroff managed to pull off a phone prank earlier in the film which gave him a false alibi. Something we the audience already know, and which can hardly be of supreme interest in a movie about a GIANT TURKISH VULTURE. The writer-director was Lawrence Huntington. So naturally I sought out more of his work. (To be fair to Huntington, he died the year after making THE VULTURE. But not until November, so no excuse really.)

WANTED FOR MURDER may be the most generic title ever, but it’s there for a reason — to conceal the film’s true individuality, a necessary task given the gay subtext crawling all over it like Toby Maguire. The year is 1946, and the British film industry is experiencing an artistic boom — by its peak, in 1948, creative confidence was even trickling down to lesser talents — it was almost impossible for anybody to make an uninteresting film. Despite a lot of banal detective stuff, WANTED FOR MURDER is pretty fascinating. It stars Eric Portman, fresh from his Glue Man duties in A CANTERBURY TALE, and was written by, well, everyone there was — but the initial adaptation of the source play seems to be the work of Emeric Pressburger. Now, Portman was happily gay, and Powell claims that Pressburger was a bit of a homophobe, despite all the gay actors in the Archers’ films, and the flamboyant and even campy tone of some of them… at any rate, somehow WANTED FOR MURDER has evolved from being a tale of a serial killer, obsessed with his late father who was the public hangman in Victoria’s day, to being an allegory about closeted homosexuality. Portman stalks the streets by night, engaging in brief romances with people he meets under a pseudonym. His doting mother knows nothing, but fears the worst. She urges him to bring a girl home to meet her some time, to settle down. He thinks she’s right, and pursues Dulcie Gray, a nice girl who works in a record store (he has an obsessive passion for classical music).

It’s all kind of right out there, and the detectives hot on Portman’s trail (who really do refer to him as “this strangler fellow”) are a more effective beard for Portman’s “lustmorden that dare not speak its name” than poor sweet Dulcie could ever be. Huntington actually directs with some command of pacing and moments of flair. His career went back to the early thirties and he was obviously a pro, and alert to the interesting stuff going on around him. There’s also the nostalgic feeling of British fairgrounds, the Underground and London coppers, concerts in Hyde Park and all of that. And a weird preponderance of Scottish characters — an Underground employee, a copper, and this poor murderee, Jenny Laird –

The American serviceman is our old friend, spanner-faced Bonar Colleano, another reason to be cheerful.

PS — a Langian Limerick.

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9 Responses to “This Strangler Fellow”

  1. I’ve become very fond of Akim Tamiroff as a character actor over the passage of time, and while the prospect of seeing him turn into a vulture seems alluring, I’ll take your word for it that it’s forgettable and just hope that he received a decent paycheck for services rendered, just as I hope Michel Simon received the same for THE HEAD. I have seen WANTED FOR MURDER, have it on DVD, but I purchased it as one of of a batch of Portman films, so I can’t recall the details, having watched it a while back. This brings to mind another campy strangler fellow, Thesiger in THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT, and I seem to recall Hurd Hatfield in the same sort of role in his career, in the Sixties maybe? I guess I’m detecting a pattern here.

  2. Hatfield turns up as a strangler SUSPECT in The Boston Strangler, patiently explaining to police that homosexuals are unlikely to go around raping and murdering women. I’m not sure if he ever played an authentic killer, but if he did I’m sure it was memorable. (Diary of a Chambermaid?)

    Tamiroff’s late-career work contains several delights like Topkapi, and substantial roles in the likes of Ocean’s 11, which one hopes made up for the occasional bouts of slumming.

  3. The Welles collaborations — including the definitive Don Quixote edit we’ve yet to see — are the glory of Tamiroff’s great career. I always like the exchange in Mr Arkadin –

    Arden: “I guess he felt sympathy for me. He was dying.”
    Tamiroff: “I’m dying and I got no sympathy for you whatsoever.”

    He speaks for the audience at this point!

  4. Mr. Arkadin is my favorite film maudit. It’s a big mess in many ways but it’s filled with all manner of glorious things — Akim Tamiroff, Katina Paxinou, Mischa Auer and his flea circus, Michael Redgrave at his gayest, plus aome incredible trackign shots that Bertolucci copied in The Conformist.

  5. He pretty much steals the show in his brief scene in ALPHAVILLE as well.

  6. Bertolucci acknowledges that Welles was his source for “unmotivated camera movement,” or as I call it, “camera movement where the audience has to supply the motivation” — and he traces it as far back as Kane.

    Tamiroff is great in Alphaville (dying again!) — a pleasure to see him with Constantine.

  7. Christopher Says:

    “ok!..but where?!” lol

  8. My mind drifted back in time…Tamiroff is also pretty fine in The Great McGiinty.

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