The Sunday Intertitle: Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible


Last day of the Edinburgh International Film Festival today — big party in a cave! A closing film, NOT ANOTHER HAPPY ENDING, written and produced by people I know! And from tomorrow, though I have stored up a few mini-reviews of films seen, Shadowplay will go back to being more random and eclectic.

Still thinking fondly of FANTASTIC VOYAGE, shown in the Richard Fleischer retrospective. The opening intertitle we saw was actually different from the one sampled above — it was more colourful, being set against a deep blue background, which suits the film’s pop-art / plastic / electron microscopy / psychedelic sixties sci-fi feel. It also made more vague, giddy and delightful promises that this kind of thing would be happening for real in the near future. Of course, Tory cutbacks mean you cannot yet have Raquel Welch injected into your bloodstream on the National Health, despite the obvious benefits. You’ll be lucky to get Arthur Kennedy. In fact, one could probably make a case for David Cameron being a kind of miniaturized Donald Pleasence in the bloodstream of the body politic, covertly loosening our lasers and fraying our tow lines.


Inside the brain — neurons sparkle with visible thoughts — a scene which contains more thoughts than Sylvester Stallone’s entire career.

Fleischer kept making these informal trilogies — true life psychopathy (COMPULSION, THE BOSTON STRANGLER, TEN RILLINGTON PLACE), classic SF (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, FANTASTIC VOYAGE, SOYLENT GREEN). This one is pretty silly, but it kind of knows it. Early dialogue sets the tone — “I don’t want to be miniaturized!” protests Stephen Boyd, weakly. “It’s just for an hour,” says Edmond O’Brien. You can’t argue with that.

The script seems determined to keep Pleasence in the shadows as the last man you’d suspect, only gradually revealing his perfidy (He believes in evolution, is therefore a commie) but by casting D.P., Fleischer throws him to the audience with neon horns blinking on his bald pate. This generates a clear line of suspense, but does leave the heroes looking stupid.


Still, I can’t help wondering why there was no sequel (asides from the wonderful INNERSPACE). The movie seems to be preparing one as you watch, as Edmond O’Brien puffs cigar after cigar and empties the sugar bowl into his infinite series of coffees. At the end of this one, he should have suffered a massive heart attack, necessitating another mini-submarine intervention. Sequels are always cheaper, so this time the team would probably consist of Don Murray, Roddy McDowell, Pamela Tiffin and Michael Dunn, who’s miniature already and will save on costuming.

In the third film, O’Brien is miniaturized and injected into himself, creating an eternal fractal loop, spinning from THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME TO 99 AND 44/100% DEAD and regressing to the vanishing point like a human Matryoshka doll.


8 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible”

  1. Don’t forget Fleischer’s signal cinematic achievement — now more timely than ever.

  2. I have to re-watch Mandingo soon. Have been augmenting my Festival visits with lesser-known items from his back catalogue and there’s a wealth of interesting stuff there. He’s the kind of filmmaker destined to be devalued by auteurism as his primary interest is technical, narrative and aesthetic.

    Mandingo’s screenwriter, Norman Wexler, seems like quite a character:

  3. Indeed. Can you believe that this AND Saturday Night Fever were written by the same communist?

  4. It’s pretty remarkable. Bi-polar indeed.

  5. DBenson Says:

    I remember reading the novelization — Isaac Asimov adapting the screenplay, instead of the expected reverse. Asimov, besides being funnier, spent a lot of time making the medicine accurate and the shrinking plausible. When I caught up with the movie, it felt almost simple-minded by comparison (although still smarter than “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” with its flaming Van Allen Radiation Belt. I have the romantic title song on my iPod).

    Asimov even managed an improved ending. In the movie, the villain and the sub are consumed and forgotten. Asimov’s characters realize the villain and sub, even digested, will return to normal size and they have to lure the organism out of the patient, resulting in a spectacular mess filling the operating theater. Later, Asimov wrote an original sequel — book, not screenplay — likewise pursuing scientific plausibility.

    “Fantastic Voyage” did get an animated series in the 60s. Filmation, a studio remembered for “Fat Albert” and “He-Man”, served up adaptations of “Fantastic Voyage” and another Fox movie, “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” Both made”He-Man” look like Disney. “Fantastic Voyage” had a shadowy government agency — unironic good guys — fielding a new team: hero with eyepatch, pretty doctor, comic science nerd and turbaned mystic named Guru (who played like a Spock knockoff). Their voyages rarely got near the human body, centering on sci-fi and espionage.

    Puzzle on Fleischer: “20,000 Leagues” was a career-maker for the young director and he always spoke well of Walt Disney thereafter, but he never made another Disney film. Was he suddenly too expensive or did he crave producers who were less hands-on?

  6. Disney seem to have been loyal to directors they liked, so maybe Fleischer didn’t fit the bill, somehow. They obviously liked the film — they basically remade it as The Black Hole.

    I remember Filmation’s Tarzan series, which was alarmingly poor even to a kid.

    How did Asimov get around the superdensity problem? I’m tempted to check out his sequel…

  7. DBenson Says:

    I recall the book mentioned the two ways to shrink something: reducing the space between particles, creating the superdensity problem; or proportionately reducing the number of atoms, leaving a reduced human with maybe a couple of cells for a brain. Don’t recall Asimov’s solution, but he did raise the question.

    Also recall a moment when a character enthuses that they could see individual molecules in a tissue sample with a hand lens.

    Didn’t read the sequel, but the first book is worth a look. If only to see a piece of product improve on the original movie.

    In the same ballpark is Ellery Queen’s Study in Terror. Again, the movie — a very good one — came first. For the novelization, the Ellery Queen character gets hold of Watson’s manuscript of the case and second-guesses the good doctor as he reads; meanwhile he’s trying to trace the source of manuscript. It’s a nicely done adaptation of the film, with a nifty little twist that allows Queen to deduce a slightly different solution and thus solve the modern-day mystery of who sent the manuscript.

  8. Lovely! I’m always slightly put off by the electric guitar soundtrack intrusions in Study in Terror, but John Neville does make a good Holmes.

    I guess maybe you could shrink a person by storing part of him in hyperspace or something, with the simplified version operating in our universe… That’s how I’d do it, anyway.

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