The film of the anecdote of the rhapsody of the vision


I wouldn’t recommend HOUSE OF DARKNESS, exactly, unless you’re a Laurence Harvey completist, and if you are, please report to the nearest cryptozoologist who will be supremely pleased to hear from a species more mythic than the yeti or goatsucker. But having said all that, or imaging that I have (how would I know?), I am mildly pleased to observe that our old friend John Gilling is the scenarist, and thus the man responsible for an unusual narrative device.

We open with George Melachrino, bandleader, conducting his latest tune for the movie cameras. While the next set-up is prepared, he sits down with a film director chap and begins to tell the tale of how the melody came to him. Cue flashback — on holiday in darkest Dorset, George visits a haunted house where the locals claim ghostly tunes can be heard. George hears the phantom music, and presumably straight-up plagiarises it for his hit rhapsody (?), but more than that, he experiences a kind of vision or flashback — the movie isn’t too clear about exactly how the following tale is experienced by him, but it’s experienced by us as a flashback within a flackback, and as a pretty dull yarn from start to finish. But, you know, credit is due for an unusual narrative approach.


Seems to me the Germans must have a word for this kind of face.

Once we get into the Laurence Harvey part of the film, that novelty wears off FAST, and we’re stuck with L.H. in his introductory role (they even spelled his name wrong), speaking in a bizarre, mincing manner suggestive of but never quite resolving into a foreign accent — Harvey had worked hard to eliminate any trace of his Lithuanian and South African origins, but at this point he has not yet replaced his native tones with authentic human speech, and so it’s like a voice from which authenticity has been removed leaving only a vacuum waiting for some kind of artifice to be shoveled in.

The thing is a kind of gothic noir with spiritualist leanings, but the truly uncanny thing is Laurence’s hair, which may not have reached its mature volume, but already towers from the zenith of his brow like a precipice. At moments of high emotion the overhang loses all coherence, feathering out vastly until it assumes the form of an exaggerated cap brim. And all the while little Laurence is there, acting, acting, acting, from under it.


Eventually, like even the most tedious nightmare, the story ends, and we go back to the world of Melachrino, who rises to the podium again and lets rhip with his rhapsody. I’m no expert in the oeuvre of Mr. Melachrino. I’m sure this is a very nice rhapsody. But no mere melody could encapsulate that quiff.

6 Responses to “The film of the anecdote of the rhapsody of the vision”

  1. Harvey’s hair is more becalmed here – but not him.

  2. His finest hour — when his strange air of seeming like a tortured robot abruptly makes sense.

  3. Julie knows how to torture that robot

  4. Liz Taylor grinding her heel into his foot in Butterfield 8 seems like an appropriate clip also.

    Lewis Gilbert’s autobiography is very kind about most of his collaborators, but he can’t bring himself to like Harvey, who rose to fame by wooing producer James Woolf and then a succession of powerful actresses who could get him work.

    My friend Lawrie deplored Harvey’s habit of urinating from the windows of moving cars. I can’t quite picture how he managed it — I’m more impressed than disgusted.

  5. He exuded a soigne vileness quite unlike anyone else. Can’t quite see him pissing out of moving cars, but I can see him doing it over a hotel balcony — aiming at some enemy or other below.

  6. If it were a convertible and he was standing up — but then I wouldn’t say “out the window,” I might say “over the side” or something. It’s the mechanics I can’t figure.

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