Sacrifice

quit

Regular Shadowplayer Mark Medin sent me this 1926 ad/announcement by one John McDermott who, true to his word, never lifted megaphone to mouth again. Harold never called. I thought it would make a nice little item for The Late Show which, characteristically, is running past its alotted week…

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We also watched THE 300 SPARTANS, believing it to be the last film by cinematographer-turned-director Rudolph Maté. It isn’t, but it’s a very late one, followed briskly by SEVEN SEAS TO CALAIS, ALIKI MY LOVE, and a massive coronary. I’d had quite good reports of SPARTANS via chum David Wingrove, who characterised it as an unusually literate and intelligent peplum. True — that doesn’t quite turn it into a wholly dignified, proper film — it’s still a peplum. But a peplum with pep.

Lots of Brit acting talent to give it “class” — David Farrar of all people plays the dastardly Xerxes, and for once seems to be enjoying himself. “He’s a terrible actor,” pronounced Fiona, which is pretty severe but pretty true. I have to acknowledge that the one film he’s genuinely good in, THE SMALL BACK ROOM, could still be improved (great though it is) by the casting of any other Brit leading man of the era. Kenneth More wouldn’t be any worse, though less handsome. Dirk Bogarde would be better, David Niven would be better, Roger Livesey would be totally wrong but vastly better…

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But anyway, he’s a decent pantomime villain here, and then there’s Ralph Richardson, who has evidently shot all his scenes in the studio, necessitating overdubs to explain why he’s somehow always indoors. After hearing Ralph debating Laurence Naismith (whose presence along with Kieron Moore and certain Greek locations gives it all a very Harryhausen feeling) it’s a shock to have yank Richard Egan dumped in our lap like a giant concrete bicep.

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But as the movie develops, you get used to him. I can’t say I ever worked up any kind of rapturous pleasure at his screen appearances, but I grew accustomed to his face, to the extend that I would have been sincerely sorry if, say, Donald Houston had bitten it off or something.

The story itself is martial, stirring, hawkish stuff, but it slightly soft-pedals the brutality of the Spartans and does a goodish job of presenting them as characters we should support (although the emphasis on Persia being a “slave empire” is undercut by young Barry Coe, i think it is, promising to bring back a flock of Persian slaves for cutie Diane Baker. Face it, everyone in history is awful).

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“About your Immortals, sire. We might have to change the name.”

The whole time I was watching, I was imagining little Frank Miller seeing this innocent, rather noble entertainment, which even manages a bit of emotion, as an awestruck kid, and then years later giving us his comic 300, and thence the movie 300, which dehumanizes, brutalizes and stupidifies the original on every level. The remake LOOKS nice, in its way, but it’s a horrible, fascistic, mean-spirited thing. A film for our times. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Zack Snyder becomes Trump’s Riefenstahl.

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11 Responses to “Sacrifice”

  1. Mark Fuller Says:

    Hmmmm……have to disagree with the recasting of Small Back Room……heaven alone knows Mr Farrar was limited as an actor but he does shine in that role: the character in the novel is an Alpha Male and his entire thought process and his relationship with Susan is ruled by his Alpha Maleness and his perception that his tin leg makes him less as a man. So he keeps Susan away ; picks fights with anyone who will respond in the bar or bureaucracy; and defuses bombs not over-bothered if he survives or not. No-one did alpha maleness in 40s British Cinema like Farrar, and I don’t think Niven, Bogarde or Livesey conveying that wounded lion aspect….because they were never quite Alpha Male lions in the first place…..yes, Niven was a Lt. Col. In the Commandos but never conveyed that on screen. His warriors were always warrior poets….with Farrar you get the impression that his masculinity was all he had…..and all that mattered to him. So IMHO perfect for The Small Back Room where that has been violently taken from him…..less of an actor in other roles where more subtlety was needed.

  2. Very much with you on that point Mr.Fuller

    Rudolph Mate was a great DP and solid but not quite exciting director. He was apparently quite beautiful in his youth as Dreyer fell madly in love with him during the shooting of “Vampyr.” So discombobulating was this fit of passion that the great director claimed not to remember making the movie at all.

  3. I guess you’re probably right. The blokier Brit actors of the era (Todd, More, Steele) lacked nuance while the more deft ones lacked muscle.

    Hang on, what about Trevor Howard? Not glamorous, but super-masculine, and believable as a publand denizen… Our perfect wounded lion!

  4. Trevor Howard would be nearer the mark I think, yes…….but I can’t see him trying so hard to resist that giant Whiskey bottle ………. :)

  5. The struggle would be considerable!

    “Lovely Trevor… never sober.” was my late friend Lawrie Knight’s memory of him.

  6. No love for Farrar in BLACK NARCISSUS? I think he’s quite good, and appealingly strange, in it. Among all the actors being actorly (appropriately so, especially for the nuns trying to keep their masks on), he comes across as someone genuinely outside their world – not an actor but some guy they found on the street, just being himself and bringing his lived history into the frame, exasperated at all the artifice being paraded by him. It’s a great, slippery, and probably even necessary quality to bring to the film.

  7. He’d be better if he didn’t have to ride that donkey in shorts (I mean, he wears the shorts, not the donkey…) That’s a role where Trev Howard wouldn’t do, since the character needs to be good-looking, and God knows the options seem to have been limited in Britain at the time. If Connery had been around…?

  8. I kind of agree that his only other good performance aside from TSBR is in Black Narcissus for the reasons outlined above.

  9. He works, I guess. In the same way that little Eddie Whaley works as Joseph Anthony: he embodies the part, even if he can’t act it too skilfully. But I prefer Eddie.

    They both have May Hallett chewing up the backdrops to make them look good.

  10. If it’d been Connery, riding a donkey in shorts might have prepared him better for the sartorial/equine feats he managed in ZARDOZ.

  11. Connery could have grasped that donkey between his knees, lifted it off the ground and waddled off with it.

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