Archive for April, 2021

Past Post

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on April 17, 2021 by dcairns

I’ve contributed an essay (text — I so rarely get asked to write pure text these days) to this juicy box set. My piece is on THE DARK PAST. Luckily I was already familiar with BLIND ALLEY, which it remakes. An interesting assignment — my first for Indicator.

I just worked out that I have seven finished extras due to come out, not all of them announced yet. And three more lined up, not yet fully written let alone cut.

The ones that you know about are this one, the Bill Rebane feature doc in the WEIRD WISCONSIN box set and the limited edition MAJOR DUNDEE disc for Arrow, and for Masters of Cinema the NAKED CITY commentary, the BRUTE FORCE video essay with Fiona, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, and HANDS OF ORLAC with Fiona again.

Somebody asked me if there was a complete list of my extras somewhere — I did publish one here, but it’s now considerably out of date. I’ll do another, but with all these things in the works, three more I can’t talk about yet, and several others just in the discussion stages, now might not be the time.

Dyspeptic in Elsinore

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2021 by dcairns

Asides from my making-of Caesar and Cleopatra book, I also have a lovely, if tattered volume entitled The film HAMLET, covering Olivier’s 1948 production. Various heads of department contribute short chapters about their work.

My late friend Lawrie Knight was only a 3rd AD on it, and only for a few days. His story doesn’t feature. Stop me if you’ve heard it before. Olivier, it seems, wanted the sound of a heartbeat to accompany the ghost’s appearance. In the end he used a drumbeat, but perhaps the story of Ruben Mamoulian recording his own heart after running up and down a flight of stairs, for the transformation scene in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, was already well-known? Olivier, saving himself the strain, sent an assistant off to run around the studio, and then they pressed a mic to his ribcage.

“Nothing but indigestion!” reported Lawrie, with a chortle.

The book lacks that kind of engrossing detail. Olivier’s own piece is rather windy, and devotes a lot of time to justifying his choice to shoot in black and white, though he would later admit that he was having “a frightful row with Technicolor” which played a significant part in the decision. Still, it was a great choice.

Really lovely pic of Larry directing in costume and, it seems, in character.

Producer Anthony Bushell’s thoughts on the casting are more interesting. He starts by recounting an anecdote from his youth as an actor: he tried to secure a walk-on/spear-carrying role in John Barrymore’s London production of the play. Barrymore somehow misunderstood and thought he was angling for Laertes.

“Young man, it is your misfortune that the Hamlet in this production will never see fifty again. You cannot possibly play Laertes with me.”

(Barrymore wasn’t actually fifty yet, but maybe he felt it, or maybe he actually said forty.)

We learn that Stanley Holloway got the role of the gravedigger after “F.J. McCormick, the little Irishman who as the bowler-hatted Shell in ‘Odd Man Out’ enchanted thousands only to sadden them by his untimely death, was first to have played the role.’

I like what Bushell says about Osric.

Mills and Boom

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2021 by dcairns
Anthony Quayle are you trying to seduce me?

So, HOBSON’S CHOICE launched us into a mini John Mills Film Festival. This included TUNES OF GLORY and ICE COLD IN ALEX, which might be crudely termed “trembling upper lip” films, where the certainties of the wartime propaganda films (which are actually far more complex and intelligent than you might expect) are replaced with PTSD, alcoholism and moral doubt.

ICE COLD IN ALEX balances all this with its other role, which is to be a rip-roaring suspenser, a kind of British answer to THE WAGES OF FEAR, without that movie’s bracing misanthropy but with a relentless series of tense situations. Our heroes, separated from the retreating British army, have to drive an ambulance through the North African desert, trying to reach a friendly city while Rommel’s army continually overtakes them. The balance isn’t perfect, but this may still be director J. Lee Thompson’s best film, with very strong performances — Mills is very fine, Sylvia Sims and Harry Andrews are reliable support, and Anthony Quayle is unusually interesting — and nail-gnawing sequences of slow-mounting peril.

The movie’s celebrated for its closing sequence, which is impossible to discuss without spoilers. Here goes.

Mills’ character, a traumatised soldier fuelled by alcohol, keeps himself going with the promise of a drink in Alexandria. At the end, the foursome make it (very surprisingly, the film largely does without a body count, with only two speaking parts slain) and Thompson slows the pace right down. Everybody is doing terrific work. Since Mills has to down a pint in one, Thompson seems to have set up two cameras for tightly-framed groupings. The sound mixer is doing great work too — distant traffic comes to the fore, emphasising the stillness of the scene. The one thing the film doesn’t have is a great score (it’s okay… with a nod to Holst’s Mars, the Bringer of War) but fortunately it’s not needed here. The camaraderie and respect of the characters is palpable.

Hardly surprising that decades later, the scene became an ad for Carlsberg, the lager so prominently featured (and before product placement, unless it was done on the QT).

And the movie isn’t even finished with us yet — it delivers another unexpected moment of teeth-grinding tension immediately after this.