Archive for the literature Category

Steele Herself

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on July 28, 2017 by dcairns

A Barbara Steele selfie.

Apparently never-learning, I have co-authored another article on Miss Steele with Daniel Riccuito, although when told the piece was up at The Notebook I couldn’t remember contributing anything to it. What does Peter Weller say in NAKED LUNCH when presented with his book? “Truly I suspect some colossal con.” Or a small con, in this case.

But there it is in black and white — the synopsis of BLACK SUNDAY’s opening scene is mine, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. The rest of the piece, needless to say, is excellent, classic Riccuito delirium.

Here.

Half Fare

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on July 25, 2017 by dcairns

THE RAILWAY CHILDREN screened at Filmhouse as a friend’s birthday treat — thanks to David Watson for laying it on.

The film is a very familiar TV treat in the UK, but as far as I could remember I’d never actually seen the whole thing. I knew who was in it, knew there was a landslide with flannel petticoats, and a father coming back at a railway station. As it unfolded I had no idea what was going to happen yet. I’d somehow avoided seeing it, despite being a huge fan of Edith Nesbit, author, and Jenny Agutter, star.

The film is the real triumph of Bryan Forbes’ spell running EMI — a rare case of a filmmaker being in charge of a film production outlet. And I could see him being sympathetic to Lionel Jeffries, a fellow actor, coming to him with his dream project.

What with the low budget and Jeffries’ inexperience as screenwriter and director, the film often has an endearingly amateur quality. Night scenes are overlit, crew shadows glimpsed, and any time an extra is heard muttering, it’s with the distinctive timbre of the film’s director (a nice Wellesian flaw to have). Jeffries’ visual approach varies between nice ideas he sometimes pulls off, and simply struggling to get an acceptable shot in a cramped location (I’ve been there, Lionel). I think his editor is letting him down quite a bit, so when he makes a mistake it isn’t tackled, and when he gets something good going, not enough is made of it.

But the film thrives on its charm. Most of Nesbit’s children’s books have a fairly episodic, stop-start pace, and this is no exception, but the mystery/drama of the father’s absence gives it a nice suspense motor to keep it going, and the “kids” are great. Master Gary Warren, a small-statured 16, is very natural as Peter. Miss Sally Thomsett, 20, is toothsome and surprisingly convincing as the much younger Phyllis, “who means well,” though she does bounce around rather a lot when she runs. And Miss Jenny Agutter, that axiom of cinema, in a rare non-nude role brings just the right dreaminess to Bobbie, who seems imbued with a kind of telepathy, the only real magic in a story which keeps hinting at fairy tales bleeding through into reality.

The men, led by the divine Cribbins, are all cast from the Funny Uncle school of Performing Arts, of which Lionel Jeffries was himself honorary chairman. I guess with this and, ahem, FRENZY, Cribbins’ film career was on the up, just as the British film industry disintegrated.

Of Jeffries’ later works, THE WATER BABIES and WOMBLING FREE are disappointments, I fear. THE AMAZING MR. BLUNDEN is rather nice, and I’ve yet to see the intriguing BAXTER!

One reason THE RAILWAY CHILDREN works as well as it does may be that Jeffries lacked the confidence to mess about too much with the book, so it survives intact with all its episodic looseness and queer touches of mysticism, which might have been smoothed out to its detriment by a more ambitious filmmaker soaked in the professional ways of doing things. And also, I feel the film’s Edwardian sentimentality and melancholy is completely genuine, and part of its maker’s personality. I saw Jeffries interviewed on telly once, and he pointed at a very nice self-portrait he’d painted, and said that his tiny grandchild had looked at it and said, “That’s grandpa. He’s a broken man.” And Jeffries, choking up a touch, in his gruff, bluff Edwardian way, said that this was an example of the extraordinary acuity of children. And I remember thinking, wow.

No Acting Required

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on July 17, 2017 by dcairns

This is a PARTICULARLY lovely set photograph, I think you’ll agree. It’s from PHANTOM LADY, a Cornell Woolrich adaptation I adore unreasonably. But there’s something cool and mysterious about the way the slate just gives the director’s name, SIODMAK, and an inexplicable number.

Since my source for these, the auction site iOffer.com, was offering exclusively still from Universal, there’s quite a bit of Siodmak on offer. I previously posted images from his SON OF DRACULA, which had curiously been slated under the title DESTINY. Via Facebook, Perry Shields gave the explanation: “This was explained years ago by Greg Mank in his excellent book It’s Alive. The writers would assign a lame title to the horror films (GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN was THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW) so that the producers would feel like they made a real contribution by suggesting a more appropriate title.”

Brilliant stuff. Of course, over at RKO the title came first, direct from the front office, so we have CAT PEOPLE and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE.

My question is, what was going on when Douglas Sirk’s ALL I DESIRE, also at Universal, was retitled THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW?

This train station set is so atmospheric and quasi-believable in the film, it’s fascinating to see off the top of the set.

The phrase No Acting Required, or NRA, is a thespian code-phrase used when the performer is required to simply behave naturally, ie “Just edge along this narrow precipice and try not to fall in the lava.” Whatever the actor’s face does naturally during this activity is likely to work for the scene. I have used the phrase in a different, wrong sense here, to evoke the peculiar quality of movie images without cast.

For some reason, once Siodmak got better known, his slates start listing the name of the film, not just his moniker (pronounced See-Odd-Mack).

SHOCK! A set photo (from Siodmak’s THE SUSPECT, also excellent) with an actor (Ella Raines). You never see any really big stars in set photos, it seems to me. I’ve seen Dorothy Malone in the diner in WRITTEN ON THE WIND, that’s about it. Maybe they were afraid to ask her to move.