Archive for the literature Category

Leth, Fletch, Flynn

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

We had that Jørgen Leth fellow up at the Art College, talking about his work. Wonderfully immodest fellow. If his interlocutor, fellow documentarist Emma Davie, complimented him on the effectiveness of a moment in 66 SCENES FROM AMERICA, he would respond, “Yes, I think it’s excellent.” Refreshing, in a way.

Mr. Leth, who was charm itself, stated that he was a big fan of American crime fiction, naming Hammett and Chandler as influences. So after the talk, I introduced myself and said I’d been reading Gregory McDonald. “Ye-es?” he asked, looking uncertain, so I switched back to Hammett and told him his shots were like Hammett sentences, terse but poetic. He agreed.

But I HAVE been reading Gregory McDonald, damnit. So I’ll tell you about it. There’s a movie connection, of course.

Third ID down — apparently, non-ironic blackface was still cool in 1984.

I picked up Confess, Fletch and Carioca Fletch in the Thrift bookshop, thinking, “My, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a Fletch book in the flesh,” and also thinking they were probably quite good if there were lots of them, a dubious logic, I know.

It turns out that McDonald had a kind of genius for plotting, exercised to its full in his first Fletch books. But he did kind of paint himself into a corner early on. Fletch is an investigative reporter, which allows him entry into storylines of crime and intrigue, but at the end of the first novel the slightly amoral (or unconventionally moral) hero absconds with a huge amount of cash, so he never has to work again. But McDonald has to work that much harder, concocting situations which can ensnare his gentleman of leisure and force him to do some investigating. Thus Confess, Fletch has our hero framed for murder, and Fletch’s Fortune (I was hooked, I bought more) has him blackmailed into gathering evidence for the intelligence service (a murder is swiftly committed). These first three books are excellent, though I have some issues with the Fletch character, and maybe with McDonald’s character. Hey, it was the seventies/eighties…

At a certain point, McDonald evidently threw up his hands and decided to write prequels, since Fletch the overworked and underappreciated investigative journalist was far easier to insert into unfolding narratives than Fletch the rich bum. But oddly, going by Carioca Fletch and Fletch and the Widow Bradley, McDonald’s plotting skill diminished at some point, so these books are far less satisfying. I haven’t finished them all yet though, and I’m curious to see whether Fletch’s Moxie, which I think is the last of the original run, is good.

No, I’m not re-watching FLETCH, Michael Ritchie’s reasonably faithful film of the first book. I enjoyed it when it came out, when I believe I was rather young. I’ve glanced at it. There’s a problem with Chevy Chase being served up to us in tennis shorts with an implied assumption that this is something we want to see. McDonald has a bit of a narcissistic thing going on with his creation, the more witty and handsome version of himself (OK, the wit is all his, since he writes it, but he also gets to write the feed lines) and it’s disconcerting to see this embodied in Chase. Apart from his odd, unhandsome face, Chase has the problem that we’ve now seen him age, and all the signs are there in his youthful prototype. To watch him is to see his hairline creeping up and his waistline expand, if only in one’s imagination. It’s too much like looking in the mirror for me.

Otherwise, though, he has the smugness right, I must say.

It’s weird looking at the film and seeing a lot of the same stuff from the book, but rendered in a high-gloss, plastinated style that’s a lot less real than the pulp paper and print version. The best thing about it, apart from a perpetually surprised-looking Gina Davis (she just looks amazed to find herself in a movie — it’s adorable) is the smart casting of Tim Matheson as villain. Admittedly, Matheson should have Chase’s role so it’s not THAT smart to dangle him before our eyes, but he DID get Chase’s role in ANIMAL HOUSE, when Chase demanded too much money or something, so casting him as a man who (heavy spoiler alert, skip to next para if concerned) wants to swap places with Chase as part of a DIABOLICAL SCHEME, is a really nice touch.

I don’t really detect much of Michael Ritchie’s undoubted directorial talent in this, just as I don’t in THE GOLDEN CHILD (spits).

Haven’t looked at FLETCH LIVES. It’s not based on a McDonald book. Which makes the filmmakers stupid — I think Fletch’s Fortune would have provided Chase all the necessary opportunities to do his thing.

McDonald also wrote The Brave, source of an ill-fated movie directed by Johnny Depp. Has anyone seen it?

An early McDonald book was filmed by David Hemmings. The film is now ALMOST lost, but it did give us this, the worst movie poster ever drawn. 

The best thing about Fletch, though, is it introduced me to Flynn. Flynn is a much more lovable character than Fletch. He’s the Irish-born detective who plays cat and mouse with our hero in Confess, Fletch, and either McDonald liked him so much he ran with him into his own set of four books, or he designed him from the start as a character he could introduce to his readers via the Fletch series and then branch off with. McDonald’s banter is always great, and Flynn’s use of it to bamboozle and annoy suspects, subordinates and his bosses (only Fletch and Flynn’s spymaster Zero and Flynn’s expansive family really “get” him) is a joy.

McDonald writes a kind of stage Irish pretty well — it’s consistent, anyway. I don’t know if my Irish friends will find him embarrassing.

Flynn is the one who should have been in the movies, not Fletch. Ach, isn’t that always the way?

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Basely loosed on a story by…

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2017 by dcairns

                     

  1. It’s quite possible that I’ll be doing these long after you’ve stopped being interested.
  2. There is a school of thought that says this has already happened.

Oh, hey, two weeks until supposed blogathon! I better announce it. Think about taking part, you guys.

Quartermain and the Pit

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2017 by dcairns

Maybe the 1937 KING SOLOMON’S MINES is the best?

I do have a story from the 1950 version, though, courtesy of my late friend and spy in the pages of film history, Lawrie Knight. He reports that one morning, Stewart Granger was nowhere to be found on the African location. He had heard lions roaring in the night, from his tent, and jumped on the first flight back to Merrie and Lion-Free England. That is all.

The ’37 one is in part a vehicle for Paul Robeson, which means its inherent colonial racism gets softened somewhat. Also, it has more singing than any other version — no bad thing. It’s also, just as significantly, a vehicle for Roland Young, whose comedy mutterings deflate a lot of the would-be grandeur and again soften any hint of white supremacy. You just can’t make a case for that kind of beastliness if one of your prime exhibits of pallid masculinity is the daffy, tight-lipped Young.

   

The charm offensive is enhanced by the director’s lovely wife Anna Lee, doing what she fondly imagines is an Irish accent, and then there’s John Loder who’s inoffensive here, acting as a kind of foam wadding between the more charismatic players, and then there’s Cedric Hardwicke as Allan Quartermain, a surprising choice when you compare him to Granger or Richard Chamberlain or even Sean Connery, but quite an effective one — he has more authority than all of them, and manages to ACT the necessary ruggedness. You believe he could be a great white hunter, or possibly a gray-white hunter.

It’s interesting that director Robert Stevenson, at the far end of his long career, would wind up tackling similar boy’s-own nonsense in Disney’s ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD. And there’s a trick to this one — the impressive African locales were all shot with stand-ins by co-director Geoffrey Barkas, with the expensive cast nowhere to be seen. The only bush they went near was Shepherd’s Bush. The footage is nimbly cut together with Stevenson’s English material (studio and exterior, usually low-angles to conceal the lack of dark continent vistas) and the illusion is almost perfect — the fact that you CAN see through it just provides an amusing tickle of subconscious entertainment running parallel to the plot and character business.

The later Disney film is similarly discombobulated, but much worse, for there the two kinds of footage try to join hands through the medium of rear-screen photography, so we have poor Donald Sinden jogging on the spot in front of process shots of Norwegian lava. (I can’t recall for sure, not having seen this film since I was ten, but I strongly suspect the lava was of the miniature variety, too.)

We saw the movie on Talking Pictures TV and were glad of it. Regrettably, great fuzzy blobs of genital fogging descended upon it, despite the lack of genitals involved. Their targets were the bazooms of the native girls, proudly displayed during ritual dances or just standing around, “to swell a scene” as T.S. Eliot would put it. Gone are the days, it seems, when the National Geographic double standard held illimitable dominion over all — native girls in their native attire on their native land were deemed not obscene, by the BBFC it seems as well as by estimable ethnographic magazines consumed avidly in private by schoolboys.

Transplant those same girls to UK or US soil, and you’d have pornography. It struck me that in the original TV roots, there was nudity on the slave ship crossing the Atlantic, a rarity for TV but one considered justified by drama and historical and ethnographic concerns and political seriousness. But the breasts stopped at Plymouth Rock, or wherever it is slave ships dock. The abducted women were now Americans, and could not therefore be seen topless.

(Is it coincidence that the first female nude in mainstream American cinema is African-American, in Sidney Lumet’s THE PAWNBROKER? Was there a mental connection to National Geographic that made Thelma Oliver’s dusky chest easier to swallow? Of course the extreme seriousness of the film’s theme must have helped too, as the nudity of Oliver connects directly via the main character’s mental association to his memories of the Holocaust. Very un-sexy tragedies seem to be key to be overcoming prudish censorship.)

Things mumbled by Roland Young in KING SOLOMON’S MINES ~

“No reason for being insanitary, even in Africa.”

“Mn, ah, mm, steady, mm, naaah…”

“My only toothbrush is in that wagon.”

“And what’s left of my trousers.”

“Mnyep.”

“Owh. Owwwhh.”

“Mnm.”

“I suppose we’re going to have melons today? Don’t the birds in this country ever lay eggs?”

“Seem to be a lot of people about, for an uninhabited country.”

“So unlike the home life of our dear queen.”

“Funny to think it’s Derby Day back home.”

Of a hundred-year-old witch doctor: “Would you say that she was… well-preserved?

Also: “Reminds me of my poor old Aunt Hannah… she came to no good.”

“It is too bad that just when we get to a fortune in diamonds, the mountain should decide to sit down on it.”

Also, on espying vultures circling, Young asks of Robeson, “What are those birds?”

“Aasvogel.”

“Must be, to live in a place like this.”

Considerable wits were involved in the screenplay — Hitchcock collaborator Charles Bennett, and humorist Roland Pertwee.

The South African locations and Alfred Junge sets are augmented by nifty model shots — this scene looks very LORD OF THE RINGS, and minutes later we will realise that Tolkein’s Mount Doom has a lot in common with Rider Haggard’s subterranean realm, at least as visualised here — a secret tunnel opens out onto an underground lake of lava, complete with your basic Dramatic Overhanging Precipice. Throw in an ancient treasure and The Hobbit is prefigured also… This movie came out the same year as Tolkein’s first book, so it’s unlikely to have been a direct influence, but if young John Ronald Reuel had decided to celebrate publication by taking his best girl on a hot date to see the latest Cedric Hardwicke flick, he would certainly have looked upon these scenes and said, “This is just the sort of shit I like!”