Things I Read Off the Screen in CATCH US IF YOU CAN

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2015 by dcairns



I’ve had a built-in resistance to seeing CATCH US IF YOU CAN, aka HAVING A WILD WEEKEND, John Boorman’s first feature, starring the Dave Clark Five. “Surprisingly good,” say most reviews, before commenting on its unusually bleak quality. I was never tempted because A HARD DAY’S NIGHT holds a prominent place in my heart, and the DC5 are no substitute for the Fab 4.

But those reviews are accurate, and also the film is damned odd, a worthy debut for its maker, a visionary, or would-be visionary, whose visions have often taken him in quite curious directions. CUIYC/HAWW seems perversely calculated to avoid the upbeat charm of AHDN, and even when the action is occasionally fast or rambunctious, the tone is sour, or depressive, or grumpy or just flat.





The mild satiric impulses in Cliff Alun Owen’s Beatles script are amplified here to take in everything about the movie’s world. The DC5 play stuntmen, ludicrously referred to in the script as “stunt boys,” as if that were a thing. Mr. Dave Clark-Five himself runs off with a model, the latest face of British meat, Barbara Ferris, and her jealous boss plants a story in the press that she’s been kidnapped. The other band members are only occasionally along for the ride, and the script doesn’t bother to differentiate them at all, though several seem more interesting and up for it than Mr. Clark-Five. The few songs aren’t performed, they just turn up on the soundtrack, jostling for space with instrumentals by a uncredited John Coleman and the reliably melancholic Basil Kirchin (THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES).

So it’s mostly Ferris and Clark-Five on the road, failing to have adventures, get into scrapes, or meet extraordinary characters. Instead they mope, even at speed. But the movie is unexpectedly brilliant. Like LEO THE LAST, it feels like Boorman has spent his life in an entirely other England and is reporting back from this alien plane. It helps that Manny Wynn’s b&w cinematography is so gorgeous, and the wintry landscapes so well-chosen. The movie always looks as exquisite as a breaking heart.



One of many collapsing Boorman properties, from EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC to HOPE AND GLORY. And then there’s the trundling church in DELIVERANCE.

Guest stars turn up — a very naturalistic David Lodge, and a posh couple in Bath played by smarmy Robin Baily and acid Yootha Joyce, who at first seem intended to embody middle-class, middle-aged malaise, but turn out to be good sports. At a fancy dress event at the Roman baths, he has a good time as the Frankenstein monster (an emerging theme here at Shadowplay as we near Halloween) and she drags up as Chaplin, which OUGHT to be the scariest thing ever — imagining Yootha at her most corrosive, crossed with Gloria Swanson’s creepy Little Tramp act in SUNSET BLVD… but it’s oddly mild, since Yootha doesn’t bother doing any Chaplin schtick.



The screenplay is by Peter Nichols (GEORGY GIRL, A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG) which grounds the whimsy, which was more than a little heavy already. There’s an encounter with ragged hippies, and Actual Drug References (Clark-Five has never heard the term “spliff,” apparently), and The Writing is already On The Wall as far as that lot are concerned. They are in awe of their mystical leader, a raddled drug casualty who drones garbled prophecies through his implausible facial hair, for this is Ronald Lacey, the bald Nazi from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.


On the basis that pop fans were going to turn up for this anyway, no matter what the actual plot or tone consisted of, Nicholls and Boorman deserve credit for making something nobody would otherwise have commissioned, a glum picaresque of urban and rural England providing none of the expected chirpy pleasures and gloriously vague about what alternative delights we should be getting from its meandering maunderings. It’s pure Boorman, far closer to ZARDOZ, if you can believe that, than it is to any pop film before it.



Playing Dead

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on October 5, 2015 by dcairns


Image from SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE. Words from All My Flashbacks, the memoir of Brit director, and former child actor, Lewis Gilbert.

I had read only the chapters dealing with certain key films, but Fiona went through the whole thing, though not in order, lending the life of EDUCATING RITA’s director an unwonted MARIENBAD quality. She pointed out this anecdote.

At this point in the story, Gilbert is aged six.

…there was one thing I could not understand. Why would an actor – and I knew that actors appeared in films because I had already been in a couple myself – why would an actor playing a cowboy or an Indian allow himself to be killed? Why would he let someone fire a gun at him or shoot an arrow through him? I couldn’t understand that at all but I didn’t want to ask. One day the answer hit me. I went to the green room, the place in a theatre where performers go to relax, and found three or four of them sitting around, talking and smoking. “You know those people who get killed in a film,” I said, “I know how they get killed and why they get killed.” They all stopped and looked at me.

“What do you mean? They’re actors.”

“I know they’re actors,” I said, “but what actor would want himself to be killed?”

“They aren’t. They’re acting.”

“No, no. I’ve seen them dying. I’ve seen them fall off horses, dead.”

“So, what do you think happens?” they asked.

“What you do,” I said, “is, you go to the prison and you find somebody who’s going to be hanged and you say, ‘Look, if you come into our film and get killed, we will pay you some money and we will look after your family. You might as well do it our way and get paid because you’re going to get hanged anyway.'”

Well of course they roared with laughter and thought that was the funniest thing they’d ever heard. “No, son,” they insisted, still laughing, “it is acting. Honestly, it really is.” But I thought, ‘I don’t believe that,’ and I turned around and stalked out. There it was again, the inability of the child thrown into a world of fantasy to adjust to what was fantasy and what was fact.

Which brings us right back to SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE, doesn’t it?

Sunday without Intertitles: A Scotsman and an Australian walk into a detective agency, a mansion, a train…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on October 4, 2015 by dcairns

Found this in a random search of YouTube. Comedy short starring Australia’s Billy Bevan and Scotland’s Andy Clyde, apparently packaged for TV at some point in the past under the title Comedy Capers. The short itself claims to be called THE CRYSTAL BALL.

No such film exists on the IMDb, but a search turned up WHISPERING WHISKERS, which matches the cast list and plot synopsis exactly, so the mystery would seem to be solved (but read on…)

Del Lord apparently directed, with many cartoonish gags — the best, for my money, being the sudden stop-start of the train at the end.


Billy Bevan and friends

Clyde, from Blairgowrie in Perthshire, went on to play Hopalong Cassidy’s sidekick, California Carlson. Billy Bevan, from New South Wales, played a lot of cockneys in talking films (there weren’t enough Australian roles, and who in Hollywood could tell the difference?) — you may have seen him in BRINGING UP BABY or CLUNY BROWN. Here, they play nondescript clowns — the fact that their characters change from cleaners to detectives to hobos, with little apparent motivation, can’t have helped them build consistent characters in the space of the film’s twelve-minute runtime.

But IS it a film? Silent shorts can be pretty eccentric, often rebooting their narratives halfway through when the initial set-up runs out of steam (look at any of Keaton’s early films for Arbuckle). But this one breaks cleanly in two, with its opening situation never resolved, and its central character recast in life and transplanted to a fresh locale at the halfway mark, apparently by supernatural means.

The movie starts off screwy, with an unexplained mission to a Spanish-deco mansion which then turns into a kind of séance. But all this at least seems to be causally connected — I presume the weirdly baffling narrative was fairly clear until somebody cut out all the intertitles for kids’ TV (because kids don’t like to read, and never understand anything anyway). But when the crystal ball transforms Bevan and Clyde into a knockabout Vladimir and Estragon and teleports them to a railway track, something tells me that what we are looking at is two separate shorts spliced together. Maybe this happened in 1926, when Mack Sennett was dissatisfied with the ending of the detectives/fortune-teller flick and the train/tramps flick was running short, or maybe it happened later, in television land. Or else this is the slapstick ancestor of MULLHOLLAND DR.

Silencio! There, I’ve said it.


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