Archive for A Study in Terror

The seeds of crime bear bitter fruit

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2021 by dcairns

THE DOCK BRIEF AKA TRIAL AND ERROR is a legal comedy adapted from a play by John Mortimer (the Rumpole man) and starring Peter Sellers and Richard Attenborough. We came for Sellers but stayed for Sir Dickie who, transfigured by ace makeup man Stuart Freeborn’s glue-on nose, plays a monkeylike Essex seed shop proprietor awaiting trial for the murder of his overly jocular wife (Beryl Reid, in flashback).

(I guessed, without having to check, that Freeborn must have assembled Sir Dickie Lord Attenborough’s nose for SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON, the flaw in the plan being that SOAWA isn’t a comedy, and anyway Dickie’s naked nose would have been an ideal nose for that part, so one spends the film questioning the putty, surely not the effect intended.)

Sellers is doing the posh, patronising old duffer routine, and it’s nothing particularly challenging for him — shades of Grytpype-Thynne. But he bounces extremely well off Attenborough’s man without qualities, a dull fellow who can’t really process the fact of being on trial for murder, but is submissively keen to help this dignified gent if he possibly can. The two wonder in and out of flashbacks and fantasies, observing their earlier lives.

Sellers’ character has been a lawyer for forty years without ever obtaining a case, though, so their prospects of success seem slim.

The name of director James Hill rang only the dimmest of gongs, but he’s quite imaginative here — we pass from the prisoner’s cell to the court as seen in imagination in a single swift pan, as if the two rooms adjoined (I’ve praised this kind of invention before). When we see in flashback Attenborough finally cracking under the strain of his appalling wife, the camera rushes at her, jump-cuts back to the starting block, and has another go. Repeat several times as the woman cackles insanely. Reaction shot of Attenborough, with the camera literally trembling as if situated by an erupting volcano.

I looked Hill up — extraordinary career the man had. Well, curious, anyway. BORN FREE, A STUDY IN TERROR, CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY are three I’d seen. He’d just got free of the Children’s Film Foundation. Later, he alternated between animal flicks building on the success of his lion thing — AN ELEPHANT NAMED SLOWLY, THE BELSTONE FOX, BLACK BEAUTY — and utterly disparate genre fodder including a sex comedy (THE MAN FROM O.R.G.Y. and a spy thriller (THE CORRUPT ONES). By 1975 he was back at the CFF. His last movie, a 1984 Channel 4 adaptation of Daisy Ashford’s The Young Visiters (sic) seems to have vanished without trace. I’d like to see that one. Alec McCowan and Tracy Ullman? A must.

As good as Attenborough is, the film’s funniest element is David Lodge, hulking comic actor who was generally brought on to Sellers films to keep the difficult star happy. In this movie, he plays a humorous lodger brought into the household to keep the laughing wife happy. It’s Attenborough’s secret hope that she’ll run off with the fellow. Reid makes her “good-natured” character suitably nightmarish, but Lodge, a chuckling man-mountain, is infectious the moment the front door opens to reveal him. Maybe a malignly amused woman isn’t as funny as an innocently but horribly fatuous man. At any rate, he’s hilarious.

Actually, of the 102 films Lodge was in, only about 12 of them had Sellers as well, so Sellers and I were not his only admirers.

Ink Stained Wretch

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2017 by dcairns

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What is THE BLACK TORMENT?

Well, we can say immediately and with certainty that it’s a 1964 Comptom Films production, a horror movie directed by Robert Hartford-Davis (like INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED, it has a character called Richard and everyone is always saying his name like a damn mantra). Producer Tony Tenser later gave us REPULSION and WITCHFINDER GENERAL, which are prefigured here by the lack of supernatural elements, but the suggestion of same. As a low-budget period thriller, this certainly foreshadows Michael Reeves’ visceral English Civil War western except it doesn’t have the viciousness, the poetry, or the imagination. The plot is a Scooby-Dooby-Don’t farrago of LES DIABOLIQUES and REBECCA with a welcome bit of Roger Corman’s HOUSE OF USHER in the direction.

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But what is the actual black torment of THE BLACK TORMENT? What does the title mean? Well, at a certain fraught point of the narrative, with the lord of the manor and his new bride being tormented by spooky visions of his doppelganger and his dead first wife, his paralysed father turns up unexpectedly out of his wheelchair, and even more unexpectedly dangling from a chandelier, smudged about the face with ink.

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That seems to be it: “the black torment” means getting ink smeared on your face while hanged from a chandelier. You have to admit, it lives up to its name.

Hammer personages in attendance: hulking Francis De Wolff, skulking Patrick Troughton, sulking Heather Sears.

The writers/assemblers of stolen materials are Derek & Donald Ford, whom my late friend Lawrie believed to be distant cousins of your actual John Ford. I wonder if that’s something they spread around themselves? There’s nothing to substantiate it on the internet. Still, it beats being known as the authors of THE WIFE SWAPPERS and WHAT’S UP NURSE! (sic). They would later give us A STUDY IN TERROR, which like this one features the murder of Edina Ronay. Whether they had some kind of passionate dislike of Edina Ronay, or passionate fondness for her, or just didn’t know many girls, I can’t say.