Archive for Alec Guinness

Officer Class

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on April 22, 2021 by dcairns

“Come for Guinness, stay for Mills,” Randy Cook had told us — so we did. Ronald Neame’s film of James Kennaway’s play still has a foot in theatre, and might have been more suited to b&w, but Stirling Castle looks attractive, both as a real edifice and a glass painting, and Neame films his actors acting with impressive fluidity and occasional bursts of real dynamism.

The plot deals with a battle for control of a Highland regiment. Mills has survived a Japanese POW camp in the war and his nerves are frazzled: on the surface he’s a martinet but just below that he’s damaged goods. Guinness is a war hero who doesn’t want to give up his acting command and resents any change to the way things have always been done in his time.

Both actors are magnificent — both get to do potentially showy nervous breakdown stuff. Their methods are very nearly opposite, however. Guinness originally had the other role, but swapped and suggested Mills to take his part. He’s very clever, very technical, he DOES a lot. It’s all first-class: his grin, conveying Cheshire-cat self-satisfaction, is at the same time terrifyingly psychopathic. His Scottish accent isn’t 100% convincing — very few were, in former years, but it’s specific and consistent. (Susannah York as his daughter gives her voice just the merest suggestion of a lilt.) You do notice that the actors who can talk in their own voices are able to be more natural, even when they’re also quite BIG (Angus Lennie is very funny; but there’s terrific low-key work from Gordon Jackson and Duncan MacRae).

Mills carries off the honours with a performance of slowly crumbling resolve and shredded nerves that’s just appallingly real. “My jaw is hanging open!” exclaimed Fiona after one close-up. You realise that Neame, never a showy filmmaker, lacking the brilliant flashes of his old chum Lean, was deeply attuned to performance (his partnership with Guinness was no doubt a great learning opportunity), profoundly sensitive to the dramatic values of a scene.

Mills’ breakdown is all performance, carefully observed and truly felt. Guinness’ follow-up show is a march off a cliff with orchestral accompaniment: composer Malcolm KWAI Arnold provides the titular pipe band martial music echoing in the characters’ head and spilling out onto the soundtrack. An expressionist touch that’s properly alarming, as it’s unlike anything else in the film — a highly effective signal that CONTROL IS BEING LOST.

Zeitgeist-based theories of national cinema can get a little spooky, a little superstitious, but I can’t shake the feeling that during and after WWII, and during the mid-sixties to the early seventies, the standard of British filmmaking rose tremendously, influenced by political and cultural events and the activities of certain key artists — so that the kind of filmmakers who would normally have been doing decent, sensitive work started doing GREAT work. Neame’s directing career only got started in ’47 and continued in ’50, so he more or less missed the first burst of energy (but was right in there as producer and cinematographer). And was too old and established by the time the sixties came around. So that I think his directing work, though very fine indeed, doesn’t get animated by the tremendous national enthusiasms that Lean and Powell & Pressburger were at the heart of, and the Boultings and Launder & Gilliatt and others surfed in the forties.

So I feel a sense of “It might have been” with Neame. But he’s really, really good.

TUNES OF GLORY stars Gulley Jimson; Professor Bernard Quatermass; Bertram Tracepurcel; Nellie Goode; Lord Alfred Douglas; Eliza Fraser; MacDonald ‘Intelligence’; Jim MacKenzie, Granddaddy; Grogan and Sgt. Grogan; Scuttling; 3rd Officer – Carpathia; Henry Strangeways; Scarlatti; Col. Etienne Gerard (Hussars of Conflans); Ives ‘The Mole’; Professor Bernard Quatermass; Miss Marple; and Mr. Mackay

Blue Sky Alice

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2020 by dcairns

“Blue sky casting” is a screenwriter’s trick — you imagine anyone you like, living or dead, in a role, and that hekps you find the character’s voice. If you’re writing for Jeff Goldblum or Michael Redgrave, different things happen. What you probably shouldn’t ever do is cast the person you were thinking of — there’s an exciting tension that happens if you cast, say, Joan Cusack, in a role written with, say, Myrna Loy in mind.

It’s also a fun exercise: here’s a fantasy cast list for Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. I found as i was coming up with it that it was tending to a mid-1950s feel, and naturally British. But it began when Fiona proposed Peter Lorre as the Dormouse.

It turns out I’ve been carrying in my mind various casting ideas for Alice, and they cam tumbling out and were joined by others…

It just seems crazy that Kenneth Williams never played the Mad Hatter. Put it down to typecasting — the Carry On films, though hugely popular, rendered all the actors uncastable in anything other than sitcom or sex farce. The two main productions KW would have been eligible for, Jonathan Miller’s rather wonderful TV Alice in Wonderland, and the execrable musical ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, have excellent Hatters in Peter Cook and Robert Helpmann respectively, but Williams would have knocked it out the park.

It’s kind of obvious that Jimmy Edwards, extravagantly-tached comic actor, should be the Walrus, but I think Norman Wisdom is very close to Tenniel’s drawing of the Carpenter. It’s starting to look like this production belongs in the mid-fifties to sixties.

Not for any physical resemblance, but the wide-eyed dithering innocence John le Mesurier brought to his work in Dad’s Army seems to suit the King of Hearts nicely. And he practically plays the role in Gilliam’s JABBERWOCKY.

I feel that Irene Handl deserves a crack at the Queen of Hearts — though associated with working class roles (she argued with Billy Wilder about how to play cockney dialogue), she was actually quite posh, seemingly, and derived her characterisations from her observation of her family’s maids when she was young. And she’s the most versatile and surprising and funny of actors, seriously underused. (If you were doing it later, Prunella Scales would be immense, and she’s a lot like Dodgson’s own drawings.)

I’ve always seen Lionel Jeffries as the White Knight. He has such an air of melancholy. I can never read the Knight’s verse without tears springing unbidden to my eyes. Same with Lear’s The Jumblies: “Far and few, far and few…” an incantatory lament.

Okay, granted, Roger Livesey has to be a contender too.

Charles Gray as Humpty Dumpty, because.

When I look at Tenniel’s White Rabbit, I see Edward Everett Horton, which makes it odd that Paramount cast him as the Mad Hatter in the 30s version. They should have borrowed George Arliss for the Hatter and given Horton the rabbit. Fuck Skeets Gallagher. But if we’re going for anxious British players of the 1950s, maybe Alastair Sim? Or Alec Guinness, but there you’d be opening up a can of worms. Who could he NOT play? We know he’d make a magnificent Duchess:

And that’s a role which should really be done in drag, for compassionate reasons. Peter Bull was pretty perfect in the seventies abomination. Leo McKern would be good too.

Peter Sellers is maybe the only man to have played motion picture versions of the March Hare AND the King of Hearts, and he’s another can of worms if we let him in. But in the Miller piece he does the unimaginable, improvising Lewis dialogue in character, so he should be essential. Since this would be early, chubby Sellers, maybe we should be thinking in terms of the caterpillar, a somewhat shadowy figure in the illo.

If we’re having Sellers, then Spike Milligan would be a fine Frog Footman (see YELLOWBEARD for some exemplary footmanning from SM).

Based on Tenniel, there can be no question that the White King and Queen are Thorley Walters and Joan Sims. though Handl is another possibility for the latter. The Red Queen could be Flora Robson or Patricia Hayes, but I’m going for Yootha Joyce (energy) whereas the Red King, apparently dreaming the whole thing like in INCEPTION, doesn’t ever wake up and so it seems like wasted effort to cast a celebrated thesp. Might as well be John Wayne.

Miller cast Finlay Currie as the Dodo, an impressive feat — the only human actor to LOOK like a dodo. But he’s too old, since Dodgson based this didactic fowl on himself, incorporating his stutter — Do-do-Dodgson. Trying to find an actor not aged in the 1950s, with Dodgson’s sad eyes and an impressive beak, I stop at Richard Wattis.

Cecil Parker, arch-ovine, must be the Sheep, a rarely-filmed character but one with great material. I suppose the sheep should really be female, but drag is allowed. We’re through the looking glass, here.

The Gnat also has some really good jokes, and is never presented onscreen — perhaps because Tenniel didn’t deign to draw him. Another tutelary figure — you can really tell the author is a lecturer — he could really be played by anybody from Terry-Thomas to Robert Morley. The latter is more pompous, so he’d do, but then for heaven’s sake why not Noel Coward? Or Dennis Price, who quotes Lewis with relish in Mike Hodges’ PULP?

Of course, given the period, we can have perhaps Britain’s greatest child actor in the title role, Mandy Miller (MANDY, THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT), and by happy coincidence it appears she’s a fan of the author:

Randy Cook suggests Benny Hill for the Cheshire Cat. What are your thoughts? I presume that, like me, you have been carrying casting ideas for Alice around in your heads for decades.

Mr. Pastry

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on December 18, 2019 by dcairns

I found a great 1960 interview with Buster Keaton on Jstor — perks of being a so-called academic. He’s asked about his favourite comedians. “I have my pets,” he says.

“How about some of the British comedians? Have you seen, do you enjoy the films that Alec Guinness makes, for instance?”

“Oh, I’ve got one pet over there.”

“Who’s that?”

“Richard Hearne, Mr. Pastry.”

OK, so let’s contain our disappointment for a moment. Buster has nothing to say about Alec Guinness, but he wants to rave about some obscure music hall entity called Mr. Pastry. Let’s go with it and see where it takes us.

“He’s been on The Ed Sullivan Show a dozen times. He’s a young fellow who makes up as an old man, and he does a routine where he’s supposed to be at a dance, and he dances with imaginary characters. And he does another one where they initiate him into a drinking club of some kind or another, where they jump up on chairs and take a drink between every jump.”

So, I got curious and looked on YouTube. There only seems to be one or two good clips. You see a bit of the dancing one here (“The Lancers,” it’s called) but then the business with the tuba begins. See if you can make it through without convulsions. I thought I knew what kind of thing it was going to be and I was smiling indulgently and then I found myself in hysterics. Brilliant, sustained physical nonsense.

And you can see EXACTLY why Buster would have liked it. I don’t know that Richard Hearne ever learned of Buster’s admiration, though.

Longer version of “The Lancers” here ~

Less funny but very skilled indeed — it really feels like he’s being dragged about the stage by invisible partners of superior size.

Tuba variation ~