Archive for Black Narcissus


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on March 11, 2013 by dcairns


I got nuthin’! Well, not quite nuthin’. I got a cold. Which tends to make me nostalgic for my sense of smell, so is that why I’m featuring a vintage perfume ad?

Not quite. I was googling the keywords “amok” and “1933″, just to see what the poster for Fedor Ozep’s Pathe-Natan release AMOK looked like, and I came across this ad for a fragrance by Bourjois. A movie tie-in, or just a cash-in? I suspect the former, the perfumier being a bit too high-class for unauthorized bandwagon-jumping. But the movie’s orientalist aesthetic, plus the coincidence or name, place and year, certainly convince me there’s a deliberate connection.


BLACK NARCISSUS springs to mind, but that’s a movie based on a book named after a perfume. For the opposite route, one really needs to consider Alain Delon’s personal scent, Samourai

Or there’s always THIS –

Blind Tuesday: As Farrar as the Eye Can See

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 20, 2011 by dcairns

Extraordinary! No sooner have I watched one obscure blind-person-in-jeopardy movie starring a BLACK NARCISSUS alumnus (Kathleen Byron in MADNESS OF THE HEART) than another comes along (David Farrar in NIGHT WITHOUT STARS) And they’re practically the same movie!

Novelettish title: check (the night is without stars because he’s BLIND, geddit?). Southern French setting: check . Miracle cure around halfway: check. Insanely jealous incestuous relative: check. But this movie, directed by Anthony Pelissier, is quite a bit more compelling and less cheesy than Charles Bennet’s potboiler, even if nobody in it’s as compelling as la Byron.

Jumble up the first film as if in a dream, and you have the second film. Winston Grahame (MARNIE) scripts, from his own novel. Farrar is a veteran who lost most of his vision in the war. Holidaying in France, he falls for a girl, Alex, widow of a resistance fighter, but suddenly she has a hostile fiance. Farrar gets to demonstrate impressive sang froid while dealing with this Gallic lout –

“Go on, go on, before I keek you downstairz!”

“I don’t think there’s much danger of that, do you?”

“I zuppose you seenk your blindness protectz you?”

“On the contrary, I should have thought it’d make it easier for you.”


But then, a panicked phone call — in French, which DF doesn’t speak — from Alex, inviting her over to the guy’s apartment on an urgent matter. He comes. Nobody seems to be there. As he prowls around, cinematographer Guy Green (GREAT EXPECTATIONS) lights him with a follow spot, emphasizing his isolation — the light beams onto whatever Farrar touches, making us feel the limitations of his senses. As he moves about the deserted apartment, finding a smashed vase and strewn flowers, an abandoned piece of jewelry, a gun… a loud ticking sound builds, oppressively…

Of course it’s Farrar’s giant alarm clock from THE SMALL BACK ROOM, tockative companion to the more famous giant whisky bottle. Has to be. In the insane Wikipedia article of my mind, Farrar had it in his contract that both items had to accompany him on every set, in case he wanted to time himself having a big drink. Or no, maybe the alarm clock sort of STALKED him, like the one that stalks Captain Hook in Peter Pan from inside a crocodile. Or maybe the sound just sort of imbued itself into Farrar’s cinematic presence. Sound men would protest when he was cast, because they knew they could record him in conditions of absolute silence and yet still on the tape, at the end of the day, would be heard that phantasmal tick-tock… That’s why there’s so much John Barry music in BEAT GIRL, it’s to drown out the beating of that infernal clock!!!


Ahem. A nasty moment follows when Farrar sits on the bed and the fiance’s corpse slumps over on him. He flees, waits for police reports, but nothing. Then he discovers that the cafe where he used to dine with Alex has vanished, or rather it has a different name and a different proprietor. Alex herself has vanished. WHAT is going on?

Anthony Pelissier, who directed THE ROCKING HORSE WINNER, had an occasional tendency to stylistic verve (the climactic “rocking” scenes of that film are visually WILD), tamped down by the time and place he was working in. I suspect if he’d been able to get started earlier in the forties we’d have seen some masterpieces from him, exploiting the feeling of innovation and brio in the air. As it is, this is a twisty thriller with a stiletto-hurling bad guy and a third act detective inspector deus ex machina to sort everything out. Farrar’s experience with matte-painted mountainsides comes in handy at a dicey moment, and we establish for certain that bottle bottom glasses are not a good look for him. And Nadia Gray is tres charmant (although actually Romanian, not French).


Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on October 29, 2010 by dcairns

I’ve always felt that Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations, stylised and willfully studio-bound as they are, owed something to the works of Powell & Pressburger… Corman, who’s usually frank and generous in crediting his inspirations, has never mentioned this to my knowledge (Fellini and Bergman get name-checked, though), but I still feel it’s there… I first got the impression from the climax of HOUSE OF USHER, where the mad Madeleine (Myrna Fahey), risen from the grave, scares the leaping bejesus out of Vincent Price. I thought, “Ah-hah, Kathleen Byron in BLACK NARCISSUS.”

But watching MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH again the other night, I was reminded during the psychedelic satanic ritual scene of THE RED SHOES by a quick shot of Hazel Court’s feet (or a balletic stand-in’s) running ~ here’s Moira Shearer’s version ~

And here’s Hazel’s ~

It has to be influence, otherwise why is Hazel running en pointe? It’s not just the quick-moving close-up track, but the way it’s incorporated into the sequence as a whole, struck me as a definite swipe (and I use the term with admiration, not pejoratively). Of course, cinematographer Nic Roeg, steeped in British cinema, may have suggested the idea, but he couldn’t have done so on HOUSE OF USHER. So, then I wondered if, really, THE RED SHOES was the overall influence. It just so happens that THE RED SHOES was one of my first Blu-Ray purchases, and so I ran it. (It was beautiful.)

Whadayaknow? It seems like Fahey’s impressive, pantomimic gesture with her bloody nails might stem from Moira Shearer’s moves in SHOES, and indeed, that Corman’s whole zombie-dream-sequence approach, borrowed to pad out almost every one of his Poe movies (and provide visual relief from the chatter), might owe something to Vicky’s nocturnal adventure in the demi-monde of TRS’s ballet scene…

USHER even features a fast shot following Mark Damon’s feet down a flight of stairs which seems to echo the spiral ironwork staircase shot in THE RED SHOES recently homaged by Scorsese in SHUTTER ISLAND.

I don’t for a second think Mr. Corman is trying to pull a fast one — it’s quite possible that THE RED SHOES exerted a subconscious influence, or that it was fresh in his mind when he made USHER and MASQUE, but is less so now. All I want to do is congratulate him on his excellent taste.

(Images aren’t taken from the Blu-Ray of TRS, because I don’t know how to do that.)


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