Archive for Boulting brothers

Not Wanted On Voyage

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 25, 2015 by dcairns

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My late friend Lawrie Knight was an assistant director in the 1940s. He did some work for the Boulting Brothers, among others — I’m not sure what the film was. One time, he found himself trapped in a kind of airlock with one of the twins — not sure which, let’s just say Roy. Or John. The airlock was the space between the outer and inner doors of the studio, and just as they had passed through the outer doors, the red light had come on, signalling filming (not doubt under the aegis of the other brother, John. Or Roy.) So they were stuck at close quarters for a few minutes.

During the awkward silence, Roy (or John) noticed Lawrie’s school tie. And because it was a tie from one of our better public schools, he immediately started treating Lawrie a lot better, And Lawrie, who would confess to being a bit of a snob himself at times, was appalled, thought “You idiot,” and generally thought far less of John (or Roy) Boulting thereafter.

I mention this because TRUNK CRIME, an early (1939) opus, produced by John and directed (and edited) by Roy, deals with school in a way, and conveys a rather anxious view of it, perhaps anticipating the brothers’ 1948 film THE GUINEA PIG.

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Manning Whiley plays an over-aged college graduate who takes a hideous revenge on the young man who’s bullied him since their days at public school, even to the point of once burying him alive. At the start of the story, the bully and his drunken pals break into Whiley’s digs and trash the room in a home invasion scenario only slightly less brutal and shocking than that in CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Deranged with impotent fury, Whiley proceeds to drug his arch-enemy and lock him in a steamer trunk, having informed him just as he becomes insensible of his intention to ship him to his cottage in the country and sink him in quicksand.

It’s an unusual scenario: the victim is utterly unsympathetic, and the villain is someone you feel a lot of compassion for, but you can’t quite go along with what he’s contemplating doing (I nearly can: I hate bullies). Of course, Whiley is forever bumping into people who randomly want to open his trunk and have a shufty inside, and even Patch the dog, who gets his own screen credit, is very curious. It’s all very ROPE — some of the plot developments don’t quite convince or compel, and Boulting should have hired someone else to edit it — when we edit our own stuff, we often don’t try hard enough to solve our directorial mistakes, accepting them as somehow inherent. But it has a very nice denouement — we suspected the movie’s heart was in the right place, and it is.

Fiona, wandering in midway, couldn’t believe it was called TRUNK CRIME. There’s even a newsstand bearing the slogan ANOTHER TRUNK CRIME, so presumably this was a common phrase in 1939. I can’t seem to find out exactly what it meant, but I doubt it typically involved doping people, packing them up and submerging them in a handy quagmire. “Does he have a trunk?” she asked. “He has two,” I replied, which is true. There’s some unnecessary detail about Whiley planning to substitute one case for another. “Should it be called TRUNKS CRIME then?” But I think that might have suggested a crime committed by a swimmer.

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Manning Whiley is good at being high-strung, that’s for sure. His every utterance is a-quiver with neurasthenic fervor. He also looks oddly Japanese. I see he was born in Australia… well, anything’s possible down there.

The movie also features a shockingly young and unrecognizable Thorley Walters, though once you get over the shock, his acting style is quite consistent. The bluff, ruddy, dopey Dr. Watson manner he assumed in all his Hammer performances has quite a different effect when filtered through the personage of a gangly youth — he’s much more of a P.G. Wodehouse twerp from the Drone’s Club. Interesting.

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Walters, left.

Boulting, anticipating Carol Reed, is not shy about getting his Dutch tilts out. (Why are they called Dutch tilts? Isn’t Holland notoriously flat?)

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RIP Ian Carmichael

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on February 8, 2010 by dcairns

I originally uploaded the above clip from the Boulting Brothers’ BROTHERS IN LAW to celebrate the versatility of Terry-Thomas, who is quite remarkably excellent herein, as the vulpine Alfred Green. T-T personally rubbed the seams of his costume with pumice to give himself a threadbare, seedy look.

But sadly the occasion demands that we celebrate T-T’s co-star in this scene, the actual star of the film Ian Carmichael, who has just died aged 89. A great talent: along with Terry-Thomas he did more to popularize the image of the silly ass Englishman than any actor who ever lived.

Dirty Nuke

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2009 by dcairns

From LADY GODIVA RIDES AGAIN.

Optimum Releasing, who have a strange knack of finding and reissuing the least complete copy of any film you could wish to see (they’ve returned to circulation the version of Bunuel’s EXTERMINATING ANGEL with the deleted repetition!), have outdone themselves with John & Roy Boulting’s SEVEN DAYS TO NOON, which they’ve put out in a completely ahistorical 16:9 ratio, artfully shaving off the top and bottom of each of Gilbert Taylor’s beautiful shots (it seems quite possible this movie got Taylor the job shooting STRANGELOVE). Nevertheless, the film survives with its considerable qualities more or less intact (which is not to say the parties responsible should not be slow-boiled in uranium: they should).

The plot of this one deals with a government scientist cracking under the strain and absconding with a miniature nuclear bomb in a briefcase (no nuclear weapons of this size existed at the time, but the public wasn’t allowed to know that, or much else). He threatens to detonate the contraption in central London if the prime minister doesn’t announce immediate atomic disarmament. Of course, such a story can be read every which way — as a warning of the dangers of terrorism, the dangers of nuclear power, the dangers of uncontrolled peaceniks. One shot, framing the frazzled prof through dinosaur bones at the British museum, suggests the Boulting sympathies may not entirely be with the well-meaning loon. I think this film, one of the first to concoct a fanciful narrative around the Bomb, has widely and for a long time been read as an anti-nuclear parable, and I suspect that’s wrong — I see no evidence within its text to justify such a view. Indeed, the prof’s religious insipration might actually count against him in a Boulting movie, bearing in mind their later pungent satire on British Christianity, HEAVENS ABOVE!

Viewing the film as more of a right-wing than a left-wing yarn doesn’t make me dismiss it out of hand — although I dismiss its politics. It’s hard to imagine how the Boultings could believe the British characters they evoked in I’M ALRIGHT JACK should be trusted with thermonuclear weapons.

But among this film’s numerous virtues are a rapid pace that never feels hurried, and low-key performances (touched with occasional humour) from a cast not as peppered with familiar faces as usual. Barry Jones is melancholy and sympthetic as the scientist, which adds to the feeling of complexity and compassion. Hammer stalwart André Morell is nicely understated as the detective in charge of the case. And the film’s climax, in an evacuated London, is genuinely epic: all those deserted streets (and by the way, 28 DAYS LATER? Dreadful film), and the empty train station with its cages full of abandoned pets…

The difference between me and the Boultings? I would have wallpapered my home in discarded “This is the man we want” posters. Whereas the only bit of his work Roy Boulting took home was Hayley Mills.