Archive for Bryan Forbes

B.F. Forever?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2019 by dcairns

Shadowplay welcomes long-time Shadowplayer Chris Schneider with our first guest post of The Late Show, a movie I’ve been dimly curious to see since I was seventeen. Not curious enough to do anything about it, you understand. But that spark burns more brightly now…

Perhaps the best way to deal with THE NAKED FACE, the 1984 thriller that Bryan Forbes made of a 1970 Sidney Sheldon novel, is to offer an adapted version of a line from an earlier — and, frankly, better — film. That is to say, “Mortality, or some mysterious force, can place its gun-sights on you or me for no good reason at all.”

THE NAKED FACE was the last film directed by Forbes. It stars Roger Moore as, unexpectedly enough, a psychiatrist. It begins and ends in a cemetery — a watermark, one might say, of late films made by older directors (see Hitchcock’s FAMILY PLOT, Wilder’s FEDORA). One unsympathetic critic has written of hilarity of a film ending with anything-but-tragic Moore crying out “BASTARDS!” Yet it makes a kind of morose sense to see the whole film as a howled-out “BASTARDS!” in the middle of a cemetery.

Roger Moore wanted a change, they tell us, from the cheeky killing machine that was James Bond. NAKED FACE came between his last two films playing Bond. As a result, we see a Moore who wears glasses with sturdy frames. He *cares*. He’s even shown listening to Mozart. But murders keep happening around him. This is all the worse in that his wife and daughter died before the story begins, and one character describes Moore as belonging to “the walking wounded.”

Side-thought: NAKED FACE was made for Cannon, the studio of Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris. Was it a requirement in DEATH WISH-land that wife and children are what one loses in the first reel, if not earlier?

For a while it appears that Moore — sympathetic, if not exactly an actor to convey inwardness — is poised between a metaphorical Bad Father and Good Father. These would be Rod Steiger, a cop with a mean mouth and a tendency to glare, and Art Carney, who appears halfway through as a crusty P.I. discovered via the Yellow Pages. Carney even has a good Cinema de Alter Kocker moment when Moore questions him and he responds “I have my tricks” — prompting all the clocks in his dingy office to start chiming. Time! Mortality! Hoppla!

Carney is removed from the story, though, and Steiger slips through the cracks. This leads to an out-of- nowhere villain and explanation for it all, neither of which offers much satisfaction in a film that’s, basically, an uninspired cop show repurposed for movie theaters.

“David Hedison, as Moore’s brother-in-law, looks good-natured. Anne Archer, as a patient, looks troubled while wearing heavy lipstick in her FATAL ATTRACTION-like manner. Elliott Gould looks to be waiting for his paycheck.” That’s what my notes say. Coulda swore that the primary villain would be Steiger, who’s always seething, or Archer, who appears beautiful-but-unhinged in a femme fatale kind of way. But, nah.

Let’s add that, while it’s difficult sometimes to tell a good shout-y Rod Steiger performance from a bad shout-y performance, it’s still Steiger who offers what little dynamism there is to NAKED FACE.

Room service revolver.

Oh, yes, and this is the only film to come to mind with dialogue employing the word “excreta” — *not*, one should add, in connection with a death scene to provoke restive types into quoting Steve Martin’s MAN WITH TWO BRAINS line “Into the mud, scum queen!”

*

*Speaking* of scum …

The first half of the film is filled with homophobic backchat. This is unconnected with the plot, so it’s something of a red-herring — or should we say “red phallus”? Someone’s referred to as “a fag with a family,” somebody says “his alibi’s tight, he’s straight.” Shortly before the first victim, one of Moore’s patients, is killed, he asks how he can possibly reveal to his wife and children that he’s a monster — i.e. has sex with other men. Then he leaves and gets killed in a way not unlike Rene Auberjonois in EYES OF LAURA MARS. (Insert “wardrobe malfunction” joke here.)

One hears that the pro-Thatcher Forbes, who wrote the script, had some unlovely attitudes. I thought that might be the source. Further research shows, though, that it comes from the Sidney Sheldon novel.

Is this stuff thrown out to demonstrate that it’s a rough’n’tough policier tale? Or does it speak for the author himself?

One can only shrug in incomprehension and mutter “Bastards …”

David here again. Couldn’t resist adding:

THE NAKED FACE is directed by Turk Thrust and stars Turk Thrust II; Mr. Joyboy; Trapper John MacIntyre; Ed Norton; Cathy Ryan; Felix Leiter; and Irene Mankiller.

Reach for the Moon

Posted in Comics, FILM, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2018 by dcairns

I haven’t been impressed by Basil Dearden’s comedies, though I like some of his dramas a lot. THE GREEN MAN seemed very disappointing for a black comedy with Alistair Sim, but admittedly Dearden was fired from that one so maybe it wasn’t his fault. His Benny Hill vehicle, WHO DONE IT? is really lame, but then Benny Hill didn’t have a star personality, was more a man of a thousand chubby faces, so he never made sense as a comic leading man.

And I’d heard that MAN IN THE MOON was REALLY bad, but of course that just made me curious. It’s co-written with Bryan Forbes, and another Dearden-Forbes collab, THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, is terrific, and very nearly a pure comedy itself. The star is Kenneth More, who can be effective in the right part — he certainly doesn’t ruin GENEVIEVE — so it seemed worth a go.

And yes, it’s curious… a strong supporting cast includes Shirley Anne Field, who keeps taking her clothes off, and does a great comedy voice; Michael Hordern; Norman Bird, John Glyn-Jones. Charles Gray plays an astronaut, and gets all the most eye-popping scenes.

I do tend to find More fairly charmless, and in this respect he’s quite well cast here, playing a saloon-bar bore who makes an easy living as a guinea pig in studies of the common cold: he seems to be immune, and puts his astonishing health down to a carefree attitude. This unusual profession allows us to meet him dozing in a bed in the middle of a field (part of an experiment) and the scene gets more dreamlike when Field crosses the field in full evening dress. Throughout this somewhat unsatisfactory film, we do get arresting images like this.

The story goes thus: bluff, hearty chump More is recruited by the British space program, NARSTI, to serve as a disposable space guinea pig, fired secretly at the moon to establish whether the going is safe for the specially trained, celebrated super-astronauts, led by Charles Gray (quite funny casting, this). The weirdest moment is when ground control use an isolation tank to brainwash Gray, who has become very hostile to More, resenting the fact that the untrained lout is going to be first on Luna. The brainwashing is a roaring success and Blofeld Gray emerges from the tank aglow with adoration for the baffled More. Well, first he seems sinister and inhuman, a clockwork orange, then he’s hyperanimated and childish with his schoolboy crush.

Dearden and Forbes seem to accept that the men from NARSTI — it’s not clear if they’re a state operation of a commercial one — are horrible, ruthless and would brainwash without a second thought, but they don’t seem to want to make a big satirical point of it — which marks them out as cynical but conservative, a bit like the Boultings.

At first, the casting of Gray as a hearty, athletic astronaut seems to make little sense, but in fact they know what they’re doing…

Unusually for a comedy, the tech and science approximate the real thing. Depressing that British cinema could only conceive of this subject in either farcical or monster-movie terms. This one would double-feature nicely with THE FIRST MAN INTO SPACE. But at least that cheesy B-movie seems to be sincere about something or other — the existential horror of man’s aloneness in the universe, I think. Death and decay. MAN IN THE MOON needs to find something to be serious about, to be an effective comedy.

Also, there are shots in it so nice, in a dramatic, pulp sci-fi way, that it makes you wish they’d made a wholly unironic film of Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future.

   

“Doctor? I’ve been searching for you… Everything seems strange and dark… I couldn’t find you! … Under this stuff, I feel like I’m suffering from some terrible disease… like I got no blood in my veins… I have no memory… Only an instinct to stay alive…until I found you… I’ve been groping my way through a maze of fear and doubt…”

The title, alas, is a cheat — More is blasted to Australia, not the moon, a fact he only realises when he encounters a tin of Heinz beans and a kangaroo.

 

Half Fare

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on July 25, 2017 by dcairns

THE RAILWAY CHILDREN screened at Filmhouse as a friend’s birthday treat — thanks to David Watson for laying it on.

The film is a very familiar TV treat in the UK, but as far as I could remember I’d never actually seen the whole thing. I knew who was in it, knew there was a landslide with flannel petticoats, and a father coming back at a railway station. As it unfolded I had no idea what was going to happen yet. I’d somehow avoided seeing it, despite being a huge fan of Edith Nesbit, author, and Jenny Agutter, star.

The film is the real triumph of Bryan Forbes’ spell running EMI — a rare case of a filmmaker being in charge of a film production outlet. And I could see him being sympathetic to Lionel Jeffries, a fellow actor, coming to him with his dream project.

What with the low budget and Jeffries’ inexperience as screenwriter and director, the film often has an endearingly amateur quality. Night scenes are overlit, crew shadows glimpsed, and any time an extra is heard muttering, it’s with the distinctive timbre of the film’s director (a nice Wellesian flaw to have). Jeffries’ visual approach varies between nice ideas he sometimes pulls off, and simply struggling to get an acceptable shot in a cramped location (I’ve been there, Lionel). I think his editor is letting him down quite a bit, so when he makes a mistake it isn’t tackled, and when he gets something good going, not enough is made of it.

But the film thrives on its charm. Most of Nesbit’s children’s books have a fairly episodic, stop-start pace, and this is no exception, but the mystery/drama of the father’s absence gives it a nice suspense motor to keep it going, and the “kids” are great. Master Gary Warren, a small-statured 16, is very natural as Peter. Miss Sally Thomsett, 20, is toothsome and surprisingly convincing as the much younger Phyllis, “who means well,” though she does bounce around rather a lot when she runs. And Miss Jenny Agutter, that axiom of cinema, in a rare non-nude role brings just the right dreaminess to Bobbie, who seems imbued with a kind of telepathy, the only real magic in a story which keeps hinting at fairy tales bleeding through into reality.

The men, led by the divine Cribbins, are all cast from the Funny Uncle school of Performing Arts, of which Lionel Jeffries was himself honorary chairman. I guess with this and, ahem, FRENZY, Cribbins’ film career was on the up, just as the British film industry disintegrated.

Of Jeffries’ later works, THE WATER BABIES and WOMBLING FREE are disappointments, I fear. THE AMAZING MR. BLUNDEN is rather nice, and I’ve yet to see the intriguing BAXTER!

One reason THE RAILWAY CHILDREN works as well as it does may be that Jeffries lacked the confidence to mess about too much with the book, so it survives intact with all its episodic looseness and queer touches of mysticism, which might have been smoothed out to its detriment by a more ambitious filmmaker soaked in the professional ways of doing things. And also, I feel the film’s Edwardian sentimentality and melancholy is completely genuine, and part of its maker’s personality. I saw Jeffries interviewed on telly once, and he pointed at a very nice self-portrait he’d painted, and said that his tiny grandchild had looked at it and said, “That’s grandpa. He’s a broken man.” And Jeffries, choking up a touch, in his gruff, bluff Edwardian way, said that this was an example of the extraordinary acuity of children. And I remember thinking, wow.