Archive for Burt Shevelove

Tontine Spirit

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2021 by dcairns

Bryan Forbes’ THE WRONG BOX, scripted by Larry Gelbart & Burt Shevelove from (very, very loosely) Robert Louis Stevenson & Lloyd Osborne’s comic novel, comes close to being really good. Peter Cook & Dudley Moore are terrific. Ralph Richardson’s delivery and John Mills’ slapstick are excellent. The strange pairing of Michael Caine and Nanette Newman (Mrs. Forbes, de rigeur in his movies) kind of works. And the thronging cast also includes startling work from Wilfred Lawson — looking like a vulture’s foot, clenched into a long, knotty fist — Peter Sellers — pure Goon Show lunacy — and a late appearance by Tony Hancock, who’s barely holding himself together, alas.

I can’t quite work out why it doesn’t exactly hang together. Forbes doesn’t have nearly enough money for what he’s trying to do — so the skits at the start showing the untimely demises of a bunch of actor friends (Leonard Rossiter should learn not to take part in duels) are mostly performed against tiny, unconvincing sets (and the gags are weak as well as grisly). We see TV aerials on Victorian rooftops. Forbes’ ludic mode isn’t as natural to him as Richard Lester’s but the art nouveau titles are nice. Some of the editing has just the right rhythm, some is jagged or random. Either Forbes hasn’t thought out his scene transitions or he’s been forced to rethink them because something didn’t work, necessitating a reordering.

Then the final chase gets terrifically poor — money trouble, I think. John Barry has contributed a lovely music-box theme but doesn’t want to get out and push with the action sequence. Maybe the Bonds had him tired out. Then there’s a kerfuffle in a cemetery with some good dialogue again and then —

VERY abruptly we’re pulling out in a helicopter shot that’s blowing everything all over the place, and without much of anything being settled, it devolves into chaos. I know it was the sixties, so maybe Forbes felt nobody wanted to see order restored… it feels like Gelbart & Shevelove wrote him a resolution but he copped out of using it. Farces depend on neatness, it’s the basis of their form. You can write countercultural farce — Orton was the master of it — but you can’t write sloppy farce. It’s the same as bad farce.

But still, Peter Cook gets to say “You realise you made me drop my grebe.”

Gasp!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 12, 2010 by dcairns

Really gorgeous art-nouveau intertitle from THE WRONG BOX, directed by Bryan Forbes.

Fiona always says, when BF’s name comes up, that when he dies the British will suddenly appreciate that a major film talent had been in their midst. Perhaps the problem has been that Forbes, a spiky personality with a strong sense of his own worth, has appreciated himself too much and not left room for anyone else. He was the only filmmaker polled by Sight & Sound magazine who chose one of his own works for his personal Top Ten Movies of All Time. Forbes selected WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND, which at least shows he has good taste.

THE WRONG BOX is certainly an uneven piece, with some narrative slackness and muddle slightly spoiling the effect of the loving period recreation (John Barry score, Julie Harris costumes, Ray Simm art direction) and astonishing all-star cast. It’s particularly impressive to a British viewer, since every single face in the movie is somebody known from TV or movies. Major roles for Peter Cook & Dudley Moore, Ralph Richardson, Wilfred Lawson and Peter Sellers (to name only those who give career-high accounts of themselves) are supplemented by walk-ons by the likes of Leonard Rossiter, Graham Stark, Hilton Edwards, Thorley Walters, Irene Handl and the Temperance Seven. And of course there’s the inevitable Nanette Newman (criticism of Forbes’ tendency to cast his wife in everything is a sore point with him, understandably. But I find I’m coming around to Nanette.)

Anyhow, the above intertitle always cracks me up. Clearly influence by HELP!, made the previous year, although the influence really goes back to the cinematic playfulness of the nouvelle vague, it’s especially amusing by way of its utter redundancy: like the comic book sound effect captions in SCOTT PILGRIM, the intertitle describes something we can perfectly well hear for ourselves.

The strangled crier.

THE WRONG BOX is adapted so loosely from Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osborne’s novel that another version seems like a perfectly good idea — the book has some very funny bits of its own, with only the idea of a corpse in a trunk in common with Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart’s busy script. Osborne’s influence on Stevenson seems to be to rid him of his moralistic side, and the short novel is an exercise in infernal bad taste. I enjoyed it considerably.