Archive for Cat O Nine Tails

Blind Tuesday: Max Carrados Investigates

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2013 by dcairns

It’s high time I did another “blind person in jeopardy” post, I was just thinking, so here we go.

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes was an ITV series of 1971-2 based around the idea that Victorian London was swarming with sleuths, and maybe some of them were interesting enough to warrant televisual treatment of their own. The show ran for two series, with an amazing roster of guest stars impersonating the forgotten flatfoots (flatfeet?), but as to whether any of them really deserve to be called “rivals” of the Baker Street genius, one would have to fall back on the old Scottish verdict of “not proven.”

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In The Case of the Mirror of Portugal, Peter Vaughn Vaughan plays Arthur Morrison’s shady private eye Horace Dorrington, a shameless crook who defrauds his customers, his only saving grace being that he gives the money to charity. Or so we’re supposed to believe. Vaughan is always good at playing menace, fake bonhomie and overbearing ebullience shading into aggression, and these qualities combine with his threatening bulk to rob the character of any lightness he might have had. He quips archly with clients about the deaths of family members, though this is meant to be excused by the customers being foreign and therefore devoid of true family feeling; he’s also a merciless taskmaster with his quavering staff (Kenneth Colley and Petronella Barker). Of course, Holmes was lacking in some of the social graces, but he stood for something, damnit. Reason, possibly.

The episode does feature a touchingly young Jeremy Irons and a heartbreakingly alive Paul Eddington.

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James Cossins (left) and John Neville.

A Message from the Deep Sea stars John Neville, Baron Munchausen himself, as Dr Thorndyke — no relation to Mel Brooks’ headshrinker in HIGH ANXIETY, but certainly a close relative of Edinburgh physician Dr Joseph Bell, who inspired Sherlock Holmes in the first place. He’s another arrogant dick, but thanks to Neville’s elegant playing the show’s final scene turns on a dime from plea for preserving the sanctity of the crime scene, to something rather poetic and mysterious. Neville’s dreamy quality must be what commended him to Gilliam.

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And so to Max Carrados, Ernest Bramah’s blind detective, essayed by Robert Stephens with plummy relish in The Case of the Missing Witness, just after he took the role of Holmes himself (played with a touch of Oscar Wilde) in THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES — my favourite Holmes movie. I didn’t think this story made the best use of a blind detective — Fred Zinnemann’s EYES IN THE NIGHT has a good handle on the idea, and I also enjoyed Dario Argento’s CAT O NINE TAILS for its investigations by Karl Malden. Carrados is smart, but this particular plot depends on him happening to meet a key witness at just the time he’s establishing a false alibi for a Fenian terrorist, so the heavy hand of coincidence rather spoils my engagement in Carrados and his brilliance. In fact, I don’t even require him to be brilliant — I would love to see a blind detective based on Mr. Muckle in IT’S A GIFT, rampaging around the crime scenes smashing everything in (everybody else’s) sight, while Dr Thorndyke looks on aghast. Why has no commissioning editor put this on air, starring Robson Green? Since all the other Holmes rivals are a bunch of horrible swine, why not the one who at least has a disability in mitigation? Probably people will still feel sorry for him so he might as well flail about violently and smack them in the face.

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Blind Tuesday: Eat the Pianist

Posted in FILM, weather with tags , , , , , , , on February 21, 2012 by dcairns

Ran SUSPIRIA for some of my students the other week, particularly the cinematography student who wanted to see some interesting colour work. Argento’s film has that in spades — I can’t recall where I heard that the maestro of mutilation used discontinued Technicolor stock, and purposely replicated the colour schemes of Disney’s SNOW WHITE, but it seems to be true. At times, notably during the first double-homicide, Argento’s vivid hues land him in trouble, where the kaleidoscopic shifts in palette make the intercutting a touch confusing — is this a new scene? where are we? is that the same woman?

While Argento’s CAT O NINE TAILS features a sympathetic blind character played by Karl Malden, and must surely form the subject for a future Blind Tuesday column, SUSPIRIA has a minor blind character, a pianist, who is treated pretty shoddily by both the film’s ballet school/coven of witches and by Argento himself. First the poor chap is rudely ejected after an allegation, no doubt unfounded, that his guide dog bit a nasty little kid (Argento never bothers to clear up what really happened, but there’s a clear suggestion of canine provocation). During this scene, where Alida Valli gets to be gloriously nasty and flash her terrifying teeth, the pianist’s jacket and stick are flung on the floor where he has to fumblingly retrieve them. The ballerinas stand around, uncomfortably. That’s no way to treat the Bavarian Stevie Wonder.

This seems to me a pretty good example of Argento’ disinterest in character. It does the film no favours, in any conventional sense, for its heroine to stand passively by during this abuse of a disabled man. Having Jessica Harper step forward and help the guy out would’ve made for a sympathetic moment. As it is, Argento’s camera ignores her (is she even IN the scene? Why not?), dodging the question of how she would react and thus evading character insight.

That night, the pianist is gored to death by his own dog, in a scene which only makes sense if it’s a bit of diabolical influence from the Queen of the Witches. We never find out what happens to the dog, which departs, grinning, just as Harper will at the end.

For much of the movie, I was wondering, since Argento clearly has no interest whatsoever in dialogue per se, why he includes so much of it? It ought to have been reasonably easy to develop SUSPIRIA’s plot with action alone. But there is, occasionally, a weird virtue to his plodding conversations, where all the dialogue is utterly on the nose, as well as being post-dubbed in a variety of accents. It’s like listening to two chatbots talking in space. Sometimes it can actually make you feel high.

Udo Kier’s scene is the best example of this. As he tells Harper how she shouldn’t believe in witches, a wind picks up, ruffling their hair and the tablecloth and the potted plants and the trees in the background. Soon it’s going gale-force, with Harper struggling to act through her whipping coiffeur, to the point where one fears for the crew’s safety, but the soundtrack ignores it completely — there’s not even the mildest whistle of “Antarctic Whiteout” (Fellini’s favourite FX record). The result is simultaneously trippy and hilarious.

To cap it all, Kier then introduces Harper to a white-haired old expert who he claims can confirm everything he’s said. Instead, the  geezer starts talking about how witches are real, and have immense powers, but can only do evil. Kier has slunk off, so we don’t get his reaction, but Harper doesn’t find this contradiction strange, which is genuinely dreamlike — I think it might have been even better if Udo had stood there, nodding sagely, as the old fellow rubbished everything he’s just said.

No reference to the discrepancy is ever made — it passes in silence, like the wind.

Suspiria (Two-Disc Special Edition)