Archive for Challenge to be Free

Rated “Arr”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 10, 2021 by dcairns

Screenplay by Jack Pollexfen and Aubrey Wisberg

LONG JOHN SILVER, AKA RETURN TO TREASURE ISLAND, directed by Byron Haskin, isn’t any good, but it does have Robert Newton in the title role, and Rod Taylor in a showy supporting part. E.A. Dupont’s RETURN TO TREASURE ISLAND, a different film, doesn’t have either of them and REALLY isn’t any good. It’s one of those late-career travesties like Tay Garnett’s CHALLENGE TO BE FREE which is so incompetent and uninspired on every level that it baffles and infuriates, is hard to shake off.

Nevertheless, I did not fail you, reader, I watched the whole damn thing.

The early scenes rewrite Stevenson by showing that Captain Flint secretly survived, and, you know, RETURNED TO TREASURE ISLAND, re-hiding his treasure and killing Long John Silver. Difficult, I suppose, to engage first-class talent for a short prologue sequence like this in a low-budget film, but Dupont, who may have been ill or just very very tired, or disgusted with the whole business, gets a guy from New Jersey called Dayton Lummis to do a Groundskeeper Willie Scottish accent for Flint, and a guy from Indiana called Robert Long to play Long John Silver. His name may be what clinched him the part. He seems… really ashamed to be in a film.

This part of the story is narrated by Tab Hunter, who is not one of nature’s born narrators. The cutting is fantastically terrible. Dupont at his best does have a kind of titanic, granite quality to his images, that seem to fall into their places onscreen with thumps, like stone blocks slotting into place. But now everything’s ill-fitting and higglety-pigglety.

I suppose the parrot acquits itself fairly well, but frankly I have seen better parrots.

Fastforward to the present day, and we are to believe that the Admiral Benbow Inn is a real place, where a burglar is trying to steal a map of Treasure Island. Another guy bursts into shot, they duke it out, leave frame, and a lampshade falls down. That lampshade is showing more initiative than the rest of the film’s cast. Both thugs leave, and the people who belong to the inn enter shot and have a boring discussion. Dupont is very much about flat two-shots in this movie, and here he props his actors against a mantel for even greater stasis and stiltedness.

Still, one of the thesps is Dawn Addams, in vibrant p.j.s. She and Tab will bring an inappropriate porny horniness to the proceedings, though this is not convincingly projected at each other, but outward at us. It’s this softcore flirtation with the lens that makes the movie seem so much like an animated smut mag, with less skin.

The old codger speculates that the burglar was after the map, and Dawn says, magnificently: “Willie! Superstition. Probably tramps.” One of the great lines. No cut-up or fold-in method could produce such eloquent word salad — only the combined typewriters of Jack Pollexfen and Aubrey Wisberg, who scripted a couple of other late Dupont’s: THE NEANDERTHAL MAN and THE STEEL LADY.

Now the crumbly remains of Porter Hall come shimmering into view — a terrific character man, member of the Preston Sturges stock company, you’ve seen him in everything from THE THIN MAN to ACE IN THE HOLE. This is his last movie too, and it looks it. He classes the joint up, but he’s still required to stand in flat two-shots, sharing the non-space with non-actors. He announces that it’s night-time, which we would not, frankly, have known from the photography. He also tells us that Dawn’s character, Jamie Hawkins, is the direct descendant of Jim-Lad.

From the hat and coat he carries, I’m assuming he was one of the bad guys earlier, but clearly a stuntman was carrying out the action.

Turns out the clues to locating the treasure are encoded within Captain Flint’s personal Bible — proof that you can make the good book say anything you like. This plot turn is not too bad, but we’ll have to subsist on it for seventy-five minutes.

Soon, poor old Willie has been shot by one of the hoods. This is one of those movies where normal people stand around calmly conversing over corpses. “Poor Willie,” says Dawn Hawkins. “He was a best friend.” She doesn’t even stoop to examine him. (What’s maddening is that the film’s poor director was a very good writer and could have fixed all of this if he’d been allowed, or bothered.)

The shadowy baddie behind all this — although we don’t for a moment trust Porter Hall — is a blind guy called Newman, a sort of Blind Pugh Junior, which I think I’m going to call him.

Everybody’s off to Treasure Island! Dawn dons a sexy low-cut number and declares her love of adventure. “Well, it’s nice to be young,” says the grizzled Captain Cardigan, nonsensically.

She’s going for an evening swim when she overhears the crew talking mutiny — like her forebear in his apple barrel, only she’s on a rope ladder by a porthole in her swimsuit. I don’t mean the porthole is in her swimsuit. Though it would enhance the entertainment prospects if it were. Dawn Hawkins listens impassively as the men plan to cut cards for her favours. Again, stuff that doesn’t belong in a family film, but there it is. She tells Porter Hall about it and he says he has everything under control.

“For almost a year I had lived on Treasure Island alone,” narrates Tab Hunter as Tab Hunter in a fluffy beard rises into view amid the palm trees, “the involuntary master of my domain,” getting a snigger from the Seinfeld fans.

Tab is going to spend the film shirtless. As shirtless as the day is long. And this is June, so that’s very shirtless indeed. He will, however, I predict, get a shave and a haircut.

Dawn rises and puts on a cute sailor cap and a sexy halter top in case the mutineers cut cards for her favours. And sure enough, they’ve taken over the ship. Captain Cardigan is tied up in knots. Porter Hall turns out to be leader of the mutineers. Gentlemen, I am shocked.

The original Treasure Island is a virtually all male show, with Jim-Lad’s mum, Mrs. Jim-Lad, given nothing to do and dropped from the story as soon as decently possible. So Treasure Island, as conceived by RL Stevenson, is lacking in bondage scenes. Pollexfen & Wisburg have fixed that. A good director for this would have been Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Anyhow, Dawn Hawkins escapes but Captain Cardigan gets a hole in him. All this is narrated by Tab with a disinterested, dreamy quality more suitable, I would have thought, for Brideshead Revisited, not HORNY TREASURE ISLAND.

I’m not kidding about Tay Garnett’s last film, by the way. The sound of “loveable” wilderness person Mike Mazurki humourlessly intoning “HA. HA. HA,” will follow me to my mausoleum. Compared to that, this is a delightful romp. Still, every single movement the actors make is self-conscious, awkward and weird. I’ve heard of director’s shooting rehearsals for spontaneity, but this looks like Dupont was aiming more for uncertainty. And he’s achieved it, masterfully.

Dawn and Tab shack up in an abandoned fort and Dawn naturally has to take a bath, gawped at by the lecherous parrot, who is no doubt a direct linear descendant of Captain Flint’s parrot. He doesn’t quite caw “Pieces of ass!” but his squawks have a lubricious flavour. And yes, Tab has a shave. Evidently he could have done this at any time, but he didn’t have anyone to look his best for.

Porter Hall in Decent Line Shock: “Ever see a cat at a mouse hole? We’ll emulate that patient creature, gentlemen.”

Now Dawn swims out to the ship wearing short jeans and a knotted shirt. Bouncing on deck, she manages to avoid the anticipated display of clingy charms. The distractingly sexy films are always the ones that don’t deliver.

Incidentally, I’ve started wondering — this movie is set in the same fictional world as Stevenson’s novel. Which means Treasure Island, the novel, doesn’t exist in this movie. So it’s not clear how everybody seems to know the story.

It turns out Porter is responsible for Blind Pugh Junior’s signature disability, having blown him up with careless dynamite, but the scene in which we find this out is very ineffectively staged, a flat two with the actors facing forward. Hard for one guy to menace the other without being pointed at him. I presume they had no time to make this film. Otherwise it could’ve been a lovely fun picture to make, if the weather was good.

As the story goes on, sadism rears its ugly-beautiful head. Blind Pugh Junior whips Jim-Lass as she’s bound to a tree, while Tab, shirtless, bound and perspiring (which sounds like a law firm for perverts) writhes on the ground at everyone’s feet, getting kicked. My.

As if that isn’t enough, the Blind Pugh Junior, who lost his sight in a dynamite accident arranged by Porter Hall’s character, Maxie, gets blow up twice more. And survives, though we last see him pinned under rubble in a sealed-off cavern, taking potshots at Porter. He must be cinema’s most exploded man.

“We met Maxie. He was reduced to a harmless cipher with fear,” drones Tab.

Some of the cave scenes seem to be shot in a real cave, some against a cliff face in broad daylight, and some with some kind of day-for-cave gimmick that has turned the colours psychedelic. The entire film could have been improved by that treatment.

Our heroes get the treasure, since they’ve blown everyone else up. That’s how civilisation works.

I say, Tab!

RETURN TO TREASURE ISLAND stars Todd Tomorrow; Zeta One; Judge Alfalfa J. O’Toole; Lost Motorist (uncredited); and Bit Part (uncredited).

Let us never speak of this again

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 15, 2014 by dcairns

A few films have never made it into The Late Show: The Late Movies Blogathon because they were too desultory and depressing. Our main purpose is to celebrate overlooked films from late in the careers of great artists, which are often overlooked or disparaged because they’re out of step with the times. One likes to pass over in silence, where possible, those films which really stink like burning faeces. Who was it who said of Cukor’s JUSTINE, “to criticise it would be like tripping a dwarf”? (I often think Cukor should have filmed the Sade book instead of the Durrell. In 1932. With Joan Crawford. And tripped a dwarf in it.)

But on the other hand, there is fun to be had in the stinker, tinged though it may be by regret and embarrassment for a great cinematic mind now o’erthrown. With these emotions battling within me, I glance, mercifully briefly, at a few films I couldn’t bring myself to devote entire pieces to.

letusnever1

THE DELTA FACTOR — written and directed by Tay Garnett from a novel by Mickey Spillane, produced by Spillane and featuring his latest wife in a supporting role. Garnett’s autobiography, Light Your Torches and Pull Up Your Tights, is a hell of a lot of fun. At the end of a long and often distinguished career, Garnett wasn’t about to trash his more recent films, because he was still hoping for one or two more adventures in the screen trade — they never came.

This movie has all the obnoxiousness of Spillane’s writing and world view but with none of the awareness that Aldrich and Bezzerides brought to KISS ME DEADLY. Spillane hated that film, and with him holding the purse-strings one can’t expect Garnett to smuggle in a critique of masculine violence or anything like that, even if he felt inclined to do so. But did it have to be so obnoxious?

letusnever3

There’s no Mike Hammer, but Christopher George plays tough guy bank robber and escape artist with a distinct air of Mitt Romney, which is unappealing to say the least. A “hero” who gloatingly threatens to rape the heroine (it’s okay, he’s only “joking”), he never inspires in the appalled spectator any of the admiration Spillane and possibly Garnett seem to feel for him. Yvette Mimieux tags along, the action scenes are low-budget uninspired, and there’s not even any of the astonishing nastiness that makes Spillane striking in print (“I shot her in the stomach and walked away. It was easy.” — “I took out my gun and blew the smile off his face.”) There is, however, a genuinely hair-raising car chase which breathes a little life into the thing. Unfortunately, it did so at the cost of nearly killing the director, and the hand-held shots taken from inside his car when it plunged off the mountainside road and through the trees is IN THE FILM. Had the adventures of Morgan ended there and the rest of the film detailed Spillane’s painful recovery from a broken cheekbone, broken ribs all down one side, a broken AND dislocated shoulder, and the loss of several teeth, it would have been more entertaining.

letusnever6

Garnett bounced back — five years later he was in Alaska filming Mike Mazurki as a trapper in CHALLENGE TO BE FREE. This one sounds pretty dramatic in his book, but the result is slow icy death on-screen, thanks to a script that has no shape or sense of drama. Some of the wildlife footage is pretty extraordinary, but Mazurki, a reliable thug in decades of thrillers, is directed into an appalling performance, and so is everyone else — lots of characters nodding to themselves to telegraph to the audience that they understand what just happened. Did you ever nod to yourself? I suspect not, but if you see this one you’ll definitely be left shaking your head.

letusnever7

I had long dreaded the inevitable moment when I would look at Ronald Neame’s FOREIGN BODY, whose title already suggests something very bad. Victor Bannerjee, fresh from A PASSAGE TO INDIA, cheerfully kills any vague career momentum he may have acquired by playing a penniless Indian emigrant who becomes a bogus Harley Street doctor so he can undress white women. The role was written for Peter Sellers and the screenplay was a trunk item that had lain wisely unmolested by production for at least a decade and a half. Warren Mitchell plays Bannerjee’s uncle with “My goodness gracious me” mannerisms and shoe-polished features, and Amanda Donohoe supplies the gratuitous nudity. (Oddly, she also starred in PAPER MASK, the only other British film about a fake doctor I can think of.) The whole thing is so staggeringly time-warped (and bad, to boot) that it uses a landlord’s “No coloureds” as a hilarious punchline to a scene. Break and dislocate your shoulder before you see this film.

letusnever10

I can’t review Ken Russell’s THE FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER, his last feature-length offering (Poe seems attractive to late-period filmmakers, see also Curtis Harrington) because I could only watch five minutes of it, in the videotheque of Edinburgh Film Festival back when it was new. The festival declined to screen it but put it on in their ‘theque along with all the other British productions of 2002. It was the cheap synth music that put me off — this from a filmmaker who had filmed the lives of most of the great composers of the 19th and 20th centuries, and worked with the Who, Thomas Dolby, Peter Maxwell Davies, Rick Wakeman. It’s too sad.

I’d rather remember this —

My schoolfriend Robert told me that he was taken to see BAMBI as a kid. In front of the film they played trailers for SHIVERS and TOMMY. Of the two, TOMMY was the more disturbing. He didn’t go to the cinema again until he was about sixteen.