Archive for Charles Beaumont

Between science and superstition…

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , on May 19, 2017 by dcairns

Perchance to Dream is a real good Twilight Zone episode directed by Robert Florey, written by Charles Beaumont and starring Richard Conte.

“This is terrifying! This is horrible!” declared Fiona during the first half. And it’s really bare-bones stuff, the cheap sets doing their work, sinking into the background so it’s all just Conte, a terrific, forceful performer, delivering Beaumont’s lines. A typical Zone scenario — an ordinary, innocent man, caught in a nightmare. In this case, maybe literally. The Lovecraft/Machen-like sense that our world is a facade behind which may lurk dreadful things seems to work really well with the pasteboard office environment. The New York we see from the window is a blow-up photograph. But what goes on behind it? Eldritch things, plotting our doom? Or Rod Serling, having a quiet smoke? And which is worse, from the point of view of Conte’s character?

In the second half, we get more of a clear sense of what Conte is so afraid of, and Florey gets to strut his stuff, with Dutch tilts, fancy diffusion, faux expressionist production design — and it isn’t remotely scary anymore. It’s seriously cool. But not scary.

Nevertheless: “That was a really good one!” declared Fiona.

But I had a hankering for the pop-expressionist second half to be grafted onto a whole new opening, and for the stark opening to be given a conclusion equally bleak and dowdy. Then we’d have TWO really good ones.

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It is the middle ground between light and shadow…

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , on March 31, 2017 by dcairns

I was duty-bound to writer about this one, wasn’t I?

In this season 2 Twilight Zone episode, Charles Beaumont pens and Dennis Weaver stars. It’s a tale of a recurring dream — Weaver is electrocuted nightly — we never see his waking life. The episode isn’t quite clear if it wants us to worry about the execution, Weaver’s perpetual oneiric torment, or the threat to the dream-characters — he warns them that if he’s executed, they’ll cease to exist. This splitting of our concerns is an imperfection, and possibly a real problem, but it works out OK since Weaver is so compelling and the unusual direct cutting back and forth between characters builds tension, and the whole waiting for execution scenario is pretty surefire as a dramatic device.

Weaver insists that irl he has no experience of trials and death-houses, so his imagination is constructing this world out of movie clichés, and so it would appear — Weaver gives an intense, perfervid performance as you’d expect from him, and everybody else is basically from Central Casting. This leads to the episode’s best stuff… Weaver, talking to the priest, speculates about where his memory has produced this priest’s face from. Then he remembers it, and tells the priest a story about a real priest who died when he was ten. And he tells this story happily, because he’s pleased he remembered it — he’d been struggling to place the man. This is all very uncomfortable for the priest.

Then, out of the blue, he tells the D.A. a weird tale about the steak his wife is cooking. We’ve already seen this meat in a shock cut from Weaver describing his execution to the oven tray being pulled out with a harsh metallic grating sound, the steak sizzling like a condemned man. If the DA goes home, “It’ll be something different!” insists Weaver. The D.A. heads back to the kitchen and finds a big, juicy joint where the steak once sizzled. WHY? No real explanation, but a great moment of phildickian uncanny.

The nice directorial touches are courtesy of John Brahm, Teutonic noir specialist, who throws in a very novel split-screen effect to show the long walk to the chair as Weaver describes it, and whose opening shot includes a dramatic pull-back with a theatrical lighting change so that Weaver starts out isolated in darkness before the world emerges around him. Niiice.

Inevitably, the meat-induced reprieve comes too late, so Weaver fries, and is then launched back into scene 1 — a DEAD OF NIGHT style strange loop, with no interval of waking reality at all. As a final pay-off, the scene plays out as before, but with the faces all jumbled up — Weaver’s cell neighbour is now the judge, the priest is now a juror, etc. A real dream feel.

Good grim episode, with no lightening of the mood whatsoever, and a central character going through an irrational hellish punishment. Just what we want from this show.

“We know that a dream can be real. But whoever thought that reality could be a dream? We exist, of course, but… but how? In what way? As we believe, as flesh and blood human beings? Or are we simply parts of someone’s feverish, complicated nightmare? Think about it. And then ask yourself, do you live here, in this country, in this world, or do you live instead in the twilight zone?”

And to cap the whole thing off in a horrifying kind of way, Rod Serling appears with the instrument of his own doom ~

Red or Dead

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2010 by dcairns

“It was night, and the rain fell: and, falling, it was rain, but, having fallen, it was blood.” ~ Edgar Allan Poe.

I like the way Poe films always try to shoehorn in a few direct quotations. I offer the neglected, but excellent, phrase above to anyone who can find a good home for it. Griffith’s THE AVENGING CONSCIENCE stuffs quite a few quotes into its intertitles, and Corman’s Poe films very often end with a printed quote. The idea is the same in both cases: shore up the impression of classical authority and fidelity by inserting bits of actual Poe in, like mortar between bricks which very likely owe nothing whatsoever to the source text.

Poe’s Masque of the Red Death is only about five pages long in my edition, so it’s surprising (but delightful) that the resultant movie is possibly Corman’s masterpiece. Twilight Zone scribe Charles Beaumont deserves the lion’s share, not so much fleshing out a skeleton as assembling a whole new structure extrapolated from a few intriguing metatarsals. There’s no satanism in the Poe story, so Prince Prospero is essentially Beaumont’s man, and apart from the figure of Death, there’s no supporting cast either. Corman reports that he put the script aside while he shot THE SECRET INVASION, and when he came back to it he felt it was a little slight, and so with R. Wright Campbell he expanded it by folding in the plot of Hop-Frog, another Poe story which happens to feature a masque, and is likewise set in a vaguely medieval European court. Even though it’s buried within another picture, Hop-Frog probably qualifies as the Poe story most faithfully treated by Corman, the only major change being the substitution of eight fat men in ourang-outang costumes, for one Patrick Magee in a gorilla suit.

Few Corman productions can have offered such time for reflection, and it clearly helped here. Among other things, the movie can be considered simply as a series of very good scenes. No bad ones, few average ones, lots and lots of really good ones. Admittedly the “good” characters, apart from Hop Toad (the excellent, understated Skip Martin), are a little dull — even Nigel Green can’t make much out of his staunch dad role — but they’re decently cast and played. The Sadeian Prince Prospero makes a splendid role for Uncle Winnie, who dials the fruitiness down, having indulged in the more comical horrors of TALES OF TERROR and THE RAVEN. Prince Prospero has all the best arguments, and although his obeisance to Satan certainly isn’t endorsed by the film, all his arguments against the existence of a benign god are basically allowed to stand. It’s Death, a force of nature, who does him in in the end.

Poe strikes me as something of an atheist — even if his stories are rich in supernatural phenomena, he’s more inclined to use them for obvious allegorical purposes, and he’s the father of the Scooby Doo explanation for Impossible Crimes. His rationalist side is countered by his deep devotion to dark psychological depths, with his characters yanked about like puppets by emotions buried too deep to be recognised — it’s a guilty conscience that speaks through The Tell-Tale Heart and The Imp of the Perverse. And though characters may rise from the grave in Poe, he seems highly doubtful of any final resurrection — the whole message of The Raven is that the dead are permanently taken from us, to be met with nevermore.

All good heavy stuff, to be danced around as playfully as possible by Price, Magee, Hazel Court and the rest. Fiona and I are big fans of the monochrome rooms: Prince Pros tells us that his father imprisoned “a friend” in the Yellow Chamber for some years, after which the man was unable to look upon the sun, or even a daffodil. We wondered what the effects of the purple room and the white room would be? Perhaps an aversion, in the first case, to Ribena blackcurrant juice and the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, and in the second case, to snows and sea-birds of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and to the face of Bebe Neuwirth.

Colours are important in this film! See how many of them you can spot. At the end, the Cavalcade of Eastmancolor Deaths, the Red Death, White Death, Green Death, Yellow Death… so many potential sequels! Come on, Roger, Poe only gave you five pages to get you started on this one — how about a sequel that’s all your own? It can be five pages shorter than this one, if that helps?

“What is terror? Come. Silence. Listen. Is it to awaken and hear the passing of time? Or is it the failing beat of your own heart? Or the footsteps of someone who, just a moment before, was in your room? But let us not dwell on terror. The knowledge of terror is vouchsafed… only to the previous few.”