Archive for Cubby Broccoli

The Art of Gilling

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2015 by dcairns

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My respect for John Gilling is rising as I begin to see him more as the idiosyncratic weirdball he was, rather than as a jobbing journeyman, my earlier impression. Certainly, realizing he had written for Tod Slaughter and made OLD MOTHER RILEY MEETS THE VAMPIRE long before his Hammer days made me appreciate that his association with horror movies came from love, not mere convenience. But 1956’s THE GAMMA PEOPLE (recommended — by which I mean “casually mentioned” — by Joe Dante) is something else.

Faced with an artifact like THE GAMMA PEOPLE, a luminous and misshapen lump of aggregated and mysterious material, like a kryptonite meteor fallen from who knows where, one is forced to concoct theories to account for its existence — the human brain, a question-and-answer organ, is simply unable to accept the object as found and describe it. We must fall prey to the deadly Intentional Fallacy and try to fathom what was going on in the minds of those who created this conundrum. Is it an alien probe, buried for decades, the product of natural but unknown processes, or a chunk of frozen piss that fell off the side of an aeroplane?

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My theory may not account for all THE GAMMA PEOPLE’s peculiarities, but it works for me. I think Gilling and his co-writer John W. Gossage were aiming to make a Charters and Caldicott film, and inspired by both the success of Abbot & Costello’s horror spoofs, and Gilling’s own experience with Arthur Lucan/Old Mother Riley, they decided to write a Charters & Caldicott versus Mad Science scenario.

The business of the characters being in a train carriage that gets disconnected and abandoned in a Ruritanian dictatorship is straight out of THE LADY VANISHES, so that’s exhibit A. The pair’s polite, befuddled reactions clinch this theory for me.

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However, two things occurred to make this attempt at forging a new double-act turn out quite wrong. One is the decision to make the film a dumb sci-fi movie, about which more later. The other is a two-parter: first, you can’t just invent a double act. The best of them seem to happen by accident, when two people come together and have comic chemistry, and somebody else, besides the audience, notices. William Powell and Myrna Loy were teamed as leading man and leading lady, but BECAME a double-act because the teaming worked so well. Martin & Lewis were thrown together with basically no materials and there was an explosion of comedy energy which still reverberates.

The second part of the double-act problem is that at some point it was decided that the film needed an American, and so Paul Douglas, fresh from JOE MACBETH (New York gangster version of Shakespeare filmed in England) was wheeled in to team up with Leslie Phillips. Impersonated by such mismatched talents, the Naunton & Wayne effect is seriously distorted and blurred, only just discernible. Phillips, a great comic force, gets the tone alright, but is vaguely dashing and randy, always, so his version of the Englishman abroad is apt to be racier than the Hitchcock original. Douglas is a lumpen golem, a two-fisted Frankenstein Mobster who’s very nearly cuboid in shape. He looks incongruous in any of the film’s throng of genres.

So the set-up is so misguided it’s kind of delightful in spite of itself. Then we add the plot, which is about a fugitive scientist trying to create child geniuses with gamma radiation (hey, it worked for the Incredible Hulk). He’s also creating learning-disabled “goons”, though it’s never clear whether these are accidents or deliberate. For no reason explained, all the goons are adults and all the geniuses are kids. This would make sense if his intent were to fashion a sort of zombie army.

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The IMDb tells us that the original story was by Robert Aldrich (uncredited) — I guess it could have formed a nuclear trilogy along with KISS ME DEADLY and the lesser WORLD FOR RANSOM. Aldrich being chums with Joseph Losey forms a strange connection with Losey’s atomic kid drama THESE ARE THE DAMNED. Plus there’s the Hammer connection. But THE GAMMA PEOPLE was produced by, of all people, Cubby Broccoli, with money from Columbia which seems to have facilitated considerable European location filming — probably in Germany.

Best joke: a scream is explained away by a suspicious character: “One of our poor burghers met with an accident,” and Sir Leslie P says, with the most magnificent straight face, “Oh? What happened to the poor burgher?” Possibly the kind of joke you have to play so deadpan it looks like you don’t realize it’s there, so the censor won’t leap from his chair and wave at the screen like Norma Desmond, or press a secret button on his arm rest that causes four men to charge into the screening room carrying a giant blue pencil.

Walter Rilla, whose son directed VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, is clearly the ideal choice to mass-produce spooky Aryan super-kids.

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But the leading lady is Eva Bartok, best remembered for Bava’s BLOOD AND BLACK LACE. I’m always haunted by her real-life end: she wound up indigent in London, was hospitalized, and tried to tell the doctors and nurses that she had been a movie star. No one believed her. That’s the strange thing about life and films. Her fame evaporated, then she evaporated, but her films are still here.

“Why does Mr. Thai employ only blind men in his rug factory?”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2008 by dcairns

That, and other stupid questions, may or may not be answered in jaunty shit-fest OPERATION DOUBLE 007, AKA OPERATION KID BROTHER, AKA OK CONNERY. I like the last title best, it makes the film sound like some kind of demented response to HELLO DOLLY! Or Hello, Kitty. Or possibly NOW, VOYAGER, I’m not sure.

A cheesy Italian Bond rip-off starring Sean Connery’s little brother Neil that nobody would ever expect to be any good, OK CONNERY defies expectations by being barely watchable, until a kind of punchiness afflicts the viewer, at which point the film becomes persistently hilarious, not as a spy spoof, but as a kind of incoherent cheese dream transcribed onto celluloid by faeces-wielding chimpanzees dressed as Toulouse-Lautrec. That’s how I chose to enjoy it, anyway.

Forgive me for neglecting to mention this previously, but I have a special lens that enables me to look into cartoon skunk Pepé lePew’s sexual fantasies.

Even as a mock-Bond, this… thing  ain’t too coherent as a narrative. Actually, any plot synopsis is likely to sound like a bit of William Burroughs fold-in literature, individual words picked at random from a hat by an eyeless madman wearing a bib. “Thanatos are trying to steal an atomic nucleus. Beta is using radioactive rugs to create high-frequency magnetism. Only plastic surgeon lip-reader prize archer and hypnotist Dr. Neil Connery can stop them.”

Thanatos — or maybe that should be T*H*A*N*A*T*O*S (Terrible Hokey Associated Nefarious Assholes Terrorising Our Society?) — is run by Adolfo Celi, formerly Largo from THUNDERBALL, one of several refugees from the proper James Bond films. We get indentured Moneypenny Lois Maxwell (glumly dutiful), professional scary-face Anthony Dawson from DR. NO (craggily weary), minor Bond girl Andrea Bianchi (predictably the same) and original “M” Bernard Lee (visibly drunk). Ursula Andress, incredibly, had better things to do.

It’s both remarkable and amusing that these actors (especially series regulars Maxwell and Lee) had so little loyalty to their paymasters at Eon Productions that they were happy to jump ship and make fools of themselves in this boisterous trash. My guess is that they simply weren’t getting paid enough to feel any gratitude to Bond boss Alberto “Cubby” Broccoli for bestowing immortality upon them. I seem to recall that Sean Connery himself, by the time of GOLDFINGER, his third Walther-toting outing in tux, was only getting five grand for the whole picture. Ludicrous.

Neil Connery, in a bold stretch, plays Dr. Neil Connery, who can not only hypnotise people just by putting his fingers together to form a sort of tent, but can also fire a sub-machine gun while disguised as Vincent Van Gogh, an unusual set of skills. Combine that with his archery, plastic surgery and lip-reading and you’d have to say he was a force to reckon with. A shame acting isn’t one of his super-powers.

 

We don’t expect any mere actor-brother — whether it’s Harrison’s older sibling Terence Ford (“Terence”???) or Bob’s little bro’ Jim Mitchum — to be more than a sickly shade of the original, but Neil Connery deserves credit for being slightly more surprising than that. Unfortunately he’s been dubbed with a standard-issue Amurrican accent, even though the character is described as originating from Edinburgh (for some reason, when big brother Sean’s birthplace is cited in films, e.g. THE ROCK, it’s usually given as Glasgow). But Neil compensates physically with weird mannerisms. (1) Clutching his groin protectively with both hands while talking to Bianchi. (2) Randomly alternating his total of two facial expressions, one of which seems to say “This line has a clever hidden meaning that only I know,” while the other signifies, desperately “I have no idea what that line means.” (3) Blinking furiously whenever he’s not actually trying to hypnotise anyone. I think he might actually be signalling in Morse Code — a message just for me, that’s crossed four decades to reach its target. “If you’re watching this, and I can only pray you are, please — FORGIVE ME!”

But I can’t actually read Morse Code so it’s tough luck for Neil.

Let the Shadows Play

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2008 by dcairns

Maurice Binder’s titles for Ken Russell’s THE BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN (the second sequel to THE IPCRESS FILE with Michael Caine).

Saul Bass gets a very good press, and rightly so, but maybe we should also talk more about Maurice Binder? While Bass is more consistently elegant and tasteful, Binder could be guilty of breathtaking kitsch (those later Bond titles!), as well as more classical work.

ARABESQUE is a film made by Stanley Donen, who told his cinematographer, the great Christopher Challis (TALES OF HOFFMAN) that the script was so bad their only hope was to try every crazy photographic trick in the book. It works! The presence of Sophia Loren and Alan Badel also help compensate for the fey script and the usual Gregory Peck drag-factor.

A similar contempt for the story enlivens THE IPCRESS FILE, where director Sid Furie started the shoot by tearing up and stamping on his script in front of the whole crew. “THAT’S what I think of THAT!”

Michael Caine supposes he must have had to borrow somebody else’s copy for the rest of the film.

Anyhow, Binder certainly gets these films off to a groovy start. I once asked production designer Ken Adam about Binder. The two had worked on many of the same James Bond films. I made the mistake of pronouncing the name “Morris Bynd-er”. But Binder was a German like Adam himself:

“Maw-reece Bin-der,” he enunciated, “was a lovely man, who liked, very much, to photograph silhouetted naked ladies.”

Well, yes.

no mister bond, I expect you to die

Binder himself told the story of his struggle with a model’s pubic hair, which stuck out in a censorable mohawk formation, visible as she turned in silhouette. ‘She wouldn’t shave, so I thought I’d smooth it down with vaseline. I was just patting it down when [producer] Cubby Broccoli walked in. He just looked at me, then said, “Maurice, I think maybe I am paying you too much.”‘

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Maybe sometime I’ll post the titles of Billy Wilder’s THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, a favourite film of mine. Elegant and witty credits by Binder, with Miklos Rosza’s finest and most melancholy score. ‘Why is it so SAD?’ asks Fiona. The violin theme started life as a concerto by Rosza, and Wilder listened to it while writing the script. The sadness seeped into the comedy, making for Wilder’s most deeply-felt work since maybe THE APARTMENT. It’s also Wilder’s SCOTTISH FILM and makes better use of Robert Stephens’ unique gifts than any other movie — although working with Wilder was so stressful for Stephens, he attempted suicide partway through the shoot.

Good Queen Billy

(While Mitchell Leisen would annoy Wilder by cutting his scripts to make things more comfortable for the actors, Wilder, it seems, never did ANYTHING for the comfort of his actors…)

My friend Roland suggests that you tend to find the best title sequences attached to the worst films, and there are certainly cases of that, but as long as there are films like TPLOSH around, I can’t subscribe to that as a guiding principle.