Archive for Cyril Cusack

Juggernaut Jones

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on July 17, 2019 by dcairns

Our Freddie Jones tribute screening consisted of THE ELEPHANT MAN and JUGGERNAUT. I can’t discuss his role in the latter without heavy spoilers, but I would argue that the film, though beautifully plotted, is spoiler-proof because its real pleasures go well beyond the what-happens-ness of the narrative.

But the spoilers start right now.

I was able to get Fiona to rewatch JUGGERNAUT because she’d forgotten most of the what-happens, and because I sold it as Freddie’s only title role. We see cops Anthony Hopkins and Kenneth Colley (a Ken Russell favourite) interview various suspects or potential informants as they try to catch the pseudonymous title terrorist. (One scene shows them backstage at Swan Lake, presumably interviewing the dry ice specialist about his protechnics expertise, but alas we don’t meet him.) Freddie Jones, Cyril Cusack and Michael Hordern play the characters we do meet, so there’s a small whodunnity aspect to the story. But as with a Maigret mystery, whydunnit is much more important and interesting.

Hopkins interviews Cusack in prison, giving the scene a little SILENCE OF THE LAMBS pre-echo, but with Hopkins in the opposite part. Cusack plays a charming IRA bomb man, evidently a bit of a psychopath, but mostly just old: “I don’t really care who gets blown up.” No longer full of passionate intensity, he apparently now lacks all conviction and his only reason for not teasing Hopkins with false leads is that he can’t be bothered.

Director Richard Lester told me they started the scene at the usual time, and when they finished it he looked at his watch and it was 9.20 a.m. or something. A wonderful feeling for a man who liked to move fast!

Michael Hordern is working at a dog track (because robot rabbits and bombs are part of the same skillset) and is annoyed that his name’s on the terror suspect list. He only does criminal stuff abroad, and his last job was for HM Gov and they promised to take him off the list. “You can’t trust anybody these days,” says Colley, before promising to take him off the list if he helps. Hordern does a shifty look. He’s only really here because Lester loved his work and because we need another suspect. The rule of three.

Freddie’s character, Sidney Buckland, is a retired bomb disposal man, living in a little suburban home with his nice wife, watching telly and seemingly quite relaxed and helpful to the police. If this were a whodunnit, which it is, we’d immediately finger him for the perp, which we do. But Jones plays his scene with so little intensity — not always a naturalistic actor, but he can do it when required — that he gets away with it. And his lovely wife, Kristine Howarth, is so warm and sweet, she’s the best character witness you could ask for.

The thing that makes the pay-off satisfying is that Buckland is the former colleague and guv’nor of Fallon, the hero (Richard Harris), the man who has the job of defusing the bombs. When Fallon recognises the style of the bomb as belonging to a wartime German job he defused with Buckland, the cops realise Buckland is their man (the original bomb’s designer being dead). So this is satisfying in narrative terms but also makes the situation worse, especially for the hero: the man he has to outsmart is his friend and defusion guru.

(The movie doesn’t worry about why 47-year-old Jones is retired — the real one worked until the age of 90 — but I guess acting is different from bomb disposal — or is it? — or how he and 44-year-old Harris could have been defusing doodlebugs thirty years earlier — evidently both characters are older than they look.)

Fallon has narrowed his options down to two wires, red and blue. He can’t tell which one deactivates the bomb and which one will set it off. Oh, and there are several bombs, all below the waterline on an ocean liner in heavy seas. No way to evacuate, and any mistake will kill everyone. Fallon has already lost his best friend Charlie Braddock, on this job, and he’s a tired, angry fellow who despises the establishment he works for.

Catching Juggernaut means they can ask Buckland which wire to cut. It’s on a timer and it’s going to go off in minutes. If Harris cuts the right wire he can convey to his team, each stationed at their own device, which one he cut and they can duplicate his action (if all the bombs are the same).

Freddie/Buckland walks to the mic, I think maybe the only tracking shot in the film. (To make the film feel like it was unfolding “live,” Lester shot casually, mo st scene s covered from one position with two or three cameras, one on a master, the others punching in to catch closeups and details.)

So, by radio, Fallon asks Buckland which wire he ought to cut. He appeals to their friendship, he acknowledges Buckland’s mastery, and he reminds his mentor what the fear and tension of the job are like. It’s an impassioned performance and a sensible approach that WOULD work, if you were dealing with a fellow human being with a spark of empathy left.

Lester cross-cuts between the two wires in macro-close-up, each forming a diagonal for maximum graphic punch.

Buckland tells Fallon to cut the blue wire.

Fallon thinks about it. Then cuts the red wire. The bomb doesn’t go off. “It’s red, lads!” he shouts. Job done. The audience can wipe its sweaty hands.

This ending is really impressive and nailbiting cinematically bravura. Still, something about it kind of bothered me as a kid, and I thought about it, worried away at it, and it got even better.

First, there’s the fact that Buckland steers Fallon wrong, even though he’s already been caught. Killing his friend and all those passengers and crew will achieve nothing, now. He’s never going to get his half million ransom, and his probable sentence for mass murder will be, if possible, even harsher than his sentence for extortion by terror would have been. It’s a completely nihilistic and self-destructive act. Therefore a good gesture for the antagonist to make at the end of a story, I guess.

But what about Fallon? We have to assume that something about Buckland’s delivery of the simple lines, “It’s blue,” and “Cut the blue wire,” tells Fallon that his old friend is not to be trusted. He detects the trap and avoids it.

Now this clip IS a spoiler.

What I realised was bothering me is that Fallon, on impulse, cuts the red wire, without telling anyone. His team, listening in, think he’s cutting the blue. If he’d guessed wrong, they have all cut the red wire, thinking he’d been killed by the blue, and they have all been blown up also.

(Of course, if he’d guessed wrong, they’d probably all drown anyway.)

It seemed like, to create suspense, the film had Fallon do something pretty stupid. He should at least have announced what he was doing. But that would have been messy, would have spoiled the neatness of the tension-relief scheme.

But maybe Fallon didn’t care. Maybe he just made a perverse choice, not worrying about the consequences. Perversity and rebellion are big parts of his character. And maybe Buckland is a model for the man Fallon might turn into. So maybe Fallon’s action, which saves the ship and everyone on it, was also a completely nihilistic and self-destructive act.

Fallon doesn’t look relieved or happy that the ship doesn’t explode.

He goes on deck and looks out, not at where the ship has been, but back at its wake.

He has the air of a gambler who has lost everything. But is disappointed to find he’s still there.

BUCKLAND: I can’t explain what they did to me, not in official police jargon. […] They teach you how to dismantle bombs, save lives. But they didn’t pay you enough so you learn how to design bombs, taking lives. Pays much better. And then one day you’re old and they give you a miserable pension. I’m still good at my job.”

JUGGERNAUT features Professor Albus Dumbledore; Doctor Yuri Zhivago; Dildano; Dr. Hannibal Lecter; Polo Bollen; Bilbo Baggins; Sheriff J.W. Pepper; the Cheshire Cat; the Mock Turtle; Eva Braun; Thufir Hawat; Major Breen; Chief Insp. Gregg; Pandit Nehru; Admiral Piett; Lord Tarquin of Staines; Cuthbert Clare; Hopkirk (deceased); Control; Roj Blake; and Manimal.

There Will Be Flood

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , on March 26, 2010 by dcairns

FLOODS OF FEAR, rather nicely directed by Charles Crichton (THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES, A FISH CALLED WANDA), is a B-thriller with an A budget, and an intriguing mix of good and bad qualities, both of which are equally entertaining at times.

Good qualities — escaped convicts taking charge of a flooded house during a destructive deluge in Canada: it’s a great dramatic situation. The cast is strong and the budget surprisingly fulsome, offering convincing special effects, both life-sized and miniature (and you generally can’t see the join).

Even though the central set-up in the film’s first third — convicts menace cute girl — is a little Victorian in its implications, there’s room for suspense and the film isn’t afraid of being exploitative and vulgar, which is somehow refreshing in a British movie of the 50s. And for a former Ealing director like Crichton to go as racy and pulpy as this is quite surprising.

Bad qualities — restlessly, the movie shifts out of the half-submerged house, dissipating suspense and pursuing a more complicated but less interesting narrative, rooted in a convoluted backstory we never see. But all his forgiven during the violent climax, set in a flooded shipping office.

Also — crummy title.

The most amusing bad quality, however, is the filming of a Canadian adventure story in England with English and Irish actors. In the lead, Howard Keel, in his first non-musical lead, is able to show the way with authentic North American vocalisations. Opposite him, the lovely Anne Heywood just plays it English, which is acceptable in the circumstances. Now the trouble starts. Cyril Cusack, as the psychopathic con, essays a dialect melding his own Irish tones with a rich blend of wildly different American sounds and mannerisms. These were the days before dialect coaching, when accents were largely expected to partake of the same generous suspension of disbelief that applied to rear-projected car journeys, bloodless stabbings, balsa barroom bannisters and people falling from high places who transformed into flailing, disarticulated dummies for the descent.

“Disarticulated” is actually a pretty good word for Cusack’s speech patterns — his voice belongs to a Frankenstein’s monster of American accents, with Tennessee legs supporting a Texas torso from which depend Brooklyn arms, the whole surmounted by an Irish-South African head, the bits strung together with fraying thread, flapping loosely as his performance plummets towards the murky waters below.

As hilarious as Cusack’s performance is, bundling together tics and tropes from a generation of sleazeball gangster characters, it pales next to that of Harry H Corbett, who is much funnier because his character, a stuffy prison guard, is more dignified, and because his accent, if we can even justify the use of the singular, is even worse than Cusack’s. In his very first sentence he manages to segue from Humphrey Bogart to Cary Grant. Grant, of course, had an accent unknown to Henry Higgins (“Nbody tawks like that!” as Jack Lemmon protests in SOME LIKE IT HOT), making it an unsuitable case for impersonation outside of a comedy. I think even if you were playing Cary Grant you might want to tone it down a bit.

“You dirty old man!”

Corbett was a serious stage actor at this point, remarked upon for his proletarian grit and manliness. How he wound up spending twelve years in a single sitcom is mysterious, but his ambition to be a great thespian informed his playing of Harold in Steptoe and Son, a study in frustration, disappointment, pretension, great dreams and lowly surroundings — perfect for a once-hot classical actor.

There’s nothing perfect about most of Corbett’s movie work, although he features in Gilliam’s JABBERWOCKY, Eric Sykes’ much-loved silent comedy THE PLANK, Mackendrick’s SAMMY GOING SOUTH, Joan Littlewood’s SPARROWS CAN’T SING, and of course CARRY ON SCREAMING. The rest tend to be dowdy British sex comedies of the kind clearly intended to put the British working man off sex for life, although COVER GIRL KILLER, made the same year as FLOODS, features an inventive and grotesque turn from Corbett, possibly patterned on Cusack’s pebble-glasses maniac in this movie.

Howard Keel is mainly staunch and shirtless as the stoic con with a tragic past — he has the kind of musculature, coated in soft flesh, that you just don’t see on leading men anymore. He’s holding his gut in all the time, like Mitchum or Shatner. But he cam move! That musical training pays off whenever he has to clamber or jump, suggesting that a deluge-based thriller is not actually the best vehicle for him. He could have played Burt Lancaster type swashbucklers, because he’s beautiful in motion.

Worth a look for the sheer spectacle and the hilarity of the Canadian accent drag acts. A good candidate for remake status, except that HARD RAIN kind of went there.