Archive for Dean Jagger

“People melting, indeed!”

Posted in FILM, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2015 by dcairns

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The above scornful remark by a Scottish policeman in X: THE UNKNOWN (1956) recalls the words of the burgomaster in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN: “Monster , indeed!” And screenwriter Jimmy Sangster probably knew his Universal horrors, as he was about to write CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.

The perils of a little knowledge: IMDb attributes the film to Leslie Norman, the credited director, and Joseph Losey, and I thought I could see traces of Losey’s trademark snaky tracking shots, but reading more I learn that Losey was removed before production began. as star Dean Jagger refused to work with a blacklisted commie. A shame. Losey had made a short film for Hammer (the turgid A MAN ON THE BEACH) and would eventually shoot THE DAMNED for the studio, but he wasn’t too sorry to be removed from this hokum. Hammer had wanted a Quatermass sequel, I believe, but author Nigel Kneale had refused to allow his creation into the hands of another writer. A shame, in some ways, since the character played by token yank Jagger is closer to Kneale’s conception than the bellowing lout played by Brian Donlevy in THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT.

I had tried to watch this with Fiona once, but we got bored of the muddy quarry setting, which seemed to go on forever. The grumbling squaddies played by the likes of Anthony Newley and Kenneth Cope got sick of it and their lack of enthusiasm was infectious. Seeing it properly, I can’t understand this, as the movie is OK and for heaven’s sake, it’s a quasi-Quatermass set in Scotland. We should have been all over that shit.

My friend Alex, with whom I’ve been writing a Quatermass-inspired project, said he remembered this one improving as it went on. But later, when we discussed it, it turned out that he’d mentally grafted the last half of QUATERMASS II onto the front half of X, so naturally it improved. And somehow the bits went together quite well.

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If the film were in colour you’d be able to see that hapless young Kenneth Cope, centre, is wearing a red shirt. Yes, that’s a Star Trek joke.

The monster in the Scottish Quatermass turns out to be mud, which seems kind of apt given the weather. Radioactive mud from the earth’s core, explained by a shambolic bit of Sangster pseudo-science. But, as often with Sangster’s all-thumbs scripting, apparent mistakes or clumsy inconsistencies can be oddly evocative. On the surface, the film has little of the anti-militarism of Kneale’s writing, although the army try to dynamite the monster and then cement over the fissure it oozes from, so they’re idiots. But the best bit is the Geiger counter test — a group of soldiers are training in the use of Geiger counters when they happen to stumble upon the exact spot where the radioactive monster is going to emerge. It’s a fairly global coincidence, but that isn’t the best bit. The inevitable Michael Ripper tells his men that in a real radiation situation, they would be required to mark the spot and get out fast, as radiation can be very nasty. When, seconds later, the pale and trembling young Kenneth Cope does indeed find real radiation, he is ordered to stand on the spot so everyone can see where it is. He dies horribly.

This cheered me up no end, and made me feel the movie would be worth watching as soon as we could get out of the muddy quarry. And we do, to a couple of nuclear labs and a few simpler sets. The nearby village, Lochmouth, is scene of a great bit once the blob gets properly oozing — forced perspectives allow a very small blob to pretend to be a very big blob. For most of the film, the blob is absent, like Godot, though Leslie Norman does grant us a couple of blob’s-eye-view attacks. Before there was Michael Myer, there was X: THE UNKNOWN. X is also an unusual character in that he gets to physically embody his own main title, a gloopy X of rippling oily matter. Even Marlon Brando never got to embody a title, though clearly such an approach could have greatly enhanced his later work.

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Red-hating Dean Jagger is, appropriately, on the right, whereas Leo McKern is, like, whatevs.

Then Leo McKern turns up. Like chocolate, Leo McKern makes everything a bit better. I think even chocolate-coated rabies would be a bit better than the normal kind. But I’m unsure if a chocolate-coated Leo McKern would sort of cancel himself out. Anyway, I suspect he was Losey’s idea — his next film would be TIME WITHOUT PITY for that director. I was a little disappointed that McKern’s policeman character wasn’t given more to do — Sangster has crowded the film with largely benign authority figures who get on much too well together — and he accepts with complete credulity the theory that the radiation slayings plaguing this rural locale are the work of some mud. A scene of Leo angrily rejecting such a supposition could easily have been the best scene in the picture.

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Priest rescues little girl from blob, which is trickling listlessly through gap in dry-stone wall in front of a painting of Scottish scenery — and the little girl wins the movie’s best acting award by laughing her head off throughout. Nobody, it seems, had the heart (or energy?) to dub on screams.

Instead, the best bit is when makeup guru/top splodger Phil Leakey and effects wiz Les Bowie make a doctor melt. The doc has arranged a romantic tryst with a sexy nurse in the hospital’s “radiation room.” Because what woman can resist a proposition like that? The amorous medico’s disintegration is served up with two shots, a swelling finger closeup which suggests a Tom & Jerry hammer-to-the-thumb gag, while also looking forward to that staple of seventies and eighties horror, the bladder effect. Then there’s a LOST ARK type flesh-melt,all the most striking for its brevity. Lucio Fulci would have gotten a full minute out of that bit, but HE WOULD HAVE BEEN WRONG.

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Ha! The sign omits to mention that it’s the SEXY Radiation Room. OF DEATH.

So now commie-hating Dean Jagger has to kill the mud with special science. I liked the fact that the film’s ending hinges upon the need to zap the mud before it decides to rampage through Inverness. The film is a product of a gentler age, in which our empathy for Inverness was presumed to be strong enough to motivate a film’s climax. And I like the fact that Jagger is persuaded to use an experimental technique which, if it fails, is going to cause a gigantic explosion much more devastating than the mud monster.

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And then I *really* like the bizarre ending, when the mud-monster is blown up, and there follows a mysterious second explosion from the bowels of the earth. Dean Jagger is deeply perturbed. It shouldn’t have happened. Every one else is, like, whatevs, we blew up the mud didn’t we? But Jagger remains perturbed. And then the film abruptly ENDS, a colossal fuck-you to the curious. It’s not enough to constitute a typical horror movie closeup-of-a-bee sequel promise. It’s not pointed enough, specific enough. It’s just bloody weird, like Sangster started to write a final twist and then couldn’t be bothered, and then couldn’t be bothered XXX-ing out the bit he’d started.

Maybe they used up all their Xs in the title.

The Murderizer II: No Noose is Good Noose

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2009 by dcairns

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In DARK CITY, a percussive 1950 noir directed by Shadowplay man-of-the-moment William Dieterle, Charlton Heston is introduced to the world in the role of Danny Haley, a professional gambler with a zero tolerance attitude to current affairs: spurning a newspaper offered by smoky chanteuse girlfriend/doormat Lizabeth Scott ~

She: “Don’t you want to know what’s going on in the world?”

He: “What’s going on in the world STINKS!”

Evocative title, of course, and one which has been borrowed by books on noir and Phildickian sci-fi movies alike. Oddly, the movie takes place equally in NYC, LA and Vegas, so the title comes to have a sort of blanket significance. Indeed, as Dieterle holds a long shot of a marching Heston for the whole title sequence, it’s tempting to read it as, in effect, saying “Introducing Charlton Heston as — DARK CITY!”

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Chuck H. was never more mean, moody and magnitudinous as here, looking like an Easter Island head that’s eaten a bad pickle. Sculpted and sour-sneering, he shoulders his way through the movie, brushing lesser men (Ed Begley, Jack Webb, Henry Morgan: a stellar array of lesser men) aside like Lizabeth’s newspaper.

Plot: Heston, Webb and Begley fleece a weak-willed Dean Jagger Don DeFore in a rigged game, and the chump (“Guys like that cheat themselves the minute they sit down,” scorns Chuck) goes and hangs himself. Then his brother comes after the hustlers, throttling them one at a time. The brother is presented as a giant, disembodied paw, like a B-movie space monster, only wearing a chunky ring on his third finger. The paw belongs to Mike “the Murderizer” Mazurki, with whom we know we are in trouble.

Dieterle puts it all over with propulsive aplomb, relying on Momentum, Wallop and Sweat (MWS for short). Ace lensman Victor Milner keeps the shadows BLACK, and there are some really nice subliminally dutch-tilted angles. Best noir I’ve seen in an age, and I still have ROPE OF SAND to look forward to (Lancaster! Lorre! Yipes!)

Frame grabs courtesy of theycame2001, at Karagarga.net.

Ah-woo-wah-wow

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on May 28, 2008 by dcairns

By any normal standards, one would say Robert Mitchum is kind of funny-looking. But also astonishingly beautiful, at least sometimes.

Suck it in, Mitch!

What, can’t one man admire another’s ruggedly chiselled physiognomy?

That shot in OUT OF THE PAST when he straightens up after fighting his ex-partner in a darkened room, and Jane Greer has just fired her gun… that’s another of those Mitchum shots that takes my breath away.

This one, however, is from PURSUED, a wildly Freudian western written by Niven Busch, directed by Raoul Walsh, and photographed by James Wong Howe. I say “Freudian” because the plot, MARNIE-style, turns on Mitchum’s need to recover a repressed childhood memory. I loved this right up to the finish, which seemed contrived and unconvincing. One character gets to shoot another, who was posing no immediate threat, and yet nobody suggests that a crime has been committed. I know it was the bad guy who gets shot, and nothing says “the story’s finished” better than killing the bad guy, but it seemed… unnecessarily generic. And not explicable in realistic terms, since earlier in the movie the hero is tried after killing a man in self-defense. How come nobody’s bothered this time?

I’m not usually among what Hitchcock dismissively called the plausibilists, but when a film violates its own inner logic it does bug me a little.

I have never forgiven them for my arm.

Still, 90% of the film is great, noirish, unconventional and imaginative, and with a rather strong villain played by Dean Jagger, a man so determined to wipe out his enemies, he sacrifices his own arm rather than give up the hunt. I admired his cussedness.