Archive for Deliverance

Bayou Kill Me

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2021 by dcairns

Fiona’s emotional reaction to Walter Hill’s SOUTHERN COMFORT was so extreme I’m a little scared to show her any other Hill films. From jolting and gasping at each bit of violence, to demanding I hold her hand for the suspenseful climax, this was more the kind of thing I expect from the missus when we’re out at the movies (the loud “SHIT!” during JURASSIC PARK when surrounded by small children was a good moment).

The other reaction I think of is my friend Paul Duane’s, who sees the movie as a brilliant riposte to Boorman’s DELIVERANCE, a film he has big problems with. I can understand those problems — DELIVERANCE’s mountain men can be seen as xenophobic caricatures, unmotivated evil forces embodying a wild otherness in contrast to the citified heroes — but I have a harder time seeing Hill’s film as the antidote.

But let’s consider: Hill’s troop of national guardsmen are a flawed bunch — they’re the cause of their own misfortune, provoking the Cajun backwoodsmen in a number of ways, and escalating the situation at every turn, until it’s too late to back down. True, the two main characters, Keith Carradine and Powers Booth, gradually become very sympathetic, but it’s easy to see their opponents’, admittedly extremely hostile, point of view.

Still, I always felt Boorman was somewhat critical of his macho holidaymakers. They don’t DESERVE their fates, but they seem to be presented as trespassing fools, quite ignorant of the forces they’re trifling with. Boorman is pretty weird — he told Michel Ciment that nobody who was in tune with nature would break his leg the way Burt Reynolds’ character does in this film. I always found that a peculiar attitude: you hit a rock, you break your leg, is the way I see it. But at any rate, Boorman doesn’t wholeheartedly take his heroes’ side, and I never felt he expected us to view the rustic characters entirely through their eyes. Their attitude to the banjo-playing kid is unpleasant: “Talk about genetic deficiencies-isn’t that pitiful?” In fact, he then surprises them with his musical skills, the first of many surprises they’re in for, and the only pleasant one.

Hill and cowriter David Giler go all-in making their national guard goons dumb and nasty, to the point where they risk the viewer disengaging. We were happy to see most of them killed, except it was so unpleasant. And their attitude to their enemy is to persistently underestimate them.

Of course, Hill & Giler set their story in 1973, eight years before its release date, for a reason. It’s a Viet Nam movie that avoids certain controversies by avoiding Viet Nam. But the mistakes/crimes committed by the guardsmen relate quite closely to the mistakes of that war. Going where you have no business going, for a start. Using the locals as a resource, regarding them as subhuman, failing to communicate with them, terrorising them, torturing them. Also, making a war film in which Americans fight Americans is certainly interesting. You could say the film is simultaneously provoking and dodging a series of questions about its meaning.

All this is presented via Hill’s unconventional coverage and cutting, which has a lot to do with the film’s striking intensity. A bear trap is triggered, and snaps TWICE, for emphasis. Hill doesn’t neglect the atmospheric landscape, but he tends to fragment the conversations into disconnected heads — but he maintains coherence. His style seems like a precursor to the later, shittier action films, but looks refreshing now. (You can see Hill’s influence as exec producer on ALIENS, I think, which has a lot in common with this, and the presence of Franklyn Seales also reminds us of Carpenter’s THE THING from around the same time.)

During the film’s last section, the surviving “heroes” wash up in a Cajun town, where the suspense builds around the question of whether they’re safe here. The sequence last long enough that we become pretty sure they’re not, although the prospect of the whole citizenry going 102,000 MANIACS on us is floated then abandoned. In fact, we never see what the reaction of the locals would be to the murderous attacks by the original gang of wild men would be, which is very slightly a cop-out. Having stoked our paranoia about these friendly-seeming but othered folks, Hill leaves the question hanging. Probably they’re fine, but I think it’s best we leave…

SOUTHERN COMFORT stars Wild Bill Hickock; Alexander Haig; Gus Grissom; Jimmy Smith; Nauls; Perfect Tommy; Bufe Coker; Keys; Slug a tough; and Leon Kowalski.

His Tropi Wife

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2016 by dcairns


“That was, without question, the most fucked-up film I have ever seen in my life,” declared Fiona after watching SKULLDUGGERY (1970).

My human bride had been quite interested to see the pic, as it deals with the missing link, and features favourites like Edward Fox, William Marshall and Wilfred Hyde-White. And Burt Reynolds, practicing his up-the-creek manoeuvres for the forthcoming DELIVERANCE. Reynolds plays a dodgy adventurer in New Guinea who latches onto an anthropological expedition in the hopes of finding profitable phosphorous deposits. Along the way he finds lurve with Susan Clark, the sexy female anthropologist (for once, the sexy scientist seems not too removed from reality, since there have apparently always been anthropologist babes — this isn’t like Denise Richards playing a nuclear physicist in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH) and they also find a tribe of primeval hairy people they nickname the tropi.

Now, by the time Primitive Man shows his whiskery face, the movie has already reduced itself to rubble around us, with stupid and insulting humour about the African populace, and charmless romcom tosh in which the Reynolds’ character’s blatant villainy does little to endear him. We are encouraged to leer at native girls like a teenage boy grasping his first National Geographic in his sweaty palms. The uncomfortable ethnic stuff is made still weirder by the fact that all the tropis are played by Japanese actors.


Every image I had previously seen from this movie emphasised the female tropis’ busts, thrusting pertly from beneath their orange fur (not quite the orangutan shade, more the tangerine of Japanese people attempting to go blonde). But the movie is squeamish about ape-woman nipple, and indeed seems reluctant to offer a clear look at these crucial characters at all, as if someone, somewhere, were ashamed. Their anxiety might have more productively focussed on the script.

Burt puts the tropis to work mining phosphorus for him, paying them in tinned ham, which they love. Then the backer of the expedition seizes on the idea of the tropis as an invaluable source of slave labour, and Burt is the only one who objects. This seems inconsistent, to say the least. The scientists are apparently all for slavery, though so much of Edward Fox’s performance takes place beyond the edges of the 4:3 pan-and-scan area, it’s hard to say if he ever had more of a character arc about this. The plot now becomes a debate about whether the tropies are human, which then focusses on whether Burt’s best pal has drunkenly fathered an infant by a tropi mom. To force the issue, Burt claims to have murdered the baby, and we end up in court for an in-depth analysis of where mankind ends and the animal kingdom begins. An in-depth analysis as imagined by idiots.

Where this idiocy comes from is hard to guess, since this film is based on a book by “Vercors,” author of the classic French occupation novel La Silence de la Mer, filmed by Melville, and the screenplay is credited to Nelson Gidding who did THE HAUNTING. Neither one seems like a fool. But foolishness prevails. I suspect uncredited other hands may be to blame for the foul tonal inconsistency and brainless fumbling. This is supported by the background info that Orson Welles associate Richard Wilson was tipped from the director’s chair, his still-warm buttock imprint occupied by the sagging rump of THEM! director Gordon Douglas, whose approach to the material is not so much uncertain as absent, as if behind the glass eye of the camera lurked another glass eye, gazing blankly and without feeling.

Skullduggery from David Cairns on Vimeo.

We do have the pleasure of seeing Edward Fox react to an ape-woman flying a helicopter — I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wondered what Sir Edward’s response to such a spectacle would be — but the sheer offensive stupidity of the rest boggles the mind.

Clark attempts to prove to the court that establishing an individual’s species is more complicated than you’d think, by laying out skulls from a baboon, a chimp, a human and an aboriginal. Yes, you read correctly. The movie apparently thinks aboriginals aren’t human, or are at best some sub-species of the main branch. There’s a spirited debate between William Marshall and Wilfred Hyde-White in which Marshall is, of course, dignified and Shakespearian and Hyde-White is doddery and wry, his usual mode — all the more effective when his character turns out to be a white supremacist. The smartest thing in the film is this underplaying of evil, and it may have only come about because WHW just did what he normally did and nobody thought to stop him.


Then the movie spoils its nanosecond of goodwill by bringing in a parodic Black Panther (he’s flown all the way from America, apparently, to make the case that the tropis, being pale skinned, prove that white people are less evolved, or something), part of the usual satirical escape clause — “Black people are prejudiced too!” — in fact, I just realized, SKULLDUGGERY bloody well *is* Bonfire of the Vanities, book and film, only it’s all gone Piltdown.

The most neglected character in all this is Topazia, the tropi wife, played by Pat Suzuki. She gets knocked up by a human (hairless variety), gives birth, loses the child, and then gets hauled into court in a cage. The film has absolutely no interest in her as a character, human or animal, despite the fact that far more happens to her than to any of the bare-faced ham-dispensers making up the upper echelons of the cast list. SKULLDUGGERY unfair to tropis.

At last — a Film of Ideas made by morons.

The Mysterious Mr If, Part the Fifth

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on July 4, 2011 by dcairns

It’s Monday, which means it’s time once again for me to court your baffled silence with another enthralling episode of my inexplicably unproduced screenplay, THE MYSTERIOUS MR IF. This week’s edition features a heavy nod in the direction of Lindsay Anderson’s IF… as we meet a man in a filing cabinet. A friend who read the thing entire asked if perhaps I was breaking one of the unwritten laws of comedy by making the straight characters as silly as the surreal ones. He was probably right, but who wants to write a scene with Zeppo Marx and Bud Abbot? 

For those not in tune with popular movements in modern screenwriting, I have another “poetic” contribution to the Vincentennial over at Limerwrecks. Topic: THE FLY, as fitting a subject for five-line doggerel as any I can think of.


So — last we saw, Edinburgh’s police exhibit/archive The Blue Museum had been vandalized by a master-criminal freshly escaped from the nineteenth century: policeman mannequins dressed in tacky lingerie. Sheena McQueen, cop reject, has stolen a file on this miscreant, and her cat, Edward Woodward, has been savagely blacked up as a result. Sheena has left said cat in the care of Howie, human exhibit at Edinburgh Zoo, and alerted Detective Inspector Turner of the Lothian and Borders Police to these unruly shenanigans. Clear? Now read on…


Sheena peels the lingerie from a Victorian bobby –


Victoria’s Secret Police.

Tring! DI. Turner and PC. Thrower enter. Turner nods briskly to Sheena but doesn’t stop – both men proceed to the back of the museum.

Sheena moves towards the rear of the museum.


Ah, DI. Turner. All is in readiness. Descend with me to the Files Room.


Sheena sidles in just as Netherbow, Turner and the constable disappear below stairs. Sheena creeps to the top of the stairs and crouches to watch.


Howie sits in his cage facing Edward Woodward the cat. Edward Woodward is still in blackface. Howie has a banjo. Edward Woodward has a banjo.

Duelling banjos!

Howie plays the first part of the tune.

Edward Woodward stares at him mutely. For a long time.

Howie plays the third part of the tune.

Edward Woodward stares some more.


There’s no keeping up with you.


Sheena watches from the top of the stairs.


Still no sign of the If File?

Sheena looks guilty.


I’ve turned the place upside out, Detective Inspector. I can’t conceive of what –


The business at hand, then.

Netherbow goes to a filing cabinet and opens a long drawer.

Inside, morgue-style, is Inspector Rathbone Shinty, still dressed in the height of Victorian fashion. He is adorned with cobwebs.

Sheena jolts in astonishment.


Inspector Rathbone Shinty. A hundred and fifty years old. Is it possible he can tell us anything?


He was mesmerized at the instant of death. He ought still to have all his faculties.

Sheena looks dumbfounded.

Turner leans very close to the dusty inspector, clears his throat, and then yells in the cadaver’s ear.



Shinty’s mouth opens and a long-legged spider crawls out.

Then a musty gasp exhales. Shinty stirs slightly. His skin makes a sound like dead leaves.

A voice, distant and desiccated, wafts from the cracked and barely mobile lips.


So If has returned… I knew he would.




Mr. If is attempting to become… unreal. But has only half-succeeded. As a semi-real person, he has… unspeakable power. Should he become completely… unreal, he might… start a chain reaction which would… unravel the universe. Fact and fiction would… blur, and the world might well… come to an end… of some sort. He must be stopped. Stopped.

And with that, Shinty’s face caves in. His suit crumples. His hands twitch and flake.



The strain was too great.

Thrower doffs his cap. Netherbow clasps his tit theatrically.


Break, break, oh heart!

Sheena, transfixed, comes to her senses and finds herself leaning dangerously far forward at the top of the stairs.

Turner, Netherbow and the constable pivot in surprise at a loud CLATTER.

Sheena slides down the last few stairs on her belly, reaches the bottom, and looks up.




A silhouetted Mr. If, in opera cape, surveys the cityscape.


Soon, soon, my pretty world. Nothing was, and nothing will be again.

He reaches out as if to touch a distant street… a car drives up it and If brings his fingers together as if to pinch the apparently tiny vehicle.

He moves his hand to his lips, clutching a tiny car. Muffled screams and honking as he delicately chews the miniature motor.


Mmm, the 1982 Datsun. A very good year.

FREEZE FRAME on his evilness.

Will Sheena get her stripes? Will Howie change his spots? Will Mr. If eat the universe? Tune in next time, or you may suffer baldness and stammering. Good evening.