Archive for Dennis Price

Price Fixing

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on March 28, 2014 by dcairns

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Seem to be having an unplanned J Lee Thompson session. I can’t love him — I’m too aware of his horrible late work with Charles Bronson which seemed to be omnipresent during my teenage years. But his early work has great energy, and after a few films he could harness that to a decent story and make sensible choices.

MURDER WITHOUT CRIME was J. Lee Thompson’s first film, based on a play what he wrote. Interestingly, the film has all the snap and thrust and oomph of his best work, directorially, but is a fairly wretched piece of writing: a tricksy plot devised to jerk pasteboard characters through their paces. Nobody is sympathetic, and the casting is so on-the-nose that even Dennis Price, the one “name,” can’t breathe much life into his oily aristo role. But the visuals are fun. It’s the kind of movie where you can lay odds within minutes of the start that somebody will knock a lamp over in a struggle, and half an hour later they do.

It also has a weird VO but an unnamed yank who doesn’t appear, half in the vein of Carold Reed’s chummy THIRD MAN narration, half simply describing what we see with startling literalness. It doesn’t help anything. Giving the VO to Price might’ve been nice, but that would have made his decadent toff even more of a second-string Waldo Lydecker.

The low-angle shots and dutch tilts are lovely, though so persistent that alien archeologists recovering this film from the ruins of human civilisation will be forced to conclude that British movies were photographed by a dwarf with one leg shorter than the other. There’s also a lovely transition, and I can’t quite decide how planned it was. Generally in movies, though, if something looks like a happy accident, you find it was entirely deliberate.

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oh my god there’s a car coming out of my eyes help I hate this kind of thing

In Possession

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2013 by dcairns

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A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN — the genteel title suggests that this ghost story is going to be more DEAD OF NIGHT than THE FRIGHTENERS — in fact, it’s even more restrained than that. Made in 1945, the same year as Ealing’s scarifying ghost omnibus, it’s the product of the notoriously racy (for their day) Gainsborough Pictures, yet the supposedly sedate Ealing made by far the more overt, shamelessly terrifying film. But the lesser-known one does have its points of interest.

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The film gathers together several of the studio’s top stars — Margaret Lockwood, the Wicked Lady herself, a very young and skinny Dennis Price, and James Mason, who plays way older than his real age in a slightly comical wig and whiskers, for no reason other than it’s the best role and it allows him to use a version of his native Yorkshire accent for once (Mason could be very good with accents — Paul Duane tells me his Irish one in THE RECKLESS MOMENT is pitch-perfect). Retired businessman Mason and his wife Barbara Mullen, who lost both their children in infancy, move to the country and buy one of those suspiciously cheap houses one is always coming across in ghost stories. Then they engage Lockwood as a lady’s companion. And then the haunting begins, and Lockwood is possessed by the spirit of a dead, possibly murdered, former inhabitant…

The film, from a novel by Osbert Sitwell, is a little inert in its narrative — people are always saying “We must do something!” and the ghost, reportedly manifesting via the servant’s speaking tube, says “Fetch Doctor Marsham,” in act one but it’s act three before anybody thinks to attempt this — but director Bernard Knowles, a former director of photography for Hitchcock (THE 39 STEPS, SABOTAGE, etc) works hard to compensate for this with complex, fluid and dynamic camera movement, taking frequent advantage of the large mansion set, with its staircase and surrounding gallery. The tracking shots and crane shots, the whip pans and elaborate blocking of the performers, is quite dazzling. Sadly, I get the impression Knowles abandoned this approach pretty quickly — I recall nothing of interest in the other Gainsborough picture of his I’ve looked at, JASSY.

Knowles is doing a Scorsese before there was a Scorsese to do!

Marsham, when he shows up, is impersonated by Ernest Thesiger, which is very good news, but his appearance is practically subliminal — a minute of screen time with not a single closeup and most of his lines delivered with back to camera. And the pay-off is something that would probably work better in a compendium short story rather than a feature. One might also regret that Ms. Lockwood’s possession falls rather short of the gold standard set by Linda Blair with the active collusion of Mercedes McCambridge. MADONNA OF THE SEVEN MOONS, another Gainsborough flick that year, used split personality to allow demure Phyllis Calvert to unleash the kind of pent-up passions the studio delighted in unleashing, and offered the British public what was likely their first cinematic glimpse of what could be taken for a female orgasm. Whereas here, Lockwood falls deathly ill, and under the influence of the ghost, who is also deathly ill (or, rather, is reliving her own mortal illness), resulting in one layer of wanness being overlaid upon another — a shame, with such a vibrant performer to hand.

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Interestingly, both Knowles and MADONNA helmer Arthur Crabtree went rather psychotronic in their late careers, with Crabtree bringing us FIEND WITHOUT A FACE and HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, which neither Ealing nor Gainsborough ever dreamt of, and Knowles taking charge of FROZEN ALIVE (cryogenics) and SPACEFLIGHT IC-1 (see yesterday’s posting).

Bats

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2013 by dcairns

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Our pal Marvelous Mary once spent an evening round out our place watching Jesus Franco’s SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY, and came away with a healthy respect for any filmmaker who could centre a movie around a Crocheted Shawl of Death. Francophiles will recall that star Soledad Miranda dons this garment each time she goes out to shag and kill. A keen and expert knitter, Mary was smitten.

So when Jesus died at Easter, Mary popped round for second helpings. We tried to watch THE GIRL FROM RIO aka THE MILLION EYES OF SUMURU but a technical glitch forced us to resort to DRACULA PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN, which meant we had to trade Shirley Eaton and George Sanders for Jason Reitman’s mom and a visibly ailing Dennis Price. Too bad.

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Genevieve Robert as the Gypsy Woman: arguably an advance on Maria Ouspenskaya. For the first time in my life I begin to think of Ivan Reitman as a man of taste.

I often feel that Jesus Franco’s name should be spelled with a comma after the first name and an exclamation mark after the second. This film inspired that feeling with renewed force. It doesn’t so much lack a plot as bodily reject one, like a transplant patient spitting his new heart across the room to watch it spatter in a pointillist nebula on the far wall. Scenes wend hopelessly on without purpose or meaning, the action attenuated and dubbed like porno without the sex.

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Frankenstein Must be Debilitated. Or, “Not the pole dance, Dennis!”

Whilst in Dublin, I received from friend Paul Duane a copy of Dennis Price, A Tribute, by Elliot J. Huntley, a comprehensive, warm, fannish but erudite profile of the Great Actor. Huntley is generous to Franco, seeing the late films as noble rather than embarrassing, proof of Price’s devotion to his craft and desire to put on a good show however trying the circumstances. And DRACULA PRISONER OF FRANKENSTEIN is trying indeed. But Franco appreciated Price’s talents even if he couldn’t show them to their best advantage — “He was subtle and intelligent and quick. I found him magnificent. You could shoot eighteen hours with him” (never mind the quality, feel the width!) —  and Price enjoyed Franco’s company.

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Back seat Dracula.

On the plus side, the music, by Bruno Nicolai and Daniel White, is excellent. There are strange moments that seem straight out of a spaghetti western, which suggest a more bracing genre mash-up that might have been. This enhanced by the score and the constant antarctic whiteout wind effects, and the eerily human cries of a peacock add some indefinable unease to this already potent punch. Fiona pointed out a shot of a ringing church bell which had been apparently speeded-up, resulting in a queer, herky-jerk effect reminiscent of NOSFERATU’s phantom coach.

Franco makes great use of locations, though he doesn’t attempt to disguise that they’re Spanish and Portuguese  rather than Transylvanian. (Nor does he, in JACK THE RIPPER, attempt to pretend his location is Victorian London: it’s Zurich. Honestly, the two things everybody knows about JTR is that he stalked the East End and was never caught. In the Franco film, Klaus Kinski stalks Zurich and GETS CAUGHT.)

Odd bit with a bat in a jar that’s being slowly filled with fake blood. The poor pipistrelle can’t decide whether to struggle for freedom as the unending trickle of raspberry juice spatters its shoulders, or to lap up the delicious fluid. It keeps switching from one course of action to the other. You can read its thoughts, poor thing: “Must get out — gotta think! — mmm, delicious! — maybe if I push upwards — how do they make this stuff? It’s so sweet!” (The scene is undoubtedly cruel, but it looks to me like Franco rescued the poor chiroptera as it went under for the third time, then probably ran it under the tap or something. So that’s OK, and we can get back to worrying about the cruelty being done to the human performers, though mercifully they aren’t tortured with much dialogue.)

The illusions in the film are all curiously naked: the rubber bats on wires are obviously rubber bats on wires, but then they always were, in Universal and Hammer films too. Franco also films a real bat in closeup while some offscreen bat-wrangler flaps its wings for it to pretend it’s in flight. That looks exactly like what it is too. The plastic skeletons are resplendently plastic, and just to be on the safe side Franco performs one of his trademark zooms into ECU on Howard Vernon’s joke-shop fangs, in case we had become concerned they might be genuine.

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The Frankenstein monster appears to have had his makeup applied with a magic marker. And he has a false rubber glue-on chin, like Kenny Everett’s Marcel Wave.

When the angry mob of villagers hove into view, their torches are not quite ablaze — merely smoldering. This may be the most touching low-budget compromise I’ve ever seen. “They provide no illumination, but the smoke trails — cough, cough — allow us to see where we’ve been.”

And then, all at once and for no reason, the wolfman shows up (played by “Brandy”!). He has a papier mache nose. A well-known side-effect of lycanthropy.

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Jesus, Franco!

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