Archive for Dino deLaurentis

Jesus Cripes!

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2009 by dcairns

I was going to run this at Easter but I totally forgot. Maybe it’s less inflammatory to do it now. Christ has been dead and resurrected for about a month — we can laugh about it now.

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Film history is littered with dream projects that never saw the light of day. Since the story of Jesus is so well-known, it’s not surprising that a number of the most intriguing unmade movies were attempts at rendering his life in cinematic form.

A few examples of unusual Jesus movies:

1) Before embarking on THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, George Stevens briefly contemplated a project tentatively titled THE GREATEST STORY EVER SMELLED. To be filmed in the wonder of Odorama, giving audiences an authentic aroma of biblical times, the costly production was eventually scrapped when research failed to come up with sufficiently alluring scents. “We had the smell of camels, the smell of blood, the smell of Victor Buono. The whole thing was downhill after the myhrr!” complained Stevens, whose Scratch ‘n’ Sniff Messiah was shelved in favour of an unperfumed version.

2) Jim Henson’s  A VERY MUPPET EASTER sought to capture the passion of the Christ in glove-puppet form, making for a family-friendly version of a story that is often too violent for youngsters. As envisaged by Henson, the film would begin with Kermit the frog narrating the story of the New Testament to his little relative, Robin. The tale would then take shape in Robin’s mind, visualised with his friends from The Muppet Show playing the various biblical personae: Miss Piggy as Salome, the Swedish Chef as John the Baptist, the Great Gonzo as Judas. Fozzie Bear would have been stretched to the limit as Jesus of Nazareth. Henson apparently abandoned his plan when he heard of a rival production starring the Smurfs.

“In any case, the problem of how to show Fozzie on the cross without revealing the puppeteer’s hand going inside him might have defeated us. One technical mistake and the plausibility would have gone out the window.”

3) The Marx Brothers’ A NIGHT AT GOLGOTHA is perhaps the most tantalising of these unseen Passions. While it is easy to picture Groucho as the wily politician Pontius Pilate (he would have looked magnificent in a toga), and Chico’s casting as an Italian-accented Judas seems less implausible if we consider Harvey Keitel’s performance in Scorsese’s THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (“Ey, Jesus, whaddayadoin’ makin’ crosses faw da Romans?”), it’s much harder to picture Harpo as the Messiah, and especially to imagine him conveying the significance, as well as the poetry, of the Sermon on the Mount simply by honking a series of car horns concealed within his robe. Alas, we shall never know if this bold experiment would have succeeded, since ultimately MGM exec Irving Thalberg ruled that Jesus could not be played by a Jew. All that survives of this project is a few minute’s footage of Margaret Dumont’s costume test for the role of the Magdalene.

4) Steven Spielberg’s J.C.: THE SON OF GOD AND HIS ADVENTURE ON EARTH was a sincere, if misguided, attempt to solve the problem faced by so many cinematic Christ films: no actor could adequately portray the splendor of a God in human form. Spielberg’s answer — special effects — was one that has served him well throughout his career. In 1981, fresh from the success of the bible-themed RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, Spielberg hired animatronics genius Carlo Rambaldi to construct a metal messiah. Rambaldi had built a fifty-foot high robot gorilla for Dino deLaurentiis’s KING KONG, and deLaurentiis had once produced a film called THE BIBLE (“The film of the book”), so it all seemed to make sense.

“But no matter what instructions I gave Carlo,” recalls Spielberg today, “no matter what photographic references I gave him — Max Von Sydow, Jeffrey Hunter — he kept coming up with this shriveled little grey guy. I loved the design, but I just couldn’t take seriously the idea of this little homunculus curing people’s leprosy. He looked like he had leprosy.” In the end, Spielberg abandoned his plan for a religious film, but he was able to use the grey shrunken, wrinkled figurine as the lead character in another movie — 2008’s INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL.

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Wreaking Havoc in Busy Centres

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2008 by dcairns

If I had seen this film at age eleven, I would probably have had to saw my own head in half just to prevent the rest of my life from being one long anti-climax.

As it is, I have NEVER seen this film. Maybe I shouldn’t?

THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN, AKA XING XING WANG,  AKA GOLIATHON (my favourite, sounds like a charity event for victims of giantism), AKA COLOSSUS OF CONGO (these title translators are a geographically confused bunch).

Anyhow, my older self seriously digs:

1) The way the Shaw Brothers logo is embossed on a frosted glass lavatory door. Genuinely beautiful.

2) It’s called THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN but they’re so proud of having shot it “on location in India”.

3) The naive assumption that an audience primed to see a GIANT MAN-APE will be tickled to death by something as banal as “stampeding elephants” or “fierce tigers” or even “leopard fighting with snake”.

4) The special effects: some great, some inexplicably terrible, but all rather imaginative, using unexpected angles quite different from the standard process-shot proscenium compositions you get in, say, Harryhausen.

5) “Whole leg gone, eh?” The way the “fierce tiger” just nips the fellow’s knee then makes off with his lower limb. So suave!

5) Peking’s face — a slightly hairy bloke. MUCH better than the usual blank gorilla mask. If you’re going to be cheap and eschew stop-motion animation, having an expressive Cantonese bit-part player in some fake whiskers seems a good fall-back option. Although Robert Florey’s solution in MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE is the best of all: simply cut in shots of a real chimp’s grimacing physog whenever you go to close-up. Genius.

6) “The modern Hong Kong audience isn’t going to be satisfied with just jungle savagery and a giant man-ape. We must give them a topless blonde!” Although I was disappointed that a bilingual title didn’t strobe up when the jungle bimbo appeared, screaming “TITS”. Based on my friends’ hysterical reactions to Victoria Vetri in WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH, who disrobed at a matinee to our astonishment, I believe that if we’d seen Evelyne Kraft as “Lady Tarzan”, we would have instantly CONGEALED into a single solid mass of pulsing child.

7) The date: 1977. The same year as Dino DeLaurentiis’ KING KONG remake but that is MERELY A COINCIDENCE. But mentining the KONG gives me an excuse to end on a John Guillermin story. My old friend Lawrie knew Guillermin quite well. I once read out a review of Guillermin’s EL CONDOR from a TV guide. “Nasty, slick and superficial.”

“That’s John,” remarked Lawrie with a chortle.

Lawrie said that he was working (probably as assistant director) on an early Guillermin film in the ’50s (regrettably, I have no idea which) when he got a panicked phone call from the director the night before shooting began.

“We can’t start tomorrow,” barked the Franco-Irish auteur, “I haven’t slept with the leading lady. And I ALWAYS sleep with my leading lady.”

“Well, we’ve GOT TO start tomorrow,” insisted Lawrie.

A couple of hours later, the phone rang again. “It’s OK, we can start tomorrow.”

Now, it might be tempting to make a list of Guillermin’s female leads, from Kathleen Byron and Donna Reed, through Inger Stevens and Yvette Mimieux, to Jessica Lange and Linda Hamilton, but I would caution against jumping to any conclusions.

Let’s all be careful out there.