Archive for Donald Pleasence

Dordogne Among the Dead Men

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2021 by dcairns

More J. Lee Thompson — EYE OF THE DEVIL was originally to be called DAY OF THE ARROW and then THIRTEEN, which would seem to have jinxed it. They started shooting on September 13th, also.

Sid Furie was originally slated to direct, and a few distinctive “Sid Furie shots” appear, but these seem to have been shot by Thompson and the resemblance is a matter of fashion. Not many directors shoot down through lampshades, it must be said. Within a year or two directors got all self-conscious about this kind of self-consciousness. The minute they found themselves crouching behind a potted fern, viewfinder nosing through the leaves, they would say to themselves, Oh God no, not a Sid Furie shot!

After Furie, Michael Anderson was attached, but got ill early in the shoot. Or did he? There are a number of questions hanging over this one. Did he fall or was he pushed?

So it became a Thompson film, starring Kim Novak, and then two weeks before the end of filming, Novak was out. The official story was that she’d injured her back in a fall, but everyone stressed the fact that she’d be fine, but she couldn’t work for a few months and so the film would have to be restarted with a replacement.

But David Hemmings, who makes an early appearance, indiscreetly reveals in his very readable memoir that Novak departed after rowing with producer Martin Ransohoff at a press conference. Hemmings reports that he can no longer recall what Ransohoff said to offend Novak, nor if she was justified in her outrage, but he had an indelible memory of Novak stubbing her cigarette into his one good eye…

Nothing that horrifying happens in the film, which is nominally a scary movie…

Anyway, that’s Novak out, but co-star David Niven comes to the rescue, roping in Deborah Kerr, making the film a kind of Powell & Pressburger affair since Flora Robson also appears.

It’s a kind of WICKER MAN/ROSEMARY’S BABY plot, but much less gripping and more guessable than either, and the horror at its heart is strangely uninteresting. But the film itself is sort of fascinating.

Thompson is treating it as an exercise du style, pulling in a lot of nouvelle vague influence — the opening blur of flashforwards, which has no real reason to exist, is certainly modernist and flashy — then MARIENBAD seems to be the order of the day. Thompson tracks incessantly and cuts before his movements finish, which pre-Resnais was considered filmically ungrammatical, though obviously this was always false (exceptions existed for cutting from a shot tracking with a character, to their POV, for instance, as seen so often in Hitchcock).

The direct cutting approach, unfortunately, lops all the tension out of the film. No sooner has the thought of a character going somewhere scary been planted, than we cut to them arriving, or already there. And yet MARIENBAD itself is quite a spooky film. Maybe because it combines sudden jumps in time (which promote nervousness) with funereal creep. This movie’s had all the creep excised.

It has Donald Pleasence doing his whispery bit, but the eeriest presences in it are Hemmings and Sharon Tate, as a twisted brother and sister. One’s first response to Tate is that she’s surely dubbed. Publicity at the time suggested she took lots of voice lessons to acquire a posh English accent and a deeper voice — but, as we know, the publicity people on this film were not always completely truthful.

In a way, it doesn’t much matter if Tate’s using her own voice — certainly there’s a lot of (pretty good) post-synching going on — the combination of the plummy purr and her striking beauty and stillness is quite uncanny. A slight feeling that her voice isn’t coming from her body but from somewhere beyond adds to the character’s sinister presence/absence.

Critics complained about her immobile face, evidence that the weekly film reviewer’s job is to notice anything fresh or interesting an actor does, and then condemn it. They trashed Anjelica Huston on first sight also.

This vertiginous sequence, part of the evil games Tate’s character indulges in, is genuinely alarming, partly because real child endangerment seems to be occurring. Sure, the shots are framed so that someone can always be hanging onto the kid, and ropes and harnesses may be involved, but it still seems dodgy.

Elsewhere, Niven gets some terrific stuff acting hypnotized — a mode of Niv we’ve never seen before. And there’s a relatively early example of a downbeat ending — not only does evil triumph, but it’s going to carry on perpetuating itself and triumphing down the generations. If the film had come out when it was new it would have perhaps had more impact, but it seems to have crept out incrementally over the course of about three years.

I’d love to see the outtakes — Michael Anderson’s stuff, Kim Novak’s. And I wonder if the MARIENBAD approach was established by Furie at the planning stage (it seems like something he might come up with) or Anderson (if Thompson were taking over early in the shoot it seems he’d want to match what had been filmed) or Thompson, who certainly went to town with it. “He’s given this film everything,” attested Niven.

EYE OF THE DEVIL stars Sister Clodagh; Sir Charles Lytton; Ernst Stavro Blofeld; Devon Miles; Queen Elizabeth I; Caligula; Sarah Shagal; Dildano; Sgt. Wilson; Lady of Lyonesse; Tsarevitch Alexei; Bunny Lake; and Vivian Darkbloom.

The Sunday Intertitle: Tipsy Nuisance, or, Hot Rods & Hot Dogs

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on November 15, 2020 by dcairns

Charlie Chaplin is billed (on the IMDb) as “Tipsy Nuisance” for his role in MABEL’S BUSY DAY (still 1914) and the name is a good one. It’s another one of these weird early variations on his developing character — he wears the moustache, he has a derby hat and cane, but he wears a smart suit with a loose jacket. Tramp-and-yet-not-Tramp.

It’s also yet another variation on KID AUTO RACES AT VENICE. Use some kind of primitive drag race as a colourful backdrop to the arse-kicking.

I first saw this years ago and it was maybe my first complete Keystone viewing experience. I had befriended a splendid fellow named Chris Weedman in the US and he would tape stuff off TCM and mail it to me and I would mail him things like rare Donald Pleasence movies. It was the original version of file-sharing, I guess. Anyway, I was absolutely horrified by this film. It seemed to have no shape, focus, point, wit or reason for existing.

I was, of course, correct in my assessment, and it’s one that would stand if applied to nearly any Keystone “farce comedy.” But, as I watch Chaplin’s early films in sequence (where will I stop? The end of the Keystone period? The Essanay phase? Or A COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG?) they make a bit more sense and you can chart Chaplin’s development, if not that of the Keystone studio, which finally went under simply because it would NOT develop. So even if the films are slight, they start to get very interesting. And it undoubtedly helps to have decent transfers/restorations rather than smudgy, dupey prints, recorded off-air on VHS.

Mabel is selling hotdogs. She puts on some kind of tale of woe so that Kop Chester Conklin will let her into the race track. He agrees in exhange for a hotdog in an unsuitable round bap. This is all done in pantomime and for once it’s clear what the conversation is about.

Once Mabel gets inside a rude man sticks a sausage in her face for a lark and she kicks the crap out of him. The film is starting to become a vision of hell.

Chaplin shows up, wandering past the turnstiles without paying, to the amusement of onlookers apparently delighted to be in a film. After some repetitive shoving and kicking, he gets inside and there’s more shoving and kicking. But at least we can focus on it, the screen isn’t yet busy with competing mummers. And Chaplin uses his cane to hook the Kop he’s tumbling with, which may be his first use of this trick. It’s a snooty, aristocratic move, appropriate to this entitled shit of a character, but becomes funnier when it’s incongruously performed by the actual Tramp.

I wonder if the Kops are all so extravagantly moustached, and wear such ill-fitting uniforms, so they won’t be mistaken for real law officers out on location among the public? They certainly stand out from the normies in plainclothes, milling around the racetrack, staring at the camera.

THE MATRIX: LOADED.

Mabel isn’t having any luck selling her meaty wares, and seems to be trying for pathos — which puts her ahead of Chaplin until he makes THE TRAMP the following year at Essanay. I can lipread her woeful cries of “Sausages! Frankfurters!” or at least I think I can.

Tipsy Nuisance finds some girls cheering the race, is apparently taken with them (checking out their bottoms) and so, in the manner of an eight-year-old, decides to annoy them by standing in their view. Then he picks a purse, then he makes a joke of it. Flirtatious Charlie always seems to offer suggestions of the riches to come… he kicks up one heel behind him in a joyous gesture — a classic Chaplinesque trope, and I think this is its first appearance.

Mabel is having trouble with the latest in a series of obnoxious customers so Tipsy Nuisance turns unexpectedly gallant and kicks the guy up the arse and then fetches him a tremendous slap to the face. And you could argue it actually means something. Defending a lady’s honour, or frankfurters, and so on. More kicking and slapping follows, with which Mabel is delighted. Women love violence.

But soon Mabel is despondent. Her sausage-selling is a disaster. Charlie comforts her. Then makes off with a handful of meat product. Mabel freaks and gives chase. Good background detail of Conklin lying unconscious against a wall. Don’t know what happened to him. I guess maybe the hotdog was too rich for his system. But Mabel revives him with some screaming.

Tipsy Nuisance escalates things by stealing Mabel’s entire tray of goods and passing them out to suddenly eager customers. But these jerks are just as bad as the ones Mabel dealt with, and they start bullying him by constantly repositioning his hat on his head. I can see how that would get irritating.

Twice in this film Charlie chokes on a bit of sausagemeat — again, the obsession with stuff going down the wrong way. This may be a silent film but when he starts beating up his customers, Mabel apparently hears him. She could see him offscreen before, but now she can, and she alerts Constable Conklin. Edgar Kennedy appears and seems about to do something, but the rest of his bit is apparently lost, or was deleted (but then why leave a fragment?)

Faced with both Mabel’s righteous accusation and the presence of an authority figure, Tipsy Nuisance turns placatory (all bullies are cowards). Nice bit when Mabel boots him hard up the jacksy and he tips his hat in reply — another Chaplinesque trope appearing for the first time here. Some very good silent wheedling from the man Chaplin here. Gently touching Conklin’s nightstick, trying to lower it with caresses.

Then the inevitable barney. Mabel does some very funny flailing. Everyone kicks up a lot of dust, and a lot of arses. Mostly looks like this would be a lot of fun to DO.

Charlie, stripped to suspenders and shirtfront (and trousers, this is not a porno though it has aspects of one), is moved by Mabel’s tears and tries to comfort her. They go off arm in arm, she still trying to get the odd kick in. Probably some aspect of their real-life collaboration can be found in this.

Everywhere

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , on October 31, 2018 by dcairns

BEEEEEEP!

I hadn’t seen THE FOG since a screening at my school film society and HALLOWEEN had been viewed since then only on a TV airing, probably in the wrong aspect ratio. I remember as teenagers we found them both utterly unsatisfactory on a story level, and that’s still somewhat true today. HALLOWEEN is the better one in narrative terms: as writers John Carpenter (also director) and Debra Hill (also producer) admit on the audio commentary, their plans for a classic ghost story didn’t come to fruition and they ended up adding more jump-scares, killings and one zombification in order to make a modern horror movie of it.

Still, the atmosphere of both films is very strong (and the jump-scares etc effective). THE FOG in particular begins with weird electronic malfunctionings, alarms going off and lights coming on, a modern take on ghostly manifestations. Later, a character will complain about her dog going mental in the night, which is a more traditional augury of the supernatural, but we never see it happen: what we get is machines reacting.This was in the wake of Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, with its toys coming to life, which MUST have been an influence.

Both films are driven by a purely cinematic logic of foreboding phenomena, suspense, atmosphere, tightening and slackening of tension, music… which is to say, not really any logic at all. And the filmmakers are well aware of this and use Donald Pleasence in particular — apparently the voice of sanity, reason, law and order, society — to drip in the idea that Michael Myers is much more than a lone psychopath, is in fact a manifestation or invasion of pure spiritual evil into the world.

Which is what makes the ending of HALLOWEEN so fine. Pleasence goes to the window to look at where Myers’ body has fallen, but it’s not there anymore: the unkillable killer has performed his final, and most clearly impossible resurrection. The actor asked his director if he should look surprised, or merely satisfied, as if what he always knew has been confirmed. What we see in the film is Pleasence looking at the empty patch of ground, and then up into the night, the dark neighbourhood in general, almost up into the sky.And as Carpenter’s synth tune plays us out, he cuts to the hallway, to the stair, a series of static, empty shots taking us out the door and into a wide shot of the house, a sort of fragmented reversal of the movie’s opening shot, which had taken us indoors and upstairs (in a different house, admittedly) through the killer’s POV. (A minor cheat: though the killer is a little kid in scene one, his viewpoint is definitely at adult height to begin with.)

And then to other houses, ending with the now-shuttered house from scene one. (“The night HE came home,” is the tagline.) And through this sequence, in another exercise of pure movie (il)logic, we hear Myers’ breathing — a terrific piece of recording, the close, cramped effect perfectly evoking the sensation of wearing a mask, which is disturbing and uncomfortable in itself. From being a POV fixed to a defined character, he has now become omnipresent yet invisible. Like God. Or the movie camera.

As Carpenter & Hill’s key invention, the unstoppable knife-wielder, heads out into the movie landscape to be adopted by generations of imitators, it feels, in retrospect, incredibly apt that Myers’ first movie ends thus, with him expanding beyond his mere physical form and becoming everywhere. He’s no longer a man, more an atmosphere, a fog, no longer what the writers called him, “the Shape.” He is now “the Presence.”