Archive for Doom Patrol

The Sunday Intertitle: A Cave Worthy of Plato or anyway Pluto

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on August 5, 2012 by dcairns

THE MASTER MYSTERY, part the second.

Extremely fortunately, part two of Houdini’s movie serial opens with a recap which makes clear some of the confusing business in part 1. It also renders some of the more lucid stuff hopelessly obscure, but in this case I just hang onto my memory of understanding it at the time and dismiss the fog of befuddlement descending upon me.

One thing I belatedly realize is that the robot down in the rock-hewn cavern beneath the house where most of the action takes place is actually one and the same as “Q” the mysterious master criminal. (But subsequently I realized that “Q” is a different character after all.)

Also, Harry H dismisses the idea that the robot has a human brain (like Robotman Cliff Steele in The Doom Patrol), claiming that there is a human being inside that costume. If Harry is right, then “Q” is not, after all, the screen’s first true robot, but merely some dude in an exoskeleton, like IRON MAN.

This episode gets off to a flying start with HH writhing free of a straitjacket and engaging in vigorous fisticuffs with some fake asylum attendants, men in white coats who have come to abduct Mr Brent, head of the Patents Company, who has been stricken by the Madagascar (or laughing) Madness — a result of being doped by scented poisoned candles furtively planted by the robot (who can apparently tiptoe).

Outnumbered three to one, Harry manages to pummel the bad guys into submission and rushes to the leading lady’s boudoir, where he plugs Q the robot with his revolver (wait, he had a revolver this whole time?). Bullets have no effect! Still, the lady is rescued, with the help of the butler, the gardener and the real asylum attendants.

Harry contacts an eccentric bit-player brilliant chemist to concoct a cure for the Madagascar (or laughing) Madness, and watches as the man feeds the mania-inducing candlewax to a guinea pig. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell if a small rodent is or is not demented, and the scene kind of fizzles out.

Flint, the robot’s supposed inventor (or at least somebody who talks about the robot a lot), recently back from Madagascar, is another victim of the Madness, but the bad guys kidnap him, drag him to robot cave, and then cure him of the Madagascar (or laughing) Madness, in order that he may do their bidding. Also, that maniacal laughter was probably getting tiresome. It’s times like this we can be thankful the movie is silent.

A perfectly valid lifestyle if you like that kind of thing.

The chemist comes up with a cure in about five minutes, so Harry hurries back to collect it, but the henchmen strike. The wacky chemist is walloped and dragged offscreen, and Harry ends the episode tied to the coat rack by his wrists. Surely escape is impossible? Oh, wait…

Houdini: The Movie Star (Three-Disc Collection)

Blind Tuesday #2: Waterloo Sunset

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2011 by dcairns

David Melville’s away on holiday so his A-Z of the Cine Dorado takes a break, and we return you to our semi-regular Blind Tuesday feature, examining sightless person thrillers of yore.

23 PACES TO BAKER STREET has a nifty title going for it, even though when it actually turns up in the film’s dialogue it proves to be a complete red herring. Henry Hathaway directs with his usual efficient, slightly bloodless efficiency, although his use of widescreen in confined spaces is reasonably imaginative, exploiting the opportunity to show activity in two rooms at a time… The screenplay is by novelist Nigel Balchin, and fans of the Powell-Pressburger classic THE SMALL BACK ROOM can find fascinating connections with that movie, which is based on a Balchin book. In both stories the disabled hero is good at his job but lacks confidence and is tortured by his injury, which he takes out on a long-suffering girlfriend. The l-s gf is nicely depicted as someone who refuses to be a doormat, she’s supportive but somewhat aggressively so — she won’t take any of the hero’s defeatest self-hating bullshit.

But this is a blind person in jeopardy film, so Van Johnson’s disability has much more to do with the plot than David Farrar’s tin foot. He’s an American playwright in London for the West End opening of his latest mystery, and he uses a tape recorder (no dictaphone, but a big chunky reel-to-reel job, think THE CONVERSATION) in his work. His ex, Vera Miles (yay!) is vaguely trying to get back into his life, and like all movie dysfunctional couples, what they need is an adventure.

Adventure comes in a kidnapping plot overheard in the local pub — we see the shadowy silhouettes of two people, Van hears what they’re saying and smells a whiff of perfume. Hastening home he reconstructs the conversation, doing both voices, on his tape deck, and tries to interest the authorities. Better yet, he enlists the aid of Vera and comedy relief Cecil Parker to gather evidence.

The blind leading the bald: Van Johnson, Cecil Parker and Maurice Denham.

Cecil Parker is the whole show! Damnably funny and adding much-needed humanity and humour, compensating for the inevitably Van Johnson drag factor. Van’s not bad, by any means, but one can’t help imagining a lot of other, preferable actors in the part. Or a sturdy wardrobe, come to that.

Patricia Laffan has an interesting part too, but she’s underused.

Seems to me, if we’re going to have remakes, this is the kind of film that should be remade — it’s very well constructed, which means it’d survive updating, and while Cecil Parker can’t be improved upon, the film can. Masterpieces ought to be respected, with no nonsense about “introducing them to a new generation” by trying to supplant them with new versions. A stronger lead would be enough reason to do this one over. Still, I’m just as happy if they leave it alone.

Most interesting character is the shadowy Mr. Evans, kidnap plotter — years later, this seems to have inspired a character in Grant Morrison’s amazing Doom Patrol comic, The Shadowy Mr Evans — 0nly here he was basically Noel Coward with a periscope coming out the top of his head. I don’t think that would have fit in 23 PACES TO BAKER STREET, but it fit perfectly in Doom Patrol. Just shows you what a good comic that was.

The Mysterious Mr If, Part the Third

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on June 20, 2011 by dcairns

In part three of this unfilmed screenplay, I originally had a character crushed to death by a falling refrigerator, then realized with mortification that I’d unconsciously nicked that image from Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol comic, which was a major influence on the story’s absurdist supervillainy in the first place. I swiftly replaced the gag with something else, but I’m not sure it’s as good.

Turner the detective was my attempt at writing a character as boring as the ones in Taggart, the Scottish television cop show. I thought a film as silly as this might need a character with no interesting attributes just so the audience could rest their eyes a little.

The idea for the occupation/residence of Howie, my third protagonist, came from writer and ideas foundry Colin McLaren. I was describing the plot of a dull social realist Scottish film, TICKETS FOR THE ZOO, and told him it was about poverty-stricken youngsters. “So they go and live in the zoo?” he asked. “Brilliant!” Alas, they did not go and live in the zoo, but that meant I could use the idea.

Howie’s name is the first of this week’s tributes to THE WICKER MAN. Now read on…


A dusk chorus of ANIMAL noises.

An elderly ZOOKEEPER hobbles from the Monkey House, a sack of nuts under his arm.

He passes a cage. Stops.

A man sits on a stool in the cage.

A crude hand-lettered cardboard SIGN is marked “Human”.

The human reads a copy of THE SUN. A headline barks “PEBBLES STOLEN!” over a photo of a beach.

This human is called HOWIE.


You can’t stay in there forever, Howie. They’ll chuck you out one of these days.

Howie lets his paper droop.


Give us some nuts, man.

The Zookeeper looks affronted, but hey, it’s his job…

He pours some monkey nuts into a bowl in Howie’s cage.


You can’t live on monkey nuts.


The other monkeys seem to do alright.


If my boss finds out you’re here –


You keep saying that. I don’t believe he exists.

The Zookeeper waddles off, fretting.

Howie is on the point of raising his paper again when out the corner of his eye he notices a cloaked figure distributing leaflets to the winds.

An abandoned leaflet blows past Howie’s cage and he grabs it. It is hate literature:




Howie frowns.


The sun sinks into Fife, painfully inflamed.

DETECTIVE INSPECTOR TURNER arrives at the scene of his baffling.

Emerging from his car he finds first a pot of spilled orangey-red paint – Forth Bridge Red. Then a MAN in overalls, with an antique golf bag stuck through his torso. There is no blood, and the corpse looks peaceful.

FORENSIC NERDS take pictures and dust the chair for prints.

Pulling on a rubber glove, Turner boldly removes a club.


Hickory. Interesting.


Old-fashioned, sir.

Turner shoots him a cross look. THROWER is an idiot.


Cause of death?


The forensic nerd says he was stabbed to death with a blunt instrument. It’s a real headscratcher, sir.


Any object can become a stabbing weapon if used with sufficient force. Even this golf bag. The man we’re looking for – and I believe it IS a man – must be both incredibly strong… and diabolically clever.

He practices his swing with the club and suddenly notices minute Forth Bridge red lettering delicately painted on the business end. It reads –



“If is”? It’s not even grammatical.


(eager to please)

Sir? Should we dust the bridge for prints? It might take a while…

But Turner just stares off at the CAWING gulls which arc into the infernal sunset.


It CAN’T be…


Water spatters the steps. Sheena plods upstairs, passing an old woman, MISS HING, who is mopping the stair.


Hullo, Miss Hing. Did you look in on Edward Woodward?


Oh aye, he’s a lovely boy.


A wall of green: old Penguin crime paperbacks.

Sheena closes the door and drops to her knees.



A dozy, plump moggy pads up to her and she pets it.


Hello Edward. Who’s a good boy? Who’s a lovely stupid boy then? Who’s a lovely stupid smelly Edward Woodward, who’s a stinky ugly boy?

Her tone of voice is one of endearment…


Who’s a great fat git? Who’s a dirty great idiot? Who’s a stinky fucker?


Sheena and the cat share a tin of tuna with cream. Sheena adds pasta to her share, under a poster for NANCY DREW, GIRL DETECTIVE starring Bonita Granville. The TV news drones:


– a shower of trousers inNewington. Officials suggest some kind of mad trouserer may have been involved. In other news –

Sheena mutes the TV and looks at the file she’s liberated from theBlueMuseum, and the cow mask. There’s some writing on the inside of the mask, but it’s too small to read.

She takes off her specs, holds them in front of her face, and squints. They magnify the writing until she can just make out the words:

my mask

She throws the mask to one side, opens the If File, and boggles.


(possibly Donald Sinden)

NEWS – ON THE MARCH! The comical chronicles of a chronic ironical criminal!

Headline: IF IS! Victorian PRINTS and BARREL ORGAN MUSIC dramatize the following:


STATUARY RAPE! The bizarre criminal mastermind known only as If has sexually assaulted several prominent public statues. The statues were laid out flat and had their clothes chiselled off.

Crudely doctored Victorian prints illustrate this idea, while headlines scream “RAVISHMENT!” “STATUES!” and “WITH PRONGS!”


THE CHERRY LIPS VANISHMENT! Another of If’s celebrated outrages was the theft of a confectioner’s. The shop was later found abandoned in the Queen’s Park, but now staffed entirely by pygmies.

An old print of a shop cut and pasted onto an old print of the park. A print of the interior with cut-out pygmies, wielding spears, pasted in. Headline: “PETITE SWEET TREAT.”


GREAT SCOTT! If was barely thwarted in his monstrous scheme to fire the Scott Monument to the moon, using an enormous subterranean cannon operated by drunks.

Artist’s impression of the Scott Monument blasting through space. Caption: DEARY ME!


A WAREHOUSE OF WOES! If was also associated in the popular press with outbreaks of hysterical fatness, a walking church, man-eating furniture, the seduction of a ventriloquist’s dummy, and a boat-full of soiled divans which alarmed fishermen in Newhaven, though nothing was ever proved.



POSTAL EROSION! After each horror, If sent taunting letters to The Scotsman newspaper, declaring his intention to throw off forever the bonds of reality and liberate the world from its own existence. He claimed: “Dear Boss: The world is my oyster and I mean to shell her.”

Uck puck.

Sheena lays down the file and frowns – was that the cackle of a hen?

Edward Woodward pads through to the bathroom to investigate. Sheena follows, leaving the file on the back of the settee.

As she leaves the room, the file falls and slips through a crack in the floorboards.



A sheep BAAS.

The toilet FLUSHES.

Sheena yanks the light cord, and the bathroom is illuminated.

There is no one there, except Edward Woodward, who has been blacked up, minstrel-fashion, a small banjo strung over his shoulder…


What connects a police museum guide, a detective and the human exhibit of Edinburgh Zoo? What is Mr. If’s diabolical master-plan? Can feline blackface routines catch on? Tune in to our next exciting episode!


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