Archive for Douglas Wilmer

Bumbling Towards Bedlam

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2020 by dcairns

Let the madness begin.

Blake Edwards said that he used the PANTHER films to get films made, like 10, which were otherwise unbankable, and he reckoned Sellers did the same — so we probably have REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER to thank for the existence of BEING THERE. So cut it some slack, I say.

And I say that because of my distant memory that this film was LOATHED by the more respectable British critics. Edwards’ elegant mise-en-scene was not, apparently, noticed. The fact that it’s uproariously funny was denied. No, they focussed on the fact that it was milking gags established back in 1964 (true), and that it was all completely stupid (true). With a quick critical shuffle you can get from “stupid” to “witless” and from there to “unfunny” and I guess if you’ve watched the film in an echoing empty cinema with a few of your fellow embittered alcoholic hacks, you can sustain that view. Quite tricky to review comedy if you don’t see it with an audience or an open mind.

A strangely sombre opening scene on a bleak farm, with Mancini setting a tone of melancholic menace, It could be a Jean-Pierre Melville movie.Then, at a mob board meeting, the assassination of Clouseau is suggested, and we get some backstory — Clouseau, it seems, “has survived sixteen assassination attempts, including two by his own boss.” This seriously underestimates Chief Inspector Dreyfus’s coyote-like determination. He made more than two attempts in A SHOT IN THE DARK, and there have been two intervening films since then, in which he did not lay down on the job.

Edwards also uses this sequence to set up Dyan Cannon’s character, Simone, secretary and mistress to Duvier (Robert Webber, an Edwards favourite/surrogate), the French connection of whom you’ve all heard so much. Cannon is probably the best actress and most able comedian to have played opposite Sellers in the series, though she’s a giggler and that must have cost them DAYS of work.

It’s a real shame that her extreme cosmetic procedures have made it so hard to cast her, though I guess given the no-win situation faced by actresses over the age of, say, twenty-five, she’d probably still have an uphill battle to keep her career going. And looking like a lion is kind of cool. But remember what Bert Lahr said about there not being many parts for lions.

We note that Simone is fully cognizant of her boss’s murderous conspiracy and only turns against him when he tries to have her offed. This is no morality play.

Titles by Depatie-Freleng: therefore funny, but not as glamorous as Dick Williams’ work.But the funky version of the theme tune shows Mancini is still inventive and committed.Clouseau, who will also soon be committed, is (finally) introduced at the premises of Dr. (later Prof.) Auguste Balls, and it’s full-on insanity. Sellers’ interpretation of the Clouseau voice has been steadily getting more nasal, more strangulated, more Franglais, as the series proceeded, and now he is, to quote Dr. Pratt from THE WRONG BOX, “scarcely human.” The fact that he spends a chunk of the film’s first act wearing a smoke-blackened, sopping wet Toulouse-Lautrec disguise adds to the cartoon quality.But we’ve also got Balls, impersonated with great gusto by Graham Stark in the most full-on comic persona of the series. The answer to the question, which nobody besides Edwards and Sellers probably ever asked, “Where does Clouseau get his disguises?” I think the Balls establishment is first name-checked in STRIKES BACK, as the source of the inflatable hunchback outfit.

Balls has a henchman, appropriately, I guess, named Cunny. The level of drivelling idiocy in this screenplay is truly inspirational. Cunny is played by the late Danny Schiller, who doesn’t even have a photo on the IMDb, but I guess if you’re playing second banana to a second banana, you’re liable to get overlooked. (When the magnificent Harvey Korman takes over the role of Balls in CURSE, Schiller stays on as Cunny, but doesn’t come back in SON, alas, in which Stark is Balls again. The reason for all this swapping about is that Balls was originally to appear in STRIKES, played by Korman, but the scene got cut, to be thriftily recycled in the cobbled-together TRAIL. Presumably Korman was unavailable this time, and the role seemed like a good one for Stark, whose presence was by now required, maybe in hopes of pacifying the recalcitrant Sellers. Whew.

A student of mine tried to get Graham Stark in a short film in the early 2000s, but his wife nixed it. A shame: he was evidently still up for it, but didn’t make a film in the last fifteen years of his life. Still, he had his nude photography to occupy him, I guess.

Douglas Wilmer returns from A SHOT IN THE DARK but has been promoted from butler to Clouseau’s boss. He overacts a bit, though what constitutes overacting in this film is probably open for debate. Very large scale Cato fight, interrupted by a genuine kung fu assassin (well, a burly British stuntman in halfhearted yellowface). Fiona was delighted to see Cato given a lot to do in this one, and we get to appreciate Burt Kwouk’s, if you’ll excuse the expression, comedy chops. So, people crashing through floors, getting covered in paint, and so on.

“Inspector Clouseau’s residence” gets bigger and more opulent throughout the series, and moves into better neighbourhoods also. And apart from all the structural damage, it undergoes a few makeovers too, with L-A Down somehow turning the boudoir into a vast, glitterball shagging palace with colossal Murphy bed, and Cato converting the whole premises later in this one.A bit of plot contrivance — AGAIN, Edwards comes up with a trans/cross-dressing character, this time to steal Clouseau’s clothes so that he can be thought dead. Found in the park in women’s clothing, Clouseau is hauled off to the psych ward just as Dreyfus (Herbert Lom, natch) is getting out. And so, for the whole second act, it’s Ripley Underground: Dreyfus believes his tormentor is dead, but Clouseau keeps popping up to startle him. Dreyfus faints dead away each time, giving him no opportunity to determine if Clouseau is real or hallucinatory.Edwards may be more concerned with dreaming up ways of torturing Dreyfus (who is kind of his stand-in in the series, the man trapped against his will in a demented clouseauverse) than he is with finding meaningful action for Clouseau. Here, letting the poor man think his nemesis is gone forever, only to shatter that illusion, is about the cruellest thing left to inflict on him. (Let’s not dwell overmuch on the fact that the Dreyfus himself literally disintegrated before our eyes in the previous film, is definitely dead, DEAD.)

Clouseau appears to have been declared dead for a matter of mere hours, but Cato has had his flat completely redecorated (including, presumably, fixing the hole in the floor) and turned into a “Chinese nookie factory,” complete with Valerie Leon as a dominatrix. I note that Madame Wu, who runs the joint, is played by Elisabeth Welch (DEAD OF NIGHT), who was African-American-British, not Chinese.Clouseau’s racist lapses (referring, for instance, to Cato’s “fiendish yellow brain”) are a little cringey, even though we know the Inspector is a terrible employer, a law-and-order guy and so probably a man of the right, and he exerts a colonialist superiority over his manservant, all of which is unsympathetic and which the films mock him for. And Kwouk subtly indicates, here and there, that Cato’s somewhat aware when Clouseau is being an idiot. He’s very loyal though — so long as the boss is alive.I don’t know what sick mind conceived the idea that the badly-injured Cunny should serve as a chair for Dyan Cannon’s character. And I don’t know why he’s in his underwear. Sure, maybe all his clothes were destroyed by the beumb. But he works in a clothing emporium. It’s all very strange.Climax in Hong Kong with crap puns about Chinese names (“Lee Kee Boatyards”) and Sellers in a great fat suit with cotton wool in his cheeks, a would-be Brando parody that’s also about Clouseau’s inability to suggest anyone other than Clouseau. I mean, they have the world’s best mimic in a film where he has to adopt various personae (including Dreyfus and a salty Svedish seaman) but since he’s playing an idiot he has to do them all really badly. You start to sense why Sellers might have felt straitjacketed in the role.The hardworking props team (who online bemoan their inability to get Clouseau’s sea-dog shoulder-parrot to stand up straight) altered a Citroen 2CV and created Clouseau’s crimefighting mystery mobile, the Silver Hornet (a nod to the TV show from which Cato was culturally appropriated) which collapses like a clown car when started. And this gag, played for a second time, ends the film, although some dialogue between Sellers and Cannon, who really play off each other well, carries on into the end credits until the music drowns them out and then abruptly stops with around ten seconds still to go. One pictures Mancini, who has been trying his damnedest throughout, hurling down his baton and storming out. If everyone else is being a prima donna, why can’t he?

Edwards would make three — THREE — posthumous PANTHER films, all grappling with the ghost of his star. Chasing phantoms is exhausting, unrewarding work, as Clouseau could have told him, and wraiths make for tricky wrestling. In the end, his scurrilous relationship with his star remained, as he put it, “the enigma of my life.”For his part, Sellers was not finished with the Inspector either, as we’ll see. Yes, it is time to examine the steaming document known as ROMANCE OF THE PINK PANTHER…

REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER stars Sidney Wang; The Phantom; Spectre 3; Alice Henderson; Juror 12; Peter the Dutchman; Dick Laurent; Carl Evello; Spectre #10; Pepi; Fender (ghost); Jean Courtney; Snorri the Miserable; Nayland Smith; Count Von Krolock; Queeg; Margaret / Tera; Female Madam Wang; Mrs. Alexander; Moishe; Harold Hump; Manuel; Duc de Poncenay; Reverend Timothy Farthing – Vicar; Mrs. Rusk; Professor Pacoli; Joseph Schenck; and Charles Bovin.

Picking Up Clouseau

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2020 by dcairns

Having seized on the fact that there was more value to be gotten out of the character of Inspector Clouseau, Blake Edwards went in to A SHOT IN THE DARK with his eyes at least somewhat open — he’d had a hint of how crazy Peter Sellers could get, but he hadn’t yet had to direct him during a full-on delusional tantrum (I’m not aware if psychoanalysis or psychology or psychiatry have invented a term describing exactly what it is Sellers had, or was — perhaps we had best think of it as Peter Sellers Syndrome, and content ourselves with delineating its symptoms as best we can).

This film really births the Clouseauverse — if we’re going to focus on this idiot, then he needs a life, surroundings, people in that life. A boss, obviously. And how does this boss feel about Clouseau? The brilliant answer is to make Chief Inspector Dreyfus not only fully aware of his subordinate’s incompetence, and personally offended by it, one of those apoplectic police chiefs that American cop shows would become full of, but also someone who is so tortured by the mere idea of Clouseau — “How can I relax in world which has Clouseau in it?” — that he’s driven to madness. As Lom’s eyes close in distress, we cut to Clouseau an instant before his eyes widen with a look of messianic intensity. Alone in a vehicle he can believe in his fantasy of brilliance. Anywhere else, he has a front to keep up because he knows damn well he’s a clown.

Clouseau’s name seems to be a combination of Jacques Cousteau — famous Frenchman — and H.G. Clouzot — French crime exponent — and “clues” and “oh” — detection and disaster. Dreyfus’ name, on the other hand, calls to mind a famous case of unjust persecution, which is about right.

It’s absurd that Blake Edwards didn’t direct under his birth name, on the other hand. The name William Blake Crump is like a strip cartoon that builds up an image of spiritual poetry and ends with crashing to the ground in a tangle of bruised limbs.

We start with a sequence comprised mainly of two very elegant roving crane shots, telling a story which is mysterious — a bedroom farce viewed from the outside. With a tragic chanson that kind of quashes any humour. But that’s OK, we don’t need the film to be funny until Clouseau.Animated titles — with a different theme tune — I really love this bit of Mancini and I don’t know why it wasn’t used again. The cartoons are cruder this time, but in a lovely stylised way. Without a Panther to persecute the Clouseau cut-out, Depatie-Freleng resort to having the cartoon universe turn on him, with doors and lights and fizzing bombs from nowhere persecuting the poor guy, kind of like the hostile film Keaton gets stuck in in SHERLOCK JR (which will be a reference in future title sequences).

But we do get a nice gag about Herbert Lom’s Dreyfus being an adulterer. And he has a little desk guillotine for his cigars, that’s… sweet? Fiona became excited. “Of course he’s got a guillotine! That was Herbert Lom’s dream project!” And indeed, Lom wrote one book, Dr. Guillotine, about the inventor of the humane execution device that ended up being used to decapitate on an industrial scale. “Hoist by your own petard,” as Claudia Cardinale’s Princess would say. The idea of inventing something that proves to be a catastrophe for you seems pertinent to William Blake Crump and Richard Henry Sellers, too.

I have actually already written about this one, so you can check out my earlier appraisal here. It covers Lom’s account of his casting and the first shot of Sellers. But how quickly can Clouseau make an idiot of himself?

In his second shot in the film. He gets out of his car and immediately falls in the fountain. He doesn’t hang about. Each of THE PINK PANTHER films, of which this is one despite the lack of P words in the title, takes a different sub-genre of crime film/fiction — so this is a country house murder mystery, RETURN will be a Hitchcockian wrong man chase film, STRIKES BACK is a Fu Manchu/Bond master-criminal caper, and REVENGE is Eurothriller meets Mafia. I can’t remember anything about ROMANCE OF THE PINK PANTHER, the film Sellers planned just before his death, having wrested the character away from Edwards, but I’ve tracked down the script of this unmade monsterpiece, which I fantasise as akin to Norma Desmond’s SALOME, and if I can work up the courage I may read it and report back.

I’m not sure the post-Sellers films continue to neatly explore the byways of crime fiction — I think maybe they just fart about in the Clouseauverse.As a basis for the piece, Edwards and William Peter Blatty of THE EXORCIST fame, selected Harry Kurnitz’s adaptation of Marcel Achard’s play L’Idiot. In which the Clouseau-equivalent character was an examining magistrate played by William Shatner. Using only the bare bones of the story, Blatty and Edwards amused themselves with a convoluted series of murders all of which tend to implicate leading lady Elke Sommer, but which turn out to be (spoiler) the work of separate culprits with separate motives, a wrinkle even Agatha Christie never attempted.

The Mirisch Corporation had been developing the Kurntitz/Achard play for Anatole Litvak (yay!) to direct, but could never get a script they felt was filmable. Edwards accepted the job of fixing it in a hurry if he could have carte blanche, and he and Blatty grafted Clouseau into the piece on the boat over to England where filming was to take place (with a few second unit shots in Paris). So the idea of Clouseau having a boss who despises him comes from the play + the idea of putting Clouseau into it. And the boss in the play was Walter Matthau. I’d love to have seen Shatner as an idiot being yelled at by Matthau.Instead we get Sellers and Lom, who Edwards reportedly told (Lom’s version) “I’ve seen you in all these terribly serious films. I think you’re very funny.”

Another guy who should have used his real name, Herbert Charles Angelos Kuchacevich ze Schluderpacheru. I mean, if I were going to change anything it would be the Herbert. Dreyfus inherits the Charles bit, which was going spare.

Anyway, Edwards directs this one with panache — as an actor, he’d worked with “Ford, Wyler, Preminger – and learned a lot from them.” So his long, elegant sequence shots, so admired by the French, are much in evidence. Preminger, another widescreen specialist, seems like an apt model. And, as Vincent Price tartly observed, “Otto had the sense of humour of a guillotine.” Edwards also has Christopher Challis, who shot a bunch of films for Powell & Pressburger, coming along at just the wrong time (THE ELUSIVE PIMPERNEL and OH…ROSALINDA!!), and had more recently done some super-stylish work with Stanley Donen. You only really sense it’s Challis when we get to the round of themed nightclubs with specialty dancers…

Oh, and there’s Cato. Since Madame Clouseau has departed the picture, and to refer to her at all would just raise awkward questions about story continuity which the series would continue to ignore, brazenly, Clouseau should have someone else in his life. Bruce Lee had caused a sensation in The Green Hornet TV show (a reference lost on me as a kid). Burt Kwouk, a tireless supporting player in British films — he was a henchman in GOLDFINGER the same year — makes his first appearance here and it doesn’t matter at all that we probably all know the joke by now. The brevity and relative lack of spectacle in these early fight scenes isn’t a problem. As the joke of Cato attacking at inopportune moments, often “romantic” ones — what Fiona calls Kwouk-blocking — became more and more familiar, the films were forced to pump excess production values into it, but the joke is still pleasing enough to stand on its own. With Cato, Clouseau is pretty unsympathetic, and we also feel for the long-suffering Hercule Lajoy (Sellers chum Graham Stark) — anyone who’s ever suffered under an idiot boss can admire his infuriating placidity. Dreyfus is interesting because he’s the heavy, but he’s also absolutely right about Clouseau, a truly lethal buffoon. But then, in the scenes with Elke, Clouseau gets to be sweet. His puppyish fawning over Capucine in the previous film was already touching. Here, the joke of him being so hopelessly smitten with his leading lady that he literally can’t see her obvious guilt, is neatly topped by the joke of her being innocent. The universe somehow conspires to protect the holy fool, whereas he who sees the truth gets it in the neck. Elke Sommer represents a kind of decline from the elegant femmes of the first film — a bourgeoise fantasy of Yves St Laurent frocks and ski chalets with built-in musical numbers is replaced by a marginally grittier Parisian setting, and the leading lady is now of the modern, booby school of sixties cinema. The role is also a bit of a cipher, since the character is intentionally unknowable for virtually the whole film. Elke does very well with what she’s given. The anxiety-dream naked-in-public car scene actually allows her to do some real acting, which movies didn’t often do.“And introducing Turk Thrust.” The nudist camp scene (a huge and hugely unconvincing interior set) gives us this pseudonymous Bryan Forbes, with a butch queen joke name later taken up by Roger Moore for his guest spot in CURSE, and also the medium from NIGHT OF THE DEMON, essaying a bizarre garbled accent that veers between Wales and the West Indies.

Clouseau has begun to disguise himself, perhaps inspired by the very funny costume party stuff in the first film, and this would later lead to Edwards wondering where the disguises came from, and so Auguste Balls would eventually be born…For now, we have some distinguished actors quite underused — George Sanders is mainly a sounding board for Clouseau’s mistakes, with more than one “reaction shot” showing no reaction whatsoever. Douglas Wilmer, a celebrated TV Sherlock Holmes, butles about snootily. Apparently the hilarity on set was so disruptive, Sanders proposed a fine of £1 for each actor who corpsed, raising £250 by the time a usable take was achieved. Stark and David Lodge, who can’t do a French accent alas, were Sellers’ mates and were frequently brought on to his films in the hopes they’d keep him happy and stop him acting up. Some hope. The Roger Lewis bio has Sellers calling up Lodge after a particularly vicious day and asking, “Was I really awful today?” Before his friend could answer with some mild scolding words, an evil chuckle sounded from the receiver.

The movie does over-rely on running gags, but I finally figured out why — Clouseau is incapable of learning from his mistakes, so he keeps trying the same thing, and he’s also too inept to make progress as an investigator, so the only way to advance the mystery is to keep piling up corpses. This seeming inadequacy of the character as an active protagonist will continue to trouble the series, with various solutions being attempted.In Sam Wasson’s Edwards study, Splurch in the Kisser, the director recalled, “Things were fine for the first half of filming, but then the shit hit the fan. Sellers became a monster. He just got bored with the part and became angry, sullen, and unprofessional. He wouldn’t show up for work and began looking for anyone and everyone to blame.”

Edwards called this relationship the enigma of his life. And that mystery, as much as the money and clout to be made from the franchise, may account for his obsessive worrying at the character and the relationship.Despite the genre-hopping, the next three films in the series do not show the invention of this one — having created Clouseau, Dreyfus and Cato, Edwards didn’t see any need to come up with many new elements. There might be some bad guys, and some leading ladies, but with Lom and Kwouk, there was a limited amount of room for new stuff, with only Balls and his hunchbacked assistant, Cunny, expanding the Clouseauverse in any lasting way. A format has been established.

A SHOT IN THE DARK stars Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake; Lisa Reiner; Addison DeWitt; Captain Nemo; Miss Scott; Professor Auguste Balls; Mrs. Leverlilly; Mr. Ling; Prof. Trousseau; Father Spiletto; Mr. Meek; Sherlock Holmes; Jimmy Winslow; and the Fiddler on the Roof.

 

The Murderers

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 8, 2014 by dcairns

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“Larry is deeply, and I mean deeply, stupid,” says Orson Welles to Henry Jaglom. But it can’t have been altogether true, can it? Of course, some great artists may be brilliant in their own field and painfully naive outside of it, but I’d hold up Olivier’s first three films as evidence that he had something on the ball. Of course, they each have one foot in theatre, and so does their star — how could it be otherwise? But when a filmmaker like Polanski comes out and says Olivier was a great movie director, one should take notice.

I enjoyed Olivier’s RICHARD III in its splendidly restored Criterion release, looking brand new and almost painfully crisp. Fiona disliked his nose and didn’t stay for the rest. “It’s not human!” she protested. I pointed to Douglas Wilmer, down the cast list a bit, sporting a comparable schnozzola. “I think Larry saw that and said ‘Get me one of those.'” Both snouts proceed at a thirty degree angle like an exact continuation of the actors’ foreheads. I was still marveling at this feat of nature and the makeup department when Stanley Baker shows up with his brow overhanging dangerously, a cranial escarpment that defies gravity. His eyes look like they’re straining to hold it all up.

Olivier apparently felt he made a mistake casting Ralph Richardson, and wished he could have gotten Orson for the part of Buckingham. I see his problem — Richardson is a shade too real. While Gielgud makes a song out of everything, and Olivier is Mr. Punch made flesh, Richardson plays a political villain with no hint of artificial “characterisation” — he just says the words beautifully, guided by their rhythm, letting his steely, slightly mad stare hold our attention. Explaining his decision to use theatrical sets in HENRY V, Olivier said he feared otherwise the audience would say, “So that’s a house, and that’s a tree, and that’s a field; why is everyone talking so funny?” Heightened artifice in the production design matches Shakespeare’s blank verse. So the problem with Richardson is that his very convincing-ness isn’t in keeping. It’s not that he’s naturalistic — Richardson was slightly unreal even in real life — it’s just that he’s not one the (putty) nose, like everyone else. If Olivier’s Richard is a villain, what is Ralph? I expected him to turn out to be a good guy.

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We also get a nubile Bernard Hepton (I think I spotted him blowing a bugle), also credited quaintly for “sword play”, but most enchanting are the murderers, played by Michaels Gough & Ripper, two giants of the Hammer horror realm which doesn’t even exist in 1955. But who could be better? I’m reminded that Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are both in Olivier’s HAMLET, separately. Presumably, when I watch HENRY V again, I’m going to suddenly recognize Madeline Smith and Ingrid Pitt.

Towards the end, Richard draws the positions of his troops in the dust using his sword-point. And Olivier cuts to a wide of Bosworth Field, and the full-scale army is painted into place by a giant sword-tip, descending lightly from the heavens. Maybe it’s the kind of thing that, when you have something like it, you need to have a couple more things like it to make it fit into the overall style. But it’s brilliant and bold and breathtaking — this man is not stupid.