Archive for Dr No

Triple (or Quadruple?) Agent

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2013 by dcairns

zig_1542619c

Just finished reading Agent Zigzag by Ben MacIntyre, the true story of Eddie Chapman, a career criminal who enjoyed an astonishing second career during WWII. He was in prison on the island of Jersey when it was conquered by the Nazis, and offered his services to the Abwehr, the German secret service. Parachuted into Britain as a spy, he immediately surrendered himself to the Brits and offered to spy on his spymasters back in the Third Reich. MI5 were able to make him look like a successful intelligence agent and saboteur, before sending him back to collect data from the Germans while pretending to give them data. The Germans then returned Chapman to the UK for further espionage work, during which he fed them misinformation which may have diverted German rockets from central London and caused U-boats to sail nearer the surface to avoid imaginary depth charges with “proximity fuses.” Staying nearer the surface, the U-boats could of course be more easily destroyed by the British navy.

I have a keen, though non-practicing, interest in espionage, so this was catnip to me. But Chapman’s story also has numerous cinematic connections, as it turns out. In London before the war, Chapman was a member of a notorious “jelly gang,” which sounds like something I’d have wanted to be part of when I was seven. If you’d told me that jelly in this case was high explosives (gelignite) I’d have been even more keen. Splashing about his ill-earned income, Chapman mingled with high-steppers such as Noel Coward and future James Bond director Terence Young. Better still, when British intelligence were considering employing Chapman, they invited Young, now an intelligence officer in the Home Forces, to assess him. “One could give him the most difficult of missions,” estimated Young, “knowing that he would carry it out and that he would never betray the official who sent him, but that it was highly probable he would, incidentally, rob the official who sent him out … He would then carry out his [mission] and return to the official whom he had robbed to report.”

Chapman’s U-boat deception op may have also involved another British intelligence officer, Ian Fleming. Poetically, this certainly ought to be true.

Post-war, Chapman returned to thievery and conspiring to defeat the ends of justice, whereas Young directed DR. NO and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, patterning Sean Connery’s appearance and manner upon his own, down to the square handkerchief in the jacket pocket (a look distinct from the more conventional protruding triangle).

triple

Later still, Young directed TRIPLE CROSS, a hughly fictionalized account of Chapman’s WWII adventures, with Christopher Plummer as the spiv-turned-spy.

Meanwhile, Anthony Faramus who had been jailed in Jersey along with Chapman, and volunteered to spy alongside him, has his own cinematic side. The Germans saw no use for the rather frail Faramus, and shipped him to Buchenwald and then Mauthausen. Against all the odds, he survived, though he lost a lung and seven ribs. After the war he became a film extra and appears as a POW in THE COLDITZ STORY. Then he traveled to Hollywood… and became Clark Gable’s butler.

There’s more, much more, in MacIntyre’s cracking book — I particularly like the stuff about Jasper Maskelyne, stage magician and secret agent, an expert at disguising things from the air to deceive German planes…

Agent Zigzag: The True Wartime Story of Eddie Chapman: The Most Notorious Double Agent of World War II

Quote of the Day: Upping the ante-rooms

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2008 by dcairns

Legendary production designer Ken Adam discusses designing the Marquess of Queensbury’s reception room for THE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE, after the budget had run out:

“Well, it was hard because a) the money had run out and b) I didn’t have time to do research about what Queensbury’s castle in Scotland looked like. So what I decided to do was a complete stylisation using all the classical elements of the St. James’s Theatre and the Café Royal. The only new design element was a very tall, slender French window with a circular top at the end of the set. Then I used Georgian doors from the St James’s and I painted the whole floor like Siena marble. I had a very good painter and it was beautifully done. Then I had the idea of treating the set in two colours only — terracotta for the walls, and everything else in black — because it was after the funeral. I talked the director, Ken Hughes, into dressing all tyhe actors in black. And the whole set was built in a forced perspective. It was the first time that I got recognition for my work from the critics and others: Luchino Visconti was President of the Moscow Film Festival in 1961 and he gave me first prize for best design.”

a) Adam often seems to have done his best work in desperate circumstances. The strongest, strangest set in DR. NO, the first of the many Bond films he designed, is the bare room with the round skylight — Dr. No’s ante-room. It was built for £450 as an afterthought, and it supplies the just note of stylisation that later Bond films built from.

No room

b) Ken Hughes is an underrated filmmaker and I must do more about him. I’m hoping the forthcoming BBC series on British B-movies will show some of his cheapies. I find his bloated extravaganzas like CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG and CROMWELL rather endearing, but I have a feeling his best work might lie in his low-budget crime thriller output. I haven’t even managed to see the bigger-budget extensions of that, JOE MACBETH and THE SMALL WORLD OF SAMMY LEE.

c) My friend Lawrie once loaned a flat to Hughes and got complaints from the landlady about some kind of unspeakable parties… Lawrie called Hughes “the dirtiest man i ever met.” All simply too, too intriguing!

d) The quote up top comes from Ken Adam The Art of Production Design by the esteemed Professor Sir Christopher Frayling. I know that’s the correct way to give him his titles, but I have a sneaking preference for “Sir Christopher Professor Frayling” and I have a feeling that if I ever meet the poor man that’s what I’ll call him, whether I intend to our not.

Ken

Ken Adam.

Clint and Toshiro in Poisonville

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2008 by dcairns

 ” I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit.” ~ Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest.

The Man With No Name

Last Man with no name Standing

Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest is a book with a weird and pervading influence. The only official film adaptation is ROADHOUSE NIGHTS, a 1930 travesty starring Charles Ruggles and Jimmy Durante — which sounds like as good an example of Hollywood lousing up a great book as the preposterous feelgood MOBY DICK of the same year. But despite the dearth of faithful and official versions, Hammett’s grisly pulp nasty has dug its talons deep into cinema history.

Akira Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO (THE BODYGUARD) of 1961, is the next step on our journey. Kurosawa borrows the central conceit of Hammett’s book, in which an “operative” (detective for Hammett, samurai for Kurosawa) destroys the competing gangsters of an utterly corrupt no-horse town by hiring himself out to the highest bidder and provoking all-out warfare among the crooks. I’m not aware of A.K. actually acknowledging the source of his material, but what clinches it for me is that one scene of YOJIMBO is swiped not from Red Harvest but from another Hammett, The Glass Key. In fact, I think Kurosawa’s inspiration here derives specifically from the 1942 Stuart Heisler film of Hammett’s novel, starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake.

The Prisoner

Toshiro Mifune / Alan Ladd has been rumbled by one set of mobsters. Beaten to a pulp, he awakens imprisoned in a back room with two gamblers for jailors — one a slimey weasel type guy, the other a hulking pituitary case. Staggering towards the exit, Mifune / Ladd earns himself another skull-rattling haymaker from the watchful colossus.

Thugs with ugly Mugs

Of course, Kurosawa’s framing and blocking (using his usual multiple-camera filming technique, with long lenses and widescreen framing) is not reminiscent of Heisler’s Academy Ratio film noir, chiaroscuro, wide-angle lens approach at all. But the content of the scene is almost identical. The fact that Kurosawa clearly drew on another Hammett source in making YOJIMBO clinches the argument that he was consciously drawing on the American writer’s work. As far as I know this small point is an original observation and I’m branding my initials on it.

It also makes A.K. seem slightly cheeky for suing the makers of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, Sergio Leone’s unofficial remake of YOJIMBO, released just three years after the samurai refit. The story goes that Leone’s Italian and German producers were supposed to buy the remake rights but somewhere along the way they just kinda sorta forgot. The movie is certainly a bare-faced retread and some scenes are actual shot-for-shot reconstructions. Leone extradites Hammett’s operative out of Japan and back to the United States (or anyhow the Tex-Mex border as recreated in Spain) but also transports him back in time to the wild west and makes him a gunslinger.

While Kurosawa’s film marks a key moment in the advance of cyncical attitudes into the samurai genre (as Kurosawa began to lose faith in humanity), its jet-black humour resurfaces in slightly milder form in the Leone film and helps give birth to the whole modern action genre. While James Bond had made his big-screen debut two years before Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name (known more prosaically in the movie as Joe), the central motif of the action blockbuster – Sudden Violence Followed By A Quip — was cemented into place by Eastwood’s sexual cowboy (whose first quip is a paraphrase of a Mifune line). Not only that, but the whole spaghetti western genre was abruptly inflated from a tiny exploitation ghetto into a genuine INDUSTRY. The hills of Almeria were hotching with imported buckaroos.

One peculiar footnote to the above is that Walter Hill’s updating of the Red Harvest format from Wild West to depression-era dustbowl town, LAST MAN STANDING with Bruce Willis, which enacts Hammett’s story in pretty much Hammett’s original setting, came and went in a blur of sepia-tinged dust and left no lasting impression on anybody.

Another oddity is that the Coen brothers, who derived the title of their first feature, BLOOD SIMPLE, from a line in Hammett’s book, reversed the terms of Kurosawa’s pilferage by unofficially adapting The Glass Key into MILLER’S CROSSING, avoiding a straight plagiarism suit by adding a soupçon of Red Harvest to the stew.

Based on this track record I would argue that Red Harvest is possibly the most influential book never to have been filmed under its original title or with its author’s name attached, except for that first version, ROADHOUSE NIGHTS, on which Hammett is credited, but which bears no resemblance to his book whatsoever…

“Don Willson’s gone to sit on the right hand of God, if God don’t mind looking at bullet holes.” ~ Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 362 other followers