Archive for Dracula Prince of Darkness

Thing Roddy Said During half of Dracula Prince of Darkness

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 25, 2016 by dcairns

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Fiona’s brother Roddy is in hospital again. His rare chromosomal disorder, Williams Syndrome, is associated with elastin problems, which can cause difficulties with breathing (intercostal muscles need elastin), heart and bowels, and he’s having trouble with all three, plus he keeps giving himself infections. An inveterate fiddler, he also won’t keep his drip or his breathing tubes in, but another problem is that he’s loving the attention and could easily become completely institutionalised, having enjoyed a fair bit of independence for years. From his point of view, lying in a hospital bed and just being brought everything he needs is a pretty good lifestyle, and you can’t explain to him that it’ll shorten his life, because the cause and effect are too far apart for him to see.

Still, when I visited him in hospital he was in good spirits, if sleepy, watching DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS with Fiona. He looked very shrunken in the big hospital bed — I guess most people do, they look like newborns, all small and wrinkly. He’s gotten considerable muscle wastage by refusing to get up even to go to the loo or have a shower, even though he’s quite capable. He has his malfunctioning heart set on being bedridden. Everything has shrunk except his ears, which hang gloomily from the sides of his rumpled head like great crenellated pancakes, elephantine, drooping forward under their own weight as if cupped by the hands of gravity. The rest of him is frail and insubstantial. Formerly bulbous, he’s now like a stick figure draped in an outsized balloon skin which someone has half-heartedly attempted to fill with jelly.

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I’d watched this Hammer hokum with Roddy before, but it was interesting to see him engage in an elaborate pretense of having no idea what was going to happen next. I guess we all do this when rewatching a film — somehow we’re wrapped up in the moment-by-moment drama despite knowing what’s coming.

“Where’s he going now?”

At one point Roddy actually placed himself in a character’s shoes to voice his thoughts, as he understood them: “What’s happening to me?” I’d never seen Roddy do that. He’s not what you’d call deeply empathetic. I remember a frustrating conversation during ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, in which Roddy couldn’t understand that a policeman didn’t know that Lon Chaney is the Wolfman. “But Lon Chaney IS the Wolfman!” “Yes, but this guy doesn’t KNOW that.” “I’m SURE Lon Chaney is the Wolfman.” “Yes, he IS, but this guy doesn’t know that.” “I’m SURE he’s the Wolfman.” It’s startling to realize that, while Roddy has the verbal skills of an adult, he has the theory of mind of a two-year-old. He can’t comprehend that other people don’t all know the same information as him. Later he blew up at Fiona for suggesting he shave — “Shave, shave, shave, you’re always on me to shave.” Fiona hadn’t mentioned it before, but someone else had, unbeknownst to her.

“What are you writing, David?” Roddy had noticed me taking notes. “You’re a swine,” said Fiona, slightly aghast at my obvious intention to get a quick blog post out of her possibly expiring brother. “Aye, he is,” said Roddy, happy to agree without knowing why. So I’m a swine.

“Where’s he going now?”

“Uh oh, here he comes!”

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Francis Matthews attempts to ward off Dracula with a sword. “How does Dracula feel about swords?” I ask Roddy, and he mimed the action of a tall vampire snapping a sword in half, seconds before Christopher Lee grabbed the blade and broke it in twain. So, it’s all new to Roddy, unfolding as if for the first time, the question of where people are going an urgent mystery, but at the same time he remembers it all from last time.

Thorley Walters turns up as a Renfield substitute, merrily and madly singing to himself. “Dum diddly dum diddly dum.” Roddy joins in.

“He has been known to erupt,” says kick-ass monk Andrew Keir. “Like you,” says Fiona, to Roddy. “That wasn’t me,” he protests.

We learn that vampires can only enter a building if invited. I ask Roddy what he would say if Dracula appeared at the door.

“I’d say, Come in, Dracula.”

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Barbara Shelley, newly vampirised and looking much better for it, is just about to appear at the window in an echo of Mario Bava’s BLACK SABBATH (and a foreshadowing of Salem’s Lot) when Roddy says, unexpectedly, “Uh-oh. This is the bit I did like. When she comes to the window.” Rare for him to step out of the time frame and admit he knows what’s coming.

And then, minutes later, he had fallen asleep.

 

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The Oblong Box Set

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2013 by dcairns

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Delving into my Universal Monsters The Essential Collection Blu-rays Christmas pressie — I was drawn to some of the lesser titles, partly so they wouldn’t get neglected, partly so I could save some good ones for last. (All images here are from the lowly DVDs.)

First I ran THE WOLFMAN, which is not a very good film, alas. After THE OLD DARK HOUSE it’s nice to have another Welsh-set Universal horror — a pity they couldn’t have arranged for Melvyn Douglas to drop in as Penderell, or something. They manage to waste Warren William and miscast Ralph Bellamy, who doesn’t get to exploit his uncanny ability to remind one of that fellow in the movies, what’s his name? Ralph Bellamy, that’s it.

Screenwriter Curt Siodmak, idiot brother of the great Robert, knew that Lon Chaney Jnr was ridiculous casting as a nobleman, but doesn’t seem to have reflected too much on the implications of his story, which has a Gypsy tribe importing a contagion into peaceful Anglo-Saxon terrain. It’s a distasteful narrative for a German-Jewish refugee to serve up to American audiences during wartime, the more I consider it.

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As a kid, I was disappointed by the slow pace and lack of screen time awarded to Jack Pierce’s make-up, which I dug. But I was fascinated by Maria Ouspenskaya, who seemed genuinely uncanny.

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THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA seems to have always been a tricky property — it has seminal scenes, the unmasking and the chandelier drop and the general mood of skulking about in shadows in a cape, but nobody seems able to settle on what order they should come in or who the characters ought to be. I think perhaps a failure to realize that Christine is the main point-of-view character lies at the heart of many of the problems — this may be the big thing Andrew Lloyd-Webber got right. But Chaney was the only one to get a good makeup, and played the character without any cast backstory, as a mystery.

The forties Technicolor version that’s in the box set concentrates on singing and romance and comedy as much as melodrama, and top-loads the story with an origin for the Phantom that’s sympathetic but deprives him of mystique — it also leaves no time for his Svengali act, surely the heart of the story. Claude Rains is in good form, though his coaching scenes as a disembodied voice are underexploited — this should have been the perfect companion piece to THE INVISIBLE MAN.

Screenwriter Samuel Hoffenstein is more important here than second-string director Arthur Lubin: he did a great job on Mamoulian’s DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE, so I don’t know why this is so muted — partly the Production Code, I suppose. His other finest credits are THE WIZARD OF OZ, LAURA and CLUNY BROWN,  and his gift for light comedy is more evident here than his knack for dramatic construction. The rather stunning ending, in which Jeanette MacDonald Susanna Foster chooses her career and her two beaux, Nelson Eddy and Edgar Barrier, go off together arm in arm to dinner, makes the thing worthwhile — they fade to black very fast at that point.

Oh, and the three-strip Technicolor is bee-you-tiful.

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(Screenwriter and memoirist Lenore Coffee quotes a couple nice lines by Hoffenstein, not from his scripts but from his conversation. In response to the Variety headline BABY LEROY’S CONTRACT UP FOR RENEWAL, the Hoff remarked “If they don’t meet his terms he’ll go straight back to the womb… a swell place to negotiate from!” And when the legal department asked for a progress report on his latest script, a slightly tipsy S.H. bellowed “How any department as sterile as a legal department could have the impertinence to inquire into the progress of any writer, however poor… What do you think I do? Drink ink and pee scripts?”)

I believe the scene where Claude Rains strangles Miles Mander had to be taken several times because Mander’s head kept detaching when shaken.

Hume Cronyn has a tiny part and it’s great fun watching him steal his scenes.

Backstory is a problem. I quite enjoyed the intro to Dario Argento’s PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, in which the baby Phantom, cast adrift in the sewers in his cot, is rescued by rats, who presumably raise him as one of their own, like a rodent Tarzan. Tarzan had a fine operatic yodel, of course. But Argento’s Phantom isn’t deformed, he’s Julian Sands, which leaves him no motivation to be masked or live underground or do any of the things the plot requires.

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The Hammer PHANTOM, which I recently watched too, borrows heavily from the 1941 version — impoverished composer, acid scarring, etc. Apparently Cary Grant had expressed an interest in playing the Phantom, but his agent nixed it. I kind of wonder if that’s why the meaningless hunchback character was added, in order to give all the murderous stuff to someone else. It’s completely nonsensical and wrecks the film, which Terence Fisher handles rather nicely. Michael Gough’s slimy Lord Ambrose is a one-note baddie, and Gough hammers that note with relentless enthusiasm. Herbert Lom gets almost nothing to do.

That one was cackhandedly written by Anthony Hinds, a Hammer producer. There are undoubtedly some great producers-turned-writers — Joseph Mankiewicz springs to mind. The trouble in general is that producers can give themselves the job of writing without having any ability at it, as I found when I worked for Tern Television. Both Anthony Carreras and Anthony Hinds at Hammer got a number of writing gigs, without having the slightest sense of story structure, or even apparent awareness of what a story IS.

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Also watched DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS since Fiona’s brother was visiting, which Hinds authored — but his ramshackle narrative was fleshed out by the competent Jimmy Sangster, and then the very droll Francis Matthews acted in it, with delivery that’s as close to Cary Grant as Hammer ever got. A line like “Well I’m sure it would be educational if we knew what was going on,” isn’t necessarily witty in itself, but he gets a laugh with it. And I have to take my hat off to Sangster for the line he awards Dracula’s sepulchral manservant, Klove: “My master died without issue, sir… in the accepted sense of the term.”

The UK release is cheaper than the American, though admittedly it doesn’t come in its own coffin ~

Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection [Blu-ray] [1931][Region Free]

Things Roddy said during “Dracula”

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2009 by dcairns

Hammer horror: perversely seasonal. DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS.

Roddy sure likes his vampire movies. He watched the Hammer DRACULA, DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS, and TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, over three days, and found room for the Universal DRACULA with Bela Lugosi too.

Gotta love the way the theme music to DRACULA — better known as Swan Lake — warbles like a faulty gramophone.

And then they take care to explain all about vampires before we see any, and then cut ahead to Castle Drac to see the Count rising from his sepulchral slumber, along with his pet bugs and opussums. It’s all about clarity — establish that he’s a vampire, see? because if you don’t do that, the extreme reticence with which the film treats his blood-drinking makes him look like a sexual pervert. Dracula descends on Dwight Frye: fade to black. Upon a little waif in a dark street: fade to black. Frye creeps up on an unconscious woman: fade to black.

Ben Hecht wrote that Hollywood’s insistence on fading out for sexual interludes led him to imagine rampant intercourse whenever a film faded out for any reason whatever: the DA rogers the judge across his desk, the coach assaults his team, the chorus line fall upon, de-bag and ravish Warner Baxter. All is fade-out depravity.

At a not-too subconscious level, this erotic subtext is a big part of Roddy’s love of vampire movies.

“Oh, there’s the castle, ho ho!”

“Uh oh — David!”

“Where’s the female vampires, can’t even see them…”

Roddy keeps up a running commentary of non-sequiturs during most films, as well as baths, trips to the bathroom, and any other activity that doesn’t fully occupy his mouth muscles.

Love the track in on Lugosi during his first entrance, perversely accompanied by opossum squeaks. Reminds me of Deneuve and the cats in BELLE DE JOUR — the similarity is so striking that I suspect an influence. After all, Bunuel was just getting into movies when DRACULA came out.

“Oh, there he is!”

“You look busy writing there, David.”

Dracula: “I never drink…” and then the word “wine” is drowned out by Roddy, the teetotaler, declaring “Good man!”

“It’s only a bat, for God’s sake!”

“What’s happened there. What’s he doing? What’s he — uh oh!”

“They’re nice girls. Well, they seem friendly.”

When the asylum nurse calls Renfield a loony, “Loony, ho ho!”

“Do you think there’s such a thing as bats?”

Roddy, as usual, speculates on what he’d be like as a vampire: “I’d have to wear a black jacket, a red-black cloak, black shoes, and then I’d be like that Dracula.”

So if you happen to encounter a short, stout man, caped, black-jacketed and shod, naked from the waist down, do not be unduly alarmed.