Archive for Ennio Morricone

I Don’t Spy with my Little Eye

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2022 by dcairns

I had fond memories of the poorly-titled De Laurentiis spy caper MATCHLESS from my childhood — mostly false memories, as it turns out, but the movie is still fun. Part of a trilogy of colourful Dino Bondian joints, culminating in the classic DIABOLIK. This one has Ennio Morricone music too.

The movie is an invisible man fantasy, revolving around a Tolkeinesque ring of invisibility. I remembered that much, but since the movie starts with the hero escaping a firing squad, I had mentally pegged it as starting out in some banana republic, not China, which is where it starts out. I’d also for years tried to find out what the film was (that title is so very unmemorable — Fiona said, “You just told me what it’s called but I’ll have forgotten by the next time I think about it”) and my memory told me it was a Terence Hill film. In fact the lead is Patrick O’Neal, which suggests that as a kid I had total prosopagnosia, the inability to recognise faces. Which does make sense of a few of my experiences back then. On the other hand, I had apparently recognised the film’s Italian origins, so add a couple of points there.

Not remembering the Chinese stuff, I naturally didn’t remember the racism. Embarrassing bit with Chinese spies who have been transformed by plastic surgery into Caucasians, and are being sent to the US with moronic Amurrican buzzwords and catchphrases drilled into their heads. The intent here is actually more anti-American than anti-Chinese, and the movie is rather bracingly dyspeptic about America, spies, the whole bit. But there’s still some considerable discomfort here.

“Perhaps -“

“I’ll do the perhapsing around here.”

Jack Pulman’s dialogue is often quite funny. He went on to do the BBC I, Clavdivs, and seems to be the last in a whole football team of scenarists, the rest of them Italians. And our director is the distinguished Alberto Lattuada, who gets in a few gibes at his former collaborator, F. Fellini.

Tortured by the Chinese, O’Neal (an amusingly dour double-oh-nothing) is rescued and then tortured by the Americans, who are busy turning American agents into Chinese infiltrators. Then he’s released, recruited and sent to spy on criminal mastermind Donald Pleasence, who has disappointingly little to do (no monologuing!) but does live in a Northumbrian castle full of robots. so that’s nice.

This is one of the few invisible man films that respects the notion that your clothes wouldn’t automatically disappear along with the rest of you, so it’s also one of the few sixties spy romps with more teasing male pseudo-nudity than female. O’Neal looks pretty good, though he has trained furniture following him around to make sure we don’t see too much of our invisible hero.

O’Neal is followed around by arch-nemesis Frank Henry Silva, the man whose cheekbones can kill, who gives a gloriously fullblooded comic performance, completely awful from beginning to end. But this works quite well, as you learn to hate him quickly. He explains his fondness for sneakery by saying that even as a kid he liked snitching on schoolmates. And that is kind of the film’s view of espionage: a dirty game played by assholes. O’Neal’s character is appealing because he can see through it, just as we can see through him.

The only other specific detail I remembered from BBC1’s Saturday Night at the Movies was lasers — a bank full of them. You assume they’re photo-electric cell type detectors, but in fact you can light cigarettes on them.

“Well, how about that. Here I am, locked in a bank, naked, alone, trying to save the world. Lot’s o’ luck.”

One of the rules is that O’Neal needs a ten hour break between bouts of unseeability, so the climax strands him, fully visible and at the mercy of the bad guys. So he does something rather brilliant — he strips nude, leaving his clothes in a heap, and PRETENDS to be invisible. The baddies find the clothes and assume they’ll never be able to catch him, and all the time he’s hiding, bollock naked, behind a nearby pillar, completely defenceless. Amid all the silliness and dumb jokes there are some quite smart moments.

List of ingredients: amphibious vehicle, absurd gown, gratuitous cheesecake shots, inane quips, eccentric millionaire baddie, figures badly matted into CCTV comms system, fancy cars, gloating, sinister Chinese element, sliding panels, exotic locales, villain’s lair, stagey punch-ups, colourful laboratory, rescue by aircraft, bondage, feats of escapology, List of ingredients: amphibious vehicle, absurd gown, gratuitous cheesecake shots, inane quips, eccentric millionaire baddie, figures badly matted into CCTV comms system, fancy cars, gloating, sinister Chinese element, sliding panels, exotic locales, villain’s lair, stagey punch-ups, colourful laboratory, rescue by aircraft, bondage, feats of escapology, black-tie reception, ring with hidden needle, fancy Rolls-Royce.

MATCHLESS stars Jason Cravatte aka Jason Caroll; Princess Irina Yusupov; Blofeld; Mr. Moto; Scarabea; General Bullmoose; Boss Hogg; Lewis Jordan, agente 777; Genghis Khan’s Lover; and La Saraghina.

Nero is an angler in the lake of darkness

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on September 25, 2020 by dcairns

Elio Petri’s A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY is quite… a thing. I feel like, as it’s a ghost story, I ought to deduct points for it not really being scary, but it’s incredible IMPRESSIVE. Especially Ennio Morricone’s wildly experimental, improvised score, which is cacophonous and pandemonic and absolutely nuts. Like the sound of an orchestra smashed together in a tombola, going round and round, madly playing as they fall over one another. It’s a collaboration with “the composers performers of gruppo di improvvisazione NUOVA CONSONANZA.” A unique event. Maybe there’s just not enough actual quiet for the supernatural angle to chill us.

Does it matter, though, when the film is one long setpiece from start to finish, with politics and a sense of humour and action painting and all manner of mod thrills? And it takes you somewhere quite unexpected.

I feel like Petri saw BLOW UP and thought he’d do something similar but with a lot of opposites — a rural setting instead of an urban one, a jerk of an action painter (Franco Nero) instead of a jerk of a photographer, a ghost story instead of a murder mystery. But still with Vanessa Redgrave.

She’s Young, They’re in Love, and He Kills People

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 21, 2020 by dcairns

Yes, as a matter of fact, it did take me a while to catch up with BUGSY, now that you mention it. Probably being disgusted by DICK TRACY, a bloated waste with pretty colours, put me off going to see this. But as always with a Warren Beatty joint, top talent is involved. The director here isn’t WB himself but Barry Levinson, who has made some fine films, but maybe not this one.

My main observation is not, I think, an original one — Beatty somehow can’t suggest the psychopathic rage part that gives Ben Siegel his nickname and the film its title, which is a fairly big problem if you think about it.

What surprised me, during Beatty’s biggest tantrum, was an odd cut where his anger goes from about a 7 to a 10 with no transition and no motivation. Thereby making it clear that two takes, featuring different levels of performance, have been spliced together, maybe to try for a jarring, sudden escalation? Maybe hoping that this disjunction would make Warren scarier? I mean, he’s doing a decent job of looking angry, and if you were in a room with a guy that angry you’d maybe feel a little sick, but the problem is Harvey Keitel is in this film and Ben Kingsley is in this film and if Levinson asked either of them to do what Warren’s FORCING himself to try to do here, the key grip would soil himself in terror. We have seen scary actors. If we haven’t, we might be convinced by Warren.

In Levinson on Levinson, the director talks about how Bugsy needed to be a romantic lead as well as a vicious killer — obviously, Beatty can do the romantic stuff no problem. The trouble was, they needed BOTH. I can’t really think of anyone who was around at the time who would have been better.

Beatty is romantic partly because he has Annette Bening to be romantic with. She plays Virginia Hill, also the subject of a seventies TV movie where Dyan Cannon played her. Harvey Keitel was in that too, funnily enough.

The other big filmmaking fail — well, the film has several goddamn MONTAGES, the point of which I do not see, and whenever a period movie resorts to montages to get from one point of a disarticulated story to another, I feel somebody’s not done their screenwriting work — but the other thing is the ending.

Bugsy alone.

This ties in to the best bit, actually, Bugsy’s Damascene vision of the Flamingo Hotel. I tend to feel like Warren is buying up all the toys when he hires people like Storaro to shoot and Morricone to score… in fairness, BULWORTH is an absolutely gorgeous showcase for Storaro’s work and the maestro does great work here… but the great Morricone wasn’t really NEEDED for BULWORTH and he’s probably not needed here. Normally, if you hire Morricone and your lead has an ecstatic vision of an unbuilt hotel, you turn the composer loose and get something amazing. What they do here is impressively different.

Of course, Storaro gives us some great desert photography. But the sound design, by Richard Beggs, does the rest. It’s this distant echoing hubbub — like an auditory leak from the future. It comes from far away, probably from approximately our time. Or maybe we can only hear it dimly because it’s coming from inside Siegel’s head, which is only semi-porous as they prove at the end with bullets. Anyway, it’s really wonderful, and arguably better than what you’d get from the mighty Morricone because it’s NEW.

Anyway, the other fail: big pull-back from Annette Bening after she gets the news of Bugsy’s death, and pan off onto darkness. Then… nothing. Some TEXT, telling the movie’s version of what happened next — a version which is factually unfounded, as far as I can tell. Then a nothing shot of modern Vegas as the credits whiz upwards.

No good at all. What Fiona and I both expected, as the shot panned from Bening in her billowing gown, was the lights of modern Vegas coming on bit by bit in the darkness. That’s what the whole film has been leading up to, and certainly seems like what that shot is designed to lead up to. It’d have to be some kind of FX shot, sure. Something out of ONE FROM THE HEART. And maybe the idea is corny. But corny is better than disappointing, right? Usually. I mean, if the movie wasn’t so shamelessly romanticized then maybe it could afford to end with some kind of anticlimax. What do I mean by shamelessly romanticized? Well, Virginia Hill wasn’t at the Flamingo because she unexpectedly left for Paris, making some suspect she was tipped off about her boyfriend’s hit job — but there’s worse — we earlier see a witness being sent off on a nice holiday so he can’t testify against Bugs — two real witnesses were in fact whacked. To accuse them of taking bribes rather than bullets definitely falls into the category of insulting the dead.

Of course, BONNIE AND CLYDE was rose-tinted too. But that 100% worked. Does that excuse it? I’m not 100% sure. But when I watch that film, I 100% forget to worry about it.