Archive for Freddie Jones

Juggernaut Jones

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on July 17, 2019 by dcairns

Our Freddie Jones tribute screening consisted of THE ELEPHANT MAN and JUGGERNAUT. I can’t discuss his role in the latter without heavy spoilers, but I would argue that the film, though beautifully plotted, is spoiler-proof because its real pleasures go well beyond the what-happens-ness of the narrative.

But the spoilers start right now.

I was able to get Fiona to rewatch JUGGERNAUT because she’d forgotten most of the what-happens, and because I sold it as Freddie’s only title role. We see cops Anthony Hopkins and Kenneth Colley (a Ken Russell favourite) interview various suspects or potential informants as they try to catch the pseudonymous title terrorist. (One scene shows them backstage at Swan Lake, presumably interviewing the dry ice specialist about his protechnics expertise, but alas we don’t meet him.) Freddie Jones, Cyril Cusack and Michael Hordern play the characters we do meet, so there’s a small whodunnity aspect to the story. But as with a Maigret mystery, whydunnit is much more important and interesting.

Hopkins interviews Cusack in prison, giving the scene a little SILENCE OF THE LAMBS pre-echo, but with Hopkins in the opposite part. Cusack plays a charming IRA bomb man, evidently a bit of a psychopath, but mostly just old: “I don’t really care who gets blown up.” No longer full of passionate intensity, he apparently now lacks all conviction and his only reason for not teasing Hopkins with false leads is that he can’t be bothered.

Director Richard Lester told me they started the scene at the usual time, and when they finished it he looked at his watch and it was 9.20 a.m. or something. A wonderful feeling for a man who liked to move fast!

Michael Hordern is working at a dog track (because robot rabbits and bombs are part of the same skillset) and is annoyed that his name’s on the terror suspect list. He only does criminal stuff abroad, and his last job was for HM Gov and they promised to take him off the list. “You can’t trust anybody these days,” says Colley, before promising to take him off the list if he helps. Hordern does a shifty look. He’s only really here because Lester loved his work and because we need another suspect. The rule of three.

Freddie’s character, Sidney Buckland, is a retired bomb disposal man, living in a little suburban home with his nice wife, watching telly and seemingly quite relaxed and helpful to the police. If this were a whodunnit, which it is, we’d immediately finger him for the perp, which we do. But Jones plays his scene with so little intensity — not always a naturalistic actor, but he can do it when required — that he gets away with it. And his lovely wife, Kristine Howarth, is so warm and sweet, she’s the best character witness you could ask for.

The thing that makes the pay-off satisfying is that Buckland is the former colleague and guv’nor of Fallon, the hero (Richard Harris), the man who has the job of defusing the bombs. When Fallon recognises the style of the bomb as belonging to a wartime German job he defused with Buckland, the cops realise Buckland is their man (the original bomb’s designer being dead). So this is satisfying in narrative terms but also makes the situation worse, especially for the hero: the man he has to outsmart is his friend and defusion guru.

(The movie doesn’t worry about why 47-year-old Jones is retired — the real one worked until the age of 90 — but I guess acting is different from bomb disposal — or is it? — or how he and 44-year-old Harris could have been defusing doodlebugs thirty years earlier — evidently both characters are older than they look.)

Fallon has narrowed his options down to two wires, red and blue. He can’t tell which one deactivates the bomb and which one will set it off. Oh, and there are several bombs, all below the waterline on an ocean liner in heavy seas. No way to evacuate, and any mistake will kill everyone. Fallon has already lost his best friend Charlie Braddock, on this job, and he’s a tired, angry fellow who despises the establishment he works for.

Catching Juggernaut means they can ask Buckland which wire to cut. It’s on a timer and it’s going to go off in minutes. If Harris cuts the right wire he can convey to his team, each stationed at their own device, which one he cut and they can duplicate his action (if all the bombs are the same).

Freddie/Buckland walks to the mic, I think maybe the only tracking shot in the film. (To make the film feel like it was unfolding “live,” Lester shot casually, mo st scene s covered from one position with two or three cameras, one on a master, the others punching in to catch closeups and details.)

So, by radio, Fallon asks Buckland which wire he ought to cut. He appeals to their friendship, he acknowledges Buckland’s mastery, and he reminds his mentor what the fear and tension of the job are like. It’s an impassioned performance and a sensible approach that WOULD work, if you were dealing with a fellow human being with a spark of empathy left.

Lester cross-cuts between the two wires in macro-close-up, each forming a diagonal for maximum graphic punch.

Buckland tells Fallon to cut the blue wire.

Fallon thinks about it. Then cuts the red wire. The bomb doesn’t go off. “It’s red, lads!” he shouts. Job done. The audience can wipe its sweaty hands.

This ending is really impressive and nailbiting cinematically bravura. Still, something about it kind of bothered me as a kid, and I thought about it, worried away at it, and it got even better.

First, there’s the fact that Buckland steers Fallon wrong, even though he’s already been caught. Killing his friend and all those passengers and crew will achieve nothing, now. He’s never going to get his half million ransom, and his probable sentence for mass murder will be, if possible, even harsher than his sentence for extortion by terror would have been. It’s a completely nihilistic and self-destructive act. Therefore a good gesture for the antagonist to make at the end of a story, I guess.

But what about Fallon? We have to assume that something about Buckland’s delivery of the simple lines, “It’s blue,” and “Cut the blue wire,” tells Fallon that his old friend is not to be trusted. He detects the trap and avoids it.

Now this clip IS a spoiler.

What I realised was bothering me is that Fallon, on impulse, cuts the red wire, without telling anyone. His team, listening in, think he’s cutting the blue. If he’d guessed wrong, they have all cut the red wire, thinking he’d been killed by the blue, and they have all been blown up also.

(Of course, if he’d guessed wrong, they’d probably all drown anyway.)

It seemed like, to create suspense, the film had Fallon do something pretty stupid. He should at least have announced what he was doing. But that would have been messy, would have spoiled the neatness of the tension-relief scheme.

But maybe Fallon didn’t care. Maybe he just made a perverse choice, not worrying about the consequences. Perversity and rebellion are big parts of his character. And maybe Buckland is a model for the man Fallon might turn into. So maybe Fallon’s action, which saves the ship and everyone on it, was also a completely nihilistic and self-destructive act.

Fallon doesn’t look relieved or happy that the ship doesn’t explode.

He goes on deck and looks out, not at where the ship has been, but back at its wake.

He has the air of a gambler who has lost everything. But is disappointed to find he’s still there.

BUCKLAND: I can’t explain what they did to me, not in official police jargon. […] They teach you how to dismantle bombs, save lives. But they didn’t pay you enough so you learn how to design bombs, taking lives. Pays much better. And then one day you’re old and they give you a miserable pension. I’m still good at my job.”

JUGGERNAUT features Professor Albus Dumbledore; Doctor Yuri Zhivago; Dildano; Dr. Hannibal Lecter; Polo Bollen; Bilbo Baggins; Sheriff J.W. Pepper; the Cheshire Cat; the Mock Turtle; Eva Braun; Thufir Hawat; Major Breen; Chief Insp. Gregg; Pandit Nehru; Admiral Piett; Lord Tarquin of Staines; Cuthbert Clare; Hopkirk (deceased); Control; Roj Blake; and Manimal.

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The Elephants Men

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2019 by dcairns

We marked the passing of the great Freddie Jones by rewatching THE ELEPHANT MAN. Exploring the DVD further we found the only real extra, a trailer.

It’s pretty bad! But it see-saws between hopeless and passable-but-embarrassing. Then we found another trailer. Let me talk you through the pair of them.

TRAILER ONE (1)

This starts like a horror movie, which is awkward. A shot from the film which, in context, portrays in a perfectly sensitive way, the anxiety of Nurse Nora upon being sent to bring Mr. Merrick a meal. Here, horror movie music has been added for suspense and Dr. Treves’ dialogue (“He won’t hurt you,… he won’t hurt you… he won’t hurt you…”) has been turned into a V.O. Implication: he definitely WILL HURT you. Maybe he’ll toss you on his tusks.

Nora’s scream segues quite skillfully into a sideshow tracking shot with a narrator: “You will feel the chill of horror… but this is not a horror story.” Well, I’m glad they cleared that up. “You will feel the warmth of love… but this is not a love story.” The narrator is creepy. But this is the most successful bit, telling us what the movie ISN’T. Since it’s sui generis, a kind of nightmare about innocence, a Dickensian disease-of-the-week movie, a corporeal divine comedy, none of which are recognised film genres, alas, it makes sense to close off bad readings of what the film is, rather than thrusting forward a good one. “You will see men in hats… but this is not a cowboy story.” No, he doesn’t actually say that.

“…the story of a very real monster… who was also a very real human being.” He was a bee-yoo-tiful poysson. But he wasn’t a monster, so this attempt at telling us what the film IS about in an interesting way is pretty indefensible.

Then we get Freddie’s carnival spiel, which tells us what territory we’re REALLY in — movie trailer as come-in, as sideshow barker’s invitation. A trailer for THE ELEPHANT MAN is inevitably going to end up saying, in effect, “Come and see the elephant man.”

“Paramount had no idea how to sell it,” recalled John Hurt. One exec told him, “Well, John, a monster movie is always going to be difficult to sell.” Hurt just stared, aghast. I don’t think a film this good ought to be a hard sell, but the question of ta s te doe s come into it, which is less of an issue if you’re selling GOING APE! with Tony Danza, another Paramount pic from the same era.

Essentially, THE ELEPHANT MAN’s audience is going to come to gaup and stay to emote, and in that way can reassure themselves they’re (a) physically normal, at lea s t compared to this guy, and (b) good, caring people. The trailer has to work on Motive B, to give the audience a good excuse to buy tickets, while making it clear that the more immediately obvious Motive A will indeed be satisfied.

Because Motive A dominates, THE ELEPHANT MAN MUST NOT APPEAR IN THE TRAILER. If he did, Motive A would lose all box office power.

As Paramount didn’t know how to sell this one, and as they were, apparently, cheapskates, we now get several shots, exchanges and line readings not in Lynch’s film. This is terrific — no way these things would have survived otherwise — but they’re only here because the studio didn’t want to spend money duping negative. And so we get to hear Freddie say the lost lines, “He’s a freak. That’s how they live. We’re partners, he and I.”

We see the camera push in on Anthony Hopkins getting his first look at Merrick, but we don’t see the teardrop fall — surely, the money shot. Cinematographer Freddie Francis nicknamed his director “Lucky Lynch” because the tear fell just as the perfect closeup was achieved. But I bet that only happened once.

Then THE ELEPHANT MAN in a disconcertingly Woody Allenish font comes flying out at us. “A shattering experience,” says the VO guy, which is a fairly clever way of putting Motives A and B together in three words, and then they ruin all their good indifferent work by having Michael Elphick delivering his carnival come-on down the boozer. I mean, of the three showmen portrayed, Freddie, Tony and Mike, surely Mike is the one your 1980 audience wants LEAST to do with?

That’s the trailer on the DVD I own. There’s also THIS, on the Youtubes:

Freddie J.’s great “Life! … is full of surprises,” monologue is recut into a patchwork, but it’s a strong start anyway, and I guess they would have to reduce it (but a great trailer could have been made using mainly this scene alone). You know what? It just struck me that “Life! … is full of surprises,” is a fantastic bit of bathos. It starts dramatic and then descends into a commonplace platitude. And Freddie’s genius is both to play that crapness to the hilt, and to make it still, somehow, work.

“At first, you will want to turn away,” says voice-over guy, telling us how we’re going to react. Psychologically, he’s trying to get us past our possible resistance to seeing a film whose title character does not outwardly resemble Farrah Fawcett. Then he reassures us that we’ll want to kick Merrick in the face, which is a reason for seeing a film we can all relate to.

“Stan’ up!” yells tiny Dexter Fletcher. I like to think this is the directorial approach he used to guide Taron Egerton through ROCKET MAN. Well, it would work for the “I’m Still Standing” number.

“But if you come to know him…” Hilariously, the film does not bring this idea to life by allowing us to hear Merrick speak, but continues to show him as a placid dummy with a bag on his head.

“And perhaps for the first time, you will understand the true meaning of courage, and human dignity.” Voice-over guy is making some pretty brassy assumptions about his listeners.

“You’re not the Elephant Man at all,” says Anne Bancroft.

Seconds later, voice-over guy tells us, “…and John Hurt as the Elephant Man.” So she’s wrong. He bloody is.

Thought you could put one over on us, eh, Mr. Merrick?

THE ELEPHANT MAN stars Hannibal Lecter; Winston Smith; Mrs. Robinson; Lord Raglan; Major Barbara Undershaft; Thufir Hawat; Ken Boon; Hyzenthlay; Lilliman; Gargoyle Reggie; Sister Ruth; Maggy – Little Dorrit’s Protegee; Fidgit; Sir Anthony Mount; Jemima Shore; Gordon Cole; and Sir Elephant.

The Key

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on January 19, 2016 by dcairns

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An actor friend recently said of Freddie Jones, (pictured), “I want that man to live forever.”

There are relatively few adaptations of Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (none using the original title), though filmmakers have plundered its best-known bits (Humpty) for their (usually poor) versions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But there’s quite a nice version made by the BBC in 1973, starring future Doctor Who companion Sarah Sutton, who is ALMOST an acceptable age for the part, and acts quite well. A little too poised and prim as an adult, she makes those very qualities work in service of characterising a Victorian child.

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The supporting cast isn’t hugely starry, but the choices are good — Freddie Jones as the egg man is inspired, and it’s inevitable that perennially aged, aged man Geoffrey Bayldon should have a crack at the White Knight (maybe my favourite character — I can’t read his verse without tears flowing sluggish as mercury down my cheeks.

(Though regular Shadowplayer Simon Kane has pointed out that Ian Holm takes the role beyond the infinite in an otherwise rather overblown 1996 version with an impossibly over-sexy adult Kate Beckinsale.)

Overall the thing is just about funny enough — most adaptations aren’t — and plenty strange, thanks to its use of chroma-key to blue-screen in settings faintly recalling Tenniel’s illustrations. Like the novel, it’s almost too crazy, lacking the logical glue that just barely holds together the fragmented nonsense of Wonderland.