Archive for Freddie Young

Catch a Falling Tsar

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2019 by dcairns

NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA is one possible answer to the question “What would a David Lean movie be like without David Lean?” A question nobody but Sam Spiegel would think to ask, I suspect. N&A may not be the best answer, but it’s the only one we have*. I assume Spiegel was jealous of his former star director’s box office triumph DOCTOR ZHIVAGO and thought he’d do one better.

Franklin J. Schaffner, who we like at least partly because his name is Franklin J. Schaffner — a name that positively chomps its own cigar — did some lively work on potentially lumbering epics like PLANET OF THE APES. He’d go handheld at unexpected moments. In PATTON we also see his flair for highly formal compositions to contrast with the explosive set-pieces. Well, the formal shots still turn up in N&A, but it could do with a shot of handheld chaos to get it on its feet.To speak of this film is to speak of tedium — the sheer amount of tedium makes it the film’s most interesting trait. One wouldn’t have thought it possible to cram so much boredom into a movie also containing a cast of thousands, a mad monk, one Russo-Japanese war, one world war, two revolutions, and both the cream of the British acting establishment and a lot of young and soon-to-be-nude hopefuls (Robin Askwith turns up just to rip the skin of a rabbit). And yet it’s quite remarkable how dull things are for long stretches.

Schaffner seems in awe of his material, so he’s on his best behaviour. Nobody’s at their best when they’re on their best behaviour. Designer John Box creates a very convincing Russia out of various Spanish and Yugoslav locations, but the great Freddie Young’s photography is surprisingly overlit much of the time. How did the wretched White Russians get their palaces to look like daytime soaps with only candles at their disposal. I don’t require the full BARRY LYNDON every time, but a bit of atmosphere would be welcome. (I’m only using the more gorgeous shots for this post — there are, admittedly, lots. But the movie only really impresses visually when it ventures outside, or when night falls, or when it’s dealing with the plotting Bolshies. (Michael Bryant makes a very good Lenin — his story would be worth telling.)And of course there’s Tom Baker’s Rasputin. If ever an actor and role were more suited on paper — Baker was an actual monk, ffs — I can’t think of the occasion. And while Baker is impressive and brings the stately proceedings to relative life (the only kind of life on offer), he’s actually disappointing compared to the version of “Tom Baker as Rasputin” that plays through my head when I think of that glorious phrase. I think it’s because all Old Greg’s atrocities, as portrayed here, are so mild and tasteful. His murder is pretty lurid — though utterly outdone by the Battle of the Barrymores in RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS. This one has lots of homoeroticism thrown in, though, including Tom making eyes (and WHAT eyes!) at a dragged-up flautist. It perks things up. Also some good snivelling hysteria from Michael Jayston’s ex-Tsar when he sees his missus for the first time after abdicating. Shame cuts the puppet emperor’s strings and he collapses lopsidedly. “I didn’t mean to do it!” is all kinds of pathetic. And he becomes human in our eyes for the first time.James Goldman (assisted or hampered by rewrites from Edward Bond) really can’t make us care about Tsar Nicky, an absolutely appalling leader combining weakness with arrogance, able to vacillate stubbornly and be obdurately spineless, neither of which should even be possible. The problem of “our son, the little bleeder” (if only they’d cast Burton & Taylor they might have gotten some healthy vulgarity into their show — but they’d probably still be shooting it) is supposed to make the royals sympathetic, but mainly it gives them a problem they can’t do anything about.

Goldman’s best idea is to show the Tsar becoming a better man after he abdicates, which is based on no particular historical evidence but at least gives him an arc. It doesn’t make much difference though, since the entire royal family is reduced to total helplessness at this point, passengers through their own story on their way to a historically foreordained execution.

For which Schaffner finally pulls out all the stops. His formal compositions are almost as striking here as in the celebrated opening of PATTON, and he milks the suspense — which ought to be nonexistent — a bunch of people with little personality who have done nothing effective or good for the previous three hours of screen time are about to die, and we know it’s going to happen — to breaking point. If it makes sense to milk something to breaking point. Can you break a cow? See NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA, the film that breaks a cow. NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA stars Lewis Carroll; Cleopatra; Emanuelle ‘Bunny’ O’Neill; Pola Ivanova; Ralph Gurney – 13th Earl of Gurney; Goneril; Koura; General Allenby; Mr. Tow-Wouse; ‘Maxim’ De Winter; Harry Dominion; Doctor B. N. Wallis, C.B.E., F.R.S.; Professor Harrington; Wick Blagdon; Peter Brock; Mrs. Chasen; Robert McKee; Lord Ludd; Bilbo Baggins; Leopold Mozart; Encolpio; Bumbo; Woodrow Wilson; Wernher Von Braun; Master Robert Shallow; Colonel Breen; Timothy Lea; Sherlock Holmes; and the voice of Colossus.

Or, to put it another way, since none of the up-and-coming young thesps strutting and fretting here went on to more big movies (not right away, anyway), we have the future stars of THE MUTATIONS: THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW; VAMPIRE CIRCUS; Hammer House of Horror; SCHIZO; CRAZE… eventually, of course, many of them hit their stride again, but it really doesn’t look like this movie helped anyone.

*I tell a lie: Akira Kurosawa thought he was going to be co-directing TORA, TORA, TORA with David Lean, but got Richard Fleischer instead. Then he quit, and they hired Kinji Fukasaku, making T,T,T both a Lean film without Lean and a Kurosawa film without Kurosawa. Enjoy!

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Beginnings: The String

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on April 3, 2018 by dcairns

PERMISSION TO KILL sounds like a totally mediocre spy film and as far as I can tell that’s what it is. But as it’s going to be the latest in my occasional series of movies I only watch partway and then blog about, who knows? I can’t condemn it sight unseen. Only the title seems definitively poor.

License to Wear Clothes

The movie begins with spymaster Dirk Bogarde putting together a string of agents to perform some kind of international espionage caper. He chitchats with a naked Nicole Calfan, which is somewhat enjoyable but lacks the sexual tension it might have had if this were someone other than Dirk, who is playing it very arch indeed, and then he picks up Frederic Forrest in an art gallery, and then ~

Each agent-to-be has been introduced with a b&w slideshow image. The third is an eight-year-old French boy. Now, frankly, I’m quite happy to go through life not knowing what role he’s going to play in this caper. Maybe he has a CGI avatar who’s a ninja. Maybe he’s just good for boosting through transoms. I prefer to imagine alternatives than to be saddled with what seems likely to be a disappointing but definitive answer.

The film may be shot by Freddie Young (and it definitely is, this time) and directed by the sometimes-perfectly-competent Cy Frankel, but once you get a LeCarre-esque dour espionage drama hinting at SPY KIDS hi-jinks, it’s time to bail, and fantasise the different stupid or surprising or creepy developments that could follow.

Film Flung in Canal

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2018 by dcairns

Sean Connery’s James Bond ends FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE by unspooling a film and slinging it in the waters of Venice, which an act of auto-criticism I’m not going to be able to top. Is it just me or is this movie not very interesting?

It’s built on DR. NO by giving John Barry more sway over the music, and they’ve hired the great Freddie Young Ted Moore to photograph it, which results in some wonderful location stuff in Turkey. Daniela Bianchi is a warm and somehow geeky heroine, wrong for the role but all the better for it, and Lotte Lenya is a memorable villainess. Robert Shaw is kind of wasted as the muscle.

 Filmed on location in the Mines of Moria!

Other than that, I was frequently bored. I remember GOLDFINGER being great fun, and that’s maybe the point where everything finally clicks. And doesn’t actually fire on all cylinders again (I’m sure that’s NOT a mixed metaphor — many things that click also have cylinders, and why shouldn’t James Bond be one of them?) until ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. Which suggests I’m not a big Terence Young fan (he didn’t do those too), outside of CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS. I mean, BLACK TIGHTS is amazing in small doses. But the later work is dreadful, isn’t it? THE KLANSMAN?

Still, of course I’d love to see his Saddam Hussein biopic, or hagiopic. How is that not a massive cult film? Total unavailability may have something to do with it.