Archive for Gordon Jackson

Route of all evil

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2022 by dcairns

Following Danger Man back to the native land of Bond, we discover Richard Johnson, who would play Bulldog Drummond in a couple of passable spy romps, working in a much more sombre and hard-edged thriller, DANGER ROUTE. Forgettable, generic title, and nearly a forgettable film, but it has moments.

It has a proper filmmaker in the director’s chair, too, though one in decline. Seth Holt would die during the shooting of his next production, BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB — an amusingly persistent case of hiccups turned out to presage a massive coronary. He’s on intermittently good form here — the inconsistent MUMMY movie is more persistently engaging, but he brings his talent fully to bear on the movie’s bitter climax.

The film is pitched somewhere between the brutality of Bond and the morose Le Carre worldview. Not so seedy, but grey and downbeat. Our anti-hero is a government assassin, and the first scene depicts two spymasters planning his final mission in a cinema (on the screen is the director’s previous film, STATION SIX SAHARA, an amusing in-joke though not as pointedly meta as the moment in CAPRICE where Doris Day hides from enemy agents in a cinema showing… CAPRICE), and the make it clear that if agent “Jonas Wilde” survives the job, a female agent has been put in position to destroy him afterwards.

There’s a distinct lack of glamorous locations — the Channel Islands are the height of escapism in this film, and the production values, courtesy of Amicus, are on the thin side, with unconvincing dioramas ob view through every window. Harry THE THIRD MAN Waxman is cinematographer, and the shots are sometimes expressive in a subtle way, but it’s no thrill-ride. A single Deutsch tilt, on a cross-channel ferry. The plot moves forward with some bold elisions, which helps a bit.

“A mountain of evil,” was Bette Davis’ summation of Holt on THE NANNY (probably his best film), which seems to have baffled his friends on the crew. There’s an intriguing comment also from his widow, who said that when Holt worked as producer on THE LADYKILLERS, rather than calming one another down, which is what both needed, they would tend to hype each other into a frenzy. Possibly that was good for the film?

A better script would help this one: good actors make a limited impression with thick eared, hackneyed dialogue. It’s not overtly clumsy but nobody comes to life. Johnson seems at home being glum and angry, but hits that same note too hard and often; Carol Lynley is seductive and sweet; Barbara Bouchet effective when mysterious, but when the mask comes off, what’s underneath is unconvincing; Sylvia Sims, Diana Dors, are as professional as ever, same for Harry Andrews, Maurice Denham and Gordon Jackson.

MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT

The final betrayal comes with a slick reversal — Johnson, a creature of habit, has fixed himself a Bacardi. He’s told by his girlfriend, Carol Lynley, that the ice cubes were poisoned — he’ll start to notice the creeping paralysis now.

He replies that the ice cubes are in the goldfish tank — he’s anticipated the betrayal.

His assassin looks to the tank, where the fish are floating lifeless — a school of substitute Johnsons. And Holt shows the next action — Johnson slaying his lover with one mighty chop — only in the shadow on the glass.

DANGER ROUTE stars Dr. John Markway; Ann Lake; Moneypenny; the Queen Mother; Frau Poppendick; Lord Lucan; Filipenko; MacDonald ‘Intelligence’; Professor Henry Harrington; Mime; and Kreacher.

Escapism

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2021 by dcairns

It’s true that Netflix has a lousy classic film selection, except that there are some oddities like EROTIKON and some commedia al’Italia you would expect to find, which we should be thankful for.

But I clicked on THE GREAT ESCAPE because I was in the mood for the smooth and unchallenging. I intended just to watch a little bit, but it’s been ages since I ran it and of course I ended up watching the whole thing. It’s kind of perfect. Of course, it shows war as being schoolboy fun, but escaping from a German POW camp — unlike suffering in a Japanese one — probably had aspects of being at school. Plotting to defeat the system was likely to be fun, with an undercurrent of terror.

We had to pause it at what felt like twenty minutes in, but turned out to be forty-nine minutes in. That’s how smoothly and efficiently and entertainingly it goes.

Elmer Bernstein’s theme is great, but all his scoring is great — when he’s not doing the march or the snare-drum suspense, he does oddly beautiful and tender things for Steve McQueen and Angus Lennie, or James Garner and Donald Pleasence. Harp arpeggios — well, we know he was a Bernard Herrmann fan. Did John Sturges temp-track these bits with tracks from Herrmann’s score for his own UNDERWATER? Probably not. (NB DEFINITELY not: see comments.) The only thing I’d question is the sudden happy music introducing fresh scenes right after tragic ones — but I bet they thought about that very seriously, and decided they couldn’t smooth things over, they had to make hard transitions to let everything play out with its full value.

Lots of Scots in this — four of them, to be precise, meaning that you rarely get a scene without some Scottish presence. James Donald and David McCallum have suppressed it, of course, but Angus Lennie and Gordon Jackson let it all hang out, and do a song and dance about it. Weird that Lennie, who’s magnificent, and John Leyton, who’s blander but very sympathetic, didn’t capitalize on this to find fame and fortune.

I like to think Leyton and McCallum meet up for regular cast reunions, the only ones left.

Officer Class

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on April 22, 2021 by dcairns

“Come for Guinness, stay for Mills,” Randy Cook had told us — so we did. Ronald Neame’s film of James Kennaway’s play still has a foot in theatre, and might have been more suited to b&w, but Stirling Castle looks attractive, both as a real edifice and a glass painting, and Neame films his actors acting with impressive fluidity and occasional bursts of real dynamism.

The plot deals with a battle for control of a Highland regiment. Mills has survived a Japanese POW camp in the war and his nerves are frazzled: on the surface he’s a martinet but just below that he’s damaged goods. Guinness is a war hero who doesn’t want to give up his acting command and resents any change to the way things have always been done in his time.

Both actors are magnificent — both get to do potentially showy nervous breakdown stuff. Their methods are very nearly opposite, however. Guinness originally had the other role, but swapped and suggested Mills to take his part. He’s very clever, very technical, he DOES a lot. It’s all first-class: his grin, conveying Cheshire-cat self-satisfaction, is at the same time terrifyingly psychopathic. His Scottish accent isn’t 100% convincing — very few were, in former years, but it’s specific and consistent. (Susannah York as his daughter gives her voice just the merest suggestion of a lilt.) You do notice that the actors who can talk in their own voices are able to be more natural, even when they’re also quite BIG (Angus Lennie is very funny; but there’s terrific low-key work from Gordon Jackson and Duncan MacRae).

Mills carries off the honours with a performance of slowly crumbling resolve and shredded nerves that’s just appallingly real. “My jaw is hanging open!” exclaimed Fiona after one close-up. You realise that Neame, never a showy filmmaker, lacking the brilliant flashes of his old chum Lean, was deeply attuned to performance (his partnership with Guinness was no doubt a great learning opportunity), profoundly sensitive to the dramatic values of a scene.

Mills’ breakdown is all performance, carefully observed and truly felt. Guinness’ follow-up show is a march off a cliff with orchestral accompaniment: composer Malcolm KWAI Arnold provides the titular pipe band martial music echoing in the characters’ head and spilling out onto the soundtrack. An expressionist touch that’s properly alarming, as it’s unlike anything else in the film — a highly effective signal that CONTROL IS BEING LOST.

Zeitgeist-based theories of national cinema can get a little spooky, a little superstitious, but I can’t shake the feeling that during and after WWII, and during the mid-sixties to the early seventies, the standard of British filmmaking rose tremendously, influenced by political and cultural events and the activities of certain key artists — so that the kind of filmmakers who would normally have been doing decent, sensitive work started doing GREAT work. Neame’s directing career only got started in ’47 and continued in ’50, so he more or less missed the first burst of energy (but was right in there as producer and cinematographer). And was too old and established by the time the sixties came around. So that I think his directing work, though very fine indeed, doesn’t get animated by the tremendous national enthusiasms that Lean and Powell & Pressburger were at the heart of, and the Boultings and Launder & Gilliatt and others surfed in the forties.

So I feel a sense of “It might have been” with Neame. But he’s really, really good.

TUNES OF GLORY stars Gulley Jimson; Professor Bernard Quatermass; Bertram Tracepurcel; Nellie Goode; Lord Alfred Douglas; Eliza Fraser; MacDonald ‘Intelligence’; Jim MacKenzie, Granddaddy; Grogan and Sgt. Grogan; Scuttling; 3rd Officer – Carpathia; Henry Strangeways; Scarlatti; Col. Etienne Gerard (Hussars of Conflans); Ives ‘The Mole’; Professor Bernard Quatermass; Miss Marple; and Mr. Mackay