Archive for Henry Daniell

Bligh Hard

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2011 by dcairns

Am I punning on “blow-hard” or DIE HARD? I’m doing both! And nobody can stop me,  nyahahahaha!

Ahem. Regular Shadowplayer and font of generosity Randall William Cook sent us a copy of the 1962 MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, urging us to give it a shot. He’s right — it’s a pretty terrific film, undeserving of its lousy rep. But any consideration of the film’s good qualities must take into account the negative stuff accumulated around it, lest it founder on the shoals of skepticism, so here goes —

Reasons MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY has a bad rep —

1) It was an expensive flop.

2) It was a famously “troubled shoot”, losing its first director, Carol Reed, and acquiring another, even older one, Lewis Milestone. The set was plagued by bad-boy antics from star Brando, and word leaked out.

3) It’s not as much full-blooded fun as the original Laughton version, and the ending in particular is a downer (the epilogue, had it been included in the release, would have helped this). It’s still strange to see a flamboyant performance in the Fletcher Christian role and a restrained, realistic one (from Trevor Howard) in the Captain Bligh role.

4) It’s a three-hour epic, with a certain lumbering quality that often accompanies films of this size. Apart from an amazing tracking shot under the rigging as the Bounty sets off, there’s not much filmic energy to fill its sails.

Against all that, the film has a terrific, witty script by Charles Lederer, great support work from Richard Haydn and Richard Harris and a remarkable muted Hugh (“I play the role of a bearded Welshman”) Griffiths, and the stars are really remarkable. I think it probably helps if, like Fiona and I, you have somehow managed not to see the earlier version. Judged on its own merits and according to the goals it sets itself, the ’62 BOUNTY is an artistic success.

As Lederer writes him, Bligh could still be played as a lip-smacking sadist, but that’s not how Howard sees him. Bligh is obviously a deeply insecure man and a terrible captain, and his one resource is cruelty, so he uses it unsparingly. “Cruelty with a purpose isn’t cruelty,” he claims, and Howard chooses to interpret this as a perfectly sincere belief. The result is terrifying — the Laughton villain (whom I have seen clips of) is wonderfully colourful, and you don’t get that from Howard, who isn’t quite into his Rawlinson End phase yet — what you get instead is horrific conviction.

Brando is perhaps more problematic: his choice to play Mr. Christian as a somewhat ineffectual fop is clearly cued by the script, and seems perfectly legitimate. His English accent is very extreme, but quite accurate. The difficulty is that it’s not the kind of voice one expects to hear emerging from a man like Brando. Maybe his body language doesn’t quite match, I don’t know. So there’s a certain discomfort, which audiences are often inclined to react against and blame the performance, but I’m not sure that the discomfort isn’t appropriate. Christian has within him the possibility of heroism, but he holds back on it too long. Seeing he-man Brando imprisoned within this accent, these ludicrous clothes, sets up a slow simmer of unease that ultimately will explode.

There’s a very interesting take on class in the film, with Bligh resentful of his high-born second-in-command. He hates the guy so much, on first sight, that he simply can’t bring himself to listen attentively to anything his subordinate says, with fatal results. The scene where Bligh is finally rebuked by the high command (melting waxwork Henry Daniell), the argument given is that they made a mistake not recruiting a gentleman, which seems entirely beside the point. It’s hard to know if this is Lederer being snobbish, or ironic, or what, but it’s curiously fitting that the movie sours what should be a triumphant moment for justice — this is a film which does seem to wantonly deny us many of the expected pleasures of the first movie.

“Listen to me, you remarkable pig: you can thank whatever pig god you pray to that you’ve not quite turned me into a murderer.”

It’s all leading up to a desperately unhappy ending, with death and disaster for the mutineers. This is like Sidney Lumet’s THE HILL at sea, or Why Revolutions Fail. There’s a spectacular climax, with the ship burning and all, but what with Christian being horribly killed, there’s no joy in it. Brando always excelled at death scenes, though, so you still get showmanship, above and beyond the impressive special effects. The actor lay on a bed of ice to get good and uncomfortable for his big scene (simulating the numbness of the laudanum he’s been given), and the dialogue builds up an image of gruesome third-degree burns which we never see… but when we finally see Brando’s face (the rest of him concealed by a blanket), a bit of grit on his face and his hair slathered down, plus his expression, create a vivid and strange impression of disfigurement.

In many ways this would make a fine, if rather long, double-bill with THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU. Both movies have Brando, shipwrecks and islands, and are remakes of Laughton films. Both films lost a director early on (one scene in BOUNTY has Brando noticeably wearing a different nose, so must have been part of the original Carol Reed shoot) and continued with an aging veteran acting largely as traffic cop. And both films take a gloomy view of what happens when you depose a dictator — you get score-settling, fractiousness and social disintegration. If history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce, MOREAU is the farce version.

Buy BOUNTY, UK:  Mutiny On The Bounty (1962 Special Edition). [DVD]

Buy BOUNTY BluRay USA:  Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) [Blu-ray]


My City, #2

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on December 8, 2009 by dcairns

Spectacular aerial photograph of Edinburgh Castle, surmounting its Rock, surrounded by the fair city, from Phil Rosen’s 1949 Robert Louis Stevenson adaptation THE SECRET OF ST IVES. Kind of disturbing, almost, that a 1949 view can stand in for a 1807 one with so little obvious anachronism. Almost as if we’re not trying to keep up.

A Napoleonic officer escapes from military prison by burrowing out of Edinburgh Castle (good luck with that volcanic rock, chum) and goes on the lam with his “Scottish” girlfriend. It was natural enough for Stevenson to write a heroic Frenchman battling villainous English soldiers, on account of the “Auld Alliance” — the mutual (hopefully mild)  antipathy between the French and English doesn’t really include the Scots. We hate everybody, but we maybe hate the French a bit less than the rest of you.

The movie is kind of turgid (it’s Rosen’s last, after 35 years of B-movie hell), not helped by Richard Ney struggling with a dopey French accent. Everybody French is American, everybody Scottish is something else. Good old baddie Henry Daniell gets to be English. Leading lady Vanessa Brown is impossibly cutesie-wootsie, so it made sense when I discovered she was the original Girl in The Seven Year Itch on Broadway. At one point she has to fake a Scottish accent to confuse English pursuers, and does a creditable job (possibly via dubbing, but Brown was multi-lingual so possibly she learned the sounds by rote) — not only are the English convinced, they can’t understand a word she’s saying.

Four skulls without a single thought

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 14, 2008 by dcairns

THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE got bumped to the top of the Watch Pile, ahead of far worthier items like Rivette’s HURLEVENT and the Sturges-scripted THE POWER AND THE GLORY, simply because Fiona and I both grew up (if, in fact, we ever grew up) with Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies as our bible. And so a sort of mission has formed in our heads, to see every single film pictured in that quaint and curious volume.

Gifford, an appealing fan-boy writer whose works also covered British comic books and comedians, set us a formidable task by including many rare and hard-to-see movies, some of which have no historic value whatever, but had the advantage of yielding at least one eye-popping image, captured in a production still and lovingly reproduced within APHOHM‘s green-tinged dust-jacket. The idea of seeing them all was probably planted when I showed Fiona a manky tape of Mario Bava’s KILL, BABY, KILL! and she recognised the image of the little girl at the window as one she had painted in art skool. Since that initial damp glimmer, the idea of “Doing the Complete Gifford” has grown into not quite an obsession — our brains are too full of obsessions to accommodate another, unless we invest in a memory stick — but certainly something it would be fun to pursue.

I will, at some future date, append a complete list of the films we need to see. Maybe some of you Shadowplayers, all you wonderful people out there in the dark, can help source them.

THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE moves with slug-like speed through a slender narrative that might furnish an entertaining half-hour, but is overstretched by the film’s rather paltry 70 mins. Perhaps the slowness is effected by the age of the cast, most of whom seem to be in the twilight of their lives and “careers”, but that aspect of the film is actually novel and welcome, especially as it gives us the great Henry Daniell, a villain’s villain if ever there was one, as the oleaginous Dr. Zurich, of Switzerland. The aged and baggy-eyed Daniell, whose face seems more than ever to be adorned with a Lone Ranger mask fashioned from his own skin, is nevertheless on chipper form as the baddie, a man with a strange and horrible secret.

Movie begins in fun fashion as Jonathan Drake (Eduard Franz) meditates upon a shrunken head, and is then persecuted by a vision of three hovering skulls. I call that a fine start. Sadly we then become mired in “plot”, although the graphic and detailed visual account of how to shrink a man’s head is both entertaining and informative. In addition, we have Zurich’s South American Indian henchman, Zutai (Paul Wexler), a man equipped with a string moustache, as if somebody had tried to make a shrunken head of him, sewing up his lips, but had given it up as a lost cause.

“Who am I kidding? I can’t shrink heads!” cried the student of cephalominimalism, kicking over his cauldron and discarding Zutai’s cranium without even having severed it.

Zutai’s handsome countenance was the image Gifford chose to immortalise, and along with the floating skulls, shrunken heads and moments of gore and unpleasantness (the needle that injects a paralysing fluid that simulates death!), definitely forms a highlight. Some talkie back-story establishes how Zutai became impervious to bullets, but an even more radical reveal gives us the secret of Zurich’s immortality — his head has been attached to an Indian’s body. Somehow, as a result, he is immune to the effects of old age (even though he’s clearly suffering them RIGHT NOW) and is actually 200 yrs old. This surgical miscegenation is visualised by a shot of poor old Henry with shirt open, stitching around neck and shoe-blacked torso testifying to his offense against nature. I shouldn’t be glad I saw that, but I kind of am.

Having finally captured the ageless-yet-withered Zurich, Drake procedes to murder the helpless felon by severing his head, with the full cooperation of the local police (!) and then we get a quick disintegration, leaving only —

“The fourth skull!” affirms Drake, grimly.

“Yes! It was me all along! Mwahahahahaha!”