Archive for Isle of the Dead

Now Wash Your Hands

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on November 23, 2010 by dcairns

Boris Karloff, dusky-hued in BEHIND THAT CURTAIN.

Boris again, dusky-hued again, in ISLE OF THE DEAD.

It’s Boris Karloff’s birthday!

It was only last year that I learned about Boris’s Indian ancestry. It seemed to make so much sense. It accounts for the darker pigmentation around his eyes, and may even account for his stage name: by assuming a Slavic name, William Henry Pratt could account for his colouring without admitting to any non-white heritage. This was in an age when the British spoke of someone like Boris having ” a lick of the tar-brush.”

Even if his appearance were accounted for, Boris still found the only parts he could get were exotic types, and sinister westerners. Without the simple ethnic explanation, those shadowy eyes became a repository for malevolent projections. Or maybe he was just naturally scary-looking.

Still, Boris had more range than he’s credited with: see FIVE STAR FINAL, an excoriating attack on yellow press scandal sheets from Mervyn LeRoy and Warner Bros. Eddie Robinson is the editor who destroys a whole family with his muck-raking tactics, and Boris is boozy reporter and sex pest (“Don’t get in a taxi with him”) T. Vernon Isopod. He’s grotesque, yes, simpering and slurring and lisping and leering, but he manages to be hilarious until the sheer repulsiveness of his profession tips him over into monstrousness of a different kind.

Happy Birthday Boris!

Congruence #1

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2009 by dcairns


Congruence — what an ugly word! The above images conclude Buster Keaton’s COLLEGE (credited to James W Horne, but we know better). Not the first time Keaton ended a comedy with a gravestone — the marker inscribed “Buster” at the end of COPS is the best-known example, and inspired my own CRY FOR BOBO’s clown funeral scene.


The ending of John Boorman’s much-maligned dystopian wankathon ZARDOZ. Note ~

1) The first child, posture, expression and position in frame = comedy gold.

2) Framing, in its formality and flatness, is even more Keaton-like than the Keaton.

3) Extremely funny bad OAP makeup, especially on la Rampling.

4) Friendly skeletons. “The grave’s a fine and noble place / But none I think do there embrace.”

Both the Boorman jockstrap-and-bandolier epic, and Buster Keaton’s minor-league but still-spectacular flap shoe romance, are the only two films I can think of, off the top of my head (the only part of it I can access without cranial surgery) that end quite this way, on a cheery fast-forward to senescence and death. Seeming to give the lie to the concept of the happy ending. As Dorothy Parker told Sam Goldwyn ~

“Sam, I hate to tell you this, but of all the people who have ever lived in the history of the human race, not one of them ever had a happy ending.”

Great exit line.

Goldwyn: “What the hell did she mean by that?”

Turning it on its head, maybe we could retrieve the happy ending by endorsing Val Lewton’s note to the front office, when they had warned him against “message movies” as he prepared to make ISLE OF THE DEAD ~

“I’m sorry to say that our picture does have a message, and that message is: Death is Good.”

Anyhow, I don’t think influence is at work here. I’ve never heard Boorman talk about Keaton. And the fact that, incredibly, both men made films called THE GENERAL seems more to indicate a lack of appreciation by Boorman rather than a desire to pay homage.

Interested parties can do me some good by buying these products here, if you’re UK:

Zardoz [DVD] [1974]

Buster Keaton – College / Steamboat Bill Jr. / Three Ages [DVD] [1927]

And here, if you’re USA:


The Art of Buster Keaton (The General / Sherlock, Jr. / Our Hospitality / The Navigator / Steamboat Bill Jr. / College / Three Ages / Battling Butler / Go West / The Saphead / Seven Chances / 21 Short Films)