Archive for James Bernard

Dead Duck

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

Yes — DECOY is bad, cheap, and interesting, possibly in that order.

I’d read descriptions positing it as a kind of sci-fi noir — putting it in a very small club along with KISS ME DEADLY. The fantasy element is very small, however — the plot revolves around a box of stolen loot which, thanks to the genuinely atmospheric opening sequence, does acquire a kind of Pandoraesque aura. But the fantastical element is merely a drug (methylene blue) that can revive victims of the gas chamber. In other words, the film winds up backing into another genre purely because the writers have a faulty idea of realism.

Gas chamber POV is one of several bold directorial touches.

I was chatting with a friend about composers who make their theme tunes fit the movie title, as if there were going to be lyrics. Like, James Bernard’s DRACULA theme goes “DRA-cul-la!” Called upon to score TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, he simply added four notes on the front. John Williams gave us STAR WARS (“Staaaar Wars!”), and though RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK doesn’t have a tune you can easily sing the title to, you can definitely sing ~

Indiana!

Jones Jones Jones

Indiana!

Jones Jones Jones Jones Jones…

Well, DECOY has a sweeping and romantic tune that seems to be inviting us to sing “Methyline Blue.” So I did. Methyline Blue, Dilly Dilly…

The first image after the titles is the filthiest sink I’ve ever seen (and I live in Scotland… in my home). With the director credit supered over it. A self-loathing self-assessment?

Jack Bernhard was married to his star, Jean Gillie (THE GENTLE SEX), and she’s the best thing in this. A strange performance that’s mostly just cool statement of fact, with a few uncomfortable moments of shrill hysteria. Sheldon Leonard plays the detective shadowing her plot like a man in a state of deep depression, while her patsy, the prison doctor (Herbert Rudley), who IS in a state of deep depression, plays it like a Lugosi zombie.

The movie makes herculean efforts to pad itself out to a slender 75 minutes — one can’t help wondering if coming up with a bit more plot might have actually been an easier solution. One character resorts to literally reading from a dictionary, while Gillie and Rudley engage in a seemingly endless duologue that keeps circling back on itself like a rondo.

“Despair enacted on cheap sets” is Errol Morris’s unbeatable (curse him) phrase for the Monogram aesthetic, and it fits this one perfectly. A character is raised from the dead only to instantly perish again, something that also happens in THE INVISIBLE GHOST. A Monogram trademark? A metaphor for their entire line of goods? A series of last gasps — for shagged-out actors, burned-out directors, clapped-out sets. Resurrection into eternal death.

EARTH FORCES LAID TO COSMIC IMPULSE — it IS SF!

Robert Armstrong, of Carl Denham fame, plays the unlucky stiff, and it’s incredible looking at him to think he’d live to 1973, so convincing is his bone-weary performance here, whereas poor Gillie would die prematurely after one more film.

Gloom hangs over this movie in a more prevailing, soul-sapping way than it could in a more prestigious production — maybe because Monogram are so bad at comedy relief, yet they insist on having it. DETOUR does have some laughs, but they’re all horrible. DECOY has only the sour echo of a burlesque house rimshot.

Advertisements

Dra-cu-la!

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2008 by dcairns

 British teeth

James Bernard’s theme music tends to play out the title as if it were a song lyric. So the score for DRACULA goes “Dra-cu-la!” and the score for TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA goes “Taste – the – Blood – of  – Dra-cu-la!” etc. And that’s just fine with me.

Christopher Lee’s entrance as the Count is the best ever. I do like the Lugosi (the first half of that movie is really good, creepy and dreamlike and nonsensically populated with armadillos and a tiny coffin with a bug in it and MAN!) and the Spanish language version filmed at night while they were shooting Bela by day has a great shot that swoops up the stairs to meet the vamp coming down, and Gary Oldman in the Coppola version looks like Glenn Close in DANGEROUS LIAISONS and Barbra Streisand in FUNNY LADY at the same time and of course the Nosferatus are brilliant BUT!!!

I'll build a stairway to paradise...

Chris Lee’s entrance is tops and here’s why: ‘There’s nothing like the introduction of Dracula in that picture, in which Christopher Lee just walked down the stairs, sort of bounced down, and said “Hello, I’m Dracula.” Having been reared on Bela Lugosi, with whom you knew you were in trouble, Lee just seemed like a very sensible, sophisticated gentleman.’ — Martin Scorsese.

Dude descending a staircase

Howdy

Lee is really scary here as he advances into huge close-up with a fairly wide-angle lens, fairly low: the shot is telling us to run for cover but there’s nothing in the performance to clue in the other guy in the scene, so for once the poignancy works without Harker looking like an idiot.

Scorsese’s other remarks are fun. On CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN: ‘The audience loved it, and there was a graphic quality to it that was… totally uncalled for! And was extremely endearing to us at about the age of fifteen.’

And more on Lee: ‘…he was a very likeable Dracula — we enjoyed his company, we could imagine socializing with him. We also liked Peter Cushing a great deal as Van Helsing, because he had such insight, and he was very precise in his movements within the frame.’

Miss Stake

I kind of wonder if Scorsese’s teenage friends all admired the precision of Cushing’s movements… but Cushing certainly moves well, and often. An admirer of Laurence Olivier, he brings a comparable dashing physical gusto to his work, but as Scorsese observes, he’s more camera-wise.

The third horror star in this film is often overlooked: Michael Gough. His work in later horror films has attracted favourable attention, and Tim Burton made good use of him in his BATMEN and SLEEP HOLLOW films, carrying on where Vincent Price left off in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, but it seems almost to be forgotten that he’s even in DRACULA.

Everyone who ever works with Gough remarks on how extremely clever he is, and so, with all respect to director Terence Fisher and writer Jimmy Sangster*, I tend to attribute this next bit of clever business to Gough:

Not tonight dear I have a headache

Van Helsing brands Gough’s sweetheart on the brow with a crucifix, and as she screams, Gough clutches his own temples in sudden sympathetic pain.

A moment later, Cushing’s V-H dispatches the vampire gal with a businesslike stake to the heart, and Gough pulls the same stunt a second time, this time clutching his ticker.

ouch

Fine fine work from the Goughster.

I Made This!

*Sangster is amusingly modest about his writing abilities, but has written some fine films, a favourite of mine being THE NANNY. But at times he does live up to his reputation for rubbishness: his autobiography actually ends with the line “I hope you have enjoyed reading this as much as I have enjoyed writing it.” On CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Lee was sulking about not having any lines, and Cushing told him “Think yourself lucky, have you READ the script?”

The Great Stone Face

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2007 by dcairns

And that's how my scalpel got so blunt.

My partner’s brother Roddy is a movie buff too. He has learning difficulties, which partly means he’s even more certain about what he likes than most of us, and what he likes is Hammer Horror. As he’s with us for Christmas, we’re going en famille to the digitally restored DRACULA tomorrow, but this afternoon we ran Terence Fisher’s lesser-known THE GORGON, also with Cushing and Lee.

Don't look in her eyes!

It’s a slow-paced bit of thick-ear, with a Greek gorgon rather oddly transplanted to Germany, and an unusual restraint shown in revealing the monster, perhaps due to the makeup and special effects departments’ inability to muster a convincing headful of serpents for the titular mythological beast-woman. They really needed Ray Harryhausen to pull this one off.

Then there’s a distinctly Scooby Doo shortage of suspects — there is precisely one. Essentially all we have to see us through to the climax is atmosphere (dry ice and lighting, sets, Peter Cushing and what Scorsese calls “the precision of his movements within the frame”, James Bernard’s yowling score) and a few petrifications, though at the end there’s a rather lovely effect as we are startled by the decapitated gorgon Megaera’s transmutation into — the only other woman in the film!

THINGS SAID BY RODDY DURING “THE GORGON”

“Is this black and white?”

“Where’s he going?”

“Who’s this?”

“What’s he doing?”

“Where’s he going?”

“I don’t think it’s her.”

“I can’t see a thing.”

“Where’s Christopher Lee going now?”

“Uh oh.”

“That did the trick.”

Harryhausen pulls off a good Medusa

Harryhausen can’t help but make monsters more monstrous than they’re supposed to be! His cyclops has goat legs, his troglodyte has a horn on his head, and Medusa is kitted out with scales and a serpent’s body. Generosity, that’s what I call it.