Archive for James Kennaway

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

“He had the Devil’s own eye.”

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2008 by dcairns

 you're thinking about a brick wall

Very much enjoyed talking about Jack Clayton to students the other day. First lecture of term is usually a bit shambolic, and the room and equipment didn’t help here, but Clayton’s films are quite accessible and it’s certainly easy to find good scenes to extract: there are so many stand-out moments in THE INNOCENTS and maybe especially THE PUMPKIN EATER that it’s hard to limit oneself to one or two per film.

My CD of Georges Delerue’s original score to SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES just arrived, so I’m listening to that as I write. Pretty criminal of Disney to have fired the sublime Delerue and hired James Horner instead, but I will admit to rather liking the Horner score, which has a pleasingly Halloweeny sound.

Since Disney never throw ANYTHING away, the idea of a restored director’s cut of SWTWC is perfectly practical. Removing the V.O. and changing the score would be very simple, and would already make a bug difference. The only thing standing in the way of this is the fact that there’s no obvious money to be made from such a project — unlike BLADE RUNNER, this film hasn’t grown in reputation since it’s first, unsuccessful release. (I remember waiting for it to play Edinburgh, but it never even came.)

Looking at Clayton’s work as a whole was a pleasure — bits link up in unusual ways. The fly that buzzes on the soundtrack of THE INNOCENTS, presaging the appearance of ghosts, moves onscreen for THE GREAT GATSBY, where it alights on a sandwich mysteriously abandoned in the echoing mansion house.

Woman in Black

The influence of the past on the present, embodied by those ghosts, receives an echo in THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE, when Judith’s drinking friend appears as a shadowy, blurred reflection in the background of a shot, fading up as Judith remembers her.

Clayton’s fondness for overlapping images became more obvious, from the lap-dissolved dream in THE INNOCENTS to the slow mix that takes us from a giant billboard image of bespectacled eyes (the Eyes of God) to the blood-smeared headlights of Gatsby’s car. A slightly overdone effect, maybe, and one that anticipates even more vulgar pictorial effects in Coppola’s DRACULA (Coppola scripted Clayton’s GATSBY).

in the mouth of madness

But despite these interconnections, Clayton’s was such a discontinuous career that one can’t help feeling that vital parts are missing, films that would help make sense of the whole oevre if Clayton had been allowed to make them: projects like CASUALTIES OF WAR and THE TENANT, later realised by other filmmakers; projects never yet realised, like adaptations of Shirley Jackson’s WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE, Jessamyn West’s MASSACRE AT FALL CREEK, or James Kennaway’s SILENCE.

(All this from Neil Sinyard’s excellent book, Jack Clayton.)

SILENCE was killed by Barry Diller when he took charge of 20th Century Fox. Diller is rumoured to be the model for Mr Burns in The Simpsons, and the fact that he cancelled the project without even reading the script caused Clayton to throw several chairs through that executives plate glass office window.

The story of a mute black woman known only as “Silence”, the unmade film acquired a prophetic significance when Clayton himself lost the power of speech after a stroke. Re-learning language and re-starting his career was an incredible feat — rather than regretting that Clayton made so few films, maybe I should just be grateful he was able to make as many as he did.

Free Mason

British teeth

Stills from THE INNOCENTS and THE PUMPKIN EATER.