Archive for James Robertson Justice

Swapsies

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2021 by dcairns

I’m sure I referred to the amusing titles of Peter Ustinov’s VICE VERSA years ago, but I can’t find the reference and so I’m guessing neither can you. Here we go:

The titles are presented as a slideshow complete with clunky transitions and mistakes. Ustinov’s celebrated wit is much in evidence, and it’s all very charming as well as funny. Better than the film, in fact, which is also good.

It used to be a truism that film’s with brilliant opening titles were always disappointing. This one is only a tiny bit disappointing. The pace is a little off and there are almost too many comic ideas to do justice to. Master Anthony Newley the child wonder is amazing though.

This is almost certainly Ustinov’s finest film as director — the year is 1948, possibly the peak of British cinema’s post-war creative boom, when even the minor filmmakers were often doing amazing work, as if creativity was in the air and they were breathing it in. The wild impulses of people like Powell & Pressburger were mainstream, part of the accepted stylistic palette directors and writers were expected to dip into. If you’re a British filmmaker today, you kind of have to be an outsider to be of any interest because the palette around you is hopelessly muddy. If you’re an American filmmaker, the problem is more to do with the acceptable story structures and character arcs, which have a way of turning even really interesting aesthetics into junk, because even a really inventive audiovisual idea at the service of banal material is going to come off as mediocre.

The other golden period for British film is circa 63-73, a remarkable run. There ought to have been another good bit in the intervening years but I’m not sure I can identify it. Suggestions welcome.

Back to VICE VERSA. Here’s a gallery:

Asides from Newley, James Robertson Justice makes a great early impression (all his previous roles since ’44 are small ones), Petula Clark is winning, Peter Jones as a superannuated school bully is great, a fellow named David Hutcheson is a great cad. Roger Livesey, who we worship, is maybe part of the pace problem, but he supplies a strong set of Blimpish characteristics for Newley to mimic (the plot is the old one about father and son switching places, this time via an Indian idol’s eye stolen from North of Kathmandu).

We double-billed it with the comparable retro-farce of ON APPROVAL, which is REALLY good.

Sub Standard

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 21, 2021 by dcairns

ABOVE US THE WAVES ought to be terrifying — I can’t think of anything much more unpleasant than working in a midget submarine. Ralph Thomas, unfortunately, isn’t a great director. He’s what’s usually called “efficient,” meaning lacking in imagination, but he’s not that efficient really at all.

Things are so primitive the men have to get into their diving suits THROUGH THE NECK-HOLE

John Mills is the officer trying to get the go-ahead for the mission, using these untested subs. He impresses admiral James Robertson Justice by proving his subs can sneak through security to plant a dummy mine on Justice’s own ship. But the men involved are taken ill afterwards…

The script, by Robin EYE OF THE DEVIL Estridge, doesn’t make it clear what’s wrong with the men. I’m assuming it’s “the bends” but I don’t see any advantage in muddling this. Anyhow, just after Mills gets this bad news, he gives the men the good news — Justice is impressed and the mission is on.

Incredibly, Thomas doesn’t show the reaction of the sick men. Of course, we don’t know what he was up against — losing the light, maybe. But I’d argue that if he only had time to cover this passage in one way, he’s chosen the wrong angle to focus on, favouring the guy giving out information rather than the guys reacting to it. Of course he had a star to keep happy… but a generally affable one, by all accounts. Mills had been happy for David Lean to play a love scene on his and Brenda de Banzie’s backs in HOBSON’S CHOICE.

Actually, looking at it again, there’s a shot favouring the afflicted men, so it wasn’t a problem of time. It’s been decided that they’re to be unconscious. But I think that’s a mistake. Since the decision has been made to announce that the men are going to be OK in this very scene, rather than get any suspense out of their condition, the emotion should come from them being somewhat conscious and reacting happily to the good news. A scriptwriting issue rather than being Thomas’s fault as director. The script does play as a lot of information being doled out, for much of the runtime. The kind of business where a man with a pointer points at a map or plan and says “…here, here and here.”

AUTW does pick up tremendously towards the climax, though. Faking up the close-quarters stuff inside the subs forces Thomas to get atmospheric, and the tense situations go well with his “efficient” approach.

ABOVE US THE WAVES stars Willie Mossop; James Ignatius Rooney; Donald Nordley; Lord Scrumptious; Martin Teckman; Reldresal; Sorren; Zoltan Karpathy; Richard Wagner; General Gogol; Chairman J. Bruce Ismay; and Heironymous Merkin.

The Trygon Empire

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on April 3, 2019 by dcairns

Oh good, I thought, almost as soon as THE TRYGON FACTOR started, this is a right load of rubbish. I shall be able to say witty and amusing things about it. Unfortunately, between then and now I started writing a novel, and now I can’t remember very much about it at all.

It’s based on an Edgar Wallace “shocker” and is a German-British co-production, and it obviously arrived at a time when the old “krimi” (many if not all of them based on Wallace books) were starting to look a bit old hat (starting??) and so needed spicing up, it was thought, with nudie ladies and blood. So you have this fundamentally naive and innocent worldview in this one, suddenly exploded with an exploitative bathtub murder. Yeah, I remember that bit.

She’s got one of those new uplift towels.

The movie feels like it could be comfortable being The Avengers TV show, only the story is at root rather mundane — nuns in a convent are secretly engaged in stolen gem smuggling — OK, it’s amusing that they’re nuns, but smuggling is so drab. Wallace used the idea of a charitable institution dedicated to reform doubling as a criminal enterprise on more than one occasion…

Stewart Granger is… affable, I suppose. And ridiculously tan. Kind of hilarious the number of Germans they have in the English countryside. One of these is the fascinated Brigitte Horney, who was in the Nazi MUNCHAUSEN. You could pair this with ZETA ONE as encompassing James Robertson Justice’s late-life sexual crisis.

There IS, early on, some really nifty camera operating, very tight movements choreographed between actor and cam. And some of the goofy sixties imagery is fun.

The interiors tend to be swank and groovy, which is peculiar because the views out of the windows are village shops and stuff. It does give the film a welcome dream-like quality. I feel like my disconnected memories of fragmented scenes and jarring tonal shifts are much like the experience of actually watching it. I’m not watching it again to see if I’m right.

“In 1928, it was estimated that one in four books being read in the UK had come from Wallace’s pen.” And yet this was a period in which we had John Dickson Carr, who is at least amusing and can write dialogue (after his stroke he could write nothing else, and his locked room mysteries devolved into bad radio scripts of the “This gun, which I am holding in my hand, is loaded” variety). Edgar Wallace couldn’t write dialogue to save his life, his plots generally have one idea apiece, are stodgy and mundane in their outcomes, lacking in any real suspense, and the social attitudes are all wearily conventional (Carr’s people are always getting plastered, his detectives are mad eccentrics, and the plots are bananas, which is something).

Depiction of people with learning difficulties… not enlightened.

You couldn’t turn Wallace’s diamond racket into a sexy spy thriller, because the tepidity is ingrained and refuses to die. You had to really poison those lukewarm waters, which I think is why we then got… the giallo.

THE TRYGON FACTOR stars Allan Quartermain; Nancy / Euryale / Alice / Nurse / Charlotte; Miss Knagg; Zarin Katharina II; Captain George Spratt; & Sir Lancelot Spratt.