Archive for James Robertson Justice

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.

A Continental Op

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , on June 29, 2018 by dcairns

While Fiona slumbered, I headed to the showing of 1898 movies with a scientific bent. Fiona was rather put off by the advertised HYSTERECTOMIE ABDOMINALE; ABLATION DE LA TUMOUR. A friend pooh-poohed the prospects of graphic and upsetting images: “Well, they couldn’t show much in those days.” But the film turned out to be made for training purposes: almost before you’ve decided that you’re looking at a woman’s inverted abdomen, the surgeon has it sliced open and pulls from the interior a round, shiny object about the size of Cate Blanchett’s head, which he proceeds to clamp off and sever, flashing an ingratiating smile at the camera from time to time. And he looks a lot like James Robertson Justice from the DOCTOR films, too. “What’s the bleeding time?”

Later he successfully sued one of his cameramen for selling the film to carnies.

The same program, which was nothing less than varied, gave us a range of subjects from Meliés, including the expected trick films — I like L’HOMME DES TETES OU LES QUATRES TETES EMBARRASSENT because the title is so explicit.

The 1898 shorts are grouped (by curator Marianne Lewinsky) according to Meliés’ own system — he claimed the four genres are Scientific Scenes, Open Air Scenes, Dramatic Scenes and Fantastical Scenes. That does seem to cover most of the possibilities…

There was more graphic blood-letting in the evening with SUSPIRIA, looking more amazing than ever in its new restoration. It did bring up one of the few complaints you hear about Il Cinema Ritrovato: the duration of introductions. Here we had the cinematographer and the director of the forthcoming remake banging on for forty minutes, each lengthy observation requiring laborious translation. It would have made a fine seminar earlier in the day, but was too much for this venue. The thing that really upsets me is when they show something child-friendly in the Piazza Maggiore and you see kids falling asleep before the movie even starts, coshed by the somnolence-inducing pre-match analysis.

But all was forgiven once Argento (before he became a surprise hero of the #MeToo movement) started slashing up his cast. Incidentally, why is the first victim named “Pat Hingle”? If that’s a hommage, it’s a very strange one.

A Handbag?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2014 by dcairns

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Valerie Hobson, unlucky in love — at 17, she married Henry Frankenstein, and at 38 she married John Profumo and became a classic Tory wife, standing fragrantly by her man as he became embroiled in a sex scandal that brought the government down. In between, she played the wife of James Robertson Justice in VOICE OF MERRILL, which we watched in a moment of weakness. (Network UK provide an invaluable service to cinephilia by releasing all these duff movies and TV shows. Some are actually good.)

JRJ brings the only entertainment to be had in VOM, playing an irascible playwright with a heart condition, a sort of Waldo Lydecker acid wit specialist. But the sight of his heart pills clues us in to the fact that he’s likely to fade out before the movie does, and we’re left with the insipid leads and some workaday investigating officers. Valerie may be fragrant and decorous, but she’s never exactly interesting unless the script works hard to make her so — even playing an adulteress, she’s a little dull.

What I wanted to talk about is the opening murder scene. Director John Gilling, who made a name for himself later at Hammer but had been around for ages, writing for Tod Slaughter and Arthur Lucan (and Bela Lugosi), begins and ends the sequence on two rather curious notes. First, we follow a pair of shoes, stalking the streets of nocturnal London — a time-honoured cliché that’s unlikely to raise eyebrows in itself. Yet it goes on so long it becomes hilarious, starting to resemble some avant-garde experiment in audience endurance. Next, a sultry secretary is shot and in the affray a vase of flowers is toppled. Gilling pans from the tabletop with the spreading puddle of water, to where the water is now drip-dripping to the floor. And ends the scene with a closeup of the water dripping into the victim’s handbag.

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What’s this about? I know purses make excellent sexual symbols, qua MARNIE, but this is just bizarre. If it’s intended to be sexual, it’s WAY too explicit. Then there’s a discomfort about seeing the leather splashed with non-drinking water. The trope of the mobile camera, scanning a crime scene like an investigator, is another time-honoured cliché, but tradition has it that we must end on an element redolent with significance. There’s no clue to the handbag. The water doesn’t make it any more important.

Had Gilling begun the scene AFTER the murder, the handbag might have made an excellent opener. I recall Eisenstein writing in The Short Fiction Scenario that a murder scene might begin with a shot of a shoe on the floor. The audience asks “Hello! Why is there a shoe on the floor?” and they are intrigued, ensnared. Well, they wouldn’t ask that in our flat, where Fiona, the Imelda Marcos of Leith, has covered the entire floor with shoes. Rather than stepping over them, it is easier to step into them, and cross the room slipping into a different pump with every step. No wonder I couldn’t find my bank card when I dropped it.

“Hello! Why is water dripping into a handbag?” we would have asked, a useful question which the scene could have answered by panning UP to the spilled vase, and then onto the corpse. Instead of asking this, we ask a lot of useless questions with no answers, most of them concerning Gilling’s grasp of visual storytelling.

Of course, if we want to give Gilling credit for being a second Bunuel, the wet handbag might have a defense. Think of the mucky stick in GRAN CASINO. “The effect was marvelous,” wrote Don Luis.