Archive for Jenny Hanley

Ballads Ancient and Modern; Tam Lin (1971)

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2019 by dcairns

Our first guest writer at Project Fear is film afficianado Mark Fuller, who (or whom? is this a whom?) I met in Bologna, and then introduced Fiona to the following year. It’s hard to describe how excellent he is if you haven’t had the experience. Mark is a proud Remoaner and music is another passion of his and so in a way this piece combines all three passions — though in fact his terrific essay focusses on an Anglo-US production. Well, Britain is still in Europe, and seems set to continue to be so until at least January…

“There is a story in verse, that belongs to this country, the border of England and Scotland. It is hundreds of years old. It tells the adventures of a young man held in thrall by The Queen of The Faeries, who, in the centuries before Pantomime, was reckoned a dangerous lady. It is called The Ballad Of Tam Lin.”

So intones an uncredited Scottish voice seven minutes into this film; he is not wrong.

The first known reference to the Scots Ballad dates from 1549, but it may well be centuries older; in the way of folklore things, the tale within has many close parallels to other ancient European folk tales, and a few elements common to the better-known Beauty and The Beast, and back to Cupid and Psyche. A tale as old as time, indeed…

Tam Lin came down the centuries in various forms via oral tradition before being picked up and straightened out or adapted by folklorists and writers, the most prominent being Robert Burns; he published his own take in the 1780s.

With the late 60s counterculture, interest in things pagan and folk revived; the first version thence to achieve prominence was Fairport Convention’s take, released in 1969 on their album Liege and Lief, a concept album of horror folk, as opposed to folk horror, albeit played by a rock band with folk leanings. This is the version I’ll mostly be quoting… because I love it, so there… whether it had any influence on the making of the film I have no idea, but it is not an impossibility. Many, many versions by various artists followed. In the film there are snippets by the more jazz-folk combo Pentangle, but it was recorded for the film, and they didn’t record a version for their own purposes until many years later.

          Anyway, the film. We have already had an introductory prologue; through an etched-glass window showing scenes from the tale in an Arthur Rackham style, we meet the main protagonists in their luxurious bed. Or rather, her bed. It’s the bed of Mrs Cazaret, with her latest lover Tom Lynn (see what they did there??) in the luminous soft-focused forms of Ava Gardner and Ian McShane. He professes his love; she bemoans the ageing process; he demurs…she whispers….”I love you, I love you, I’ll love you and leave you for dead” Spoilers !!!

We meet a cool sax-playing dude who helps the exposition along by being zonked out by Ava’s yellow-tinted glasses – magical ??- and having the set-up explained to him; this is Ava’s harem-cum-gang of beautiful people, and she is rich, people stay for as long as they want, or she wants. He stays. But it’s road-trip time, and the Beautiful People decamp into a fleet of exotic expensive cars, from Swinging London, North up the A1.

As this happens, we get introduced to the Beautiful People through a cine-camera viewfinder, Peeping Tom style… and they are indeed Beautiful People…including Joanna Lumley, Madeleine Smith, Sinead Cusack, Jenny Hanley, and a needy wheedling young Bruce Robinson. The rest seem like and are as disposable as knitting pattern models. A credit sequence plays over the convoy heading North until we hit the Scottish border, night falls (properly, not day-for-night, thanks for that, Roddy) and our narrator makes his only sonic appearance.

           I forbid you maidens all, who wear gold in your hair; to travel to Carterhaugh, for young Tam Lin is there

     Enter the third corner of the love triangle, cycling down a country lane; it is Janet, an auburn Stephanie Beacham sunlit from behind to give her, indeed, gold in her hair. She stops at the ancient manor house, Carterhaugh, to be entranced by the spectacle of…Beautiful People playing frisbee rather badly. She is delivering a puppy and wends her way through the Beautiful People doing what was done in the 60s…al fresco Tarot readings and vibrophone recitals, apparently. She alights on Madeleine Smith; playing a lass either drug-addled, or really simple, perhaps both; and Ava Gardner takes control, smiles kindly, and hands her over to her factotum Elroy; a delightfully sinster and reptilian Richard Wattis, in possibly the performance of his career. All through this, McShane snaps away in true David Bailey fashion. Janet, it transpires is the local vicar’s daughter; said vicar is Cyril Cusack, as if the cast could get any better.
           

Bruce Robinson’s character is no longer wanted; despite his protestations, he is to be driven away, literally, from this slightly sinister commune; exteriors filmed on location at Traquaire House, the oldest inhabited house in Scotland says its website; it does BnB bookings; I think I’ll give it a miss…. the days of Beautiful People, Ava admiring Ian McShane’s arse amid impeccably laundered satin are probably long gone. I don’t think I could keep pace with the drinking going on, either.


         None that go by Carterhaugh but they leave him a pledge,
         Either their mantles of green or else their maidenheads.
         Janet tied her kirtle green a bit above her knee,
         And she’s gone to Carterhaugh as fast as go can she.

In fairness to our Janet, she hasn’t been warned or forbidden from doing so, but true to form she dons an all-green ensemble and walks cross-country to Carterhaugh, to the first appearance of Pentangle’s rather limp version of the song. En route she meets Tom Lynn, wearing those glasses, at a bridge over a stream, one of many bridges we see throughout the film; those liminal places…..and we go into a strange sequence of still shots that gives the effect of fast-forwarding a DVD, which seems to portray a meet-cute, nothing much more. A minute later, closer to the house, they walk to another bridge, and Tom stops her from going further. “Why did you let me do IT ??” he asks… it’s an odd choice, a moment of coyness both for the time, and within the film. We’ve already seen him in the buff, Miss Beacham doesn’t undo a blouse button. This latter moment is witnessed by the shadowy Richard Wattis. No good will come of this…

           Later, Tom caddishly proclaims his undying love to Mrs Cazaret once more, to the sounds of soft sax in soft grass… and back to parlour games in the old manor. Tarot cards, divination through objects… the usual stuff. There turns out to be something very wrong about the glasses… moodily shot, the first hint of eerie music, and the emergence of Oliver, one of the Beautiful People as more sinister than first suspected.

Tom pays a return visit to Janet during her father’s sermon, which is on the topic “We must love one another or die, or rather love one another AND die” and thus on point. The bad omens are racking up. If there was a Cyril Cusack in every pulpit there would be a greater Sunday attendance, I would say. Tom gets invited to a Vicarage lunch… word gets shipped back to the Manor. Ava has a rival.

In all the film, this is the only sequence where the commune, in the shape of Tom, and Oliver to an extent, interacts with the local community in the shape of the congregation and its vicar. Throughout, they are seemingly self-sufficient, isolated, Other. Which of course works perfectly with the theme of the Ballad; there, the Faeries are about as Other as you can get. Here, the commune are the interlopers, the second-homers, the invaders; a lot less tonally deaf than in, say, The Wicker Man, where English rural traditions have been imported to a Scottish Isle by its laird, the locals inculcated, the Scottish traditions repressed and we all know what happens to the representative of Scotland’s society when he turns up…….. this may not be the reading intended by Robin Hardy, but it is there. The ‘Tradition’ he falls foul of is a cuckoo in the nest. Here, the interlopers are acting out a genuinely local piece of folklore.

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The Torpid Collection, as the Beautiful People have become to Ava, are dragged into a party game where Tom and Oliver end up in a fight. Elroy – Elroy “doesn’t play with the children” we are told – takes Tom aside to warn him what might happen; with an exchange of pleasantries – “Rancid old Queen,” “Don’t you dare touch me”- poor Richard – Elroy recounts two fatal car accidents, in 1955 and 1962, and insinuates…. and the song restarts;

        And at the end of seven years, she pays a tithe to hell………..

Whether through love of Janet or through Elroy putting the wind up him, Tom tells Mrs Cazaret he wants to go; she pretty much begs him not to. Then back to Janet. He really has got the wind up. Fabia Drake turns up as the least likely procurer of abortions/provider of advice I can imagine; the final conclusion being

           I think you go with child…
           Well if that be so, Janet said,

           Myself shall bear the blame

 but she will also bear the address of an abortionist. A bit too radical four hundred years earlier, one assumes. Tom and Mrs. Cazaret strike a deal, she will let him go… after a date. Boy, is this the date from Hell. The cabaret singer sings about death, the couple don’t exchange a word… until she lets him know he has a week. Until she hunts him down and kills him, said to a jazz funk backing. Well, we’ve all had bad nights…Tom flees. Janet arrives and questions Mrs C, who can’t help her find Tom, so she heads to the abortionist as Ava turns monochrome.

She stops at a flowerseller outside, where she

       pulled a double rose, a rose but only two

and she is spotted by Tom. There’s magic in those double roses… ask Belle.

Tom is hiding out in a caravan parked on the riverbank between the old and new Firth Of Forth bridges…. a bit of a comedown frankly, but if they are on the South bank, safe… because Scottish witches can’t cross rivers. Elroy, however can. And Tom has blown that week…Tom is kidnapped, back to Carterhaugh, and the horror finally, finally begins; Tom will die; Mrs. Cazaret, it seems cannot. Tom is drugged before being given a Hobson’s Choice opportunity to escape pursued by the new Less-Beautiful-More-Sinister People recruited by Elroy.

Much of this seen in a pretty effective POV sequence, as seen through the drugged haze, hallucinatory versions of what is apparently there; Ava Gardner is at last The Queen of The Faeries, her minions the Faery Folk of myth, not pantomime. These are “Creatures; they’ll tear you to pieces” He takes the white Aston Martin to find Janet waiting. Unfortunately, Tom is driving….

         But tonight [ ] the fairy folk ride, those that would their true love win

         At Mile’s cross they must hide. [ ]

         Quickly run to the white steed 

   And pull the rider down

         For I’ll ride on the white steed, the nearest to the town,

          For I was an earthly knight, they give me that renown.

So the car gets wrapped around the border scenery, and hallucinating Tom runs off… again, we see both his hallucinations as he becomes a bear, fights a snake, catches fire, and the reality, as the creatures hunt… and Janet stays with him to keep him alive in the marsh; him semi-naked, Janet hugs him as Mrs C., Elroy, Oliver and the creatures arrive; Tom has sobered up; Janet and he have beaten the Faeries.

       Oh they will turn me in your arms, to a newt, or a snake

         But hold me tight and fear not, I am your baby’s father

         And they will turn me in your arms into a naked knight,

         But cloak me in your mantle and keep me out of sight

        [ ] She heeded what he did say and young Tam Lin did win

We are spared the parting curse of the ballad;

     Had I known, Tam Lin, she said,

     This night I did see,

     I ‘d have looked him in the eyes

     And turned him to a tree

Other versions have the threat of his eyes being removed and being hung from said tree. Here, we see Mrs C., Elroy and Oliver heading stateside in Business Class. “I have money everywhere” she says, handing Oliver those glasses.

It really is both an interesting film and a bit of a misfire; I can find no online-published memoirs or accounts of the making of it, the thought processes, the inspirations. We just seem to have the film to go on.

So many questions; it has to have been a personal project for debutant director Roddy McDowall; but why so ambitious (and it had to have been expensive) and it isn’t so bad that it deserved to end his directorial career.

The script; it is a pretty clever adaptation of an ancient tale, one set in a mediaeval age of witchcraft and Faerie Folk, and brought roaring into a contemporary Britain in a surprisingly faithful-to-the-original manner; so had McDowall commissioned it from William Spier, had it been on a Hollywood shelf for a decade, or had it taken a decade to get the finance together ??  Because William Spier had received no writing credits for a decade prior to this, and only TV credits at that. It’s odd.

And then the piecemeal release; what happened ?? It didn’t get out in the US for a couple of years, and then under the nonsensical title The Devil’s Widow. It sank pretty much without trace, and despite Martin Scorsese restoring it and giving it a Bluray release a decade ago, (US only, annoyingly) still very few people have heard of it. At least a very good copy is on YouTube.

The film has style and intelligence; the symbolism of the bridges, a staple of European folklore for millennia; the use of lemon tints for the POV shots of the glasses-wearers; the fade to monochrome of Ava Gardner chills the screen at the right point; the still-frame sequence is a little odd, and coy, but it isn’t ordinary.

The cinematography is sumptuous throughout, interiors carefully lit and matching the mood as the film darkens; Ava Gardner is shot lovingly, and moves through the gears from vulnerable to spiteful to evil while remaining as glamorous as only she could, even nudging fifty. Opposite her McShane acquits himself well, going from cocksure to terrified; Stephanie Beacham too, in an underwritten role. Apart from Cyril Cusack and Fabia Drake, given delicate cameo parts, the rest are pretty much cyphers, as intended; a torpid collection of Beautiful People.

Final mention must go to Richard Wattis; as Private Secretary/Chief Eunuch/Familiar Elroy to Ava’s Queen, he hovers at the corners of frames, in the shadows, coolly mysterious, frightened almost as much as frightening, and camply malevolent. It’s a great part, and he comes close to stealing a film he actually has very little screen time in. If he gave a finer film performance, I haven’t seen it. Had the film got a proper, timely release would we have been celebrating Richard Wattis as the actor who had a late blossoming in Giallo rather than walk-on parts in Sykes???

But it doesn’t entirely work. Is it TOO faithful to the source ?? That could be argued. Does the slightly underwhelming version of the song used, help, especially compared to the dramatics of, for instance, the Fairport Convention version?? Possibly not.

Is it merely enough to be sinister when you’re over half-way through a film?? Is there enough genuine horror at the climax?? Probably not. The original ballad is more horrific, and McShane (or his stunt double) in a bear suit is pretty risible, as is the fake snake. The fiery special effect is pretty good… but the climax of the chase does end weakly and inexplicably (If you don’t know the ballad).

The film does end in a way that suggests the further adventures of Mrs. Cazaret and Elroy in the United States. Sadly, there was to be no sequel to this fascinating, flawed, forgotten entry into the folk horror genre.

Thanks are due to Amy Harris for prompting me to look into the film, and Melanie Selfe for the discussions thereafter, and David Cairns for his patient editing.

One Fell Scoop

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2015 by dcairns

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ROOM TO LET (1950) is a rather staid early Hammer film — despite the involvement of John Gilling on screenplay (adapting a Margery Allingham TV radio play), Jimmy Sangster as AD, and grue by makeup splasher Phil Leakey (aptly so named), and a plot loosely derived from THE LODGER, it’s tepid stuff. It’s framed by an after dinner pass-the-port conversation in which the details of an ancient murder are hashed out, and then we get the flashback which sets up Valentine Dyall as Dr. Fell, who moves in as roomer to a widow and daughter and begins to terrorize them. It begins to emerge that he’s really Jack the Ripper, escaped from a torched madhouse, and planning to recommence his reign of terror on the anniversary of his last kill.

All of which would be great fun if it were delivered with appropriate gusto. Dyall is sepulchral enough, God knows, though he apparently never read the script, only his own lines — when the heroic reporter describes Fell’s strange mannerism of drawing in a breath like a hiss after each sentence, we’re like, Huh? He doesn’t do that. Director Godfrey Grayson ought presumably to have alerted his star to a little thing like that, but apparently preferred the quiet life.

I like this dissolve from Dyall to fireworks though, courtesy of stalwart Hammer editor James Needs ~

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I do not like thee, Dr. Fell

The reason why I cannot tell

But this I know and know full well

I do not like thee, Dr. Fell.

The poem, attributed to Tom Brown, is quoted, and clearly ties in with the work of John Dixon Dickson Carr, master of the locked room mystery, whose most celebrated sleuth was Dr. Gideon Fell, his personality modeled on G.K. Chesterton, another enthusiast of vacuum-sealed puzzles…

The boy reporter at the centre of this is played by Jimmy Hanley, former child star, radio regular and mostly known for comedy. I didn’t realize until recently that he was also father of Jenny Hanley, who memorably got her bum out worked for Hammer in SCARS OF DRACULA. Richard Lester told me he cast her in a series of his “caroselli” commercials in the seventies, and described her as “you know, Jimmy Hanley’s daughter.” Of course, I knew far better idea who she was than I did her celebrated father.

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Also present in the cast is a major figure from another branch of British screen history — Carry On star Charles Hawtrey, camp stick-figure schoolboy, here (mis)cast as the surprisingly butch-sounding “Mike Atkinson.” I always like seeing Hawtrey mistakenly cast in serious films. This one showed up not only the limits of his range, which is narrow but extremely DEEP — camp stick-figure schoolboy is written all the way through him like the lettering in Blackpool rock — but also his lack of anything you might normally consider acting ability. He just stands there and waits for his next line, or an occasional comic reaction. You can tell he’s not listening to anyone else, and why should he? He’s so much better than all this, or different anyway.

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The locked room mystery part of this one is maybe its best feature — it requires a slight cheat, but it’s one that’s fully justified in narrative terms. Difficult to explain without spoilers. Ssss.

Things Roddy said during Dracula Has Risen From the Grave.

Posted in FILM, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2012 by dcairns

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A specific example of the limits of conceptual knowledge in WMS is from a reported instance of a 21-year-old woman with WMS (Verbal IQ of 69) who was literate and read several books on her favorite topic: Vampires. When this subject was asked what a vampire is, she responded reasonably and clearly that a vampire is ‘‘a man who climbs into ladies’ bedrooms at night and sinks his teeth into their necks.’’ When asked why vampires do that, she thought for a bit, and then said, ‘‘Vampires must have an inordinate fondness for necks’’ (Johnson & Carey, 1998).

Fiona’s brother Roddy is Christmassing with us again, which means we’re watching lots of his favourite horror movies. Roddy has Williams Syndrome, like the woman quoted above, and oddly enough he likes vampires too. (Williams people are often musical, and often seem to have passionate interests, bordering on obsession: Roddy’s love of cranes and digging machinery is very typical of the condition.)

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“I wouldn’t like to meet him on a dark night. Wonder what would happen if I did?”

Roddy says this once during every screening of a Christopher Lee DRACULA film. Lee is his favourite vampire, and we’re pretty sure the attraction is the sexual fascination Lee’s Count is able to exert over every blonde he encounters. Roddy does not exert this fascination, but would probably like to. Wouldn’t we all?

“What’s that he’s doing? Is that a coffin or something? Another victim? Oh my God.”

Roddy himself watches quite hypnotized, becoming antsy and talkative only when the suspense builds. But the boring scenes with Barry Andrews keep him hooked too, since it’s always possible that something more vampiric may happen at any moment.

This movie has a fair bit of tedium, but director Freddie Francis contrives some lurid and Bavaesque colour effects, which seep in whenever Lee is around. Unfortunately, nothing but verbiage seeps in when Barry Andrews and Rupert Davies are around.

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“Is it her he’s looking for? Look! He’s rubbing his face on her face. Oh! He’s a vampire and he bit her.”

“Uh-oh, there he is. What’s happening? Uh oh. Here you go.”

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People with Williams consistently interpret faces as being friendlier than the rest of us.

“He’s smiling, look.”

“Ah-oh, here we go. He got caught – run!”

Here, Roddy seems to be unsure who he’s rooting for, shouting helpful advice to Dracula as well as to the heroes. But he knows pretty well who the goodies and baddies are. The character of the unnamed priest (Ewan Hooper) who gets enslaved by Drac is a puzzle, though. Characters who behave inconsistently are troubling.

“Uh-oh. This is the best bit.” Hooper smashes Rupert Davies on the head. “Hit the wrong man!”

I try to explain to Roddy that no, he hit the man he was aiming at, but he doesn’t understand Hooper’s two-faced Renfield persona. People with Williams Syndrome are extremely sociable and tend to think the world is their friend, until proven otherwise.

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Also, since the spread of cognitive abilities in people with this condition is quite varied, I suspect Roddy has a rather uncertain “theory of mind.” I can explain the concept of theory of mind with a test ~

If you say to a child under three, “A little boy has some sweeties, and he hides them under a bowl, but when he’s away his mummy moves them and puts them under a cup. When the boy comes back, where will he look for his sweeties.” Younger children always say “Under the cup,” because that’s where the sweeties ARE, and they can’t grasp the fact that the boy has different knowledge from them. That’s theory of mind.

When we watched ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, Roddy became frustrated by the character of the policeman, who didn’t know that Lon Chaney was the Wolfman. I tried to explain that the policeman didn’t know that fact, but no matter how I tried to express it, Roddy thought I was claiming that Lon Chaney wasn’t the Wolfman. “I’m sure Lon Chaney is the Wolfman,” he muttered, repeatedly.

“What’s going to happen now? Uh-oh, here comes guess who. Uh oh, he’s got a hold of him now.”

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“He’s not very pleased, is he?”

Tests have shown that Williams people are very attentive to faces, when watching TV or otherwise. This close concentration seems to be connected to a difficulty in interpreting the meaning behind facial expressions. Because the condition involves high levels of sociability, Williams people concentrate very hard on the faces, trying their best to make out what the expressions mean. Concordantly, Williams people aren’t much interested in cartoons. Roddy loves slapstick stuff where people without learning difficulties fall down or bump their heads, thus losing their supposed sense of superiority, but cartoons aren’t interesting, presumably because the faces don’t have enough detail of expression.

Roddy’s generally very good at recognizing people’s faces — that seems to involve a different part of the brain. He did think the CGI Jim Carrey in A CHRISTMAS CAROL was “that man from that programme with the horse” — Wilfred Brambell in Steptoe and Son (but what other real human being ever looked like that?), and he did think Veronica Carlson in this films was a presenter from 70s children’s show How, but that’s not so unreasonable: Jenny Hanley’s appearances in SCARS OF DRACULA did not prevent her co-presenting Magpie on Children’s telly in the seventies.

“For example, adolescents and adults with WMS have difficulty differentiating not alive into the conceptual categories of dead, inanimate, unreal, or nonexistent.” The Neurocognitive Profile of Williams Syndrome: A Complex Pattern of Strengths and Weaknesses, Ursula Bellugi, Liz Lichtenberger, Wendy Jones, and Zona Lai, Marie St. George

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“I ken what he’s going to do — I ken what happens!”

Roddy sort of believes in Dracula, and sort of believes in Santa Claus. It’s quite hard to work out how much he believes, though. I think it might be similar to the belief in God a lot of people must have — they would be astonished at any example of divine intervention (of course there are no doubt many people who would accept a miracle as wholly appropriate to their understanding of the world — I suppose…) Roddy doesn’t expect to meet Dracula on a dark night, and he knows that Christopher Lee is an actor. Or at least he accepts that these things are widely acknowledged to be the case. He believes Castle Dracula is a real place and won’t take in any information about special effects that contradicts the evidence of his own eyes. (To be fair, Yvette Mimieux believed the iron sphinx in THE TIME MACHINE was a real structure, and hoped to visit it one day, and she’s in the film.)

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“Watch out! There he goes! Eyes start watering.”