Archive for Jim Backus

What a Wonderful World

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2014 by dcairns

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Lost and gone, lost and gone, as the spectral “jury of the damned” intone in THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER. And so it is with THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM, directed by George Pal and Henry Levin. While the other Cinerama feature, AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS and HOW THE WEST WAS WON have enjoyed restorations and blu ray releases, this one may never be seen in the form intended or any digital approximation thereof, since the elements have not shown up anywhere. Collectors gathered bits and pieces from around the world and were able to screen a patched-together, Frankenstein’s monster print, with the three different panels of the giant Cinerama frame consisting of different bits in different conditions, varying from near-pristine to lamentable — and a couple of seconds of the thing got destroyed in that screening.

It’s not the tragedy it would be if the film was as good as Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE, which still holds up beautifully. Pal’s weakness for flat, TV lighting, and his uncertainty with script and gags, hold this one back considerably. The plot in the framing structure consists of a wearisome romance between one Grimm Brother and Barbara Eden, and the financial woes and employment troubles of the pair of them. This is a startlingly dull premise for a roadshow family picture, and the last half hour, when a happy ending has been all but guaranteed, is a life-sapping ordeal.

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Also, the elves are horrible, charmless things. Worse than Oompa-loompas.

But here are some flaws that don’t matter: one brother is German (Karlheinz Boehm from PEEPING TOM, prompting me to cry “Tell us the one about your magic camera!”) and the other is Lithuanian with an English accent (Laurence Harvey, very good in a role which requires warmth and a childlike quality, both of which you might think are entirely outside his range but NO); two directors, but in fact Levin, brought in to handle the serious parts, is no better at drama or extreme-wide-screen decoupage than Pal, so their virtues and inadequacies blend seamlessly; European and American actors generally mingled randomly — it’s a melting pot, so what?; the stop start of a framing narrative continually interrupted by fantasy fairy tale sequences – since the framework is mainly a drag, the interruptions are ALWAYS WELCOME.

And here are the virtues ~

A great stop-motion dragon, more cartoony than anything Harryhausen would dream of presenting, but perfect for the tone of this show. He breathes cartoon flames, too.

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The whole Russ Tamblyn section, which makes exhilarating use of the star’s athleticism and only makes you wish somebody had cast him in a Keatonesque thrill comedy at feature length. Fun perf from Jim Backus as a kind of King Magoo (“You’re just a princess, whereas I’m a king, which is better.”) And we finally discover a reason for Yvette Mimieux: she dances beautifully.

The singing bone. It has a spooky, vocoder voice and it sings about being dead. And it once belonged to Buddy Hacket’s shin.

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Some effective use of the wide frame, for rushing movements, and dance, and spectacle. And some very weird uses, like fast pans which make the screen ripple as if it were being projected on Miles Mander’s ribcage. Peculiar shots where each character is in a different part of the cine-triptych, acting in his own little world, and doesn’t seem to be looking at the others, due to the fisheye type distortion of the three lenses looking at the action from different directions. See here for delirious examples from other films.

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Fever dream with fantasy characters, genuinely trippy. Best fever hallucination feeling outside of THE TENANT. Although see also the Mirkwood scenes in HOBBIT II.

The sad thing is that people demand perfection from their restorations. I have no doubt that a version of TWWOTBG could be assembled with much tidier joins between the panels, but there would still be visible flaws, some of them glaring, and so there’s no will to embark on such a project.

Turtle recall

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on February 23, 2011 by dcairns

GAMERA VS JIGER marks the end of an era for me — it was the last Japanese giant monster movie depicted in Denis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies remaining for me to watch and review as part of my See REPTILICUS and Die mission. From here on, it’s European and American monsters all the way.

As a kid, I was fascinated by images of Gamera, who looked rather cool until I worked out that he was a turtle. I think I saw ads for truncated Super-8 versions of his exploits in the two or thee issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland in my possession. Gamera movies never showed up in monster matinees at the Odeon, Clerk Street, however, and TV shunned them (British TV only very occasionally gave airtime to Godzilla, in fact).

So, now was my chance — and Gamera did not disappoint, although some of that may be down to the radical lowering of my expectations since I grew up and realized that giant Japanese monster movies aren’t very good. But, that aside, Gamera, “friend to children,” has a lot to commend him. The movie, set during the build-up to Expo ’70, a Japanese World’s Fair. Much of the “dramatic tension” hinges on whether the rampaging kaiju will trample the expensive exposition centre. Of course, we kind of want them to, because that’s spectacle, and monster movies thrive on spectacle and sensation. But, patriotic to his core, the giant turtle steers clear of the big construction site, settling for trashing half of Tokyo and wiping out the power supply to Osaka instead. I’m sure everyone was relieved.

A previous Gamera opponent, possibly named Isosceles, the Killer Triangle.

The movie begins with a montage of bloody carnage from previous Gamera outings. Since Gamera is more explicitly pitched at schoolkids than Gojira, who began as a serious monster, naturally the Gamera movies are massively more violent. Because kids crave BLOOD. Turquoise blood, in Gamera’s case. So, under the opening titles we see Gamera tear an opponent’s foot off, and throw a missile through another monster’s nose. The monster sits, for one frozen moment, his nostrils pierced by this sputtering ICBM, before exploding into a gaudy fireball.

Then the plot begins. On “Wester Island”, an American scientist and his family are supervising the transportation of a strange statue, “the Devil’s Whistle,” to the Expo. A Wester Island ambassador (the only black guy in Tokyo, speaking a dialect of his own devising) warns against this, and sure enough, soon Jiger, a sort of saurian Jim Backus, is on the loose. Gamera turns up immediately, perhaps in answer to some offscreen turtle-signal, and there’s a skirmish, ending with Gamera getting pierced by the arrows Jiger shoots from his nose. Like a Testudine St Sebastian, Gamera stands bristling with bloody bolts for a moment, then falls flat on his back.

Discovered: the cause of Jim Backus’s depression.

Then, for no reason, Jiger pursues the Devil’s Whistle to Tokyo, even though it’ll turn out to be the only thing that can destroy him. After performing a bit of self-surgery, Gamera gives chase, using his famed rocket-power. For yes, Gamera is a rocket-powered, fire breathing turtle. The main dramatic result of that is a kind of verfremdungseffekt, manifesting itself in the form of sorrow and pity for the poor anonymous actors who have to climb inside the giant rubber costumes and be set alight.

The second round takes place amid modern Japan, where Gamera succumbs to a stinger sprouting from Jiger’s tale. There’s a long, emotional tracking shot where Gamera staggers, sick and alone, through the city, before falling into the sea. Then his foot turns white. And then his nose turns white. Jiger’s stinger has made Gamera VERY ILL. “Don’t die!” shout the children. It should be mentioned that every fight in this movie is equipped with its own Greco-Japanese Chorus of kids yelling helpful advice like “Don’t lose, Gamera!” and “That’s not funny!” A word of praise for the anonymous genius who subtitled this movie: clearly a master of the art of concealed boggling, he provide magical, incandescent moments throughout. As Gamera pummels Jiger’s abdomen to a fine puree, one little girls exclaims, we are told, “Isn’t it nice?” Later, a scientist watched with consternation as Jiger has Gamera on the ropes, and sadly avows, “It won’t do.”

The scientists are baffled by the Jiger problem, unable to figure out any way to stop his onslaught. Fortunately, the kids yell some advice at them too, and so they X-ray Gamera via helicopter and discover the problem — an obstruction in his lung! One scientist recalls an ailment he’s observed in elephants, a larval infection — cue shaky b&w shot of an elephant looking as if it’s snorted a beach ball (close observation reveals that the pachyderm is wearing a donut shaped prosthesis on his trunk). Jiger has laid his eggs in Gamera (and this before ALIEN)! Though Gamera thought he was fighting Jiger, in reality, Jiger was impregnating Gamera. This movie shouldn’t be called GAMERA VS JIGER, it should be called JIGER LOVES GAMERA.

This plot revelation causes us to think back to the shot of Jiger’s stinger plunging into the soft meat of Gamera’s shoulder, and see it in a new and horrible light as a penetration shot, making this the first ever kaiju hard porn, a thankfully short-lived sub-genre consisting, so far as I am aware, solely of this film. Apart from TITANOSAURUS DOES TOKYO.

Emperor Hirohitler.

What follows is… odd. Stealing a yellow mini-sub designed by a comedy relief dad in a Hitler moustache, two kids sail into Gamera’s mouth and attempt to clear his lung. Perhaps unwisely, they leave the sub and go exploring the humungous terrapin’s windpipe on foot. Finding the giant wound, they are set upon by Jiger’s baby, who’s basically the same guy in the same  costume as Jiger. Disgustingly, he has the ability to ejaculate white gluey fluid from his nose (not a superpower I’ve ever desired). The kids use this glue to paste a mobile phone to Baby Jiger’s forehead, and he dies. Yes, they killed Jiger’s baby. And we’re supposed to be glad about that.

Japan’s answer to Leopold & Loeb gloat over their innocent victim, the telephone still affixed to his brow.

This causes everyone to realise that the Devil’s Whistle is the key to defeating noise sensitive Jim Backus Jiger, so they attach a lot of cables from the local power station to Gamera’s innards and resuscitate him. The newly electro-galvanized Gamera fetches the Devil’s Whistle and carefully rams it through Jiger’s head, facilitating a happy ending for everyone except Jiger.

Oh, and at a certain point somewhere in the proceedings, Jiger uses a special ray on Gamera that necessitates Gamera protecting his eardrums by sticking telegraph poles in his ears. I’m not making any of this up. This is a completely accurate synopsis, and any synopsis which does not mention that Gamera stuffs telegraph poles in his ears is a less accurate synopsis than this one.

And then the theme song plays us out ~

Gamera! Gamera!

You’re wonderful Gamera,.You’re wonderful Gamera.

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.

A big monster is in the way.

A deep-freeze monster come what may.

It leaped, it jumped, go-go-go.

You’ve jet propulsion, we know.

You’re wonderful, Gamera.

Another earlier Gamera opponent, possibly called Sharkturus. Soon to be called fried fish.