Archive for John Boorman

The Man Without Bogart’s Face

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2016 by dcairns


Welcome to Shadowplay, the daily blog about DARK PASSAGE.

Looking at part two of DARK PASSAGE, where it all kind of goes to shit. And where Bogart actually HAS Bogart’s face, having acquired it via plastic surgery performed by seedy rhinoplasterer Housely Stevens. Would you buy a used face from this man?


“Change it back, doc, change it back!”

Spoilers from the start.

The more the movie deals with who killed Bogie’s wife, the less compelling it becomes, and not just because his real wife, Lauren Bacall, is standing right in front of us, very much alive. It’s because this is all backstory, dealing with someone we never met, and it’s of interest to us only if it can solve the true plot problem, Bogie’s being wanted by the law for a crime which, it so happens, he didn’t commit. The movie seems to totally misunderstand our requirements of it: it thinks that as long as we find out whodunnit and the guilty party is somehow punished, we’ll be satisfied. But while that kind of closure + justice is important, what the movie has set up as its dramatic problem is Bogart being a wanted man. And at the end of the movie he HASN’T cleared his name, he never will, but he gets to retire to Peru with Betty Bacall. It feels somehow unsatisfying. Maybe also because the film’s version of San Francisco was maybe one-fifth actual location footage, and Peru is a special effects and studio fantasia. It’s like ending the film in a dream sequence.


But this floundering second half is kind of fascinating in the abstract, even if it’s not dramatically engaging. One weird thing is the way Bogart keeps presiding over fatal accidents. He basically shoves Clifton Young off a cliff — very good, grim shot of Young lying crumpled at the bottom. It suits him. At this point it’s going to be impossible for him to clear his name, and he IS somewhat guilty and so the movie’s prospects are derailed. And then Agnes Moorehead somehow auto-defenestrates, without meaning to, though given her dialogue before the fact and the typically frenzied manner she brings to her confrontation with Bogie, it would have made more sense as a strategic suicide. Instead, it feels like Bogie WILLED her through the skyscraper window, even though he needs her alive. It reminds me a bit of the abrupt climax of AMERICAN GIGOLO, where at least Richard Gere gets to grab the plummeting man’s legs and TRY to stop his death-plunge (again, he needs the defenestratee to clear his name).


But a bigger similarity is with THE WALKING DEAD, in which Boris Karloff plays a Bogie-like gangster raised from the beyond who goes seeking revenge on his killers. Strangely, Karloff never lays a finger on his enemies, he just slow-walks them to their doom, backing off the edge of railway platforms and under approaching trains, etc. It’s as if he’s come back from the dead but he’s brought death with him, as an ally or as a sort of miasma that surrounds him, focussing in on those whom he directs his malevolent glare towards.



It’s like Oscar Wilde wrote: “Karloff does it with a look, Lee Marvin with a towel.”

It’s been pointed out that John Boorman’s POINT BLANK plays like a hip remake of TWD, with Lee Marvin as the gangster who may have died (John Boorman has spoken of a possible Owl Creek Bridge reading of both his Lee Marvin movies) and who wreaks revenge on his foes without actually inflicting bodily harm on them himself. Its slick visuals, rat-a-tat cutting and Donald Westlake plot ingenuity make this the most engaging of the films under discussion, and by burying Lee Marvin’s revenant status deep in subtext, it makes it more fun to unpeel. THE WALKING DEAD is a little too somnolent for me, though you can certainly argue that’s appropriate.

POINT BLANK, of course, also plays out in San Francisco and features a spectacular sidewalk dive, this one from old Dean Wormer himself, John Vernon.

“Someone has to put his foot down, and that foot is me.”

And I guess GHOST STORY has a place in here too.

Anyhow, Bogart’s affinity with sudden death in DARK PASSAGE suggests both the shifty narrator of DETOUR (people just keep dying around me, honest!) and the fatal pro/antagonists of WALKING DEAD and POINT BLANK. Maybe Boorman would suggest that Bogie dies when the San Quentin barrel crashes downhill in scene 1, and the rest of the plot is just his dying fantasy. It would certainly give a meaning to the otherwise obscure title (there’s no significant literal passageway in the plot). And it would kind of explain how Bogart becomes a helpless passenger in his own movie. The “first person shooter” opening robs him of identity, and then his every action seems to be dictated by chance meetings, with a cabbie, a detective in a diner, the guy who picks him up who turns blackmailer. And all the deaths in the film just happen, Bogart doesn’t plan them or really want them. He’s the passive recipient of a narrative.

Things I Read Off the Screen in CATCH US IF YOU CAN

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2015 by dcairns



I’ve had a built-in resistance to seeing CATCH US IF YOU CAN, aka HAVING A WILD WEEKEND, John Boorman’s first feature, starring the Dave Clark Five. “Surprisingly good,” say most reviews, before commenting on its unusually bleak quality. I was never tempted because A HARD DAY’S NIGHT holds a prominent place in my heart, and the DC5 are no substitute for the Fab 4.

But those reviews are accurate, and also the film is damned odd, a worthy debut for its maker, a visionary, or would-be visionary, whose visions have often taken him in quite curious directions. CUIYC/HAWW seems perversely calculated to avoid the upbeat charm of AHDN, and even when the action is occasionally fast or rambunctious, the tone is sour, or depressive, or grumpy or just flat.





The mild satiric impulses in Cliff Alun Owen’s Beatles script are amplified here to take in everything about the movie’s world. The DC5 play stuntmen, ludicrously referred to in the script as “stunt boys,” as if that were a thing. Mr. Dave Clark-Five himself runs off with a model, the latest face of British meat, Barbara Ferris, and her jealous boss plants a story in the press that she’s been kidnapped. The other band members are only occasionally along for the ride, and the script doesn’t bother to differentiate them at all, though several seem more interesting and up for it than Mr. Clark-Five. The few songs aren’t performed, they just turn up on the soundtrack, jostling for space with instrumentals by a uncredited John Coleman and the reliably melancholic Basil Kirchin (THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES).

So it’s mostly Ferris and Clark-Five on the road, failing to have adventures, get into scrapes, or meet extraordinary characters. Instead they mope, even at speed. But the movie is unexpectedly brilliant. Like LEO THE LAST, it feels like Boorman has spent his life in an entirely other England and is reporting back from this alien plane. It helps that Manny Wynn’s b&w cinematography is so gorgeous, and the wintry landscapes so well-chosen. The movie always looks as exquisite as a breaking heart.



One of many collapsing Boorman properties, from EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC to HOPE AND GLORY. And then there’s the trundling church in DELIVERANCE.

Guest stars turn up — a very naturalistic David Lodge, and a posh couple in Bath played by smarmy Robin Baily and acid Yootha Joyce, who at first seem intended to embody middle-class, middle-aged malaise, but turn out to be good sports. At a fancy dress event at the Roman baths, he has a good time as the Frankenstein monster (an emerging theme here at Shadowplay as we near Halloween) and she drags up as Chaplin, which OUGHT to be the scariest thing ever — imagining Yootha at her most corrosive, crossed with Gloria Swanson’s creepy Little Tramp act in SUNSET BLVD… but it’s oddly mild, since Yootha doesn’t bother doing any Chaplin schtick.



The screenplay is by Peter Nichols (GEORGY GIRL, A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG) which grounds the whimsy, which was more than a little heavy already. There’s an encounter with ragged hippies, and Actual Drug References (Clark-Five has never heard the term “spliff,” apparently), and The Writing is already On The Wall as far as that lot are concerned. They are in awe of their mystical leader, a raddled drug casualty who drones garbled prophecies through his implausible facial hair, for this is Ronald Lacey, the bald Nazi from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.


On the basis that pop fans were going to turn up for this anyway, no matter what the actual plot or tone consisted of, Nicholls and Boorman deserve credit for making something nobody would otherwise have commissioned, a glum picaresque of urban and rural England providing none of the expected chirpy pleasures and gloriously vague about what alternative delights we should be getting from its meandering maunderings. It’s pure Boorman, far closer to ZARDOZ, if you can believe that, than it is to any pop film before it.



Browned Off

Posted in FILM, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , on November 20, 2014 by dcairns


I used to think that Sidney Lumet’s THE OFFENCE was the brownest film of the seventies, where they took to pre-flashing the film to desaturate it and make it even more joyless and seventies-esque. But now I have a new winner, John Boorman’s LEO THE LAST, which has clearly tampered with its colour a bit in post-production, but also achieves a lot of its sombre palette by simply painting everything in sight shades of brown, grey, black and beige. Actually, a dark slate grey dominates. Surprisingly, perhaps, it’s extremely beautiful, but then I live in Edinburgh, a city which makes grey into a fetish.

Quite a problematic film, but a fascinating one — I write about it here.