Archive for John Davis

Romneyscient

Posted in FILM, Painting, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2014 by dcairns

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I realized just now that I’m so close to being the ultimate web resource for all things Edana Romney (the talent behind CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS, a film I first addressed here)  that I might as well go the whole hog and make sure of it.

Top Shadowplayer La Faustin informed me via Facebook of this curiosity, in which “actress, journalist and advisor on personal problems” Edana Romney oversees the conversion of her Kentish cottage. I don’t know how to interpret that third job description — a sort of agony aunt, a paid confidante to the stars, a therapist? La Faustin has fun imagining an “Ask Myfanwy Conway” column. We also learn that ER is pals with Zachary Scott. La Faustin observes, ” In the movies, at least, ‘pals with Zachary Scott’ means tears before bedtime.” At any rate, the former Mrs Woolf here appears to be single, with a poodle called Kewpie (?) for company.

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See here.

Then I discover that the Romney Archive is held by the University of Southern California (Romney died in that fair state.) We learn that the archive contains extensive research and screenplay drafts for a film on the life of Sir Richard Burton, explorer. (Later, part of the Great Man’s life did make it to the screen in THE MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON, directed by Bob Rafelson.)

The next oddity is a cutting from the Singaporean Free Press, in which we learn that Robert Newton sued Romney in 1950 over a movie offer that never materialised. Newton had been offered the role of Dr Veron, but the article doesn’t say what the film was, what Romney’s involvement in it might be (I’m assuming writer but also producer) or what the whole story is really about. Romney’s sparse screen credits make it clear that the film never materialised.

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Then, luckily, we find this, a portfolio of costume designs for some kind of project about Rachel Eliza Felix, 19th century French tragedienne. The holder of the portfolio, John George Campbell, has worked out that much, and researched the drawings sufficiently to determine that the artist responsible is Owen Hyde Clarke, who also designed dresses for CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS. And among the drawings we find a sketch of Dr. Veron, looking like a camper version of Robert Newton, and so we are able to connect the Singaporean news story with the costume sketch portfolio.

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Thus, Romney’s sparse CV gains two more films, unmade alas.

John Campbell informs me that the RACHEL project was actually planned *before* CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS. The 1951 news story still makes sense considering the grindingly slow nature of the legal system.

Meanwhile, her married name got me thinking, and sure enough a deeper probe into the IMDb revealed that her husband was producer John Woolf, who in 1948 resigned as joint managing director of Rank to set up Romulus Films with his brother James. This allows us to see why Romney, a bit-part actress, was suddenly given a leading role in her own delirious vanity project. It also suggests why there was no successor to CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS — possibly Woolf no longer had the clout to get such peculiar projects off the ground. By 1955 the couple were divorced.

(When Woolf left Rank his place was taken by John Davis, “the man who destroyed the British film industry.” He’s parodied as “Don Jarvis” in PEEPING TOM, made by Michael Powell, one of his many enemies. Interestingly, Woolf’s brother James was equally prone to amour fou, boosting actor Laurence Harvey’s career because he was desperately in love with him.)

One more acting credit, for a 1957 episode of Masterpiece Theatre entitled The Last Flight, intrigues me. Further down the cast lurks Stratford Johns who, like Romney, was born in South Africa. In the early nineties I produced a student film starring Mr Johns, or Alan to his friends. So all this time I was one handshake away from her, but back then I didn’t know who she was and was thus unable to ask her co-star for info. As a fellow countryman, I’m sure he would have made her acquaintance and would have had an opinion of her, probably strong and acidic.

This Was Your Life

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 23, 2009 by dcairns

Eammon Andrews is a murdering swine!

From THREE CASES OF MURDER. It’s a slightly strange idea, getting a loveable TV presenter (from This is Your Life) to present your compendium murder movie, but I guess Roald Dahl hadn’t been thought of. Say what you like, for me this works, especially as there’s something disturbing about his casual approach to homicide — checking his victim has truly expired before adding the word “efficient”. Cold-blooded, Eammon.

Eammon recounts three tales of murder, two of which I’ve briefly referred to here, the third of which is of actual serious interest. Also, two of the stories involve supernatural or unexplained elements, while one doesn’t. So the movie isn’t terribly well thought out, structurally. It longs to be an Amicus horror anthology avant la lettre, but doesn’t quite have the guts. But my favourite episode, IN THE PICTURE, is like a Twilight Zone episode gone inexplicably queer.

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Wendy Toye directs, and this was obviously her reward for the well-received short THE STRANGER LEFT NO CARD. Unprepared to give her a full feature to direct, Wessex Film Productions allowed her a third of one, and brought her composer Doreen Carwithen along too. This despite the fact that Toye had already proved her reliability with THE TECKMAN MYSTERY, a whodunnit starring Margaret Leighton. The year of THREE CASES, 1955, Toye also directed two more features, the domestic comedy RAISING A RIOT with thick plank Kenneth More, and ALL FOR MARY, a sort of romcom in the Swiss Alps. Toye complained that her more ambitious ideas were more or less automatically nixed by the studios, in the dull days of John Davis’s reign at Rank, and the decline of British cinema from its post-war heights.

But in the short format she was unfettered. I’ve just discovered that another short film, ON THE TWELFTH DAY, which I remember fondly from my childhood when it used to play on TV at Christmas, was directed by Toye. It’s charming, imaginative, and cinematic, as I recall. And IN THE PICTURE is something else. Building on the nakedly sadistic and fantastical elements of THE STRANGER LEFT NO CARD, it capitalizes once more on an eccentric and florid performance from Alan Badel, who appears in all three segments of the anthology. (I hadn’t realised that Badel was ever so famous that featuring him in this way would make sense. A pity Hammer didn’t pick up on his colourful talents, he could have been their own Vincent Price.)

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Badel plays Mr. X, who is both the long-dead artist responsible for a curiously disturbing landscape painting, and its principle inhabitant. X strikes up a conversation with an attendant in the gallery where the picture hangs, in what seems rather strikingly like a homosexual pick-up, then leads him intothe painting itself. Toye achieves this effect with a perfect blend of special effects and strong direction, and over the shoulder shot that changes to a POV, zooming up the oily garden path to the house in the painting, until the door opens and the characters enter frame again…

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Inside, all is floaty dutch tilts, with the camera swinging smoothly from one jaunty angle to the next, as tattered draperies drift in the breeze. Mr X introduces the gallery guard to his wife, whom he treats with supremely weary contempt, and finally to the monomaniac taxidermist Mr Snyder. It all ends rather badly for the poor guy, who is entirely blameless and undeserving of his fate.

Mr X is a fascinating figure, played to the hilt by Badel with a lot of camp theatricality (I first saw Badel in one of his last roles, playing Count Fosco in The Woman in White on TV — an indelible impression). He’s fantastically indifferent to anything human, but devoted to his painting — to the point of living in it. His entire motivation is to light a candle in the upper window, in order to complete the effect — but it’s clear that this painting will never be complete, its artist can never be satisfied with things as they are.

While the taxidermy subplot certainly comes out of left field, and its never quite made clear whether the inhabitants of the painting are demons or the damned, these elements of incompletion or confusion actually make the film more unsettling, imaginative and stimulating. It opens up dark and hostile worlds.

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