Archive for John Dickson Carr

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.

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The Ice Man Cometh and Goeth

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2012 by dcairns

I had fond yet vague memories of THE NIGHT VISITOR, AKA LUNATIC (substitute title spliced in on a piece of cardboard in my VHS copy) — I knew it had some ingenious John Dickson Carr type plotting. In fact, that’s almost all it has…

Laszlo Benedek, near the end of his largely televisual career (it’s 1971 — he’d make one more movie in ’77), directs, with an interesting Scandinavian/British cast (the movie isn’t too precise about where it’s action is occurring, but we’re assuming some Northerly clime).

Max Von Sydow is Salem, unjustly committed to a bleak fortress of an insane asylum, at the connivance of his sister, brother-in-law, mistress and lawyer. But he’s getting out at night and killing them, as we learn in scene 1 (this info could usefully have been held back a little). The police are baffled because whenever they check on Max, he’s back in his cell with no sign of how he could have escaped. The perfect alibi.

If John Dickson Carr, master of the locked-room mystery, had written this, we’d have been tempted with some supernatural explanation, possibly astral projection, and a good bit of terror would have resulted — of course, some perfectly rational explanation would have emerged in due course. In Scooby Doo, this was always disappointing, but Carr just about made it work, dispelling the shadows with a wave of his logical wand.

The film’s real highlight is the prolonged, wordless sequence where we learn just how Max is effecting his nightly getaways, all rather suavely worked out and neatly presented. The whole thing comes with an ironic pay-off and good performances from a distinguished cast —

Liv Ullman is one of the rotters who stitched Max up. Liv and let die. Per Oscarsson is another. As Per usual. They make a beastly couple, but in their favour they do own a delightful parrot. Possibly a Norwegian Blue. The blue would be on account of the cold.

The local detective is played by a gallon of whisky wrapped inside a thin layer of Trevor Howard. The head of the asylum is Andrew Keir — Quatermass! I like to think he’s treating his patients with rocketry.

If only the film had more to it than its neat plot, it might be a minor classic. It’s certainly a movie which could be remade today in the light of all the Scandinavian noir we’re seeing. Trevor even has a Scandi jumper like that woman on The Killing. Movies with nothing but a good plot (and, admittedly, a superlative cast) make good remake fodder, if anybody’s listening…

Pictures in the Fire

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on January 8, 2011 by dcairns

Mr Pond nodded; he seemed to be suddenly smitten with a fit of abstraction. At last he said: “I sometimes wonder whether things weren’t better when pictures meant the pictures in the fire, instead of the pictures on the film.”

Sir Hubert Wotton gruffly suggested, in a general way, the dingy fire in a Third-Class Waiting Room was not one in which he would prefer to look for pictures.

“The fire pictures, like the cloud pictures, went on Mr Pond, “are just incomplete enough to call out the imagination to complete them. Besides,” he added, cheerfully poking the fire, “you can stick a poker into the coals and break them up into another picture, whereas, if you push a great pole through the screen because you don’t like the face of a film star, there is all sorts of trouble.”

I picked up GK Chesterton’s The Paradoxes of Mr Pond second-hand, tempted by some very nice opening paragraphs. It’s more of the same: short stories of impossible crimes and paradoxes solved by a beatific eccentric. There’s a little less Christian propaganda than in the Father Brown stories, but you can rely on the criminal to turn out to be an atheist or a Jew, if one has been established. It’s for this reason that I prefer John Dickson Carr, who also provides colourful 1930s language (even in those books written in the 60s). Carr never propagandizes for anything except strong drink.

I was nearly finished the book when I hit the only really offensive story, which begins with a character deploring the mistreatment of the Jews in Europe (this was 1936). This character, unfortunately, is Wootton, the blustering bureaucrat who is always wrong, and he’s swiftly mocked by the comedy Irishman who makes some humorous remarks about kicking Jews, and then Pond tells a crime story in which the Jew turns out to be the bad guy. Had this been the first story in the book, I would have read no further. In fairness to Chesterton, he did write Eugenics and Other Evils, but that doesn’t let him off the hook.

Image from Julien Duvivier’s LYDIA.