Archive for John Mills

Monty’s Double C’est Moi

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 7, 2021 by dcairns

A number of good things about I WAS MONTY’S DOUBLE. It never mentions Operation Mincemeat, but the events of the film are happening alongside those of THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS, both plots concerning misleading Hitler about the proposed site of D Day. One worked by floating a dead body with fake documents off the coast of Franco’s Spain, the other by leaking the movements of a lifelike Field Marshal Montgomery impersonator recruited from the acting profession. And, weirdly, Clifton Webb, the star of the big-budget ‘Scope Deluxe Color Fox production, could have made a passable Monty or Monty Double himself. The filmmakers did consider hiring a movie star to play the part, before latching onto the genius idea of letting M.E. Clifton James, Montgomery’s actual real-life double and the author of the source memoir, play himself.

Given that, it’s a terrible shame they didn’t also cast the real intelligence officer who recruited James — David Niven. The idea MUST have been considered. I don’t know whether Niv was unaffordable, unavailable, or didn’t want to take part in a travesty. It would have elevated the film enormously, though his chum John Mills is excellent in the part.

Cecil Parker makes everything good.

Supposedly, the film is fairly true to life, except for the invention out of whole cloth of an action climax where the Nazis try to kidnap the ersatz Monty. This is the sequence where director John Guillermin pulls out all the stops, which mainly involves suspenseful tracking shots depicting POV and reaction of various characters, putting the audience right in there. Too bad none of it happened. It feels stylish yet inauthentic as you watch it, partly because the rest of the movie has yielded to, or embraced, the difficulties of the true-life adventure: moving in fits and starts, introducing and dropping a myriad of characters (where a fictioneer would have combined several into one), which does however allow plenty of room for beloved British character thesps. Also, the rest of the movie is played, and scored (by John Addison), as light comedy.

I don’t know if James’ memoir included all the stuff about stage fright and other bits tending to make fun of the acting profession, or at least having fun with the conjunction of war, espionage and acting. Screenwriter Bryan Forbes might be responsible for some of that.

I’m inclined to credit much of the visual panache of Guillermin’s most striking film, RAPTURE, to its French camera department, just because nothing else in his career seems to account for it. Elsewhere, he alternates weirdly between vigour and flair and living down to Welles’ characterisation of him as “one of the truly great incompetents.” His sadism comes through in a bit where a soldier gets shot and blood splashes the guy’s face — from a completely impossible angle. Guillermin obviously liked this bit so much (wrongly), he recycled it in EL CONDOR.

The next Guillermin film I watch will either be THE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN, because I have it, or THE TOWERING INFERNO, because I haven’t seen it since it’s first UK TV airing and I have next to no memory of it. How bad could it be? Don’t answer that.

Oh — apologies are due to Duncan Lamont — he’s disappointing in this but I was forgetting about his amazing turn in the first TV Quatermass. Unforgiveable.

I WAS MONTY’S DOUBLE stars Monty’s Double; Professor Bernard Quatermass; The Major; Rex Van Ryn (voice, uncredited); The Sorting Hat; Grapple of the Bedou; Conductor 51: Mrs. Terrain; Victor Carroon; Mr. Kipling; Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond; Buller Bullethead; Midnight; Arnold Bedford; Milchmann; Bryce Mercer; Shagal, the Inn-Keeper; Sgt. Wilson; General Gogol; Jelly Knight; The Malay; Tanya; Victor Maitland; and Turk Thrust.

Officer Class

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on April 22, 2021 by dcairns

“Come for Guinness, stay for Mills,” Randy Cook had told us — so we did. Ronald Neame’s film of James Kennaway’s play still has a foot in theatre, and might have been more suited to b&w, but Stirling Castle looks attractive, both as a real edifice and a glass painting, and Neame films his actors acting with impressive fluidity and occasional bursts of real dynamism.

The plot deals with a battle for control of a Highland regiment. Mills has survived a Japanese POW camp in the war and his nerves are frazzled: on the surface he’s a martinet but just below that he’s damaged goods. Guinness is a war hero who doesn’t want to give up his acting command and resents any change to the way things have always been done in his time.

Both actors are magnificent — both get to do potentially showy nervous breakdown stuff. Their methods are very nearly opposite, however. Guinness originally had the other role, but swapped and suggested Mills to take his part. He’s very clever, very technical, he DOES a lot. It’s all first-class: his grin, conveying Cheshire-cat self-satisfaction, is at the same time terrifyingly psychopathic. His Scottish accent isn’t 100% convincing — very few were, in former years, but it’s specific and consistent. (Susannah York as his daughter gives her voice just the merest suggestion of a lilt.) You do notice that the actors who can talk in their own voices are able to be more natural, even when they’re also quite BIG (Angus Lennie is very funny; but there’s terrific low-key work from Gordon Jackson and Duncan MacRae).

Mills carries off the honours with a performance of slowly crumbling resolve and shredded nerves that’s just appallingly real. “My jaw is hanging open!” exclaimed Fiona after one close-up. You realise that Neame, never a showy filmmaker, lacking the brilliant flashes of his old chum Lean, was deeply attuned to performance (his partnership with Guinness was no doubt a great learning opportunity), profoundly sensitive to the dramatic values of a scene.

Mills’ breakdown is all performance, carefully observed and truly felt. Guinness’ follow-up show is a march off a cliff with orchestral accompaniment: composer Malcolm KWAI Arnold provides the titular pipe band martial music echoing in the characters’ head and spilling out onto the soundtrack. An expressionist touch that’s properly alarming, as it’s unlike anything else in the film — a highly effective signal that CONTROL IS BEING LOST.

Zeitgeist-based theories of national cinema can get a little spooky, a little superstitious, but I can’t shake the feeling that during and after WWII, and during the mid-sixties to the early seventies, the standard of British filmmaking rose tremendously, influenced by political and cultural events and the activities of certain key artists — so that the kind of filmmakers who would normally have been doing decent, sensitive work started doing GREAT work. Neame’s directing career only got started in ’47 and continued in ’50, so he more or less missed the first burst of energy (but was right in there as producer and cinematographer). And was too old and established by the time the sixties came around. So that I think his directing work, though very fine indeed, doesn’t get animated by the tremendous national enthusiasms that Lean and Powell & Pressburger were at the heart of, and the Boultings and Launder & Gilliatt and others surfed in the forties.

So I feel a sense of “It might have been” with Neame. But he’s really, really good.

TUNES OF GLORY stars Gulley Jimson; Professor Bernard Quatermass; Bertram Tracepurcel; Nellie Goode; Lord Alfred Douglas; Eliza Fraser; MacDonald ‘Intelligence’; Jim MacKenzie, Granddaddy; Grogan and Sgt. Grogan; Scuttling; 3rd Officer – Carpathia; Henry Strangeways; Scarlatti; Col. Etienne Gerard (Hussars of Conflans); Ives ‘The Mole’; Professor Bernard Quatermass; Miss Marple; and Mr. Mackay

Sub Standard

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 21, 2021 by dcairns

ABOVE US THE WAVES ought to be terrifying — I can’t think of anything much more unpleasant than working in a midget submarine. Ralph Thomas, unfortunately, isn’t a great director. He’s what’s usually called “efficient,” meaning lacking in imagination, but he’s not that efficient really at all.

Things are so primitive the men have to get into their diving suits THROUGH THE NECK-HOLE

John Mills is the officer trying to get the go-ahead for the mission, using these untested subs. He impresses admiral James Robertson Justice by proving his subs can sneak through security to plant a dummy mine on Justice’s own ship. But the men involved are taken ill afterwards…

The script, by Robin EYE OF THE DEVIL Estridge, doesn’t make it clear what’s wrong with the men. I’m assuming it’s “the bends” but I don’t see any advantage in muddling this. Anyhow, just after Mills gets this bad news, he gives the men the good news — Justice is impressed and the mission is on.

Incredibly, Thomas doesn’t show the reaction of the sick men. Of course, we don’t know what he was up against — losing the light, maybe. But I’d argue that if he only had time to cover this passage in one way, he’s chosen the wrong angle to focus on, favouring the guy giving out information rather than the guys reacting to it. Of course he had a star to keep happy… but a generally affable one, by all accounts. Mills had been happy for David Lean to play a love scene on his and Brenda de Banzie’s backs in HOBSON’S CHOICE.

Actually, looking at it again, there’s a shot favouring the afflicted men, so it wasn’t a problem of time. It’s been decided that they’re to be unconscious. But I think that’s a mistake. Since the decision has been made to announce that the men are going to be OK in this very scene, rather than get any suspense out of their condition, the emotion should come from them being somewhat conscious and reacting happily to the good news. A scriptwriting issue rather than being Thomas’s fault as director. The script does play as a lot of information being doled out, for much of the runtime. The kind of business where a man with a pointer points at a map or plan and says “…here, here and here.”

AUTW does pick up tremendously towards the climax, though. Faking up the close-quarters stuff inside the subs forces Thomas to get atmospheric, and the tense situations go well with his “efficient” approach.

ABOVE US THE WAVES stars Willie Mossop; James Ignatius Rooney; Donald Nordley; Lord Scrumptious; Martin Teckman; Reldresal; Sorren; Zoltan Karpathy; Richard Wagner; General Gogol; Chairman J. Bruce Ismay; and Heironymous Merkin.