Archive for Kenneth Griffith

Shoe Leather

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2022 by dcairns

My week-long adventures on Shadowplay always overrun, don’t they? Don’t worry, not too much spying left to do.

Superspies go east in both MISSION TO TOKYO aka TERROR IN TOKYO originally ATOUT COEUR A TOKYO POUR OSS 117 and Koroshi, a feature-length edition of the show Danger Man AKA Secret Agent. The latter is really just two episodes of the show cobbled together. Cobbling and cobblers are much in evidence throughout.

The French movie is part of a series produced by Andre Hunebelle, he of the unfunny FANTOMAS films of the sixties, which could have played like Francophone DIABOLIKs, but were instead almost complete cobblers. There were eventually eighty-eight OSS-117 novels, By this point in the adventures of Hubert Bonnisseur de la Bath, who started off as Ivan Desny, became Kerwin Matthews, but was soon Frederick Stafford (who would get headhunted for Hitchcock’s TOPAZ, with underwhelming results), with John Gavin and Luc Meranda later stepping into his shoes for one outing each. At this point in the rather logey series, there seems to have been a realisation that an infusion of genuine Bondian derring-do was needed, so they’ve hired Terence Young as co-writer.

This was, arguably, misguided, for a couple of reasons, and amusing for a couple more. Firstly, Young was more a director than a writer (though he did have a surprising number of early writing gigs, and maybe had a hand in DR. NO) so it’s uncertain whether they’d have been better off with, say, Richard Maibaum. Secondly, I don’t know how good his French was. The whole situation amuses me because of how little loyalty Broccoli & Saltzman earned from their 007 team: Young had just directed his third Bond picture, but apparently thought nothing of working for the competition. The hilariously awful Bond knock-off OK CONNERY aka OPERATION KID BROTHER managed to dragoon not only Sean Connery’s non-actor sibling Neil, but M and Moneypenny and Tatiana Romanova and Professor Dent/Blofeld AND Largo.

With Young advising, this OSS entry gets off to an action-packed start, but it’s just a car chase. The action soon shifts to Tokyo, and they really went there, for once. Unlike the exotic orientalism of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (still in Bond’s feature) the environments are pleasingly ordinary, like an Ozu film stretched into widescreen and peppered with punch-ups. It’s all quite low-key and lived-in, even in its culturally-specific quirks — there’s a scene at a kind of photography bar where strippers pose for raincoated salarymen — Our Man Hubert is issued a camera at the door. Everyone looks like a tourist in their own land.

An assassin takes aim at Hubert through a spyhole built into a bit of ad signage, a detail which would turn up, modified, in BRANDED TO KILL, a genuine Japanese movie, the following year.

Stafford is paired with a proper actor as leading lady: Marina Vlady. Her backstory is that she’s been drugged, date-raped and blackmailed into working for some unknown enemy power — after one scene, though, she’s over any trauma and is flirting cheerfully with OSS 117. I don’t blame Vlady, I blame the writers. But it IS nice the way she’s not too impressed with her dashing master-spy.

Even in a desultory and dubbed spy caper (the Japanese roles are voiced in a markedly more racist way in the English dub, as opposed to the French and German versions), a good actor can make a difference. Vlady and Jitsuko Yoshimura from ONIBABA are fine, but when Henri Serre, Jim from JULES ET JIM, shows up, things improve. Serre should have played the lead, he’s incredibly refreshing. The uncanny Valery Inkijinoff (magnetic in Duvivier’s LA TETE D’UN HOMME), who spent most of his latter years playing yellowface, quite convincingly owing to his genuine Asiatic appearance, is also valuable.

Michel Boisrond directs; the plot involves miniature fighter planes — drones, avant la lettre; the fights are actually well-staged, with Hubert proving a master of turning furniture into weapons, Rudy Rassendyll style. The music, by Michel Magne, takes a back seat too often. This kind of adventure should be brassy vamping from beginning to end.

The real problem with all this is that, with fewer and smaller action scenes than a Bond romp, Hubie’s work seems mostly to be of the leg variety — strictly shoe-leather. He pads amiably about from one scenic locale to another, The Mikado cabaret to neon-dappled boulevard, ryokan hotel to picturesque temple, in his winkle-pickers, slipping them off to go indoors of course, asking questions, looking a bit wry. At one point, avoiding a dart gun, he substitutes himself with an inflatable dummy, and though it would be unkind to say you don’t notice any difference, the ruse is worryingly successful.

Frederick Stafford

Stafford isn’t bad — he’s just David Farrar. Agreeable but dull. And. without the panther prowl and ironic sang-froid of Connery, or the bizarro pop art trappings, the going becomes a touch turgid. Still better than Coplan FX-18 or, God knows, the wretched Kommissar X films. OSS-117 has enjoyed a more recent revival, though, as the spoof series with Jean Dujardin, which isn’t exactly great but IS pretty funny.

I get the same disengaged feeling from Danger Man’s eastern adventures. The show’s makers didn’t even pay up for foreign travel — zero views of Mount Fuji here — they just hired Burt Kwouk and some background plates. A fair bit of yellowface too. But the show is oddly appealing — if I were a dope-smoker I could undoubtedly chill out to it. Watching Patrick McGoohan go into rooms and ask questions would be entertaining enough. The show always looked nice, maybe even more so when it was in B&W. And it did give us The Prisoner, which took the elements of pop art, op art, surrealism and cod-expressionism that were creeping into Bond and his many imitators, and put them front and centre with a touch of Kafka and existentialism and all that good stuff.

The first episode that makes up Koroshi features Amanda Barrie, a wonderful actor who ought to have been a massive star — but in what? Amazingly funny in Carry On Cleo, she apparently didn’t fit in with producers’ plans, and only became a fixture in soap opera land later, where she outclassed everyone around her.

The second episode, Shinda Shima, is graced with future Prisoner co-stars Kenneth Griffith and George Coulouris, who has a machine gun built into his desk (“Hit me with a sled, will you?”)and is directed by Peter Yates, a good action director who seems like he SHOULD have been shoehorned into the Bond films but somehow never was. Yoko Tani appears in both episodes, as different characters.

MISSION TO TOKYO aka TERROR IN TOKYO originally ATOUT COEUR A TOKYO POUR OSS 117 stars Andre Devereaux; Kate Percy; Kichi’s Wife; Radek; Jim; Alexandre Dumas; and Rear Adm. Chuichi Hara.

Danger Man AKA Secret Agent stars Number Six; Leader of the Lystrians; Cleopatra; John Bray; Kato; Pennyways; Adolf Hitler; the Duchess of Argyll; Walter Parks Thatcher; Assassin in Bedroom; and Capungo.

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Hosed

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2015 by dcairns

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I saw a bit of this film once playing on a TV in a bar in the mid-afternoon, and I was amazed. Had no idea what it was, though I recognized Jack Hawkins and was surprised to see him dressed as a Nazi. But I was FAR more surprised by what happened next…

This piece might need a trigger warning if you’ve ever been inflated to bursting point with a fire hose. In fact, if that has happened to you, don’t read that last sentence.

Eventually I worked out that the film was Andre De Toth’s THE TWO-HEADED SPY (1958), and even eventuallier I watched it.Hawkins plays a double agent, General Alex Scotland, installed on Hitler’s staff and sabotaging his supply lines to help end the war. The scene I had goggled at occurs when Felix Aylmer, Hawkins’ contact with the allies, is arrested by nasty Nazi Alexander Knox, and tortured.

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There’s the whipping, of course — rather more of it than we’re used to seeing in a film of this kind. But then Knox gets carried away and —

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In the words of Edward Gorey, “there was a wet sort of explosion, audible for several miles.”

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Yes. De Toth has just killed a character by having him anally penetrated with a fire hose, and then inflated until bursting point. You can see why I was surprised at seeing this on Channel 4 in the middle of the afternoon.

Of course, De Toth was a tough old nut. He broke his neck twice (once may be considered bad luck…), he lost an eye (nobody seems to know where), he worked as a second unit director for David Lean and a producer for Ken Russell. Nobody’s idea of a pushover. And he once tried, basically, to decapitate his leading man with a guillotine while making HOUSE OF WAX. But this is still an astonishingly horrible and grotesque scene. How it got past the censors in days when you couldn’t even show a toilet in an American movie is beyond me.

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“Well, it was worth a try, right?”

The film is apparently based on the memories of General Alex Scotland, but the facts seem extremely murky. Elsewhere, Scotland more or less denied ever having been on the German side during the war — he was certainly running an interrogation centre near London for captured Germans during the latter years of the conflict, not in the bunker with Adolf as shown here. Intriguingly and grimly, that centre was rumoured to be a hotbed of torture, leaving open the suspicion that the methods depicted may have been deployed for real, but by our side. In his Wikipedia page, Scotland is quoted as saying that high command asked him deliberately NOT to scotch false rumours about his being planted in Nazi Germany, for reasons he was never apprised of. I think it’s likelier that he was simply trying to make a profit from his war service any way he could, especially after the government tried to stop him publishing his memoirs under the Official Secrets Act.

The film isn’t one of De Toth’s best. Gia Scala is wheeled in as romantic interest, but Hawkins isn’t allowed to have close relationships with any of the people he’s betraying, which makes him a rather isolated, distant figure. Characters mostly thrive on relationships, and he has none.

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Hitler is always kept just off-screen, at one point occluded by a large globe, in an amusing nod to Chaplin. He’s played with Welsh fervour by Kenneth Griffith, which would have been hilarious if we’d gotten to see him. Most enjoyable actor is Donald Pleasence, who portrays his high-ranked Nazi big shit shot’s nervous strain by having him puff continuously at a cigarette kept one inch from his lips at all times. Had Pleasence ever had a chance to observe Fritz Lang’s smoking technique? The resemblance is uncanny.

Boom Bang a Bang

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2011 by dcairns

With THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU heading our way, let’s dodge the “BOURNE meets INCEPTION” juggernaut by heading back in time

We have to refer to THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU as a Michael Relph-Basil Dearden film, because although Dearden directed, Relph not only produced as usual, but scripted (from an unfinished Jack London novel) and designed it. Relph’s script is a little uneven but serves up some good lines (Oliver Reed’s arch-assassin is against war, because “How can we charge our rates with everyone killing each other at a shilling a day?”), and his design is sumptuous, combining with the luscious costumes to serve up an Edwardian Europe, sixties-style, that’s nostalgic and colourful and a little bawdy.

Though Dearden heaps largesse on the movie by stuffing the cast with familiar faces, some of whom are true archetypes of British filmmaking in that era — Clive Revill, Roger Delgado, Warren Mitchell, Curt Jurgens, Philippe Noiret (!) with Kenneth Griffith as an excitable Rumanian — but his actually filming is disappointingly dependent on the zoom lens in nearly every scene. The lens flattens the wonderful sets, and fails to create the air of liveliness the film is hankering for. Another excitable Rumanian, editor Teddy Darvas, attempts to add gusto by cutting everything to the bone, adding energy by playing fast and loose with continuity, but his rhythms are sometimes wearisomely repetitive.

Still, there’s Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas, cast against type as an English press baron. One of cinema’s great smokers, Telly here has a long cigarette holder to conjure with, and promptly holds it alongside his big bald head — but vertically, rather than the more traditional horizontal approach (doesn’t the ash fall down his sleeve?). Always something fresh with Telly. The screen lost an inventive talent when he switched from cigarettes to lollypops. Best moment, as Curt Jurgens lists the members of European royalty about to assemble below his airship bomb — “Spare me this parade of mediocrity!”

Illustrations of the Bureau’s previous triumphs.

Reed and Rigg make an intriguing couple, and there’s the possibility of sparks flying due to her character’s suffragette politics and Ollie’s real-life chauvinism, but the romance, like the main plot, doesn’t quite catch fire. The story requires Rigg to slowly lose her principles as she’s dragged along on Ollie’s comic killing spree, but the necessary beats of this throughline are neglected in favour of local colour and incident.

Still, this is an occasionally bright,  always brisk entertainment in the company of charming players, and it evokes not only nostalgia for bomb-hurling anarchists of the early 20th century, but also for swinging 60s all-star romps with more gusto than reason for existing.