Archive for Kenneth Griffith

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.

Things I Read Off the Screen in “Rotten to the Core”

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2009 by dcairns

Really enjoyed this — a genuinely bitter, genuinely funny comedy from the Boulting Brothers, which crosses the stylistic approach of their 60’s satires (PRIVATE’S PROGRESS, I’M ALRIGHT JACK) with the conventions of the caper movie (the military-style heist of THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN seems the most obvious comparison).

The Boultings, Brighton-born twins, were pillars of the establishment (my friend Lawrie observed that John — or was it Roy? — became much friendlier when he spotted Lawrie’s old school tie: “What a bloody snob!” he thought) so their satires are aimed at, basically, everyone else. Foreigners are figures of fun, the working class are thugs and shirkers, industrialists are venal fools, the army are just idiots, etc. And everyone is out for themselves. It’s a darker world view even than Ealing’s subversively scathing THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT, where the comedy provides a gentle gloss over the underlying savagery.

One of the reasons this 1965 movie fits into the “Things I Read…” approach is that the Boultings use “funny names” quite a bit, as well as spoof slogans, tying their humour into the Carry On tradition. One might even say the Dickens tradition, but perhaps that’s going a bit far.

BEFORE ENTERING, PLEASE READ NOTICE. Dudley Sutton, centre, was in my first film. Having appeared in working class realist dramas such as THE LEATHER BOYS, he represents a strain of modernity inserting itself into the traditional British comedy.

The convoluted narrative centres on three hopeless career criminals, “Jelly” Knight (Dudley Sutton, all huge sleepy turtle eyes), “Scapa” Flood (James Beckett, a weasel standing on its dignity) and Lenny the Dip (Kenneth Griffith, startled Welsh gerbil), who get out of stir to find that their boss, the Duke, has passed away, having eaten up their loot in medical bills. This information comes by way of the Duke’s girl, a 19-year-old Charlotte Rampling.

Glamour girl Rampling, a former model new to cinema (she debuted in a bit role in THE KNACK earlier in ’65) carries herself well, and makes the greatest impression with her teeth, which are pearly and look very sharp and are generally bared, as is quite a bit of the rest of her. It’s a promising early lead, but gives little hint of the legend that would arise.

Now things get complicated. Rampling is dating a dim-witted Scottish army officer (Ian Bannen, snaggle-toothed and bulbous-headed), who is responsible for delivering the salaries of thousands of men on maneuvers. And the Duke is not dead — he’s pulled a Harry Lime stunt and is plotting this Great Train Robbery from a fake health spa.

The Duke is Anton Rodgers, a familiar face on UK TV, but not somebody I’d ever paid much attention to. Here he turns out to be very good. He’s a loathsome protagonist, if one can even call him protag, with a genuinely vicious bite to his performance. he does that familiar British comedy trick of descending several rungs of the class ladder in a single sentence, usually with an accompanying rise in volume, but it’s nothing like Kenneth Williams’ version of the device. Rodgers is actually a little scary, and very unpleasant. Is it possible for a comedy to get away with being this hostile to all its characters? just about, it seems.

The most pleasant figure is possibly the private eye following Rampling on behalf of her respectable father, who fears she’s in with a bad crowd. Dad is Peter Vaughan, who it seems was never young, and the PI is Eric Sykes, whose talents for scene-stealing via visual comedy tics make him a welcome addition to the mise-en-scene. (Said m-e-s is compromised in  my copy since the CinemaScope frame is trimmed to 16:9 for TV broadcast. Sigh.) Sykes is actually key to unravelling the whole heist, since his involvement alerts Thorley Walters of Scotland Yard to the fact that the Duke is alive, that he has the whole criminal underworld working for him, and that his attentions are centered on Sgt Bannen.

The thieves’ gang tests our heroes’ aptitude with a computer ripped off from Jodrell Bank (home of Britain’s biggest radra telescopes, and a source of smutty humour since “Jodrell Bank” is, like “J Arthur Rank,” routinely used as cockney rhyming slang for “wank.”) Beckett scores 2, (“FIELD OF EMPLOYMENT: BOOKIE’S RUNNER) Sutton gets 1, (“FIELD OF EMPLOYMENT: NIL”) while Griffth causes the machine to combust, as a printout declares “FIELD OF EMPLOYMENT: CHURCH OR ARMY.”

It’s an elaborate storyline, faithful to the Boulting’s tradition of peppering their films with unusual accents (how often was Northern Irish heard in British films not directly related to “the troubles”?) and colourful supporting characters. As in the earlier satires, even the regular silly jokes are notably abrasive: Sykes, disguised as a street-sweeper, mistakenly empties a shovel-full of dirt and garbage into a baby’s pram. One nice moment involves “the arms” — these are spoken of with shame and despair, since they are only to be deployed when respectable heists have failed to yield any income. Cut to Kenneth Griffith, reading the Daily Mail with a pair of false arms, while his real fingers are deployed picking pockets. This is where he discovers the Duke is alive — he tries to rob the wrong bloke, and the Duke sets fire to his newspaper, and thence to “the arms” — Griffith extinguishes his flaming extremities and lopes off, the dead limbs bouncing at his sides, simian-fashion.

“The arms” are key — they provide the film with a remarkably bitter ending. Everything has gone wrong.  The heist fails, the money is recaptured, and even stealing a tank in order to break the loot out of the bank doesn’t work (the tank falls through the floor, an impressive bit of large-scale slapstick).  Rampling’s dad is packing her off to the North, where she’s clearly going to be miserable. She feels something. It’s the Duke, picking her pocket. He’s wearing the arms. He steals a valuable keepsake he’d given her earlier. She gives him a pitying look. He hurries away, “arms” tragically akimbo.