Archive for Larry Hagman

The Taking of Studley Constable

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2015 by dcairns

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One could wish that author Jack Higgins had invented a Norfolk village with a less silly name than Studley Constable as the setting for his war adventure The Eagle Has Landed, or that Tom Mankiewicz, adapting it, had switched the location to somewhere with more dignity. Scratby, perhaps, or East Runton.

The John Sturges movie based on the book must have seemed a bit old-fashioned in 1976, but as I recall there was a certain market for that kind of thing at the time, as an alternative to the prevailing direction of Hollywood cinema — the IMDb’s list of ten “most popular” films for that year doesn’t feature a lot of romance — things tend to end as they do for Kong and Dwan, or Travis and Betsy, or Sissy Spacek and bucket guy — making Jenny Agutter and Donald Sutherland — the English rose and the ungulate Casanova — the screen’s sexiest couple of ’76. She even consented to do clothed scenes, but only because they were essential to the plot.

They genuinely are good together. Sutherland plays one of those sympathetic IRA men beloved of Hollywood (in a film crowded with sympathetic Nazis), and Agutter is twenty-five playing “almost nineteen,” a village girl smitten with the romantic newcomer. And she sells it. I don’t know if that was a difficult task — maybe she just defocussed her eyes and imagined chocolate eclairs — but she seems to be spectacularly interested in everything that dribble of a face is doing. Fiona finds Sutherland devilishly attractive, in a deeply weird way. The scene where he orders a bartender to suck his thumb had her all a-tremble.

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While Sutherland has never really mastered an accent in a film, and essays an extreme and wonky brogue here,  he does have fun in the role, grinning satanically and boozing a lot. He’s the only one with good dialogue. And he’s the best Irish Nazi since Stephen Boyd in THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS. Michael Caine (Jewish Nazi) tries to talk in a slightly clipped way suggestive of being German, and Robert Duvall (another no-hoper when it comes to accents, except for a rather good blue-collar New York which I was surprised to discover wasn’t his native idiom) lays it on thick, though not as badly as he would playing Watson in THE SEVEN PER CENT SOLUTION the same year. I would love to see a movie where Sutherland does his FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY English, and Duvall does his Watson, but I think I should go mad watching it.

Caine has a line near the end about no longer driving events but being driven by them, and it’s very apt indeed, but it could apply to everything that happens in this movie from the start. Plot dictates every move, and people keep shifting out of character to allow the plot to get done. Jenny Agutter becomes a murderer — WHAT? Larry Hagman (very amusing) is at least set up as a knucklehead desperate for glory, but that’s an example of a character being machine-tooled and dropped into position to fulfill a narrative function. Spectacular accidents occur in order to move things along more briskly.

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The whole thing is swiped from …WENT THE DAY WELL? which is a much better movie. Higgins even began his novel in a post-war English graveyard, like Cavalcanti’s film, though fortunately the movie dispenses with this pilfered prologue. What Higgins added is the Churchill kidnap plot, which makes it high-concept, and the idea of the Germans as heroes, which is dicey at best. Proving that Caine’s character isn’t anti-semitic in an introductory scene smacks of special pleading, and the efforts to make Duvall’s Colonel likable count for nothing — he would have been just as effective as a bastard, since what the audience cares about is What Will Happen? We aren’t, after all, rooting for the Nazis to win, we are merely concerned by a scheme.

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Higgins reports (in his foreword to the book) that he did encounter resistance to the idea of Nazis as leads, but says that his dealings with German soldiers in the fifties had made it clear to him that “most of them were just like us.” That should worry you, Jack!

Studley Constable (that name!) cemetery is full of gravestones that wobble when anyone touches them.

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The real studly constable (right).

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Gelatin Lover

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2014 by dcairns

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Confession: I’ve never properly watched the original THE BLOB nor the Larry Hagman-directed belated sequel, which I must admit I’m very curious about. But curiosity finally prodded us to run Chuck Russell’s 1988 remake, mainly on the strength of Frank Darabont’s co-writing credit, and a surprisingly respectable piece of work it is. Set in a small town in the northwest US (though filmed in Louisiana, presumably for the more comfortably warm nights), it has trace elements of Twin Peaks, and even features a brief spot by Jack Nance (always welcome) — and the casting director was Eric DaRe, not only the son of Aldo Ray, but Twin Peaks’ resident domestic abuser Leo Johnson.

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The special effects, mostly under the supervision of Lyle Conway (DREAMCHILD, RETURN TO OZ, LINK) are surprisingly consistent, effective, imaginative and nasty — there are a few clunkers very late on, but by then the film has established its credentials and you’re willing to forgive. The script keeps giving people characterful things to do — if it’s a shame that we lose two of the grown-up characters early on, one has to admit that Darabont and Russell came up with a strongly emotive way of doing it. The pity is that Kevin Dillon, looking like a drunkenly assembled identikit of his brother Matt, and blandly attractive but underwritten Shawnee Smith, can’t compete with the grown-ups for screen value. The script gives them a little more meat than is usual in this kind of thing, and we also get anticipations of the superior Darabont flick THE MIST, as shady government doings start to play a role in the narrative, deepening and darkening the original’s “sinister meteor” gimmick.

Also: Del Close. I’m always glad to see Del Close. I knew he’d played a small role in the Hagman movie, because I remembered a comic strip he wrote about the experience in the very weird anthology comic Wasteland, but I didn’t realize he was in this, nor that he’d actually commemorated the experience in another autobiographical cartoon ~

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Close was high as a kite when he filmed his BEWARE! scene, having had his eye scratched by his beloved cat, Grapefruit Head, causing him to take a large number of prescription painkillers including some intended for veterinary purposes.

 

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In the remake, Close plays a preacher who ends up with the film’s coda, implying a distrust of militant Christianity which seems even more appropriate to the Reagan years than the paranoia about satellites and germ warfare.

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Confession: the first thing I ever directed, a little project at art school, was an adaptation of a strip from Wasteland adapted by Close from a Severn Darden routine. Maybe one day I’ll put it on YouTube…