Archive for Lawrie Knight

Snarl-Up

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2018 by dcairns

Orson Welles may have called John Guillermin “one of the truly outstanding incompetents” and a viewing of the Franco-Anglo-Irish director’s KING KONG movies might seem to bear that out, but I can’t help but feel there’s some merit there, in the earlier works, indicating that while some are born incompetent, others go on to achieve incompetence.

My late friend Lawrie knew Guillermin quite well. On noticing one of the maestro’s lesser works, EL CONDOR, in his Radio Times, I started to read the synopsis: “Slick, nasty and superficial…” “That’s John!” declared Lawrie jubilantly, but with a certain affectionate indulgence.

Talking Pictures TV kindly screened NEVER LET GO (1960), an earlier Guillermin, from when he had B-picture zest. It’s certainly slick, nasty and superficial, but it’s also very effective. Fiona was WILDLY enthusiastic about it. It has no really appealing characters, but it’s relentless, event-packed, and looks and sounds great, thanks to Powell & Pressburger photographer Christopher Challis and new composer on the block John Barry. But what really tips it over the edge is a ferocious performance by Peter Sellers, another of Orson’s favourite people (“Where’s our thin friend today?”) in, I believe, his first serious role.

Richard Todd plays a cosmetics salesman whose car is stolen by a gang of hoodlums led by Adam Faith (the best pop-star actor, I’d say, and a uniquely naturalistic one — he’s also fantastic in BEAT GIRL, the other great Barry-scored exploitation romp of 1960. Todd has staked his whole future on this uninsured Ford Anglia, and slowly transforms from a meek, bespectacled underdog (he’s worked out a very good, unassuming/defeated WALK) to a would-be Paul Kersey, bristling at Scotland Yard’s slow-but-sure investigation and taking the fight to the “legitimate businessman,” Sellers, who deals in hot vehicles.

There’s also good work by Carol White, the Battersea Bardot, in a somewhat thankless early role. Faith gets to alternately menace and be menaced, whereas White is entirely put-upon, a care home girl Sellers has taken as mistress, installing her in a downmarket shagging palace and leering over her with panting, bared-teeth menace. It’s an electrifying performance from him: when an actor goes all-out to be repellant, and has such resources, the effect is overwhelming. Guillermin’s dramatic low angles emphasise the pudginess of Sellers’ “jawline,” while the actor makes full use of his thin lips and sharp little teeth to suggest the lurking sadism of this mediocre criminal. He also plays it with a suppressed northern accent, hinting at the character’s social aspirations, along with his constant reiteration that he’s got a “legitimate business.”

“I know the term ‘fight in a warehouse’ is supposed to be pejorative…” said Fiona, as Todd and Sellers try to tear each other apart in a garage at the end. The whole place is a death trap, with big jeroboams of battery acid (never used: just planted there to terrify us) a descending car platform that threatens to crush Todd’s skull, chains and crowbars and planks with nails in…

If the film was as tough as it thinks it is, Todd’s car would have been totally trashed in the fight, Sellers would have been killed, and our vigilante hero would have been jailed for murder — instead, Sellers is only stunned, then arrested, and Todd goes home to his wife. But the happy ending is pretty crazy, considering the number of crimes he’s blatantly committed, and which the Yard has decided to sympathetically overlook. Still, at this stage in John Barry’s career, a filmmaker could do just about anything if he had that guy’s music to paper over the narrative cracks.

Advertisements

Like being nuzzled by a tenement

Posted in FILM with tags , on January 18, 2017 by dcairns

002

Out of the blue, a relative of my late friend Lawrie Knight got in touch to offer me some photographs of the Great Man. Here’s Lawrie in Africa, engaged in some documentary or other. His cameraman, he told me, had a habit of wading into a (possibly crocodile-infested) lake in the middle of the plains and yelling out to the reverberant open space, “IT’S ALL HAPPENING!”

He also said that befriending an elephant was like being nuzzled by a tenement.

Sadly, Lawrie’s collection of movie stills, including unique behind-the-scenes shots from BLACK NARCISSUS, are still missing.

Glazed Hamlet

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 16, 2015 by dcairns

Scan

John Laurie, in he role of Hamlet, by Scottish newspaper caricaturist Emilio Coia.

Laurie was a bit of a stage star, and his Hamlet was well-received — probably it got him his part, as one of the few non-Irish players, in Hitchcock’s JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK.

My late friend Lawrie told me that if ever one met John Laurie, within seconds he would tell you about his Hamlet.

And, to my delight, when J.L. appears in Michael Powell’s RETURN TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, he staggers from an alighting helicopter, hoves up to camera, and tells us who he is – since he’s an actor, this explanation consists of a list of roles, and first on the list is Hamlet, followed by the crofter in THE 39 STEPS, and Private Frazer in Dad’s Army on TV.

“We’re all doomed,” was his TV catchphrase, and one can see how the actor’s sepulchral quality would have translated well to the melancholy Dane. I also like the suggestion in this illustration that J.L.’s Hamlet would have been an expressionistic one, bent into some sort of human Swastika.