Archive for Leonard Whiting

All Roads Lead to Ruin

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2020 by dcairns

Snorted up two more Luigi Comencini films: the unwieldily titled INFANZIA, VOCAZIONE E PRIME ESPERIANZA DI GIACOMO CASANOVA, VENEZIANO from 1969 and, from ten years later, L’INGORGO.

The former, which I’ll call YOUNG CASANOVA for ease, stars Leonard Whiting, Zefirelli’s Romeo, and as you’d expect some glamorous supporting players, including Senta Berger and Tina Aumont, but as you might NOT expect, also Lionel Stander and Wilfred Brambell, making for some serious WTF imagery.

They’ve found a really close-matching kid to play Casanova as a child, so that the transition to young adulthood is quite smooth, and Giancarlo Giannini of all people dubs Whiting with skill. Despite being sourced from his own words, the film leaves Casanova just as mysterious and inconsistent as Fellini’s deliberately headspinning treatment of the later years — he might be a modern man born too soon, or a complete psychopath.

Lots of good — agonizing — period detail like dental extractions in the street and a fatal operation performed at home with the neighbours watching avidly through the windows. More of that kind of thing, in fact, than this kind of thing ~

The film ends, abruptly, with Casanova’s decision not to enter the priesthood but to instead become a libertine. You wouldn’t have thought it would take him so long to make the choice. Is there much money in libertinage, though? Do you get benefits? (Boy, do you get benefits.)

L’INGORGO is kind of like the traffic jam in WEEKEND expanded to feature length, but it also harkens back to the dream-jam that opens EIGHT AND A HALF — and here comes Marcello Mastroianni, playing a movie star whose limo is caught in the days-long gridlock, to make the connection overt. And a few shots really seem like deliberate callbacks.

Comencini has also acquired all three leads from LES VALSEUSES, Depardieu, Miou-Miou and Patrick Dewaere, plus Annie Girardot, Fernando Rey, and a substantial cross-section of Italian cinema including his fave muckers Alberto Sordi and Ugo Tognazzi. Cross-cutting from one stranded vehicle to another, he paints a portrait of a society, or civilisation, in the final stages of anomie and entropy. It’s an incredible, unpleasant watch. Kind of like a disaster movie where the disaster is purely internal (IN-GORGO)– strangely, it makes stasis seem dramatic, if stifling. Great music, too, by Fiorenzo Carpi — it captures things I remember feeling as a kid in 1979 — dismal, dirty things. Not that I don’t feel that way now.

It’s got a pretty good ending — as desperate and despairing as the rest. Endings seem to give Comencini trouble, but once in a while he comes up with a banger.

INFANZIA, VOCAZIONE E PRIME ESPERIANZA DI GIACOMO CASANOVA, VENEZIANO stars Romeo; Lucrezia Borgia; The Guru Brahmin; Czar Peter III; Paul’s Grandfather; Carmen; Teresa Santiago; and the voice of Rene Mathis.

L’INGORGO stars Lt. Alberto Innocenzi; Niobe; Don Lope; Pierrot; Conchita; Ludwig II; Guido Anselmi; Giulia Clerici; Mark Hand; Nicole Kunstler; and Cyrano de Bergerac.

No Thanks for the Memories

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 22, 2015 by dcairns

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I remember — that word! — TV play Hauser’s Memory coming on TV when I was a kid. I was interested because I had been a fan of David McCallum in The Invisible Man TV show in which he would disappear and somehow the back of his polo-neck would disappear with him. Maybe it was backless. So, here was another science fiction thing with the Greatest Living Scotsman!

(David McCallum has, in a unique honour, been granted the title of Greatest Living Scotsman even after death, an event which we hope is a long way off, since he has basically not aged since 1955.)

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But there wasn’t much for a little kid in this dour drama about loss of personhood, death, castration and political exploitation and personal betrayal. The only thing I committed to memory were the opening credits, which I remembered as the closing credits, which is apt, because the credits sort of loop back from the last scene to create a perfect Moebius strip. If we’d had a video recorder in the seventies I might still be watching it.

Now look — you’ll hear a lot of loose talk around here about Curt Siodmak beng the idiot brother of the talent Robert S, but I have to give the affable old fellow credit here — allowing for the pseudoscience (an injection of RNA taken from the blenderized brain of a dying scientist allows McCallum to experienced the deceased man’s memories), this is an excellent piece of drama. I lost count of the number of simultaneous, interwoven plotlines that are really one big plot. Let me try to enumerate them —

The Americans (led by LESLIE NIELSEN as SLAUGHTER) and the Russians both want the formula the deceased physicist was working on at the time of his demise. The hope is that McCallum will remember it. But he begins to remember much more, and the mystery of his memory-donor’s life starts coming into focus.

But the late Hauser has needs of his own — he wants to make his peace with his loved ones (including widow Lilli Palmer) and avenge himself upon a Nazi persecutor.

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Seeking to achieve closure in his life, Hauser begins to take over McCallum’s brain, so it becomes a horrifying drama of loss of personality, the sense of no longer being who you are supposed to be. Weirdly enough, we can relate to this. It’s this aspect of the story that allows McCallum to turn in a moving performance that really should have won him awards. He has to play a Jewish biochemist and a German physicist and sometimes both at once or one pretending to be the other (the late Hauser proves to be a shrewd manipulator to further his own agenda).

Boris Sagal (THE OMEGA MAN, another candidate for 70s SF Week) directs, sometimes badly, but the psychedelic editing is quite good — it really would take a Resnais or Roeg to do justice to this idea, but the flash-cutting and fisheye POV shots are pretty effective. Susan Strasberg has a slightly thankless role as Mrs McCallum, Robert Webber gives it the crowning TV movie touch and says “baby” a lot.

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McCallum has memory trouble again in the Christopher Isherwood/Don Bachardy-scripted Frankenstein: The True Story. Fiona and I both saw this as kids. From Invisible Man to sub-Donovan’s Brain guy to a subsidiary monster-maker in this, David McCallum had quite a psychotronic decade (and there was still Sapphire & Steel to come). Slightly de-gayed by TVexecs, the two-parter is still provocative. The film still makes much of the attraction between creator and creature, understandable since Leonard Whiting is Frankenstein and Michael Sarrazin is his handiwork, and taking its cue from James Whale’s monster duology, the film contrasts the appeal of a respectable marriage with the frisson of playing in God’s domain with a male friend.

Like Branagh’s rather anemic movie version, this comes to lusty life in the scenes involving Frankenstein’s lost, then reincarnated love, here played by Jane Seymour. Appearing in Edinburgh recently for the Film Festival (with the movie BEREAVE, which Fiona discovered in her role as submissions editor), Seymour remembered James Mason reading The Times out loud while she was trying to learn her lines, getting to choose her nude body double from a line-up, and accidentally sitting in Ralph Richardson’s chair. “He didn’t say anything, he just circled me, like a dog.

Unlike the Branagh, this has sufficient run-time to explore the story in depth, and invents the new notion of a handsome creation who only gradually deteriorates into scabby monstrosity pockmarked with syphilitic gumma — his rejection by his father thus becomes a bit like an aging lover getting the heave-ho when his youthful bloom fades.

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Whale’s version transposed the first names of Victor Frankenstein  and the stolid Henri Clerval, who became slightly caddish Victor Moritz. This movie transposes the characters, so that Clerval (McCallum) is much more passionate about creating life than Frankenstein is, at first. Rude, sodden, sporting an anachronistic moptop and saying things like “yeah”, McCallum’s Clerval is a hell of a lot more fun than Whiting’s pallid Daniel Radcliffe act. When he dies, it’s a loss to the film, but his brain gets transplanted into the monster so that occasionally his voice echoes out of Sarrazin’s fleshy lips — he even gets the last line (and laugh).

Isherwood and Bacardy have cheekily plundered the Universal classics while claiming to honour Mary Shelley’s original, so we get the blind man, and James Mason as a fruity Dr. Polidori, very much inspired by Ernest Thesiger’s immortal Pretorius, but with crippled hands, a touch pilfered from Hammer’s Peter Cushing vehicles.

In terms of story logic, the script is free and easy, bending the rules whenever doing so will allow a cool scene or idea. When a severed arm Frankenstein has helped amputate grabs him by the wrist, McCallum cries in delight, “It knows you!” (My vote for most fervid line reading of 1973.) A new definition of muscle memory, perhaps. Yet, when McCallum’s brain is reborn in the monster, he suffers total amnesia. A touch inconsistent. Frankenstein teaches the monster to talk, but Mason, using hypnosis, contacts McCallum’s memory, still cradled somewhere within that jagged, scabby brow. A reminder that the myth of hypnosis as memory aid was very much in the air — see also The UFO Incident…