Archive for Lionel Atwill

Pinky on Parade

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on September 17, 2011 by dcairns

Lionel “Pinky” Atwill displays his enantiodromic approach to acting.

Interest in Thorold Dickinson seems to be on a continual rise, which is a good thing in my book. Now we have his first feature as solo director available, THE HIGH COMMAND. Produced  by Fanfare Films, a fly-by-night outfit who ceased trading after their single movie, it’s a military mystery/courtroom drama starring Lionel “Pinky” Atwill as a general with a shady past, Lucie Mannheim (THE 39 STEPS) as the rich wife of pathologically jealous Steven Geray, and a young, skinny James Mason as a dashing officer who romances her. It all comes to a head when a sleazy British military doctor is murdered, and the events take place in a West African colony on the Gold Coast.

Despite a meagre budget, Dickinson insisted on grabbing some authentic location shots, and he folds them into the studio stuff with cunning, if transparent artifice. His background as an editor reveals itself with jokey use of sound and snazzy transitions, and if the plot is a somewhat contrived affair (last-minute re-writes were required to appease the censor, who objected to anything showing British officers in a bad light), it’s consistently entertaining.

Otto (PEEPING TOM) Heller’s cinematography produces some striking moments, and even the sequence where documentary shots of a firelit native ceremony is intercut with studio closeups of the Brit stars is reasonable effective. The trouble is, of course, that the location material has unavoidable rough edges, which nobody would dream of replicating in the studio material, so a certain clash of styles is inevitable. One appreciates the effort, though, and Dickinson’s foreign travel opened his eyes to the realities of colonial life, which fed into the film’s lightly satiric attitude.

In particular, Graham Greene’s review singled out a scene where a colossal gust of wind blasts through the colonial club while the national anthem is being played, and nobody can close a window or suppress a billowing tablecloth as everybody’s too bust standing to attention. My Dad reports than in the ‘forties, during his film-going youth, the national anthem was played at the end of every programme at the local Odeon, and there’d be a stampede by the audience to get out before it started, otherwise you’d be stuck standing to attention for the full six verses. It’s fascinating: everybody knew it would be disrespectful not to stand, but it was considered perfectly respectful to elbow your way out of the auditorium at high speed to avoid standing.

These Britons are crazy.

Buy THE HIGH COMMAND here: The High Command [DVD]

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The Strange Case

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2010 by dcairns

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. RX, with its strange title, might never have crossed my path had I not been inspired to track it down as part of my lunatic quest to see all the films illustrated in Denis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies, a compendium of horror movie lore that served as a combination of holy writ and porn-stash when I was about ten years old (monsters are the equivalent of porn for ten-year-olds, right?). This mission of madness, known as “See Reptilicus and Die” has caused me to peruse some screwy movies in the last couple of years, and if RX doesn’t take the cake, it at least might be said to hoover up the crumbs.

Really this is a comedy thriller, high on jinks and low on both scares and production values. Patric Knowles and Anne Gwynne are bickering investigators, he a private eye and she a crime writer whose research has a history of getting her into scrapes. It feels like this duo were intended to run into a whole series, and to try and get things off on a good footing screenwriter Clarence Upson Young equips them with enough backstory for twenty films (some of which sound more fun than this one). CUY wrote the similarly lightweight THE GHOST THAT WALKS ALONE and NIGHT MONSTER, but his most exciting credit is LOVE, HONOR AND OH BABY! — a title which made me laugh for about a minute, though I have no particular interest in ever seeing the picture, which does not appear in A Pictorial History of Horror Movies.

Our intrepid couple are investigating a killer who apparently strangles criminals who have escaped justice thanks to the machinations of a slick defense lawyer. All the bodies are marked with a calling card, signed “Dr. RX” — meanwhile Lionel Atwill is at large, as Dr. Fish, looking very suspicious in pebble glasses and leer. Walking racial insult Mantan Moreland is also on hand as Knowles’s man, and at the movie’s climax has to help the hero face not only the mad doctor, but also Nbongo the gorilla, inevitably played by Ray “Crash” Corrigan, who in his long career in furs also played great apes named Naba, Bonga, Nabonga, Pongo and Willie. You can see why he wasn’t called Ray “Versatility” Corrigan.

The film is chiefly interesting for its sheer silliness, which sometimes disrupts the narrative to a disturbing degree (when you find time for a bit for Shemp Howard of the Three Stooges, that’s likely to be the result) — the end shot, of Mantan Moreland, his hair turned prematurely white, laughing insanely, is sufficiently upsetting to have probably guaranteed that Private Detective Jerry Church and his sparky wife never returned for another adventure.

Like a negative image of Rodney Dangerfield.

Pinky and the Ape

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on March 13, 2009 by dcairns

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After the lo-fi shambling smear that was THE APE MAN, it was a relief to find that my DVD of THE GORILLA was sharp in picture and sound, and also that it was a plush production with something on nodding terms to a decent script. It’s one of those old dark house comedy-thrillers that can become a bit wearisome — and I’m thinking of THE BAT or, horror of horrors, SH(IT)! THE OCTOPUS rather than the actual, brilliant OLD DARK HOUSE here. But despite being festooned with hoary horror clichés and plywood characters, this simian romp actually delivers a lot of visual pleasure, a bare minimum of laughs, and some pert, yeasty performances from genre faves Lugosi and Atwill.

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First, Lionel “Pinky” Atwill, who gets to hone his enantiodromic skills, especially in scenes where flickering firelight illuminates the dark side of his visage. Atwill is thrown at us as such an obvious villain that we naturally assume he must be innocent. But then we look at him and think, no, he CAN’T be innocent. Of anything!

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Bela Lugosi meets a woman with a pork pie on her head.

Lugosi impresses considerably in a modest butler role. He doesn’t overact, he’s merely suave and charming like some kind of Hungarian person. He’s relaxed, calm, very much the man on form. Credit must go to director Allan Dwan, whose work I’ve tended to neglect: Lugosi was not easy to control.

I suspect taking THE GORILLA as a starting point for Dwan appreciation would strike most right-thinking cinephiles as grotesque, but the movie has definite merits from a directorial standpoint. Dwan manages the ambidextrous feat of wrestling Lugosi’s wayward talent to the floor and channeling it along the required course, while pulling off slick visuals including a wonderful introductory crane shot that traverses the front of the rainswept mansion-house like a devil bat sniffing out the perfume of death.

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And then there are the Ritz Brothers. What? What, exactly? What is the purpose of these brothers? It was interesting to see, I suppose, a triple-act of interchangeable doofus types, exuding the kind of broad schtick that other comics (I would say Jerry Lewis, for instance) individualise and make funny. With the Ritzes, there’s no REAL personality and certainly no individuality (they’re all alike, and also like every other vaudeville type ever), although there’s recognisable skill in their playing and mastery of a whole lexicon of double-takes, gurns and grimaces. They’re comedic or comical rather than being plain funny, because their tenth-generation mimickry has lost all resemblance to human truth.

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When comedy goes rhetorical…

Apart from all this, and the faceless romantic leads, there’s Joseph Calleia (hoo-ray!) and a misogynist gorilla (hoo-whaa???) — “He hates women!” and the usual number of secret passageways, twist endings and baloney. A good time-waster, worth it for the craziness of the opening newspaper montage, and Dwan’s suave moves.

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What an odd thing to say.