Archive for Lionel Jeffries

Crime Jazz

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2019 by dcairns

JAZZ BOAT, seen and enjoyed and wondered at thanks to Talking Pictures TV. Ken Hughes directed this boggling jazz musical crime comedy thriller, a star vehicle for Anthony Newley, who pretends he’s a master thief knows as The Cat, and gets mixed up with a criminal biker gang led by James Booth. Every scene depending on the anticipation of violence between these two “toughs” cracked me up.

Booth’s gang also features David Lodge in a beard and specs that make him resemble Nick Frost — his character, Holy Mike, is a kind of ironic religious maniac in black. Added muscle is provided by Al Muloch from the openings of THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, as a real gone thug, maybe the most substantial part of his tragically shortened career. And then they’ve got Bernie Winters as back-up, and busty Anne Aubrey as “the Doll,” whose going with Booth but somehow can’t keep her hands off Newley. He must have had something, I suppose.

“He was quite good as the Artful Dodger,” admits Fiona.

“With a walnut up his nose,” I remark.

“What?”

“A walnut.”

“WHAT?”

“He played the part of the Artful Dodger with a walnut up his nose.”

“WHAT?”

“Anthony Newley. Played the Artful Dodger. With a-“

“Whose idea was that?”

“David Lean’s, I suppose.”

“But that’s child abuse!”

“No it isn’t. Kids love shoving things up their noses.”

“But it might have gotten lodged, and gone deeper…”

“Well they could just have got… Mark Lester to go in after it.”

“Why Mark Lester???”

“Well, he was little…”

“But he was in a different film. He was in OLIVER!”

“Oh yeah… Well, that’s ideal. He’d have been REALLY little…”

Shoving aside the thought of an unborn Mark Lester being injected up Anthony Newley’s nostril in some grotesque nasal parody of FANTASTIC VOYAGE, we return to JAZZ BOAT. Lionel Jeffries plays a tough police inspector, and this oddball casting works great, because he’s a really good actor. All the oddball casting is defensible except that Newley and Booth are the same type, and Newley can’t suggest his character’s innocence.

The film opens in Chislehurst Caves where Ted Heath and his Band are playing and we meet all the characters, and a fight breaks out.

Then there is some quite decent storytelling where we see how Newley gets mistaken for the Cat, and how he’s honest, really, and then gets roped into doing a crime with Spider’s gang.

There is, eventually, a jazz boat, but it has little to do with the plot. Within minutes, it seems, the film is showing us Newley in drag trying to escape the gang’s revenge, then showing Booth and poor Aubrey slashing each other with razors. Then the boat docks at Margate and we may remember the Archers’ bit of doggerel about that town, and there’s a chase through Dreamland, the funfair immortalised by Lindsay Anderson in his free cinema documentary — a film which now looks a bit worrisome in its aghast depiction of working-class entertainment.

We never find out who the real Cat is, which seems like a big loose end. But then, this whole film, handsomely shot by Ted Moore with Nic Roeg operating, is a giant, marvelous blunder, a skull-throbbing offense against taste and tone and logic and genre — put together by professionals, so the bits don’t quite fall apart even though they might do better if they did.

I really want to see IN THE NICK now, made the same year of our Lord 1960 by mostly the same culprits, many with the same character names, but it doesn’t seem to be available anywhere.

JAZZ BOAT stars Heironymous Merkin; Prof. Joseph Cavor; Pvt. Henry Hook; Jelly Knight; Knuckles; and Clang.

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Half Fare

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on July 25, 2017 by dcairns

THE RAILWAY CHILDREN screened at Filmhouse as a friend’s birthday treat — thanks to David Watson for laying it on.

The film is a very familiar TV treat in the UK, but as far as I could remember I’d never actually seen the whole thing. I knew who was in it, knew there was a landslide with flannel petticoats, and a father coming back at a railway station. As it unfolded I had no idea what was going to happen yet. I’d somehow avoided seeing it, despite being a huge fan of Edith Nesbit, author, and Jenny Agutter, star.

The film is the real triumph of Bryan Forbes’ spell running EMI — a rare case of a filmmaker being in charge of a film production outlet. And I could see him being sympathetic to Lionel Jeffries, a fellow actor, coming to him with his dream project.

What with the low budget and Jeffries’ inexperience as screenwriter and director, the film often has an endearingly amateur quality. Night scenes are overlit, crew shadows glimpsed, and any time an extra is heard muttering, it’s with the distinctive timbre of the film’s director (a nice Wellesian flaw to have). Jeffries’ visual approach varies between nice ideas he sometimes pulls off, and simply struggling to get an acceptable shot in a cramped location (I’ve been there, Lionel). I think his editor is letting him down quite a bit, so when he makes a mistake it isn’t tackled, and when he gets something good going, not enough is made of it.

But the film thrives on its charm. Most of Nesbit’s children’s books have a fairly episodic, stop-start pace, and this is no exception, but the mystery/drama of the father’s absence gives it a nice suspense motor to keep it going, and the “kids” are great. Master Gary Warren, a small-statured 16, is very natural as Peter. Miss Sally Thomsett, 20, is toothsome and surprisingly convincing as the much younger Phyllis, “who means well,” though she does bounce around rather a lot when she runs. And Miss Jenny Agutter, that axiom of cinema, in a rare non-nude role brings just the right dreaminess to Bobbie, who seems imbued with a kind of telepathy, the only real magic in a story which keeps hinting at fairy tales bleeding through into reality.

The men, led by the divine Cribbins, are all cast from the Funny Uncle school of Performing Arts, of which Lionel Jeffries was himself honorary chairman. I guess with this and, ahem, FRENZY, Cribbins’ film career was on the up, just as the British film industry disintegrated.

Of Jeffries’ later works, THE WATER BABIES and WOMBLING FREE are disappointments, I fear. THE AMAZING MR. BLUNDEN is rather nice, and I’ve yet to see the intriguing BAXTER!

One reason THE RAILWAY CHILDREN works as well as it does may be that Jeffries lacked the confidence to mess about too much with the book, so it survives intact with all its episodic looseness and queer touches of mysticism, which might have been smoothed out to its detriment by a more ambitious filmmaker soaked in the professional ways of doing things. And also, I feel the film’s Edwardian sentimentality and melancholy is completely genuine, and part of its maker’s personality. I saw Jeffries interviewed on telly once, and he pointed at a very nice self-portrait he’d painted, and said that his tiny grandchild had looked at it and said, “That’s grandpa. He’s a broken man.” And Jeffries, choking up a touch, in his gruff, bluff Edwardian way, said that this was an example of the extraordinary acuity of children. And I remember thinking, wow.

Notorious

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2013 by dcairns

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Really enjoyed Richard Quine’s THE NOTORIOUS LANDLADY, a mystery romance set in Hollywood England. Kim Novak starts off with the worst cockney accent on record — I think she may have been Dick Van Dyke’s dialect coach — but it turns out to be a phony anyway so that’s alright.  There are other compensations.

Basically Kim is the titular landlady who’s suspected of murder, Jack Lemmon is a junior diplomat who moves in, falls in love, and gets embroiled, and Fred Astaire is his boss. Quine is respectful of Fred’s very particular qualities, so that he grants him an entrance framed head-to-toe, as you would frame a great dancer, a shot he repeats twice with variations as the plot unfolds. Coppola couldn’t even manage that framing for ACTUAL DANCES in FINIAN’S RAINBOW…

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What’s very nice about this casting is it’s all off-the-nose, if I can create that expression for my purpose. Lemmon is written as a pushy, self-confident American male loverboy, as if someone was thinking of Tony Curtis. Lemmon’s lightness and diffidence makes the character MUCH more likable and surprising, and his efforts to seduce Novak are more fraught with suspense and sentiment as he’s inherently a more vulnerable and off-centre performer. Plus he has a way of twisting apologetically through a doorway, not even opening it wide enough for a direct approach, inserting a leg sideways like a bandy ballerina…

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Novak could well be playing a role written for Monroe — played with wide-eyed innocence, her character would have been an obvious naif and we’d have known she was victim of a frame-up. When two male characters become convinced of her innocence because she’s so charming, we’d have agreed wholeheartedly. But because the husky Novak has more of an edge, perhaps because nobody with Groucho Marx eyebrows can be wholly trustworthy, we laugh at them for being persuaded by feminine charms. Yet Novak has vulnerability aplenty and can be liked at the same time as suspected.

Fred is playing Lemmon’s hard-ass boss. While the elder Fred’s more deeply-lined face has suggestions of harshness, it’s also softly saggy, and as an actor he’s still the embodiment of the lighter-than-air. That steel we know he had as a dancer, pushing himself and his co-stars on to painful perfectionism, is rarely glimpsed in his performances. So again, the actor brings wafting gracefulness to a role that’s written as bolshy and probably fat.

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Honorable mention: Lionel Jeffries as Inspector Oliphant.

The movie is co-written by Blake Edwards and Larry Gelbart, and with some of Edwards’ characteristic visual gags: a BLUE VELVET moment with a suspicious Lemmon hiding in Novak’s closet is topped with a nice moment when she unknowingly hooks a coat hanger onto his ear.

A surprisingly menacing bit revolves around Maxwell Reed, Joan Collins’ unpleasant first husband, who proves much more effective as bad guy than he ever was as a leading man. He’s something of a precursor to Ross Martin’s psycho in Blake Edwards’ own EXPERIMENT IN TERROR, only here he’s arguably too dark and vicious for the movie. It has an interesting effect — not quite digestible into the overall tone, but certainly adding grit.

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Oh, the visual style — really exquisite camerawork. It’s zoomtastic, but the aggressive zoom-bar-yanking is combined with machine-tooled crane movements and a lot of “relay shots,” where the camera attaches itself to one character, then another, drawn in a series of smoothly-oiled tugs through a space by the unfolding story. Lots of really intricate work, and it again resembles a musical in its highly choreographed, elegant showiness.