Archive for Martin Scorsese

Hammer and Scrooge

Posted in FILM, literature, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 24, 2021 by dcairns

I had fond memories of seeing CASH ON DEMAND as a teenager and thinking it a forgotten treasure. Extremely glad to report that it holds up beautifully. It’s a 1961 thriller from Hammer without any of their customary grue effects (though there is a character called “Gore”) but with a Christmas setting. I don’t know why it hasn’t become a festive favourite — it shows a detestable character being mistreated for most of its running time — it is, in fact, a remake of A Christmas Carol, done as a heist movie.

It joins a substantial stock of Christmas heists — REINDEER GAMES, THE SILENT PARTNER, DIE HARD — our crook even anticipates Alan Rickman’s lovely line, when accused of being a common criminal — “I like to think of myself as an UNcommon criminal.” And it’s true — he walks into the bank with nothing but a commanding attitude and respectable manner, gets the manager alone, and threatens his wife with electrocution if he doesn’t assist in cleaning out the vault. A phone call from the panicked family cinches the deal. (On the Bill Rebane box set I had a part in, you can find a short film he made advising bankers on how to deal with this kind of problem.)

Based on an (evidently very good) play by Kiwi writer Jacques Gillies (born in Gore, New Zealand, he gives the town’s name to his smooth criminal), adapted without needless opening-out by American David T. Chantler and Brit Lewis Greifer, and very skillfully handled by director Quentin Lawrence, this is persistently gripping, first by making you hate the banker, who is mean to his staff for the first fifteen minutes, and then by making you empathise with him as he’s ruthlessly exploited and humiliated by the robber.

The very good news is that the banker is Peter Cushing and the thief is André Morell.

Cushing is a brilliant Scrooge — his usual clipped manner and precise movement is applied to a callous, somewhat OCD character (shades of Richard Sackler in Dopesick), a man you get all excited about loathing, and then have to feel for (unlike Richard Sackler in Dopesick, though the writers and actor Michael Stuhlbarg do imbue him with a certain creepy humanity). The film’s courageously quiet opening sequence gives us the pleasure of just watching Cushing do stuff. Entering his office at the start, he brushes a speck from his coat while hanging it, elaborately folds his scarf over a raised knee, and lovingly drapes it around his hanging coat so that the coat is now wearing the scarf as if it were a person.

This is all done so that for the rest of the film, when he starts coming apart under the strain, you can see it in the way his mannerisms become shaky and twitchy and sloppy. “We admired very much the precision of his movements within the frame,” said Martin Scorsese of his gang’s Times Square grindhouse Hammer experiences, and Cushing is indeed a very controlled, technical actor. But here he also becomes devastatingly moving — his technique is always allied to, and an expression of, genuine emotion.

Turning the screws on Scrooge is Morell, who really should have played more baddies on this evidence. His “Colonel Gore Hepburn” has steely glint and scary jollity, a sense almost of suppressed mania under a tweedy military bearing. Absolutely commanding. I always liked him, and this reminded me why: it may be his best work in movies. He was a smashing Dr. Watson to Cushing’s excitable Holmes in HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (I wish Hammer had made more with that pairing) but villainy liberates him.

And the movie is a proper Christmas film, beginning with a street Santa and dropping in references to the festive season throughout. It snows, too. You should absolutely check it out if you’re looking for unconventional holiday viewing — it even has the required uplift, after putting you through George Bayley type torture for 89 minutes.

CASH ON DEMAND stars Professor Lawrence Van Helsing; Professor Bernard Quatermass; Dr. Hugo Fassbender; and Alderman Poot.

So good they named it nice

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 28, 2021 by dcairns

Watched Pretend It’s a City on Netflix and CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? on Prime, and so I have nothing to show for it. That’s one problem with streaming services, if you’re (a) acquisitive and (b) like to frame-grab.

Netflix’s algorithm is so stupid that it never suggested the Scorsese-Leibovitz documentary series, despite my watching THE IRISHMAN, so I didn’t know about it until I read a letter in Sight & Sound complaining about the indifferent review it had received. I don’t believe S&S should bother printing letters in which readers complain about reviews they disagree with, because that’s dumb, but I was glad to learn of the series’ existence.

Unlike Scorsese-stamped things like the Bob Dylan series and the George Harrison series, this is (a) really interesting and (b) imbued with Scorsese’s personality, mainly because he’s in it, but also because the film clips and music are clearly more his sensibility than Fran Leibowitz’s. So you get a perfect blendship. One of the great pleasures of the show, which is FL’s observations on New York and life therein is the sight and sound of Scorsese hunched up with helpless mirth, almost constantly. A joyous thing.

Fiona had been keen to see CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? since it came out but we hadn’t gotten to it. It’s really very good. Outstanding central perfs (Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant carry pretty well every scene) and a lovely sense of the city. The soundtrack is beautifully chosen — like the Scorsese series, it’s eclectic (Scorsese casts his net wider than usual) but everything seems to marry together and forge a style.

CYEFM? should also be studied for the way it gets the viewer on the side of an “unsympathetic” character (actually she’s extremely sympathetic) and how it portrays someone in a miserable situation (capitalism, basically) without making the audience despondent, inclined to withdraw. Of course the rules of drama favour characters who find some means to struggle against what’s oppressing them, and therefore favour those who resort to crime… I was cheering the larcenous lead on all the way, saying to Fiona, “No, this is a good plan…”

So, now I like Marielle Heller not just as an actor but as a director, and the good news is I have a charity-shop-purchased DVD of A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD all ready to run.

Current Reading

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on February 17, 2021 by dcairns

I typically have a bunch of books open, most of them at page seventeen. I’m really enjoying Made Men, Glenn Kenny’s making-of GOODFELLAS book. There are books about RAGING BULL and TAXI DRIVER but I consider them trash, this one is the real gold. Every aspect of the film’s production, reception and influence, but also all the true crime stuff it’s derived from. Mental note: never attempt a monograph on any film that lacks a true crime angle.

It’s taken me ages to get near the finish but only because I had this feature film to make. Which turned out markedly longer than any of the films of the guy it’s about, so that’s an achievement of sorts. We didn’t have time to make it shorter.

But I’m also greatly enjoying Goin’ Crazy with Sam Peckinpah and All Our Friends, an “as told to” in which Robert Nott is being told and Max Evans is doing the telling. David Weddle’s Peckinpah biography, If They Move, Kill ‘Em!, is terrific, and often reads like a litany of atrocious behaviour that makes you laugh and wince at the same time, the literary-cinephile equivalent of being tickled with appendicitis. Well, the Max Evans memoir literally IS just a litany of atrocious behaviour. I’m only a few chapters in but Peckinpah has already tried to kill his friend. Resulting in Evans keeping an appointment the next day soaking wet, sine Peckinpah had chosen drowning as his method… Evans is admiring Gene Kelly’s art collection while squidging about in sodden cowboy boots.