Archive for Michael Ripper

The Murderers

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 8, 2014 by dcairns

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“Larry is deeply, and I mean deeply, stupid,” says Orson Welles to Henry Jaglom. But it can’t have been altogether true, can it? Of course, some great artists may be brilliant in their own field and painfully naive outside of it, but I’d hold up Olivier’s first three films as evidence that he had something on the ball. Of course, they each have one foot in theatre, and so does their star — how could it be otherwise? But when a filmmaker like Polanski comes out and says Olivier was a great movie director, one should take notice.

I enjoyed Olivier’s RICHARD III in its splendidly restored Criterion release, looking brand new and almost painfully crisp. Fiona disliked his nose and didn’t stay for the rest. “It’s not human!” she protested. I pointed to Douglas Wilmer, down the cast list a bit, sporting a comparable schnozzola. “I think Larry saw that and said ‘Get me one of those.’” Both snouts proceed at a thirty degree angle like an exact continuation of the actors’ foreheads. I was still marveling at this feat of nature and the makeup department when Stanley Baker shows up with his brow overhanging dangerously, a cranial escarpment that defies gravity. His eyes look like they’re straining to hold it all up.

Olivier apparently felt he made a mistake casting Ralph Richardson, and wished he could have gotten Orson for the part of Buckingham. I see his problem — Richardson is a shade too real. While Gielgud makes a song out of everything, and Olivier is Mr. Punch made flesh, Richardson plays a political villain with no hint of artificial “characterisation” — he just says the words beautifully, guided by their rhythm, letting his steely, slightly mad stare hold our attention. Explaining his decision to use theatrical sets in HENRY V, Olivier said he feared otherwise the audience would say, “So that’s a house, and that’s a tree, and that’s a field; why is everyone talking so funny?” Heightened artifice in the production design matches Shakespeare’s blank verse. So the problem with Richardson is that his very convincing-ness isn’t in keeping. It’s not that he’s naturalistic — Richardson was slightly unreal even in real life — it’s just that he’s not one the (putty) nose, like everyone else. If Olivier’s Richard is a villain, what is Ralph? I expected him to turn out to be a good guy.

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We also get a nubile Bernard Hepton (I think I spotted him blowing a bugle), also credited quaintly for “sword play”, but most enchanting are the murderers, played by Michaels Gough & Ripper, two giants of the Hammer horror realm which doesn’t even exist in 1955. But who could be better? I’m reminded that Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are both in Olivier’s HAMLET, separately. Presumably, when I watch HENRY V again, I’m going to suddenly recognize Madeline Smith and Ingrid Pitt.

Towards the end, Richard draws the positions of his troops in the dust using his sword-point. And Olivier cuts to a wide of Bosworth Field, and the full-scale army is painted into place by a giant sword-tip, descending lightly from the heavens. Maybe it’s the kind of thing that, when you have something like it, you need to have a couple more things like it to make it fit into the overall style. But it’s brilliant and bold and breathtaking — this man is not stupid.

Cats in the Brain

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2010 by dcairns

“The latter was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree.”

Both Lucio Fulci’s THE BLACK CAT and Sergio Martino’s more memorably titled YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY rework Poe’s “immortal classic” in lurid and rambling fashion, only really returning at the end to play the climax “straight”. Which kind of seems a mistake, since the visualisation of a recognised story flattens the delirium they’re otherwise aiming to evoke.

Bonuses include the charm of Fulci enacting his usual vicious brutality, with familiarly over-exposed, fumbling special effects, in a leafy English village — Fulci seems to have liked England, he set several movies there. There’s also the acting — Patrick Magee hams it up for Fulci (theory: by pushing his actors into extreme and contorted styles of playing, Kubrick may have actually ruined them — Nicholson was never quite the same after THE SHINING, and as for Magee…) in an amusingly out-of-control manner, palsied and weirdly enunciated.

The acting in Martino’s film is more traditionally “good”, with Anita Strindberg and Luigi Pistilli genuinely, uncomfortably unappealing in the leads, and some welcome sex appeal shipping in by the reliably underdressed Edwige Fenech. What disappointed me was the lack of swooning beauty and striking images, which are what I go to Italian horror for. I counted two lovely moments, though ~

When a preposterously over-the-top prostitute shows up in town, her near-instantaneous murder is a depressing inevitability. This disturbing little scene is one of the last things she sees. Love the doll.

Gratuitous lesbian love scene — with rather striking dissolve from two silhouettes.

Fulci being the mad doctor he is, his movie has a more consistent visual quality, with low-flying cat POV shots, and the cat himself is full of personality. Plot revolves — or spins, rather — around Magee’s tendency to astrally project his spirit into the cat and use it to do his murderous bidding, a sort of feline MONKEY SHINES avant la lettre.

By chance, in revisiting Freddie Francis and Robert Bloch’s horror compendium TORTURE GARDEN, for the sake of the third episode, in which Peter Cushing keeps a reanimated Poe in his cellar, churning out new tales of Mystery and the Imagination*, I realised that the film’s first episode was very much Poe-derived. Michael Bryant (a sort of Martin Amis type, crisply fervid with ciggie) murders a supposedly wealthy uncle (enabling Francis to repeat some of the persecuted-person-in-a-wheelchair he tried out first for Karel Reisz when he shot NIGHT MUST FALL) — so far, so Tell-Tale Heart. Then he unearths a coffin with a headless skeleton and a very much alive cat. This one isn’t pure black, so it photographs with more personality. As it psychically brainwashes Bryant, he speaks aloud the transmitted thoughts: as he says “you’re hungry,” Francis cuts to the little fellow licking his chops. Francis’s horrors always have a cheeky sense of humour.

* Cushing and Jack Palance are both huge fun (Cushing gets a drunks scene) and Francis blocks their conversations very nicely, and I don’t mind that the set wall visibly wobbles during their fight and I’m more bemused than annoyed that Palance plays a Brit and Cushing a yank, but really, the ending falls apart disastrously. It’s amusing that the great Poe collector has actually collected Poe himself, but the pay-off ought to involve something of the author’s personality, not just some diabolical double-cross. Still, the rest of the film has magnificent stuff from Burgess Meredith (as Dr Diablo) and Michael Ripper (as the personification of ubiquity).

For Anne Billson.

Frankenstein Must be Enjoyed

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2008 by dcairns

We have been watching…

Well, the second Terence Fisher / Jimmy Sangster / Hammer Frankenstein film, REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (there’s no revenge) was one I was curious to see again, mainly because I had terrible memories of it. It’s without any real monster, which put me off as a kid. I guess the point is, Cushing IS the monster.

One of the nice things about the Hammer Franks is their continuity, and this one certainly plays fair, beginning exactly at the end of CURSE OF, with Peter Cushing’s Baron being led to his appointment with Madame Guillotine. But with the aid of a hunchbacked assistant (where did he come from? well, the continuity isn’t perfect) Cushing escapes, decapitating the priest instead. Good! He was an officious jerk in the first film, that priest.

Then Sangster’s script provides one of its better moments of humour, as two grave robbers (Hammer stalwart Michael Ripper, and Britain’s greatest expressionist, Lionel Jeffries) dig up the Baron’s coffin and find a headless priest. As Cushing steps from the shadows, Ripper flees and Jeffries suffers a heart attack. Cushing’s contemptuous shrug in response to the stranger collapsed in his grave is pure comedy gold.

Banned in Sweden!

We next encounter Cushing operating (wantonly) under the pseudonym of Dr. Stein. He’s got a thriving medical practice, and also runs the poor hospital, where he’s merrily harvesting healthy limbs from the poor of the parish in order to create a substantially improved monster (Michael Gwynn). This one, a departure from Christopher Lee’s “road accident” look, just has a few facial scars. The new body is to be repository for the hunchback’s brain — the Baron has found a happy volunteer, for once.

Sangster smartly plants the hunchback’s infatuation with socialite Eunice Gayson (who would go on to appear in the first two Bond films as Sylvia Trench: the Bond girl with the least sexy name) before the brain transplant, and develops it further post-op.

Hammer solemnly swore to the British censor that they would cut this shot — and then didn’t!

Cushing has enlisted a new assistant, Francis Matthews, who proves less scrupulous than his first, effectively blackmailing the baron into teaching him his advanced scientific knowledge — which, as always with Jimmy Sangster, consists of complete nonsense. In the first film we’re told that a brilliant mind will transform the scarred-up visage of Christopher Lee into a handsome and noble countenance. In this one we learn that a chimpanzee transplanted with the brain of an orang-utan suffered a “burst brain cell” and became a cannibal. This is to have dire consequences for our poor hunchback.

But not too dire: probably for censorship reasons, when Gwynn goes berserk after being punched about by a sadistic janitor (inefficiently, Sangster gives much screen time to one janitor, then gives the plot point to someone we’ve barely seen) he’s allowed to look at the beefy corpse and salivate, but then he gets himself under control and runs off, his hunched back reasserting itself in some completely spurious way, defying even the tenuous “logic” of Sangster’s script.

“It’s a shame, because he’s quite good, and he’s doing the best he can…with what they’ve given him,” said Fiona of Gwynn’s performance. He does that John Barrymore thing of trying to suggest a monstrous transformation just by pulling faces — always dicey. I liked him as a character, and he’s a good contrast with Christopher Lee’s mute lunk, but he needed more of a decline into savagery.

As always with Sangster, there’s a bit of wholly inappropriate comedy relief right towards the end. Here it’s a courting couple — he’s more interested in ants than making out, so she storms off and gets mauled and possibly slightly eaten by Gwynn, who then dies of natural causes — but not before accidentally exposing Dr. F.’s true identity. A nice scene, with the shabby monster invading a swank concert party. Death as social embarrassment and vice versa.

All the brains are REALLY SMALL — even Frankenstein’s.

Then Frankenstein is “ripped to pieces” by his impoverished victims (they ARE victims, but Sangster portrays them consistently as vile, verminous and criminal — they could have hobbled out of VIRIDIANA). This would feel more like a climax if it had followed directly on from the “monster’s” death, without a bunch of boring piffle with the medical council in between. 

Fortunately for the franchise (hereafter to be referred to as the “Frankenchise”) he’s prepared a duplicate body. HOW??? I refuse to believe you can make a Peter Cushing from bits of corpses: you wouldn’t find cheekbones like that if you searched for years. Nevertheless, this allows Cushing to fake his own death more convincingly than the last time, and we end with him set up in practice in London, name changed from “Dr. Stein” to “Dr. Franck”. At this rate he’s going to wind up calling himself “Dr. En.”

“He burned his own body.” ~ Not a line every actor gets to say.

Freeze frame and roll credits, with a fairly obvious invitation to another sequel. Hammer being the kind of clunky outfit it was, they didn’t manage one for six years, and then it was the non-canonical EVIL OF. So our next visit to Frankenstein’s surgery will be for FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN, in the year of my birth, 1967.

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