Archive for Michelle Dotrice

Cat’s in the Bag

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 25, 2015 by dcairns


THE WITCHES (1966) predates ROSEMARY’S BABY but isn’t as good — but it really does play many of the same tricks, with the audience meant to be unsure if Joan Fontaine is crazy or if the charming English village really is swarming with diabolists. THE WICKER MAN is also strongly recalled by the rural terror angle.

Of course, we were watching because the movie is scripted by Nigel Kneale. I don’t suppose many people watch for director Cy Frankel. Poor Cy. Fontaine’s casting suggests all those Hollywood horrors in which former leading ladies are cruelly reshaped as monsters, from BABY JANE on, but in fact she’s playing a fairly resourceful heroine, and the movie is more inclined to ignore her age rather than exploit it for queasy chills.


Fontaine could have used a stronger director, though — she overacts horribly in places. Shown round her new cottage home, she pulls hyperactive cutesy faces at everything, like a neurotic schoolmarm. Admittedly, she’s playing the character of a neurotic schoolmarm, But you don’t want to play a neurotic schoolmarm LIKE a neurotic schoolmarm. It makes for an appalling display. But she reins it in later.


How to seduce Joan Fontaine #3,412: Cod Psychology.

Lots of other pleasures in the cast — Kay Walsh, Duncan Lamont (the jumping leaping man from QUATERMASS AND THE PIT) and Leonard Rossiter in the Charles Grodin part, as a doctor we can’t quite be sure about. Plus Michelle Dotrice, who gets all horny at the black mass, just as she would in BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW, still playing a teenager five years later. Between these two films lies Robert Fuest’s tense AND SOON THE DARKNESS, so there’s a trilogy of terror alright, but the world is still waiting for La Dotrice to get overexcited at her third sabbat.


The erotic power of the bowl.

It’s a shame the film leaves the sleepy/creepy village for a stretch in the middle, breaking off some nicely building suspense, and one could have wished the final plot revelations had been fed in more gradually. But the idea of an aging person planning to insert their consciousness into a younger donor body is very interesting — the same idea is used in NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT, but with a mad science angle rather than sorcery. And we get another great Kneale rhyme —

Grow me a gown with golden down,
Cut me a robe from toe to lobe,
Give me a skin for dancing in.

Maybe it comes from the book, I don’t know, but it sounds like him.

The one truly alarming bit is this —

The cat in the bag — a cloth doll twitching on the floor, repulsive and uncanny and incomprehensible until we realize what it is we’re looking at.


Poor kitty!

And Soon The Dotrice

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 29, 2008 by dcairns


Robert Fuest’s first film, AND SOON THE DARKNESS, starts with two Brits, Pamela Franklin and Michelle Dotrice (pronounced “dough-treece”) on the world’s most boring holiday, cycling across a totally flat stretch of French countryside. They stop at a roadside bar ~

“Did you get your bum pinched?”

“No, that’s Italy. They’ll do anything in Italy.”

“What’re we doing in France then?”

This slightly smutty, un-PC girltalk gets things off to a good start, striking one as credible and well-observed, and the actresses handle it well. Franklin had played little Flora in Jack Clayton’s THE INNOCENTS, and Dotrice went on to co-star in the hugely successful 70s sitcom SOME MOTHERS DO ‘AVE ‘EM, and both are terrific, naturalistic players, who always feel overheard rather than performative.

The Girl with Green Eyes

Fuest, fresh from designing and directing episodes of TV’s The Avengers, has a passable thriller plot by Brian Clemens and Terry Nation (both from that show — Nation also created the Daleks): Dotrice vanishes and Franklin finds the entire countryside is populated only with red herrings — and one sex-killer.

The central premise sometimes feels like an expansion of the build-up to Hitchcock’s cropduster attack in NORTH BY NORTHWEST — unseen terror in a landscape of limitless,blank horizons. Though in fact the bright flatness does yield to tangled woods, presenting a contrast between total visibility with nothing to see, and dense impenetrability where something may be lurking millimetres away.

Fuest, one of the great director-designers, has handicapped himself with a film where there seems to be nothing to design, but he exercises his eye with strong compositions and a sensitivity to objects, both the shiny kind brought by the tourists, and the rusty local equipment.



He’s also attentive enough, without being lecherous, to his leading ladies. They spend the whole film in tight, huge shorts — this is a film very much focussed on the plump white thighs of young English womanhood, and white panties hung to dry on a tree are a major plot point, but Fuest’s interest is frank rather than salacious. He doesn’t have the slightly seedy intensity of someone like Nicholas Roeg, who is rather too concerned with the passage of Jenny Agutter’s knickers up and down her thighs (Roeg was — maybe IS — a swinger, I’ve been told — parties, car keys, the whole bit — which makes total sense when you put it together with his films). Indeed, Fuest’s DR PHIBES films may be proto-slasher movies, but they’d more concerned with killing esteemed British character actors than busty dolly birds, which makes them rather refreshing in their sadism.


The plot slips into variations on THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE — of course she’s going to cold-cock a suspected killer and run smack into the waiting arms of the real killer, but it has the benefit of that compelling news story subject: something nasty happening to normal young holidaymakers, and despite the title there’s no darkness in sight — Fuest’s credit even appears over sunlight glinting through leaves, and the whole action takes place on a single day under blue skies… though a storm is predicted…

Wet Afternoon

Suggested Fever Dream Double Feature: THE VANISHING (original Dutch version), or make it a Dotrice double with the mind-blowing ~The Crow

The Colour Of Mana

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2007 by dcairns

Crowden in da house.


Loitering within tent.




Stills from THE FINAL PROGRAMME, an amazing pop-sci-fi sextravaganza scripted, directed and designed by the enormous Robert Fuest. Here we see dashing, pill-popping Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Jerry Cornelius (bottom) played by Jon Finch (who deserves rediscovery for being sexy and brilliant here) in search of mad scientists Graham Crowden (also to be seen maddening up Lindsay Anderson’s Mick Travis trilogy), Basil Henson and George Coulouris (the only member of the cast in CITIZEN KANE who aged something like his character. More on Prophetic Cinema, and the noble Mr. Crowden, soon).

For a while Fuest was a bright-yet-unrecognised light of British Cinema, but he had the bad luck to come along during the collapse in American funding at the start of the seventies. Initially encouraged, then royally shafted, by what Michael Reeves called “those ponces at A.I.P.”, Fuest combined eye-popping visual flair, a traditionally English love for the eccentric and unruly, and a gleeful sadism. In other words, he was a Michael Powell for the rock ‘n’ roll era.

While Michael Reeves was destroyed by depression, recreational drugs, and psychiatry, Fuest was trashed by the film business itself: THE DEVIL’S RAIN was ludicrously recut by the A.I.P. and the industry in the U.K. imploded, leaving Fuest to mostly stifle in TV work, with only one other feature credit in 1982, an intriguing-sounding softcore drama, APHRODITE.

But before that happened, we get not only the above movie, on which more later, but also the two DR PHIBES comedy-horrors with Vincent Price (a third, PHIBES TRIUMPHANT, was stymied by Fuest’s inability to come up with any more elaborately nasty murders), a sombre, skilled and stylish WUTHERING HEIGHTS, and this location-set, brightly daylit psycho-thriller, AND SOON THE DARKNESS (an odd debut for a former production designer since it requires no sets!):

I like the whispery female VO that comes in partway thru, as if someone’s been watching Godard…


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