Archive for My Fair Lady

Primal Screen

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on August 7, 2012 by dcairns

The first movie I was taken to see as a kid was DR DOLITTLE, the Cinemascope bloater coughed up by 20th Century Fox in an attempt to  make a roadshow family picture which capitalized on Rex Harrison’s turn as a lovable misogynist in MY FAIR LADY.

This is a history lesson.

Firstly, I was born the year of the film’s release, and I don’t think my parents took me as a baby, so that tells you something — tattered, speckled prints of this gigantic flopperoo were still circulating tiredly in the provinces at least three years after the film died like an obese dog (looking up mournfully, tail wagging in a sluggish but heartbreakingly hopeful manner) at the box office. Film distribution was clearly a whole different thing in the early seventies.

Three seems to be the age at which most children are introduced to the movies. I guess these introductions are managed a bit more carefully now, with the aid of the mass media and so on…

My parents report that my first response to a movie on the big screen was to start bawling. Nobody had told me it would be dark in the cinema.

Now, I just half-watched the film (I wouldn’t attempt a proper review without whole-watching a film, but DR D does rather resist the full attention) with the intent of checking to see if I remember anything about it.

There was one image in my head, divorced from any of the glimpses of the film I’ve caught on TV over the years, and from the bits everybody knows are in it, like Harrison speak-singing “If I Could Talk to the Animals.” I had an image of a ship, or possibly a raft, on a stormy sea at night. But for some reason I had a doubt that the image might have come from Altman’s POPEYE, another family film that flopped, released much much later, which I also saw at the cinema.

The image is there! It’s a couple of hours into the film (which is purportedly about a voyage but takes that long to get properly under sail). The ship gets wrecked and then the characters are on rafts. “I told you Flounder was a terrible name for a ship.” Whereas Robin Williams in POPEYE begins the film on a raft, at sea, at night in a storm.

I suddenly flashed on the possibility that my parents had turned up in the middle of the film. We did that sometimes in those days. I certainly remember double features where we entered midway through the B-picture. Yes, there were films running in repertory then, and double bills (Roger Moore as Bond, Godzilla versus whoever was around, HERBIE VS CHRISTINE) and people still sometimes turned up without consulting the listings and went to see whatever was on, regardless of whether it had started. Alfred Hitchcock tried to wipe out this deleterious practice by banning late entrants to PSYCHO, but it didn’t completely stop careless punters from turning every film into a non-linear adventure in piecemeal narrative composition.

(I still quite like seeing a film where I’ve caught a bit of it years ago and never knew what it was or what was going on…)

So I suspect I was a distressed three-year-old because I was dragged into a giant dark auditorium in the middle of a scary sea-storm at night. Dark in the cinema and dark onscreen. Maybe an usherette with a torch to add further nocturnal drama and hushed urgency, maybe not. Maybe not, maybe we entered during the ads or trailers like civilized people, I don’t know.

I think I was repelled by the pushme-pullyou, also. Say what you like, it’s not natural.

Frankenstein Must Be a Freud

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2008 by dcairns

Headshrinker.

Well, he describes himself as an expert in psychiatry at one point in FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN…

“I always regarded ‘Baron Frankenstein’ as a forerunner to Dr. Christian Barnard, the South African surgeon who was the first man to transplant the human heart, which he did in 1967…” ~ Peter Cushing.

That same year, as I was working up to getting born, Cushing returned to the role of Dr. F in the third canonical Terence Fisher-Peter Cushing-Hammer-Frankenstein, which Fiona and I looked at again as part of our week-long Frankathon

Strange film! After the extremely neat dovetailing of the first two films in the series, this delivers a bit of a jolt, continuity-wise. After last seeing Frankenstein ensconsed in a thriving Harley Street practice and a new, but identical body, it’s kind of a shock to see him experimenting with soul-catching force fields in Europe, his hands mysteriously mutilated… it would seem the fabled Frankenstein sequence is not as coherent as advertised — unless you do what we’re doing, and swap this film with MUST BE DESTROYED. That explains the Baron’s burned hands, at least.

But to briefly consider this film in the light of the year it was made:

Almost a decade had passed since director Terence Fisher’s last visit to the lab, and in the interim screenwriter John Elder had given us EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN for director Freddie Francis. Francis was a very competent director who was sometimes actually inspired (he was a seriously brilliant cameraman, whose work on THE INNOCENTS and THE ELEPHANT MAN should be enough to earn him immortality, without the need for Frankenstein’s soul-catcher) but he couldn’t do much with Elder’s wandering, unstructured script. Jimmy Sangster might cheerfully own up to being not the world’s best screenwriter, but he’s a veritable Joe Mankiewicz compared to Hinds.

Alas, Hinds does duty as writer on this one as well, and having, in EVIL, sabotaged the careful continuity of Sangster’s work, here he procedes to ride roughshod over his OWN continuity. One of the weird things about EVIL is the way it’s a sequel that contains its own original. This also happens in EVIL DEAD II, which begins by reprising the first film. Elder fits his remake of CURSE into an insanely prolonged flashback, reminding us of all the stuff that should be pretty obvious from the framing story — like, how Frankenstein is this guy who’s made a monster… In this alternative universe, the Baron’s first monster WASN’T destroyed in an acid bath, but frozen, to be revived later on, in this movie…

I’m going to stop writing about EVIL OF now because it makes my head hurt (oh, for a sharp bone saw and some forceps). On to FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN, which has the benefit of a groovy title (although I’d prefer it to go all out and begin with “…AND”) and a slightly less shaky narrative. Elder’s biggest mistakes this time are, in order of egregiousness:

1) Ignoring both Sangster’s and his own continuity. Not only has Frankenstein aquired a new lab and assistant (an uncharacteristically muted Thorley Walters as a drunken old village doctor) but a new speciality, physics. He spends the film’s first half wasting our time with his force field, which may be novel but rather lacks the gory frissons of his early surgical experiments. 

2) Beginning far too early, a recurring Hammer problem (I always cite CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT as the daftest, since it begins, for no reason, with the protagonists’ birth). This one starts off in a supporting characters’ childhood, in what seems to be a borrowing from Frank Borzage’s sublime MOONRISE: our loveable stooge Hans (there’s ALWAYS a character called Hans, and usually a Karl and a Kleve, for some reason), having witnessed his father’s execution on the guillotine, feels predestined for the same fate.

3) Metaphysical crimes. Suddenly Cushing’s Baron is obsessed with THE SOUL, which never interested him before. The whole plot could have been made to work with brain transplants, which would have taken less time to set up and would have been consistent with the Baron’s M.O. as established in three previous films. The film’s soul transplant never makes much sense, but it IS intriguing.

A progressive touch: a disabled, unmarried character with a sex life.

4) Crude characterisation. Three Vicious Local Toffs are set up early on, and their characters fail to develop beyond being V.L.T.s for the whole running time. During the first forty mins they endlessly repeat their basic cycle of nasty behaviours, taking forever to actually set the plot in motion. Once they do, Hans is executed for a murder they committed, his disabled girlfriend drowns herself (oh, what hours of misery Lars Von Trier could make of this!) and “Baron Frankenthing” as a local yokel calls him, can finally do something, implanting the captured soul of Hans in the repaired body of his beloved, Krista.

5) For some reason, this causes her to go blond.

Frankenstein’s personality is a little different here, but I’m not going to call that a fault, just a difference. As in EVIL, there’s more of a sense of Dr. F as a Great Man Surrounded By Fools, persecuted for his genius by an uncaring world. There are certainly hints of the old callous bastard Sangster created and Cushing brought to unapologetic life, but mostly this is a reformed Frankenstein who generally means well. He’s a little warmer, more concerned with justice, and altogether less rapey than the Baron seen in MUST BE DESTROYED. Maybe his experience almost being roasted alive by Freddie Jones has reformed him somewhat.

When Dr. F testifies as a character witness for his unjustly accused assistant (Cushing idles in the witness box, flicking through the bible he’s sworn on — “Looking for loopholes,” Fiona suggests) he makes a poor job of it, but one feels he meant well. If Sangster were writing this, he’d have Cushing deliberately condemn Hans, just so he could get his body (and soul) to experiment on. Which would have given Cushing a lot more to bite into, actually.

Elder redeems himself with Cushing’s zestful seizing of the opportunity to abduct the executed man’s soul. He’s his old cold-blooded self again, arguing against asking his subject’s permission: “He might refuse.”

Capturing the human soul with a satellite dish and a carrot.

The mystery and majesty of the human soul — stripped bare! And if that doesn’t suit you, we have Susan Denberg.

Then we get a very odd remake of MY FAIR LADY/PYGMALION, with Cushing and Walters making a lady out of, well, in this case, a cadaver, and granting it a male soul. Soon they have her making breakfast for them. Krista is played in both disfigured and reanimated versions by starlet Susan Denberg, a slightly controversial figure. Here’s what the IMDb has to say:

Mini Biography

After becoming immersed in the 60s high life of drugs and sex, Denberg left show business and returned to Austria. News interviews at the time show a depressed Denberg in the company of her mother, at home in Klagenfurt. These news items, repeated in fan periodicals for years, gave the impression Denberg was suicidal or had already died. Actually, she is still alive.

Spouse: Tony Scotti (? – 1968) (her death)

So, according to this, she died in 1968 but is still alive. Shades of her character in this film.

(Tony Scotti, incidentally, had his moment of fame in VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, playing a character with a truly beyond-fabulous name: Tony Polar. I propose a new sequel, TONY POLAR MEETS FRANKENSTEIN. The Baron, rendered immortal by injections of spinal fluid, has set up shop as a plastic surgeon in Vegas, where a reclusive Howard Hughes type is sponsoring him to create the Perfect Woman from murdered showgirls. Only Tony Polar can stop him!)

PYGMALION soon collides with THE BRIDE WORE BLACK as Denberg, urged on by her lover’s transplanted soul (?), begins wiping out the V.L.T.’s who caused his death. Confusingly, the soul’s urgings seems to emanate from his severed head, even though it’s supposed to be inside HER, according to the Baron. Logic was never Elder’s strong suit. What follows should be immensely satisfying, as the horrible V.L.T.s (who include Derek Fowlds of TV sitcom Yes, Minister) are bloodily murdered, but it’s somehow all a little underdone. Frankenstein becomes the Man Who Knew And Tried To Warn Them, kept under house arrest by the authorities until it’s too late. Leaving Thorley Walters to ineffectually drop out of the narrative, Cushing arrives at the scene of Denberg’s last murder too late to do anything but witness her suicide.

In a welcome nod to NIGHT MUST FALL, she’s been trotting around with Hans’ head in a hatbox. Now she drowns herself, AGAIN. As usual, she transforms into a burly, gallumphing stuntman.

The film has more ideas than REVENGE, to be fair to it, but many of them are not the kind of ideas that can be usefully exploited for horror purposes. The business with trapping the soul is echoed in a howlingly wonderful ’70s weirdfest  called THE ASPHYX, with the Roberts Stephens and Newton Powell attempting to trap the “death force” in a similar fashion, and similarly, that film fails to actually behave like a horror film (but it does contain my favourite ever mind-boggling line, yelled by Stephens in a crescendo of passion: “Was the smudge trying to warn Clive of danger?”).

So, once again, Baron Frankenstein lives to operate again (although throughout this film he requires the buffoonish Walters’ assistance, since his hands are maimed — when did this happen?). I think it might have been nicer if Hammer had gone to the trouble of killing him off each time, as they did in CURSE, and then beginning the next film by explaining how he escaped death. REVENGE breaks with this pattern by showing Cushing die AND be resurrected at the end, which is OK too. But having the Baron just sort of wander off, as he does here, is a little less than awesome.

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