Archive for O Dreamland

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.


“A walnut.”


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


“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.

Intertitle of the Week: “What’s this?”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2008 by dcairns

My last post of Shadowplay Year One!


Comic redundancy in Abel Gance’s AU SECOURS! (HELP!), starring comedy immortal Max Linder.

Here, in a shot borrowed from a Griffith gangster melodrama, a street Apache lurks in wait for the unsuspecting Max, who’s on his way to the club. Cut to:


This shot milks the audience for poignancy/dramatic irony, since we can see both the lurking threat and the approaching victim, who’s all unawares. Classic split-composition suspense. But, spotting something on the ground, Max stops in the nick of.


Amusingly, the shadow of the arm with the knife rises and falls like a clockwork automaton at a seaside show (I’ve never been to a seaside show with clockwork automata and you probably haven’t either, but just think of Lindsay Anderson’s O DREAMLAND). The artificiality of the gesture calls attention to the melodramatic tradition that’s being mocked here.


In the best Hitchcock manner, though Hitch has barely started his career, Gance goes to a closer shot of Max’s reaction, which adds context both to the POV shot, and also to the upcoming intertitle. Mainly, of course, it allows us to observe Max’s reaction, which is concerned, yet still suave.


The zinger. I’m pretty sure the filmmakers’ are aware of how fatuous it is to spell out the situation like this, and that’s the joke. It certainly works. Looking at some of Gance’s talkies, it’s possible to wonder if he’s in on the joke, but the visual sophistication of his silent work speaks for itself (although he did pioneer incoherently fast cutting, so he has a lot to answer for — but the snowball-fight in NAPOLEON is still vastly preferably to Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS, let’s face it).

Asides from lots of lovely moments like this, AU SECOURS! features ghosts, sauciness, wit, daring, ’20s melodramatic stylings, experimental camera techniques, surrealism, slapstick, and amazing work from the man Linder, who goes from dapper man-about-town to sobbing wreck in a manner that’s actually TOO convincing for comedy. The film isn’t hysterically funny, or at least its effects aren’t unified in purpose the way they might be in a Keaton… a lot of the biggest laughs stem from the sheer weirdness and inappropriateness of the imagery, which has the quality of nightmare at all times — moments like the one above contribute greatly, by giving the thing an amateur-dramatics stiltedness which closely approximates the dream-state: see CARNIVAL OF SOULS for more examples of this effect.

Part One:

To Be Continued…