Archive for Pamela Franklin

My City 4: The Brodie-Snatcher

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2010 by dcairns

THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE.

Miss Jean Brodie and her girls are spied upon by Robert Stephens from his artist’s garrett as they walk through Greyfriars Churchyard. This is a key location in all versions of GREYFRIARS BOBBY (where the wee dug sits by his master’s grave) and also in Val Lewton and Robert Wise’s film THE BODY SNATCHER, which conflates the Burke and Hare story (as filtered through Robert Louis Stevenson’s fictionalization) with that of Bobby, who is disguised under the stage name Robbie. The low-budget Lewton makes do with an establishing shot of some other church and then plunges into the studio.

The real churchyard (or kirkyard, if you want to be sectarian about it) is quite a place, although difficult to capture on film — the real frissons come from extreme details of the weathered stonework, angels and deathsheads with their features eaten away by wind and rain. But it’s also a useful place because you can look in all directions without much chance of seeing anything too modern.

Fiona and I used to live on Forrest Road, overlooking the cemetery just like Robert Stephens, although I starved one flight up, rather than in a garrett. Trilby, Fiona’s then cat, and my current avatar, once escaped out the window, over another rooftop, and into the hallowed grounds. She returned unharmed the next day, which was a relief, since she was a housecat unused to the ways of the exterior. I don’t know what she’d have done if she’d met Greyfriars Bobby’s ghost — and remember, according to the ancient Egyptians (generally reliable) cats can see the spirits of the departed. You know when you catch your cat staring fixedly at nothing…?

A strange feature of the place, just about visible above, is the way some of the grave markers are actually built into the walls of residences surrounding the graveyard. Also, many of the graves are enclosed in little stone buildings with gates that lock, which is largely a protection against body-snatchers. St John’s Churchyard, a short distance away on the corner of Princes Street and Lothian Road, even has a watch-tower to allow a guard to keep an eye out for nocturnal speculators armed with shovels.

The cemetery was used again in BURKE AND HARE: THE MUSICAL, a film I wrote sometime in the last century. Had Burke and Hare ever actually engaged in graverobbing (which is unknown — they were arrested for mass murder, having followed the simpler practice of generating fresh corpses rather than harvesting them from the earth), Greyfriars would probably have been their local place of work.

We were allowed to plant little wooden crosses so we could pretend to dig up a fresh grave. The cemetery is apparently full of unmarked graves, including that of William McGonagall, the world’s worst poet (an influence on both WC Fields and Spike Milligan). It seems likely the grounds may have once been peppered with pauper’s markers. To fake the grave-robbery, a fake mound of earth was erected — no hole was actually dug. The corpse here is played by Simon Vickery, a talented cameraman.

A prostitute who winds up on a slab is played by genius director Morag McKinnon, whose feature debut may be getting released this year (I hope so!). And the director of B&H, Stephen Murphy, now earns a living in special makeup effects, notably on the HARRY POTTER films. Meanwhile, I have a screenplay to write, so –

[sound of echoing footsteps diminishing in the distance]

Misadventures in Babysitting

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , on March 4, 2008 by dcairns

This is a low-budget kids’ short I made for BBC Scotland and Scottish Screen’s Tartan Smalls scheme. It was fun to do Joe 90 sci-fi props and muck about with a childs’ eye view. But I guess I’ll never be Carol Reed or Alexander Mackendrick when it comes to directing kids. These boys were really good, but I didn’t know how to get the best out of them. I gained a lot of experience directing a couple episodes of a kids’ show called INTERGALACTIC KITCHEN afterwards, and feel I could do a lot better now.

But here’s how it SHOULD be done:

I like how the (very) little girl doesn’t seem to have been CONTROLLED, so much as turned loose with her dialogue. She swivels around and fidgets and she’s constantly in RANDOM MOTION, like a real kid.

It’s from THE NANNY, script by Jimmy Sangster, directed by Seth Holt. S.H. was an interesting chap whose career crosses from Ealing (he produced THE LADYKILLERS) to Hammer (he died – of hiccups — while making BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB). Holt was singled out by the iconoclasts at Movie magazine as representing the best hope for British cinema to escape its literary-inspired “tradition of quality” and achieve some kind of robust, authentic, home-grown cinema. It didn’t quite happen.

Holt’s NANNY star Bette Davis described him as “a tower of evil” and “the most ruthless director I have worked with apart from William Wyler,” which I assume was intended as praise, since Bette had a tempestuous affair with Wyler and made three great films with him. I wish she’d made more with Holt! Perhaps his failure to sleep with her ended that collaboration.

Come to Nanny

I can see why Movie rated Holt so highly — he’s gutsy, clever, and in THE NANNY, genuinely inventive and capable of exercising a tight grip on the audience’s emotions. TASTE OF FEAR (AKA SCREAM OF FEAR), the film Movie singled out as showing signs of real promise, is an above-par DIABOLIQUES clone with effective frissons (a corpse seated at the bottom of a murky swimming pool traumatized a young Tom Hanks when his mother mistakenly took him to see the film!). Even a piece of hokum like BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB has points of interest, from its frenzied character performances to its knock-out ending, which seems to anticipate Polanski’s THE TENANT.

More kidstuff: THE NANNY also features a turn from Perky Pam herself, Pamela Franklin, a Shadowplay favourite for her work in THE INNOCENTS and AND SOON THE DARKNESS.

And Soon The Dotrice

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

Skies 

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.

Tranny

Can

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.

Thighs

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

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