Archive for Peeping Tom

Blind Tuesday: Justice is Blind

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2014 by dcairns

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A return of our intermittent series of posts on thrillers about the sightless. This one is kind of a departure though. Nobody in the movie is blind or pretends to be blind.

CRIME UNLIMITED is a 1935 Warner picture made at their UK studio in Teddington. Being post-code, it reconfigures some of the plot tropes of earlier films, adjusted to make them morally uplifting — for instance, James Cagney’s jewelry store scam from BLONDE CRAZY gets trotted out again, only here the perp is an undercover man seeking to ingratiate himself with a gang of heisters, so it’s all above-board, really.

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The leading lady is a heartbreakingly young and succulent Lilli Palmer, but of more interest to our jaded sensibilities is the fact that the hero is played by Esmond Knight. During WWII, Knight was blinded for real during a battle at sea with the Bismarck. He lost one eye and was almost totally blinded in the other — some sight returned to it in his extreme old age. He can be seen, minus glass eye, at the start of ROBIN AND MARIAN, but he played numerous sighted characters for Michael Powell, including a film director (parodying Powell’s own temperamental style) in PEEPING TOM and the Maharajah in BLACK NARCISSUS, which required him to ride a donkey through a forest. “I’ll be fine,” my friend Lawrie reported him as saying, “The donkey doesn’t want to hit a tree any more than I do.”

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Slightly eerily, the CRIME UNLIMITED features scenes where Knight is blindfolded and led to a baddie’s lair.

He also reports to his superiors by standing at a window and moving his lips. A deaf man in the building opposite reads his lips with binoculars and passes the info to Scotland Yard.

The movie is a reasonably enjoyable potboiler, well made (by Hollywood director Ralph Ince) and decently acted. Knight is an adequate leading man, but he was really waiting for a few years to pile on to turn him into a fine character actor. One does miss the more mature moral ambiguity of the pre-code era. One has to settle for fated social attitudes instead — Raymond Lovell plays a club owner in league with the crooks as a nasty Jewish stereotype. A good accents man, the portly Canadian would redeem himself during the war by specialising in Nazis.

Romneyscient

Posted in FILM, Painting, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2014 by dcairns

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I realized just now that I’m so close to being the ultimate web resource for all things Edana Romney (the talent behind CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS, a film I first addressed here)  that I might as well go the whole hog and make sure of it.

Top Shadowplayer La Faustin informed me via Facebook of this curiosity, in which “actress, journalist and advisor on personal problems” Edana Romney oversees the conversion of her Kentish cottage. I don’t know how to interpret that third job description — a sort of agony aunt, a paid confidante to the stars, a therapist? La Faustin has fun imagining an “Ask Myfanwy Conway” column. We also learn that ER is pals with Zachary Scott. La Faustin observes, ” In the movies, at least, ‘pals with Zachary Scott’ means tears before bedtime.” At any rate, the former Mrs Woolf here appears to be single, with a poodle called Kewpie (?) for company.

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See here.

Then I discover that the Romney Archive is held by the University of Southern California (Romney died in that fair state.) We learn that the archive contains extensive research and screenplay drafts for a film on the life of Sir Richard Burton, explorer. (Later, part of the Great Man’s life did make it to the screen in THE MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON, directed by Bob Rafelson.)

The next oddity is a cutting from the Singaporean Free Press, in which we learn that Robert Newton sued Romney in 1950 over a movie offer that never materialised. Newton had been offered the role of Dr Veron, but the article doesn’t say what the film was, what Romney’s involvement in it might be (I’m assuming writer but also producer) or what the whole story is really about. Romney’s sparse screen credits make it clear that the film never materialised.

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Then, luckily, we find this, a portfolio of costume designs for some kind of project about Rachel Eliza Felix, 19th century French tragedienne. The holder of the portfolio, John George Campbell, has worked out that much, and researched the drawings sufficiently to determine that the artist responsible is Owen Hyde Clarke, who also designed dresses for CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS. And among the drawings we find a sketch of Dr. Veron, looking like a camper version of Robert Newton, and so we are able to connect the Singaporean news story with the costume sketch portfolio.

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Thus, Romney’s sparse CV gains two more films, unmade alas.

John Campbell informs me that the RACHEL project was actually planned *before* CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS. The 1951 news story still makes sense considering the grindingly slow nature of the legal system.

Meanwhile, her married name got me thinking, and sure enough a deeper probe into the IMDb revealed that her husband was producer John Woolf, who in 1948 resigned as joint managing director of Rank to set up Romulus Films with his brother James. This allows us to see why Romney, a bit-part actress, was suddenly given a leading role in her own delirious vanity project. It also suggests why there was no successor to CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS — possibly Woolf no longer had the clout to get such peculiar projects off the ground. By 1955 the couple were divorced.

(When Woolf left Rank his place was taken by John Davis, “the man who destroyed the British film industry.” He’s parodied as “Don Jarvis” in PEEPING TOM, made by Michael Powell, one of his many enemies. Interestingly, Woolf’s brother James was equally prone to amour fou, boosting actor Laurence Harvey’s career because he was desperately in love with him.)

One more acting credit, for a 1957 episode of Masterpiece Theatre entitled The Last Flight, intrigues me. Further down the cast lurks Stratford Johns who, like Romney, was born in South Africa. In the early nineties I produced a student film starring Mr Johns, or Alan to his friends. So all this time I was one handshake away from her, but back then I didn’t know who she was and was thus unable to ask her co-star for info. As a fellow countryman, I’m sure he would have made her acquaintance and would have had an opinion of her, probably strong and acidic.

I am feeling sleepy…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2012 by dcairns

THE HYPNOTIC EYE — directed by George Blair, a B-movie hack on the slide into TV, and written by the husband and wife team of William Read Woodfield (also from TV) and Gitta Woodfield (her only screen credit). I think the writing team accounts for the weird pushme-pullyou of the movie’s sexual politics.

(Yes, I am reinvigorating my quest to see every film in A Pictorial History of Horror Movies by Denis Gifford! See REPTILICUS and die!)

Somebody is hypnotizing beautiful women into mutilating their faces, and the police are baffled. Hmm, could it be the stage hypnotist they all saw hours before their disfigurement? The cops ain’t too bright in this movie.

Here’s what I mean about the sex angle — on one level, the movie is sadeian, could easily double-bill or double-date with HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM or PEEPING TOM. On the other hand, the movie seems to like its plucky heroine, resulting in a bit of actual queasy tension when she’s imperiled — the flick is just ruthless enough to carve her kisser up, one feels. The psychology lags way behind that of Powell’s scopophilic monsterpiece (spoiler alert) — the evil hypnotist is himself in thrall to his glamorous assistant, Justine (geddit?), who turns out to be wearing one of those surprisingly convincing rubber masks movie people can apparently buy in the shops to hide those hideously scarred visages that they all have.

Justine is sternly played by Allison Hayes, who played the title role in ATTACK OF THE FIFTY FOOT WOMAN (that is, she played the woman, not the attack).

Movie ends with an apparently quite sincere warning against the dangers of stage hypnotism, which probably didn’t have any redeeming social effect since the act in the movie looks like good fun, and the subsequent horrorshow isn’t too convincing. Probably worth noting that screenwriter Woodfield, asides from decades of generic TV credits (The Fall Guy, jeezus, you mean somebody wrote that show?) was himself a magician, and also snapped famous nude shots of Marilyn Monroe on the set of SOMETHING’S GOT TO GIVE. One thing this movie might be taken to prove is that an infusion of violence, perversity and sleaze can actually make by-the-numbers policier dross quite watchable.

Movie also features the father of curiously sepulchral/pervy Inside the Actor’s Studio host James Lipton, playing “the King of the Beatniks” — I didn’t know they actually were a monarchical subculture. Anyhow, his performance is much as you might expect…

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