Archive for Peter Cushing

Hammer and Scrooge

Posted in FILM, literature, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 24, 2021 by dcairns

I had fond memories of seeing CASH ON DEMAND as a teenager and thinking it a forgotten treasure. Extremely glad to report that it holds up beautifully. It’s a 1961 thriller from Hammer without any of their customary grue effects (though there is a character called “Gore”) but with a Christmas setting. I don’t know why it hasn’t become a festive favourite — it shows a detestable character being mistreated for most of its running time — it is, in fact, a remake of A Christmas Carol, done as a heist movie.

It joins a substantial stock of Christmas heists — REINDEER GAMES, THE SILENT PARTNER, DIE HARD — our crook even anticipates Alan Rickman’s lovely line, when accused of being a common criminal — “I like to think of myself as an UNcommon criminal.” And it’s true — he walks into the bank with nothing but a commanding attitude and respectable manner, gets the manager alone, and threatens his wife with electrocution if he doesn’t assist in cleaning out the vault. A phone call from the panicked family cinches the deal. (On the Bill Rebane box set I had a part in, you can find a short film he made advising bankers on how to deal with this kind of problem.)

Based on an (evidently very good) play by Kiwi writer Jacques Gillies (born in Gore, New Zealand, he gives the town’s name to his smooth criminal), adapted without needless opening-out by American David T. Chantler and Brit Lewis Greifer, and very skillfully handled by director Quentin Lawrence, this is persistently gripping, first by making you hate the banker, who is mean to his staff for the first fifteen minutes, and then by making you empathise with him as he’s ruthlessly exploited and humiliated by the robber.

The very good news is that the banker is Peter Cushing and the thief is André Morell.

Cushing is a brilliant Scrooge — his usual clipped manner and precise movement is applied to a callous, somewhat OCD character (shades of Richard Sackler in Dopesick), a man you get all excited about loathing, and then have to feel for (unlike Richard Sackler in Dopesick, though the writers and actor Michael Stuhlbarg do imbue him with a certain creepy humanity). The film’s courageously quiet opening sequence gives us the pleasure of just watching Cushing do stuff. Entering his office at the start, he brushes a speck from his coat while hanging it, elaborately folds his scarf over a raised knee, and lovingly drapes it around his hanging coat so that the coat is now wearing the scarf as if it were a person.

This is all done so that for the rest of the film, when he starts coming apart under the strain, you can see it in the way his mannerisms become shaky and twitchy and sloppy. “We admired very much the precision of his movements within the frame,” said Martin Scorsese of his gang’s Times Square grindhouse Hammer experiences, and Cushing is indeed a very controlled, technical actor. But here he also becomes devastatingly moving — his technique is always allied to, and an expression of, genuine emotion.

Turning the screws on Scrooge is Morell, who really should have played more baddies on this evidence. His “Colonel Gore Hepburn” has steely glint and scary jollity, a sense almost of suppressed mania under a tweedy military bearing. Absolutely commanding. I always liked him, and this reminded me why: it may be his best work in movies. He was a smashing Dr. Watson to Cushing’s excitable Holmes in HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (I wish Hammer had made more with that pairing) but villainy liberates him.

And the movie is a proper Christmas film, beginning with a street Santa and dropping in references to the festive season throughout. It snows, too. You should absolutely check it out if you’re looking for unconventional holiday viewing — it even has the required uplift, after putting you through George Bayley type torture for 89 minutes.

CASH ON DEMAND stars Professor Lawrence Van Helsing; Professor Bernard Quatermass; Dr. Hugo Fassbender; and Alderman Poot.

Dyspeptic in Elsinore

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2021 by dcairns

Asides from my making-of Caesar and Cleopatra book, I also have a lovely, if tattered volume entitled The film HAMLET, covering Olivier’s 1948 production. Various heads of department contribute short chapters about their work.

My late friend Lawrie Knight was only a 3rd AD on it, and only for a few days. His story doesn’t feature. Stop me if you’ve heard it before. Olivier, it seems, wanted the sound of a heartbeat to accompany the ghost’s appearance. In the end he used a drumbeat, but perhaps the story of Ruben Mamoulian recording his own heart after running up and down a flight of stairs, for the transformation scene in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, was already well-known? Olivier, saving himself the strain, sent an assistant off to run around the studio, and then they pressed a mic to his ribcage.

“Nothing but indigestion!” reported Lawrie, with a chortle.

The book lacks that kind of engrossing detail. Olivier’s own piece is rather windy, and devotes a lot of time to justifying his choice to shoot in black and white, though he would later admit that he was having “a frightful row with Technicolor” which played a significant part in the decision. Still, it was a great choice.

Really lovely pic of Larry directing in costume and, it seems, in character.

Producer Anthony Bushell’s thoughts on the casting are more interesting. He starts by recounting an anecdote from his youth as an actor: he tried to secure a walk-on/spear-carrying role in John Barrymore’s London production of the play. Barrymore somehow misunderstood and thought he was angling for Laertes.

“Young man, it is your misfortune that the Hamlet in this production will never see fifty again. You cannot possibly play Laertes with me.”

(Barrymore wasn’t actually fifty yet, but maybe he felt it, or maybe he actually said forty.)

We learn that Stanley Holloway got the role of the gravedigger after “F.J. McCormick, the little Irishman who as the bowler-hatted Shell in ‘Odd Man Out’ enchanted thousands only to sadden them by his untimely death, was first to have played the role.’

I like what Bushell says about Osric.

Reincarnate

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2019 by dcairns

In Peter Sasdy’s NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT, Christopher Lee is stuffy, Peter Cushing is snippy, Diana Dors is stroppy and Georgia Brown is chippy, lippy and slutty. And little Gwyneth Strong is absolutely brilliant. Everyone is intense, fervid, all the time, like they were all fathered by Charles McGraw when no one was looking, which seems to be a Sasdy characteristic (see also The Stone Tape).

It’s Christopher Lee’s only film as producer, adapted from a novel by John Blackburn, a quite interesting genre writer though a very reactionary one. Reaching the screen, some of these attitudes are softened or switched, but some remain, so you don’t quite know what to think.

The plot centres on an orphan (Strong), seemingly traumatized in a bus crash, but there’s something sinister afoot with the foundation caring for her (Kathleen Byron is involved so it can’t be a purely charitable institution, can it?). Dors is a red herring in a red shiny coat, seen trudging through the Scottish heather for reels on end, the least inconspicuous person ever. She’s a fortune teller with a black cat decal on her Hillman Imp and she’s trying to get her daughter back. Tabloid hack Brown tells her, “You must admit she’d be better of with them than here,” which seems a bit unsympathetic. There’s nothing wrong with Dors’ clairvoyance pad: she has a phrenology head and an Emmanuelle chair, what more could any child ask?

Apart from class horror at Dors’ raging slattern, the film seems to share Lee and Cushing’s distaste for the pushy journo, yet she’s the one who sets them on the right trail. The great duo are at everyone’s throats all the way through, with Cushing in particular JUST VERY CROSS in every scene. It’s the Hammer films trope of the authority figures being righteous, correct, our only hope, yet deeply dislikeable. Only with the pitch turned up and a bit of a headache.

Gwyneth Strong can dislocate her jaw in order to swallow whole goats.

We enjoyed the Scottish locations — Edinburgh airport looks unchanged to me — the evil scheme is an intriguing one and the climax gets some real moral horror going, aided by Lee waking up and doing some proper acting as he faces a kind of payback for his role in THE WICKER MAN. He could really rise to the occasion, that man, and at six foot ninety he had a head start.

It all falls apart in the closing shots, where the script can’t come up with a good finish, calls for some effects that don’t quite make it, and the staging falls apart accompanied by mismatched dusk/dawn-for-night and night-for-night shots (NOTHING LIKE THE NIGHT, you could call it), and it looks as though Sasdy just ran out of time on top of everything else.

Night shoots are a bitch.

The music — a lush rephrasing of Nine Green Bottles — is extremely poor. A death-by-hatpin recalls Sasdy’s HANDS OF THE RIPPER. Strong’s performance is one for the ages — authentically terrifying.

NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT stars the Grand Moff Tarkin; Mycroft Holmes; Frau Poppendick; Frau Freud; Nigel Barton; Mackay; Albus Dumbledore; Aunt Beru; Victor Carroon; and Sister Ruth.