Archive for Peter Mayhew

Decisions, decisions

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2013 by dcairns


“Directing a film,” said Buck Henry, “is like being pecked to death by ducks.” What he meant, if I dare parse the Great Man’s thought processes, is that the film director is beset from pre-dawn to magic hour and beyond with QUESTIONS, brought by actors, crew, executives (sometimes these are in the form of ORDERS, but directors prefer to see them as questions). What these questioners want from the director is DECISIONS. Film-making is decision-making. It’s more important to make a decision of some kind than it is to make a correct decision, which explains several entire careers.

Here are some decisions that could have gone another way.

1) Peter Mayhew, the tall hospital porter, was not originally cast as Chewbacca in STAR WARS. Kenny Baker was the first actor to play the part, because producer Gary Kurtz wanted to save money on fur. But in rehearsals,the diminutive Baker struggled to project the correct air of ursine authority. It didn’t seem likely that this four foot teddy bear could rip anybody’s arms out of their sockets. Even another teddy bear’s. It was too late to recruit fresh actors, so Lucas searched his cast for another suitable player, and immediately found the perfect man: Alec Guinness. But Guinness refused to play a role which would render him completely unrecognizable (“This frigging beard is bad enough,”) and replace all his dialogue with gargling grunts, so finally Mayhew got the role. He’d been finding the R2-D2 costume rather cramped anyway.

2) THE THIRD MAN was originally planned to take place on a sinking ship. “I was aiming for something akin to what Ronnie Neame eventually did with THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE,” said Carol Reed. “It was the perfect excuse for all those tilted camera angles.” When producer Alexander Korda insisted the film take place in Vienna, which is inland, to take advantage of some shares he had bought in a ferris wheel, Reed was initially despondent. But, by taking the metaphorical view that post-war Europe was itself a kind of sinking ship, he adapted his existing storyboard to the new locations without changing anything except metal walls for stone. He eventually admitted the change had been a positive one, and Cotten and Welles’ famous scene played better in the Volksprater than it would have in a dumb-waiter.

3) Much has been written about the colossal talent search to cast Scarlett O’Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND, but it is less generally known that an almost equally huge hunt was staged to cast the part of Mammy. Everyone had agreed that Hattie McDaniel was the only actress who could play the role, but McDaniel had just signed with RKO to play a crime-fighting cook in a series of B-pictures. Having failed to find another performer with McDaniel’s subtlety of expression, the unit turned to production designer William Cameron Menzies to solve their problem. Menzies drew up blueprints for a mechanical mammy. “I was aiming for something a little like what Rob Bottin would make in TOTAL RECALL,” said Menzies, implausibly referencing a film made thirty-three years after his death. “You know, the fat lady costume that Arnie Schwartzenegger wears to get through customs?”

“I was going to put little Billy Barty in a mechanical Mammy. The long skirts would eliminate the need for legs: he would cycle away in there and thus operate a concealed tricycle. There would be a series of buttons he could push to make the eyes roll. We had a problem with the arms: Billy, being used to short arms, would wave them about too much, which was potentially dangerous. One time, Thomas Mitchell nearly lost an eye. Finally, we had the arms worked on wires by puppeteers.”

In the end, film history records that McDaniels’ culinary detective series was mysteriously cancelled, leaving her free to play Mammy after all. But there are persistent rumours that Menzies’ racially stereotyped robot appears in some shots. It has even been suggested than McDaniel won the Oscar for a role actually played by a dwarf-propelled replicant. The relevant pages of the David O. Selznick papers have been sealed by court order until 2039.


4) When Roman Polanski was preparing REPULSION, he very much wanted to get Catherine Deneuve for the role of Carol, the Belgian manicurist who goes mad. So he included the strange detail of the soft walls, knowing well that she was currently living in a house made of silly putty. Women love rearranging the furniture, don’t they? (I’m generalizing, of course — but all women do this.) Deneuve had worked it out so she could actually tear down entire walls and rebuild them in fresh, blobby shapes. It used to drive David Bailey mad.

Things I Read Off the Screen #498

Posted in Comics, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2008 by dcairns

Last night Fiona and I watched THE FIRST MAN INTO SPACE, a cheesy B sci-fi yarn directed by Robert “Corridors of Blood” Day and we couldn’t stop laughing at the titular astronaut’s “awed” expression as he goes beyond the infinite:

First fathead into space

I don’t think Spielberg would hire him.

The film was not so much interesting for what happened in it (Quatermass rip-off with and incredibly protracted opening set-up, half the film, it felt like — reminds me of late period Hammer films when the producers started writing them, and sure enough, turns out this was written by producers*) as for what you could read.


Opening credits. Edited by Peter Mayhew? THIS Peter Mayhew? I guess that might explain why it’s on the primitive side. Wookiee’s aren’t known for their mastery of Russian montage.

I was psyched to read that there would be Electronic Effects, and I was NOT disappointed. It’s my opinion that most movies could be greatly improved by the addition of Electronic Effects. Even LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS could be gussied up by a Moog.

The Delgados

Roger Delgado was The Master in Dr Who — here he plays the Mexican consul, in an entirely unnecessary scene which might be intended as comic relief but they forgot to make it funny.

Sheree Winton was Dale Winton’s mother. For those of you outside the UK, Dale Winton appears as a game show host in a hallucination in TRAINSPOTTING — the role he was born to play. In real life, he IS a hallucinatory game show host.

Space Positioning?

Space Positioning!


Just beautiful. Lumbering shadow shuffles across blood bank signage, a great B-monster moment.

Space Medicine?

Space Medicine?

Mr Potato Head

The fathead from the top ends up like this (cosmic rays — maybe Stan Lee or Jack Kirby saw this flick?), and it’s actually quite moving.

“Doctor? I’ve been searching for you… Everything seems strange and dark… I couldn’t find you! … Under this stuff, I feel like I’m suffering from some terrible disease… like I got no blood in my veins… I have no memory… Only an instinct to stay alive…until I found you… I’ve been groping my way through a maze of fear and doubt…”

With the dialogue delivered in agonized gasps, through an inflexible rubber mask, the scene attains a kind of cheap poetry, to use Orson Welles’ expression (describing stage magic at its best).

*Producers are just as likely to be good writers as directors, perhaps even more so. Unfortunately, they’re also in a position to hire themselves as writers, even when nobody else would ever consider them capable of writing ANYTHING. I don’t have a solution to this, beyond the utopian dream that people should be honest with themselves about their own abilities, or maybe seek a second opinion.

Euphoria #22: A New Hope

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2008 by dcairns

OK, what can I say? Art College technician and filmmaker Fiona Reid suggests this happy-happy-HAPPY ending from the first STAR WARS (I refuse to call it by that other title) and who are we to judge?

I asked WHY, of course, and she said she liked the whole thing, it was a warm childhood memory, and she liked the way Leia winks at R2-D2, or whatever it was.

I thought, “She WINKS at R2-D2? The little dustbin robot? What’s been going on here that we don’t know about? Why would she prefer him over, say, the wookie?” (And why doesn’t the wookie get a medal?)

ready for action

We know R2 is anatomically correct — I don’t mean the third leg, I mean the contraption he uses to stick it to the Death Star computer and make the garbage compactor open up — but he still seems a little bit too mechanical to play romantic interest, compared to, say, the wookie (although I’ve said that about Tom Cruise too). No doubt he has a winning personality, if only we could understand his clicks and whistles. But still…


Then it clicked (and whistled)! The sinister torture-bot Vader sends into Leia’s cell (this is a roBOT torturer, not something to torture your BOTtom) — this has caused her to suffer Stockholm Syndrome or it’s galactic equivalent and she has transferred her passion to the nearest non-humanoid robot (C-3PO being both humanoid and obviously gay). STAR WARS begins to look like a colourful re-imagining of THE NIGHT PORTER.

So, there must be DELETED SCENES, previously unseen frottage, showing Leia’s romantic tryst with the pint-sized mechanoid during the long trip back from the Death Star to Yavin, as I believe it’s called. No wonder Han Solo is so frosty towards her. Princess-droid relations are still frowned upon in these post-Republican days. It is the love that dare not beep its name.

why's he smiling?

But given Lucas’ well-known fondness for ripping off his fan-base, I’m sure we have only parsecs to wait before a new edition of SW hits the stores, full of restored, digitally-enhanced, hot droid action (actor Kenny Baker, sweating away inside the tin can, is replaced by a porn dwarf stand-in for these scenes), leading to further adult re-imaginings: in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, Luke experiences a sentimental education from the experienced person of Yoda, and in RETURN OF THE JEDI, Jabba the Hutt… well, you’ll just have to wait and see.

a new hope

This entire theory may actually be DESTROYED as soon as anyone looks at the clip and realises it’s HAN SOLO the Princess is winking at in the Riefenstahl-inspired coda. But of course, this is just another example of Lucas’ sinister Stalinist historical revision, recutting the film to remove all traces of the tender cross-category romance.

It’s like the whole “Greedo shot first” thing all over again.

But we know.

R2 shot first.