Archive for Pulp

Blue Sky Alice

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2020 by dcairns

“Blue sky casting” is a screenwriter’s trick — you imagine anyone you like, living or dead, in a role, and that hekps you find the character’s voice. If you’re writing for Jeff Goldblum or Michael Redgrave, different things happen. What you probably shouldn’t ever do is cast the person you were thinking of — there’s an exciting tension that happens if you cast, say, Joan Cusack, in a role written with, say, Myrna Loy in mind.

It’s also a fun exercise: here’s a fantasy cast list for Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. I found as i was coming up with it that it was tending to a mid-1950s feel, and naturally British. But it began when Fiona proposed Peter Lorre as the Dormouse.

It turns out I’ve been carrying in my mind various casting ideas for Alice, and they cam tumbling out and were joined by others…

It just seems crazy that Kenneth Williams never played the Mad Hatter. Put it down to typecasting — the Carry On films, though hugely popular, rendered all the actors uncastable in anything other than sitcom or sex farce. The two main productions KW would have been eligible for, Jonathan Miller’s rather wonderful TV Alice in Wonderland, and the execrable musical ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, have excellent Hatters in Peter Cook and Robert Helpmann respectively, but Williams would have knocked it out the park.

It’s kind of obvious that Jimmy Edwards, extravagantly-tached comic actor, should be the Walrus, but I think Norman Wisdom is very close to Tenniel’s drawing of the Carpenter. It’s starting to look like this production belongs in the mid-fifties to sixties.

Not for any physical resemblance, but the wide-eyed dithering innocence John le Mesurier brought to his work in Dad’s Army seems to suit the King of Hearts nicely. And he practically plays the role in Gilliam’s JABBERWOCKY.

I feel that Irene Handl deserves a crack at the Queen of Hearts — though associated with working class roles (she argued with Billy Wilder about how to play cockney dialogue), she was actually quite posh, seemingly, and derived her characterisations from her observation of her family’s maids when she was young. And she’s the most versatile and surprising and funny of actors, seriously underused. (If you were doing it later, Prunella Scales would be immense, and she’s a lot like Dodgson’s own drawings.)

I’ve always seen Lionel Jeffries as the White Knight. He has such an air of melancholy. I can never read the Knight’s verse without tears springing unbidden to my eyes. Same with Lear’s The Jumblies: “Far and few, far and few…” an incantatory lament.

Okay, granted, Roger Livesey has to be a contender too.

Charles Gray as Humpty Dumpty, because.

When I look at Tenniel’s White Rabbit, I see Edward Everett Horton, which makes it odd that Paramount cast him as the Mad Hatter in the 30s version. They should have borrowed George Arliss for the Hatter and given Horton the rabbit. Fuck Skeets Gallagher. But if we’re going for anxious British players of the 1950s, maybe Alastair Sim? Or Alec Guinness, but there you’d be opening up a can of worms. Who could he NOT play? We know he’d make a magnificent Duchess:

And that’s a role which should really be done in drag, for compassionate reasons. Peter Bull was pretty perfect in the seventies abomination. Leo McKern would be good too.

Peter Sellers is maybe the only man to have played motion picture versions of the March Hare AND the King of Hearts, and he’s another can of worms if we let him in. But in the Miller piece he does the unimaginable, improvising Lewis dialogue in character, so he should be essential. Since this would be early, chubby Sellers, maybe we should be thinking in terms of the caterpillar, a somewhat shadowy figure in the illo.

If we’re having Sellers, then Spike Milligan would be a fine Frog Footman (see YELLOWBEARD for some exemplary footmanning from SM).

Based on Tenniel, there can be no question that the White King and Queen are Thorley Walters and Joan Sims. though Handl is another possibility for the latter. The Red Queen could be Flora Robson or Patricia Hayes, but I’m going for Yootha Joyce (energy) whereas the Red King, apparently dreaming the whole thing like in INCEPTION, doesn’t ever wake up and so it seems like wasted effort to cast a celebrated thesp. Might as well be John Wayne.

Miller cast Finlay Currie as the Dodo, an impressive feat — the only human actor to LOOK like a dodo. But he’s too old, since Dodgson based this didactic fowl on himself, incorporating his stutter — Do-do-Dodgson. Trying to find an actor not aged in the 1950s, with Dodgson’s sad eyes and an impressive beak, I stop at Richard Wattis.

Cecil Parker, arch-ovine, must be the Sheep, a rarely-filmed character but one with great material. I suppose the sheep should really be female, but drag is allowed. We’re through the looking glass, here.

The Gnat also has some really good jokes, and is never presented onscreen — perhaps because Tenniel didn’t deign to draw him. Another tutelary figure — you can really tell the author is a lecturer — he could really be played by anybody from Terry-Thomas to Robert Morley. The latter is more pompous, so he’d do, but then for heaven’s sake why not Noel Coward? Or Dennis Price, who quotes Lewis with relish in Mike Hodges’ PULP?

Of course, given the period, we can have perhaps Britain’s greatest child actor in the title role, Mandy Miller (MANDY, THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT), and by happy coincidence it appears she’s a fan of the author:

Randy Cook suggests Benny Hill for the Cheshire Cat. What are your thoughts? I presume that, like me, you have been carrying casting ideas for Alice around in your heads for decades.

A High Silk Hat and a Silver Caine

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2016 by dcairns

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SILVER BEARS is one of a crowd of Michael Caine movies from the seventies which, it turns out, deserve to be better known. PULP is, in my view, great, and PEEPER comes close, but is let down by a weak last act. The fact that the climax, with supreme, toe-curling unfortunateness, involves Natalie Wood fighting in a lifeboat, may explain why the film isn’t more often revived.

SILVER BEARS is just very enjoyable. Caine plays a finance expert for the mob who conceives the idea of casino owner Martin Balsam buying his own Swiss bank to store his loot in (as if Swiss banks were notoriously picky about their customers — see also THE HOLCROFT COVENANT for Caine’s continuing PR campaign on behalf of Switzerland’s financial institutions). Caine buys the bank but finds he’s been conned, then gets offered a chance to come in on a silver mine in Iraq, which is right where the Bible says there should be a silver mine…

Ivan Passer directs with deadpan modesty. CUTTER AND BONE is the US film of his with the best reputation, but I prefer BORN TO LOSE, a defiantly uningratiating movie about junkies with George Segal. Like the best US seventies stuff it has a Twilight of the Gods melancholic downfall built in — somebody was bound to make something like JAWS and STAR WARS eventually, and as soon as they did films like this were bound to stop being made. It’s a movie that has no interest in explaining to us why we should care about its lead character. It knows we don’t even care about his real-life counterparts, so what will induce us to get interested in a fictional version? Doesn’t matter. He’s a human being. We SHOULD care. A brief early appearance by DeNiro, unusually cast as a cop, also enlivens.

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SILVER BEARS is positively jolly by comparison, and it has an even more impressive cast — Caine and Balsam are supported by a host of co-stars, most of them on their last legs as box office phenomena — Cybill Shepherd, Louis Jourdan, David Warner, Stephan Audran, Tommy Smothers, plus Charles Gray, Joss Ackland and a fleeting Nigel Patrick. And Jay Leno, for God’s sake, who turns out to be a very funny actor. Maybe he just didn’t want to go on playing idiots and low-lifes.

Caine is very funny (“He’s not a fag, he’s just English,” explains Balsam), caught midway between the Adonis of the sixties and the puffy-eyed, blotchy Caine of pay cheque fame. Fiona felt Louis Jourdan stole the show, though. And David Warner looks like this ~

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A big hand for Bernard Gribble’s editing, which enhances the comedy with slow-burn reaction shots. Jourdan steals the show, but it’s one of Shepherd’s good jobs too, and Caine is very funny. There’s a great bit of exposition delivered while marching at high speed through a stately home, led by Gray (one of the stately homos of England, as Quentin Crisp would have it). Good bit with Jourdan and Audran slapping each other — a dicey moment to get laughs with, but she sells it by looking more shocked when she slaps him than when he slaps her. Her surprised face looks like the outrage alien at the end of the Star Trek end credits.

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Peter Stone, who scripted CHARADE, has some good short circuits stored up for getting out of predictable situations in unpredictable ways. When Cybill realizes Caine slept with her to get info on her husband’s bank, she only pretends to be furious for the sake of appearances, for as she immediately explains, she realizes that he did her three times in one night, which was far more than necessary to learn what he needed to know. It’s a lightweight movie but it has enough inventions like that to keep me charmed.

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A Hard-boiled Oeuvre

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2013 by dcairns

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For the first half of PEEPER (1976) I was almost convinced I was watching a neglected classic. The script, by W.D. Richter (BUCKAROO BANZAI) from a Chandler pastiche by sci-fi author Keith Laumer, served up a constant sizzle of snazzy dialogue and cynical VO, the latter delivered by Michael Caine in a straight reprise of his delightful manner in Mike Hodges’ PULP. As that film had wound up with a walk-on by a Humphrey Bogart impersonator, so this movie begins with one, narrating the opening titles in a piece-to-camera presentation that’s giddily audacious. Director Peter Hyams seems to be on top form, and his cameraman Earl Rath, who lensed the astonishing proto-steadicam shoot-out chase in Hyams’ earlier BUSTING, steeps the art-deco locations in acidic greens, achieving a distinctly 1970s neo-noir look.

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I had thought that the really hip 70s noirs had either mixed things up by going back further in time, or had updated their stories to the modern day. CHINATOWN does the former, but adds such a wealth of modern attitude — political, sexual — as to seem furiously contemporary, while THE LONG GOODBYE really squeezes every ounce of anachronism to be had from the conceit of Marlowe in modern L.A. Dick Richards’ 1975 FAREWELL, MY LOVELY remake with Robert Mitchum seems a stale exercise in nostalgia by comparison. But then I think of the late Michael Winner’s incomprehensibly Brighton-set version of THE BIG SLEEP, and I have to conclude that there are no rules except that good filmmakers are more likely to make good films. Bad ons, not so much.

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Anyhow, PEEPER starts great, the cast is very nice, Caine has chemistry with Natalie Wood, and then it all somehow goes to pot. Liam Dunn is a great comedy antagonist, but Timothy Carey and Don Calfa, excellent actors and types, are also reduced to stooge status, depriving the whole thing of necessary tension. Necessary even in what’s virtually a comedy. Oh, we also get the wonderful Liam Dunn — Mr Hilltop in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, the judge in WHAT’S UP DOC?, as a typically decrepit, wonderfully weaselly character, the only guy Caine can convincingly push around.

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When the climax involved Wood fighting aboard a lifeboat, I got a horrible sense of why the film doesn’t tend to get revived much. But maybe it just isn’t good enough — the plot never reaches an extreme state demanding drastic action, but peters out in some confusing twists. A major sympathetic character is murdered and goes unavenged. The long takes lack the dynamism of Hyams and Rath’s BUSTING work, and sometimes merely looks as if they didn’t have time to get adequate coverage. It’s a shame, since the first half is a real delight. They could make a whole series of sequels to that first half. I kind of regret they made the second half at all.