Archive for Quatermass

Monty’s Double C’est Moi

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 7, 2021 by dcairns

A number of good things about I WAS MONTY’S DOUBLE. It never mentions Operation Mincemeat, but the events of the film are happening alongside those of THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS, both plots concerning misleading Hitler about the proposed site of D Day. One worked by floating a dead body with fake documents off the coast of Franco’s Spain, the other by leaking the movements of a lifelike Field Marshal Montgomery impersonator recruited from the acting profession. And, weirdly, Clifton Webb, the star of the big-budget ‘Scope Deluxe Color Fox production, could have made a passable Monty or Monty Double himself. The filmmakers did consider hiring a movie star to play the part, before latching onto the genius idea of letting M.E. Clifton James, Montgomery’s actual real-life double and the author of the source memoir, play himself.

Given that, it’s a terrible shame they didn’t also cast the real intelligence officer who recruited James — David Niven. The idea MUST have been considered. I don’t know whether Niv was unaffordable, unavailable, or didn’t want to take part in a travesty. It would have elevated the film enormously, though his chum John Mills is excellent in the part.

Cecil Parker makes everything good.

Supposedly, the film is fairly true to life, except for the invention out of whole cloth of an action climax where the Nazis try to kidnap the ersatz Monty. This is the sequence where director John Guillermin pulls out all the stops, which mainly involves suspenseful tracking shots depicting POV and reaction of various characters, putting the audience right in there. Too bad none of it happened. It feels stylish yet inauthentic as you watch it, partly because the rest of the movie has yielded to, or embraced, the difficulties of the true-life adventure: moving in fits and starts, introducing and dropping a myriad of characters (where a fictioneer would have combined several into one), which does however allow plenty of room for beloved British character thesps. Also, the rest of the movie is played, and scored (by John Addison), as light comedy.

I don’t know if James’ memoir included all the stuff about stage fright and other bits tending to make fun of the acting profession, or at least having fun with the conjunction of war, espionage and acting. Screenwriter Bryan Forbes might be responsible for some of that.

I’m inclined to credit much of the visual panache of Guillermin’s most striking film, RAPTURE, to its French camera department, just because nothing else in his career seems to account for it. Elsewhere, he alternates weirdly between vigour and flair and living down to Welles’ characterisation of him as “one of the truly great incompetents.” His sadism comes through in a bit where a soldier gets shot and blood splashes the guy’s face — from a completely impossible angle. Guillermin obviously liked this bit so much (wrongly), he recycled it in EL CONDOR.

The next Guillermin film I watch will either be THE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN, because I have it, or THE TOWERING INFERNO, because I haven’t seen it since it’s first UK TV airing and I have next to no memory of it. How bad could it be? Don’t answer that.

Oh — apologies are due to Duncan Lamont — he’s disappointing in this but I was forgetting about his amazing turn in the first TV Quatermass. Unforgiveable.

I WAS MONTY’S DOUBLE stars Monty’s Double; Professor Bernard Quatermass; The Major; Rex Van Ryn (voice, uncredited); The Sorting Hat; Grapple of the Bedou; Conductor 51: Mrs. Terrain; Victor Carroon; Mr. Kipling; Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond; Buller Bullethead; Midnight; Arnold Bedford; Milchmann; Bryce Mercer; Shagal, the Inn-Keeper; Sgt. Wilson; General Gogol; Jelly Knight; The Malay; Tanya; Victor Maitland; and Turk Thrust.

Sham Rock

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology, Television, They Live with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2017 by dcairns

Fiona’s been researching the works of legendary TV/movie screenwriter Nigel Kneale, so she got me to run HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, which I believe I saw at my school film society when it was about a year old, and which I dismissed as tosh at the time. I learned at some point that Kneale had been involved — he wrote a draft but then took his name off the film — and sympathised with him. John Carpenter, apparently, is a big Quatermass fan, but the film got compromised, by Dino De Laurentiis and others, and director Tommy Lee Wallace, who reckoned that “60%” of Kneale’s script remained, ended up with sole writing credit (which seems a bit shifty of him, though if the sometimes irascible Kneale was unwilling to even touch the film with a nom de plume, what else could they do?).

Well, I was definitely right about the film back in 1983 or so. The lead roles are colossally underwritten — surely the unconvincing way they fall into bed together is part of Wallace’s 40% — in a film featuring robots, it’s even more of a problem than it normally would be when your main characters behave like automata programmed with a pianola roll of clichéd genre behaviour. The villain’s plan is completely absurd and worse, not scary. The only actor having fun is Dan “Nice shootin’ son” O’Herlihy, but his eccentric monologuing seems to have been cut to the bare bones, which is tragic since it robs us of additional lipsmacking and leaves the motivation for his elaborate scheme largely unexplained.

Of course, Kneale’s raison d’être as a fantasy writer was his ability to invest absolute conviction in potentially absurd ideas, but something is way off here. Fiona learned that the bit of stolen Stonehenge used as MacGuffin was not part of Kneale’s putative 60% contribution, but an addition by the production, who felt it was in the spirit of Kneale’s work since he had just used stone circles in the final Quatermass series. In the movie, Irish novelty mask manufacturer O’Herlihy (see also the unpleasant but offscreen Irish industrialist in Kneale’s The Stone Tape) is planning to reestablish the pagan roots of Halloween by implanting microchips with bits of henge silica, fit them to rubber masks, and send out some kind of subliminal signal in his TV commercials which will cause the wearers’ heads to erupt with cockroaches and snakes. Well, if Kneale was responsible for 60% of that guff, I can only assume we’re talking about a percentage of the letters of the alphabet, suitably rearranged.

Indeed, this site informs me helpfully that Kneale was thriftily repurposing an old TV script of his, The Big, Big Giggle, in which a TV signal causes teen suicides, rejected by a BBC in fear of imitative behaviour issues (not altogether unreasonably, though holding television responsible for the actions of people with mental health issues is always slippery and unsafe). Already it looks like Kneale’s idea is more disturbing, shorn of the ridiculous bug-head stuff, and convincing enough to cause TV execs to actually worry that it might, in a way, come true. It’s still voodoo television, and the henge-chips don’t really make it sillier, so I’d even allow that aspect of it, but the bugs are a step too far.

Kneale also apparently wrote the automata henchmen (or hengemen, if you will), which somehow fail to be creepy at all in the finished film, and are pretty damn implausible given the state of 1980s cybernetics, or even contemporary cybernetics. In the movie these guys are mainly used to add gory and unnecessary (in plot terms) deaths, which Kneale hated. But the movie was never going to go into production without a bunch of set-piece killings. Film history was not on Kneale’s side, even if the history of Samhain was.

But OK. Dull as the human interactions are, rote as the conspiracy investigation is, ludicrous as the conspiracy itself turns out to be, and entirely empty of meaning as the film itself is, it does have a few pleasures. The attractive widescreen is one of the few connections with Carpenter’s original film (glimpsed on TV sets — also we hear Jamie Lee Curtis’ echoing voice from factory tannoys). There’s one good BOO! moment early on, repeated to lessening effect. Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s electronic drones are lovely: somehow the crudeness forced on Carpenter by early synths enhances his music rather than detracting from it; somehow the marriage of 35mm anamorphic widescreen and pulsing electronic tonalities is just wonderfully RIGHT.

Carpenter, who as co-producer must share some of the blame as well as credit, admires Kneale but has never been very comfortable in the domain of IDEAS, which are what Kneale is all about. PRINCE OF DARKNESS is a beautifully-photographed rendition of what a Kneale concept would be like if it didn’t have a concept. The big exception, of course, is THEY LIVE, a rather wonderful genre mash-up which blends Phildickian paranoia with the establishment dread of Kneale’ Quatermass II. Joe Dante, originally touted to direct, who seems to have suggested Kneale in the first place, thrives on eccentric ideas, the more the better, and often involving TV, the media, toys. Indeed, the conspiracy at the heart of LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION carries an echo of Kneale’s Big, Big Giggle. But even Dante may have struggled to keep Kneale on board — now there was a man used to getting his own way. Or, if he didn’t always get it, he could certainly point to the fact that when he did, the results were usually sensationally effective and successful. And when he didn’t, you got a head full of cockroaches.

Extraordinary Mass Delusions

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , on September 8, 2015 by dcairns

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Our viewing of QUATERMASS AND THE PIT tied in nicely with my reading of Jon Ronson’s new book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. The author’s interest in the phenomenon of public shaming, which seems to have migrated from the medieval stocks to Twitter, leads him to explore ideas about deinviduation, and the behaviour of crowds. He traces many of our assumptions about mobs and riots to The Crowd, a book by Gustave Le Bon, who wrote at the time of Napoleon III and first propagated the idea that mobs have a kind of group madness, are in fact possessed by a force which does not dwell in any one of them but infects them all.

Unfortunately, Ronson discovers that Le Bon was a racist, a misogynist and a colossal snob, even by the standards of the times, and his beliefs did not really result from scientific research, so much as prejudice and a desire to ingratiate himself with the powerful. If the mob is motivated by a kind of mental illness, then any grievances they are protesting can be ignored as irrelevant.

Ronson never gets as far as a complete theory of what is happening in mob actions — he suspects that the London rioters never reached his house because he lives up a steep hill, and each riot participant made a sane and reasonable decision not to riot uphill. This is an interesting way to consider it, with interesting implications, but it’s too far off-topic in Ronson’s book for him to pursue much further.

It seems to me that a riot or a vicious public shaming creates a kind of anomie, where participants see others misbehaving and being popular for it, and their worst instincts are given a license to run riot. It seems that we mostly don’t live by a moral code, but by a sense of what we’re told is OK from moment to moment, and what we think we’ll get away with. In this sense, perhaps the Stanford Prison Experiment, which Ronson explores in detail (and complicates nicely), is less relevant here than Milgram’s obedience experiments.

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QUATERMASS AND THE PIT climaxes with mob violence on the streets of London — author Nigel Kneale received some criticism for this at the time of the TV version, since the Notting Hill Race riots were of recent memory. Kneale’s vision of an ethnic purge was inspired by the attacks on black Londoners by racist gangs. His intentions were misunderstood, rather wilfully I think. But he has been seduced by Le Bon’s popular notion of riots as a manifestation of primitive impulse, a plague of savagery that sweeps through a population. Since the Martian madness of the series and film is tied to race memories buried in the human unconscious, it could easily be connected with the xenophobe’s view of the Notting Hill riots as an eruption of primitive instincts, a reversion to type.

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I think the scene where a vaguely Jewish-looking man is stoned by the possessed mob shows clearly the kind of savagery Kneale is concerned with.

By the time of the final Quatermass TV series of 1979, Kneale is perhaps a little more conservative. As with his channelling of Le Bon’s ideas in Quatermass and the Pit, here he ties real sociological happenings to a science fiction explanation, connecting youth protest and his own, violent extrapolation of the hippy movement, to an alien force manipulating our minds. On the other hand, the young person’s perennial argument, that the old have got it wrong and made a mess of the world, is shown to be entirely justified. Kneale, like Quatermass, positions himself between the rebels and the authorities, a lone voice crying in the wilderness.