Archive for Ralph Thomas

Sub Standard

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 21, 2021 by dcairns

ABOVE US THE WAVES ought to be terrifying — I can’t think of anything much more unpleasant than working in a midget submarine. Ralph Thomas, unfortunately, isn’t a great director. He’s what’s usually called “efficient,” meaning lacking in imagination, but he’s not that efficient really at all.

Things are so primitive the men have to get into their diving suits THROUGH THE NECK-HOLE

John Mills is the officer trying to get the go-ahead for the mission, using these untested subs. He impresses admiral James Robertson Justice by proving his subs can sneak through security to plant a dummy mine on Justice’s own ship. But the men involved are taken ill afterwards…

The script, by Robin EYE OF THE DEVIL Estridge, doesn’t make it clear what’s wrong with the men. I’m assuming it’s “the bends” but I don’t see any advantage in muddling this. Anyhow, just after Mills gets this bad news, he gives the men the good news — Justice is impressed and the mission is on.

Incredibly, Thomas doesn’t show the reaction of the sick men. Of course, we don’t know what he was up against — losing the light, maybe. But I’d argue that if he only had time to cover this passage in one way, he’s chosen the wrong angle to focus on, favouring the guy giving out information rather than the guys reacting to it. Of course he had a star to keep happy… but a generally affable one, by all accounts. Mills had been happy for David Lean to play a love scene on his and Brenda de Banzie’s backs in HOBSON’S CHOICE.

Actually, looking at it again, there’s a shot favouring the afflicted men, so it wasn’t a problem of time. It’s been decided that they’re to be unconscious. But I think that’s a mistake. Since the decision has been made to announce that the men are going to be OK in this very scene, rather than get any suspense out of their condition, the emotion should come from them being somewhat conscious and reacting happily to the good news. A scriptwriting issue rather than being Thomas’s fault as director. The script does play as a lot of information being doled out, for much of the runtime. The kind of business where a man with a pointer points at a map or plan and says “…here, here and here.”

AUTW does pick up tremendously towards the climax, though. Faking up the close-quarters stuff inside the subs forces Thomas to get atmospheric, and the tense situations go well with his “efficient” approach.

ABOVE US THE WAVES stars Willie Mossop; James Ignatius Rooney; Donald Nordley; Lord Scrumptious; Martin Teckman; Reldresal; Sorren; Zoltan Karpathy; Richard Wagner; General Gogol; Chairman J. Bruce Ismay; and Heironymous Merkin.

In Which the Entire British Secret Service is Gay

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 17, 2015 by dcairns

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Or perhaps just very very British.

A useful idiot is someone working for the secret service who doesn’t know it. In HOT ENOUGH FOR JUNE, Dirk Bogarde, nearing the end of his Rank starlet period, plays a Bohemian young fellow recruited by a dodgy glass company for a business trip to Prague — he’s actually working for Robert Morley and John le Mesurier of the secret service.

Follow the routine of the late Robert Anton Wilson: every morning when you wake up, ask yourself, “Am I a useful idiot?”

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Movie begins by tracking down one of those Corridors of Power we’re always hearing about. One of the very, very few stylish shots in the career of Ralph Thomas, director. He’d already propelled Dirk through a number of DOCTOR films (his brother helmed the CARRY ON series). At the end of the corridor, John Le Mes checks in the belongings of a deceased agent — revealed to be 007. It’s one of a number of cheeky gags dotted along the way, including a news headline where the film’s director protests “I AM NOT A SPY!” Mostly, the film is a light thriller just this side of parody — its vision of espionage is clearly closer to the truth than that of Bond.

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But Dirk gets his own Bond girl in Prague, Sylva Koscina (never in an actual Bond film, she did wave a speargun about opposite Richard Johnson as Bulldog Drummond for the same director). She gets some surprisingly sexy stuff to do.

Morley cautions Le Mes not to recruit anyone too susceptible to feminine charms. Then he warns him not to go too far in the opposite direction. Then he blows him a kiss.

Over a drink, Koscina asks Dirk if it’s true you have to go to Eton to get into the British government. He admits it helps. She asks if communists ever get to go to Eton. He explains that they don’t often go, but sometimes by the time people graduate from Eton, they are communists. She asks if they get into the government. “Mainly the Foreign Office.”

Screenplay is by Lukas Heller, best known for THE DIRTY DOZEN, which is also actually quite a witty film.

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Thomas isn’t much of a director, really — early on, he tries some very slight Dutch tilts, for a casual conversation at Dirk’s Bohemian flat. I figured he was limbering up for a bit of THIRD MAN business one we get to Prague (which is played by Padua, not too convincingly). But he omits to ever go lopsided again. I guess he didn’t like the look of the shots when he saw them in dailies, but a re-shoot was out of the question. If he’d had the nerve to sustain this approach, it would have worked beautifully.

But there’s some good comedy playing, the actual action is reasonably tense and plausible, and it’s amusing to see Bogarde meeting his contact in the men’s room. “Homosexuality is the best damn cover an agent ever had,” types William Lee in Cronenberg’s NAKED LUNCH.

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Sapped

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 14, 2011 by dcairns

“Who you fucking?” This is apparently how actor Richard Johnson (83) greets friends he hasn’t seen for a while. It’s a pertinent question in DEADLIER THAN THE MALE (1967), in which RJ plays “Bulldog” Drummond, partially re-imagined for the James Bond era. Or, since the screenwriter in question is by Hammer’s Jimmy Sangster, we might say de-imagined. Despite his Bondifying, this manly protag is weirdly abstinent sexually, and some of his bedroom antics are treated with a weird attempt at “plausible deniability” as if the censor still cared how many ladies the hero laid.

As part of the refit, “Bulldog” is now a jet-setting businessman, or insurance man, or something, which doesn’t seem to amp up his glamour any to me. Also, nobody calls him “Bulldog” — almost as if they were ashamed to be making a “Bulldog” Drummond movie. They needn’t be — it’s a character with a long, dishonourable tradition. The highlight of poor BD’s screen career is probably the fact that THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, the film that kickstarted Hitchcock’s espionage cycle in Britain in the ‘thirties, started life as an idea for a BD movie. Anyhow, having rejected “Bulldog” as too laughable for the ‘sixties, Sangster is stuck with a hero whose first name is Hugh.

Rather than being accompanied by a near-deformed upper-class imbecile called Reggie, the new, disimproved Hugh is saddled with an American nephew called *can’t remember and can’t be bothered looking it up*. This blatant sop to out friends across the water is surely flawed by the fact that Nephew is an entirely useless character who gets captured and tortured a lot.

Ah yes, torture. The stories by “Sapper” apparently can be quite brutal (and racist) at times, and this is seized upon by Sangster, whose bread and butter was horror movies, after all. This results in some tonal lurching, as our hero threatens to break a thug’s legs by crushing them against a wall with his car (the guy gets off with badly barked shins), and Nephewman gets singed with lit cheroot and lighter by the sexy bad gals. Such nastiness sits awkwardly with the film’s flip, silly plotting and fun gimmicks like a giant remote-control chess-board.

Also, Johnson is a disaster as a sub-Bondian hero — he makes a tweedy professor seem sexy in THE HAUNTING by way of unexpectedness, but typecast as a staunch protag he’s as useless as Anthony Steele, and that’s saying something. Of course, the writing doesn’t help — while Bond movies always feature one or two scenes of pure exposition enlivened by gags and sparring with M & Q, Sangster fills the whole first half of the film with endless waffle, board meetings and chats with informants, which lack any dramatic tension. That stuff gets supplied by the in-between scenes where Elke Sommer and Sylva Koscina wiggle about in revealing costumes killing everybody they meet.

In the first five minutes, Elke has killed an oil magnate with a novelty exploding cigar (it fires a bullet through his head, actually), blown up his private jet while parachuting into the ocean, and joined Sylva to speargun some poor guy to death while wearing startling bikinis. Later on, they’ll use curare to paralyse Leonard Rossiter before rolling him out the window of his penthouse shagging palace. All good clean fun, and helped by the film’s best writing (Koscina is always borrowing Sommer’s stuff, leading to lighthearted squabbling). Elke has little in the way of comic flair (beneath that curvaceous exterior throbs a talent of hinged plywood) by Sylva is pretty hilarious, giving her sadism a touch of knowing innocence that’s very Takashi Miike.

Director Ralph Thomas of the Thomas filmmaking clan (brother Gerald produced the CARRY ON series, son Jeremy has produced Bertolucci and Cronenberg) actually makes a fair fist of things, aided by Malcolm Lockyer’s John Barry impression on the soundtrack (title song by the Walker Brothers) — on this evidence, Thomas could have directed a James Bond movie at least as well as, say, Guy Hamilton. He has Nigel Green as the evil mastermind, which helps. But ultimately, the static, boring script sinks most of it, especially the low-grade quips. I envisage Sangster’s script being full of footnotes, pretty much whenever Drummond opens his mouth — “Insert wisecrack here.” But somebody forgot to do so, and thus we get devastating parting shots like “Hey, don’t forget your panties.”