Archive for Richard Fleischer

The Sunday Intertitle: Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on June 30, 2013 by dcairns


Last day of the Edinburgh International Film Festival today — big party in a cave! A closing film, NOT ANOTHER HAPPY ENDING, written and produced by people I know! And from tomorrow, though I have stored up a few mini-reviews of films seen, Shadowplay will go back to being more random and eclectic.

Still thinking fondly of FANTASTIC VOYAGE, shown in the Richard Fleischer retrospective. The opening intertitle we saw was actually different from the one sampled above — it was more colourful, being set against a deep blue background, which suits the film’s pop-art / plastic / electron microscopy / psychedelic sixties sci-fi feel. It also made more vague, giddy and delightful promises that this kind of thing would be happening for real in the near future. Of course, Tory cutbacks mean you cannot yet have Raquel Welch injected into your bloodstream on the National Health, despite the obvious benefits. You’ll be lucky to get Arthur Kennedy. In fact, one could probably make a case for David Cameron being a kind of miniaturized Donald Pleasence in the bloodstream of the body politic, covertly loosening our lasers and fraying our tow lines.


Inside the brain — neurons sparkle with visible thoughts — a scene which contains more thoughts than Sylvester Stallone’s entire career.

Fleischer kept making these informal trilogies — true life psychopathy (COMPULSION, THE BOSTON STRANGLER, TEN RILLINGTON PLACE), classic SF (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, FANTASTIC VOYAGE, SOYLENT GREEN). This one is pretty silly, but it kind of knows it. Early dialogue sets the tone — “I don’t want to be miniaturized!” protests Stephen Boyd, weakly. “It’s just for an hour,” says Edmond O’Brien. You can’t argue with that.

The script seems determined to keep Pleasence in the shadows as the last man you’d suspect, only gradually revealing his perfidy (He believes in evolution, is therefore a commie) but by casting D.P., Fleischer throws him to the audience with neon horns blinking on his bald pate. This generates a clear line of suspense, but does leave the heroes looking stupid.


Still, I can’t help wondering why there was no sequel (asides from the wonderful INNERSPACE). The movie seems to be preparing one as you watch, as Edmond O’Brien puffs cigar after cigar and empties the sugar bowl into his infinite series of coffees. At the end of this one, he should have suffered a massive heart attack, necessitating another mini-submarine intervention. Sequels are always cheaper, so this time the team would probably consist of Don Murray, Roddy McDowell, Pamela Tiffin and Michael Dunn, who’s miniature already and will save on costuming.

In the third film, O’Brien is miniaturized and injected into himself, creating an eternal fractal loop, spinning from THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME TO 99 AND 44/100% DEAD and regressing to the vanishing point like a human Matryoshka doll.


Primal Screen

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on August 7, 2012 by dcairns

The first movie I was taken to see as a kid was DR DOLITTLE, the Cinemascope bloater coughed up by 20th Century Fox in an attempt to  make a roadshow family picture which capitalized on Rex Harrison’s turn as a lovable misogynist in MY FAIR LADY.

This is a history lesson.

Firstly, I was born the year of the film’s release, and I don’t think my parents took me as a baby, so that tells you something — tattered, speckled prints of this gigantic flopperoo were still circulating tiredly in the provinces at least three years after the film died like an obese dog (looking up mournfully, tail wagging in a sluggish but heartbreakingly hopeful manner) at the box office. Film distribution was clearly a whole different thing in the early seventies.

Three seems to be the age at which most children are introduced to the movies. I guess these introductions are managed a bit more carefully now, with the aid of the mass media and so on…

My parents report that my first response to a movie on the big screen was to start bawling. Nobody had told me it would be dark in the cinema.

Now, I just half-watched the film (I wouldn’t attempt a proper review without whole-watching a film, but DR D does rather resist the full attention) with the intent of checking to see if I remember anything about it.

There was one image in my head, divorced from any of the glimpses of the film I’ve caught on TV over the years, and from the bits everybody knows are in it, like Harrison speak-singing “If I Could Talk to the Animals.” I had an image of a ship, or possibly a raft, on a stormy sea at night. But for some reason I had a doubt that the image might have come from Altman’s POPEYE, another family film that flopped, released much much later, which I also saw at the cinema.

The image is there! It’s a couple of hours into the film (which is purportedly about a voyage but takes that long to get properly under sail). The ship gets wrecked and then the characters are on rafts. “I told you Flounder was a terrible name for a ship.” Whereas Robin Williams in POPEYE begins the film on a raft, at sea, at night in a storm.

I suddenly flashed on the possibility that my parents had turned up in the middle of the film. We did that sometimes in those days. I certainly remember double features where we entered midway through the B-picture. Yes, there were films running in repertory then, and double bills (Roger Moore as Bond, Godzilla versus whoever was around, HERBIE VS CHRISTINE) and people still sometimes turned up without consulting the listings and went to see whatever was on, regardless of whether it had started. Alfred Hitchcock tried to wipe out this deleterious practice by banning late entrants to PSYCHO, but it didn’t completely stop careless punters from turning every film into a non-linear adventure in piecemeal narrative composition.

(I still quite like seeing a film where I’ve caught a bit of it years ago and never knew what it was or what was going on…)

So I suspect I was a distressed three-year-old because I was dragged into a giant dark auditorium in the middle of a scary sea-storm at night. Dark in the cinema and dark onscreen. Maybe an usherette with a torch to add further nocturnal drama and hushed urgency, maybe not. Maybe not, maybe we entered during the ads or trailers like civilized people, I don’t know.

I think I was repelled by the pushme-pullyou, also. Say what you like, it’s not natural.

Mystery Men

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2011 by dcairns

LOST HIGHWAY and THE NEW CENTURIONS. Two videos that kind of resonate with each other. In fact, maybe if you play them both at once you can get some kind of interesting conversation going.

The lynch film is, I hope, sufficiently well-known to most Shadowplayers as to require no elucidation from me, although I can report my conversation with its director during an Edinburgh Film Festival satellite hook-up interview conducted by Mark Cousins. The interview had been arranged with many warnings from Lynch’s people — “David doesn’t like to explain his work,” etc. So Mark was faced with the challenge of interviewing an acclaimed maker of enigmatic and surreal mysteries, without asking him to clear up any of the mysteries. Lynch appeared on the big screen, sometimes fading in and out myseriously as his voice continued twanging on, rather like Virginia Madsen at the start of DUNE. Mark, anxious about publicly quizzing the Great Man, had steadied his nerves with a drink or two. The first clip was played, showing Bill Pullman in the death cell mutating into Balthazar Getty, all mixed in with an image of a shack exploding in reverse. Mark’s first question: “So, what’s going on there?”

Lynch, despite the dire warnings, was affability itself and was quite happy to talk about the scene, without, of course, explaining anything. I remember he did say that he’d chosen to avoid digital morphing “Because it seems like everyone and his uncle is doing that.” And he talked about how the exploding shack was the result of a sudden inspiration which came to him while filming a later scene at that location. “I just got this image, so I called the special effects guy and asked what kind of really powerful explosives he had. And he said that he had a lot, but that he could get more.”

As the audience were invited to ask questions, I knew it was no good to ask for explanations, but I did ask, since we saw the Mystery Man with a video camera, whether it was reasonable to assume he was the one who was sending Pullman VHS tapes at the start of the film. I also sneakily asked where he got the idea of casting Robert Blake. Of course, if you ask someone two questions, they get to choose which one to answer. He told me he cast Blake based on his Johnny Carson appearances. But he also said of the Mystery Man, “I don’t want to tell you who he is. He’s someone we’ve all met.”

THE NEW CENTURIONS is Richard Fleischer’s Joseph Wambaugh adaptation, dealing with the travails of LAPD patrolmen George C Scott, Stacy Keach and Scott Wilson. Sterling Silliphant scripted, eschewing any overarching plot and avoiding traditional structural forms — it’s episodic yet oddly of a piece, and quite a superb piece of filmmaking. The above scene (with its gorgeous LA light) occurs after George C has retired and is at a loss to what to do with himself. I’ve cut it off before the end to avoid a gross spoiler. I always like to watch a violent crime movie set in a place I’m going to visit — I prepared Fiona for our New York trip by screening THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 (version originale).

This post is somewhat inspired by the weirdness of talking to Fiona via Skype from LA, looking back into my flat from the other side of the looking glass.

The other day upon the stair

I met a man who wasn’t there

He wasn’t there again today

Oh how I wish he’d go away!

Robert Louis Stevenson


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