Archive for Richard Harris

Lockdown

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 7, 2022 by dcairns

I forget who it was who suggested that STRONGROOM would make a good double bill with CASH ON DEMAND. Duly noted, and though we didn’t pair them up (this time), we did finally get around to Vernon Sewell’s claustrophobic thriller.

Sewell, a former associate of Michael Powell, seems to have had a natural inclination towards restrictive environments. True, it’s a natural way of controlling costs, but there are other ways to do that — filming on location to avoid the need to hire studios and build sets, for instance. Sewell made several films on his boat, and a decent haunted house film, but STRONGROOM may well be his best.

The concept is simple: three bank robbers are compelled to lock two staff members in the vault where their plan goes awry. Realising that the prisoners will suffocate over the long weekend, they resolve to alert the authorities, but circumstances conspire against them. Weirdly, the tension relating to whether the poor bank employees will asphyxiate is less than that concerning whether the bastards who caused it will face a murder rap.

The double-bill we went for was this and SPLIT SECOND, the Dick Powell-directed nuclear thriller, which has an interesting cast and a high concept — criminals take a bunch of hostages at a nuclear test site — but weirdly is far less tense, until the very impressive final blast. Nobody in SS seems to be taking the nuke seriously enough. Every single moment in S is about the threat of death, of finding yourself a murderer.

Sewell’s direction isn’t so much — logic says the shots ought to build in intensity, but they barely do — but the script knows what to concentrate on. It’s shameless but effective in its constant amping up of anxiety. Writer Max Marquis wrote mainly TV drivel (Crossroads!) but Richard Harris (not that one) concentrated on thrillers, including great stuff like I START COUNTING, THE LADY IN THE CAR WITH GLASSES AND A GUN (English dialogue), and a bunch of obscurities like THE MAIN CHANCE which I now feel eager to try. It’s a perfect low-budget movie, exploiting not only small, cheap sets, but slow pace. Watching oblivious minor characters padding about while death is on the line is extremely suspenseful.

While the imprisoned (Colin Gordon & Ann Lynn) are rather drab characterisations which the actors can only do so much with, the thieves include the great Derren Nesbitt, who has a strange plastic Auton quality that always makes him uncanny and watchable (he’s magnificent as the oily blackmailer in VICTIM). Sewell would cast him again in BURKE AND HARE (NOT a distinguished film — but one I kind of want to watch properly).

Nesbitt, tragicomically, blew his savings on his dream project, sex comedy THE AMOROUS MILKMAN, a contender for worst British film ever, and also appears in two more of the worst British sex farces you could ever hope to unsee, NOT NOW DARLING and OOH, YOU ARE AWFUL. He even cameos in RUN FOR YOUR WIFE, for old times’ sake. But he should never have been put in a comedy. His thick-lipped wax mask of a face stifles the laugh response. (Producer Art Linson, mulling over a casting idea with his wife: “Do you think Willem Dafoe could make you laugh?” Mrs. L: “I don’t know, but I saw him smile once and I had nightmares for a week.”)

When Nesbitt puts a stocking over his head for the robbery, it’s too much — he already looks like he has a stocking over his head, somehow.

The ending is a magnificently timed kick in the teeth for both characters and audience.

So, yes: a double bill of STRONGROOM and CASH ON DEMAND would be an excellent idea. Run them near Christmas, ideally, and have this one first: it isn’t remotely Christmassy.

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold — Cream

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 1, 2021 by dcairns

Here’s Shadowplayer Chris Schneider on a late, and underappreciated Frank Tashlin/Doris Day picture…

” … I forgot to mention the sexuality, the anarchy — and the fashion.”~ FB friend Larry Frascella talking of CAPRICE

When I think of CAPRICE, a Frank Tashlin comedy-thriller from the late Sixties, it usually involves one of three things. One: Doris Day in an out-of-control helicopter whose pilot has just been shot, the thought of which terrifies this fear-of-heights sufferer.Two: the unsettling sight of Michael J. Pollard, soon to appear in BONNIE AND CLYDE, with his hand venturing up Doris Day’s leg. Three: Ray Walston in drag. 

“Cary Grant or Rock Hudson maybe,” I say to myself, “but Michael J. Pollard?”

(An Aside: You’ll find so-called “spoilers” in this piece. My reasoning is that, some fifty years after its premiere, anyone interested in CAPRICE is unlikely to be concerned with plot.)

You could say that CAPRICE has an autumnal feel, in that it’s the next-to-last film to be shot in Cinemascope and the third-from-last theatrical film to feature Doris Day. Soon, for Day, it would be strictly television. But that doesn’t fit, ’cause the palette on display in CAPRICE is determinedly bright. Day’s Ray Aghayan wardrobe pretty much never varies from white or red or buttercup yellow, and to go with that there’s music by Robert Aldrich’s pet composer De Vol. (“Smile when you say that name, stranger.”

Yet this is, nevertheless, a spy story, and therein lies the balance. Day plays an industrial spy for one, if not two, rival cosmetics firms.  “The spy who came in from the cold — cream,” she calls herself at one point. The story’s shifting alliances fit in with a mid-’60s John Le Carre world-view, for all the emphasis on comedy and the fact that a man is asked to remove his trousers within the film’s first six minutes. Does Day work for Edward Mulhare, an industrial toff with his own private jet, or rival honcho Jack Kruschen? Answer: What time is it? There’s a Wham! Slam! Ka-Boom! triple-cross in the final reel. There’s also, lest we forget, Ray Walston in washerwoman drag looking mean as he holds a gun.

Nor should we forget that the romantic interest, Richard Harris as an industrial spy and/or Interpol agent who also does Olivier and Richard Burton imitations, jabs Day early on with a non-consensual hypo full of Sodium Pentothal. A tad “rapey,” you say? Perhaps the vigilant will be glad to learn that the last reel’s “romantic” fade-out has Day giving Harris his own non-consensual Sodium Pentothal jab, intoning to him about “a consummation devoutly to be wished.”

Much of CAPRICE is “funny odd” rather than “funny ha-ha.” It’s also highly self-conscious, Ouroboros-like in willingness to comment upon itself like a snake devouring its own tail. Not a surprise, in that other Tashlin-directed films include a poodle named Shamroy (after CAPRICE cinematographer Leon Shamroy) and name-checking of star Jayne Mansfield’s non-Tashlin films. But this one has a BATMAN-like chase running past a television that’s playing BATMAN, Day tailing Irene Tsu (who plays Walston’s secretary) to a theater where the fare is CAPRICE with Doris Day and Richard Harris — that’s where the Pollard scene happens — and the revelation that a supposedly inaccessible parlay is being filmed when we see the film’s image running out. Is it unexpected, given the presence of Shanghai-born Tsu, that the movie encounter happens in the Cathay theater? Or that half of a nearby couple attempting a li’l movie-house grope is Barbara Feldon of the spy comedy series GET SMART? 

CAPRICE was not popular.  The NY Times’ Bosley Crowther dismissed it, saying that “nutty clothes and acrobatics cannot conceal the fact that [Day] is no longer a boy.” As if anyone ever mistook Day for a boy! Or went to Day when looking for one!

I think the problem, rather, is that CAPRICE — like its central performer — is all too strenuously perky. Sorta like the protagonist of that John Cheever story, the one who insists on lining up chairs at parties and jumping over them like hurdles … long after his athletic prowess is a thing of the past.  See television adaptations involving Gary Merrill and, later, Michael Murphy. 

Like that out-of-control helicopter, CAPRICE has the capacity to be scary.  Then, too, like what happens to the helicopter, CAPRICE settles for cute and “endearing” plot solutions. Alas.

Bear with me

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on March 14, 2020 by dcairns

MAN IN THE WILDERNESS is the original of THE REVENANT, based on the same true story (attacked by bear, abandoned, seeks revenge). Richard Harris plays the protagonist and is sound casting except that it makes the thing too reminiscent of MAN CALLED HORSE and its sequel. Either get a new Dumbledore or change that title.

It’s directed by Richard Sarafian of VANISHING POINT fame, and looks great, photographed as it is by Gerry Fisher. We first see our coterie of beaver-trappers dragging a small ship through the undergrowth, a tribe of itinerant Fitzcarraldos led by John Huston in an eccentric hat, his smashed root vegetable of a face bolstering the production values considerably.

Unfortunately, it does have a very poor bear attack, compared to the sexually-charged ursine assault upong Leo DiCaprio in the later epic. Sarafian has chosen to intercut footage of Richard Harris wrestling with a man in a pantomime bear costume with other, different footage of a bear wrestling with a pantomime Richard Harris. With all the real giveaway shots held on just a few frames too long. Incomprehensible… you want to be a fly on the editing room wall. “Can you see it’s not a real bear?” asks one cutter, “I don’t think it matters,” shrugs another.

Widescreen makes this stuff harder to pull off, I guess.

As with THE REV, it looks at one point as if Smoky is getting amorous.

(It’s not as bad as the stuffed bear attack in CIRCUS OF HORRORS, but that one is more in keeping with the lousiness of its surroundings, so it doesn’t make me cringe like this ursine impersonator does.)

The editor is Geoffrey Foot (lovely name) who had cut a couple of David Lean films, so we can’t wholly blame him. Or can we? It’s probably too late to hold him to account.

It’s a very decent script by Jack DeWitt, who also wrote AMCHORSE and ROCKY (not that one) and FARGO (not that one, or that one).