Archive for Richard Johnson

Double D

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on November 13, 2014 by dcairns


Rosanna Schiaffino and Sarah Ferrati.

Damiano Damiani has an inspiring, musical name — beaten only by Aldo Lado, whose name does a backflip and anagrams itself even as it trips off your tongue. But I hadn’t given much thought to DD — his array of spaghetti westerns, poliziotteschi plus AMITYVILLE II suggested an aimless journeyman — only now that I’ve seen LA STREGA IN AMORE (1966) have I become really curious, because if nothing else Damiano/i was clearly a considerable visual stylist. Adapting a story by Carlos Fuentes he plants loverboy librarian Richard Johnson (extremely good, even dubbed) in the palazzio of a mysterious older woman and her sexy young “daughter” where he endeavours to get his oats but gets more than he bargained for.

The story doesn’t add up to much — although it’s refreshing to see supernatural elements handled in a low-key manner, far less shrill than Argento, God love him. Only gradually does it emerge that the relationship between the two women is not what it seems — for some time, the previous librarian, Gian Maria Volonte (NEVER hire than man to file your books, he is a stranger to Dewy-Decimal but a close friend to MADNESS) seems the main source of tension, since he is rather fervent in his opposition to being replaced by the suave Johnson.

I didn’t really like where this ended up — it seemed to amount to little, apart from a brimstone whiff of witch-burning misogyny. But as an exercise du style it’s compelling, full of outrageously long, teasing scenes, simmering sexual tension, elegant blocking and sinuous camera movement, the stripped-down mansion serving as an atmospheric, unnerving psychosexual battleground.


Also: Rosanna Schiaffino and Johnson trying to undress each other with their teeth. To music.

Fiona: “This is actually quite sexy. But if we tried it, it would just be hilarious.”

Explosive Rod

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2011 by dcairns

Remember, remember the fifth of November 

Gunpowder, treason and plot

I see no reason

Why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.

HENNESSY is a mostly pretty interesting terrorism thriller from the director of  THE FACE OF FU MANCHU (which had a big impact on me on TV as a kid) to the 1979 THE 38 STEPS (which I saw at the cinema a few years later) to the legend that is PSYCHOMANIA. Don Sharp was an Australian working in England, and he brought a rugged professionalism to everything he did — his films aren’t all good but they’re unapologetic.

In this one, Rod Steiger plays an ex-IRA man who sets off on a suicide mission after his family are (accidentally) wiped out by British soldiers during a riot. Traveling to London, he embarks on an elaborate plan to get access to the opening of Parliament, disguised as a cranky politician, and blow the Houses of Parliament, the Royal Family, the government and the opposition and himself to united kingdom come.

As you can see, the movie sparked some controversy (although possibly AIP are hyping it up for their promotional purposes). Back in 1975, any attempt to make entertainment out of the Troubles was regarded not only with suspicion (which would be natural and reasonable) but with hysteria — as Mike Hodges found out later when his A PRAYER FOR THE DYING likewise sparked a media shitstorm for daring to portray an IRA man who’s tired of violence in a sympathetic manner. While Carol Reed’s ODD MAN OUT was something of a beloved masterpiece, any attempt to treat similar ground provoked unreasoning fury from the tabloids. The subject WAS rather a grim one, and the horror WAS an ongoing scenario rather than safely in the past, but the frenzied denunciations rarely seemed to have anything to do with the subject under discussion. HENNESSY certainly isn’t an abhorrent film.

Rod and Lee, not being abhorrent.

In fact, the premise was the brainchild of co-star Richard “Who You Fucking?” Johnson, who plays a brutal cockney cop in the film, hot on Rod’s trail and sporting a Captain Haddock beard. He’s quite convincing as a thug, continuing the “violence to the shins” theme he originated in his Bulldog Drummond movies. And meanwhile, not only is Rod Steiger sporting a very convincing Irish accent, but so is Lee Remick, and both of them are really good.

Haddock to a tee.

Although the opening, which requires Rod to kneel and agonize by his slain wife and child (Patsy Kensitt, precociously attempting to justify the shoot to kill policy by her very presence NO! I don’t mean that I’m sure she’s very nice really), which is a red rag to a bull to a man with Rod’s histrionic tendencies, actually he’s 90% muted and restrained and underplaying and all that. Which is remarkable when you consider that this film was shot around the time of WC FIELDS AND ME, where he’s fairly flamboyant, and after the excesses of NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY, THE SERGEANT and WATERLOO, movies where the word “outsized” could fairly be deployed.

Only when Rod straps on the gelignite does an explanation suggest itself: clearly, Sharp stopped his star hamming by having him wired to explode should his acting exceed thirty Oliviers per hour. This clamps a lid on the tempestuous player: you can see him approaching conflagration point, but pulling it all in and down, broiling inwardly with the agony of not being a big show-off, radiating all that intensity through the eyes…

Special guest stars!

So that’s all going on. And then, at the climax, his ridiculous plan nearing fruition, Rod enters a studio mock-up of the Houses of Parliament, and Sharp pulls his cheekiest move: actual guest appearances by the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles, Princess Anne, James Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher… at the appearance of Mrs T, not yet elected to PM, I confess I did start to hope that Rod would heroically blow up and save us 11 years of right wing Tory rule…

Sharp is intercutting documentary footage of the real event, which an opening title shamefacedly admits was not shot especially for this film (but I bet it was, under false pretenses), with Rod and Richard in the Twickenham studios mock-up. To add further to the delirium, Sharp cuts to Steiger’s sweaty fingers connecting the wires within his clothing. Yes, this is doubtless the true reason the movie was banned: for daring to intercut images of our sovereign with images taken inside Rod Steiger’s clothing. These are, I think, the only photographic images recorded inside Rod Steiger’s clothing ever presented to the public. Some brief shots of his nipples chaffing against his shirt in IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT were deleted for pacing reasons, and although David Lean did consider shooting Steiger’s drunk scene in DOCTOR ZHIVAGO from under his furry hat, he decided against it (a decision he regretted to his dying day).

Inside Rod Steiger.


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on March 15, 2011 by dcairns

The 1969 follow-up to DEADLIER THAN THE MALE is called SOME GIRLS DO, and it’s both better and worse. Better, because it’s more consistently silly, rather than nasty, and the annoying American sidekick has been replaced by an annoying British sidekick called Reggie, as should be. Worse, as the script by David Osborn and Liz Charles-Williams lacks the occasional plot felicities of Jimmy Sangster’s original — indeed, it sometimes seems a straight rip-off. Both films begin with a glamor girl disguised as an air stewardess assassinating a passenger, unmask their villain as a would-be Mabuse called Petersen, and spend a lot of time with “Bulldog” imprisoned by Petersen as the madman monologues away about his plans for world domination or whatevs.

Petersen, who died in the previous film, has mysteriously returned, and is played by a different actor, the droll James Villiers, which suggests a fast-and-loose approach to continuity. Virginia North (Vulnavia in DR PHIBES), who played the useless nephew’s girlfriend in the first film, here plays a murderous fembot with an “off” switch on her neck. Also appearing as background crumpet are Joanna Lumley and Yutte Stensgard, with Daliah Lavi as lead femme fatale. Goo-goo-eyed babe Sydne Rome is a sort of femme foetal, with a berserk comedy performance that finally convinced me that she’s not a dumb blonde, just very good at playing one. I should know better than to be taken in by the bimbo act. Her work in Polanski’s WHAT? is so artfully artless as to suggest an entirely empty head atop a curvaceous body, being skillfully moved about by unseen off-camera-hands. But she’s a proper actress, or at least a real performer. What she does may not be subtle, but it shows the only real enthusiasm in the picture.

The idea of a maladroit female sidekick was trotted out again in THE WRECKING CREW with Sharon Tate providing the sexy bumbling, and THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN gave the blonde business to Britt Ekland. On the one hand, at least it gives the actresses something to play. On the other, it’s not exactly empowering. Sydne Rome’s ditzy ebullience does take some of the curse off it.

Villiers, sad to relate, is hampered by a series of ridiculous disguises, and proves to be no master of accents. Only when he’s unmasked and can swan around, exulting in his own nastiness, do we get the full, unfettered J.V.

Richard Johnson raises an eyebrow here and there and is mercifully unsupplied with quips. A plot point involving the “robotizing” of girls — fitting them with artificial brains — seems tacky and unpleasant, unmasking the dehumanization fantasy of so much swinging sixties sex stuff: the idea of the perfect woman being brain-dead and compliant. Objectification is a tricky point — human bodies ARE objects and it seems fair enough for artists to explore their physical properties, but when the storyline drools over the idea of reducing a person to an animate automaton, something more sinister is going on. The fact that the mastermind of all this is played by the strikingly camp Villiers is just another note of nonsense.

This movie seems to have killed off “Bulldog” for good — not even TV has tried to resuscitate the old bigot. A 1983 spoof, BULLSHOT, from Handmade Films, was really quite bad: it took George Harrison quite a while to realize he couldn’t replace the Monty Python team.

A reader sends me this image of her striking James Villiers tattoo — “Jimbo” shares arm-space with Jonathan Frid from DARK SHADOWS.


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