Archive for Roy Kinnear

Co Inky Dink 2: The Zeno-Porthos Paradox

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2022 by dcairns

So, on Monday I read an article in The Guardian in which actor Rory Kinnear talks about his father Roy’s tragic death on the set of RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS and the need for more careful control of stunts and/or health and safety risks on film sets generally.

As I always tell my students, when making films we always find ourselves doing silly things nobody would normally do, under pressure of time and money. The time pressure means people don’t think enough about what could go wrong and how to reduce danger. The money pressure means people are tempted to take chances, trusting the odds.

The information Kinnear fils provides is disturbing: his father had been terrified of riding a horse at full gallop over a stony bridge. A stuntman wasn’t engaged to double him. In spite of the fact that he was a poor horseman and in the original THE THREE MUSKETEERS he collided with a tree while trying to ride past it.

I’d heard Lester on the radio in 1983, discussing that scene, before Kinnear’s death made it unfit for joking. “I overheard Roy, shortly before he was to ride his horse into a tree, joking that ‘Dick always has me in his films. I don’t know why: I’ve never done anything to him.'”

But in another interview I read later, Lester spoke of his in-the-moment horror when Kinnear hit the tree, implying that it wasn’t planned in any way.

It’s in the film. I found it hilarious and amazing and wondered how on earth they achieved it safely. It’s not so funny now.

In RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS part of the bridge ride is also in the film, but it cuts before the accident. You can’t even tell it’s Kinnear on the horse, but presumably Lester would have covered the scene in his usual multicamera way and there’d have been telephoto closeups of the horsemen, so that’s why he felt he needed Kinnear in the saddle, not a stunt double.

With the blackest of irony, to finish the film (the accident happened halfway through the shoot) Lester was forced to double Kinnear extensively, as well as getting a mimic in to impersonate him for dubbing, grim tricks indeed. Screenwriter George McDonald Fraser reports rolling up his sleeves and getting down to work, problem-solving the issue of the suddenly-unavailable actor, a task like any other. But Lester and everyone else report it cast a pall over the filming. “I’ve blanked it.”

But oh yes, the coincidence. The same day I read The Guardian‘s article I screened VIVRE SA VIE for students. Unlike the other films I’ve shown, this was one I hadn’t actually seen. I knew it’d be good and would provide a strong sense of the nouvelle vague‘s 60s innovations. And I had the Criterion Blu-ray, collected from their closet in New York. And I could talk about meeting Anna Karina at Bologna Airport.

Near the end of Godard’s episodic film (which is great), Karina’s Nana Kleinfrankenheim is lucky enough to meet philosopher Brice Parain in a cafe, and he tells her about the dangers of starting to think late in life without having practiced. He uses the example of Porthos’ death scene from Alexandre Dumas’ Twenty Years After:

The scene is very worth watching. And my psychic ears perked up because RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS is a film of Twenty Years After / Vingt Ans Apres, the book Parain discusses. He recounts how Porthos, retreating from a bomb he’s planted in a cellar, gets lost in thought, wondering how movement is possible, the whole process of one step following another, basically Zeno’s Paradox of Movement. The bomb goes off and the roof caves in.

There are, however, problems.

In my youthful enthusiasm for Lester’s 1973 and 1974 films, I read all of Dumas’ Musketeers series. So I almost immediately realised that Porthos doesn’t die in Twenty Years After (or in RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS). There are a bunch of sequels that come after and he’s in all of them. Depending on how the work is divided, 20YA is followed by three or four more volumes. Everybody dies at the end of The Man in the Iron Mask, which has been adapted far more often than 20YA.

I couldn’t remember how Porthos dies, so I tried to find out online, and came across an account by one Vagn Rønnov-Jessen in The British Medical Journal which describes Porthos collapsing after a strong exertion, and which it calls the first description of vertebrobasilar insufficiency in fiction. Nothing about a bomb in a cellar or Zeno at all. And this is definitely an accurate account of the death scene in the book — The BMJ wouldn’t make a mistake about that, surely.

MAYBE the bomb-and-Zeno incident occurs somewhere, disconnected from Porthos’ death, but I can’t find any description of it — a Google search just brings up Parain’s scene in VIVRE SA VIE. Did Parain or Godard make it up, or did it come from another book and get misremembered as happening to Porthos? Too late to ask them.

Anyway, strange, that. You wait ages for a Vingt Ans Apres reference and then two come along at once, only one of them isn’t.


Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2022 by dcairns
Some of these insert shots have an Argentoesque intensity

TV director William Sterling’s one feature film, ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND (1972) assembles lots of great people and looks nice. It’s not my idea of wonderland, though.

As you can see, the copy I scraped up isn’t very good, so I may not be doing the film justice. It’s a lot better than most adaptations — fairly true to the text. It doesn’t become an incoherent mishmash of Wonderland and Looking Glass, as so many do. But being true to the story and characters isn’t the same as capturing the spirit. On the other hand, you can legitimately aim to capture a DIFFERENT spirit. I’m not sure if that’s what happens here.

I remember some piece that discussed the film, and spoke very critically of Michael Jayston’s visible panty line. He plays Charles Dodgson, and the film begins with a boat outing with the Liddell sisters, but does NOT have these characters reappear in Wonderland, disguised, as Lewis Carroll does: he, the stammering Do-do-dodgson, becomes the Dodo. But Jayston doesn’t stutter, he speaks beautifully. Seductively, in fact. He also neglects historical accuracy in his choice of Y-fronts, which show through his white trousers in a way sure to inspire disapproval in a Von Stroheim undie perfectionist.

Fiona Fullerton, a perky Alice, has been told to smile a lot, and does. Her perplexing adventures seem to amuse her greatly. This strikes me as wrong, but given what she’s been asked to do, she does it charmingly, though she’s too old. But if the film is about anything, which isn’t certain, it may be about coming of age — indeed, the soft-focus boat ride looks very much like what I imagine a David Hamilton adolescent smut film must be like (haven’t seen one).

Wonderland is all sets. Quite big ones, but things still get to seem a little airless. The transition occurs when the dream begins, rather than when Alice goes done the rabbit hole, which is a distortion, but an acceptable one. The budget allows for some very interesting visuals. A well decorated rabbithole, a Dali-meets-Geiger sky, an infinite corridor for the key business.

One blunder is carried over directly from the Paramount version: there’s a terrific cast, and most of them are rendered unrecognisable under Stuart Freeborn’s makeups. As usual, the humanoid characters come off best in such circumstances: this may be the only adaptation of the book where the most amusing character is the Duchess’s cook, played in a maelstrom of fury by Patsy Rowlands. Robert Helpmann is a perfect Mad Hatter (though I don’t understand why Kenneth Williams never did it). Peter Bull is a pretty unbeatable Duchess, Flora Robson slightly out of her element as the Queen of Hearts, Dennis Price very much IN his as the King (he does nothing but recite Lewis Carroll in the same year’s PULP). Tiny playing card parts are stuffed with familiar faces like Rodney Bewes, Dennis Waterman, Ray Brooks and Richard Warwick.

Smothered under prosthetics, Peter Sellers still does well as the March Hare, Dudley Moore copes as the Dormouse, Spike Milligan capers and goons as the Griffin, but it’s all schtick and no character. The only bit of Michael Hordern you can see in his Mock Turtle outfit is his lower face, but the rest of the makeup gives him some kind of jowl-lift, so even that part doesn’t look like it’s his. Michael Crawford’s stylish White Rabbit ears and whiskers allow him to do his thing relatively unimpeded (as with Sellers, it’s all in the eyes and voice) but Roy Kinnear has lost most of the Cheshire Cat’s lines AND business, and barely registers, an astonishing fate for such a great scene-stealer. Ralph Richardson has quite wisely refused to don a caterpillar’s head, and can be seen and enjoyed.

There are fewer laughs, I’d say, than in Jonathan Miller’s BBC version, which only had a few. Miller, however, had decided that this was a Victorian child’s dream, and his choices were mainly consistent with that. I’m just not sure what Sterling has decided on. A panto, perhaps. We have songs by John Barry with lyrics by Stanley Black, which edge out many of Carroll’s own superior words. Barry has gone fully into soupy strings mode, with a bit of the pizzicato guff he did in the early sixties. His main theme is almost identical to the one he foist onto ROBIN AND MARIAN.

Not as alienating as TALES OF BEATRIX POTTER, another children’s film from this period (it looks amazing but positively declines to deliver any tales, or any entertainment at all), it still feels like it would have baffled me as a kid. The Disney version made me feel stoned, as I recall, though I didn’t know what that was. I may have made some suggestions in the past for how the books should be treated, but if I did I’ve forgotten, so here goes —

Get good actors, and I don’t know that they have to be comedians. Give them some signifiers — the White Rabbit can have ears, for instance. Otherwise, dress them like the Tenniel illustrations and leave their faces on display and let them act. I hate hate hate the Tim Burton version but the idea of using CG to turn actors into live-action cartoons (giving Bonham-Carter a huge(r) head) was decent.

I would tend to favour locations over sets, even though Michael Stringer’s were very good here.

I think, controversially I know, that Alice should be a child. Get one who can act (which Miller inexplicably failed to do).

I think it should be a bit like Welles’ THE TRIAL, really, just slightly funnier, slightly less sinister. But A BIT sinister. (And the Welles is already pretty funny, funnier than this anyway).

When I read the book I was struck by how funny it was, which the films rarely seemed to be. I wonder if Richard Lester would have wanted to do this: it has eleven of his actors and numerous crew. And there’s the Goons connection. Carroll isn’t as rambunctious as The Goon Show, but he has his moments. It’s a funny thing: the book has almost never been filmed by a comedy specialist.


Posted in Fashion, FILM, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2021 by dcairns

John Mills’ excellent turn as Willie Mossop in HOBSON’S CHOICE is a terrific bit of physical acting and character design. He has two hairstyles, one of which is spectacularly disfiguring — both of which seem to be real, so they must have shot the later scenes first, before barbering him into grotesquerie.

Mills’ other uglified role is in RYAN’S DAUGHTER, where he’s just hideous. Strange to think he won an Oscar for it — if he’d repeated his Early Mossop performance in that context it would have been too much — instead, he goes even further, beyond Mr. Laughton’s Quasimodo. I guess it’s an interesting choice to make the “village idiot” uncharming and unphotogenic, where such characters are usually sentimentalized, but Mills’ choices plunge him into the unpleasant domain of caricaturing the afflicted, an error of judgement, to put it mildly, that lands him in the same camp as Alec Guinness’ whole look in OLIVER TWIST (a film made three years after the Holocaust, if you need reminding).

Mossop, on the other hand, is a wonderful creation. Any discomfort felt about laughing at this ill-educated and ill-dressed man is joyously dissipated as the film shows him blossoming in confidence and erudition, a Galatea sculpted by his partner Maggie (Brenda de Banzie, also wonderful).

Costume designer John Armstrong has collaborated with the actor to subtly deform and distort his trim chorus boy’s body. A little pot belly has been added — I assume it’s prosthetic. The trousers hang in a strange manner, suggesting scrawniness and waste beneath, as well as an ill fit.

Mills enhances the effect by doing a lot of QUALITY ass-work: he sticks out his backside to suggest poor posture rather than pugilistic sauciness, and this seems to do unwelcome things to the clothing. There’s a perfect storm in those trousers — pants and stance in total disharmony.

Kevin Brownlow’s magisterial book David Lean tells us that originally, Robert Donat was cast, and had to shoot a test to convince himself he could do it. He went down the trap door a prematurely aged asthmatic, then came up as Willie Mossop. But he failed the medical, the stress bringing on an attack of wheezing. (Movie medicals, made to satisfy the insurance people, were generally a bit lax. Roy Kinnear said of PIRATES, “A number of us were quite long in the tooth. We all had to do a physical examination. You went in a room and got on a couch, and you could manage that, you were in.”)

Losing his co-lead days before the shoot, Lean had to deal with a rebellious Laughton, who felt betrayed — Korda basically blackmailed him into doing it — “If you go to the scandal sheets, so will I.” Which is… wow. But it certainly helped Lean that his producer was prepared to play the bad guy. Lean and Laughton then enjoyed a good relationship. Lean recalled Mills, on a boat outing, feigning seasickness, and realised what a good physical comic he was. He had imagined Mossop as hulking, but the physical contrast between Mills and Laughton plays brilliantly: Lorre and Greenstreet in Lancashire.

Original author Harold Brighouse wasn’t heavily involved in the film version, but he did advise Lean that he could play the wedding night scene where Mossop tremulously prepares for bed “as long as you like” and it would bring the house down. As with LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and Omar Sharif’s long approach, Lean lost his nerve, as he put it, and so Mossop’s preparations are truncated by an awkward dissolve. If only he’d test screened it… that kind of thing can give confidence as well as shatter it. He was able to go back and extend Sharif’s approach for the LAWRENCE restoration, but alas HOBSON’S never got that treatment and no doubt the footage was swiftly disposed of.

But still… HOBSON’S is a fascinating case of the duties of a main character being split among three superb players. Laughton brings the lion’s share of the entertainment, a bumptious and sodden Lear, but he never learns anything, he’s simply reduced in power until his mean spirits can’t hurt anyone. De Banzie’s Maggie is the hero who makes things happen — a bit of fancy footwork by Brighouse allows her to triumph due to a complete accident — Hobson falling down a hole — that she could never have anticipated. But she’s unchanging. Mossop is manipulated and coerced every step of the way, a character lacking any form of proactive self-determination, but he’s the one with the arc — more than his circumstances change, he grows in stature and becomes master of the house, albeit one put in that position and kept there by a strong woman who is the real power in the relationship. Mossop knows he’s a mere figurehead, but Maggie gives him confidence at every turn by praising his skill as shoemaker. I’ve seen productions of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW where they’ve tried to make Kate and Petrucchio partners in a role-playing game put on for the benefit of society, but I don’t think you can make that entirely convince as Shakespeare’s intent, but Brighouse was a suffragist and the feminist underpinnings of his play are strikingly modern (see also Stanley Houghton’s oft-filmed HINDLE WAKES) — Maggie and Willie agree to play the roles of strong man and supportive wife, while both know that the reality is more the other way around.

Anyway — we raise our glasses to John Mills and Willie Mossop. He may never have gotten another role like it, but it opened up the range of parts he could be considered for and gave him a new lease of screen life, which he certainly ran with.

Next must-see Millses are ICE-COLD IN ALEX and TUNES OF GLORY.