Archive for Shirley Knight

The Crumps

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2018 by dcairns

Further Grant Williams investigation — the Incredible Shrinking Man stars as a psychopath killing strangers on the streets of New York en route to his therapy sessions in THE COUCH. He isn’t shrinking in this one, though, as he might have had trouble getting on the couch, or stabbing people above knee level.

The wonderful Shirley Knight, a memorable New York maniac herself in DUTCHMAN, is his romantic interest and Onslow Stevens plays the shrink, her dad. Stevens had an odd career, it seems — I find him really impressive in his brief role in ONCE IN A LIFETIME (1932) and then he’s in the less fortunate HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) where he manages to cure the wolfman. Will he do the same for the Incredible Shrinking And Murdering Man? A trickier case, it seems.

We’ll be seeing him again in THEM!

Robert Bloch’s writing credit immediately made Fiona suspicious. The mark of quality — medium/low quality. But he shares that credit with director Owen Crump and a young ex-actor named Blake Edwards.

Now, Crump is an unusual name. And it turns out to have been Blake Edwards’s name — he was William Blake Crump. Which sounds like a Victorian poet and engraver falling unconscious to the floor. Edwards was also sort of movie royalty — his stepfather’s father, J. Gordon Edwards was a movie director, his stepfather was Jack McEdward, a production manager. What I can’t find is any assertion that William Blake Crump and Owen Crump were part of the same family. But they must have been, though probably not blood relations. Step-brothers, I’d say. Owen Crump went on to produce several films for Edwards — WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY?, GUNN, DARLING LILI, and they co-produced WATERHOLE #3.

Edwards’ most COUCH-like film is the underrated EXPERIMENT IN TERROR.

Anyhow, THE COUCH gets seriously dull in places, but maestro Crump does attempt some striking visuals, and the acting is all fine. Williams figures out ways to make his good looks seem extremely creepy. I immediately recommended the film to an actor friend preparing for the role of a psychopath…

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The 13th Monkey

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2012 by dcairns

A day of time travel stories —

To the cinema! To see Rian Johnson’s LOOPER. Big fan of his BRICK and I think THE BROTHERS BLOOM deserves more credit than it got even if it didn’t quite make it. After this hit, maybe more people will see it at least. But LOOPER is tough to talk about without spoilers, and it’s new so lots of you haven’t seen it. I’ll just say that Jeff Daniels berating Joseph Gordon-Levitt for copying his style from movies that themselves copied their style from older movies seems a very witty self-critique on Johnson’s part. We’ve already seen JG-L stand before the mirror and adjust his tiny duck-ass quiff in homage to Delon in LE SAMURAI… a movie which, like most Melville, transfigured moments and shots and set designs from old Hollywood noirs.

So it’s not the time to get into LOOPER, even though the film is current. We both really liked it, but I’d always rather talk about old stuff anyway.

The Outer Limits — watched the Harlan Ellison scripted Demon with a Glass Hand the same day as LOOPER, to get our heads nicely a-buzz with time travel ideas. Ellison sued the makers of THE TERMINATOR over its similarities to two of his stories, this and Soldier. Odd, since LOOPER owes much more to THE TERMINATOR, but one can’t imagine anyone suing over that resemblance. In Demon, Robert Culp (who can play both supermasculine and intellectual) comes from the future and has a cybernetic hand that tells him stuff, but can’t reveal the whole plot until it gets all its fingers back. This is a crazy, charming plot device, much more effective to deliver exposition than the scenes where Culp forces his enemies (who all look like Uncle Fester, as Fiona pointed out — except for the one who looks like a pitifully young Iggy Pop) to reveal what they know. They’re all remarkably loquacious, despite the fact that Culp is going to kill them anyway.

Byron Haskin, an old genre hand, directs, and rather delightfully the whole thing (apart from the above studio shot) plays inside the Bradbury Building, famous from BLADE RUNNER and a million other things, a building supposedly envisioned by its architect in a dream. Somebody should shoot some kind of cock-eyed compendium film of DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN and DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE there, since all of those came from dreams too. The ultimate oneiric movie.

The deserted office building at night is a vivid way to encapsulate the hero’s existential aloneness, which Ellison, lays on thick as you’d expect. He’s like a purple Kafka. Time travel per se plays little active role until the stinger at the end — the bad guys are aliens and removing their medallions could just as easily zap them back to their home world as forward in time. It’s interesting to me how baggy most of the Outer Limits scripts are — the one hour running time demands more complicated premises than Twilight Zone, but often the complications are stray stuff, padding or the narrative equivalent of patio extensions.

A case in point is The Man Who Was Never Born, which begins with a wholly superfluous astronaut character going through a time warp before the story actually begins. The true protagonist is Martin Landau as a futureworld mutant, traveling back in time to kill the scientist who’s going to invent a plague that sterilizes mankind and causes Landau’s disfigurement. So this story, by Anthony Lawrence, actually has more in common with THE TERMINATOR (and T2) than the Ellison story. Yet it’s prefigured too, by John Wyndham’s Consider Her Ways, which became a memorable episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Lawrence claimed his biggest influence was Cocteau’s LA BELLE ET LA BETE (Shirley Knight makes a radiant Beauty), and Conrad Hall’s fairytale cinematography actually conjures a comparable glamour using a very different palette.

The same day we watched LOOPER and the Ellison, the BBC screened the season finale of Dr Who, so we had a serious dose of time travel. Stephen Moffat’s run as script editor has been up and down — he allowed the Doctor to step hideously out of character in one episode, vindictively murdering a bad guy. It seems like there’s a quality control issue in the selection of writers, probably because Moffat doesn’t have time to read script samples and write his own episodes and rewrite everybody else’s.

In principle, I think the Weeping Angels who first appeared in the stand-out episode Blink are a one-trick pony and probably shouldn’t have been re-used. The basic gag of statues which only move when you aren’t looking, is terrific, but somehow stopped being scary after the first show (where it was terrifying). Which means that the pleasures of this episode came from the actors  — Mike McShane rather wasted, but Alex Winter Kingston (d’oh!) zesty as ever. Farewell to the best assistants the doc has ever had, but we still have Matt Smith as the Time Lord himself, a completely wonderful embodiment of the character. It pains me to say, but I think Smith really will struggle to find suitable roles when his stint finishes. As with Tom Baker, when you’re that good at playing an alien/funny uncle/Christ figure, it can be hard for casting directors to see you any other way. But I hope I’m wrong — in terms of emotional range, Smith can play anything, and generally comes at the emotion from a surprising angle, which made the climactic farewell scene here really affecting. Moffat wrote it very nicely, Smith and Karen Gillan (who assuredly will have a great post-Who career) played the hell out of it, and the awful music did its best to smother the whole affair in treacle but couldn’t quite succeed.

Dutchman

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , on September 8, 2012 by dcairns

A very strange thing.

It’s set on the New York subway. Based on a play. Filmed in England in a studio set with a few cutaways of the real subway. Actually the sense of place is really convincing, and butts up against the theatricality in a way that’s quite nice. Shouldn’t work but does.

DUTCHMAN, the first film directed by editor Anthony Harvey, who went on to adapt THE LION IN WINTER and THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS. It’s written by LeRoi Jones, who later became as Amiri Baraka. The subject is race and sex and power. Is that more than one subject? Not according to this film. It stars Al Freeman Jnr and Shirley Knight, and it’s terrifying. I shoved it in the DVD player as a diversion as we were almost but not quite ready to sleep and the thing is an odd length, 55 minutes. It’s a miracle we were able to sleep afterwards.

Knight is electrifying. She’s beautiful, but one doesn’t particularly think of her as a sexy actress, more just a really good one (PETULIA, THE GROUP) who really should be more celebrated. Here, she plays an overheated sexuality that’s quite worrying (Fiona found it very scary indeed) because it’s so inappropriate and demented. “Is she a killer?” Fiona immediately asked. I mean, based on Knight’s very first LOOK.

Maybe partly because Knight isn’t normally associated with faux-sexy acting, the effect of her overheated writhing is disturbing rather than erotic (or maybe a little erotic, in a sickly and confusing way). She’s a little like a Fellini nympho in one of his childhood memory scenes: a cartoon of a burlesque of a dream of a memory of a misconception. Or she’s a little like if you met someone who really acted like Marilyn Monroe in her prime: unbelievable, alarming, demented.

Freeman has a more slow-burn naturalistic role at first, but is also amazing: discomfort at the social violation represented by, well, everything Knight says and does, vying with a male instinct to say What The Hell, She Wants Me. And I really don’t know what the play/film is about, what it’s saying, but the conviction and commitment of the actors is so awesome that there can be no doubt they know exactly what it’s all about.

It’s a very strange thing, and completely hypnotic. Now please go and view the whole thing at Shadow and Act.