Archive for Sylva Koscina

In Which the Entire British Secret Service is Gay

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 17, 2015 by dcairns


Or perhaps just very very British.

A useful idiot is someone working for the secret service who doesn’t know it. In HOT ENOUGH FOR JUNE, Dirk Bogarde, nearing the end of his Rank starlet period, plays a Bohemian young fellow recruited by a dodgy glass company for a business trip to Prague — he’s actually working for Robert Morley and John le Mesurier of the secret service.

Follow the routine of the late Robert Anton Wilson: every morning when you wake up, ask yourself, “Am I a useful idiot?”



Movie begins by tracking down one of those Corridors of Power we’re always hearing about. One of the very, very few stylish shots in the career of Ralph Thomas, director. He’d already propelled Dirk through a number of DOCTOR films (his brother helmed the CARRY ON series). At the end of the corridor, John Le Mes checks in the belongings of a deceased agent — revealed to be 007. It’s one of a number of cheeky gags dotted along the way, including a news headline where the film’s director protests “I AM NOT A SPY!” Mostly, the film is a light thriller just this side of parody — its vision of espionage is clearly closer to the truth than that of Bond.


But Dirk gets his own Bond girl in Prague, Sylva Koscina (never in an actual Bond film, she did wave a speargun about opposite Richard Johnson as Bulldog Drummond for the same director). She gets some surprisingly sexy stuff to do.

Morley cautions Le Mes not to recruit anyone too susceptible to feminine charms. Then he warns him not to go too far in the opposite direction. Then he blows him a kiss.

Over a drink, Koscina asks Dirk if it’s true you have to go to Eton to get into the British government. He admits it helps. She asks if communists ever get to go to Eton. He explains that they don’t often go, but sometimes by the time people graduate from Eton, they are communists. She asks if they get into the government. “Mainly the Foreign Office.”

Screenplay is by Lukas Heller, best known for THE DIRTY DOZEN, which is also actually quite a witty film.


Thomas isn’t much of a director, really — early on, he tries some very slight Dutch tilts, for a casual conversation at Dirk’s Bohemian flat. I figured he was limbering up for a bit of THIRD MAN business one we get to Prague (which is played by Padua, not too convincingly). But he omits to ever go lopsided again. I guess he didn’t like the look of the shots when he saw them in dailies, but a re-shoot was out of the question. If he’d had the nerve to sustain this approach, it would have worked beautifully.

But there’s some good comedy playing, the actual action is reasonably tense and plausible, and it’s amusing to see Bogarde meeting his contact in the men’s room. “Homosexuality is the best damn cover an agent ever had,” types William Lee in Cronenberg’s NAKED LUNCH.



The Sunday Intertitle: Birdman

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on February 8, 2015 by dcairns


Look, I don’t mean to brag — probably what I do mean to do is GLOAT — but I was turned loose in the Criterion storeroom during my recent New York excursion (alongside Scout Tafoya). I don’t actually have a bucket list — too cheap to buy a bucket — but if I did this would have shortened it to the tune of one item. Bill Forsyth had described to me how his wife tried to drag him from the room as he frantically tried to stuff more swag into his Criterion carrier bag — “No, it’s free! They said it’s all free!” and I shared his Scottish thrill at the offer of unlimited audio-visual riches, while also bitterly regretting that the wretched laws of physics wouldn’t allow us to simply put the storeroom inside the bag. What one feels, in short, is a mixture of pleasure and panic, rather like what I imagine it must have been like to meet the young Brigitte Bardot.

JUDEX was one of the films I not-quite randomly snatched up. Georges Franju’s knowing recreation of Louis Feiullade’s unknowing surrealism moves at his usual stately pace, something which confused me when I first saw EYES WITHOUT A FACE — GF just isn’t interested in conventional dramatic tension. Here, he even fades to black in the middle of what is technically an “exciting chase.”


Rather than tension, Franju relies on wondrous variety and what-fucking-next? plotting, mostly quite faithful to his source, but compressed and simplified. As I noticed while revisiting AN ACTOR’S REVENGE recently, movies based on serials pull all kind of tricks with narrative that normal movies wouldn’t go near — in particular, introducing new characters very late on, to reinvigorate the action. Ichikawa brings in a two-fisted priest, whereas Franju boldly has a travelling circus ride past, in a deserted street, at night, just when the plot requires the services of an acrobat (Sylva Koscina). And she turns out to be the detective’s ex-lover, newly liberated to marry him. The whole story is turned around because of this person showing up twenty minutes before the end (and having a girl-fight with the cat-suited villainess).


It’s interesting to see how Franju mixes the film grammar of 1914 — irises and intertitles — with fluid camera movements which look more like the 40s than the early 60s when the movie was made. Really magnificent costumes, especially for Francine Bergé, and art nouveau sets and props — everything’s a triffid!

Elsewhere, we have the avenging hero sans motivation, who has invented closed-circuit television in 1914, who can bring dead doves back to life, and who communicates with a prisoner using a kind of ceiling etch-a-sketch intertitle ~


And yet he has not thought to capitalize financially upon any of these inventions and abilities. Most extraordinary.

Extreme thanks to the great people at Criterion: Liz, Kim, Susan, Peter et al.


The ’68 Comeback Special: I Protagonisti

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2014 by dcairns


While the Brits deluged Cannes ’68 with swinging psychedelic romps, the Italians seemed to specialize in genre films with political subtexts — certainly the late Carlo Lizzani (he took a header off his balcony, aged 91, shortly after I wrote an appreciation of his BANDITI A MILANO and commented approvingly on the longevity of his career) was fond of tying social commentary to thriller or western stories, and something similar seems to have animated Marcello Fondato, director and co-author (with the great Ennio Flaiano, Fellini’s regular writer up until EIGHT AND A HALF) when he made I PROTAGONISTI.

A group of tourists in Sardinia is invited, for a substantial fee, to drive into the wilderness and meet a real bandit. The thrill-starved modern civilized types can’t wait to pose for photographs with this exotic barbarian, so they pile into a car and take to the hills, followed without their knowledge by the local police commissar and a zealous division of troops, all hoping to take down the districts most wanted man, and more or less happy to use the dumb tourists as bait.


All of this is curious enough, decently shot amid parched landscapes, and jauntily scored by Luis Bacalov, and with an attractive cast impersonating the unattractive, shallow characters, who might be more at home in a giallo, where they could get sliced to pieces for our amusement. Sylva Koscina and Pamela Tiffin provide female glamour, and Jean Sorel the male side. Lou Castel, the hunky bandit, is a man who would have had a busy Cannes if either of his two entries (this and GRAZIE, ZIA, previously reviewed in horror by Scout) had actually screened.

Fondato was one of several directors who had they debut feature scheduled to screen at Cannes — one does rather sympathise with those who protested that it was all very well for Godard and Truffaut to try to shut down the festival — they’d already had their careers launched. Fondato managed six more features, mostly comedies (classy affairs, featuring Claudia Cardinale, Monica Vitti and, er, Terence Hill & Bud Spencer).


If I PROTAGONISTI isn’t ultimately as striking and impressive as it means to be, it’s perhaps because the shallow characters remain protagonists — they don’t implicate the audience, since we can feel comfortably superior to them at all times. Pam Tiffin plays an “independent woman” proud of relying on no man, but she’s borrowed the money from one of the others in order to make this trip. There’s sexual tension galore as all the men want to seduce both the women. Corrupt business practices are suggested in the background of one character. It doesn’t quite add up to a cross-section of the modern malaise, but you sense that’s the intention.

Still, the picture moves well, with typical Italian flare, and one set-piece, a headlong downhill foot chase, is both gripping and powerfully dynamic — the sheer unflagging momentum and duration have you wondering how much more intense can this possibly get, how much longer can it possibly go on?