Archive for The Fall of the Roman Empire

The Round-Up

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2010 by dcairns

PAIN

James Stewart in THE MAN FROM LARAMIE.

James Mason in THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE.

One could of course go on… Stewart suffers considerably in Mann’s westerns, being shot through the hand in both LARAMIE and THE FAR COUNTRY (like Robert Ryan in MEN IN WAR), while Mason’s hand-burning ordeal in TFOTRE seems like a direct reprise of LARAMIE. Both are co-written by Philip Yordan, and in fact both feature a recognisable trio of characters — an ailing patriarch (Donald Crisp in LARAMIE, Alec Guinness in TFOTRE), his stupid and vicious son (Alex Nicol and Christopher Plummer) and the devoted friend and almost-adopted son who should inherit by right of being the competent one (Arthur Kennedy and Stephen Boyd). See also Yordan’s MEN IN WAR script for another ailing surrogate father.

Mann’s films pair up in interesting ways, often via casting — he was fond of reusing actors he liked, often in wildly contrasting roles: there’s very little of the stability one finds in Hawks or Ford’s use of their stock company. Of course, Jimmy Stewart is always the leading man when he’s around, but his roles vary considerably in amicability — as has often been noted, Mann’s pushing of the Stewart persona into neurotic and obsessive territory prefigures and prepares for Hitchcock’s use of the star in VERTIGO.

THE FAR COUNTRY and BEND OF THE RIVER, which I watched back-to-back, very nearly blur together due to the similar gold rush background and the repeat casting of and Harry Morgan and Royal Dano and Jay C Flippen (Manny Farber is amusingly horrified by this guy: “Probably the worst actor that ever moved into a movie.” My friend Comrade K semi-concurs: “He has a face like a tick”).

STENTORIA

“Only a trained investigator would have attached any significance to those two words: steam baths.”

After making twelve movies, including DESPERATE and RAILROADED which feel pretty mature and Mann-like — Mann entered the realms of the strident voice-over: known as STENTORIA.

In Stentoria, all the stories are factual, and only the names have been changed, to protect the innocent. Stentoria encompasses T-MEN (above and below images) and HE WALKED BY NIGHT and SIDE STREET and BORDER INCIDENT, but the voice-over diminishes in prominence and increases in subtlety as Mann develops. The VO guy in T-MEN sounds like he has a bad cold (as does Robert “terror of Salzburg”  Cummings in REIGN OF TERROR), and he talks for HALF THE FILM. I protested against this, until my friend Comrade K pointed out how scary the film gets when the VO suddenly and unaccountably GOES AWAY (“From here on you’re on your own!”) and leaves us in the meaty hands of Charles McGraw. By the time Knox Manning opens and closes BORDER INCIDENT with a few reassuring words, we have a guy who seems to be impersonating Mark Hellinger’s famous VO in THE NAKED CITY: much more laid-back and mellifluous. And as previously noted, VO guy Robert Rietty in FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE sounds like Mann himself.

T-MEN: John Alton, photographer:

A DANDY IN ASPIC, photographed by Christopher Challis.

Thinking about Charles McGraw — as I do — I realize that not only must Mann be responsible for McGraw being in SPARTACUS, but that the Mann scenes in that movie are not only the best scenes, but also the most Kubrickian! All the gladiator training stuff which so neatly prefigures FULL METAL JACKET… and MEN IN WAR is clearly the movie that Kubrick’s tyro effort FEAR AND DESIRE wants to be…

“Freedom isn’t a thing you should be able to give me, Miss Ginny. Freedom is something I should’ve been born with.” An impressive line delivered by Ruby Dee in the equally impressive THE TALL TARGET.

DELICIOUS HOT

A fellow film blogger in New York admitted to limited experience of Mann and wondered if he wasn’t perhaps a cold filmmaker — I wouldn’t agree, although in their different ways T-MEN, TFOTRE and A DANDY IN ASPIC either avoid or miss the warmer emotions. Certainly the gentler passions are less likely to figure prominently in Mann’s work, but nobody can make cold movies with Jimmy Stewart. I’d point to Aline McMahon’s abiding love for Donald Crisp in LARAMIE as a good example of the powerful feeling Mann can evoke without seeming to try too hard, and the affection of Stewart for Walter Brennan in THE FAR COUNTRY is a similar example.

Here’s my shortlist of Mann favourites, all of which have tender moments as well as angry ones –

RAW DEAL — a great “women’s noir” with a groovy theremin theme. I like Marsha Hunt a lot, but Claire Trevor steals the show.

WINCHESTER ’73 — just about my fave of the Stewart westerns. Borden Chase (I heard he took his name from Lizzie Borden and Chase Manhattan Bank, figuring the combo would be memorable) had a real flair for rambling structures which somehow achieve a feeling of tightness — maybe just because they’re so action-packed, maybe also because they’re tied to strong characterisations for Stewart each time.

THE TALL TARGET — beautiful train thriller to compare with Fleischer’s THE NARROW MARGIN, and it uses its little scrap of history (heavily embroidered, no doubt) to tackle some actual politics.

THE NAKED SPUR — Stewart’s most driven performance for Mann, with fine support from Ryan and Meeker.

THE LAST FRONTIER — well, *I* like it anyway. Apart from the tacked-on ending, this is another study in the exercise of power by the inadequate (a big Mann theme — well, he did work under the studio system!) and the taking of power by the better suited.

MEN IN WAR — maybe the best Korean War movie? Hearing Robert Ryan deny the existence of the USA carries a blasphemous thrill.

MAN OF THE WEST — the best, because the darkest, of all Mann’s westerns. The abuse of Julie London’s sympathetic Billie borders on the gloating, and the fact that her character is virtually abandoned at the “happy ending”, while disturbing, is what makes this so powerful. For once, too much has happened for a Hollywood ending to mean what it should.

The only “cold” film on the list of real greats might be REIGN OF TERROR, but I’m not sure “cold” really applies to such a blazing, apocalyptic yarn.

NOIR AWAY SO CLOSE

I’ve been alert, hopefully, to the transition of Mann’s noir sensibility to westerns and epics, and find it really invigorates some traditional-looking oaters: THE MAN FROM LARAMIE is a proper detective story, with Stewart being constantly warned to stay off the case, being framed for murder, etc. (It also has a weird, mythic/biblical side, with prophetic dreams that influence a major character’s actions.) The romantic triangle of RAW DEAL is reconfigured in later epics like TFOTRE and, I seem to recall, maybe EL CID too. Certainly HEROES OF TELEMARK has it, and Mann says in the DVD extra interview that this was part of what attracted him.

Think of it: Mann made noirs in the ’40s, westerns in the ’50s and epics in the ’60s. At the end, he made an espionage movie, and that might well have been the next phase of his career had he lived longer (REIGN OF TERROR is basically a Hitchcockoan spy thriller set in the past). Mann was Mr. Fashionable.

T-MEN and A DANDY IN ASPIC.

COUNTRY LIFE

“Help me, Ty Ty!”

“Where are you, Pluto?”

“Ah fell in a hole!”

“Well, which hole you in?”

“This very, very deep one!”

The “comedy” of GOD’S LITTLE ACRE is only occasionally funny, despite the presence of Buddy Hackett, whose face is funny even in repose (and it’s never really in repose). Buddy Hackett is known in the UK as “that fat guy in the back of Herbie.” All in all, the movie is like the unsuccessful comedy cousin of THE FURIES, and while Robert Ryan might have been able to play Huston’s role, he’s not ideally suited to his own — much as I love him, he doesn’t have funny bones.

THE FURIES is striking for many reasons, one being the flaunting of the Production Code — apart from the scissors flung in Judith Anderson’s face, there’s the fact that morality has little to do with which characters are sympathetic in this movie, and it fails to determine which are alive at the end.

YOU NEED HANDS

In the edition of the BBC’s The Movies featured as an extra on Criterion’s lovely disc of THE FURIES, Mann cites Murnau as an influence (he seems about to name a couple more directors, but the piece seems to have been edited to exclude them — Welles would seem like a plausible name to drop though, wouldn’t he? Incidentally, the BBC seems to have hung onto outtakes from several Movies interviews, so it’s not impossible a diligent researcher might find what else Mann said…). He talks with enthusiasm about the way figures grow from small and distant to large and close in Murnau, and the dramatic force this imparts, and reminisces about the climax of TABU –

Mann certainly shows skill in his use of size… the way his compositions bristle with repressed, barely contained energy, and the way each edit snaps the tension into a new configuration is one of his key qualities. This single shot from REIGN OF TERROR maybe shows the influence of Murnau –

The Terror of Strasburg checks his teeth in the mirror –

Then adjusts his wig, at which point Robert Cummings POUNCES LIKE A TIGER –

In the struggle, the mirror is tilted downwards so it now reflects the T of S’s hand as it clutches the dresser, and then Cummings comes in with a dagger — Cummings is apparently NUDE, it seems — all ready to steal the T of S’s clothing and identity.

The clutching hand spasms and falls from view after the dagger descends.

In a purely whimsical touch (grim whimsy), the naked hand reaches up and post-coitally snuffs the T of S’s candle.

BEHIND THE DOOR

Just watched THE DEVIL’S DOORWAY. Robert Taylor as an Indian is one of the silliest bits of casting I can imagine, and he always bored me as a star, but if you can get past the shoe polish he actually gives a good perf. The pro-Indian stance is commendable, and John Alton’s inky photography, Mann’s dynamism, and Guy Trosper’s script, which gives all the poetic lines to repellant-yet-suave villain Louis “Ambassador Trentino” Calhern, stop it being anything like a PC snooze.

Mann’s westerns nearly always centre around a powerful injustice — count the minutes until Jimmy Stewart gets robbed in each one — and DEVIL’S D politicizes this. It’s an incredibly strong hook, the theme of injustice, which communicates to everybody: “When a child says, ‘It’s not fair!’ the child can be believed,” says Tom Stoppard’s script for SQUARING THE CIRCLE. Even those who are regularly unjust themselves usually got that way because they suffered injustice and decided life wasn’t fair. Yet this universally powerful theme is largely avoided in modern movies — I have a theory audience testing may be reponsible — when they ask the mob, “What was your least favourite scene?” the mob are going to say, “I didn’t like it when they burned Jimmy Stewart’s wagons / shot him in the hand.” Of course, you’re not meant to like them! So those scenes don’t get made nowadays, and the films stop being about anything. The heroes in modern action movies seem to spend the whole films WINNING.

THE DEVIL’S DOORWAY has the bleakest ending of any Mann, I think. He was apparently very pleased with it.

FINAL FRONTIER

In THE LAST FRONTIER, Victor Mature plays Cooper, a scout who laughs at danger! Ah-ha-ha-ha! Despite using rather urban types in its cast — Anne Bancroft and Stuart Whitman offer strong support — the movie still evokes a convincing atmosphere of Civil War era Indian fighting, perhaps because it avoids cliched behaviour so thoroughly. In scene 1, Big Victor and his trapper pals are surrounded by hostile Indians. They sit down and eat lunch. You don’t see that every day.

If filmmakers avoid cliche (big if) and if they believe in the anti-cliched behaviour they present (as someone like Hawks clearly did), it seems they have a good chance at presenting interesting situations.

For all that it presents maybe the first thoroughly bad cavalry officers in western movie history (a very good Robert Preston, snagging moments of sympathy when the script exposes his underlying insecurity), the heart of the film is primitive Victor’s relationship with Bancroft, the officer’s wife, which is painfully convincing. The adulterous triangle leads us into strong noir territory, as do the covert liaisons in EL CID and ROMAN EMPIRE, which were also co-scripted by Philip Yordan, whose keen interest in military life is also displayed in a Mann masterpiece, MEN IN WAR.

And with its widescreen photography, the movie is perhaps Mann’s most handsome colour western.

FILMS I HAVEN’T WATCHED

Couldn’t get EL CID or DOCTOR BROADWAY in time, but hope to see them soon.

Wasn’t sure if THE BAMBOO BLONDE was worth it.

Didn’t bother with THE GLENN MILLER STORY yet, despite Fiona’s vivid memory of being frightened by the iron lung.

THUNDER BAY was in a sense topical, with it’s oil men versus fishermen plot, but the solution, suggesting that the oil biz would be good for fishing, sounded like it might come off as embarrassingly dated. Still, I bet the movie’s at least interesting.

The former Anthony Bundsmann is a somewhat mysterious figure, little being known about his past. I’m frustrated by not knowing any films he wanted to make but was unable to — these unmade films are often most revealing. I’ll offer one up — with his obsession with determined men whose refusal to compromise has fatal consequences, he’d have been the perfect man to film Von Kleist’s Michael Kohlhaas. Instead, Milos Forman made it as part of RAGTIME and John Badham made it as THE JACK BULL.

The End… almost.

Buy: Man of the West

“I’m afraid you would not find me suitable.”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2010 by dcairns

It was a pleasure to finally get a copy, however imperfect, of THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE in the correct screen ratio. My earlier viewing of a 16:9 off-air recording had intrigued but failed to satisfy — you really don’t get a sense of the film’s insane size unless you can see the whole frame.

STILL haven’t got an adequate copy of EL CID, and may just have to buy the BluRay when I get a BluRay player… which I may have to do since I’ve just written an essay for a forthcoming BluRay only release, and I kind of want to see it…

EL CID’s success made THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE possible, but what made the whole Spanish-shot epic boom-and-bust blip in film history possible was General Franco’s ruling that profits from ticket sales in Spanish cinemas could not be taken out of the country. Producer Samuel Bronston decided to get the studios to spend their profits in Spain, on big movies which could then be exported and make more money around the world. EL CID, an epic from Spanish history, was a logical choice, but the following movies rather stretched the possibilities of what could be successfully faked in Spain — 55 DAYS IN PEKING really distends plausibility to snapping point.

(When Richard Lester was prepping A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM in Spain a few years later, he considered recycling the standing sets from TFOTRE, but he and his designer, Tony Dalton, worked out that it would be cheaper to build their own sets than remove the scaffolding from Bronston’s.)

But TFOTRE manages to mock up Germania, Armenia and Rome quite convincingly, with the aid of the biggest sets ever assembled (I think — I hope!). It’s all too obviously an attempt to repeat the success of the Roman-set BEN HUR, down to a chariot race arranged by Yakima Canutt. Charlton Heston, star or both HUR and CID, was offered the lead, but apparently refused due to his antipathy to co-star Sophia Loren, whom he’d had quite enough of on the previous Mann epic. So his BEN HUR opponent, Stephen Boyd, viewed as very much a coming man, was promoted to lead, a choice Mann later came to view as a mistake, especially after the film grossed less than a quarter of its cost (a then-staggering 26 million).

The “old friends” get reacquainted.

Boyd is indeed a problem, and so is Loren, surprisingly. Boyd, so effective in heavy roles (his psychotic gangster in THE SQUEEZE is exhilaratingly horrible, and BEN HUR gives him an excrutiating, powerful death scene), is just a wounded puppy as Livius, his Irish accent disguised beneath a generic American delivery — that slow, dumb speech pattern heroes always seem to use in “Epics”. And he can’t even be effective on that level because Livius is a rather passive, conflicted hero who doesn’t get much done — the whole story is a chronicle of his failure to save Rome, after all. Mann spoke of anti-heroes in his westerns who were nevertheless men who set out to do something, and did it. Livius isn’t that, which is potentially interesting, but demands a more complex and engaging performance.

Loren’s passion and sex appeal are entirely smothered in a sexless character. Her costumes may be nice (and one can imagine her wearing them to the Oscars, they’re theoretically period but snazzy and contemporary and very vivid) but her love story with Livius takes forever to go almost nowhere. We KNOW Loren’s a good actress, but she has quite a few long close-ups here where I felt like waving a hand in front of her face to check she was actually conscious.

The ponderous leads are compounded by a script which tends to paint in every corner and could really benefit from some bolder ellisions. The emperor is poisoned. He dies. There’s a funeral. A successor is named. There’s a plod to the narrative approach which compounds the seemingly unavoidable turgidity of the epic spectacular form. Thank God David Lean discovered the nouvelle vague while making LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and gave the film a certain zip. The lumber-lumber-zip rhythm of that film is a saving grace.

BUT — Mann’s film, apart from some genuinely mind-bending sets, has compensations. Alec Guinness is pleasurable, and gets the best line, early on, when Boyd offers to bring him the barbarian leader’s head. “No, don’t bring me his head, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.” I was quite happy to watch the remaining two and a half hours of the movie (I don’t think this was the longest cut) just in case anybody said anything as brilliant as that again. They didn’t, but other cool stuff happened.

James Mason creates a warm relationship with Guinness at the start, soon cut short by plot exigencies, but helpful in a movie where often the dialogue and relationships lack the human spark. And Mason’s scene of torture by barbarians is the film’s most Mannly Moment, and maybe its best, vividly capturing the awful powerlessness of intellectual superiority in the face of brute strength and cruelty. Which may be one of Mann’s big themes.

If the hero is weak, the villain can be strong, and Christopher Plummer is very enjoyably psycho. He seems to be having the time of his life, although I have my doubts as to whether anybody enjoys making a big movie like this. Emperor Commodus is characterised by nice lines about the Gods’ laughter, a loony grin that turns his face into an idiotic death-mask, and a little twinkle-toed dance he does over a mosaic map of the Empire. He’s like a campy George W Bush, playing absurd, childish games with an entire world…

And then there’s a really terrific ending. The whole third act is a relentless slide into total destruction, almost as nihilistically savage as THE DEVILS or KRIEMHILD’S REVENGE. Not AS savage, but savage enough. Mann knew EL CID would work because of the terrific finish, and he has a similarly powerful climax here, but it’s not the kind of climax that’s a sure-fire hit-maker. It’s such a downer! And yet, strangely exhilarating, perhaps due to some thanatos deathwish in the human race that makes us enjoy the spectacle of tragedy and destruction.

The script, by EL CID’s Ben Barzman (blacklistee), Basilio Franchina (associated with Barzman and Loren) and Philip Yordan (whose best Mann script by a mile is MEN IN WAR), and if it takes its time getting anywhere (half the film is gone before we reach Rome), it compensates with some interesting narrational devices. The opening VO, which sets up a connection to Gibbons’ book and to the complexities of history which the film does its best to avoid from then on, is read by “king of the Dubbers” Robert Rietty, a master of vocal disguise who this time seems to be impersonating Mann himself. A little later, another voiceover appears, as Alex Guinness tries to bargain with Death — perhaps influenced by Olivier’s soliloquies in HAMLET, he switches neatly from internal to external monologue. In fact, there’s a slight precedent for this in Mann’s use of VO in RAW DEAL. Apparently the Emperor’s musings here are drawn directly from Marcus Aurelius’s real meditations. You don’t get that in GLADIATOR. And at the end of the film, Loren unexpectedly starts doing the same thing. It’s a little jarring, since there’s no other narration in the whole movie, but there’s some sense that the VO is meant to call to mind Guinness’s death, since what we’re now facing is the Death of Rome.

Another amazing set. Somebody will wind up dead in that pool, perhaps as a reference to Commodus’s real life demise: murdered by his own wrestlers in the bath. The most homoerotic political assassination ever?

Given the time the film was made at, and given JFK’s invocation of ancient Rome in his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, and especially given that this is a movie by expat Americans, it’s tempting to read THE FALL in metaphorical terms as dealing with contemporary, postwar American politics. If so, that might be another reason the public stayed away (plenty of people did show up, just not nearly enough to pay for a super-epic) — it’s a pretty scathing look at a society in freefall, financially, morally and militarily. But that despairing ending is put over with such enthusiasm, it’s genuinely thrilling, like a lot of the best tragedy.

The Fall Of The Roman Empire (Three-Disc Limited Collector’s Edition) (The Miriam Collection)

Things I read off the screen in “Lisa” AKA “The Inspector”

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 22, 2008 by dcairns

We have to give this film both titles, because neither one is remotely adequate: LISA could be anything, whereas THE INSPECTOR works only as a cop movie, and preferably one where there’s something a bit funny about the titular investigator. But this isn’t a cop movie — after the first ten minutes, our hero (Stephen Boyd) stops acting as a policeman and quickly becomes a fugitive from the law. But somehow the two titles conjoined have a pleasing effect.

The 1962 drama, adapted by Nelson Gidding (THE HAUNTING) from the novel by Jan de Hartog, and “helmed” as Variety would say, by screenwriter-turned-director Philip Dunne, suffers from several kinds of flatness, but maintains a trembling grip on the viewer’s interest via some unusual plot elements and a meandering, unpredictable narrative.

HOEK VAN HOLLAND.

This is kind of a road movie avante la lettre, and we begin on a train — the credits appear over weirdly blue-tinted railroad tracks rushing past, a little iris effect allowing us a bubble of natural colour in the centre of the (pan-and-scanned) Cinemascope frame. This seems a little psychedelic, but turns out to be cinematographer Arthur Ibbetson’s best stab at day-for-night rail travel.

VERBODEN TOEGANG

Lisa (Dolores Hart, whose brief gesture at movie stardom was about to burn out) is on this train, in the company of shady import-export man Marius Goring (who’s by this time grown into his increasingly sinister face) and being shadowed by cops Boyd and Donald Pleasence. The supporting cast of this film is an amazing array of Brit talent. Everybody alights at the ferry station to embark from England, and we get some Dutch signage.

FOR HIRE

These words are upside down, which signifies that the London cab is NOT for hire. Because upside down letters mean the opposite of right-side up ones! That’s an important thing for visitors to London to know. Boyd takes the taxi to Scotland Yard, passing some blitzed-out ruins, which give us a sense of period — the movie is actually set in the immediate post-war period.

DANGER: FALLING DEBRIS

Perhaps this sign, posted at the ruins, is a forewarning of Boyd’s condition. In the next scene we get exposition by the clog-full: Boyd’s fiancee is dead; Goring is an ex-Nazi white slaver exporting girls to South America, but the Brits have no evidence to hold him on; Lisa’s family died in the war and she’s a concentration camp survivor. Boyd vows to stop Goring by any means, even though he has no legal authority on British soil.

Anthony Mann, who directed Boyd in THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, considered him “no movie star”. The problem is that Boyd, so effective in his death scene in BEN-HUR, is really a character actor who’s interesting when he’s BIG, and dull when he underplays. Mann thought it was something to do with the brown eyes. Certainly Charlton Heston, who lacked Boyd’s versatility and sensitivity, makes an impression with facial micro-movements that Boyd, will all his skill, can’t match.

BLUT UND EHRE

The slogan is printed on a fake S.S. dagger which Goring displays when Boyd calls on him. Goring’s “legitimate” business is this tacky souvenir trade, while his real job is providing flesh for “a kind of house” in Brazil. Boyd punches the guy out and barely restrains himself from shooting the fallen creep. Here he’s a little like Robert Ryan in ON DANGEROUS GROUND, but just enough to make you wish Ryan was playing the role.

Boyd finds Lisa outside — she’d already left by the fire escape. She tells him that Goring had promised to take her to Palestine, where Israel is being formed. She didn’t trust him, but was sufficiently indifferent to her life that she was willing to take a chance. When Boyd tells her Goring’s true plans, she LAUGHS: “Sorry, it’s a private joke,” and this teaser to the film’s biggest, weirdest plot point, kept me watching for a bit longer. So did Dolores Hart, who’s very natural and alive and immediate as Lisa. She doesn’t manage to quite portray the character’s journey from battered cynic to loving, revitalised girl, because she’s too vital at the start, but she’s a winning presence. Movie stars tend to control their faces and make each expression count, whereas her face is all over the place, and she throws smiles and frowns around as if leaving a trail. It’s refreshing.

5436970

Number tattooed on Lisa’s wrist.

Boyd, touched by Lisa, promises to get her to Palestine. Taking her back to Rotterdam, he brings her home to mother, who notes the girl’s resemblance to Boyd’s late fiancee, who was killed by the Nazis, and assumes Lisa is a prostitute who has bewitched her son. Lisa angrily explains that this is impossible — she was detained in Auschwitz’s medical wing.

Right. Yikes. The movie never goes into clinical detail, which is a relief, but also sets the imagination working horrible overtime. What kind of damage has been inflicted that would physically prevent Lisa from working as a prostitute? I can’t think offhand of another film whose plot hinges in this way on the condition of the heroine’s downstairs parts. Boyd is still unaware of this gynaecological bombshell, and the film makes much of the poignancy of his falling in love with Lisa as he tried to transport her to the new Jewish homeland, and her resistance to the idea, based on her belief that she can never have sex, let alone children.

STRYDPERK VAN DODGE CITY

A book being read by Leo McKern, a smuggler who takes Boyd and Hart on as crew for his barge (Finlay Currie, the convict from Lean’s GREAT EXPECTATIONS, sets Boyd up with the position). This should get the duo as far as Morocco, but there’s a problem — Marius Goring has been found dead. According to later plot developments, Boyd and Hart each suspect the other of murdering the Nazi pimp (can there be a more unsavoury job description in any language? “What do you do for a living, Marius?”), but this potential source of suspense isn’t really brought out. Boyd’s old partner Donald Pleasence colludes in his escape from Holland and the group hit the seas.

LYNCH WET DE RED CREEK

Another of McKern’s paperbacks: he likes his westerns.

We get to Morocco and the signs disappear for a looong time. Hugh Griffith plays another, more sinister smuggler, a Welsh Dutchman (complimenting Boyd’s Irish Dutchman and Currie’s Scottish Dutchman) who offers to take the pair to Palestine but at a cost: Boyd must work for him for a year as payment for Lisa’s passage. But there’s an alternative: an American (Neil McCallum, a Canadian who made a steady living playing Yanks in Britain) will take them without such conditions — but Lisa must have a medical examination, since the Israelis don’t want any diseases coming in. The examination terrifies Lisa, I think partly because it’s to be conducted by a character apparently called DOCTOR METROPOLIS*. I certainly wouldn’t want anybody named after a Fritz Lang movie fumbling with my undercarriage. Although DR MABUSE would be worse, I guess.

The medical turns out to be a cathartic release for Lisa, who experiences a quasi-flashback as she tells Doc Metrop her story. Appropriately enough, this features a multi-image shot of eyes borrowed straight from Lang’s METROPOLIS. I wonder if the Doc’s character name preceded/inspired the reference? 

It all ends in a fade to white, and is the liveliest bit of filmmaking in the whole show. The need to treat the sequence allusively rather than directly unlocks some imaginative muscle in the director. Maybe the film has unseen compositional merits obscured by the wretched pan-and-scan treatment dished out by some long-ago TV broadcaster, but it’s the plot and guest-stars that allow it to survive a viewing. Malcolm Arnold’s score tries to convince us that THIS IS CINEMA, but actually just gets in the way.

(Once in a while I find somebody who wants to swap movies, but doesn’t have anything I particularly want, so I take pot luck, and thus I find myself with a film like LISA AKA THE INSPECTOR. And it sits, unwatched, for years, until the night I randomly pluck it out and slot it in the machine.)

Oh, I almost forgot, we also have Robert Stephens as a navy man, sloping around like a spy after Boyd. “You Dutchmen, always on the go!” he rejoices, and I think this may well be the line Robert Stephens was BORN TO SAY. There is such a line for all actors. Anthony Hopkins’ line is “I’m a mercenary ham with the head of a whale!” but no one has written it into a script for him yet.

Stephens informs Boyd that tests have show that Goring died accidentally, falling on his S.S. knife. The authorities would like Boyd to return and clear the matter up, but he’s not being charged with murder. And nobody much liked Goring anyway.

BUT! Browne the American doesn’t want Lisa to go to Israel: now that he knows her history he wants to pack her off to Nuremberg to testify about what was done to her.  It’s clear this would be destructive to her psychologically, and she still really wants to go to Israel, where she’ll finally feel safe. This part of the film was the most powerful for me: some well-meaning people are quite willing to destroy Lisa in order to create a powerful effect at the war crimes tribunal. A sensation of desperation.

At this point, signposts suddenly reappear, helping Boyd chart his way through the unfolding narrative:

AIR ATLAS

Stencilled on the plane to Germany which Lisa doesn’t get on, because Boyd realises she’s in love with him. They make a deal with the Welsh Dutchman and set sail with Arab Harry Andrews. After numerous examples of nationality-muddled casting, the film finally presents a Brit browned-up. Andrews is appalling casting. His accent fluctuates across the globe’s entire surface, and at one point he gets water splashed in his face and turns lighter. Absurd.

MADRE DOLOROSA

Not the most encouraging name for a ship (shades of Dario Argento!), but if Harry Andrews is the captain and he’s wearing body makeup, I guess things can’t get much worse. More double-dealings and plot twists turn up, but after the quasi-resolution of the love story, none of it matters too much. The final leg of the journey puts me in mind of Clouzot’s MANON, which likewise ends with a trip to the new state of Israel, but Clouzot’s conclusion is both bleaker and better. He’s a real director, and Philip Dunne just isn’t. Despite the strange lack of star-power in the central roles, his movie does deliver a couple of unusual characters who engage the interest and the sympathy. It doesn’t quite find a narrative structure that uses and resolves these people, but I’m still reasonably glad I saw it.

Having recently seen an Arab documentary, THE ARABIAN DREAM,  which as you might expect took a more sceptical view of the founding of Israel, this was also fascinating to see as a time-capsule from an era before the Israeli dream really started to turn sour…

*Actually it’s “Dr. Mitropoulis”, silly.

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