Archive for The Innocents

Yootha Runs Wild

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2011 by dcairns

Anne Bancroft meets Yootha Joyce at the hairdresser’s in Jack Clayton’s film of Harold Pinter’s script of Penelope Mortimer’s novel — THE PUMPKIN EATER.

This must have been an uncomfortably autobiographical book for Mortimer to write. The story of a woman married to an unfaithful, famous writer, seems to echo her marriage to John Mortimer who, apart from writing the Rumpole of the Bailey stories, worked on Clayton’s THE INNOCENTS and father actress Emily Mortimer and another daughter out of wedlock…

I find Clayton’s work as impressive as Neil Sinyard does, and he wrote a book about Clayton to prove his admiration. At the time, THE PUMPKIN EATER seems to have been dismissed by a lot of British critics as imitation Antonioni or something, but it’s uniquely English (even with American and Australian leads) and quite precise in its milieu… Pinter gets a lot of comedy of menace into it, Georges Delerue provides a truly heartbreakingly beautiful score (as he always did for Clayton) and Clayton’s handling is expressive, imaginative, forceful and not notably like anything else going on in British film of the period. The people are wealthy and in the media, so a movie like DARLING… would seem to be the nearest equivalent, but that makes for a pretty small sub-genre.

Anyhow, Yootha Joyce, best known here for her sitcom work (Man About the House and George and Mildred co-starring Ken Russell rep company fave Brian Murphy) is terrifyingly deranged. Directorially, the major device is the inexorable creep in, achieved with a slow jib in and down, which initially seems to be about progressing the intimacy, but soon serves also to impart menace to relentless Yootha. Then cuts take the strain, bringing us even tighter into claustrophobic proximity — at some point in this sequence, we may start to reflect on the brilliance of the setting, the strange no-escape tension of the scene, carried mainly by the social taboo against jumping up and shouting “Get this maniac away from me!”

And strange how the last angle on Bancroft in this scene makes her look like THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE.

Thanks to Chris Schneider for reminding me off this great scene.

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Frankenstein Must Be a Freud

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2008 by dcairns

Headshrinker.

Well, he describes himself as an expert in psychiatry at one point in FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN…

“I always regarded ‘Baron Frankenstein’ as a forerunner to Dr. Christian Barnard, the South African surgeon who was the first man to transplant the human heart, which he did in 1967…” ~ Peter Cushing.

That same year, as I was working up to getting born, Cushing returned to the role of Dr. F in the third canonical Terence Fisher-Peter Cushing-Hammer-Frankenstein, which Fiona and I looked at again as part of our week-long Frankathon

Strange film! After the extremely neat dovetailing of the first two films in the series, this delivers a bit of a jolt, continuity-wise. After last seeing Frankenstein ensconsed in a thriving Harley Street practice and a new, but identical body, it’s kind of a shock to see him experimenting with soul-catching force fields in Europe, his hands mysteriously mutilated… it would seem the fabled Frankenstein sequence is not as coherent as advertised — unless you do what we’re doing, and swap this film with MUST BE DESTROYED. That explains the Baron’s burned hands, at least.

But to briefly consider this film in the light of the year it was made:

Almost a decade had passed since director Terence Fisher’s last visit to the lab, and in the interim screenwriter John Elder had given us EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN for director Freddie Francis. Francis was a very competent director who was sometimes actually inspired (he was a seriously brilliant cameraman, whose work on THE INNOCENTS and THE ELEPHANT MAN should be enough to earn him immortality, without the need for Frankenstein’s soul-catcher) but he couldn’t do much with Elder’s wandering, unstructured script. Jimmy Sangster might cheerfully own up to being not the world’s best screenwriter, but he’s a veritable Joe Mankiewicz compared to Hinds.

Alas, Hinds does duty as writer on this one as well, and having, in EVIL, sabotaged the careful continuity of Sangster’s work, here he procedes to ride roughshod over his OWN continuity. One of the weird things about EVIL is the way it’s a sequel that contains its own original. This also happens in EVIL DEAD II, which begins by reprising the first film. Elder fits his remake of CURSE into an insanely prolonged flashback, reminding us of all the stuff that should be pretty obvious from the framing story — like, how Frankenstein is this guy who’s made a monster… In this alternative universe, the Baron’s first monster WASN’T destroyed in an acid bath, but frozen, to be revived later on, in this movie…

I’m going to stop writing about EVIL OF now because it makes my head hurt (oh, for a sharp bone saw and some forceps). On to FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN, which has the benefit of a groovy title (although I’d prefer it to go all out and begin with “…AND”) and a slightly less shaky narrative. Elder’s biggest mistakes this time are, in order of egregiousness:

1) Ignoring both Sangster’s and his own continuity. Not only has Frankenstein aquired a new lab and assistant (an uncharacteristically muted Thorley Walters as a drunken old village doctor) but a new speciality, physics. He spends the film’s first half wasting our time with his force field, which may be novel but rather lacks the gory frissons of his early surgical experiments. 

2) Beginning far too early, a recurring Hammer problem (I always cite CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT as the daftest, since it begins, for no reason, with the protagonists’ birth). This one starts off in a supporting characters’ childhood, in what seems to be a borrowing from Frank Borzage’s sublime MOONRISE: our loveable stooge Hans (there’s ALWAYS a character called Hans, and usually a Karl and a Kleve, for some reason), having witnessed his father’s execution on the guillotine, feels predestined for the same fate.

3) Metaphysical crimes. Suddenly Cushing’s Baron is obsessed with THE SOUL, which never interested him before. The whole plot could have been made to work with brain transplants, which would have taken less time to set up and would have been consistent with the Baron’s M.O. as established in three previous films. The film’s soul transplant never makes much sense, but it IS intriguing.

A progressive touch: a disabled, unmarried character with a sex life.

4) Crude characterisation. Three Vicious Local Toffs are set up early on, and their characters fail to develop beyond being V.L.T.s for the whole running time. During the first forty mins they endlessly repeat their basic cycle of nasty behaviours, taking forever to actually set the plot in motion. Once they do, Hans is executed for a murder they committed, his disabled girlfriend drowns herself (oh, what hours of misery Lars Von Trier could make of this!) and “Baron Frankenthing” as a local yokel calls him, can finally do something, implanting the captured soul of Hans in the repaired body of his beloved, Krista.

5) For some reason, this causes her to go blond.

Frankenstein’s personality is a little different here, but I’m not going to call that a fault, just a difference. As in EVIL, there’s more of a sense of Dr. F as a Great Man Surrounded By Fools, persecuted for his genius by an uncaring world. There are certainly hints of the old callous bastard Sangster created and Cushing brought to unapologetic life, but mostly this is a reformed Frankenstein who generally means well. He’s a little warmer, more concerned with justice, and altogether less rapey than the Baron seen in MUST BE DESTROYED. Maybe his experience almost being roasted alive by Freddie Jones has reformed him somewhat.

When Dr. F testifies as a character witness for his unjustly accused assistant (Cushing idles in the witness box, flicking through the bible he’s sworn on — “Looking for loopholes,” Fiona suggests) he makes a poor job of it, but one feels he meant well. If Sangster were writing this, he’d have Cushing deliberately condemn Hans, just so he could get his body (and soul) to experiment on. Which would have given Cushing a lot more to bite into, actually.

Elder redeems himself with Cushing’s zestful seizing of the opportunity to abduct the executed man’s soul. He’s his old cold-blooded self again, arguing against asking his subject’s permission: “He might refuse.”

Capturing the human soul with a satellite dish and a carrot.

The mystery and majesty of the human soul — stripped bare! And if that doesn’t suit you, we have Susan Denberg.

Then we get a very odd remake of MY FAIR LADY/PYGMALION, with Cushing and Walters making a lady out of, well, in this case, a cadaver, and granting it a male soul. Soon they have her making breakfast for them. Krista is played in both disfigured and reanimated versions by starlet Susan Denberg, a slightly controversial figure. Here’s what the IMDb has to say:

Mini Biography

After becoming immersed in the 60s high life of drugs and sex, Denberg left show business and returned to Austria. News interviews at the time show a depressed Denberg in the company of her mother, at home in Klagenfurt. These news items, repeated in fan periodicals for years, gave the impression Denberg was suicidal or had already died. Actually, she is still alive.

Spouse: Tony Scotti (? – 1968) (her death)

So, according to this, she died in 1968 but is still alive. Shades of her character in this film.

(Tony Scotti, incidentally, had his moment of fame in VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, playing a character with a truly beyond-fabulous name: Tony Polar. I propose a new sequel, TONY POLAR MEETS FRANKENSTEIN. The Baron, rendered immortal by injections of spinal fluid, has set up shop as a plastic surgeon in Vegas, where a reclusive Howard Hughes type is sponsoring him to create the Perfect Woman from murdered showgirls. Only Tony Polar can stop him!)

PYGMALION soon collides with THE BRIDE WORE BLACK as Denberg, urged on by her lover’s transplanted soul (?), begins wiping out the V.L.T.’s who caused his death. Confusingly, the soul’s urgings seems to emanate from his severed head, even though it’s supposed to be inside HER, according to the Baron. Logic was never Elder’s strong suit. What follows should be immensely satisfying, as the horrible V.L.T.s (who include Derek Fowlds of TV sitcom Yes, Minister) are bloodily murdered, but it’s somehow all a little underdone. Frankenstein becomes the Man Who Knew And Tried To Warn Them, kept under house arrest by the authorities until it’s too late. Leaving Thorley Walters to ineffectually drop out of the narrative, Cushing arrives at the scene of Denberg’s last murder too late to do anything but witness her suicide.

In a welcome nod to NIGHT MUST FALL, she’s been trotting around with Hans’ head in a hatbox. Now she drowns herself, AGAIN. As usual, she transforms into a burly, gallumphing stuntman.

The film has more ideas than REVENGE, to be fair to it, but many of them are not the kind of ideas that can be usefully exploited for horror purposes. The business with trapping the soul is echoed in a howlingly wonderful ’70s weirdfest  called THE ASPHYX, with the Roberts Stephens and Newton Powell attempting to trap the “death force” in a similar fashion, and similarly, that film fails to actually behave like a horror film (but it does contain my favourite ever mind-boggling line, yelled by Stephens in a crescendo of passion: “Was the smudge trying to warn Clive of danger?”).

So, once again, Baron Frankenstein lives to operate again (although throughout this film he requires the buffoonish Walters’ assistance, since his hands are maimed — when did this happen?). I think it might have been nicer if Hammer had gone to the trouble of killing him off each time, as they did in CURSE, and then beginning the next film by explaining how he escaped death. REVENGE breaks with this pattern by showing Cushing die AND be resurrected at the end, which is OK too. But having the Baron just sort of wander off, as he does here, is a little less than awesome.

And Soon The Dotrice

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 29, 2008 by dcairns

Skies 

Robert Fuest’s first film, AND SOON THE DARKNESS, starts with two Brits, Pamela Franklin and Michelle Dotrice (pronounced “dough-treece”) on the world’s most boring holiday, cycling across a totally flat stretch of French countryside. They stop at a roadside bar ~

“Did you get your bum pinched?”

“No, that’s Italy. They’ll do anything in Italy.”

“What’re we doing in France then?”

This slightly smutty, un-PC girltalk gets things off to a good start, striking one as credible and well-observed, and the actresses handle it well. Franklin had played little Flora in Jack Clayton’s THE INNOCENTS, and Dotrice went on to co-star in the hugely successful 70s sitcom SOME MOTHERS DO ‘AVE ‘EM, and both are terrific, naturalistic players, who always feel overheard rather than performative.

The Girl with Green Eyes

Fuest, fresh from designing and directing episodes of TV’s The Avengers, has a passable thriller plot by Brian Clemens and Terry Nation (both from that show — Nation also created the Daleks): Dotrice vanishes and Franklin finds the entire countryside is populated only with red herrings — and one sex-killer.

The central premise sometimes feels like an expansion of the build-up to Hitchcock’s cropduster attack in NORTH BY NORTHWEST — unseen terror in a landscape of limitless,blank horizons. Though in fact the bright flatness does yield to tangled woods, presenting a contrast between total visibility with nothing to see, and dense impenetrability where something may be lurking millimetres away.

Fuest, one of the great director-designers, has handicapped himself with a film where there seems to be nothing to design, but he exercises his eye with strong compositions and a sensitivity to objects, both the shiny kind brought by the tourists, and the rusty local equipment.

Tranny

Can

He’s also attentive enough, without being lecherous, to his leading ladies. They spend the whole film in tight, huge shorts — this is a film very much focussed on the plump white thighs of young English womanhood, and white panties hung to dry on a tree are a major plot point, but Fuest’s interest is frank rather than salacious. He doesn’t have the slightly seedy intensity of someone like Nicholas Roeg, who is rather too concerned with the passage of Jenny Agutter’s knickers up and down her thighs (Roeg was — maybe IS — a swinger, I’ve been told — parties, car keys, the whole bit — which makes total sense when you put it together with his films). Indeed, Fuest’s DR PHIBES films may be proto-slasher movies, but they’d more concerned with killing esteemed British character actors than busty dolly birds, which makes them rather refreshing in their sadism.

Thighs

The plot slips into variations on THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE — of course she’s going to cold-cock a suspected killer and run smack into the waiting arms of the real killer, but it has the benefit of that compelling news story subject: something nasty happening to normal young holidaymakers, and despite the title there’s no darkness in sight — Fuest’s credit even appears over sunlight glinting through leaves, and the whole action takes place on a single day under blue skies… though a storm is predicted…

Wet Afternoon

Suggested Fever Dream Double Feature: THE VANISHING (original Dutch version), or make it a Dotrice double with the mind-blowing ~The Crow