Archive for The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

Ripping Yarns

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2017 by dcairns

MAN IN THE ATTIC is something I meant to see years ago, as part of research for a Jack the Ripper project I was writing with Fiona. But no copy was to hand, and anyway, we’d found that all JTR films are historical travesties, usually disrespectful to the victims and usually with nothing to say on the many interesting subjects that naturally fall into the story.

MITA turns out not to be as offensive as most movies on this theme (part of the impetus for the script was Fiona’s horror at the 1998 “celebrations” or the centenary of the Autumn of Terror). And one moment, the reading of George Bernard Shaw’s letter to The Times about the case, actually shows a little erudition. But this is a dull remake of THE LODGER, only recently made with Laird Cregar far more memorable in the role than Jack Palance here.

I’ve had a bit of a down on director Hugo Fregonese, despite loving his Val Lewton western APACHE DRUMS. The script of that one is so spooky that old Hugo’s prosaic direction really irks me. The Apaches are described in supernatural terms by a dying Clarence Muse, setting us up for real terror — and then our director blithely plonks his first redskin into shot like a milkman or janitor. In fact, I’ve seen janitors given far more dramatic presentation.

Hugo displays the same flat-footed lack of flare here in what should be a stand-out scene — the lodger’s first arrival. Hitchcock, you will recall, presented an eerily still Ivor Novello, his face swathed in a scarf, with one pallid hand at his chest, looking like a wax sculpture. John Brahm pulled out all the stops with a gliding camera, dry ice, and a looming Cregar. Hugo gives us a plain shot/reverse shot of Palance and the landlady-to-be, not even bothering to hold back the first view of our Ripper’s scary face (Palance is not too bad, but never memorable).

The film’s atmospherics only come into play with the night scenes of the back lot, using a bunch of standing sets — effective London streets rubbing stony shoulders with what look to be the battlements of a castle and a medieval Scottish village (I think I recognize it from Laurel & Hardy’s BONNIE SCOTLAND).

Hammer’s more nakedly exploitative HANDS OF THE RIPPER is a good deal better, oddly enough. The plot is silly, and the portrayal of the Ripper as hideously disfigured by burns makes little sense and is there for no reason other to provide an added grisly image. This movie is offensive to burned people, among others. But it benefits from serious, committed work from Angharad Rees as the Ripper’s daughter, and especially Eric Porter as the shrink who tries to cure her. For much of its runtime it’s basically a Victorian MARNIE, only with multiple gory murders.

Director Peter Sasdy applies a lot of vulgar panache (I’m beginning to think I prefer the messier Hammer directors to the staid Terence Fishers and Freddie Francises) and gets to use more standing sets, this time Alexander Trauner’s forced perspective Baker Street and environs from THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. Even the gratuitous Hammer nudity kind of works here — Porter loitering on the threshold while his patient bathes is decidedly un-Victorian, but it exposes his unacknowledged sexual interest in his attractive charge, which is presumably what causes him to embark on a course of treatment that ultimately proves fatal — to a number of people. It’s also really terrific that Porter, being a Victorian doctor, looks strikingly like the popular fantasy image of the Ripper himself.

When it’s clearly stated that our young heroine is not, in fact, traumatized by repressed memories from infancy, but POSSESSED BY THE GHOST OF A SERIAL KILLER, it’s kind of too late for us to scoff — we’re all set for the climax at St. Paul’s Whispering Gallery, probably the most poetic, beautiful, tense and unusual conclusion to any Hammer horror film. It even gets away with the typical Hammer hasty credits roll — no coda, no summary, no reaction from the characters left alive and grieving. It’s OK, I don’t like my films to hang around after their business is concluded, like tiresome guests or ’90s Spielberg films. But when something like THE REPTILE abruptly announces it’s leaving right after its titular lizard-girl has caught a chill and died, it feels like the filmmakers are saying “This film explores the universal theme of There was a Bad Thing but we killed it.” Sort of lacking in the layered approach.

Maybe HOTR succeeds better because — spoiler alert — it kills its “hero” as well as its “villain.” Since Porter is a strange mixture of Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing (tackling the unholy) and Peter Cushing’s Frankenstein (meddling with the unholy), he has to die, but we feel a bit sad about it. And maybe the muddle of the film’s central idea leaves intriguing space for imagination — after all, the movie establishes that our Jill the Ripper does what she does because her late father takes control — but it never remotely shows any interest in why HE does what HE does. The film’s rather horrified view of its prostitutes kind of suggests that we’re meant to think his violence is, at some fundamental level, a reaction we all understand and share.

Fascinatingly, nobody seems to know who this actor is. So the unknown murderer is played by an authentic unknown.



Posted in FILM, Mythology, Science with tags , , , , , on April 16, 2016 by dcairns


ROBOT DISCOVERS LOCH NESS MONSTER shrilled the press. I’m old enough to remember when LOCH NESS MONSTER DISCOVERS ROBOT would have been a less startling headline.

What had happened, of course, is that an exploratory underwater robot had stumbled upon a sunken prop from Billy Wilder’s THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, a favourite film of mine (and others of my generation: Mark Gatiss,  Jonathan Coe, who discovered it on TV as kids). Nessie-ologist and famed beard guy Adrian Shine (“I liked his beard” — Werner Herzog in INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS) explained that the monster had been built with two humps, as in legendary sightings, but Billy Wilder took against the humps and ordered them removed, despite concerns being voiced as to how this alteration would affect the creatures flotation. The faux-plesiosaur subsequently capsized and has lodged on the lake bed ever since.

I was a bit skeptical about this, since Shine was using lots of words like “apparently” and “it is suggested,” but Wilder was always one to say he couldn’t judge a scene visually until it was projected — PLOSH DoP Christopher Challis was astonished at this great filmmakers refusal to look through the camera. “He just said he wouldn’t know until he saw it on the screen. If he didn’t like what he saw we’d do it again. Extraordinary. But look at the films he’s made.” So he might have signed off on a humpy dinosaur and then changed his mind when he saw the rushes.

And then there’s THIS —

Sherlock Nessie 3

A shot of a clearly reduced-scale Nessie, its face matching the one in the movie, being towed by a boat. So this version of the creature was built for establishing shots on location. The one seen most prominently in the film is a full-sized head and neck clearly photographed in a studio tank — this is the image most of the newspapers used to illustrate their story, misleading their readers into imagining some thirty-foot colossus embedded in the silt and the loch’s bottom.

Sherlock Nessie

Anyway, all this reminds me that my producer’s favourite film is THE APARTMENT, which I introduced to him, and then I lent him PLOSH, and I still haven’t got it back from the bastard.

Bittersweet Holmes

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on February 1, 2011 by dcairns

THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES is the main subject of a new article by myself up at Electric Sheep Magazine. PLOSH, as it cries out to be called, is my favourite late Wilder and one of my favourite films altogether.

A word about movie acronyms — Powell & Pressburger had two of the best, with IKWIG (I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING!) and AMOLAD (A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH), and there’s something nice about the way NIGHT OF THE HUNTER becomes NOTH.

Later abbreviations like CE3K (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND) and T2 (TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY) tend to seem too much like marketing devices to me, but I like OHMSS (ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE) because it sounds like a unit of electricity or something. THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, which really cries out for shortening, becomes the more organic-sounding TULOB, but nobody ever uses that one. Similarly, I wish O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? was called OBWAT, and BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY ought to be called BOTFOJ just because it sounds so delightfully filthy. Like a horrible ailment Tom Cruise picked up from sitting in his wheelchair too long.

But PLOSH and BOMP (BUREAU OF MISSING PERSONS) are the most amusingly onomatopoeic acronyms I know.