Archive for The Slaves of Solitude

Pg. 17, #16

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2020 by dcairns

It was, I suppose, a kind of motor-car, but unlike anything I had ever seen before, and nearing no more resemblance to a modern machine than a ‘bone-shaker’ of twenty years ago to a modern ‘free-wheel.’ It appeared to be built of iron, and was painted a dead black. In the fore-part of the structure a fore-wheel spun round at a terrible speed, and various bars and beams moved rapidly backwards and forwards. The chimney was quite ten ft. in height, and poured out a dense volume of smoke. On a small platform behind, railed in by a stout iron rail, stood a small man with his back to us. His dark hair, which must have reached nearly to his shoulders, streamed behind him in the wind. In each hand he grasped a huge lever, and he was apparently gazing steadily into the darkness before him, though it seemed to me that he might just as well have shut his eyes, for the machine had no lamps, and the only light in the whole concern streamed out from the half-open furnace door.


After a ride up the mountain, Halifax narrowly avoided an early disaster as he was getting out of his car. Hitler was decked out in local costume, which included “black trousers, white silk socks, and pumps.” Halifax assumed he was a footman, and was about to hand him his hat and coat when Neurath, the German foreign minister, whispered hoarsely “Der Führer! Der Führer!” Halifax barely avoided mistaking the dictator of one of the world’s most powerful military powers for a servant in livery.


‘My idea about the lecture, resumed the Duchess hurriedly, ‘is to inquire whether promiscuous Continental travel doesn’t tend to weaken the moral fibre of the social conscience. There are people one knows, quite nice people when they are in England, who are so different when they are anywhere the other side of the Channel.’


“If it’s only a case of multiple personality I must really cry off,” interrupted the doctor again hastily, a bored expression in his eyes.


From the earliest literature, it is evident that the notion of spontaneous human combustion emanated from the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century popular belief that the drinking of strong spirits might light a spontaneous flame in the stomach. Since this belief had its origin in Scandinavia, it was no coincidence that the Dane Thomas Bartholin was the first scientist to assimilate it into seventeenth-century medicine. The idea of aquavit drinkers bursting into spontaneous flames this preluded the first mentioning of the phenomenon we can call increased combustibility by more than 100 years; the first of these odd postmortem reports of bodies found extensively destroyed by fire without major damage to the surroundings was published in 1673. Many others have followed, and at least 120 well-attested cases of this phenomenon exist on record. There has been no satisfactory instance of any individually combusting spontaneously, and in the greater part of the cases an external source of fire is apparent.


‘Look,’ the President said. Sputtering fires and swirling ropes cast their lights and shadows through the window and into the room. ‘It’s all like that, everywhere. We can’t put it out, but if we could learn what let you walk through it out of Europe…’


Mr. Thwaites had since 1939 slowly learned to swallow the disgrace of Hitler, of whom he had been from the beginning, and still secretly remained, a hot disciple. He could now even force himself to speak disparagingly of Hitler; but to speak well of the Russians was too much for him. He could not mention them save gloweringly, defensively, almost savagely. He had also undergone the misfortune of capturing Moscow and Leningrad within three weeks of the outbreak of the war, and so his boarding-house sagacity had been struck at along with his personal feelings.


Seven passages from seven pages seventeens from seven more-or-less random books from various shelves hereabout. The first Hitler story is, apparently, true.

Lord Boden’s Motor, by J.R. Harris-Burland, from the collection Strange Tales from the Strand Magazine; The Oster Conspiracy of 1938, by Jerry Parssinen; Reginald at the Carlton, by Hector Hugh Munro, from The Complete Stories of Saki, from A Psychical Invasion, by Algernon Blackwood, from the collection The Dance of Death and other Stories; A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities, by Jan Bondeson; The Price, by Algis Budrys, from The War Book (Panther Science Fiction), edited by James Sallis; The Slaves of Solitude, by Patrick Hamilton.

The Couch Trip

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 17, 2012 by dcairns

I read Nigel Balchin’s The Small Back Room some years back, being a fan of the Powell-Pressburger film. It’s very good, and the film is very faithful, apart from softening the ending — Balchin had a weakness for bleak, all-is-lost finales.

I haven’t seen SEPARATE LIES, filmed by Julian GOSFORD PARK Fellowes, from Balchin’s A Way Through the Woods. Is it any good? But I do like 23 PACES TO BAKER STREET, which Balchin scripted. He did quite a bit of screenwriting, in fact.

This year I tracked down Darkness Falls from the Air, Balchin’s novel of the London Blitz, which is devastating (I guess they said the same about the Blitz). It’s not surprising that one was never filmed — for a book written in wartime, it’s quite spectacularly un-jingoistic. Again, Balchin’s pessimism prevents him from offering any pathway to victory: there’s an argument for the stripping away of bureaucracy to allow the can-do chaps to get things done, but no real hope that such a thing will ever happen. The nation will strangle in red tape as the bombs ceaselessly drop. All of this is tied up in a truly agonizing, wretched love story: the hopeless agony of the lovers in The Small Back Room seems actually desirable compared to the quandary of the stoic desk-jockey and his tender-hearted, unfaithful wife.

Pair it with Patrick Hamilton’s wonderful The Slaves of Solitude.

So, then I read A Sort of Traitors (terrible title, good book) and then Mine Own Executioner, which I discovered was a movie, scripted by Balchin himself and directed by Anthony Kimmins. I was intrigued: the book really doesn’t feel like it has a film in it. Having now seen the film, I kind of feel vindicated: there wasn’t a film in it, or anyway not a filmic structure: the action climax comes twenty minutes ahead of the supposed emotional climax.

But it’s very interesting stuff. The protagonist, Felix Milne, is a lay psychiatrist with a wife (Dulcie Gray) he’s ambivalent about, who has a sexy sister he’s somewhat less ambivalent about. He takes on a war-damaged patient (Kieron Moore) who has recently attempted to strangle his wife while in a fugue state. Most synopses of the story suggest that it’s a “physician heal thyself” yarn about a man who can solve others’ problems but is powerless to tackle his own. But in fact, Milne does eventually sort out his domestic sphere, whereas his efforts with Moore…

Milne is played by Burgess Meredith, because this was an era of frantically shoehorning Americans into British films wherever we could (how little has changed). Meredith is a good choice in that he seems intellectual enough, but a problematic one in that he seems a bit creepy. It’s not a quality BM can turn on and off, it’s just inherent. So that when the lovely Barbara White, as Moore’s wife, first describes the strangling incident, and Milne perks up, thinking “This case is more interesting than I expected,” Meredith’s rendition of this reaction inescapably suggests a man becoming sexually aroused by an account of attempted asphyxiation. Not what’s needed here.

Then, since he’s a psychiatrist, Milne must perforce smoke a pipe, and whenever we see Burgess with the stem clamped between his teeth, we’re reminded of his seminal turn as the Penguin in TV’s Batman, with his long cigarette holder (why the association of penguins with cigarette holders anyway?), and that’s kind of unfortunate too. Burgess doesn’t actually resemble a penguin, of course, he resembles a small, rat-like dog, eyes glinting with cunning and lust. His chemistry with John Wayne in IN HARM’S WAY is so good precisely because at any instant we expect him to start fervently humping the Duke’s leg.

Still, Meredith has that magnificent wet-gravel voice, so effective in the truth serum scene quoted below…

(And he directed the stage production of DUTCHMAN, developing the performances which were transferred direct to the movie.)

Everybody else is cast very well. I couldn’t work out what Moore was doing with his accent: it at first sounded like Welsh valleys, but maybe it’s Moore’s own Irish, a brand I perhaps haven’t encountered before. But it seems to change from scene to scene.

“The trauma lies in your childhood… your childhood… your childhood…”

Balchin is very faithful to his own novel, except that he’s forced to condense one subplot down to a series of montages (always a sign that something really ought to be discarded) and muffs one emotionally climactic death scene by rushing it badly. But Moore’s more extreme episodes of insanity and dissociation are chillingly powerful: the way he slides from first person to second person when describing his own actions, his inconsistent mood, and his mental blurring of the different people in his life is all very effective and convincing. The psychobabble is less so: “He’s a bad schizo,” says Meredith, concerned. But it’s slightly better than most Hollywood attempts at this kind of stuff.

Balchin himself worked as an “industrial psychologist”, a job his hero casually rejects in this book and film: he helped develop Black Magic chocolates, based on the absence of the colour black in the sweetshop window (economics plays a part too: the black box was cheap to make, allowing Rowntree to spend all the money on the choccies themselves).

Here’s the cinematic highlight.

Mine Own Executioner from David Cairns on Vimeo.

Anthony Kimmins had an odd career, swerving from George Formby comedies to this bleak and noirish melodrama. And then onto the reputedly dreadful BONNIE PRINCE CHARLIE. This may be his high point. The framing and lighting in the psychiatrist’s office is great, but the subjective camera flashback (the first of several) is a stunner. Mucho credit to W. Percy Day for the process work, Ned Mann for the models, and special effects supervisor Cliff Richardson. If Kimmins conceived the idea for this, a major tip of the hat is in order.

Meredith’s therapeutic methods may be unconventional, but he GETS RESULTS, damnit! 

Quote of the Day: Crouching monster, Hidden city

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , , , on January 18, 2008 by dcairns

london belongs to me 

‘London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men and women of all kinds, who every morning are sucked up through an infinitely complicated respiratory apparatus of trains and termini into the mighty congested lungs, held there for a number of hours, and then, in the evening, exhaled violently through the same channels.

The men and women imagine they are going into London and coming out again more or less of their own free will, but the crouching monster sees all and knows better.’

night train

Words from Patrick Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude, images from Gustave Dore’s London and David Lean and Noel Coward’s BRIEF ENCOUNTER.


Just read that David Sherwin has been writing a script of Hamilton’s book. Genius Sherwin, who wrote Lindsay Anderson’s Mick Travis Trilogy, must have stacks of unproduced scripts (THE MONSTER BUTLER and THE GARDEN GNOMES BEGAN TO BLEED are but two), but I would really like to see this one come off…