Archive for Thorley Walters

Blue Sky Alice

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2020 by dcairns

“Blue sky casting” is a screenwriter’s trick — you imagine anyone you like, living or dead, in a role, and that hekps you find the character’s voice. If you’re writing for Jeff Goldblum or Michael Redgrave, different things happen. What you probably shouldn’t ever do is cast the person you were thinking of — there’s an exciting tension that happens if you cast, say, Joan Cusack, in a role written with, say, Myrna Loy in mind.

It’s also a fun exercise: here’s a fantasy cast list for Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. I found as i was coming up with it that it was tending to a mid-1950s feel, and naturally British. But it began when Fiona proposed Peter Lorre as the Dormouse.

It turns out I’ve been carrying in my mind various casting ideas for Alice, and they cam tumbling out and were joined by others…

It just seems crazy that Kenneth Williams never played the Mad Hatter. Put it down to typecasting — the Carry On films, though hugely popular, rendered all the actors uncastable in anything other than sitcom or sex farce. The two main productions KW would have been eligible for, Jonathan Miller’s rather wonderful TV Alice in Wonderland, and the execrable musical ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, have excellent Hatters in Peter Cook and Robert Helpmann respectively, but Williams would have knocked it out the park.

It’s kind of obvious that Jimmy Edwards, extravagantly-tached comic actor, should be the Walrus, but I think Norman Wisdom is very close to Tenniel’s drawing of the Carpenter. It’s starting to look like this production belongs in the mid-fifties to sixties.

Not for any physical resemblance, but the wide-eyed dithering innocence John le Mesurier brought to his work in Dad’s Army seems to suit the King of Hearts nicely. And he practically plays the role in Gilliam’s JABBERWOCKY.

I feel that Irene Handl deserves a crack at the Queen of Hearts — though associated with working class roles (she argued with Billy Wilder about how to play cockney dialogue), she was actually quite posh, seemingly, and derived her characterisations from her observation of her family’s maids when she was young. And she’s the most versatile and surprising and funny of actors, seriously underused. (If you were doing it later, Prunella Scales would be immense, and she’s a lot like Dodgson’s own drawings.)

I’ve always seen Lionel Jeffries as the White Knight. He has such an air of melancholy. I can never read the Knight’s verse without tears springing unbidden to my eyes. Same with Lear’s The Jumblies: “Far and few, far and few…” an incantatory lament.

Okay, granted, Roger Livesey has to be a contender too.

Charles Gray as Humpty Dumpty, because.

When I look at Tenniel’s White Rabbit, I see Edward Everett Horton, which makes it odd that Paramount cast him as the Mad Hatter in the 30s version. They should have borrowed George Arliss for the Hatter and given Horton the rabbit. Fuck Skeets Gallagher. But if we’re going for anxious British players of the 1950s, maybe Alastair Sim? Or Alec Guinness, but there you’d be opening up a can of worms. Who could he NOT play? We know he’d make a magnificent Duchess:

And that’s a role which should really be done in drag, for compassionate reasons. Peter Bull was pretty perfect in the seventies abomination. Leo McKern would be good too.

Peter Sellers is maybe the only man to have played motion picture versions of the March Hare AND the King of Hearts, and he’s another can of worms if we let him in. But in the Miller piece he does the unimaginable, improvising Lewis dialogue in character, so he should be essential. Since this would be early, chubby Sellers, maybe we should be thinking in terms of the caterpillar, a somewhat shadowy figure in the illo.

If we’re having Sellers, then Spike Milligan would be a fine Frog Footman (see YELLOWBEARD for some exemplary footmanning from SM).

Based on Tenniel, there can be no question that the White King and Queen are Thorley Walters and Joan Sims. though Handl is another possibility for the latter. The Red Queen could be Flora Robson or Patricia Hayes, but I’m going for Yootha Joyce (energy) whereas the Red King, apparently dreaming the whole thing like in INCEPTION, doesn’t ever wake up and so it seems like wasted effort to cast a celebrated thesp. Might as well be John Wayne.

Miller cast Finlay Currie as the Dodo, an impressive feat — the only human actor to LOOK like a dodo. But he’s too old, since Dodgson based this didactic fowl on himself, incorporating his stutter — Do-do-Dodgson. Trying to find an actor not aged in the 1950s, with Dodgson’s sad eyes and an impressive beak, I stop at Richard Wattis.

Cecil Parker, arch-ovine, must be the Sheep, a rarely-filmed character but one with great material. I suppose the sheep should really be female, but drag is allowed. We’re through the looking glass, here.

The Gnat also has some really good jokes, and is never presented onscreen — perhaps because Tenniel didn’t deign to draw him. Another tutelary figure — you can really tell the author is a lecturer — he could really be played by anybody from Terry-Thomas to Robert Morley. The latter is more pompous, so he’d do, but then for heaven’s sake why not Noel Coward? Or Dennis Price, who quotes Lewis with relish in Mike Hodges’ PULP?

Of course, given the period, we can have perhaps Britain’s greatest child actor in the title role, Mandy Miller (MANDY, THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT), and by happy coincidence it appears she’s a fan of the author:

Randy Cook suggests Benny Hill for the Cheshire Cat. What are your thoughts? I presume that, like me, you have been carrying casting ideas for Alice around in your heads for decades.

Thing Roddy Said During half of Dracula Prince of Darkness

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 25, 2016 by dcairns

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Fiona’s brother Roddy is in hospital again. His rare chromosomal disorder, Williams Syndrome, is associated with elastin problems, which can cause difficulties with breathing (intercostal muscles need elastin), heart and bowels, and he’s having trouble with all three, plus he keeps giving himself infections. An inveterate fiddler, he also won’t keep his drip or his breathing tubes in, but another problem is that he’s loving the attention and could easily become completely institutionalised, having enjoyed a fair bit of independence for years. From his point of view, lying in a hospital bed and just being brought everything he needs is a pretty good lifestyle, and you can’t explain to him that it’ll shorten his life, because the cause and effect are too far apart for him to see.

Still, when I visited him in hospital he was in good spirits, if sleepy, watching DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS with Fiona. He looked very shrunken in the big hospital bed — I guess most people do, they look like newborns, all small and wrinkly. He’s gotten considerable muscle wastage by refusing to get up even to go to the loo or have a shower, even though he’s quite capable. He has his malfunctioning heart set on being bedridden. Everything has shrunk except his ears, which hang gloomily from the sides of his rumpled head like great crenellated pancakes, elephantine, drooping forward under their own weight as if cupped by the hands of gravity. The rest of him is frail and insubstantial. Formerly bulbous, he’s now like a stick figure draped in an outsized balloon skin which someone has half-heartedly attempted to fill with jelly.

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I’d watched this Hammer hokum with Roddy before, but it was interesting to see him engage in an elaborate pretense of having no idea what was going to happen next. I guess we all do this when rewatching a film — somehow we’re wrapped up in the moment-by-moment drama despite knowing what’s coming.

“Where’s he going now?”

At one point Roddy actually placed himself in a character’s shoes to voice his thoughts, as he understood them: “What’s happening to me?” I’d never seen Roddy do that. He’s not what you’d call deeply empathetic. I remember a frustrating conversation during ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, in which Roddy couldn’t understand that a policeman didn’t know that Lon Chaney is the Wolfman. “But Lon Chaney IS the Wolfman!” “Yes, but this guy doesn’t KNOW that.” “I’m SURE Lon Chaney is the Wolfman.” “Yes, he IS, but this guy doesn’t know that.” “I’m SURE he’s the Wolfman.” It’s startling to realize that, while Roddy has the verbal skills of an adult, he has the theory of mind of a two-year-old. He can’t comprehend that other people don’t all know the same information as him. Later he blew up at Fiona for suggesting he shave — “Shave, shave, shave, you’re always on me to shave.” Fiona hadn’t mentioned it before, but someone else had, unbeknownst to her.

“What are you writing, David?” Roddy had noticed me taking notes. “You’re a swine,” said Fiona, slightly aghast at my obvious intention to get a quick blog post out of her possibly expiring brother. “Aye, he is,” said Roddy, happy to agree without knowing why. So I’m a swine.

“Where’s he going now?”

“Uh oh, here he comes!”

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Francis Matthews attempts to ward off Dracula with a sword. “How does Dracula feel about swords?” I ask Roddy, and he mimed the action of a tall vampire snapping a sword in half, seconds before Christopher Lee grabbed the blade and broke it in twain. So, it’s all new to Roddy, unfolding as if for the first time, the question of where people are going an urgent mystery, but at the same time he remembers it all from last time.

Thorley Walters turns up as a Renfield substitute, merrily and madly singing to himself. “Dum diddly dum diddly dum.” Roddy joins in.

“He has been known to erupt,” says kick-ass monk Andrew Keir. “Like you,” says Fiona, to Roddy. “That wasn’t me,” he protests.

We learn that vampires can only enter a building if invited. I ask Roddy what he would say if Dracula appeared at the door.

“I’d say, Come in, Dracula.”

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Barbara Shelley, newly vampirised and looking much better for it, is just about to appear at the window in an echo of Mario Bava’s BLACK SABBATH (and a foreshadowing of Salem’s Lot) when Roddy says, unexpectedly, “Uh-oh. This is the bit I did like. When she comes to the window.” Rare for him to step out of the time frame and admit he knows what’s coming.

And then, minutes later, he had fallen asleep.

 

Not Wanted On Voyage

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 25, 2015 by dcairns

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My late friend Lawrie Knight was an assistant director in the 1940s. He did some work for the Boulting Brothers, among others — I’m not sure what the film was. One time, he found himself trapped in a kind of airlock with one of the twins — not sure which, let’s just say Roy. Or John. The airlock was the space between the outer and inner doors of the studio, and just as they had passed through the outer doors, the red light had come on, signalling filming (not doubt under the aegis of the other brother, John. Or Roy.) So they were stuck at close quarters for a few minutes.

During the awkward silence, Roy (or John) noticed Lawrie’s school tie. And because it was a tie from one of our better public schools, he immediately started treating Lawrie a lot better, And Lawrie, who would confess to being a bit of a snob himself at times, was appalled, thought “You idiot,” and generally thought far less of John (or Roy) Boulting thereafter.

I mention this because TRUNK CRIME, an early (1939) opus, produced by John and directed (and edited) by Roy, deals with school in a way, and conveys a rather anxious view of it, perhaps anticipating the brothers’ 1948 film THE GUINEA PIG.

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Manning Whiley plays an over-aged college graduate who takes a hideous revenge on the young man who’s bullied him since their days at public school, even to the point of once burying him alive. At the start of the story, the bully and his drunken pals break into Whiley’s digs and trash the room in a home invasion scenario only slightly less brutal and shocking than that in CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Deranged with impotent fury, Whiley proceeds to drug his arch-enemy and lock him in a steamer trunk, having informed him just as he becomes insensible of his intention to ship him to his cottage in the country and sink him in quicksand.

It’s an unusual scenario: the victim is utterly unsympathetic, and the villain is someone you feel a lot of compassion for, but you can’t quite go along with what he’s contemplating doing (I nearly can: I hate bullies). Of course, Whiley is forever bumping into people who randomly want to open his trunk and have a shufty inside, and even Patch the dog, who gets his own screen credit, is very curious. It’s all very ROPE — some of the plot developments don’t quite convince or compel, and Boulting should have hired someone else to edit it — when we edit our own stuff, we often don’t try hard enough to solve our directorial mistakes, accepting them as somehow inherent. But it has a very nice denouement — we suspected the movie’s heart was in the right place, and it is.

Fiona, wandering in midway, couldn’t believe it was called TRUNK CRIME. There’s even a newsstand bearing the slogan ANOTHER TRUNK CRIME, so presumably this was a common phrase in 1939. I can’t seem to find out exactly what it meant, but I doubt it typically involved doping people, packing them up and submerging them in a handy quagmire. “Does he have a trunk?” she asked. “He has two,” I replied, which is true. There’s some unnecessary detail about Whiley planning to substitute one case for another. “Should it be called TRUNKS CRIME then?” But I think that might have suggested a crime committed by a swimmer.

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Manning Whiley is good at being high-strung, that’s for sure. His every utterance is a-quiver with neurasthenic fervor. He also looks oddly Japanese. I see he was born in Australia… well, anything’s possible down there.

The movie also features a shockingly young and unrecognizable Thorley Walters, though once you get over the shock, his acting style is quite consistent. The bluff, ruddy, dopey Dr. Watson manner he assumed in all his Hammer performances has quite a different effect when filtered through the personage of a gangly youth — he’s much more of a P.G. Wodehouse twerp from the Drone’s Club. Interesting.

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Walters, left.

Boulting, anticipating Carol Reed, is not shy about getting his Dutch tilts out. (Why are they called Dutch tilts? Isn’t Holland notoriously flat?)