Archive for Tod Slaughter

Barn Storming

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2008 by dcairns

Hello, it’s Tod Slaughter again! And up to his old tricks — you know, murdering, and that.

Only two killings take place in MARIA MARTEN, OR, THE MURDER IN THE RED BARN, and one of those is Tod’s eventual and inevitable execution. The movie begins in a theatre where the cast of the play are introduced, making the theatrical nature of the events explicit — and since the hangman is presented as the final member of the dramatis personae, the end cannot be much in doubt.

Director Milton Rosmer (also an actor, and a regular player for Michael Powell) doesn’t make anything of the transition from stage to “realistic” film studio sets, and doesn’t add much in the way of cinematic appeal, tracking in from wide shot occasionally at the start of a scene. George King, who brought a little more panache to the shooting of CRIMES AT THE DARK HOUSE, acted as producer on this one.

Amusingly, it turns out that the central plot of MARIA MARTEN is recycled verbatim in CRIMES, adding an extra murder to the plot to keep things suitably juicy. Star / rampant hambone Tod Slaughter plays a corrupt squire who “ruins” local lass Maria M, then shoots her so she can’t interfere with his upcoming marriage to a rich lady. His plan hinges on framing Carlos, the gypsy boy who had wooed Maria. Carlos is played by Eric Portman, famed for playing a squire himself in Powell & Pressburger’s A CANTERBURY TALE. Flamboyantly miscast here, he plays Carlos with the cut-glass accent of an Eton undergrad, clashing preposterously with the other actors who play gypsies and yokels with a wide variety of Lancastrian-Mancunian-West Country-Cockney accents, but at least staying within a fairly narrow bandwidth of the social spectrum. Carlos’s mum must be regretting sending him to that posh finishing school.

Alas, Tod doesn’t have a moustache to twiddle in this film, and with only one rape and one murder to his name, his opportunities for salacious leering and barmy cackling are more limited than fans might like, but when caught in tricky situations he does reveal another string to his bow — he can squirm with outstanding effectiveness. As the heat is turned up, Tod’s entire form begins to wriggle and contort with discomfort, like a population of eels crammed into a carnival effigy. Delightful stuff.

Once again, it’s clear that the crudity of the drama and performances (“Winterbottom the village idiot” was a particular favourite among the supporting cast — the British film industry has changed so little!) are paradoxically sophisticated — the audience is meant to guess the plot turns long in advance, the better to savour them, and Slaughter’s overacting invites his public to share in his wickedness, blow by blow, with no evil thought or unhealthy appetite left untelegraphed. With everything nicely externalised, there’s no sense that we are guilty of the same evil desires, and our sense of moral superiority is secured by the happy ending, when we can watch in satisfaction as evil is extirpated.

Scream Queen

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on October 31, 2008 by dcairns

From CRIMES AT THE DARK HOUSE, Margaret Yarde.

She was a great beauty in her day.

Black Tuesday, they called it.

Slaughter House

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2008 by dcairns

CRIMES AT THE DARK HOUSE is what the usually-wrong Leslie Halliwell quite rightly calls a “cheeky” rendition of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, a classic shocker which has been adapted several times, always more faithfully than this magnificent travesty. There’s a very decent version with Sidney Greenstreet as the villainous Count Fosco, and I have fond memories of a BBC TV version from my childhood which was blessed with a magnificently fruity turn by Alan Badel, and served as my introduction to that fine fellow (cinephiles may recall his sinister Arab in ARABESQUE, oozing suavely with a falcon on his arm).

This version is a star vehicle for barnstorming actor-manager Tod Slaughter, a genuine exponent of your actual melodrama, a man who actually made his living by cackling and twirling his moustache. It’s directed by George King, whose half-hearted praises I sang off-key here. King, a spirited B-movie professional, is in slightly muted form here, perhaps just disgusted by the awful bollocks he has to aim his camera at, or perhaps just strained by a hectic schedule. But the production values seem pretty good — this isn’t a shoddy “quota quickie” as they’re usually imagined.

The main departure from Collins’ popular classic is the addition of a whole series of gratuitous murders, with even more gratuitous cackling as accompaniment. Start as you mean to go on: Tod begins the very first scene by hammering a spike into a sleeping man’s head, which seems to strike him as particularly amusing.

Stealing the identity of the sore-headed corpse, Tod becomes Sir Perceval Glyde, or anyhow a Percival impersonator. An impercevalator, if you will. Discovering that all his scam has netted him is a mortgaged manor house and a heap of debts, the gesticulating ham plots to marry innocent local hottie Laura Fairlie (Sylvia Marriot) for her money. He’s assisted in his scheming by two citizens of Dundee, actors Hay Petrie and David Keir, who play a quack asylum superintendant and a lawyer respectively. Petrie is of particular interest — he can ham it up without becoming tiresome, and he has a decent role, demoted from lead villain in Collins’ book. Petrie acted in a wide range of stuff, including Powell & Pressburger classics like THE RED SHOES and Carol Reed and Graham Greene’s THE FALLEN IDOL. It’s fun to see him cut loose with a bigger part in a dafter movie.

Hay Petrie with Tod Slaughter, a man so evil he actually curses trousers.

Throughout the film, the crimes at the dark house fall to Mr. Slaughter, who proves himself very successful at murdering, acceptable at raping, but very bad at fraud. His first fraud having actually landed him in debt, he tries to murder his way out of every problem that arises. One has to respect his fighting spirit. Not so much a case of “never-say-die”, as “always-say-die-Die!-DIE!!!”

Slaughter also gets to indulge in what are practically asides to the audience. His trademark evil cackle is for our benefit, and he licks his lips lasciviously whenever anyone with breasts is to hand, but he also talks to himself. The late great Ken Campbell once proposed that there are two ways to handle a Shakespearean aside: firstly, you can act as if you’re talking to yourself, thinking aloud as it were. Or, you can adopt what Campbell called the “My chums the audience” approach and welcome the punters in to a warm embrace, sharing your wickedest secrets with them. This seems to me the only way to treat Iago or Richard III’s monologues, for instance.

Slaughter is clearly of this latter camp, and it’s obvious that his nastiness is all a big joke for the delectation of the working-class audiences who flocked to see him. It really is a comedy performance from beginning to end, and it’s remarkable how sick the whole thing is: “The false Perceval Glyde” (we never learn his real name) a maidservant he’s knocked up, the mother of the real Glyde’s illigitimate daughter, and Fosco (although this doesn’t take). He also murders a pneumonia sufferer by moving their bed to the window and opening it — cue ludicrous cartoon howling wind FX.

As the melodrama ripens, Slaughter’s tendency to demented soliloquy grows more pronounced. Trying to burn the church records that will expose his imposture, Slaughter finds himself trapped in an inferno. “Curses, the key!” he laments. Smashing a window with a chair, he looks at the drop outside and exclaims, “Oh! I can’t go down that way!”

“He’s so evil he’s narrating his own death!” I thought. That’s hardcore evilness.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 357 other followers