Archive for Tod Slaughter

John Gilling Presents

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , on July 4, 2015 by dcairns



A curiosity — the intro to John Gilling’s 1948 directorial debut, a 38-minute quickie called ESCAPE FROM BROADMOOR, states that it is the first of a series, a sort of “John Gilling Presents,” themed around the concept of “psychic mysteries” — but Gilling made no further short films of this kind. His next, the following year, is an hour long (a feature!) and comes from a different company, so evidently the idea didn’t catch on.

Obviously, it’s not a true story at all, just some baloney Gilling has made up. A gangster meets the ghost of a previous victim. Or is she? Or isn’t she? Or are he?

All the early Gilling movies are crime thrillers, aspiring to be hardboiled, but he was already flirting with the horror genre he’s remembered for, scripting THE GREED OF WILLIAM HART, a Burke-and-Hare film a clef starring Tod Slaughter. So, unlike a lot of Hammer’s employees, I think he had a genuine interest in the macabre. Odd bursts of creativity erupt amid lifeless stretches throughout his career.

In ESCAPE FROM BROADMOOR, nobody escapes from the titular asylum for the criminally insane, or not onscreen anyway. Isn’t it cheating to name your film after something that’s pure backstory? The film’s psycho is played by a surprise choice, the usually sweet-natured comedy actor John Le Mesurier, famous in the UK for his role in Dad’s Army as a superannuated sergeant in the Home Guard. He was in gazillions of films, usually in small, ineffectual, bureaucratic roles, a nervous fusspot. He plays a very queer king courtier in JABBERWOCKY.

As a cockney gangster with mental health issues, he’s surprisingly effective!



Cool Robot

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2014 by dcairns


Cool robot from OLD MOTHER RILEY MEETS THE VAMPIRE, aka MY SON THE VAMPIRE, a retitling by Columbia which makes no sense — Lugosi’s character has no parents in the film, and Mother Riley is Irish, not Jewish. She’s also a man, Arthur Lucan. In his memoirs, Ken Russell writes about this alarming, unfunny theatrical drag act as if it was all that was on offer from British cinema. I suppose it must have seemed so to him as a child — his mother scorned British movies and they would go to proper American musicals whenever they had the option.

But it’s a cool robot.

Interesting how director and writer John Gilling’s career kept circling around the horror genre, whether it was writing for Tod Slaughter or Bela Lugosi, until he finally made his mark at Hammer. I think I’ll run his PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES soon — I don’t think I’ve ever actually watched it.

Meanwhile, I’m back in Edinburgh, and just listened to Jan Harlan give a lecture on film music. More on that soon.

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.


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