Archive for Tod Slaughter

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.

The Madness of George King

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 27, 2008 by dcairns

Yes, George King. That guy you never heard of. Him!

And no, me neither. But he had a short, intense career as director that took in Tod Slaughter horrors and Edgar Wallace shockers and modest little thrillers of all kinds. A number of them have been made available on no-frills but quite adequate DVDs from Odeon Entertainment’s Best of British label. What you basically get are nice little films of the kind that should be filling afternoon TV schedules but no longer do. Well worth renting if you feel like something undemanding, perhaps with a few familiar faces.

And once in a while, George lets rip with some actual CINEMA. THE CASE OF THE FRIGHTENED LADY, from Edgar Wallace’s play, is a predictable and hokey mystery with some amusingly colourful retro dialogue (the detective inspector and his idiot sidekick played by King regular Ronald Shiner are very much in the INSPECTOR HORNLEIGH cross-talk comedy vein). It’s kept on its feet by somebody’s smart decision to cut all the scenes into pieces and intercut them like mad, which boosts the pace beyond what you’d expect in a British cheapie of this kind.

And then the flick suddenly gets all atmospheric in a near-giallo way. Now, this is the climax I’m showing you, but in a way I’m doing you a favour because it saves you watching the rest. Trust me, you’d guess whodunnit anyway. (Nevertheless, I sort of recommend the film as mild fun. Rent it if you’re in the UK and you like old British warhorses.)

Spoilers:

The killer has used, as an alibi, the sound of his piano practice from a distant room, but it’s actually a record he’s playing while he’s off doing nefarious things with thuggee scarves (the movie was known stateside as THE SCARF MURDER MYSTERY, which is an even blander title that the one it started life with). So we get a beautiful, contrapuntal score to this sinister scene, plus the elegant shadow-play

And that’s Marius Goring popping up at the end with a look of madness in his eyes.

“I lost my head.”