Archive for Wilkie Collins

Page Seventeen II: Attack of the Clones

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2021 by dcairns

Leaving the Church changed Luis’s intellectual habits as well. Until then, he had coasted along on the usual teenage reading: Sherlock Holmes and Nick Carter, with the occasional Spanish feuilleton. Afterwards, Darwin, Nietzsche, Kropotkin and novelists of the Spanish realist tradition replaced them. Luis never went back to reading for recreation. In his seventies, the books on his shelves were histories of the Church, some surrealist poetry, and Heni Fabre’s pioneering texts on insects. If one wanted sex, action and travel to exotic lands, they were more easily found in the real world.

“I’ve had time to think it through,” Boyd said. “I’ve come to terms with it. I can accept the fact, but not too well, only barely. Luis, do you have some explanation? How come you are so different from the rest of us?”

He did not believe, and yet he admitted the supernatural. Right here on earth how could any of us deny that we are hemmed in by mystery, in our homes, in the street, – everywhere when we come to think of it. It was really the part of shallowness to ignore these extrahuman relations and account for the unforeseen by attributing to fate the more than inexplicable. Did not a chance encounter often decide the entire life of a man? What was love, what the other inescapable shaping influences? And, knottiest enigma of all, what was money?

The 12th came, and he shot wretchedly, for his nerve had gone to pieces. He stood exhaustion badly, and became a dweller about the doors. But with this bodily inertness came an extraordinary intellectual revival. He read widely in a blundering way, and he speculated unceasingly. It was a characteristic of the man that as soon as he left the paths of the prosaic he should seek the supernatural in a very concrete form. He assumed that he was haunted by the devil – the visible personal devil in whom our fathers believed. He waited hourly for the shape at his side to speak, but no words came. The Accuser of the Brethren in all but tangible form was his ever present companion. He felt, he declared, the spirit of old evil entering subtly into his blood. He sold his soul many times over, indeed there was no possibility of resistance. It was a Visitation more undeserved than Job’s, and a thousandfold more awful.

Before he quitted it, he held up the dim light, and looked around him with a mixture of terror and curiosity. There was a great deal of decayed and useless lumber, such as might be supposed to be heaped up to rot in a miser’s closet; but John’s eyes were in a moment, and as if by magic, rivetted on a portrait that hung on one wall, and appeared, even to his untaught eye, far superior to the tribe of family pictures that are left to moulder on the walls of a family mansion. It represented a man of middle age. There was nothing remarkable in the costume, or in the countenance, but the eyes, John felt, were such as one feels they wish they had never seen, and feels they can never forget. Had he been acquainted with the poetry of Southey, he might have exclaimed in his after-life, ‘Only the eyes had life, They gleamed with demon light.’ – Thalaba.

‘Excuse me,’ said the impenetrable Scotchman. ‘I beg to suggest that you are losing the thread of the narrative.’

‘Anyway,’ Mavis was anxious to reassure him that she had not lost track of the original topic, ‘it’s the same with Swiss Cheese Plants. They’re strong. Any conditions will suit them and they’ll strangle anything that gets in their way. They use–they used to use them, I should say–the big ones to fell other trees in Paraguay. I think it’s Paraguay. But when it comes to getting the leaves to separate, well, all you can say is that they’re bastards to train. Like strong men, I guess. In the end you have to take ’em or leave ’em as they come.’

Seven extracts from seven pages seventeens selected willy-nilly from my charity shop hauls and library visits. Wilkie Collins’ Armadale is my current reading matter, and very thrilling it is too, with shipwrecks, murder, dream detection and sinister schemes. It actually has a chapter entitled “The Plot Thickens” and may even mark the origin of that expression. Highly recommended if you want something fat and gripping, and you have no Laird Cregar in your life.

Thanks to Jeff Gee for the Simak.

Bunuel by John Baxter; Grotto of the Dancing Deer by Clifford D. Simak, from The Best Science Fiction of the Year 10 edited by Terry Carr; La-Bas by J.K. Huysmans; The Watcher by the Threshold by John Buchan, from Scottish Ghost Stories, selected by Rosemary Gray; Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin; Armadale by Wilkie Collins; The Transformation of Miss Mavis Ming by Michael Moorcock.

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.