Archive for Witchfinder General

Framing Youth

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 25, 2012 by dcairns

COP-OUT is a ridiculous title… the film’s other name, STRANGER IN THE HOUSE, is generic but acceptable. This is the sole film directed by Bulgarian producer-writer Pierre Rouve (BLOW-UP), and he hasn’t quite got the hang of the job — some of the results are fun, though.

The cast is a trivia quiz entry in the making — what film stars James Mason, Geraldine Chaplin, Ian Ogilvy and Bobby Darin? And based on a novel by Georges Simenon? Mason plays an alcoholic lawyer enticed, like Paul Newman in THE VERDICT, to take on one last case. This one involves his daughter’s boyfriend as murder suspect.

James Mason gives one of his greatest line readings –

Cop Out from David Cairns on Vimeo.

The father-daughter relationship is the heart of the film, and Mason holds up his end just as you’d expect. His character is incapable of expressing affection, which has resulted in his wife leaving him and his daughter despising him. Mason relishes the character’s acerbic speeches and air of loathing, both self-directed and more extrovert. Unfortunately, Chaplin is flat and clichéd, the worst I’ve ever seen her. It does seem like the director is pushing his cast to telegraph their characters’ emotions as blatantly as possible. Mason and some of the others (Yootha Joyce!) can triumph over this, but the younger players struggle.

Chief among these is Ogilvy, actually pretty interesting as a character written as impotent but obviously played as gay. The Oge, as I call him, often tends to struggle for either sympathy or interest, even in his most celebrated film, WITCHFINDER GENERAL, but here he has a genuine ROLE for once, where he doesn’t have to worry about being liked and he’s actually got something to play. He’s great! Somebody you actually look forward to seeing in his next bit.

Bobby Darin, on the other hand, is rather fascinatingly awful. I always had a theory crooners could automatically act (Sinatra, Dino, something to do with a mastery of words which rock stars lack), but this guy doesn’t seem to have a natural aptitude. An unnatural inaptitude might be more like it, and again, the blame may really lie with the director. “If you start by asking for effects, effects is all you’ll get,” the great Dudley Sutton told me on my first film. Darin plays his character, a criminal sailor, as a rather loose impersonation of Frank Gorshin’s impersonation of Burt Lancaster. The result is that he seems to be pretending to be an American, rather than actually being one, which should have been easy enough…

Rouve livens things up with modish costumes and visuals, including white-painted flashbacks which are visually rather delightful but all wrong for Simenon’s glum tale. The theme, of a distant father reconnecting with his estranged child, has horrible resonance with the great tragedy of Simenon’s life, which culminated in a phone call –

“Tell me that you love me.”

“I love you, my daughter.”

“No. Tell me you love me.”

Pause. Muffled gunshot.

With that background, the story should be emotionally raw and riveting, but it only glances against the kind of drama it should have embraced. Still, the various elements, effective or otherwise, are all interesting at least.

The Ten Plagues of Christmas

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on December 29, 2011 by dcairns

At this magical time of the year

I feel a small frisson of fear

I was scared as a child

By the voice, soft and mild

Of a gentleman ever so queer.

It’s true — a Hogmanay screening of THEATRE OF BLOOD so terrified me as a kid, I couldn’t walk into a room for months afterwards without imaging the severed head of Arthur Lowe waiting for me. I think it was the fact that he’s murdered in bed, the place of childhood safety, and in a slow, methodical, surgical manner…

I once had a flat mate similarly traumatised, but by Robert Morley’s demise in the same film, choked to death on a cream-of-poodle pie rammed down his throat through a funnel. She couldn’t eat chicken pie ever again.

So this time of year often makes me think of Vincent Price. And since it’s near the climax of the Vincentennial, the blogospheric celebration of his hundredth blood-curdling year, it seemed mete to sing his praises.

I limbered up with this little rhyme, then decided to indulge in a ten-lim marathon celebrating each of Phibes’ phiendish phorays.

Thus: The Wreckalogue.

A further entry in the Vincentennial, dealing with the gripping WITCHFINDER GENERAL, is here. And make sure you check out everyone else’s rhymes! A big thankyou to Hil for having me.

The Cut-Ups

Posted in FILM, Television, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on June 7, 2011 by dcairns

Weird how Terry Gilliam’s animations for Monty Python’s Flying Circus always seemed a bit scary, but his titles for CRY OF THE BANSHEE, a Vincent Price horror flick, are mainly just funny.

Weird also how the movie, which is part of AIP/Tigon’s series of period horrors including also WITCHFINDER GENERAL and BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW, is so unlikable. The earlier WITCHFINDER benefited from a realistic approach with no supernatural elements and an admirable seriousness of purpose by its director. The later CLAW has a thoroughly goofy narrative but again tackles it with sincerity and verve — the writer had been influenced by accounts of the Mary Bell case, in which a little girl murdered a little boy: the idea of evil infecting children was taken seriously, even if the filmmakers don’t bring much in the way of sensible ideas to the situation.

BANSHEE is really just a parade of nastiness, most of it directed at young women. The only really interesting thing after the opening credits is the ending, which to my mind was swiped by THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY, which could be seen as an unofficial remake in gangster form of BANSHEE. Bob Hoskins may seem an unlikely replacement for Vincent Price, but really he’s not.

Wishing he was back with the Ken Campbell Roadshow.

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