Gil from RealWeegieMidgetReviews was kind enough to mention my blog on her site and set down a list of questions for me to answer.
Have you ever met a celebrity somewhere random?
Not really. Though I did once serve Alan Titchmarsh when I was waiting tables a few years ago. Very charming. Can see why all the ladies like him.
2. Have you ever had a celebrity write to you in response to a fan letter?
No. Have never written a fan letter. Did get a thank you from Robin Askwith on Twitter for identifying an actor in a photo he’d met briefly in a bar in 1986. Turned out it was former Colbys star Joseph Campanella.
3. What’s your favourite advert with an actor or actress?
I guess you could make a case The Hire (2000) shorts starring Clive Owen are adverts as they were funded by BMW, but they feel more like short films with product placement which isn’t really the same. I remember seeing Brad Pitt in a Levi’s 501 ad back in 1990 and thinking he’ll do all right for himself.
4. If you could ghost-write a celebrity’s autobiography with their permission who would it be?
George Lazenby had a much more interesting career than people give him credit for. Becoming Bond (2017, Josh Greenbaum) was fine but didn’t seem have much interest in the man himself or his career after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969, Peter Hunt). I’m fascinated by him quitting that role to make Universal Soldier (1971, Cy Endfield), an anti-war movie about a spy who drops out and starts hanging out with left-wing activists. I also feel the giallo Who Saw Her Die? ((Aldo Lado), co-starring with Angela Mao in the Hong-Kong martial arts movie Stoner(1974, Feng Huang),and Saint Jack (1979, Peter Bogdanovich) makes for an interesting 1970s’. There’s also the time he spent with Bruce Lee before his untimely death working on a proposed follow-up to Enter the Dragon (1973, Robert Clouse), and essentially playing Bond again on TV in Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E and the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode Diamonds Aren’t Forever. Mostly I just want to talk to him about his appearance on the fashion house/spy show Cover Up.
5. Have you ever been on telly or in a movie?
6. Who was your first film or TV love?
I honestly can’t recall the first. It was so long ago. Probably Georgina Hayes on Grange Hill, or Abby on Howard’s Way.
7. You are allowed to snog, marry or avoid three movie or TV stars.. who are they?
I would prefer to avoid all TV and movie stars completely.
8. If you could give out an Oscar which category would it be for?
It would be a Lifetime Achievement Award for Albert Pyun.
9. Who would you like to accompany to the Oscars?
To be honest I prefer being at home and tweeting about them, but if I had to go I’d like to go with the guy from the law firm who’s responsible for keeping the envelopes with the names of the winners. I just want to see how stressful that job is now after the Warren Beatty/Faye Dunaway slip up a few years ago.
10. Which film would you watch again and again?
I will never grow tired of Deathstalker II (1987, Jim Wynorski).
11. What’s your favourite TV Movie?
A bleak but very funny production written by Alan Bennett for Screen Two called The Insurance Man (1986, Richard Eyre) which is loosely based on the life and work of Franz Kafka. The late Robert Hines stars as a young man living in pre-WWI Prague who develops a mysterious blue tinged skin infection on his chest while working in a factory and is sent to a government building to meet a clerk called Franz Kafka (Daniel Day-Lewis) to see if his condition makes him eligible for insurance. There he finds he’s one of many claimants waiting around the labyrinthian hallways, or being sent from one office to the next because they have the wrong form. All he wants to do is find out what’s wrong with him but his journey through the building turns into a nightmarish series of encounters with contemptuous bureaucrats and people who have become slightly unhinged by the whole experience. Made around the same time Day-Lewis broke through with My Beautiful Laundrette (1985, Stephen Frears), and A Room With A View (1985, James Ivory) and though he only appears in a few scenes he’s incredibly charismatic. I’m also very fond of a TV movie called Nick Knight (1989, Farhad Mann) starring Rick Springfield as a vampire cop in Los Angeles.
This post is part of the Cool Rider Blogathon run by Pale Writer dedicated to the work of Maxwell Caulfield. An actor whose developed a cult following in recent years thanks to a growing appreciation for two films, Empire Records (1995, Alan Moyle), and Grease 2 (1982, Patricia Birch). Neither film was considered a success at the time but over the years both have deservedly undergone a reappraisal. I’ve chosen to write about arguably his most famous role, Miles Colby and the character’s introduction in the first six episodes of Dynasty leading up to the The Titans, the crossover episode which would launch the spin-off show The Colbys.
Dynasty had ended its fifth season in with a massive cliffhanger dubbed The Moldavian Massacre which saw the fate of every character on the show left hanging in the balance after terrorists armed with machine guns put the windows in at Prince Michael’s wedding and left everybody on a pile on the floor. Apparently there were a lot of contracts up at the end of season five and this storyline gave the producers an out should any negotiations prove problematic. The Shapiros proved ruthless when it came to killing off or replacing characters. In the end it turned out there were only two casualties, and all of the main players returned. Though viewers would notice two new faces in the opening credits sequence.
The season six opener Aftermath follows on from the events in Moldavia but it also sets up The Colbys by introducing us to Fallon Mk II (Emma Samms) and Miles Colby (Caulfield). Fallon was last seen in the form of Pamela Sue Martin losing control of her car and heading towards an oncoming truck. Now she’s in Los Angeles having lost her memory. She’s drawn to a photo in a local newspaper of a handsome young polo player but it’s the caption underneath and the name Colby that seems to trigger some meaning. She heads to the stables to see if she can meet Miles and find out if he knows anything about her. Neither Miles or her realise she’s his cousin Jeff Colby’s presumed dead ex-wife he planned to remarry before she went missing.
In the next episode Homecoming Fallon explains her amnesia and she now calls herself Randall because she saw the name on the side of the bus. Over the course of the next few episodes leading up to The Titans they’ll get one scene in each episode furthering their relationship and hinting at her past. She’ll find out she can speak French, or she can ride a horse, or a trip to the ocean triggers a flashback. Miles seems like a nice guy but he’s impulsive, even going as far as proposing marriage to an amnesiac. She wisely turns him down.
Season 5 was when the producers really began to crank up the craziness in the storylines. In its early days Dynasty mostly focused on the feud between blue-collar oil worker Matthew Blaisdel (Bo Hopkins) and oil tycoon Blake Carrington (John Forsythe). Ratings weren’t great and Blaisdel was written out of the show, missing and presumed dead after a car crash in South America. Alexis (Joan Collins) became the show’s main antagonist and the show fully embraced 80s’ excess becoming a tale of the battles of the super-rich in the boardroom and the bedroom. If any working-class people entered this world they did so as a potential threat. Nothing emphasised this more than the amiable and decent Matthew Blaisdel returning at the end of season 7 as a ruthless villain out for blood.
By the time we get to The Titans the other story arcs running include the coup in Moldavia which has led Prince Michael to falsely believe he is now King, failed Hollywood film director Joel Abrigore kidnapping Kristal (Linda Evans) and coaching her double Rita (Evans) to replace her in the Carrington household, Jeff’s search for Fallon leading to his discovery she survived the car crash buy may have perished in a bright red WWI bi-plane flown by her former lover Peter (Helmut Berger), and Blake and Jason Colby (Charlton Heston) at loggerheads over an oil pipeline deal. All will culminate with a gathering held by Blake in honour of both families at his home in Denver.
Miles has no interest in attending the party, preferring instead to focus on helping Fallon. Up until now we’ve seen the kinder side of Miles but a meeting with his twin sister Monica (Tracy Scoggins) gives us some more insight into his character. “Why do you always have to embarrass him?” Miles is the wild child, prone to acting on impulse without really thinking his actions through. Fallon might have picked up on this already because she’s bought a ticket to elsewhere and is about to board a Greyhound bus to Phoenix. Miles gets there in time but misses an important clue. She’s wearing a horrendous pair of ivory tusk earrings, a sure sign she comes from money but Miles is more interested in getting her accompany him to the gathering of the clans in Denver. Without even knowing it he’s taking her home.
Meanwhile in Denver Joel and the exiled Sammy Jo (Heather Locklear) have successfully completed their Pygmalion experiment on Rita by schooling her in every detail of Kristal’s life. “I’m an artist, a filmmaker…” he insists. Now I loved Michael Praed in Robin of Sherwood but he’s lumbered with playing an insufferable prig in Dynasty. Last season Prince Michael spent most of his time belittling his beautiful wife Amanda (Catherine Oxenberg). Now that he thinks he’s a King he’s even worse and he’s driving Amanda into the arms of the show’s resident alpha-male, gravelly-voiced big belt-buckle wearing Dex Dexter (Michael Nader). Dex also happens to be Amanda’s step-father. There’s a lot going on there. As well as cuckolding Prince Michael, Dex also suspects the King of Moldavia is still alive and hatches a rescue mission which will involve sneaking back into the country and disguising Alexis as a nun.
The extended opening credits sequence lists a massive 21 stars and the majority of them are present at the gathering including the Colby matriarchs Constance (Barbara Stanwyck) and Sable (Stephanie Beacham). There’s plenty talk of Miles with most people wondering if he’s even going to show. Jeff is solemnly staring at couples and feeling a bit lost. Monica chides him, warning Jeff not to try anything with Miles new girlfriend when they arrive because “This one could be serious.” Way to kick a man when he’s down Monica. Blake later finds Jeff hiding away in another room staring at a photograph of Fallon. Just as he’s finally ready to let go and accept she’s dead, Miles drives up in his bright red Italian sports car and delivers her to the door. Only Fallon can’t go in. She knows this house and it terrifies her. So they drive away with Jeff running after them. A dynamic that will be repeated and switched around over two seasons of The Colbys.
The Titans is peak Dynasty from an era when it was really operating at the height of its powers. Storylines in later seasons eventually began to repeat themselves and as the show fell in the ratings the budget became smaller and the cast was thinned out. Jeff and Fallon returned to Dynasty after The Colbys ended, bringing Sable and later Monica with them. I was always a bit surprised Miles never made an appearance in the last two series although the show was cancelled during its hiatus so maybe there were plans to eventually bring him back for season 10. Miles does however play a leading role in the mini-series Dynasty: The Reunion (1991), and the rivalry between Jeff and him has only become worse since they discovered they were not cousins but in fact half-brothers. Fallon is now divorcing Jeff and he’s not best pleased to find Miles at the house playing football with his daughters. “Miles Colby doesn’t know how to be civilised. He’s all mouth and temperament. He has a history of bad behaviour.” It’s like Patrick Marber’s Closer with the same couples breaking up and getting back together every few years. As much as I enjoy the new Dynasty (2017-) I do wish they’d done something similar to Dallas and brought back the original cast alongside younger actors. These three would probably still be driving each other crazy and we might have found out if Fallon really was abducted by aliens, because they just dropped that storyline and hoped nobody would notice.
Incidentally here’s some other things Maxwell Caulfield has appeared in that I really like. I mentioned Grease 2 and Empire Records at the beginning of this post and both are terrific, and his hilariously obnoxious washed-up rock star in the latter might be his best work. But he’s also great as a crazed teenager on a killing spree in The Boys Next Door (1985, Penelope Spheeris), another film worthy of critical reappraisal. Haven’t seen it since it came out and I suspect it might not have aged well but Caulfield’s very funny in The Real Blonde (1997, Tom DiCillo). I didn’t much care for what the show Beverley Hills 90210 became, but the feature length pilot directed by Tim Hunter (River’s Edge) is really good and features Caulfield in a supporting role. Any excuse to watch The Rockford Files will do and Caulfield plays an unlikely mob associate in the 1996 TV movie Godfather Knows Best written by The Sopranos creator David Chase. There’s also some decent genre stuff. A pair of Anthony Hickox horror movies, Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1989) and Waxwork II (1992), plus enjoying himself in Full Moon’s Oblivion 2 (1996, Sam Irvin) as a top hat and tails wearing alien bounty hunter.
This post is part of the Atticus and Boo Blogathon held by Rebecca at her site Taking Up Room. This blogathon is dedicated to films starring Gregory Peck (Atticus) or Robert Duvall (Boo). I’ve went with Duvall and while I could have written about Sam Peckinpah’s ninja movie The Killer Elite (1975), the Donald Westlake adaptation The Outfit (1973, John Flynn). You know, one of the good films, but I’m Scottish and still can’t quite come to terms with A Shot At Glory existing. It’s a fairly conventional and somewhat drab sports movie, but it was written by a guy from Connecticut and he does to Scottish football what Randall Wallace did to our history. There are so many genuinely odd moments in this movie that I can’t help but have a fondness for it.
The best football movies tend to be less about the game and more about what happens off the pitch. Like the coming of age story in Gregory’s Girl (1981 Bill Forsyth), or teenage girls trying to sneak into a match they are forbidden from attending in the Iranian film Offside (2006, Jafar Panahi), or organised hooliganism in The Firm (1989, Alan Clarke), or a player forced to retire young and struggling to adapt to life afterwards in One Man Up (Paolo Sorrentino). A Shot At Glory is an underdog story about a wee team’s cup run which means it can end in only one of two ways. Victory against the odds or glorious failure. Yesterday’s Hero (1979, Neil Leifer) and When Saturday Comes (1996, Maria Giese) both do the former, but this is a film about Scottish football so glorious failure it is.
A Shot At Glory opens with archive newsreel footage of a fiercely contested cup final between Scotland’s two biggest teams Rangers and Celtic, aka the Old Firm. A narrator fills in the gaps for those who are unaware of their history of violence. They hate each other. “Good versus evil, us against them..” and the narration wisely avoids telling viewers who’s who. The narrator claims this is not a film about the Old Firm, but that’s not really true. One of them turns up later as the film’s main adversaries. Their menace emphasised by the casting of the original Hannibal Lecter (Brian Cox) as their manager.
Duvall plays Gordon McLeod, the bunnet wearing manager of made-up side Kilnockie who have just reached the 4th round of the Scottish Cup. Not bad for a lower division side, but this is the point when the bigger teams join the competition and nobody’s expecting them to go any further. Yank owner Peter Cameron (Michael Keaton) has lumbered Gordon with a new signing, fallen star Jackie McQuillen (Ally McCoist). At the time McCoist was still playing regularly for SPL side Kilmarnock and had a burgeoning media career as a team captain on the quiz show A Question of Sport. McCoist making the leap to acting didn’t feel that surprising, especially after Vinnie Jones success in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). More incongruous is Keaton essentially channeling his smug FBI agent Ray Nicolette from Jackie Brown (1997, Quentin Tarantino) and Out of Sight (1998, Steven Soderbergh) as the club’s owner. A 2nd division side are unlikely to attract foreign investment and his plan to move the club to Ireland makes little sense given the Irish leagues are even less profitable than Scotland’s.
None of the drama lands at all. McQuillen’s supposedly personal problems aren’t that serious. He’s not as Gordon says “a fucking head-case” but simply a feckless ex-star who’s had it too easy. While his betting habits might get him a suspension McQuillen wouldn’t get near a list of the top 250 lunatics who’ve played Scottish football. Even a sending-off for chinning an opponent which is met with opprobrium by the press, manager, and fans alike comes after scoring a hat-trick in a cup match. Something that would be forgiven, especially as Scottish fans love a bampot. Plus McQuillen is played by the personable McCoist who is difficult to like unless you are an Aberdeen or Celtic fan in which case it’s easy enough.
None of this really matters. It’s the incidental moments that make A Shot At Glory so entertaining. Like when during a remembrance service being held on the pitch the players start playing keepie-uppie with a ball while a minister carries out a eulogy, or the Argentinian goalkeeper Diego inexplicably turning around and running away during a training session. He literally runs out of the stadium and is never seen again. Somebody suggests he doesn’t like the weather but this is pure speculation on their part. Maybe it’s a nod to Wim Wenders movie The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty (1972).
Then there’s casting former Rangers legend McCoist (418 appearances 251 goals) as a former Celtic player, and using shoddy CGI to turn his light blue shirt into green and white hoops for a highlights reel. Most of all it is seeing Duvall, star of three Godfather movies, putting on a shoogly Scottish accent and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Andy Smith and Peter “Silky” Hetherston. There’s also the dubious pleasure of seeing a few well kent faces from twenty years ago. Dodgy ref Mike McCurry, wee Ian McCall as a midfield hardman, big Jim Traynor asking questions with a bright orange microphone (that was a tell), legendary Airdie nutter John Martin in goals, and his old team-mate Owen Coyle as player-coach. Names that will mean absolutely nothing to film lovers, giving A Shot At Glory a limited appeal outside of the very small world of Scottish fitba.
“Darling he’s my masterpiece. I own him. I have turned a common waiter into one of the most fancied men in London.”
This chintzy disco-infused adaptation of Jackie Collins 1969 novel is generally regarded as a joke, but there’s two reasons I feel The Stud is so much better than its reputation suggests. Firstly Joan Collins is essentially auditioning for her role as Alexis in Dynasty, and secondly it’s got a better handle on the British class system than you expect from a film that’s usually categorised alongside 1970s’ sex-comedies or outright sexploitation films. The titular stud however remains every bit as hapless as Robin Askwith’s bed-hopping protagonist in the Confessions of movies. Tony Blake (Oliver Tobias) makes all the wrong moves in a world where he can only ever be an amusement to the rich people he serves in the nightclub or between the sheets, or a problem to be removed from their sight. Oddly it reminded me of Peter Greenaway’s The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982) which feels like a more esoteric version of the same theme.
The film opens by panning across a notice board covered with photos and fond messages from women he’s been with. One of them is from Jackie Collins herself, which is very meta inserting herself into the movie and implying she slept with her own creation. Collins followed her big sister Joan into acting but her heart wasn’t in it. She had a few small roles in films and guested on shows like Danger Man and The Saint (pictured below) before turning to writing and publishing her first novel The World is Full of Married Men (1968).
The Stud was published in 1969, right at the end of a decade when popular culture and sports gave talented young working-class people the chance to move up in the world. Collins must have seen a few of these burn out. I’d imagine one of those was George Best judging by her screenplay for Yesterday’s Hero (1979), which follows a washed up striker (Ian McShane) plying his trade in the old 3rd division while drinking himself into oblivion. Tony Blake doesn’t know that’s where he’s headed. He thinks he’s got it made.
The quietly intense Tobias was best known at this point as the lead in Arthur of the Britons (1972), a gritty attempt at telling the story of the historical King Arthur made by HTV which ran for two seasons. He’d also worked in Australia on Luke’s Kingdom, which was partly directed by Peter Weir shortly after his success with The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) and Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975).
The Stud opens with a reversal of a trope common in 70s British cinema. Somebody trying to sneak away from a one-night-stand without waking them, only this time it’s a woman doing the tip-toeing towards the door with her shoes in her hands. The phone rings and spoils her getaway. . He wakes up. “No bye-byes?” Tony’s patter’s pish by the way, one eye-roller after another, but he looks like Oliver Tobias so he everybody cuts him slack. She makes her excuses and tells him she’ll call. He’s happy enough to be used, he’s using them too.
Time has moved on since the novel and the disco generation has arrived. Biddu Orchestra provide the opening track which plays over a montage of Tobias getting ready for work. “Whats his name? what’s his name..Stuuddd..” He picks out a suit from a walk-in wardrobe, divides his mail into two piles then half-volleys the bills out of the door, downs a mouthful of vitamins, chooses a pair of Italian loafers, puts on a fancy watch, picks up his money-clip, grabs a tie, then he’s out the door and into his wee red sports convertible. Finally he uses the privilege afforded to him by being a handsome bastard to dodge a parking ticket.
We’ve seen Tony Blake at play. Now we see him at work albeit briefly, reworking the maitre d’s table-plan for the evening so the right people are on the right table, “Put them back in oblivion where they belong.” Then he’s out the door again when the phone rings, and the staff are all sniggering behind his back because they know the owner Fontaine (Joan Collins) has summoned him for a booty call. When he arrives she’s waiting on the balcony. She is literally placed above him in the frame and by entering this building he is being allowed to ascend to her level.
Fontaine is married to a rich businessman called Benjamin Khaled (Walter Gotell) and The Hobo nightclub and by extension Tony are her playthings. However Khaled doesn’t know Tony is anything but the bright young thing who rose through the ranks from waiting tables to managing the place. So it’s not wise of Tony to have sex with Fontaine in a lift with a CCTV security camera system which is hooked up to Khaled’s apartment.
I’m not even sure they reached the apartment. Tony’s back at the club in no time running the floor, mingling with guests and making sure everybody’s happy. Felicity is there with her boyfriend which is awkward. Disco band The Real Thing are performing onstage and the dance-floor is packed with 20-something’s having a great time. In fact I’m pretty sure that 70s’ dance troupe Legs & Co, a popular staple of late 70s’ and 80s’ light entertainment TV shows, are in there as well.
Then a problem appears in the form of potato-faced Lord Newton (Constantine Gregory) who’s turned up with two of his mates expecting a table despite having no reservation. Tony invokes a rule that single gentlemen cannot enter because it makes couples uncomfortable, a rule that seems pretty flexible because he lets two single gentlemen in while he’s talking to Newton. Something that does not go unnoticed. Lord Newton threatens to cancel his membership but walks it back as a joke when Tony accepts his resignation. Newton has apparently a history with Tony who waited on him when he was younger for little reward. “A waiter never forgets eh?” says his friend as the Lord leaves.
Neither do rich people though and every interaction Tony has in this movie comes back to haunt him. In the gents toilets he tries to convince Thane (Peter Lukas) into providing capital for a new club. They’re interrupted by a Mick Jagger lookalike rock star (played by Mick’s younger brother Chris) snorting coke. When Tony reprimands him he retorts “who ever heard of a seventy-year old rock star?” Which is funny some 41 years later because well, now there’s Mick Jagger. But faux-Mick Jagger hits him with a verbal low blow. “Seventy-year old greeters aren’t much in demand either.” Deep down Tony knows he’s right but his clumsy attempts to machinate a successful exit prove to be destructive.
The music Biddu chooses for each scene complements the film. Some of lyrics feel a little on the nose. When Tony leaves the gents after trying to engineer the deal to leave The Hobo the house band is covering Leo Sayer. “Moonlighting/They’re leaving everything/Moonlighting/They’re losing all their friends.” Then at the end of the night when only the stragglers are left and the disco kids are gone it’s slow dancing to 10cc’s I’m Not in Love. “Just because/ I call you up/don’t think you got it made.” Tony goes home with a playboy centrefold Molly (Minah Bird) but his time with her is ended by a call from Fontaine telling hims she’s coming over. A call she makes to prove to her friend Vanessa (Sue Lloyd) she can have him any time she likes. Molly’s assumes he’s a gigolo. “Hey you do this for a living huh?” Vanessa also has eyes on Tony and asks for Fontaine to bring him to one of their parties in Paris while they’re watching the security camera footage of them together in the lift. Unfortunately for Tony they notice him checking the time mid-tryst and by Collins expression we know he’s done for.
His old mates at an East End snooker club tell him as much. “You’re playing a mugs game Tony.” This from a chancer who makes a living sponging sponging off older women but he’s right. Tony doesn’t own the club, is treated as property by the actual owner, and her husband will find out sooner or later. Especially if he checks the video recorder in his apartment.
Khaled and Fontaine turn up at The Hobo just as Tony has to remove a drunken Lord Newton who had decided to treat the other patrons to a boozy rendition of the St Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V with a pair of underpants on his head before throwing a haymaker at Tony. “You’re nothing but a working-class bum in Gucci shoes.” Afterwards he sits down with Khaled and his family and meets the person who will be the architect of his destruction. It’s not Khaled, or Fontaine, but a far more cunning adversary. Khaled’s teenage daughter Alexandra (Emma Jacobs).
“Funny place wasn’t it?” Says Peter her chinless boyfriend in the car later. Although they were the ones who looked out of place, turning up at a disco club dressed like the ghosts of Victorian children who died of consumption and now haunt a large house in the country. Alexandra’s best pal Maddie (Natalia Ogle) overheard a conversation between Fontaine and Vanessa in the toilets about their plans to Shanghai Tony in Paris. She’s now watching the videotape of the two of them in the lift which Fontaine has inexplicably left in the machine. Alexandra swears revenge on Tony and her stepmother, changes out of her Victorian frock garment, and heads back to the club in more disco friendly garb to seduce Tony who falls for her hard.
In Paris Tony sits down for what he assumes will be a nice civilised meal next to the cream of French society and that he’s finally moving up in the world. Instead he finds out he’s dessert during an absurd swimming pool orgy sequence involving a trapeze (which quite frankly looks rather dangerous). Then when Leonard (Mark Burns) makes a grab for him in the pool Tony ends up fleeing from the building in a gay panic. “I thought I’d trained all that working-class taboo out of you” says Fontaine who like Victor Frankenstein is about to abandon her creation. How will I get home he wonders and Collins says goodbye with “Why don’t you fuck yourself there darling?”
By now we know Alexandra has shopped Tony and Fontaine to her father and Khaled has watched the videotape and called a divorce lawyer. So it’s even more excruciating than the scenes in Paris when he gatecrashes a Christmas party at Alexandra’s mother’s home in the country. A get together attended by a vicar, and old colonel types who react with astonishment when offered a drink he asks for a whisky and coke. “Comme en cheval” says Alexandra to Maddie which translates as “like a horse” but he’s not here to be taken advantage of. This time he’s here to be humiliated and shown his place.
So the golden boy of the clubbing scene finds himself back at home for Christmas sitting in front of the television with his elderly parents. Nobody’s taking his calls and he finds himself down by the docklands with his old snooker buddy who tells him the patrons at The Hobo have heard various rumours about him. That he’s doing the club scene up North, or he’s fled to South America. Meanwhile he still thinks he can get Thane to follow through on his agreement to help him open his own club.
The last scene is like a nightmare. Tony returns to the club for Hogmanay, but this time when he’s surrounded and pawed on the dance floor by the guests it’s framed like a horror film, as if he’s being overwhelmed by zombies. Everybody’s here, his Ghosts of Christmas past. Peter announces his marriage to Alexandra and tells Tony they’ll be holding it here. Felicity grabs him, then Molly, then Vanessa, then Leonard, spinning him round the dance floor until he’s face to face for one final kiss-off from Fontaine. Khaled has sold his share to Thane and he’s now co-owner of The Hobo. Marco has been promoted to manager. “Don’t be here tomorrow will you Tony” she says, Lord Newton dancing like a muppet in the background. Then one final misstep. Trying to attack Thane in the gents and getting a shoeing from security. It’s like a fever dream now. The countdown for the bells begins. 10, 9, 8… and Tony’s running for the exit. 7,6,5, 4, like Orpheus leaving the Underworld but there’s no reason to look back. 3,2,1 and he’s out and breathing in the London air. The doors closing behind him.
In the sequel The Bitch (1979, Gerry O’Hara) Fontaine is now divorced and returns from New York to find Marco has run The Hobo into the ground. Disco has peaked and the dance-floor is empty. Tony is nowhere to be seen but he does get a mention. If I remember correctly somebody says he’s in Huddersfield running a club but that might just be a story the few remaining punters tell to each other. The Stud never quite escaped the British sexploitation tag, but it feels closer in spirit to the TV mini-series and glossy prime-time soap operas we’d get in the 80s’ when everybody was rich and a bastard. Joan Collins would go on to star in arguably the greatest of these, Dynasty. Tobias would seem a perfect fit for shows like that as well but for one reason of not it never happened for him. Still he was very good in the Richard Carpenter scripted show Smuggler and a memorable villain in the same writer’s other hit Dick Turpin.
In the late 70s’/early 80s Japanese director Tsugunobu Kotani made three English language B-movies which all feel like calling cards towards making big budget films in the US but sadly Hollywood never answered. The Last Dinosaur (1977) is a Doug McClure style creature feature with a big game hunter facing off against a T-rex. The Bermuda Depths (1978) a fantasy film about scientists threatened by a giant turtle and a mysterious woman who seems to have come from the ocean. The last of them is The Bushido Blade, a samurai movie set during Commodore Matthew Perry’s negotiations with a Japanese shogun (played by Toshiro Mifune) to allow trade with the US. Frank Converse plays a cavalry officer forced to team up with samurai warrior Sonny Chiba to retrieve a ceremonial sword stolen by factions opposed to opening the country to outsiders. Along the way they team up with a female warrior Laura Gemser, whose mixed parentage makes her an outsider in her own country. I’m not sure how historically accurate any of this is but it’s a lot of fun and ends with three facing off against many in an inventive final battle.
THE IRON MASK (2019, Oleg Stepchenko)
Marketed somewhat misleadingly in the UK as an Arnie fights Jackie Chan movie, this is really a sequel to the Russian film Viy,. I can see why they tried to sell it this way but the film stars Jason Flemyng as a cartographer. That’s not an approach that’s going to please people when they realise they’ve been dealt a sleight of hand. I really liked Viy, a fantasy film based on Russian folklore released in the UK as The Forbidden Kingdom (nothing to do with the Jackie Chan film of the same name) which saw Flemyng’s mapmaker cross the Carpathian Mountains and into the forests of the Ukraine where he finds a remote village tormented by the supernatural. This sequel moves the action to China and feels like a clumsier version of Tsui Hark’s Detective Dee movies but it’s still much better than the reviews suggest. And the few scenes shared by Chan and Schwarzenegger are very funny. There’s also a brief appearance by another 80s’ action legend, the late great Rutger Hauer.
JAGUAR LIVES!(1979, Ernest Pintoff)
Martial arts film intended to launch a movie career for karate champion Joe Lewis. Mimicking the structure of a Bond movie and casting no less than four alumni (Christopher Lee, Donald Pleasance, Joseph Wiseman, and Barbara Bach) in support the film whizzes around the globe pitting Lewis against a drug smuggling ring and their various henchmen. Jaguar Lives! didn’t succeed in its aim, but it’s not for want of trying with Lewis getting into fights on average once every five minutes. While he might not have much range, even for an action hero there’s no doubt about his credentials as a fighter.
THE FIFTH MUSKETEER (1979, Ken Annakin)
It may lack the panache of the Richard Lester movies but this is an entertaining enough take on the Alexandre Dumas The Man in the Iron Mask with a decent cast. A svelte young Beau Bridges plays dual roles of the King and his identical twin brother, while his old man Lloyd Bridges proves to be surprisingly adept with a sword as Aramis. Jose Ferrer and Alan Hale Jr are Athos and Porthos respectively. It’s quite moving seeing ageing swashbuckler Cornel Wilde leading them all as D’Artagnan, and this sense of a connection to a once popular Hollywood genre is added to by the presence of Olivia De Havilland as the Queen Mother. Like most versions of this story it reworks the material so the poorer twin is the nobler of the lookalikes and the King is an arsehole which plays better with modern audiences.
Mini-series based on George Eliot’s novel about a young man (Hugh Dancy) raised by a rich guardian who becomes increasingly torn between his privileged upper class upbringing and his need to find out more about his mysterious origins. This conflict is mirrored in his relationships with two women. Gwendoline (Romola Garai) a flighty minor aristocrat with a mercenary nature, and Jewish musician Mirah (Jodhi May) he saves from drowning. Kind of wish Hooper had stayed making costume dramas for the BBC because this is easily the best thing he’s done.
DRACULA (1968, Patrick Dromgoole)
Pared down version of Stoker’s novel made as part of ITV’s Mystery and Imagination anthology series. It begins halfway through the book with Dracula already present in England and making his presence felt amongst the local aristocracy. There’s nothing you won’t have seen in other adaptations but it’s worth seeing just for the late great Denholm Elliot as a Mandrake the Magician looking Dracula who clearly detests these Little Englanders and their contempt for his foreign background.
MANSFIELD PARK (1999, Patricia Rozema)
Inventive take on Jane Austen’s novel which manages to weave contemporaneous events and aspects of the author’s own life into the screenplay. I remember this coming out to generally poor reviews most of whom seemed to be from purists upset at the changes writer-director Patricia Rozman made to the original, but this turned out to be great. Up there with Persuasion (1995, Roger Michell) and the Emma mini-series from 2009 which coincidentally also features Jonny Lee Miller.
This 13-part Anglo-German co-production between HTV and Tele-Munchen is more faithful to Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale than the otherwise excellent 71′ Kidnapped (Delbert Mann) which removed the novel’s ambiguity about who committed the story’s murder. Though it’s filmed in Scotland half the cast including lead actor Ekkehardt Belle are German and dubbed with Scottish accents which was distracting at first. Belle plays David Balfour, a teenager disinherited by his miserly old uncle and sold to a ship’s captain on a vessel headed to the New World. Onboard he meets Alan Breck Stewart (David McCallum), a dashing Jacobite rebel who’s trying to get back to France after surviving the massacre at Culloden. If there’s a ship in a Stevenson novel it will surely sink and so the pair end up washed ashore and on the run in the Highlands from redcoats and from clans loyal to the British Crown. HTV had a great track record producing these kinds of adventure shows in the 70s’ and early 80s.’ Arthur of the Britons, Dick Turpin, Smuggler, and Robin of Sherwood all shared a similar mixture of action and humour with a more reflective and melancholy side.
WAR AND PEACE (2007, ROBERT DONHELM)
I’ve sat through all seven hours of the great Russian director Sergei Bondarchuk’s War and Peace so I think I’ve earned the right to enjoy a really trashy version. This Franco-Italian-German Euro-pudding approaches Tolstoy’s epic novel with all the gravitas of a prime-time US soap opera and is all the better for it. The cast is made up of all different nationalities to suit each market with Clemence Poesy as Natasha, Malcolm McDowell as Prince Bolkonsky Snr, and German actor Alexander Beyer (Deutschland 83/86) as Pierre. In terms of physicality Alessio Boni (Arrivederci Amore Ciao, The Best of Youth) is the perfect fit for the melancholy Andrej Bolkonsky, but unfortunately in the English version he’s been badly dubbed over.
BEAU BRUMMEL: THIS CHARMING MAN (2006, Philippa Lowthorpe)
Beau Brummell was apparently an impoverished dandy who used his friendship with the Prince Regent (a dippy Hugh Bonneville) to advance his position in society and dodge the many creditors who were knocking at his door. There’s a big glossy Technicolor 50s’ movie starring Stewart Granger and Peter Ustinov which covers more ground but I much prefer this low-key approach. The focus is entirely on the relationship between these two men and a small group of hangers-on. Brummell is stylist and advisor to the Prince Regent, mostly providing fashion tips like don’t wear powdered wigs and go easy on the white make-up. But Brummell overreaches himself and damages the relationship by falling in with persona non grata Lord Byron (Matthew Rhys) then calling his boss fat at a society event. Everybody here is a dreadful snob but the actors make them sympathetic. Pompous though he may be, Bonneville’s Prince genuinely thought he’d made a friend so his cruel response to having his fragile ego damaged is understandable. Brummell is played by a peak-period James Purefoy so it’s difficult not to like him or feel sorry when he’s cast out by all the other fancy wanks.
THE CLEOPATRAS (TV series, 1983)
There’s seven Cleopatras hence the pluralised title and this eight-part series goes through them like a slasher movie. It starts in 145 BC and ends in 35 BC with the death of the most famous Cleopatra of them all. This is such a strange and entertaining show. On the one hand it has that overstuffed feeling common in British television costume dramas of the 70s’/80s.’ Everything’s filmed in a studio and the actors are dialling up the theatricality to the nines. But there’s HBO levels of nudity and violence while the editing uses wipe transitions which I can’t ever recall being used in a BBC costume drama. Philip Mackie’s screenplay has plenty of gallows humour. Kings and Queens die in a variety of gruesome ways and their deaths are treated like a terrible sad joke, then it’s oh well then, on to the next one.
THE LAST PLACE ON EARTH (TV mini-series, 1985)
Mini-series covering the the race to reach the South Pole between the ill-fated Captain Scott (Martin Shaw) and his methodical Norwegian rival Roald Amundsen (Sverre Anker Ousdal). It doesn’t start out as a race. Scott had been punted from the navy for crashing a battleship and only undertakes the expedition in search of glory for the British Empire and to wind up Ernest Shackleton. Amundsen’s original destination was supposed to be the North Pole but he found out his old mentor Frederick Cook was already there so he made a last minute decision to change his route surprising both his financial backers and his crew. It’s an even-handed account giving equal time to both men. The Last Place On Earth offers a revisionist review of Scott’s voyage undercutting the myth of British exceptionalism while also presenting the conditions that breeds that superiority complex. The final episode manages to be incredibly moving and infuriating. Scott fails but gets the glory and his journals are edited to make him seem more heroic. Conversely Amundsen gets to the Pole but makes enemies in high places at home for refusing to fulfil his original journey to the North. Worse still is the condescending attitude he experiences from British and US audiences when he tours afterwards. “You’re the guy who ate the dogs” a New Yorker says to him.
PRISONOR OF HONOUR (1991, Ken Russell)
Ken Russell playing it straight here with this TV movie made for HBO based on a notorious late 19th century scandal. The Dreyfus Affair dragged on for over a decade and divided French society at the time. It also in retrospect feels like a precursor to the conflicts of the first half of the 20th century. Colonel Picquat (Richard Dreyfuss) is appointed to investigate Dreyfus (Kenneth Colley) knowing full well he’s supposed to find evidence of the man’s guilt. Instead Picquat becomes convinced the Jewish army officer is being used as a scapegoat by his superiors. Prisoner of Honour is unusually restrained for late-period Russell but it’s well worth a look. Russell went back to TV after this reuniting with his old Monitor colleague Melvyn Bragg making yearly arts documentaries for The South Bank Show and a well-received adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1993).
Despair seeps out of every frame of this adaptation of John LeCarre's debut novel Call For The Dead. London is a drab and grey city whose only respite from suffering seems to be a pint in a grotty pub or a trip to tortuous West End productions of Macbeth or Edward II. James Mason plays Charles Dobbs (Paramount held the rights to the name George Smiley), an MI5 operative whose suspicions are aroused when a Foreign Official kills himself shortly after Dobbs interviewed him about his student affiliations with the Communist party. A visit to the dead man's wife (Simone Signoret) indicates a wake-up call was placed by the victim for the following morning. An unusual move before a suicide. LeCarre's worldview is bleak and unforgiving and Call For the Dead laid down the groundwork for his Smiley stories. Smiley as the quiet observer of a human tragedy overshadowed by the machinations of the Cold War. The Deadly Affair captures this tone all too well. It makes the Harry Palmer films look glamorous and Callan seem like a cheerful bloke. Mason makes it work though. Not the best Smiley, but the most sympathetic version
EYE OF THE NEEDLE (1981, Richard Marquand)
Tense WWII thriller starring Donald Sutherland as a seemingly well-mannered English gentleman who is outed as a Nazi spy and flees to Scotland where a U-boat is waiting for him off the coast. Big Ian Bannen’s chasing after him so he’s wise to run. He’s desperate to get back to Berlin with information about the forthcoming D-Day invasion but he gets shipwrecked on a wee island and ends up lodging with unhappy housewife Kate Nelligan and her embittered invalid of a husband (Christopher Cazenove). Sutherland is chilling as the outwardly charming but utterly ruthless killer who will do anything to get home. There’s a moment where we learn a little about The Needle’s aristocratic upbringing and his life before the war and a portrait emerges of somebody who’s always been a loner, but this is primarily an old-fashioned chase movie. It could have been made 30 or 40 years before and it would have starred James Mason or Dirk Bogarde.
THE FLORIDA STRAITS (1986, Mike Hodges)
Mike Hodges made this TV movie for HBO in-between Morons From Outer Space (1985) and A Prayer For the Dying (1987) and it’s better than both of those theatrical releases. Raul Julia plays a Cuban political prisoner sent to America after his release, who on his arrival immediately hires a boat owned by sailor Fred Ward to take him back home to find the gold coins he threw from his plane on a mission twenty years ago. Really he just wants to speak to the woman he left behind. Like most films about men going in search of gold nothing works out as planned and the journey becomes more important than the destination. Hodges has a talent for undercutting machismo with vulnerability and in terms of mid-80s’ actors you really can’t do better for leads than the late Raul Julia and Fred Ward.
NIGHT MOVES(1975, Arthur Penn)
Always wanted to see this having heard so much about it. Night Moves was written by Scottish writer Alan Sharp who somehow despite being from Greenock was able to write authentically American genre pieces. Gene Hackman plays an L.A. based private investigator hired by an actress to find her missing teenage daughter which he does easily enough. But solving this case only makes matters worse and leads him onto a more complicated mystery involving a smuggling operation. The details are a little hard to fathom but this feels like a movie that needs multiple viewings to get a handle on. It has the same sense of fatalism Sharp brought to the western The Hired Hand (71, Peter Fonda) and deserves its reputation as one the best films of the 70s’.
Will be going back to work soon so I’m going to round up everything that’s kept me occupied through the lockdown period.
Of all the chintzy British attempts to channel the glamour of US prime-time soaps this is definitely the most unusual. Connie (Stephanie Beacham) returns home to Birmingham from exile abroad to reclaim the fashion house empire stolen from her by her step-sister (Pam Ferris). Jamieson (Richard Morant) is a pin-striped city worker who dumps his wife and leaves behind his comfortable middle-class lifestyle after a brief liaison with Connie. Everything is played dead straight while clearly being a satire on Thatcherite driven capitalism. Ron Hutchinson’s florid dialogue is wonderfully over-the-top. “Come and let me cut your throat for love, and lust, and tenderness for this other woman, you! And Ted from Harrogate arrives and you didn’t TRUST me enough!” Connie led to Beacham getting cast as Sable Colby in The Colbys and it must have bagged her co-star George Costigan the lead as the dodgy husband in Rita, Sue, and Bob Too (1987, Alan Clarke). Think I love this show even more than Howard’s Way.
Summer of Rockets (2019, Stephen Poliakoff)
Not sure Poliakoff would appreciate being placed alongside two glam mini-series but for all his highbrow leanings his shows have the same fascination with the lives of affluent people and his work does tend to follow a formula. Fancy folk in big houses, garden parties, and a mystery that has some kind of hold over the present. Toby Stephens plays a Russian-born inventor specialising in hearing aids who longs to feel accepted in England. A chance encounter at Royal Ascot leads to him befriending an MP (Linus Roache) and his wife (Keeley Hawes) but this new relationship is tested when the secret service begin taking an interest in his work and ask him to spy on the couple. The non-realistic dialogue and slightly mannered performances seem to be a cause of irritation to many of Poliakoff’s detractors, but I think those stylings are as important as the music he uses in his work. Plus Close My Eyes (1991) is one of the best films of the 90s’ so I’m willing to cut him some slack for anything except The Tribe.
To Be the Best (1991)
Back in the late-20th century if writers became super-famous they were allowed to personally introduce television adaptations of their work. Barbara Taylor Bradford opens To Be The Best with a short monologue about her novel, but really she’s letting the viewer know she lives in a huge mansion. To Be the Best completes her Emma Harte trilogy which began with A Woman of Substance (1985) and Hold the Dream (1987). This tale of espionage between two rival fashion houses isn’t as compelling as the rags-to-riches A Woman of Substance and the absence of original star Jenny Seagrove means it loses some sense of continuity . However its fun watching a half-awake Anthony Hopkins playing a suave corporate enforcer in a glossy mini-series made just before Silence of the Lambs put him on the A-list and priced him out of this kind of material for good.
A Magnum For Schneider aired as part of ITV’s Armchair Theatre series and marks the first appearance of Edward Woodward as David Callan, a burnt-out assassin forcibly retired and now working as a clerk in a bookkeepers office. James Mitchell’s script undercuts the 60s’ trend for glamorous spies by presenting a drab, conflicted, lonely man. Callan is recalled by his former handler Hunter (Ronald Radd) to carry out a hit on a German arms dealer but it’s a rush job, with no back-up, and the police are watching the target.
Hunter runs SIS, an intelligence unit specialising in removing potential threats using a variety of underhand methods. Schneider (Joseph Furst) is a red file case, meaning he’s marked for death. Hunter’s right-hand man Toby Meres, played by Peter Bowles, an actor who specialises in cads and bounders and whom I once saw give a director a bollocking during an LFF Q&A, wants to carry out the hit himself. However Hunter wants to find out if Callan has really gone “soft.” The worst thing a man can be in this game. If Callan can kill Schneider then he can invited back into the fold. If he fails then he’s no longer a problem. Either outcome is acceptable.
Hunter chose Callan for the hit because he works in the same building as Schneider. In fact Hunter implies he got Callan the job at the bookkeepers so he would already be in place when the time came to eliminate Schneider. Callan contrives to stumble into Schneider on the stairs knocking the box he’s carrying and sending its contents to the floor. Callan picks up a model soldier and correctly identifies its regiment. Schneider’s annoyance quickly gives way to delight at meeting somebody who may share his hobby and he allows Callan into his office to show off his toys. They bond over their military backgrounds and shared love of history. Though Schneider emphasises he only plays at war these days. “I do not care for blood Mr Callan. Not any more.”
Though these two old soldiers have much in common they are also complete opposites. Callan is taciturn and sad. Schneider outgoing and friendly. He even has a younger girlfriend, Jenny (Francesca Tu), who cares a great deal for him and knows all about his criminal activities. Callan’s only companion is a small-time criminal nicknamed Lonely (Russell Hunter) who helps him acquire a firearm. Though their relationship seems to develop over the course of the first season, here Callan bullies Lonely, making fun of his personal hygiene and threatening him.
You can feel the violence simmering under the surface with Callan. Woodward gives him a slightly hunched demeanour, and in his interactions with Hunter he speaks hesitantly, like he hasn’t spoken to anybody in months. When he breaks into Schneider’s flat and moves through it trying to evaluate the man’s life we hear his thoughts in voice-over, a drab Hamlet in an overcoat reflecting on whether or not he should make the kill. Schneider keeps a record of killings he’s been involved in hidden in a safe and Callan knows Schneider has to go.
Had A Magnum for Schneider remained a standalone play its bleak final scene would be the perfect ending. They have to walk that back in the season 1 opener The Good Ones Are AllDead which tells a variation on the same story, but this time with a less sympathetic antagonist, an unrepentant Nazi war criminal hiding in plain sight in London. Mitchell also gives Callan a tragic backstory, no doubt to make this embittered loner palatable to audiences more used to likeable heroes. I’m halfway through the surviving episodes from season 2 now. It’s filmed in monochrome with film inserts for location scenes and I cannot imagine how this downbeat show maintains the same feeling of despair when it switches to colour for its later seasons.