2021 Classic Literature On Film Blogathon – Ebb Tide (1937, James P. Hogan)

The Ebb Tide (1894) is a novella written by Robert Louis Stevenson and his step-son Lloyd Osbourne. It’s set in the Pacific islands and follows an upper-class dropout called Herrick and his two wastrel companions who are living on the beach in poverty. They take charge of a stricken plague ship with the intention of stealing it and selling its cargo, only to find themselves trapped on a mysterious island ruled over by a religious fanatic. It’s a critique of capitalism, slavery, and christianity. Stevenson died shortly after publication. Osbourne was still alive when the movie went into production.

SynopsisThe Novel

Herrick, an Oxford educated underachiever now ekes out a living in the South Seas. Having given up on life Herrick drifts from port to port in the company of two other unfortunates. Davis, a disgraced sea captain responsible for the ruin of his last ship, and Huish, a criminal and a drunk. Having washed up in a Tahitian port they are penniless and hungry. A schooner carrying a valuable cargo of Champagne arrives in port. Most of the crew have died from smallpox and nobody else will take over captaincy. Davis gets the captain’s job and the trio hatch a plot to sell the cargo and vessel in South America. Once at sea Davis and Huish start drinking the champagne leaving non-seafarer Herrick in charge. Davis is too drunk to pilot the ship during a storm and the ship is badly damaged. Davis sobers up, but their plans to profit from the ship’s cargo are foiled when Huish discovers only the top bottles in every crate contain champagne. Davis realises the ship’s previous owner was planning to sink the ship and claim the insurance money.  

Drifting, they spot a small island and sail towards it. The island is owned by an extremely tall and powerfully build Englishman called Attwater. Smallpox has decimated the Native population leaving only Attwater and a handful of Natives. Attwater makes his living diving for pearls and has amassed a fortune. He is also a deeply religious man and expects the same devotion from others. Attwater is quite open with the visitors and strikes up a bond with Herrick. Davis and Huish want to kill Attwater and steal his pearls. Attwater seems aware of their intentions and quickly gets the truth out of Herrick. Attwater’s religiosity has a cruel streak and Herrick is terrified. At dinner Attwater tells a story about killing a thief who framed an innocent man for his crimes and caused his suicide. Herrick brands Attwater a murderer. Finally plucking up the courage to kill himself Herrick tries to drown himself but fails. Huish’s attempt to murder Attwater by throwing acid on him backfires when Attwater shoots the jar containing the vitriol setting his attacker alight. Davis begs for mercy and is forgiven by Attwater who demands he repents his sins. Davis undergoes a religious awakening and becomes Attwater’s acolyte. Herrick’s existential crisis has deepened after his experiences on the island and he decides to leave. 

Ebb Tide – The Movie

Ebb Tide (1937) is an early Technicolor film by Paramount Studios starring a young Ray Milland as Herrick, Oskar Homolka as Davis (here renamed Therbecke), and Frances Farmer as a new character Faith Wishart. Irish actor Barry Fitzgerald murders the cockney dialect as the vicious little criminal Huish. Lloyd Nolan plays the sinister Attwater. Bertram Millhauser adapted the novel into a screenplay and journeyman director James P. Hogan directs The film follows the essential narrative of Stevenson and Osbourne’s novel but makes a few changes that alter the overall tone of the piece. There’s not a lot of information about the film and the lack of availability now suggests it was not a success back in the day. For years it was difficult to find until a copy was uploaded to YouTube a couple of years ago. As you can tell from the screen-grabs it’s in dire need of restoration. Overall it feels like a second feature designed to try out potential stars. Paramount advertising from 1937 showcased Frances Farmer over Ray Milland calling her the new star of the season which is ironic as there is barely any female presence in the novel.

ON THE BEACH

Screenwriter Millhauser has a difficult job adapting this novel. Unlike Treasure Island there’s not much action, and while Stevenson and Osbourne can go into depth about Herrick’s emotional state it’s a lot harder to show onscreen without using voice-over. Film can use montage though to convey information quickly through a series of images and Hogan establishes the idyllic nature of the island for those rich enough to enjoy it and its status as a French colony. This contrasts with the fortunes of Herrick and co who are first seen watching a fancy couple eating a slap up meal on the verandah of a restaurant. They are “on the beach.” A phrase meaning persona non grata, destitute, and living off the scraps they can find.

The early part of the novel has a lengthy sequence in which the trio reveal more about themselves including their real identities which up until now they have kept secret from each other. In the film this moment is whittled down to them each sharing something they’d like to do if they were back at home. Their choices are abridged versions of longer stories told in the novel. Herrick telling of a dream where he walked through he streets of London and found himself facing the door of the woman he loved, Therbecke returning home to his family with gifts, and seeing his daughter Ada again, Huish wanting something to drink. The big revelation though is Therbecke revealing he’s the disgraced Captain of the Sea Ranger, a ship which went down with all souls onboard save for his. Huish has heard the name and as soon as it’s uttered the heavens open and rain thunders down upon them as if the natural world is turning against them.

Their way of the island arrives in the form of a schooner flying a yellow flag, a maritime signal for a medical emergency onboard. The French are presented as comic caricatures with the doctor pratfalling into a rowing boat, and the governor gesticulating wildly and talking in an exaggerated Clouseau accent when he discovers a plague ship has dared to enter his waters. In the novel Davis is brave enough to offer assistance to the island’s doctor who must board her and finds the bodies of the Captain and his mate who have been ravaged by smallpox. Here Therbecke stays ashore and tries to cadge breakfast from a ship, but in an exchange taken directly from the novel the ship’s Scottish captain send them packing. “I’ve heard tales of you three.” In the novel Herrick is so upset by this encounter he leaves the others and makes a half-hearted attempt at slashing his wrists. Ray Milland is cast as a more conventional Hollywood hero, offering to teach the captain some manners even though they are clearly in the wrong. Therbecke is taken away by the authorities after the incident and Herrick and Huish both assume he’s under arrest, but he returns with food and beer and a commission to captain the Golden State to deliver its cargo, once it’s been fumigated.

ALL AT SEA

Once they are safely at sea Therbecke makes plans to re-direct the Golden State towards Peru where they can sell the cargo. Herrick is against the idea but goes along with it when he hears the true story of the Sea Ranger. Therbecke was incapacitated by drink when the Ranger went down and he it to blame for the deaths of passengers and crew. With no papers he can never captain a ship again. For him there is only another beach to live off, wherever he ends up. Then comes the wild card, the addition of Frances Farmer as Captian Wishart’s daughter.

A new addition from the book, Faith Wishart has been hidden onboard by the crew who remain loyal to her. Herrick’s internal monologue in the novel is often directed towards Emma, or rather the version he’s created of her in his own mind. “Be done with the poor ghost that pretended he was a man.” Here Faith functions as his conscience, as well as becoming a conventional Hollywood love interest. The type the Herrick of the novel, a timid sort whose defining characteristic is a physical and emotional weakness would never encounter. There are hints about Herrick’s upper-class background mentioned in the film, notably Huish confronting him and asking what a man like him could have done to end up here, but this is never answered. The novel opens by telling us Herrick abandoned his position as a clerk in New York and headed for the Pacific Islands because it seemed like the best place to destroy himself completely. “Let it be a pleasant failure.”

The rest of the ill fated sea journey follows the novel. Huish begins to sample the cargo and tempts Therbecke to fall off the wagon. There’s a nice touch when Therbecke forcibly takes a bottle from the drunken Huish and slams it down on a table, only for the champagne to bubble up and pour over the captain’s hand. It’s not long before he’s joining Huish in drunken singalongs and worse still he’s got an accordion from somewhere. The storm when it hits is beautifully rendered by old-school Hollywood set-design and stunt-work as the full-sized model ship is battered by waves of water. Afterwards Therbecke sobers up and reveals the truth about his family. They’re all dead, even little Ada. The discovery of the mysterious island, spotted by a lookout, but not mentioned on any map. There is one change. Huish discovers a large jar of vitriol, an explosive liquid akin to acid which Wishart was going to use to sink the ship. In the novel the thuggish Huish has carries a small jar of this in his belongings.

ON THE ISLAND

In the novel they observe the island from onboard the ship. Attwater, a tall impressive figure of a man over 6’5″ in height and wearing a white suit rows out to meet them. He’s polite and asks them all to dinner, but really he’s sizing them up. Herrick he recognises as being an educated man and invites him to meet him on the island before for a chat. Stevenson’s stories often feature a strong bond between protagonist and antagonist that makes them more than mere adversaries. Spiritually lost, Herrick is drawn to Attwater’s charisma and listens intently as he’s shown the island. Gradually though Attwater’s religiosity begins to unsettle Herrick with its intensity. Despite their shared background and their status as exiles, they are very different. Herrick believes in nothing not even himself, while there is no doubt present in Attwater. Like many of his class Attwater believes he was born to rule, and like the Old Testament God he worships he would offer forgiveness as easily as he could strike somebody down.

In the film there are a few differences that alter the tone of the story from its source. Firstly the presence of Faith Wishart means Herrick has somebody to care about and protect. There is only a brief conversation between Herrick and Attwater and the latter’s Christianity is played down with only a mention of “infinite grace” making sound more overtly crazy than in the book. Attwater’s appearance is more devilish, dressed in black with a warlock’s beard, he looks like a bad guy right from the start. The dinner party which functions as a war of wits between the host and his guests is taken almost word for word from the novel including the anecdote about killing one of the natives, but while Herrick reacts with the same outrage he does not try to drown himself afterwards. Huish’s attempt to murder Attwater does indeed end with him being burnt alive by liquid hellfire and is surprisingly graphic for a film made only 3 years after the Hays code came into effect. Therbecke gets a nobler send off than Davis begging for his life and becoming a convert to Attwater’s religious mania. Instead Therbecke stares down Attwater and insists “I don’t beg” before being shot and joining little Ada in death. In the novel Attwater, the imperialist who’s made a fortune by exploiting another culture wins. Here he’s left to live alone in perpetual disgrace on his island, while Herrick and Faith recruit the natives as crew and sail off into the sunset. A true Hollywood ending with everything resolved and no uncertainty, unlike the novel which leaves Herrick as lost as he was at the beginning of the story.

Many thanks to Paul at Silver Screen Classics for letting me contribute to the 2021 classic literature blogathon.

7th Annual Favourite TV Show Blogathon – Dark Shadows – Episode 702 (1969, dir. Henry Kaplan)

I’m 759 episodes into Dark Shadows so there’s only another 470 episodes, two movies, a 90s’ reboot done by the original show’s creator Dan Curtis, and a failed 2003 pilot to go. It’s been quite the journey. What started as a black-and-white small-town soap opera has morphed into colourful tales of Gothic horror. There was always a hint of otherness present in the show right from the beginning, but it was there in the background in the hallways of the big house called Collinwood and the feeling that the family that lived there were hiding some terrible secret.

The main storylines which dominated the early days of Dark Shadows were relatively simple and revolved around two strangers who met on the same train to Collinsport. Victoria Winters (Alexandra Isles) has recently been hired as a governess to look after young David Collins (David Henesy), but there are hints somebody might have an ulterior motive for bringing her to town. Victoria was brought up in a children’s home and has no memory of her real family. Burke Devlin (Mitchell Ryan) is returning home having left in disgrace some years ago after serving time for manslaughter after causing a fatal car accident. Now he’s made his fortune and returned to take revenge on the man he blames for his imprisonment, Roger Collins (Louis Edmonds).

By the time we get to 702 both characters are long gone having both been recast then eventually written out completely. Their initial storylines were never finished and it seems unlikely they will be resolved in the remaining episodes. Dark Shadows main protagonist now is the vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid), whose first appearance was slowly built up to with references to a creepy painting of him as a young man in 1797 which hangs in a hallway in Collinwood, Then when he’s inadvertently freed from his coffin by petty thief Willy Loomis (John Karlen) he returns to his former home claiming to be a cousin from the London branch of the Collins family tree.

Why choose episode 702 over all of the others I’ve watched? There’s been a lot of good storylines in Dark Shadows and some really unsettling moments, notably the whole of the Laura the Pheonix story arc in which the mother of young David Collins (David Henesy) returns after many years to reclaim her child, but she’s not what she seems, “That’s not my mother.” But 702 is the episode when I realised how much of an influence Dark Shadows has had on Twin Peaks. The strange occurrences in a small town and soap opera elements of the early episodes had already alerted me to this, but later on we get actors playing several different roles, buddhist mythology, demonic possession, haunted paintings, a ring that carries meaning, and the protagonist travelling back in time to try and avert a tragedy. I don’t know if David Lynch or Mark Frost ever saw Dark Shadows but it must have been on in the background when they were kids.

In the episodes leading up to 702 David Collins and his friend Amy (Denise Nickerson) have been playing in the old abandoned west wing of Collinswood and disturbed the ghost of Quentin Collins (David Selby). In one of the show’s most terrifying moments they answer an antique telephone that rings despite not being plugged in. The children become possessed by the spirits of Quentin and former servant girl Beth (Terry Crawford), and David becomes seriously ill. Barnabas discovers I Ching wands Quentin used for black magic and attempts to use them to contact his spirit but instead sends himself back into his body in 1897, meaning he’s trapped inside a coffin, and Quentin and Beth are alive. The episode ends with a scene mirroring his first appearance on the show, a grave robber looking for spoils but finding only the hand of a vampire clasping his throat.

This time the intruder is Sandor, played by Thayer David who so far has been the busiest actor on the show playing four different parts. Dark Shadows had a half hour run-time and typically they would deal with around two or three storylines in the short time available. Here we have Barnabas finding himself in 1797, Quentin forming an alliance with Magda (Grayson Hall), and the fragmented nature of the Collins family as it’s matriarch lies close to death.

Scene 1 – Barnabas Awakes

Sandor has broken into the Collins family mausoleum looking for jewels he believes could be hidden there. Seeing the chained up coffin he assumes something must be hidden away in there, something nobody wants to be found, and he’s right. A hundred years ago Barnabas was entombed by his father Joshua Collins (Louis Edmonds in his 2nd role) who was horrified at his son’s transformation into a vampire. Having awoken Barnabas the terrified Sandor draws his sword only to realise there’s no point trying to fight a dead man who’s just climbed out of a coffin.

Scene 2 – The Inheritance

Magda visits Collinwood to see the dying Edith Collins (Isabella Hoopes) for what she assumes will be the last time. Quentin surprises her and offers an alliance. Magda’s a tarot cards grifter and Quentin assumes she’s been fixing her readings to swindle Edith. He offers her 1/10th of his inheritance should she able to use her influence his grandmother into forgiving him for his past indiscretions.

Scene 3 – A New Familiar

Having bitten Sandor Barnabas has now brought him under his control. He’s perplexed when Sandor tells him he lives at the Old House, which in 1969 is his home. Then it dawns on him. He wanted to communicate with Quentin and I Ching magic sent him to a place where he can. He resolves to find out all he can about Beth and Quentin while he’s back in the past. Sandor wonders why Barnabas keeps talking about time. “There are many times. You only have to find them.”

Scene 4 – After Edith

The longest scene follows on from scene 2 with Quentin quizzing Magda about her offscreen meeting with Edith and if she mentioned anything about a terrible family secret. “I have no prejudice against your kind.” For a reprobate who practices black magic and is planning to defraud his family, Quentin does at least have not being a bigot in his favour. Their talk is interrupted by Judith (Joan Bennett, in her third role), Quentin’s sister, who’s not best pleased to see her errant younger brother return to the fold, nor Magda visiting her grandmother. After practically pushing the gypsy woman out of the door Judith offers her brother money to leave town but Quentin wants something else, to see his young nephew Jamison Collins (David Henesy again).

Scene 5 – The Future Past

A brief scene taking Barnabas back home to the Old House. Barnabas is hit with a weird sense of nostalgia having grown up here in the late 1700s’ and lived here again as a vampire in 1969.

Scene 6 – Meet Jamison Collins

Quentin has a gift for his nephew, an expensive-looking model ship. There is a powerful bond between Quentin and Jamison and Judith disapproves thinking he will lead the boy to ruin. Judith wants Quentin gone, but the boy is adamant he must stay. Quentin’s possession of David in 1969 seems related to his affection for his nephew. Amy claimed in an earlier episode Quentin intended to turn David into Jamison.

Season 7 – An Unwelcome Guest

In the final scene Magda returns to the Old House to find her husband Sandor with Barnabas. She recognises him from the portrait in the hallway at Collinwood, but Barnabas deflects her questions. He’s a bit OCD about the house though, complaining about the mess and wondering where the painting of Josette (Kathryn Leigh Scott) has gone. A knock at the door and Quentin turns up wanting to finish the conversation Judith interrupted earlier. Barnabas gets a look at Quentin for the first time as he hides behind a door watching as Sandor and Magda try and get rid of this unwanted visitor. After Quentin leaves Magda quizzes him about Barnabas. They both believe in the supernatural and seem to have encountered such creatures before. “He has the mark of death on him..” and then she notices the bite marks on her husbands neck. Episode 702 ends in true soap-opera style with a cliffhanger.

I will have to continue my journey through Dark Shadows to see how these storylines will develop over the course of the show. At the moment I’m still in the 1897 time period so I have no idea how these storylines will be resolved, or if they will. Maybe Barnabas never returns to 1969, maybe I’m a few episodes away from it happening. Or maybe he ends up somewhere else or becomes someone else. At this stage anything seems to be possible.

This post is an entry in the 7th Annual Favourite TV Show episode blogathon run by Terence Towles Canote at his site A Shroud of Thoughts.

Sins (1986, Douglas Hickox) – The Joan Collins Blogathon

This post is a contribution to the Joan Collins blogathon run by Gil at RealWeegieMidgetReviews. Somehow despite her busy Dynasty schedule Collins found time to produce this glossy mini-series set in Paris. I’ve wanted to see Sins for ages, partly because I love these late 70s’/early 80s’ big-budget events and partly because this has a wonderfully eclectic cast. These kind of shows were designed to dominate an evenings viewing back in the day when there was a limited choice of networks available to people, so they’re bold and brash and there’s plenty of high drama. They feel like the natural successors to the woman’s pictures of the 1950s’, a genre that got waylaid by the breakdown of the studio system, and all that melodrama seems to have gone into TV and the prime-time soap opera. Two of my favourites are Bare Essence (1982, Walter Grauman) set in the world of professional perfume-making and A Woman of Substance (1985, Don Sharp), both of which tell underdog stories about young women trying to make it in the world of business despite their backgrounds being against them. Sins tries to tell a similar story but something’s not quite right. The frequent jumps between time-frames are disorientating and some of the narrative choices are quite frankly nuts.

What makes it worthwhile is the cast who all do their best to rise above the material. Sins is notable for being the final onscreen appearance of Gene Kelly. Some of the other names have fallen out of cultural memory as the years have passed. I am ashamed to say I don’t know the work of Jean-Pierre Aumont at all. I almost didn’t recognise Kraken-bait Judi Bowker with short brown hair, Capucine will be used to starring in French farces having appeared in The Pink Panther (1963) and What’s New Pussycat! (1965). Steven Berkoff was action cinema’s go-to psycho in the early 80s’ in films like Octopussy (1983, John Glen), Beverley Hills Cop (1984, Martin Brest), and Rambo: First Blood Part III (George P. Cosmatos), and he brings his own brand of swivel-eyed crop-headed lunacy to his role here, while Lauren Hutton makes for a glamorous love and business rival. And then there’s Sins has Timothy Dalton just a few months before he would be cast as the new James Bond.

Although the production is sold on the Dynasty connection it’s unusual seeing 80s’ era Joan Collins playing against type as some a kind-hearted soul whose strength is being a survivor rather than outmanoeuvring her opponents. Alexis Carrington-Colby-Dexter-Rowan would have wiped the floor with everybody on this show. Collins has brought onboard fellow Dynasty alumni James Farentino to play the best of her lovers, a soldier who goes MIA in Vietnam, and might have had a hand in bringing Neil Dickson onto Dynasty for a short-three episode run towards the end of season 7. This felt like an introduction for a major new character, but this went nowhere, save for a bizarre montage scene where he took Alexis on a date to a burger bar on a motorcycle while a cover of Berlin’s Take My Breath Away played on the soundtrack. I do wonder if Dickson’s character Gavin Maurier was initially intended to be the character played by James Healey in season 8. The mysterious stranger routine and the initial interactions with Alexis are very similar.

Sins takes place over four decades and follows the rise of fashion magazine editor Helene (Joan Collins) from her childhood during WWII, through her time as a fashion model in the 50s’, to her time as a journalist and the eventual launch of her flagship title Woman of Today in the 80s’, as well as a series of disastrous relationships, and the search for her brother Edmund (Timothy Dalton) who has been missing since they were separated during the war. Every decade brings a new powerful adversary who eventually all come together to form a cabal determined to destroy her. There’s sadistic former Nazi officer Von Eiderfeld (Steven Berkoff) who raided Helene’s home and killed her mother for sending messages to the Allied forces. Whiny Count Hubert Du Ville (Neil Dickson), who killed her ex-husband (Gene Kelly), her former boss Marcello (Giancarlo Giannini) seeking revenge for her taking his company and ending his career, and finally love-rival ZZ (Lauren Hutton) who blames Helene for the death of her husband. All of the ingredients are here for a decent mini-series but even with an old pro like Douglas Hickox (Theatre of Blood) directing it doesn’t come together. Sins is based on a novel by Judith Gould, a pseudonym for co-authors Nicholas Peter Bienes and Rhea Gallaher, and there’s two people’s worth of ideas in here. All of the money’s onscreen, Collins has 85 wardrobe changes, there’s lavish parties, fancy locations, but it still feels cheap. I can see now why it was difficult to get hold of for a long time.

The Crow Road (1996, Gavin Millar)

“It’s a saying. My gran would use it if someone died. She’d say, “He’s away the crow road.”

This post is part of the Home Sweet Home blogathon co-hosted by Gil at Realweegiemidget Reviews and Rebecca at Taking Up Room. Home for me is Scotland so I’ve chosen Gavin Millar’s TV mini-series The Crow Road, adapted for television by Brian Elsley from the novel by Iain Banks which aired in the UK in 1996. It’s a series about how grief affects a family and the stories people tell themselves to try and cope with loss, but like most of Banks work it’s also darkly funny and has some wonderful dialogue. 

The Crow Road begins with two contrasting journeys from Glasgow to the town of Lochgair on the West Coast. In a brief opening scene Rory McHoan (Peter Capaldi) leaves his flat in Glasgow and sets out on his motorcycle, while his nephew Prentice (Joseph McFadden) explains in voice-over how his uncle has been missing ever since that day seven years ago. Now Prentice is making the same journey. The novel begins with a memorable first line, but Elsley wisely opens with the mystery and marks out Rory and Prentice as being kindred spirits. Only when Prentice arrives late to his gran’s funeral still wearing his 90s’ student gear do we get the immortal line, “It was the day my grandmother exploded.” Gudrun Ure plays granny, and is first seen in flashback up a tree pruning branches, a precarious position for anybody her age, but older Scots will remember her as the lead in Supergran (1985-87), a uniquely Scottish take on the superhero genre, so maybe she leapt up there in a single bound.

It was his grandmother who gave Prentice the task of finding Rory a year earlier, but it’s only with her death that he really begins to investigate his uncle’s disappearance. It’s one of a number of tragedies to affect Prentice in his young life and he’s searching for some kind of meaning about these experiences. As well as Rory’s going missing his Auntie Fiona (Stella Gonet) died in a car crash when he was a child, and more recently his friend Darren (Martin Ledwith) took his own life. The latter’s suicide led to a falling out with his father Kenneth (Bill Paterson). After Prentice and his friends took the car Darren killed himself in down to the water and burned it, Kenneth ridiculed the gesture as “pseudo-religious” pointing out all they had done was deprived a mother of her only means of transport. They haven’t spoken since. While Banks clearly shares Kenneth’s atheistic worldview, there is an otherness present in The Crow Road. A suggestion there are things beyond our ken at work here. 

Despite the complex (yet easy to follow) narrative structure The Crow Road also feels similar to other more outwardly conventional dramas about small Scottish communities populated by eccentrics. Like most middle-class Scottish families there’s a Tory, Uncle Fergus (David Robb), a local aristocrat once married to Fiona and now a widower. Uncle Hamish (Paul Young) turned to religion after her death and has now formed his own breakaway Christian sect and demands divine retribution against the Khmer Rouge while saying grace before his tea. Prentice is well-liked by those around him but as his grandmother says “generally thought to be a bit useless.” Before returning home to Lochgair his main concern apart from occasionally wondering about the existence of God was an essay on Wittgenstein he couldn’t be arsed finishing. Most of pals from the village are local kids from working-class families but in small towns people from a place tend to mix together. It’s the incomers who keep to themselves. He’s closest to Ashley (Valerie Edmond), Darren’s younger sister and the two share a bond over their mutual losses. He’s got an older brother Lewis (Dougray Scott), who’s making a name for himself on the Edinburgh stand-up circuit and just got a spot opening for 90s’ comedy double act Lee & Herring who Prentice rightly points out “aren’t funny.” Although Lewis thinks he’s an edgy  “anarcho socialist” comedian he tells lame jokes about his love life and is selling out for TV gigs.

So much about The Crow Road is about storytelling and being guided by the voices who went before us. Rory was a successful travel writer but had changed direction and was working on a family history. Prentice follows in his uncle’s footsteps, taking on this journey into the past but also hoping that it will lead him to Rory. For this he needs Ashley to boot up Rory’s 1980s’ laptop so he can read the massive LP sized floppy disks his uncle’s writing was stored on. Kenneth too is a storyteller, a writer of children’s books with titles like The Legend Of The Mythosaurus. Prentice recalls his father trying out these stories on him and the child being full of wonder. Kenneth taught his son to ask questions, to think for himself, and yet is exasperated when Prentice rejects his pragmatic godless worldview for superstition. Despite the distance between them they’re more alike than they care to admit. Kenneth believes Rory is alive, because every month a letter arrives for him containing a signifier of a childhood secret only they share. Something Prentice is immediately sceptical about when his father insists this is proof of life. 

Each episode is named after somebody whose story becomes the main focus of that episode. Prentice, Kenneth, Fergus, Rory. Events unfold using flashbacks as the story flits between past and present as Prentice uncovers more about his family and recalls his own childhood memories. While Rory’s absence haunts the narrative, Prentice conjures up a ghostly version of his uncle from out of his own psyche, An imaginary figure still clad in the same biker gear he went missing in, guiding Prentice towards things he already knows but hasn’t quite worked out yet. “It’s all there Prent.” 

Director Gavin Millar has had a long and eclectic career. He’s best known for collaborating with Jim Henson on Dreamchild (1985), a haunting biopic about Alice Liddell, the woman who inspired Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.  In his younger days at the BBC Millar once directed a documentary on Michael Powell interviewing him as he worked at Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Studio. The Crow Road shares a sensibility with Powell’s two films shot in Scotland, Edge of the World (1937), and I Know Where I’m Going! (1945). The feeling that this land shapes people and makes them who they are. By the end it seems Prentice will be staying in Lochgair, though the possibility of an escape abroad with Ashley seems a distant possibility, he’ll remain at home, a storyteller like his father and uncle, the keeper of his family’s secrets.

Questions and Answers

Gil from RealWeegieMidgetReviews was kind enough to mention my blog on her site and set down a list of questions for me to answer.

  1. 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?

No.

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.

Dynasty – The Titans (1985, Irving D. Moore)

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.

A Shot At Glory (2000, Michael Corrente)

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.

A Mug’s Game – THE STUD (1978, Quentin Masters)

“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).

Tobias as Arthur of the Britons

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.

This post was part of the Rule Britannia Blogathon run by Terence Towles Canote over at Shroud of Thoughts.

Every First Time Watch Part 5 – Adventure

THE BUSHIDO BLADE (1981, Tsugunobu Kotani)

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.

Every First Time Watch During Lockdown Part 4 – Adaptations

DANIEL DERONDA (2002, Tom Hooper)

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.

KIDNAPPED (1978)

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.