Mr Klein (1976, Joseph Losey)

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Paris 1942. France is about to begin the mass transportation of Jews to Germany. Robert Klein profiteers from those fleeing the city by buying their possessions at a knock-down price. We first see him negotiating the purchase of a painting. He’s effortlessly polite and even claims to be embarrassed. “I assure you it’s most unpleasant for me.’ But the seller (Jean Bouise) isn’t taken in and concludes the deal as quickly as possible. As he leaves, Klein courteously opens the door and wishes the man “Bon voyage, and good luck.” Then he notices a copy of the information pamphlet sent out to all Jews lying on his doormat. Assuming his guest dropped it on the way in he hands it back to him only to find it is correctly addressed to a Robert Klein. The Jewish man offers a wry smile. “Good luck to you Mr Klein.”

Klein visits the police to tell them about the mistake. There must be another Robert Klein living in Paris. They check and find out there is. But the police are not convinced he’s the Robert Klein who isn’t a Jew. Klein has inadvertently informed on himself. So he begins to hunt his namesake through Paris visiting places he knows the other Klein to have been. Yet people seem to recognise him and often behave like he’s the same person. “Same height, same hair. Slim, the same look..” says the other Klein’s landlady when he turns up to view his doppelgänger’s apartment. The room seems to have been empty for a while, and she says this Klein would come and go during the night. The police too are hunting for this Klein and in the background there are little changes going on, signs in shops, yellow stars on jackets, anti-Semitic propaganda, and cabaret performances with exaggerated Jewish caricatures as the villain, all showing a gradual acceptance of this othering of a minority group.

Delon played doppelgängers in the Louis Malle segment of Spirits of the Dead (1968), an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “Willie Wilson” about a man haunted throughout his life by a namesake who resembles him and turns up at inopportune moments. This is more like Kafka, an innocent man (who feels guilty) searching for an answer that remains forever out of reach and inadvertently bringing about his own destruction. His attempts to clear his name with the authorities just make him look all the more guilty in their eyes. Klein thought his position as a member of the middle-classes would protect him and even right at the end as his fate becomes clear he’s still insisting “This has nothing to do with me.” We never meet the double in Mr Klein, although we do hear a telephone conversation between the two men. Whether he exists or not is a moot point. Mr Klein is about how tenuous an individual can become when society ceases to function in a civilised way. Something a blacklisted exile like Losey was painfully aware of.

Dirk Bogarde in May We Borrow Your Husband? (1986, Bob Mahoney)

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Going to write short pieces about some of the more obscure titles I’m watching while on lockdown. May We Borrow Your Husband? is a TV adaptation of a Graham Green short story and one of Dirk Bogarde’s final screen appearances. By this time Bogarde had largely stepped away from acting to publish a series of memoirs and semi-autobiographical novels. He also wrote the screenplay for this film so the part of William Harris, a well-known but reclusive writer hiding away in an upmarket hotel in the South of France is a perfect fit. Expecting to get plenty of work done during the off-season, his peace and quiet is disturbed by the arrival of a pair of English couples who gradually draw them into their affairs.

First to arrive are middle-aged interior decorators Stephen (Francis Matthews) and Tony (David Yelland) who insist on moving into the room next to William’s despite there being plenty of other rooms available. William finds them vulgar and recognises in their behaviour an underlying cruelty. They are amused by him and consider him an old fuddy-duddy. Then young newlyweds Peter Travis (Simon Shepherd) and his inexplicably named wife Poopy (Charlotte Attenborough) turn up. They’re very awkward together and she seems sad. William suspects it’s probably a marriage of convenience on his part. Tony picks up on this and begins to move in on Peter separating him from his wife socially and leaving William to chaperone the unhappy Poopy around town.

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There’s a feeling of impending tragedy in these early scenes but it never develops. Green published this story in 1967 when divorces were harder to come by and homosexuality was against the law. Both outcomes could have been ruinous for a young society couple. But here the action is made contemporary so that threat is removed. Everything kind of fizzles out and it’s impossible to watch and not wonder what some of the directors Bogarde worked with in his post-matinee idol phase might have made of this comedy of manners. Still it’s worth it for Bogarde completists. After this there would only be the Screen Two film The Vision (1988, Norman Stone) and his final screen appearance in Bertrand Tavernier’s These Foolish Things (1990).

Baywatch Nights – Night Whispers

 

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At the height of its mid-90s’ success Baywatch producers Douglas Schwartz, Gregory J. Bonnan, and star David Hasselhoff decided to create one of the oddest spin-offs to a hit show ever made. Baywatch Nights had initially started out as a private eye show for its first season with Hasselhoff’s Baywatch co-star Gregory Alan Williams reprising his role as Garner Ellerbee and newcomer Angie Harmon rounding out the team as fellow investigator Ryan McBride.

Ratings were poor however and by the time season 2 came around Baywatch Nights had mutated into a low-rent X-Files knock-off which usually ended up with the cast running around an empty building while some kind of supernatural entity chased after them. Gregory Alan Williams left the show and was replaced by Dorian Gregory as untrustworthy government official Diamont Teague. Some of the more unusual storylines included viking warriors resuming hostilities after being thawed out in modern-day Los Angeles and Eddie (Billy Warlock) mysteriously returning to lifeguard duties with no explanation despite him having left his job two years earlier. The most entertaining episode though is Night Whispers, in which a vampire who dresses like Magenta Devine decides the Hoff is the most fascinating thing she’s ever seen in her 400-year existence.

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Ryan and Griff (Eddie Cibrian) are jogging through a park at night. She’s out of breath and has to stop while Griff tries to encourage her to run just a little further to a nearby bridge. Listening to their conversation from the penthouse suite in a nearby hotel is Francesca (Felicity Waterman) who uses her vampire senses to locate the source of the noise. Then she leaps off the balcony and flies through the air, an effect rendered by the use of the Evil Dead-style shaky-cam. A young fit guy jogs past Ryan and Griff and reaches the bridge same time as Francesca who does a fly-by eat and greet. Ryan discovers the body and Griff phones 911. Weirdly when the police turn up it is now daylight, so they must have been waiting all night in a park with a corpse and a killer on the loose. Detective Korris (Scots-born actor Arthur Taxier) lets them tag along to interview Francesca who matches the description of a woman seen in the area at the time Ryan notices something rather unusual.

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Having noticed Francesca casts no reflection Ryan searches out Mitch Buchanan (Hasselhoff) and finds him down at the marina fixing his boat. Ryan is very much the Mulder in this show while Mitch functions as the sceptical Scully figure. Francesca has no address, does not appear on any electoral records, and but did once receive a credit card in 1951 which would put her well into her 60s’.“Mitch, she wears gloves. In California. In August!” He’s not buying this story at all. So Ryan brings out a bundle of books on vampirism to prove her theory, one of which I kid you not is a pop-up book.

 With Mitch more interested in fixing his boat and quite possibly finishing the rest of the vampire pop-up book Ryan calls in Teague. Blood belonging to the victim found on her shirt turns out to be uncoagulated, an impossibility as blood normally coagulates within seconds. I have no medical training and no idea if this is true but I trust implicitly the science on Baywatch.

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Ryan wants to interview Francesca who is now in police custody,  “Why” asks Korris. Police headquarters are being closed down and this is the final day they will be in operation. Coincidentally Police HQ’s  looks suspiciously like the set Mitch and Ryan get chased through every other week. None of them realise Francesca has already escaped and is wandering the corridors. Mitch bumps into her and is taken aback by her otherworldly presence. She’s impressed by his old world politeness. “Fascinating…and attractive.”

Everybody’s left headquarters already except for Korris, two prostitutes Chantal (Elise Muller) and Rosie (Michelle Bonilla) who are refusing to sign their release papers, and their smarmy lawyer Pantalone (Joe Maruzzo). There’s also a young uniformed cop Doretha (Monica Allison) who’s clearing up and putting files into boxes.

Korris goes to check on the cells and never returns. Mitch goes to investigate and finds Francesca feeding on the detective.

There follows a shaky-cam chase through the building and veteran director Reza Badiyi throws in a few expressionistic camera angles as Mitch tumbles down a flight of stairs and finds himself at the mercy of the vampire.

Francesca has no interest in feeding on Mitch though. She’s too impressed by him. “What do you want?” he asks. ‘That is the question I’ve been asking myself for 400 years and now, for the first time I think I may have the answer.”

Meanwhile Chantal and Rosie have split from the others preferring to go it alone despite not knowing how to get out of the building. Farewell then Chantal. Rosie will have to walk those streets alone now. Francesca sends Rosie back with a warning. Everybody dies unless Mitch gives himself to her willingly. “How do I get myself into these places?” says Rosie as if this has happened to her before.

So Mitch gives himself up but it’s a trap. The old bait a vampire using David Hasselhoff routine every vampire falls for. Ryan has jammed a broken stick into a door and all Mitch has to do is break free from the vampire’s embrace and make sure she chases him towards the doorway. Rosie slams the door shut impaling Francesca.

There’s a melodramatic final moment between Francesca and Mitch as she holds her hand out towards her betrayer. Then she falls to the floor and is surrounded by rats. One of which walks over Waterman’s face and I do hope she got paid extra for that. After a moment she dissolves into nothingness.

Then a brief final epilogue in which Mitch pretends to have been turned into a vampire. “The light’s so bright. I feel strange.”

I’ve always been quite fond of the low-key first season of Baywatch which gave a prominent role to cult hero John Allen Nelson (Killer Clowns From Outer Space, Deathstalker III). NBC initially cancelled the show due to poor ratings but after proving to be a success abroad the producers rebooted it as a TV version of a Sports Illustrated photo-shoot and it just wasn’t the same. Baywatch Nights is something else though. Like the sceptical Mitch Buchanan every time Ryan brings him evidence of supernatural activity I can’t quite believe it exists.

This post is a belated entry in Terence Towles Canote’s 6th Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon hosted on his site A Shroud of Thoughts. 

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Chris Isaak in a World of Blue – Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

With their matching rockabilly haircuts and their love of 1950s’ Americana you can see why Chris Isaak and filmmaker/musician David Lynch ended up working together. Lynch used two tracks from Isaak’s debut album Silvertone on the soundtrack to Blue Velvet (1986) and an instrumental version of Wicked Game in Wild at Heart (1990). The latter helped bring Isaak into the mainstream and Wicked Game was re-released with a fancy new Herb Ritts video showing the crooner writhing about in the surf with supermodel Helena  Christiansen.

Despite his promotion to best-selling artist status it was still a surprise when Isaak was cast in a prominent role in Lynch’s movie prequel to his hit TV show Twin Peaks (1990-1). The singer had appeared in small roles as a hitman disguised as a clown in Jonathan Demme’s Married to the Mob (1988) and as a SWAT team leader in the same director’s Silence of the Lambs (1991), but here he would be carrying the first part of the film in place of the show’s leading man Kyle McLachlan who initially turned down an offer to return as the eccentric FBI agent Dale Cooper.

To emphasise Chester Desmond is a very different special agent to Cooper he’s first shown putting two teenage girls in handcuffs in full view of a school-bus filled with weeping children. FBI Chief Gordon Cole (Lynch) partners Desmond with Sam Stanley, played by Kiefer Sutherland (cast against type as a dweeby twitching bundle of nerves) and sends them off to the small town of Deer Meadow to investigate the murder of a young woman found wrapped in plastic. It’s one of Cole’s “blue rose” cases, code word for weirdness.

Isaak’s music videos usually focused on his brooding good looks and he certainly has enough screen presence to hold the attention. All that’s required of him is to react to the unusual events going on around them and he proves more than capable. When something really out of the ordinary happens he tilts his head like a dog wondering if his owner is about to take him for a walk.

While the opening of Fire Walk With Me mirrors the pilot everything that happens is inverted. Cooper finds a vibrant community all of whom have been affected by the murder of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). Desmond and Stanley find only hostility. Nobody cares about the victim. Unlike the overly friendly deputy Andy (Harry Goaz) and receptionist Lucy (Kimmy Moran) their counterparts at Deer Meadow police station are obnoxious. Sheriff Cable (Gary Bullock) is a thug with no interest in co-operating with the FBI.

Special Agent Desmond is different too. He’s colder than Cooper, and a bit meaner. He tricks Stanley into spilling scalding hot coffee onto his groin. Chester Desmond seems to expect the worst from people whereas Cooper looked for the good. Isaak’s physicality and his college background as an amateur boxer makes him a more imposing figure than McLachlan and Lynch uses this to great effect. First in a scene where the mouthy deputy Cliff (Rick Aiello) tries to block his path. Isaak calmly lifts his hand then grabs the guy’s nose and tucks him neatly under the receptionist’s counter. There’s even a sequence cut from the film which appears in The Missing Pieces showing Desmond boxing Cable in a brutal fist fight. “This one’s coming from J. Edgar” as he delivers a final knockout punch.

The most glaring disparity between Twin Peaks and Deer Meadow is the local diner. A drab empty place devoid of atmosphere with a snarling owner called Irene (Sandra Kinder) who chain-smokes while serving food and calls the customers “toeheads.” Teresa like Laura also worked as a waitress but unlike Norma (Peggy Lipton) her boss seems unmoved by the girl’s death. Laura’s predilection for drugs and sex were a well kept secret in Twin Peaks, but here Teresa’s lifestyle is known to her boss who writes her death off as a “freak accident” and seems to imply she brought it on herself.

The one likeable person in Deer Meadow is Carl (Harry Dean Stanton) even though he is an old grouch. “DO NOT DISTURB BEFORE 9AM – EVER!” says the sign on his door and Chet and Sam pull their badges straight away when they realise their error in waking him up. They bond over coffee though. Coffee is one of two things in Lynch’s world that can truly bring people together, the other being music. Though there is a broadly comic feel to the opening act there’s an underlying menace. Electricity crackles from pylons and lights flicker ominously. Carl is visibly shaken by the appearance of a tiny mute stranger holding a walking stick and clutching a cloth over their eye. “I’ve already gone places. I just want to stay where I am” says Carl. Though he must have changed his mind because Lynch/Frost relocate the trailer park to Twin Peaks for the third season.

Chet leaves Stanley to drive back to Portland on his own and returns to the trailer park just before dark. Carl directs him towards Deputy Cliff’s red pickup truck but Chet is drawn instead to a brightly lit small caravan. Nobody answers the door , but underneath he finds the unusual green ring belonging to Teresa Banks. As he reaches out to touch it the screen goes black and that’s the last anybody sees of Special Agent Chester Desmond.

Cooper follows up on Chet’s disappearance but finds only questions coupled with a strange feeling that this case is far from over. I hoped during the summer of 2017 when the new series aired that we might see a return for Isaak as Special Agent Chester Desmond but two missing FBI agents coming back from some other place was probably too much to hope for.

This post has been a contribution to Gil’s Pop Stars Moonlighting at her site Realweegiemidget Reviews

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Maverick – A Relic of Fort Tejon (Leslie H. Martinson)

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“There are some gambles that haven’t any right to pay off. This one had, because of a lovely girl called Fatima who couldn’t take no for an answer.”

This is my contribution to the James Garner Blogathon held by Gil over at  Realweegiemidgetreviews. Long been an admirer of Garner’s easy-going screen presence and thought about writing about The Americanisation of Emily (1964, Arthur Hiller), Support Your Local Sheriff (1969, Burt Kennedy), or his turn in Marlowe (1969, Paul Bogart). The latter is a contemporary updating of Raymond Chandler’s novel ‘The Little Sister’ and feels like a dry run for The Rockford Files (1974-1980).

However I’m currently making my way through Garner’s breakout role in Maverick so it made sense to choose an episode from that show. I’ve gone with episode 1:07, ‘Relic of Fort Tejon,’ because it perfectly balances the humour and Western genre elements that made Maverick so successful. This episode is also the last time Garner carries this show alone. From what I can gather the heavy production schedule was already causing problems with cast and crew so Jack Kelly was brought in as an alternate lead with each actor starring in an episode apart and then occasionally sharing screen time.

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Though they play brothers the essential character sketch is the same. Maverick is a gambler and a wanderer who lives on his wits and travels everywhere with a $1000 bill sewn into his jacket. The actors make the two Mavericks distinct though. Garner’s Bret Maverick is as you would expect very charming with perfect comic-timing. Kelly’s Bart is more taciturn. I like Jack Kelly a lot, particularly in the surprisingly bleak ‘Prey of the Cat’ where he thinks he’s made friends in a small town but ends up being blamed for the death of a man he liked. I’m not sure he could have been the lead in ‘Relic of Fort Tejon.’ The absurdity of the episode’s premise suits Garner better.

IMG_4882The script is based on a magazine short story written by Kenneth Perkins. Writing a single episode using existing material is something you don’t really see episodic television doing anymore but it seems to have been quite common back then. There’s an even an episode taking Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story ‘The Wrecker’ and turning it into a Western. The teleplay by Jerry Davis mixes Perkins short story about a man riding a camel through the desert in search of an escaped outlaw with a recurring theme in Maverick. That of corrupt authority figures abusing their powers for profit.

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We first see Bret in his usual place at a poker table. He bluffs his way to cleaning out a Reverend despite holding the weaker hand.  This backfires though when the Arabian Mount included in his winnings turns out to be a camel named Fatima.

Maverick is naturally taken aback but he looks after the animal until he can find a new owner. Even a guy as charming as James Garner can’t sell a camel to a cowboy so he resorts to paying a local farmer to look after Fatima. However she begins pining for Maverick as soon as he leaves.

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Maverick has business to attend to in the small town of Silver Springs. There he runs into an old flame, Donna (Maxine Cooper) who’s about to get married to local bigwig Carl Jimson (Fredd Wayne). Carl is the reason Maverick is there. Though he is well liked and about to be voted in as Mayor, Carl is running crooked card games in his saloon. It’s a common plot in this show. The Maverick brothers setting out to right a wrong by conning a con-artist. Carl seems like a nice guy at first. When a punter turns violent after losing at cards Carl defuses the situation by recompensing him. Donna clearly loves him. But when he hears Maverick’s taking the house for $5000 he hides a pistol up his sleeve and joins the game.

Maverick wants the deck cut citing Hoyle’s rules on poker, a book on card games referenced earlier episode in the series which allows a player to call for a change at any point during a game. Jimson refuses and shoots Maverick claiming he was about to reach for his gun. Donna pleads with the wounded gambler to leave town but he’s got a score to settle. Besides an unlikely ally has followed him all the way to Silver Springs.

Every episode of Maverick opens with a pre-credits sequence showing one of the brothers in trouble. Then they’ll show us how Maverick got himself into this mess. Here it’s a gunfighter calling him out in the street in front of the entire town. Drake (Tyler Macduff). has been hired to by Jimson to finish off what he couldn’t do at close range. There are episodes of Maverick where Bret or Bart will draw their gun but it’s always as a last resort. Creator Roy Huggins and Garner wanted a show about an atypical hero. In Maverick’s world quick wits will beat a quickdraw expert most of the time.

Cowards are harder to deal with though. They cheat at poker and everything else. Jimsen tries to ambush Maverick in his hotel but misses again. He’s not much of a shot. When he sneakily tries to break a temporary ceasefire so Donna can get away Jimson shoots her in the chest and frames Maverick for attempted murder forcing him to flee on horseback into the desert.

Jimson follows intending to kill Maverick, but we know already he’s a lousy shot. The gunfire spooks Maverick’s horse sending it running off into the desert. Jimson runs the other way. Maverick finds his horse exhausted and dying from the heat.

However salvation arrives in the form of Fatima. It’s Chekov’s gun theory but with a camel. Don’t show something in the first act unless you plan to use it in the third.

Everything is wrapped up neatly by the time Maverick chases down Jimson and brings him back to Silver Springs. Donna is awake and identifies the would-be Mayor as the man who shot her. Maverick is now the most popular guy in town but nothing can persuade him to stay.

I haven’t seen many of the other 50s’ Westerns that dominated TV screens in the 50s’ but they seem like precursors to the drifter sub-genre of show. Heroes who turn up in some new place, get caught up in the town’s troubles, and then move on because they can’t ever stop. Something always compels them to leave whether it’s their restless nature or they’re being pursued by forces which are too strong to fight. Roy Huggins would go on to create The Fugitive (1961) which is perhaps the best known of these types of shows. Sometimes they make a connection though. A bond even running away can’t break.

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Thanks again to Gil at Realweegiemidgetreviews for letting me take part in this Blogathon.

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The Buccaneers – Ep 3 ‘Captain Dan Tempest’ (Ralph Smart)

Photo 20-03-2019, 13 36 24This post is part of the 5th Annual Favourite TV Episodes Blogathon hosted by Terence Towles Canote over at A Shroud of Thoughts. I’ve chosen the third episode of The Buccaneers (1956-7), one of a number of swashbuckling shows produced by Sir Lew Grade’s ITC production company in the 50s’. The Buccaneers is set during the Golden Age of Piracy in the early 1720s’ as Woodes Rogers, takes over as Governor of Nassau and offers the King’s Pardon to British pirates if they agree to mend their ways. The show ran for a single season and gave an early leading role to the ferocious Irish actor Robert Shaw.

However its star doesn’t make an appearance until episode 3. So having set up Rogers (Alec Clunes) as the protagonist in the first two episodes the writers now have to do the same work again with Dan Tempest (Shaw). ‘Captain Dan Tempest’ essentially functions as a handover between Rogers and Tempest establishing the latter as the show’s leading character. Shaw would go on to bigger things in the 60s’ and 70s’ often playing tough and cynical characters so it’s interesting seeing him as a young man playing a conventionally heroic type.

Tempest is initially seen as the antagonist. Having been at sea for months Tempest has no knowledge of the King’s Pardon or that the time limit for accepting the offer has expired. One of the locals tries to warn him Nassau is now under the control of Rogers but he refuses to listen instead demanding to see his girlfriend Lolita. Somebody seems to have noticed that Tempest having a girlfriend and a ship called Lolita in a show aimed primarily at a young audience was ill-advised in an era when Nabakov’s famously controversial novel was banned under the obscenity act. Lolita (Judy Wyler) the girlfriend only lasts for two episodes while the ship’s name was quickly changed to The Sultana.

Tempest is very aggressive at first, threatening to slice off his crew’s ears and rip out their entrails if they damage their haul as it’s being unloaded. This behaviour seems incongruous with the loveable but decent rogue the character later becomes. Tempest’s stubborn refusal to listen to warnings costs him dearly when he boasts about capturing a Spanish galleon in the local tavern without realising he’s confessing to piracy in front of the new Governor. Tempest has heard of Rogers and respects him. “The Spaniards in the Pacific still tremble at the mention of your name.”  But he has no intention of being arrested and chooses to fight.

“Ah, you know that one too,” says Rogers when Tempest blocks a fancy sword manoeuvre and that wee line of dialogue posits them both as being equals. Rogers eventually disarms Tempest and arrests him. Having made Tempest out to be a dangerous figure the writer Terence Moore now has to redeem him in the eyes of the audience. While the sentence for piracy is death, Rogers instead shows leniency and offers Tempest land and a profession cutting down dyewood trees for shipment.

Episodes were only 25 minutes long and each story had to be resolved within that timeframe. So the turnaround from Tempest switching from a snarling thug to a tamed land dweller happily working the land feels a little abrupt. Tempest becomes a figure of fun for his former shipmates who mock his new law-abiding ways. This doesn’t bother him too much because he can always beat them up, but his beloved Lolita turning out to be a pirate groupie and ditching him pushes him over the edge. Grabbing his sword he returns to his ship.  Unfortunately Rogers has had eyes on Tempest the whole time and is already onboard.

It’s interesting to note the difference in post-Empire contemporary retellings of the story of Nassau to this show made back in the 50s’. Starz recent hit Black Sails and the video game Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag present Rogers as a much crueller figure than the kindly overseer Clunes portrays. Indeed it seems the real-life Rogers was every bit as brutal as the pirates. Some who accepted the King’s Pardon and were able to return to sea as privateers with a letter of marque legally allowing them to plunder ships from hostile countries, while others such as the unfortunate William Kidd became pirate hunters and turned on their own. Tempest’s remit is less violent. He’s asked to transport cargo including his own dyewood to another island. This relatively simple journey is complicated by the presence of Blackbeard (George Margo) whom Rogers ran out of Nassau in the season opener and now patrols the waters in his vessel the Queen Anne’s Revenge.

Next up Moore has to set up a Bogart/Claude Raines beautiful friendship between the maverick Tempest and the over-officious Lt. Beamish (Peter Hammond). While he’s often the comic relief in The Buccaneers he’s also a decent sort and the relationship between the two evolves into an effective partnership as the series continues. Beamish’s own delight at realising he’s helped Dan swindle a merchant who tried to underpay them is a particular highlight in this episode.

On their journey back they are forced to pull another con, this time on their own crew who are very eager to join up with Blackbeard and go carousing. Tricking them into chasing Beamish into the hold Tempest locks them in. Outgunned and outmanned Tempest shows his ingenuity by taking out Blackbeard’s mizzen mast with cannon fire incapacitating the Queen Anne’s Revenge and allowing them to break through the blockade. Though the show was clearly filmed on a stage The Buccaneers used a real ship moored off the coast of Cornwall and a part replica built in the studio to make the seafaring scenes feel more authentic.

Back on Nassau as the locals celebrate the crews return, Rogers looks on with an expression that says “my work here is done” and with this final close-up Alec Clunes ends his three episode run on The Buccaneers.

Black Flowers For the Bride (1971, Harold Prince)

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My contribution to the Adoring Angela Lansbury Blogathon hosted by Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews is Black Flowers for the Bride, a 1971 movie directed by Broadway legend Harold Prince and co-starring Michael York. It’s based on a 1965 novel by Harry Kressing called The Cook although it’s a very loose adaptation taking only the premise and becoming very much it’s own entity. Lansbury plays the glamorous matriarch of a once great family now fallen on hard times but who are still the custodians of a magnificent Bavarian style castle they can no longer afford to run.

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In Kressing’s novel a mysterious black clad stranger called Conrad arrives in a small town and inveigles his way into the position of chef for a rich family. Gradually increasing his power over his employers and the townsfolk through a combination of intimidation, flattery, and his considerable talents as a chef, he essentially becomes the ruler of the entire area leading them in a series of endless culinary orgiastic feasts. It’s like Kafka rewrote Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest after watching The Servant (Joseph Losey, 1963). So I kind of prefer the UK title for this movie than the anodyne Something For Everyone. Black Flowers For the Bride sounds more like a giallo, more fitting of the fairytale aspects of Kressing’s novel and the approach director Harold Prince takes here although the movie is less Gothic, and more in tune with bright stylings of Jacques Demy’s Donkey Skin (1970).

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“When I was a child my grandmother bought me a picture book. In it was a castle just like that.” 

Instead of a tall menacing figure in black, Konrad (now with a K) is peak period Michael York dressed in a red sleeveless shirt and a pair of khaki shorts like he’s one of the Famous Five on a cycling holiday. The first person he meets is a priest trying to catch a rare butterfly in a meadow below a beautiful castle. He’s been at this for thirty years but never got close to catching one. The castle belongs to an impoverished Countess (Lansbury) and is now lies empty. “These are the bad new days” he says. The butterfly lands on Konrad’s hand and he gently gives it over to the priest. We know immediately Konrad is a man who can make things happen for people and win them over with his easy charm and good looks. And he still has that picture book his grandmother gave him.

In town Konrad visits the local pub. “Never trust strangers” he tells the barmaid when she tells him he can pay when he leaves. Sometimes he does this, just tells people he’s dangerous straight away but they never notice. She likes him and gives away her star-sign, Capricorn. So now Konrad is a Capricorn, or maybe this time he’s telling the truth instead of what people want to hear. We never find out where Konrad is from or anything about him. We know what he wants though and by asking a few questions he finds Rudolph (Klaus Havenstein), footman to the Countess. Helping him by removing a splinter from his injured hand Rudolph gratefully offers to find Konrad work with the Countess.

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“Nobody can sell that castle. It’s a birthright.”

The first time we see Lansbury she’s wearing a glamorous black and white dress with matching headscarf rounded off with dark sunglasses. It’s an outfit worthy of Joan Collins in Dynasty. Something they’d make her wear when she’s in a vengeful mood. In fact everybody is wearing dark colours and there’s a listlessness about the place. Like the end of a Fitzgerald novel where only the broken people are left and all the parties are long since past. Even the dogs belonging to the 16 year-old daughter Lotte (Jane Carr), two big powerful Great Danes, are colour co-ordinated to match.

The Countess is also reading a copy of Vogue magazine. This threw me in the same way a character suddenly using a mobile phone in Anna Biller’s The Love Witch (2016) caught me off guard. The traditional costumes and the way the Austrian/Bavarian setting is utilised makes it feel like a movie set in the pre-war 30s’ but the edition of Vogue is clearly a contemporary 1970s’ edition rather than one from that era. So the bad new days the priest referred to is a post-war period full of uncertainty. The old social order was destroyed by the war and nothing has replaced it. “Do I know your father, or any of you family?” which is how rich people say hello to young people. What they mean is “Do you belong?” Konrad has no papers or identification which makes head servant Klaus (Wolfred Lier) suspicious. So Konrad is sent on his way.

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Lotte like Konrad is young and inquisitive and she follows him as he leaves. She talks about the family’s declining fortunes and watching her father die. She sees everything does Lotte. Her two big dogs seem to like Konrad. “They only approve of murderers and perverts. Which are you?” she asks Konrad as he leaves. “Both” he answers. She seems delighted. “I knew it!” 

While the novel’s Conrad is an otherworldly almost Satanic presence, Konrad is more of a Tom Ripley figure. A social climber determined to improve his own position by any means necessary. Only his smile, which turns cruel if the camera stays on it for too long gives him away. If there aren’t any vacancies available he’ll just make one. Konrad temporarily gets a job driving a rich family around after accidentally on purpose slamming a door on their chauffeur’s hand, then “kindly” offering to replace him for the day. He didn’t choose the family at random, spying their beautiful daughter Annaliese (Heidelinde Weiss) at the opera and catching her eye. With the money he earns from driving he takes Rudolph out for drinks then casually pushes him in front of a train on the way home. And out of nowhere the dogs appear by his side, because as their owner said earlier, they approve of murderers.

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“I was not intended to be left behind. I have no talent for it. One day, another day, without an echo of how it used to be. When your world has gone you’re your own ghost.” 

The Countess spends most of her time alone surrounded by heirlooms of her late husband. She’s given up and withdrawn from any involvement with the village instead hiding away and saying things like “there are no men anymore, only facsimiles.” Once there were lavish parties and events but now she won’t even open a new municipal building. Konrad has the impertinence to approach her after Rudolph’s funeral and offers his condolences. She does not remember him. The priest however greets him warmly as a friend and persuades the Countess to hire Konrad as Rudolph’s replacement.

So Konrad takes up his duties as a footman. Eyes are on him though. Firstly the son Helmuth (Anthony Higgins) has taken to gazing longingly from the verandah as Konrad goes swimming in the lake. Secondly Klaus is suspicious. Nazis were very fond of asking for people’s papers too and when Konrad sees him flinch during a dinner party where the local Mayor launches into a passionate anti-fascist speech he knows he’s got him. When Klaus demands Konrad leave after discovering him with Helmuth he simply goes to the Mayor and reports him as a Nazi. Klaus’s room is filled with Third Reich memorabilia including his own father’s SS uniform and he agrees to leave quietly to avoid any bad press for the Countess. Konrad now has control of the household and sets about to finance the reopening of the castle.

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“Pour me a drink, a tremendous drink, and pour yourself one.” 

Having seduced Annaliese and Helmuth Konrad now plans to marry them by persuading the Countess to host a lavish garden party and posit the idea to her rich family. They’re new money and love the idea of being aristocrats. The Countess is appalled, “shameless, outrageous, utterly immoral,” but quite likes the idea. Konrad’s attentions awaken the Countess from her melancholy and she destroys the shrine to her husband. “You are the new man, forcing us to come into the world. A new world, a savage world.”  Helmuth’s homosexuality and Annaliese’s mad love for him pose a problem but nothing driving her and her family over the side of a mountain road can’t solve. Helmuth becomes a very rich widower. Konrad recovers from his injuries and intends to marry the Countess but he’s underestimated somebody.

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“I wrote the memorandum this morning, I wanted to seal it with my own blood but I settled for sealing wax…”

Lotte may have seemed like a charming little nuisance, but she knows everything and as I mentioned earlier she sees everything. “Murder for Rudolph, something or other for Annaliese, sodomy with a minor for Helmuth, and of course poor Herr Pleschke.” Conrad in the novel became the overseer of his own kingdom, Konrad in the film is undone by a letter from a teenage girl. “What are you going to do?” “Go to the police I suppose. That’s what you’re meant to do.” Then adding “Isn’t it?” to let him know she’s offering him another way out and holding out a handkerchief to see if he’ll clean her shoes as commanded. Like most fairytales the film ends with a wedding albeit one that feels more like a funeral for everybody except the bride.

I wondered while I was watching Black Flowers for the Bride if this was intended as a reactionary work? Does Konrad, even in the well-bred form of Michael York, represent the young working-class people who were able to better themselves and move beyond the limitations of their social class? In the end the Establishment rights itself and relegates Konrad to a subservient position so maybe it’s a warning for young rebels. They’ll always get you in the end. Fairy tales usually layered with hidden meanings.  In that respect Black Flowers For the Bride would make a great double-bill with another Lansbury movie, Angela Carter and Neil Jordan’s collaboration The Company of Wolves (1984), which also ends with a young woman taming and forming a union with a wolfish outsider.

Regaling Richard Burton – The Fall Guy

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Thanks to Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews for hosting this Blogathon.

“Reluctant Travelling Companion” is one of Burton’s last screen appearances made just a couple of years before his early death at the age of 58. While it might be a footnote in Burton’s career there’s something quite moving about seeing an acclaimed actor best known for playing embittered drunken failures cutting loose in a silly 80s’ action show. Especially when Robert Earll’s script takes the time to have fun with Burton’s movie star persona. Burton’s high seriousness, his reputation as a hellraiser, and his solitary nature, all fit nicely into a plot which sees the legendary movie star travelling across country on a train and getting caught up in an assassination attempt.

The Fall Guy was created by Glen A. Larsen, the man behind Battlestar Galactica, Magnum P.I., Knight Rider, and my own personal favourite Cover Up with its ridiculous premise of a fashion house being used as a front for a team of secret agents. The Fall Guy was a vehicle for former Six Million Dollar Man Lee Majors who even sang the show’s irritatingly catchy theme tune. Majors played Colt Seavers, a Hollywood stuntman moonlighting as a bounty hunter with the aid of his handsome but dippy cousin Howie (Douglas Barr) and fellow stunt performer Jodie (Heather Thomas). As the show was set in the movie business there would be occasional cameos from erstwhile movie stars playing themselves. James Coburn, Tab Hunter, Roy Rogers, and Britt Ekland all made appearances.

In “Reluctant Travelling Companion”  Colt Seavers travels to Philadelphia to escort Christina (Mary-Margaret Humes), a prisoner accused of embezzling money from a bank. She claims she did so in revenge for them ruining her father’s life. The bank’s owner wants her dead and has hired a pair of hitmen to kill her because when she hacked into their computer system she may have seen evidence of illegal financial dealings. Colt has no idea and assumes this will be a routine assignment. He doesn’t even handcuff her. She refuses to fly so Colt is forced to take her back to L.A. by train. Christina makes a break for it at the station and both end up being questioned by security after Colt mistakenly punches out a plain clothes police officer.

Onboard the train a distinctive well-spoken Welsh accent enquires about the commotion earlier at the station. We hear the voice before we see the face and  immediately know who’s speaking. Burton wants peace and quiet to study the screenplay for his next movie. The guard Jackson (Michael D. Roberts) gives Burton his word there will be no more distractions. Burton gets a magnificently portentous response. “You’re a rare man Jackson. You understand a man’s need for solitude.”  Everything is set up nicely within the first ten minutes. Burton’s desire for a quiet journey will be repeatedly ruined by Colt and his inability to handle Christina.

“Richard Burton!?” Nice double take from Majors here when he realises who’s in the next cabin and his incredulous line delivery is just shy from being over the top. Colt then does what anybody who works in media does when they meet somebody who is higher up the food chain. They pitch themselves and try to get a job. Colt mentions they worked together on The Desert Rats (1953, Robert Wise). “You drove over my head with your staff car.” Claiming his shouting match with Christina is a rehearsal for a scene in a forthcoming movie Colt manages to placate Burton who returns to reading his screenplay. Not before turning down the offer of a drink with a line which neatly undercuts his reputation as a booze hound. “I only drink when I’m working.”

Christina doesn’t believe for a moment Richard Burton is in the next cabin, but whoever is there she’s going to annoy them by loudly simulating intercourse. Jackson arrives to investigate the noise and is less than impressed to see a young woman handcuffed to the bed. “I used to be a pretty decent middle-weight so make it good.” Colt should really mention the whole bounty hunter thing at this point but he’s worried Burton might find out he needs a second job to pay his bills. So Colt repeats the lie about them both rehearsing a scene for a movie. Burton is called upon to back up Colt’s story which he reluctantly does. Burtons’s fruity line delivery here would be suitable for a Carry On film. “Rehearsals?…yes,” drawing out the pronunciation of “yes” so it lasts longer than the first word.

“Now why didn’t you show me these right off?” Jackson has a point. This whole misunderstanding could have been avoided if Colt had shown him his Bounty Hunter’s license and the letter proving he has been hired by the state to escort Christina back to L.A. Instead he has to stay in the bar until Jackson gets confirmation from the authorities leaving Christina alone. To be fair she also should have mentioned there were a couple of hitmen tailing them.

“Oh no, not Mr Burton!” When an exasperated Burton goes to investigate yet more screaming he ends up getting knocked out by Christina. Earll’s script gives Burton some more flowery language to play with when he awakens. “There is a time and a place for such maniacal idiocy but it is I repeat, I repeat not in a public convenience.” Burton is still convinced at this point that Colt and Christina are nothing more than a couple of noisy kinksters.

Back in his compartment nursing a sore head Burton sees Colt fighting one of the hitmen outside his window. Burton wants to know how what he assumes to be a stunt was performed. Finally it dawns on him there’s trouble onboard when Colt tells him bluntly, “well. I threw him off the train.” It’s enough to get Burton on the drink. He orders from room service a “tall Scotch, at least as old as I am..” then when it arrives drinks straight from the bottle.

Every 80s’ action/thriller show has an episode in which the protagonist arrives in a small town and ends up in a jail overseen by a corrupt sheriff. With Christina going AWOL from the train Colt is forced to give chase and finds her in a cafe. Cue another unwritten rule of 80s’ television. Any scene in a diner has to end in a mass brawl with unfriendly locals. The sheriff fancies himself as a cowboy and wants a part in a movie, preferably a Western. Not so funny now when somebody starts hassling you for movie work is it Colt? After bribing the sheriff with false promises and the silver belt buckle he’d taken a fancy to, Colt gets a free helicopter ride. Eventually catching up with Christina in Chicago, and this time with Howie in tow, they return to the train.

Burton was clearly not in the best of health when filming this and looks much older and frailer than his 56 years. They get round this by having Burton assist Colt during a fight sequence by nonchalantly opening a window so the hitman flies off the train. Having had his entire journey disrupted Burton gets his revenge on Colt by offering him a chance to rehearse a love scene with the stuntman playing the part of a young lady.  I bought Burton’s diaries in which he’s never shy in offering caustic views on his profession but there are no entries between 1980-83 so sadly I’ve no idea what he thought of his appearance on The Fall Guy. It’s a lovely self-deprecating turn though with Burton gamely playing along with all the silliness.

There’s only a handful of Burton performances to come after this. A televised version of an Alice in Wonderland Broadway musical, the second series of a TV show about Richard Wagner, and his final movie 1984 (1984, Michael Radford). The last thing he did is a big glossy 80s’ mini-series called Ellis Island about immigrants trying to make a new life in America which saw him playing a rich politician. In his last scene he smiles at Faye Dunaway, takes her hand, and disappears into a mansion. Not a bad way to make an exit.

Universal Soldier (1971, Cy Endfield) – Rule Britannia Blogathon

Photo 15-07-2018, 20 21 22This post is part of the Rule Britannia Blogathon run by Terence Towles Canote at his site A Shroud of Thoughts. My contribution is about a film co-written by two men who are both really only known for having one big famous movie on their CV’s. Leading man George Lazenby of course replaced Sean Connery as James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969, Peter Hunt) before quitting the franchise shortly after the film’s release. Cy Endfield directed Sunday afternoon favourite Zulu (1964). Both of these films present a positive image of Britishness. Bond as the ultimate male fantasy, and Stanley Baker and Michael Caine’s army officers maintaining their stiff upper lips in the face of insurmountable odds.

Universal Soldier undercuts this view of violent heroism with a meandering tale of a mercenary who gets involved with the anti-war movement in London. Taking it’s title from the Buffy Marie Sainte protest song Universal Soldier is clearly semi-improvised with the thematic concern driving the narrative. Photo 09-07-2018, 15 28 14The film however flopped. Universal Soldier didn’t come out until a year after it was made and Lazenby claims to have only seen it once. It might be a mess but it feels more pertinent than ever due to parallels with post-60s’ Britain and where we are now. It’s engagement with the emerging counter-culture makes it an interesting snapshot of a particular time and place and in that respect it’s one of the great London as location movies. It’s also clearly a work of autobiography. This is a film about a man walking away from everything people expected of him and trying to find his own identity.Photo 09-07-2018, 15 35 56This departure from the Bondian image is emphasised in the opening scene which shows the former 007 walking through Heathrow arrivals now sporting long hair, a 70s’ porntache, and dressed in a full-length black leather jacket. It’s quite the look and it suits him. While Bond films make travel seem glamorous Universal Soldier presents the unfriendliness of the British customs official. Racially profiling a black man, pulling a hippy aside for a cavity search, and dealing brusquely with visitors from Commonwealth countries. The whole film develops this theme. This isn’t the London of the Singing Sixties but a dull grey place with miserable people protecting their drab little island from outsiders.Photo 09-07-2018, 15 42 59Lazenby plays Ryker, a world weary mercenary involved in a Mark Thatcher style plot to overthrow an African regime. There is an absurd sequence where the group watch a promotional video made by an arms manufacturer set to the music of the Monty Python theme.Then the group meet in the countryside to test weapons and plan their campaign.  There’s a food hamper and flasks of tea. It’s like a picnic with guns. They test that most ingenious and silliest looking of British inventions, the hovercraft as a potential sea and land attack vehicle. Yet Ryker’s having these wee flashbacks to campaigns he’s been involved in. Something’s not right with him and these feelings are exacerbated when his friend’s dog playfully chases after a target thrown into the air and jumps directly into the line of fire. 

 

Ryker begins to drift away from the cause, a break that’s emphasised in a scene directly referencing Bond and Lazenby’s own social activities. In a scene cut from the original release of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but eventually restored for DVD Bond reads a copy of Playboy while breaking into an office. Lazenby’s own regular hangout in London was the Playboy Club and maybe this is him saying goodbye to the trappings his brief moment in the spotlight brought him.

There’s a low-rent comedy version of the car chase often found in Bond movies where an unwitting minor member of law enforcement gives pursuit without realising they’re after a secret agent. Here two hapless policemen pull Ryker and his partner over for a minor traffic offence only for them to speed off through the countryside because they have no papers and can’t risk being identified. “We’re chasing a mad bastard…” 

Lazenby and Endfield meant the film to be a series of moments and wrote a shadow script about gunrunners to fool the producers into backing the film. Really the film is about Lazenby, observing him as he eats in a dodgy looking cafe in the West End or wandering through Soho at night to a prog-rock soundtrack. After an encounter with a cab driver in which he accidentally offends the Little Englander’s sense of national pride he’s dropped off in Portobello Road because the driver assumes he’s a hippy.

London really gets under Ryker’s skin. He breaks off all contact with his fellow mercenaries and starts hanging out with a bunch of student revolutionaries (including Germaine Greer). Their ideas begin to rub off on him and he double-crosses his accomplices by disposing of the guns. But mercenaries don’t forget any more than Hollywood producers do if you piss them off and Lazenby’s only hiding in a wee flat in Kensington with a Marianne Faithful lookalike.

Lazenby claims he quit Bond on the advice of his then manager Rohan O’Reilly (who appears in the film as an anti-apartheid campaigner). The days of Establishment figures like Bond and conventional forms of cinema were on the way out and the counter-culture would go mainstream. In retrospect this seems like bad advice but at the time it seemed plausible. This was the era of the Angry Brigade and other left-wing anarchist groups in Europe beginning to make their presence known. Same with movies. In the US there was Easy Rider (1969, Dennis Hopper) while in Italy directors like Bertolucci and Francesco Rosi were making left-leaning political thrillers. Lazenby & O’Reilly just didn’t figure out that the Establishment absorbs new ideas and always reasserts itself in the end. Photo 06-08-2018, 17 28 21You can tell they went into Universal Soldier without an ending because the big finale is a fight sequence on a motorway lay-by. The antithesis of Bond in every way especially as Ryker repeatedly tries to walk away from the fight. There’s a sense of finality about the film. It was Cy Endfield’s last movie and effectively ended any hopes Lazenby had of maintaining an A-list career. The thriller aspects feel incidental. They’re clearly not interested in making an action film but trying to do a European style art movie. It doesn’t quite hang together, but it’s an effective mood piece that seems to channel the restlessness of its leading man.

 

 

 

Hammer Blogathon – Horror of Dracula (1958, Terence Fisher)

This post is part of the Hammer-Amicus Blogathon hosted by RealWeegieMidget and Cinematic Catharsis.

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“I did not sleep well, though my bed was comfortable enough, for I had all sort of queer dreams.” 

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Hammer and Amicus films were regular fixtures on late night television when I was growing up in the 80s’ and early 90s’. Dracula: Prince of Darkness stood out as being the best of Hammer’s Dracula movies but I honestly can’t remember much about the others. They have all merged into the landscape of my childhood TV memories, a place where Steed and Mrs Peel are forever visiting small  countryside villages only to find there’s something wrong with the locals, and Sid James is getting endless bollockings from Joan Sims in a caravan. I can’t tell you which Frankenstein movie scared me so much as a child  I couldn’t sleep because I thought the monster was roaming the countryside looking for me, but I still feel that way if I’m sober and awake at 3 in the morning.

Bram Stoker’s novel I’ve read a few times. Once as a child and several times at university while studying a course on Scottish/Irish novels as part of an English degree. Thematically it’s fascinating because there’s so much going on in there and I found these elements (fear of female sexuality, immigration, drug addiction, sickness, mental illness, and death) far more interesting than the story itself. Stoker’s overly moralistic approach is undercut by his clearly erotic fascination with the idea of vampirism especially during a sequence in which middle-class lawyer Jonathan Harker is fed on by three of Dracula’s brides. It’s meant to horrify, but Stoker gets carried away and ends up writing four pages of Victorian erotica. Like Dracula’s victims Stoker’s drawn to the darkness without quite knowing why.

Horror of Dracula is a pared down adaptation of the novel. Hammer would have the backing of Warner Bros for later films but here resources are obviously limited. Jimmy Sangster’s screenplay removes the ship’s journey to Whitby, Renfield’s treatment at the asylum, and some of the supporting characters. Hammer did bring a more explicitly sexual approach to the horror film but we’re not quite there yet. There’s a 50s’ era strain of conservatism running through this and any eroticism in the movie is seen as a threat. An act decent people must be protected from by the stern patrician Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing). Despite these drawbacks Horror of Dracula has Terence Fisher’s flair for the Gothic. It looks wonderful and the opening image of bright red blood dripping on Dracula’s tombstone sets the tone. Unlike Universal’s monster movies there’s colour and gore here. 

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The opening section of the book is written in diary form and is essentially a travelogue. Harker recounting his journey through the Carpathian mountains and the sights he sees, the food he eats (“get the recipe for Mina”), and the people he encounters. Most of all Harker is struck by the superstitions of the locals which to an urbane Londoner seem archaic and absurd. This is always my favourite part of any adaptation. Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu does it best I think but the Hammer films are good at this too albeit in a much campier way. There is no “don’t go up to the castle” moment until the beginning of the second act when Van Helsing irritates the owner of a tavern by asking for directions. Instead we meet Harker as he arrives at the castle by coach in broad daylight. There’s no real suspense at this point despite their being nobody there to greet him. There’s a gracious note from his host and food left on the table as well as a description of the amenities available to him. Harker looks like a tourist checking into an Airbnb and being pleasantly surprised by the size of the apartment he’s rented.

Stoker’s Harker is an innocent abroad, a young legal clerk sent out on his first big work trip to help facilitate the purchase of property in London by Count Dracula. The Count is an old man, a bit eccentric, overly proud, but seemingly nothing out of the ordinary. He’s polite, articulate, and afflicted by melancholy. 

“I am no longer young; and my heart, through many years of mourning over the dead, is not attuned to mirth. Moreover the walls of my castle are broken, the shadows are many, and the wind breathes cold through the broken battlements and casements. I love the shade and the shadow, and would be alone with my thoughts when I may.”

It’s only gradually Harker begins to realise he’s trapped in the castle with something inhuman. Little tell tale signs like a woman crying for her lost child outside the castle, or the Count casting no reflection, or being more than a little freaked out when Harker accidentally cuts himself shaving and blood drips from the wound.

In Horror of Dracula Harker is played by John Van Essen as being officer class. This Harker is older, more assured, and has a reason for being there. Rather than being an innocent abroad he knows all about Dracula and vampires and intends to kill the Count. In the book he represents the corruption of innocence, but here he’s an onward Christian soldier type of guy.

“It only remains for me now to await the daylight hours, when with God’s help I will forever end this man’s reign of terror”

The good guys in Stoker’s novel are thinly drawn representations of various archetypes of Victorian society. They represent order. Doctors, professors, lawyers, ladies. Because they are all perfect none of them are that interesting and Van Helsing apart (mostly thanks to Cushing) it’s the same in the movie. Dracula holds the attention right from the moment the 6’5″ Lee appears at the top of a staircase, his profile hidden in shadow. Harker feels his presence before he sees him and Fisher holds the close-up on Van Essyen  for long enough to build suspense.

Then Lee bounds down the stairs (he was light on his feet for such a big man) and greets Harker like an English gentleman meeting another belonging to the same social class. Their exchange of pleasantries is the only time there’s any sense Dracula is anything other than a monster in the movie. In the novel Dracula attempts to manoeuvre his way into British society by purchasing property and using his aristocratic heritage to move among them. Here Harker has been employed to work in Dracula’s library (I want to see how that job was advertised) but quickly finds himself being locked in his room at night. This turns out to be partly for his own safety as there is another vampire roaming the castle. A young lady who suckers Harker into thinking she needs his help to escape then sinks her fangs into his neck.

The make-up is interesting here. The marks are swollen, more like insect bites than lacerations made by fangs. I can’t work out if there’s only one bride due to budgetary constraints or 1950s’ mores which meant even Count Dracula had to be monogamous. Either way Harker is undone by his own sense of chivalry. Then his own foolishness when given a chance to destroy Dracula as he sleeps in his coffin he inexplicably decides to kill the bride first. That goes on my list of top 5 moments in horror films where I’ve shouted what are you doing at the protagonist as they’ve  unwittingly brought about their own demise.

Van Helsing then takes over as the film’s protagonist and we get what for me is the most important scene in a Dracula movie. The passive-aggressive behaviour of the peasantry towards some rich fool who wants directions to Dracula’s castle. Or in this case a second rich fool who’s searching for the first rich fool who went up to the castle and for some reason never came back. Van Helsing enters the tavern and the clientele immediately goes quiet, as if this is were a western and a stranger in town has just pushed open the swing doors to a saloon. The innkeeper claims to have no knowledge of Harker’s stopping there, but his good work is ruined by the waitress who’s clearly new and hasn’t learnt the house rules about treating tourists with suspicion.

Van Helsing does find his way to Castle Dracula, but he’s too late. Harker has turned into one of the undead and Dracula has moved out. Seeing a picture of Lucy (Carol Marsh) Van Helsing realises she’s his next target and returns to England to meet Lucy and her brother Arthur (Michael Gough). Sangster has rejigged the the relationships from the book. In the novel Harker and Mina are together, while Lucy has three suitors, Holmwood, Dr Seward (here an ageing doctor treating Lucy), and tough-talking Yank Quincy Morris who’s been written out completely.

 

But it turns out Lucy is sick and nobody knows why. Arthur and his fiancé Mina (Melissa Stribling) are furious at Van Helsing for his refusal to elaborate further on the cause of Harker’s death and the whereabouts of the body so they can give some peace of mind to Lucy. They’re a tiresome pair. Arthur’s wound tighter than his wife’s corset, and we’re stuck with them for the rest of the movie.

I generally find Fisher’s work a little staid, particularly in dramatic scenes, but his use of imagery is always effective. The most evocative scenes in the movie involve Lucy who is of course under Dracula’s spell. After receiving treatment from a Dr Seward her family bid her good night and she pretends to go to sleep. As soon as they’re out of the room Marsh gives a look so raunchy I’m amazed the censors allowed it back in 1958 and sprints out of the bed to fling open the doors wide and invite her new master in. After she succumbs to Dracula’s attentions she haunts the forest near the graveyard trying to lure her niece back to her tomb until Van Helsing convinces Arthur to hep him hunt her down in an effort to prove vampirism is real.

 

Horror of Dracula breezes through the novel in 80 minutes. Dracula turns his attention to Mina but Van Helsing is able to break the spell and pursue the Count back to his castle leading to one of the most memorable confrontations in cinema. At 45 Cushing still has a touch of athleticism about him which is handy because Christopher Lee throws him about like a rag doll. It ends with the gory sequence promised in the opening titles with Dracula melting in sunlight, which doesn’t quite have the same effect today but must have shocked audiences back in 58′.

 

It was interesting watching Horror of Dracula again after all these years.  As a straightforward retelling of the novel it’s fine. I personally prefer versions that take the source material and do something new as with Penny Dreadful. I watched some of the other Hammer sequels after this and thought Lee’s striking presence was wasted in them. I can see why he preferred his work in Jess Franco’s Count Dracula which gave him more screen time and a character to play rather than a monster. I just wish he’d done Roy Ward Baker’s kung-fu Dracula movie Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires though. That film badly needed a decent antagonist.