Thursday, July 29, 2010
Thanks to the release of the cheap Hammer Horror Series box set it is now possible to re-evaluate two of these psycho style movies: Nightmare and Paranoiac.
Paranoiac is the first Hammer movie directed by award winning cinematographer Freddie Francis. He had previously added the lighthouse scenes for The Day of the Triffids starring Janette Scott and was re-united with her for this Hammer movie. She plays Eleanor Ashby, a young woman, who has already lost her parents in a plane crash and her teenage brother a few years previously had killed himself while jumping off a cliff. Her surviving brother Simon is played by Oliver Reed who is intent on driving her insane so that he can get his hands on the family fortune. His plans, however, seem to start going astray when the brother who was considered dead (Alexander Davion) apparently arrives back at their door steps.
This is an exceptionally well cast movie. On top of Janette Scott the following actors deserve a mention: Maurice Denham is the family solicitor. Sheila Burrell has some wonderfully OTT moments as Aunt Harriet: one moment she is the reserved back bone and protector of the family’s good name, the next she turns into a maniac lunatic who has quite clearly lost all her marbles. Lilianne Brousse has previously appeared in Hammer’s Maniac and again impresses as a gorgeous French girl with cute accent. It’s a pity that she subsequently didn’t do much of anything and now appears to be missing in action, a fate she shares with many other Hammer starlet.
Despite the plethora of excellent performances, this is Oliver Reed’s film! He gives a tour de force performance that is unrivalled by any of the other actors and one of his career best. In actual fact, when he plays the drunk, threatening and screaming bully one wonders how close this comes to some of Reed’s real life shenanigans. During the course of the film his character gradually turns from sardonically smiling schemer to enraged spoilt brat – no-one ever drove more vengefully over a flower bed – to certifiable lunatic when he ends up playing the organ to a skeleton. Francis also reserves one of the most imaginatively filmed moments of the movie for Reed when he shoots him from below water level with the waves distorting his facial features as a symbol for him finally crossing the line into madness completely. He sure was a handsome man at the time and wonderfully portrays the beauty of evil.
Some of the spookiest memories carried over long after the film is finished will also involve a freaky mask and a child’s creepy singing voice.
Look at the name of the publisher and you can guess what you’re in for: This is a very academic and dry book analysing the impact British sociological changes had on the development of British horror movies, in particular those made by Hammer. It’s not a terrifically good book and often suffers from overinterpretation and is littered with trendy women’s lib demagoguery: “By showing the vampire as a vampire-rapist who violates and destroys her victim, men alleviate their fears that lesbian love could create an alternate model, that two women without coercion or morbidity might prefer one another to a man.” Hardly a book that you’ll want to cover in one sitting. It now commands ludicrous second hand prices on Amazon that I won't even gratify with a link.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Helmut Berger, Brigitte Lahaie, Telly Savalas, Chris Mitchum, Caroline Munro, Stephane Audran, Anton Diffring, Howard Vernon, Florence Guerin, Lina Romay.
This eclectic mix of genuine film stars and film stars’ sons, genre icons and scream queens, art house muses and hard core actresses must count as the most easily recognisable cast for main stream audiences that Shlockmeister Jess Franco ever managed to compile. Following the relative success of his previous film Dark Mission (also with Lahaie and Mitchum as well as Christopher Lee), he was now given a budget that even allowed his stars to stay in 5 Star Hotels in Paris. Franco has previously been known to siphon off money for one production and secretly produce an additional picture with the same cast and on the same sets. This time, however, Rene Chateau’s – the producer’s – reign was tight enough to make sure that all the money went on this one film. And the end results prove this to be the right approach: Though the film still has more than enough of Franco’s usual sleaze and gore mix, coupled with moments of sheer lunacy, it is this time filmed in a much more convincing and stylish way and has none of the annoying examples of out of focus camera work that mars so much of the director’s other output.
Brigitte Lahaie, the producer’s girlfriend at the time, teams up alongside Helmut Berger’s plastic surgeon Dr Flamand and Anton Diffring’s Nazi Dr Moser. Together they are trying to restore Flamand’s sister’s (Christiane Jean) face that was burned by acid when confronted with an ex-patient of his who wasn’t too happy with her own operation’s result.
In order to restore the face, they kidnap a bunch of local beauties and perform a face transplant operation not unlike that in John Woo’s later picture Face Off.
Contrary to her usual image as France’s at the time most popular porn queen, Lahaie actually comes across downright wholesome in her looks. That appearance makes for some very interesting viewing when contrasted with her character’s kinky love for the more perverted side of life. She loves playing with her victims before she kills them, y’know.
Berger’s Flamand and his sister Ingrid seem to have shared a very close, if not incestuous bond. His obsession for her is genuine and all he’s interested in is to give her her face back no matter what it takes.
Diffring’s Nazi doctor also shares a very unhealthy love for his gruesome work. His steely blue eyes generally do not reveal any hints of human sympathy for his victims. He only loses his cool when his first operation goes horrifically wrong and he’s heard shouting: “Scheisse! Scheisse!” in his native German.
Together the three of these characters make up a wonderfully amoral trio. They’re not just plain stereotypically bad, but are shown as people totally void of normal compassion, living in a world that is just dominated by what is right for them. In a scene towards the end of the movie, we see them toasting each other. Flamand’s sister again looks suspiciously similar to Christiane Jean not to Florence Guerin whose face she is supposed to carry. Gleefully happy about the apparent success of their operation, Moser raises his glass overwhelmed with emotion over seeing them all happily together again and utters: “Deep inside I am a real sentimentalist!” That, more than anything else, sent shivers down my spine. Nothing like a baddy with a twisted sense of what’s right and wrong.
But don’t get me wrong: This is not really a character study first and foremost!
The Special Effects are most of the time incredibly convincing and often painfully hard to watch. We do occasionally get a slightly dodgy puppet effect that is supposed to show a decapitated corpse, but overall the gore looks more than real. The operation scenes will make you squirm and have a genuinely disturbing sadistic touch to them. The victims get operated on while being conscious and the final victim has the dubious pleasure of being shown her face *after* it has been skinned off. Stephane Audran as a very nosey patient gets another very realistic looking needle into her eye that’ll have you yell “Ouch!”
Some of the other choice trash moments on view also show Mitchum battling a gay body builder - Bet his Dad never had to do that! -; Berger visiting a loopy female patient who spontaneously bursts into some bouts of very bad German opera; a female prisoner of his unceremoniously gets her arms chopped off during an attempt to escape.
Caroline Munro’s part is effectively a supporting role, so she sure ain’t the one with the longest screen time, but – whoah – what a part it is! It is unlike anything else we have ever seen her in. When she comes on screen first, we see her as ravishing as ever in a model shot, then leaves the shot to go snort some cocaine before being kidnapped by Lahaie’s character. Held imprisoned in the hospital she is giving us some very unlady-like looks up her skirt. Her subsequent rape scene is painful to watch and a harrowing bit of acting. Munro admits in a later interview that she wanted to show the brutal misery of the act, and therefore deviated from the original script that was apparently going for a much more superficial “sexy” act. When trying to escape from her captors, she subsequently tries seducing the hospital’s Igor type character and is so overtly sexual I felt like having a cold shower.
She had previously worked with Howard Vernon in Paul Naschy’s Howl of the Devil and was soon afterwards also acting again with Florence Guerin in Luigi Cozzi’s The Black Cat.
Telly Savalas hires Vietnam buddy Chris Mitchum (Sam Morgan) to rescue Munro who plays his daughter. Sam Morgan gets introduced as “a man who looks like a young Mafioso”. Somehow I’d have preferred “a man who looks like a young Bob Mitchum”.
He shares a scene in a mortuary with French actor Henri Poirier who seems to relish his part as an American bashing arrogant French cop: “We don’t like your kind of people who chew gum and only take their hands out of the pocket to work over the suspect’s face. You might think yourself a Bogey, but you don’t even have a trench coat or a hat!“ A classic!
And I better not forget to warn you that you’ll be humming looney tunes from the film’s Europop soundtrack for days to come.
Long lost in cinematic limbo just like Munro’s other late 1980s Eurotrash outing Howl of the Devil, it is a genuine surprise why this film never had a bigger impact in fan circles. It may have been too radical for the mainstream audiences it tried to reach, yet too mainstream for the loopy world true Franco aficionados seem to live in. It sure works for me, however.
Taking into account the fact that Faceless was up til now nearly impossible to get a hold off – dodgy looking 10th generation videos of the title occasionally went on sale for very good money -, *any* new release of the film would have been welcome. As such it is even more welcome to see what a wonderful piece of work Shriek Show’s recent Region 1 DVD release has been.
The film is finally available in glorious remastered colours and will quite possibly be the best version of the film you are ever likely to see.
The DVD is chock full with extras that include:
- A lengthy interview with Caroline Munro in which she discusses her entire career as well as the film itself. She remembers that, being unaware of Franco’s reputation, she received a phone call from Steve Swires – a genre author who has covered Munro in many an article and interview - warning her against participating in it or to at least be aware of what was being filmed as he often used “funny camera angles”. After working with the director, however, she considered him to be wonderful, exciting, interesting, eccentric and – gulp – inspiring and a “very clever man” overall and is “very proud” of the final product.
- That same Steve Swires who initially warned her off the film, has now submitted a new compilation of Munro interviews for an additional booklet that is included with the DVD.
- There’s also huge photo gallery that only initially covers Faceless, but then primarily presents often very rare pictures of Caroline Munro in various photos from her modelling and cinematic career. It even has prints from some of the photos that were shot for the Dr Phibes movies, seldom seen Lamb’s Navy Rum ads, Munro together with Zacherley and much much more.
- A toothless and chain smoking Franco is interviewed and casually name drops the likes of Orson Welles and John Ford.
- Chris Mitchum comes across very relaxed and likeable in a further interview about his career and how he at one stage managed to be one of the Top 4 films stars in Asia together with Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson right behind Alain Delon who was always Number One in those parts at any given time. He also talks about his friendship with Bruce Lee and anecdotes on set with Alexandro Jodorowski.
- A partial commentary has a very amused Mitchum going through his own scenes.
- A complete commentary with Jess Franco and Lina Romay. The commentary is in French with English subtitles. Romay speculates that the reason people may not have heard of her despite her gazillion of appearances may be that she is a Spanish actress who very rarely performed in Spanish movies. Hmm, maybe this may have more to do with the fact that nearly all her performances were restricted to her husband’s movies. Franco acknowledges plot similarities between Faceless, his very own The Awful Dr Orloff (1961) and Franju’s classic Les yeux sans visages.
- Last, not least, the DVD also features the obligatory trailers for Faceless as well as a couple of other Shriek Show releases.
So is this a perfect DVD?
Well, it would be if it wasn’t for a little snag at the end of the movie that’ll have you hollering in rage at your TV, threatening to kick in the player if you weren’t aware of it when you started watching the film. Once aware of it, however, it just becomes a minor annoyance.
For one reason or the other Shriek Show’s version has Telly Savalas’ final sentence uttered…. in French! So instead of his proper English performance, you have a French dubbed Savalas speaking to his off scene assistant and saying:
“Jenny, book me a flight to Paris!”
Not trying to give away too much of the plot, but this seemingly innocuous sentence makes a major difference for the viewer’s perception of a film that has a great ambiguous open end. Even if Shriek Show could not obtain an English language copy of the scene – the film after all *was* filmed in English -, it will remain a mystery why they could not at least subtitle this very short passage.
Apart from this issue, however, this film is an absolute Must for Munro fans (the interview and photo gallery alone are worth the price), a Must for Franco aficionados (who will, however, probably complain how much their hero was put on leash by Rene Chateau) and at the very least a definite Maybe for anyone only remotely interested in getting acquainted with the wonderfully whacky field of European Shlock movies.
Only question that remains: When will Howl of the Devil find its way to DVD?
Jennie Linden plays a young girl who is haunted by nightmares of her mother who was institutionalised after stabbing her husband. The opening scenes of the movie showing Linden walking through an empty asylum until she is faced with the lunatic mother are spinechilling and well executed. The subsequent scenes show a beautifully snow covered wintery Oakley Court that substitutes as a girl’s school.
As her nightmares upset the other girls she is transferred back home, where the bad dreams continue: She is faced with the constant presence of a strange woman in white who walks through her house and is later identified as the wife of her guardian (David Knight) who she then attacks in panic.
Linden is constantly carrying a little puppet, but appears far too old for that. She also kisses her guardian right smack on the lips when she meets him again hinting at a slightly unnatural, quasi-incestuous relationship.
In true Psycho style the film changes focus mid-way through its short 83 minute run: Whereas the first half concentrates on Linden’s character, the second half deals with her nurse played by Moira Redmond. What both girls have in common: They can scream. A lot. And loudly. Very loudly!
Julie Christie was initially scheduled to play Linden’s part, but then pulled out at the last minute to shoot Billy Liar.
Of course, if dissected under a microscope none of the plot would make the remotest bit of sense, but that really doesn’t matter: The film is slickly filmed and lot of fun to watch. It’s a little gem of a movie that was rarely seen until recently, but can now be easily accessed thanks to the excellent and very cheap box set of eight Hammer movies that was released a few months ago.
But, yes, as long as I can remember I was a fan. Born in 1967 I remember watching her movies for the first time on the big screen. The very first time I saw her was either in Starcrash or At the Earth’s Core, two films that still carry a lot of nostalgic ballast for me even if everyone else these days appears to just find them fun on a “so bad it’s good level”. Yes, these days the effects are decidedly shoddy and would not fool today’s more refined teens, but at the time they actually *were* quite convincing and stirred a sense of adventure for “the boy who is half a man and the man is half a boy”. It also stirred up other things that are better left unsaid. I was enamoured hook, line and sinker and have followed her career ever since and had the privilege of meeting her for the first time during Bray II and to arrange an online interview session with her for my discussion group. In person she is one of the finest and most genuine people you are ever likely to meet and always looks as if she enjoys her time with her fans as much as they enjoy meeting her.
And she still looks absolutely vavavavvoom!
Apart from those two Hammer flicks, Munro appeared in a number of high profile parts in the 70s that up to this day has her endeared to her fans: She was Sinbad’s companion Margiana in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), played naughty in the inane, but very watchable Rosemary’s Baby rip off The Devil Within Her/I Don’t Want to be Born (1975) alongside Joan Collins and Ralph Bates, went native for the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ adaptation of At the Earth’s Core (1976) with Peter Cushing and Doug McClure, became the Bond Girl with the sexiest screen wink ever in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and finally had her most active leading role while wearing some of her most amazingly fetishistic costumes in Italo Sci Fi Starcrash (1978).
Nearly more interesting than the projects she appeared in are the ones that she did not. For a variety of reasons – including her famous non-nudity clause - she missed out on a lot of parts that may have moved her up a few ranks on the celebrity ladder. At this stage one can only dream about how Munro would have looked in adaptations of Modesty Blaise, Vampirella or in a Starcrash sequel. Or how about her playing a were-woman in Altinai?
Following the Cozzi production, Munro took a long sabbatical in order to concentrate on raising her kids. During the 90s she only appeared in cameos in one or two movies, mainly as a favour for the film makers. Things started hotting up again when she set up her fan club and started touching base with her loyal fans. She also teamed up with musician Gary Wilson and – as Wilson Munro – recorded a CD with three musical duets.
Caroline Munro is currently one of the most sought after Hammer Glamour girls and is regularly jetting from one convention to the other both in the UK and the US as well as occasionally in some other countries. Her latest appearances can be checked on her official web site.
She also recently filmed two cameos again, for Flesh for the Beast (2003) and The Absence of Light (2004). Her most public appearance – and in actual fact one of her best roles ever! - was for a Doctor Who Audio CD called Omega.
A documentary dedicated to Caroline Munro - First Lady of Fantasy had also been released to great critical acclaim.
"Pocket Essentials” is a very popular series of cheap books dedicated primarily to Film Directors and Genres, but also to history, literature or other areas of general interest. They usually are below 100 pages in length and as such never intend to be anything more than introductions into the subject matter at hand.
Still, there are differences between the various entries: Where its Hitchhiker’s Guide e.g. is only the second book ever to deal with the phenomenon of Douglas Adams’ famous Sci Fi series and offers an excellent look at all of its incorporations, Hammer Films is one amongst a multitude of books about the company and even as an introductory read has little to offer. Nearly half of its content is nothing more than a lengthy filmography with only some very rare lines of comments hidden amongst the cast and crew credits.
The remainder of the book offers a very short and selective history of the Hammer studios and 1-page reviews of their most interesting – according to the author - and famous movies. Some of the opinion is bordering on the asinine. On (Horror of) Dracula he e.g. writes: “It is Van Helsing, much like Dr Frankenstein, who is the real villain of the piece.” Huh?
The book borders on the seriously eccentric when it recommends Hammer related websites without accompanying URL!
Still, it is a cheap oeuvre and currently seems to get off-loaded by a lot of book stores for even less than its initial cheap price. So it won’t break the bank and as such probably does belong into every Hammer Library even if it’s just for completeness sake.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
I am, however, happy to discover a new Hammer movie blog out there and from what I can tell Hammer Film Reviews is breaking the Irish mold as both my blog and Watching Hammer are based on the Emerald Isle just like the Unofficial Hammer Site whose owner Robert Simpson is also behind the Exclusive Project that he set up for his PhD research and the very important Save Bray blog. Of course, there are other worthwhile Hammer websites around (like the Dictionary of Hammer Horror) that are not based in Ireland but I was always intrigued to learn how much my adopted homeland became involved in Hammer blogging. 'Cause, believe me, we sure don't have tons of people walking around the streets of Cork, Belfast or Dublin just dying for a chance to chat about Hammer.
Alex, the guy behind the new Hammer blog, also runs The Korova Theatre focusing on classic cinema in general. Both of his blogs look great and have now been added to daily RSS feed diet. Check'em out!
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Ursula Andress plays Caroline Meredith, one of the game’s participants, who is just one match short of turning into a champion and winning the big prize. Her last victim was ingeniously killed via two guns hidden inside her bra. Hmm, where might Mike Myers have got his idea from for the opening scene of The Spy Who Shagged Me?
Her next victim is supposed to be Marcello Mastroianni. His character has his hair dyed blond and both of them fall in love with each other. Will they be able to cheat the system, take the money and survive the cruel match?
This film is based on the story The Seventh Victim by Robert Sheckley. He elaborated more on this subject in a further novel, The Prize of Peril, that has – sometimes officially, sometimes unofficially – also been adapted. That novel was the basis for Das Millionenspiel, a very controversial German TV production from 1970 that remained unseen for legal reasons after its initial broadcast, or the excellent French movie Le Prix du danger/ The Prize of Peril (1983) with Michel Piccoli in the role of an egotistical show master. And guess who was the real inspiration behind The Running Man (1987)? If your answer is Stephen King, you’re just going for the bleedingly obvious. And let’s not even mention Lucio Fulci’s Rome 2033 – The Fighter Centurions (1983).
The Tenth Victim is a thoroughly entertaining satire on modern game shows that is now more on the mark than ever before. It has a good number of comedic elements, none of them of the intentional kind.
I recently came across this amusing little piece in the 1959-60 edition of the Picturegoer Film Annual.
Picturegoer was a British film weekly that catered predominantly to the teenaged film fan, with plenty of colour pin-ups of the latest hunks and hotties. A little surprising, therefore, to find dear Christopher in such company, alongside features on The Pin-Up Way To Stardom ("Barbara Lang believes the emphasis should be on curves"), Lana Lives Down Her Past ("In Imitation Life Miss Turner wears many gorgeous gowns") and Can Bardot Cover Up? ("her favourite garments seem to be a towel, a blanket, or the most unsettling underwear").
The most interesting part of his piece, apart from the fact that he is already, in 1959, to be found ruminating on typecasting and the potential pitfalls of a career in horror movies, and explaining why he'd "rather call them films of fantasy", is its rather charming underestimation of their cultural longevity. Though he does, surprisingly perhaps, refer to Dracula as "another Hammer Horror classic" so soon after its savaging by many British reviewers, he sweetly notes in a picture caption that:
And fifty years later, you'll still be receiving them. Probably more, in fact.
. "I can honestly say that, from every angle, horror films have been a considerable asset in my screen career to date. Like may other actors, I started playing a variety of small parts, none of them eventful, but gradually increasing in size. When the chance came to play the Creature in The Curse of Frankenstein, I believed that, although my face would not be recognized, my name would then also become established. Surely enough, it did..."
. "I have never believed horror films to be bad for people's minds. I would prefer to call them films of fantasy, particularly the ones I have made. If a horror film is convincingly directed with good production values and sincere performances, it becomes more in the nature of a fairy story... I have not heard of a harmful affect being suffered by anyone who has seen a horror film in which I have acted."
. "Although these films have established me as something of a specialist in 'horror', I have since made four other films, in which I have played completely different characters, none of them remotely gruesome. I don't feel in any danger of becoming 'typed' if I continue to appear in horror parts such as in The Mummy...
"It is of the greatest importance to me nowadays that I should be known internationally. I am in the process of furthering this aim by working all over Europe. I have just made a film in Germany and hope soon to make one in Yugoslavia... With The Mummy, I seem to be following in the steps of Boris Karloff, of whom I have long been a great admirer. In fact, I recently made a film with him called The Doctor of Seven Dials. If I can have as successful career as this noted 'pioneer' into horror fantasy, I shall be well content."
It is hard to really like any of these films. The stories are always weak, bordering on the non-existent. The purely grunting dialogues leave absolutely no room for proper characterisations, humour or any kind of subtlety. Alas, the first two movies - One Million Years B.C. (1965) and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970) - had enough monsters and female beauty to keep at least the guys in the audience satisfied. Ray Harryhausen's and Jim Danforth's dinosaurs may have been historically inaccurate, but they were certainly wonderful examples of stop-motion animation. And Raquel Welch and Victoria Vetri sure managed to keep the boys awake during the show.
Creatures the World Forgot, unfortunately, lacks on both counts.
The "creatures" of the title are certainly not of the stop-motion kind. And Julie Ege - brunette in this film - sure is a stunner and can easily measure up to her predecessors, but it takes an agonisingly long 55 minutes until we first set eyes on her. Her character in the film is really nothing more than a supporting part and gets very little time on screen, although Ege herself was advertised as the "new star" on the bill boards and also received top billing in the cast list.
The plot of Creatures sure isn't hard to follow. Therefore, it is quite annoying to be confronted with regular flashbacks that help "explain" the more intricate parts of the story.
By the time Julie Ege enters the scene, the tribe has managed to invent the fire as well as cooking over fire, a net to help hunting animals.... and to the chagrin of the viewers: the fur bikini. Whereas most of the females of the tribes have shown precious little regard for clothing of any kind up to that time, Julie Ege keeps insisting on wearing that stylish bit of prehistoric lingerie. In actual fact: Most of her promotional photos for the film are far more revealing and promising than in the actual film.
She plays the daughter of yet another tribe's chief encountered during their journeys. The Good Blond Guy promptly chooses her as his wife, soul mate, partner.... or whatever else the prehistoric equivalent may be.
What about the acting? Well, the acting is as good and as confident as can be in a film that deals with prehistoric cavemen. No sign of Oscar performances anywhere. Just look nice and grunt must have been the main instruction by the director. At least Julie Ege did not have to struggle with her Norwegian accent for a change.
The stunts were arranged by Frank Hayden who also plays the son that kills his own father at the beginning of the film and gets the whole show started.
A blurb on the original poster art work boasted: "They don't make them like this anymore.... not in a million years". I guess that could also be said about films of this kind.
Guest post by Norton Coll (transferred from the World of Hammer Glamour)
She is wonderful. A body of dreams, long legs, blonde hair, a seducing face. For sure, her role in the British horror thriller Vengeance of She was the best vehicle to make her known worldwide.
I have only known about her existence when the Brazilian Fox office in Brazil gave out a publicity shot for that movie. However, by the time Hammer films found her, she was already a star in her Country, the today Czech Republic. She bashfully accepted to work there in her first picture We Were Ten (1963) but fled to fame with Lemonade Joe (1964), playing the angelic Winnifred in a western parody. The so called Czech Brigitte Bardot soon is compared to Ursula Andress. She was the first Czech to appear on the cover of Playboy (March 1968) and also in Cavalier magazine.
Olga Schoberová worked in one film after another under the alias of Olinka Berova. Speaking German, Russian and English she made 22 films in Austria, Italy, Germany, Poland and England. Born in Prague in 1943, her personality has nothing to do with her roles on-screen. She is discrete, quiet and calm.
She was twice married. In 1964 she met her first husband, the “Herculean” Brad Harris and moved to the USA. From this marriage she has one daughter Sabrina. Soon after they were divorced, Olga found another man full of charisma, John Calley, the president of Warner Bros (today is president of Sony Pictures). With him she enjoyed a very luxurious life. As Mrs. Calley, she made close friends with the likes of Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford and Paul Newman.
After 20 years in the USA, in Beverly Hills, Olinka decided to find a place in Prague, where now she lives in an apartment. At sixty she did not lose her beauty and charm. The lines of time in her are almost undetectable.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Deadlier Than The Male is a curious adaptation in that it was made at a time when the character was hardly as popular as in his heyday and in actual fact if anything this film resembles more a James Bond adaptation rather than a proper Bulldog Drummond movie. Throughout the movie the character is never really addressed as “Bulldog” and nothing much was made of it either in the promotional material. If anything it appears as if everyone was anxious to avoid any reference to the character’s literary origins.
Hammer scribe Jimmy Sangster was asked to provide an original script based on the character and also helped out on the production side. As a result he claims that this was the only film for which he still occasionally receives royalties for his producer status. Hammer’s accountants apparently were pretty efficient in constantly proving that their films never made money.
Deadlier Than The Male is always compared with the Bond movies of the time. I did it, too, and it is quite obviously a production that swims on the popular wave of 1960s spy films. I would, however, go one step further and say that this film is even better than your average Bond movie! If Bond films concentrate first and foremost on Bond, then the baddies and last but not least on the girls, Deadlier Than The Male turns the format around and puts its emphasis first on the girls – and what kinda gals! -, then on the baddy and at last on the spy, pardon: insurance investigator. (Never thought that profession was that glamourous!)
Sylva Koscina is a special delight: Her character likes to play with her victims beforehand and just can’t keep her paws off other people’s possessions. Little wonder that the German version of the film was called Heisse Katzen (Hot Cats).
Sommer’s best moment is when she tries to turn Drummond into a male whore by promising him freedom if only he succumbs to her charms. And he nearly appears to fall for it! Bond never was so pussy whacked.
Between Koscina and Sommer there is a very flirtatious and rivalrous relationship and they share some of the best lines of the film together. When a character falls from a balcony in a fake suicide we have them say: “I’ve had men fall for me before, but never like this!” And need I say that I thoroughly fell for their European accents?
Suzanna Leigh is one of Petersen’s girls, but changes sides the moment she meets Drummond. Leigh is forced to wear the most ridiculous looking hair cuts and wigs. Later on in the movie we actually discover a dramatical reason for those, however, one can’t help but suspect that her more brunette/mousy coloured tones in the film were forced on her as not to clash too dramatically with Elke Sommer’s blonde hair do and make sure that the limelight is not taken off Blonde #1.
At one stage Leigh is made to strip and thrown off a yacht into the sea, but don’t bother with the freeze frame like I did, lads, as she does end up wearing some flesh coloured little nothings on her way down.
Drummond is played by Richard Johnson who comes across very non-chalant and debonair. It is at times hard to recognise him from his later movies such as Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 or Sergio Martino’s Island of the Fishmen. In the movie he lives with his nephew (Steve Carlson) who also has his uncle’s eyes for the ladies and brings home Virginia North. North has become a bit of a cult figure due to her appearance as Vulnavia in The Abominable Dr Phibes. Whereas she is more silent eye candy in that film, it is good to see her properly act and talk in Deadlier Than The Male. She admits to her preference for older men and in a hilarious scene ditches the nephew and tries to storm her way into Drummond’s bed room.
Add some gorgeous shots of the Italian coastline and a very strong title song from Walker Brothers’ Scott Walker, and Ralph Thomas has managed to create a very enjoyable piece of wild and funky – or is that groovy? – 60s pop art, an absolute Must See.
The film was a great success and a sequel – Some Girls Do (1969) – was shot three years later to much lesser acclaim. For that film Richard Johnson reprised his role as Bulldog Drummond. Virginia North was the only other person to be used in both films. In the follow up she played Robot Number Nine. Robot Number One incidentally was played by Yutte Stensgaard.
There! I bet that caught your attention!
What I am talking about is, of course, not Peter Cushing, the man, but the character he played in Hammer’s She, or to be even more precise the way his character was described in H. Rider Haggard’s original novel.
Truth be told, however, not a lot of the original source material made its way into the final film.
Though the basic shell of the plot – Ayesha (“She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed”) discovers the reincarnation of her long lost true love from a few centuries ago and tries to make him an immortal as well– remained the same, there were quite a lot of differences between these two appearances of She.
His most popular books were all based on either his male hero, Allan Quatermain, or his female femme fatale Ayesha. No wonder so that following AYESHA – THE RETURN OF SHE (1905) he even ended up having both of his heroes meet up in SHE AND ALLAN (1921), his last novel. Haggard died on May 14, 1925.
SHE, both the novel as well as the film, is a thoroughly entertaining yarn, one of those stories that’ll “give one hour of joy/to the boy who’s half a man/or the man who’s half a boy”. But where the original novel often thrives on gruesome imagery, the film makes more for a straightforward adventure yarn. Either way, they’re both excellent examples of sheer escapism of the best kind.
The novel SHE had previously been filmed several times. The very first adaptation dates back to 1899 (La Colonne de Feu), was directed by none other than cinematic pioneer Georges Méliès and a staggering one minute in length. Five more silent movies followed until the first sound version from 1935 with Broadway Star and future Congresswoman Helen Gahagan in her one and only film role proved to be the last movie based on the classic novel until Hammer’s version came along. Gahagan played opposite Western Star Randolph Scott as Leo Vincey and Nigel Bruce in a pre-Watson performance as Holly.
Haggard’s novel follows the very popular Victorian concept of presenting the story as an originally unpublished manuscript that fell into the hands of the author who subsequently assumes the role of an editor in the process.
Holly, the narrator of the manuscript, is a fierce ugly, openly misogynistic, but otherwise quite likeable Cambridge lecturer who one night receives a visit from a mortally sick friend who asks him to raise his young son, Leo, like his own and also presents a mysterious iron box, only to be opened upon Leo’s 25th birthday. That box contains ancient sherds and documents that trace back Leo’s ancestry to Kallikrates, a legendary Priest of Isis. It also describes a mysterious African tribe “ruled over by a beautiful white woman (…) who is reported to have power over all things living dead”.
Inspired by these ancient tales they head off to Africa together with their servant Job. Stranded on the Eastern shore of Central Africa they easily get captured by the Amahagger, a cannibalistic, matriarchic tribe who have the awful habit of “hot potting” their enemies, i.e. slowly killing off their victims while still alive by placing red hot pots upon their heads and roasting them alive. Regretfully, none of these gruesome images made it into the Hammer movie.
The three survive with the help of Billali, one of the few wise male leaders of this otherwise female dominated society. Leo gets “married” to Ustane, a local girl. Well, she simply walks over to this vision, hugs him and claims him her own. It’s that easy, y’see.
The Hammer movie in contrast starts by updating the action to 1918, where our three adventurers meet up in Palestine following WW1. Not knowing their future plans (“We survived the war. Let’s hope we survive this place.”) they decide to kill time in a local bar. No longer averse to women we see Cushing’s Holly more than openly lusty after a couple of belly dancers; one of them practically topless if it wasn’t for those enraging nipple cover-ups that ensure that the movie would still get a decent release in 1960s movie theatres. Cushing also gets involved in a bar brawl. As short as the scene lasts, but watching a womanising, bar brawling, hard drinking Cushing does make for some enjoyable viewing.
There is also no indication of any prior premonition on the team’s side that Leo may have been related to Kallikrates. Instead Ayesha played by Ursula Andress makes a very early appearance when Lee’s Billali discovers Leo’s uncanny similarity to the ancient priest whose portrait covers a golden medal. Ustane (Rosenda Monteros) makes a dash for Leo and gets him kidnapped and knocked unconscious. When he wakes up, he sees Ayesha – and we get to listen to James Bernard’s beautiful leitmotiv - who promises everything he ever desired (including herself apparently) provided he follows a quest and makes it through the desert to her Kingdom. Not being able to resist that kind of offer our intrepid explorers go on a voyage that they barely survive if it wasn’t for Ustane’s help.
Ustane’s father – Andre Morell in a couple of screen minutes and inexplicably dubbed by George Pastell – is the leader of the Amahagger who have a much less prominent part in the film than in the novel where their rituals are described with nearly anthropological preciseness. Instead Ayesha surrounds herself with soldiers in ancient Roman uniforms (possibly left over from a previous film) which makes for a good image even if you’re left wondering where these originally came from.
Morell’s character is more in line with the novel’s Billali than Lee’s character in the film who comes across more of a Machiavellian power hungry second-in-command than the helpful friendly supporter of the original.
Once the three heroes meet up with Ayesha - in the film pronounced as “A-i-sha”, in the novel as “Assha” (the film’s version makes more sense) – in Kor (or Kuma as the city is renamed in the movie) the film’s plot appears much more similar to the novel’s, though it still shows some remarkable differences.
Ayesha reveals her true age and her belief that Leo is the re-incarnation of the true love she had killed all these centuries ago and invites him to join her in a bath in the flames that guarantee immortality. In the film Leo cures himself from a near lethal sickness and therefore passes Ayesha’s last test; in the book he only survived through her intervention. In a rage of jealousy Ayesha kills Ustane: In the novel this is done by magical means. In the film she is killed off-hand by Billali who produces her ashes in front of her father who subsequently starts a revolt that has no equivalent in the book.
I always disliked the attitude of purists who believe that a film should be 100% faithful to a source novel. It may be a pity that some of the original’s characterisations or scenes of cannibalistic terror were not transferred on film, but film and book are different media and as long as the film doesn’t bore me, I couldn’t care less about whether or not it is truly faithful. At times differences from the source can actually even improve the material.
The film on the other hand makes for a more shocking and tragic ending. Apart from leaving Job (Bernard Cribbins) alive, Leo survives as an immortal and is forced to live throughout eternity now longing for Ayesha just as she had longed for his return. A fate that is far more touching in all its heart breaking implications than Haggard ever imagined.
She was Hammer’s first proper attempt at creating a monumental picture and with a budget of £323,778 their most expensive production ever. For once they left the confines of Deer Park and filmed the location shots near Eilat in Israel. And for once they probably also did not object to the A certificate that they received and that guaranteed that younger movie goers were also allowed to watch the film and that it would also attract a more mainstream audience than their usual fares. Had the film been more faithful in their adaptation of the novel’s more gruesome and violent elements, the company sure would have received objections from the censor and only been allowed an X certificate.
Hammer can’t be praised highly enough for hiring Ursula Andress for the title role: These days it is hard to imagine anyone else playing that part. The world’s most beautiful woman at the time simply had to be playing the world’s most beautiful legendary woman of all time. Though she is certainly not required to hold an Oscar winning performance, she sure leaves an unforgettable impression on the viewer. I’d follow her across the desert for her cute accent alone, though admittedly this was Monica Van Der Syl’s voice who had previously also dubbed her in Dr. No.
Andress was also kind enough to appear nude in the June 1965 issue of Playboy in order to help promote the film.
Michael Carreras had already decided on casting Andress when he saw her in the Bond movie and then patiently waited two years to have her free of other commitments (Fun in Acapulco, 4 For Texas) and ready to take on the title role, her first leading role.
It was up to makeup genius Roy Ashton to transform Andress’ ethereal beauty (I always wanted to write that!) into the hideous, decomposing 3000 year old body. There are more than obvious similarities to Ashton’s and Phil Leakey’s disintegration of Dracula in Hammer’s groundbreaking classic. Of course, it’s one thing seeing Christopher Lee decompose, but quite another to watch a similar scene with a beautiful lady.
No wonder Ashton welcomed the new challenge even though he found it slightly unnerving: “Yet despite all my preparatory work it was an unnerving experience to start my day by taking such a young and attractive woman and transforming her as she slept, into an ancient, gibbering crone!” (Greasepaint and Gore: The Hammer Monsters of Roy Ashton, p. 131)
Another problem was that he was only given one day to shoot the entire, complicated scene. If there are any doubts over some of the makeup effects, then the blame must certainly go to Hammer’s rushed schedule as opposed to Ashton’s true talent.
According to Aida Young, Andress – world famous for her beauty - found the transformation process so disturbing that she was reduced to tears after watching the first stage.
From a set design perspective it must be said that the monumental sculptures that greet the viewer when our heroes enter Kuma are easily on par with the best of its kind in other more expensive movies. The scenes where Ayesha looks over the old abandoned city in ruins – obviously miniatures - or where the flames are superimposed on the other hand all too obviously expose the financial limits of the budget.
Director Robert Day started his career as a Clapper Boy and Camera Operator before progressing to director status. He made a couple of Tarzan movies in the 1960s that can be seen as calling cards for this Victorian Pulp classic also based in Africa (Tarzan The Magnificent, Tarzan’s Three Challenges, followed post-She by Tarzan and the Valley of Gold, Tarzan and the Great River and Tarzan and the Jungle Boy) as well as directing Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee in their one outing together, Corridors of Blood. From the 1970s on his work was nearly entirely restricted to TV (episodes for the likes of Kojak, Police Story or Dallas). His last cinematic movie was the enjoyable turkey The Man With Bogart’s Face with cult favourites like Franco Nero, Sybil Danning, Herbert Lom, Yvonne de Carlo, George Raft and Victor Buono as well as Bogart lookalike Robert Sacchi in his one and only leading role. (A bit of a one trick pony that one.)
For She, Day did a tremendous job making this production appear bigger and more monumental than it really was.
Prior to She even the most ardent movie goer would have had trouble recognising John Richardson. He was – if at all - only really known for a part in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday. Following the success of She, Hammer, however, kept casting him again in One Million Years B.C. and The Vengeance of She. He subsequently starred mainly in a bunch of Italian flicks such as Umberto Lenzi’s Eyeball, Riccardo Freda’s Delirium or Michele Soavi’s The Church.
His classic good looks – one may even be forgiven for calling him bland - made for an ideal and convincing counterpart to Ursula Andress’ title character. Nothing more was expected of him than to stand around and look handsome; something he achieved magnificently.
Mexican actress Rosenda Monteros, who played Richardson’s native lover Ustane, was – apart from a part in The Magnificent Seven – virtually unknown outside her home country before shooting She and, despite a convincing performance as John Richardson’s fatefully loyal lover Ustane – and as such gaining the right to call herself a Hammer Glamour Girl - remained an international also-run. Though do look out for her in one of Karloff’s final performances in Mexican schlocker Cauldron of Blood, released after the actor’s death. She also starred in a French TV Series with Pierre Brice (Winnetou ou le Mascalero), in which he reprised his most famous part as Karl May’s hero Winnetou.
Hammer followed the success of She with The Vengance of She in 1968. Though allegedly also based on one of H. Rider Haggard’s novels this has even less to do with the original source and was penned by Peter O’Donnell, otherwise better known as the creator of Modesty Blaise.
The Hammer Glamour site was my second proper Hammer site. The very first one was in the 90s and primarily featured pics found online and was taken down without further warning and without any reason given (though I have a sneaky suspicion as to who may have been responsible for it and why).
The Hammer and Beyond blog is now in its 4th year and ever since I started it the Hammer Glamour website was lying dormant and I hadn't updated it. Site hosting costs me $5/month which in itself is not too much but multiplied by four years in which I did sweet eff all with it and it becomes a ridiculous amount for nothing.
Also Google in their wisdom never properly placed the website anywhere. Most visitors just found it through a Google Image search as it constantly lingered on page 8 or thereabout of any relevant search term even when I updated the site regularly. Ludicrously enough the moment I had this blog up for barely a month with very little on it, it already featured way more prominently in Google than the much older website.
As such I am going to gradually move all the posts over here where they have a better chance of being found before I then pull the plug on the site. I'll label all the old posts with the "Hammer Glamour site update" terms so you know which are older articles. So if you suddenly see an outburst of new blog posts here: I haven't suddenly become a prolific writer (No fear there!), I am just recycling my own stuff.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Monday, July 12, 2010
Here are some German lobby cards for To the Devil.... A Daughter. The German title Die Braut des Satans translates as "The Devil's Bride". Bride... Daughter... Same Difference.
Incidentally both Rasputin and this film are movies that I am going to (re)watch tonight. No time to write much about them, hence this lazy approach to blogging with my scans.
Hope you like them.