Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Marcus Hearn: Hammer Glamour

Anyone who has followed this blog for some time knows about my love for Hammer Glamour. Indeed this blog started as a companion piece to a Hammer Glamour website I had started all those years ago as I couldn't find enough info on the ladies of Hammer around. The website has now been moribund for a while and I am primarily focused on “Hammer and Beyond” as a more effective way to communicate with other Hammer Fans, but the glamour aspect of all things Hammer always remained close to my heart.

A few years ago I nearly wetted myself reading about a project Tim Greaves appeared to be involved in about this subject and got very disappointed when nothing came of it. Now Marcus Hearn, one of the most notable Hammer historians, comes on the scene with this lavishly illustrated book that appears to be fully endorsed by the new Hammer company.

Hammer Glamour is an overview over 50 actresses associated with this studio. Another 25 ladies receive a short honorary mention in an appendix.

A dream come true for this fanboy, but have all my expectations been met?

Well, to a degree.

Hammer Glamour is indeed a worthwhile purchase, full of info and photos of the lovely actresses that more often than not often quickly faded back into obscurity once they had their 15 minutes of fame through Hammer.

There are, however, a number of niggles I am having with this book.

To start with I found that a number of – in my opinion – essential Hammer Glamour representatives were notably missing from the list. True, any list selection since time began has always been up for debate, but am I the only one who thinks that the likes of Dana Gillespie, Kirsten Betts, Pippa Steele or Ralph Bates' wife Virgina Wetherell deserve a full entry (or at least a short mention in the book's end chapter)? I would think that either one of those are more bona fide representatives of Hammer Glamour than, say, the like of Stephanie Powers who did indeed get a full entry.

The 50 ladies that are fully, ahem, covered in this tome all either get two or four pages. In terms of text the difference between two or four pages doesn't actually make that much of a difference as this is primarily a book of illustrations - the cover even highlights that the book's raison d'etre are “Classic Images from the Archive of Hammer Films – and what is covered textwise is not necessarily ground breaking.

The actresses suffering the most from this lack of info are the more established ones that actually had a proper career. I'd liked to have read more about life outside of Hammer for quite a number of them. From Ursula Andress' large oeuvre only a small number of titles are even referenced. Caroline Munro's musical career is ignored and Starcrash isn't even mentioned. And it would have been nice to read a bit more about Ingrid Pitt's writing career than just a cursory mention of two of her publications.

The one actress who is hurt the most by this piecemeal approach is Barbara Shelley, “Hammer's most prolific female star”. Even her Hammer entries don't get full coverage with The Gorgon and Shadow of the Cat both only mentioned in passing within one and the same sentence.

Chances are that if you are already somewhat familiar with the careers of the actresses in question, you are not going to learn anything majorly new about them through this book.

So how do the pictures fare?

Well, I can safely say that Hammer Glamour is indeed a feast for the eyes. Even though about half of the pictures published looked at least somewhat familiar to me, I can't remember ever having seen them reproduced that splendidly. The most revealing picture (no pun intended) for me was one with Susan Denberg in leather gear on a very familiar looking motorbike. Only when I read the caption did I realise that this was a publicity photo taken for the title role of Girl on a Motorcyle, a part Denberg ultimately lost due to a drug overdose to Marianne Faithfull!

If this sounds as if I may have emphasised the negative a bit too much: Although this book is not quite the be-all and end-all that I had initially envisioned it to be (admittedly my expectations were huge), I do feel this is a tome that every Hammer and especially Hammer Glamour Fan should own. It's a quick, but magnificently illustrated read and a book that will look stunning on every coffee table.

Even though I was mildly disappointed about some of the issues that I had with this one I can now officially put my own Hammer Glamour site to rest. It will remain online, but I will no longer update anything on it and instead fully focus on this blog.

Looking into my crystal ball I also sense that, should this publication prove a success, that a further follow up to this book may be made available soon focusing on the male talent in front of the camera. And niggles or not, I'd be the first to purchase that one if it ever comes around.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hammer Horror: A Fan's Guide

What I was really looking for before I found Kate Bush's video was the "Hammer Horror: A Fan's Guide" playlist below.

Kate Bush - Hammer Horror

Looked for one thing, found another. And that other is Kate Bush's homage to "Hammer Horror". I had completely forgotten that this song even existed as it's not exactly one of her most popular ones. From what I understand it actually has sweet eff all to do with Hammer Horror proper but I'll be damned if that matters: This lady cheers me up anytime I watch her and listen to her music. They sure don't make them like they used to.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Gambler and the Lady/Heat Wave

So I finally found the time to look a bit further into my collection of Hammer Noirs and recently treated myself to a little double feature.

I must admit I always find intriguing how little Noir the Hammer Noirs often are. Case in point: The Gambler and the Lady. Though with a very heavy focus on crime, this is primarily a (melo)drama about a gambler (Dane Clark) from the States who tries to establish a gambling empire in London while secretly harbouring the ambition to be accepted by the ruling classes. His often comical attempts at learning the proper manners, however, just make him a laughing stock amongst the often cash poor, but class rich nobility he is dealing with. When some rival American mobsters come and take over his gambling dens and some of his blue blooded society friends take advantage of his ambition, he soon learns that dog-eat-dog is prevalent at all levels of society just as friendship and loyalty can be earned everywhere.

This film proved to be the first of three pictures Hammer shot with American actor Dane Clark who indeed was the most convincing of all the Hammer Noir stars. The film also features supporting roles by Eric Pohlmann and George Pastell and is a generally entertaining and well made time waster, in other words pretty much on a par with the average Hammer Noir entry.

Heat Wave on the other hand is actually a proper Noir movie and one of the best of Hammer’s sub-genre. Though I generally prefer the American release titles in this case the original UK title The House Across the Lake is a much better choice as there is no sign of an Indian Summer Key Largo style anywhere in sight.

Instead we get to meet Alex Nicol (Mark Kendrick) who narrates his downfall in typical Noir style via the use of Flashbacks. Nicol is a starving writer and self confessed male slut who just can’t resist anyone in a skirt, and who one night unexpectedly gets invited to a party in the mansion across the lake from his own much humbler abode. There he befriends the millionaire owner (Sid James) and his man hungry wife (Hillary Brooke, looking a wee bit past her prime in some of the scenes). No points in guessing what devious plan the wife and her new lover will soon concoct and who will ultimately be dropped like a hot spud once the dirty deed is done.

If the story sounds familiar, then that’s because it truly is the quintessiantal Noir plot of good guy turned bad under the influence of a scheming Blonde. It also bears a remarkable resemblance to Bad Blonde/The Flanagan Boy. Let’s see: Ambitious young man makes friends with a friendly rich old man and against his better judgement starts an affair with his manipulating wife. The two decide to get rid of the husband by killing him on a boat near his mansion. Sounds pretty much carbon copy to me.

Both films also star Sid James, though in Heat Wave he has a much more impressive role as the cuckolded husband. If there’s one thing that watching Hammer Noir taught me it is to see James in a much different light. For all those only familiar with his performances from a myriad of Carry On movies only it will come as a surprise to see the full range of this actor.

Future Chitty Chitty Bang Bang director Ken Hughes adapted and directed this flick based on his own novel “High Wray”. The success of this Hammer Noir ensured that he was subsequently able to move on to bigger and better things.

From a geek perspective the most exciting aspect of this production is how well the Bray Studio buildings and the adjacent Thames River locations were utilised. It is hard to name any other Hammer production that presented the building and garden that clearly without any major refurbishments. The way Down Place looks in this film is pretty much the same way it still looks now. I was giddy with excitement when I could easily identify some of the spots I actually stood on myself when attending the Hammer at Bray functions. Incidentally Heat Wave was one of the very first - if not the first - Hammer production shot in Bray Studios and for that fact alone is clearly a Must See for anyone interested in Hammer Films.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Yet more DVD releases

Hardly a week seems to go by these days without a new announcement concerning previously rare and sought after Hammer movies finally seeing a proper DVD release.

The Columbia Classics Blog writes that:

“Next year, look for another Icons release when we gear up for the Icons of Suspense, the third in our effort to bring forward the great Hammer films in the Columbia library. The titles in this next set will include such masterpieces as Stop Me Before I Kill, Cash on Demand, Never Take Candy from a Stranger, Maniac, The Snorkel, and the great Joseph Losey-directed These Are the Damned. As with the previous Hammer releases, we are dedicated to providing the longest, most original restored versions of these films possible.”

Stop Me Before I Kill is also known as The Full Treatment and of course Never Take Candy... is better known as Never Take Sweets From A Stranger.

As the saying goes.....

Can. Not. Wait.

Seriously addictive Hammer Trivia Game and a chance to win the new Hammer Glamour book

Reading up on this article from the official Hammer website I learned about the new Hammer Trivia website. Think you know your Hammer films well? Then demonstrate your knowledge against other online players in four trivia games about Dracula, Vampire Lore, Frankenstein or Monsters.

Once I figured out what to do I managed to occasionally make it to the first rank of a game, but I also managed to seriously screw up some of the rounds as some of the questions really require great memory about details in those Hammer films and all the games have an added time factor.

Each game has 10 different questions. You start with 1000 points in your account and in each round must choose how many of your points you are willing to bet on the right answer. Four possible answers are then revealed and the faster you provide the correct answer the higher your overall points payout will be.

All the games are available for free, but it appears that you can also bet some real money in the hope of making it towards a payout. So if you’re really good with your Hammer knowledge you could even make yourself a few bob.

The Top 5 ranked Hammer Trivia gamers by midnight, Friday September 18 will all receive a complimentary copy of Marcus Hearn’s new Hammer Glamour book.

If that isn’t incentive enough to give these games a try I don’t know what is.

The only downside: Each time a new game loads you need to view a trailer for Beyond the Rave. Oh, the horror of it!