Rags To Riches

THE RAGMAN’S DAUGHTER directed by Harold Becker. Screenplay Alan Sillitoe. Starring Simon Rouse. Victoria Tennant, Patrick O’Connell, Leslie Sands. Released by 20th Century Fox.

The Ragman’s Daughter is one of those films which make me want to be able to write more vividly, more tenderly, because it stained my eyes with tears, not because of its sloppy sentimentality, but because of its simple poignant reality. It’s one of those films one falls in love with, one wants to see it over and over again.

Filmed almost entirely on location in and around Nottingham, it traces, largely in flashback, the brief stpirited youth and inextricable fast decline of one of yer average Nottingham lads, or perhaps he’s not all that average; he is in fact a sub-conscious revolutionary. He doesn’t work — he won’t work. He steals for kicks, for money, and this is what attracts the girl to him. She’s wealthy; her Dad’s a kind of Nottingham mafia regime. When yer short of cash, he gives you a pittance for your bundle of old clothes.

Stealing’s exciting and the boy’s good looking, good in bed, but she won’t go away with him – likes her monied security as well. He falls in love with her of course. Gets her pregnant; gets caught burgling. Approved School. His hair’s cut; he emerges stooping, unattractive, youthful vitality gone, the grey drag of life on his shoulders. She got married while he was inside, killed in a motor accident. They used to ride madly on his bike without accidents, but that was in the brief period of youthful freedom fate allowed.

We also see the boy ten or fifteen years later, married, kids, living in a tower block. That’s not as friendly as the old terraced houses, where you met the neighbours at the row of loos behind the terrace. Nottingham’s as grey as ever. He’s got a soul destroying job in a wholesale dairy. Gets the push for stealing a pound of cheese. His life with fifty million others has congealed in a drab rut. Super movie.

Strange Trivia Of Rosalie

THE STRANGE VENGEANCE OF ROSALIE directed by Jack Starrett. Starring Bonnie Bedelia, Ken Howard, Released by Palomar Pictures International. Distributed by 20th Century Fox.

8pm in a cinema in central London – 10 people in the stalls. The film showing, is being advertised in underground stations and sparsely in newspapers, but the posters don’t really show what it’s about, ie, scantily dressed girls aren’t the main subject of the film after all, which is made by an unknown director and cast. There have been a few very tiny write-ups in the papers, but no mentions as far as I know on the telly cinema programmes. In other words, the film has received the minimum amount of publicity without even having the good start of having a famous name. There are lots of good films which get this treatment and deserve better; after a loss making two week run in the West End of London, they disappear forever, never to be seen in the rest of the UK. Johnny Got His Gun was a recent example of this. There must be something wrong somewhere.

This particular film, The Strange Vengeance Of Rosalie – well I don’t think it’ll be missed very much. A pleasant, modern but unimportant tale about an American travelling salesman who is held hostage by a crazily lonely Indian girl in New Mexico. Although I believe the intentions of the makers were reasonably serious, the film succumbs to what are fast becoming the cliches of the modern American cinema, as it makes great play on the disappearing wilderness of America, and the inability of the average suburban American male to cope with any situation outside the confines of his motorised plastic environment.

It is a technically superb film; the colour photography makes the best of the glorious New Mexico scenery and the soundtrack is 100% audible, a rarity in modern films. Nevertheless, it doesn’t really lead anywhere and isn’t really successful either as a piece of entertainment or as a piece of serious cinema. Not to be wholly negative, you might well find it an easily forgettable, pleasantly flippant 106 minutes.

Out Means Out

HAMMERSMITH IS OUT directed by Peter Ustinov. Starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Beau Bridges. Distributed by Cinerama Releasing.

Hammersmith Is Out is an attempt by Mr Ustinov to transfer his own particular brand of acute satirical observation, from the TV chat show to the big screen. The idea in this film is to DO America, and I expect you’ll appreciate it too, providing you’re an Oxford don or similar breed of heavy intellectual, as most of the funnies and everything else are presented under a thick veil of over-intellectualised dialogue which baffles the audience into a kind of stunned silence of embarrassed laughter, at the sight, or rather sound, of their cult heroes Burton and Taylor, spouting a load of meaningless dialogue.

The story? Hammersmith is a kind of English gentleman imprisoned in a straight jacket in a mental hospital, run by a zany, but run-of-the-mill Ustinov-type middle-European psychiatrist. Hammersmith’s one goal in life seems to be to triumphantly beat the system by making more money than any of its rulers, like owners of oil wells, etc. So you see there are some novel ideas which just aren’t used. There are also some good performances too, like Beau Bridges’. He plays the warder who helps Hammersmith escape and then becomes his minion as they go around taking over big business. Elizabeth Taylor is adequate as their girl friend but her performance is rather too closely modelled on Karen Black’s in that far more successful American satire, Five Easy Pieces. As I said before there are some good jokes, targets include American food, stupidity, big business etc, but they have little visual impetus and any that there is, is completely and utterly dampened by the soul destroying turgid dialogue. In about 100 minutes there are about two really funny lines and the end product is boredom and yet more disenchantment for cinema goers.

Cough, Cough Hint, Hint

We would have liked to have included a review of “Made” starring Carol White, which I found exciting and interesting, but after 3 phone calls to the distributors ANGLO-EMI, no stills were forthcoming. I decided that if the distributor couldn’t be bothered to send me the stills to illustrate a favourable review of one of their films, I couldn’t be bothered to review it.

Horror Fills The Bill

During a fortnight when the new releases have been dominated by a host of serious films, all of which have been abject failures, it was pleasing to witness the return to form of British horror movies. The latest double bill from Anglo-EMI, Tower of Evil and Demons of the Mind is three hours of glorious escapism, being sexy, exciting and entertaining. It is interesting to note that of the ten or so cinemas I have visited over the last fortnight, the one showing these lovelies was the only one even approaching half full.

Death In The Sun

THE ASSASSINATION OF TROTSKY, starring Richard Burton, Alain Delon, Romy Schneider; screenplay by Nicholas Moseley. Directed by JOSEPH LOSEY. Distributed by Anglo—EMI.

Joseph Losey makes films about the human condition and this time he has turned his attention to the personal dilemma of those who live the falsest lives of all, politicians, and more particularly Trotsky, who in 1941 was living in exile in Mexico, ageing, ill and living in terror of being assassinated. Not only is he in exile from Russia, but from the idealism he supposedly stood for. He is in every sense living in an ivory tower. His house is surrounded by a high wall which is patrolled by American guards, and inside an inverted Trotsky strides about talking like an academic book, recording his ‘left words’ for Time and Life magazines, periodically pausing for bourgeois little tea parties. A fine madness. While Trotsky is locked away from the proletariat he claims to represent, in the streets outside Mexico is expressing its dilemma. As quickly as the new bright Coca Cola signs go up, there is another red flag demonstration.

Trotsky’s assassin, coolly, mysteriously played by Alain Delon, in the beginning has a logical idealism. He knows why Trotsky must be destroyed; American capitalism will bring industrialism, prosperity. The slums will disappear, and as he looks at murals in a church, he relishes the good society where the artist can express himself freely.

But this is a film about the human condition, so of course the doubts and uncertainties set in. Through his girlfriend, Trotsky’s secretary, he meets him, talks to him. He goes to a bull fight, that symbol (in Mexico anyway) of the hardness and toughness of capitalist society; it makes him cry. He thinks; he suffers from the diabolic illusion that he loves his girlfriend, and she worships Trotsky, has no idea of Jacson’s (Delon) plan to kill him. The passionate scenes between them are hard and beautiful.

The final assassination attempt comes at last. No quick bang or thrust with a knife, but Jacson in complete and utter conflict, trembling, and then thrusting, but not hard enough to kill instantly. The blood pours from Trotsky’s head. Jacson stands paralysed; he can’t run away; he screams like the bull which has been speared by the matador. The Police: “Why did you do it. What is your name? What was your motive?” Silence … then softly – “I killed Trotsky.” “I killed Trotsky.”

This is a very heavy film. It’s not a gay night out, it’s a piece of beautifully detailed work that is a real effort to watch and to concentrate on, and worth it. Burton is surprisingly superb and how like Losey, as well as Trotsky,

Losey has made him look. The film is not particularly pro-American, but is certainly anti-Trotsky in atmosphere. Perhaps Losey has now purged himself of the communist views and involvement which led to his demise in the McCarthy purge of Hollywood. Perhaps he has purged himself of the madness of politics and its crazy academic thinking, and this is why he is making masterpieces about people. Recommended.

Is It The Real Thing?

INNOCENT BYSTANDERS; starring Donald Pleasance, Geraldine Chaplin, Stanley Baker, Sue Lloyd, Dana Andrews, Warren Mitchell. Written by James Mitchell. Directed by Peter Collinson. Distributed by Scotia Barber.

Innocent Bystanders is the architypal commercial film made with an eye to a quick sale to American TV, with the staple ingredients of motiveless violence, and a plot which takes you through 5 countries in 90 minutes, almost without leaving Pinewood Studios. This is all sort of glued together on a miniscule budget, with everyone acting their scenes as if they were in a hurry to go to the loo. Sadly this particular example of the genre is written by the creator of Callan. How could he sink so low?

The British Secret Service and the KGB are both after the same man etc etc, and the dialogue is cliche ridden, the characters characterless too, except for the English section leader who comes alive through Donald Pleasance’s usual brilliant performance.

During the first half of the film, all one sees is airports, punches and assorted pieces of violence. This becomes so boring that suddenly (and it’s pretty obvious the script was hurriedly changed), a ridiculous Turkish-Australian Alf Garnett type character played by Warren Mitchell is introduced. The silliness of the character plus Warren Mitchell’s dreadful acting coaxes the audience into loud laughter, and I suppose the film begins to work a little bit, but poor Peter Collinson; there are some good imaginatively angled shots and you use sound well, but after Up The Junction and Straight On Till Morning we just know you can do better.

Wasted Talent

THE CANDIDATE, starring Robert Redford, Peter Boyle, Don Porter. Written by Jeremy Lamer. Directed by Michael Ritchie. Released by Columbia—Warner. Cert ‘A’.

‘The Candidate’ is a factually drawn account of the choice and subsequent processing and marketing of a candidate for the American Senate, a young democrat, liberal lawyer, champion of the oppressed, striving for social reform, all within the structured system of course. Released during election year in the US, it uses mass appeal star Robert Redford to show the American people that Politics is really just another branch of show biz/big business. The film is a masterpiece of clarity, and also contains some beautiful subtle satire aimed at the TV industry and more particularly at Republicans and the Republican candidate running against Redford, gorgeously played by Don Porter.

Despite its brilliance, this is not an easily watchable film; it’s very very American and definitely over long (110 minutes). Michael Ritchie hasn’t employed his superb style of fast cutting to such an extent as in his other recent film “Prime Cut”. This is an original, completely new style of cinema, and with a great deal of luck it might persuade the American public to ignore the election altogether, or at least vote the Democrats back, which I think it’s supposed to do.

Menace Merchants

Three different horror films from three separate distributors recently opened in London on the same day, meaning there are three cinemas one third full. They are:

  • Dracula AD 1972, directed by Alan Gibson; starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Distributed by Columbia-Warner.
  • Dr Phibes Rises Again, starring Vincent Price; directed by Robert Fuest. An AIP release, distributed by Anglo-EMI.
  • Tales From The Crypt, starring Peter Cushing, Sir Ralph Richardson, Barbara Murray et al; directed by Freddie Francis, Released by Cinerama Releasing (UK).

In terms of horror, the most convincing and chilling is Dracula, in which the celebrated Count is brought back to life, amidst a present day Kings Road, Chelsea setting. The Dracula blood sucking scenes are as erotic and eerie as ever, while the Kings Road background enables the film to make some cynical comments on the plastic Chelsea scene.

Tales From The Crypt is composed of several short tales involving the evil thoughts of five very English, bourgeois people trapped with a shaking Sir Ralph (dressed in monk’s habit) in an underground crypt. The evil people are all very obviously money mad, wealthy and establishmentarian, and the film is really an attack on these values. In a way the philosophical ideas are so subtle that they might in fact escape the average cinemagoer, and this is really the reason for the introduction of the horror sequences, which are nearly all irrelevant to the ideas of the story, and grossly over-edited. A good film if you can quietly absorb its leftish ideas which are very subtly transmitted.

Dr Phibes Rises Again is a veritable farago of very camp 1930s pastiche, art-deco sets, trippy colours and eccentric characters, all of whom land up in and around Egyptian mummies, searching for the elixir of life. Sarcastic and very entertaining.

Real horror and reality returns with a jolt in Johnny Got His Gun, starring Jeff Bridges and Donald Sutherland; written and directed by Dalton Trumbo (one of the ten Hollywood writers blacklisted by McCarthy) and distributed by the Rank Organisation. A stern, bleak and very upsetting anti-war film about a young American who while fighting somewhere in the trenches in Europe during the first world war, loses his legs, arms, sight, hearing and the parts of his brain which help him to speak. A maniac doctor decides to keep him alive as a kind of scientific curiosity, and locks him up in a small dark room. But he hasn’t lost his feelings or his memory, and he spends his time thinking back to his life in small town America, which seems as futile as war and the vegetable it has made him. He eventually manages to communicate with one of the nurses by tapping his head on a pillow in morse code. The words “Kill me. kill me.”

A sad poignantly, horrific film. Not to be missed.

Light in the Shadows

Robin Maugham’s autobiography “Escape from the Shadows”. Published by Hodder and Stoughton at £3.50.
ALSO “Testament: Cairo 1898” his latest short story published by Michael de Hartington Publishers.

Robert Maugham belongs to that legion of writers who have emerged from the English right wing establishment, and who while holding on to their traditional political and social values and ideas of sexual propriety, have managed to write brilliant books which seem to invalidate them, “The Servant” being the most famous of these in Maugham’s case. This seems terribly schizophrenic and this is just what he is as we learn from quite early on in his autobiography, when lie introduces us to “Tommy” who all through childhood and adolescence is the rough, tough, games playing, fucking girls Robin, and later on a daring soldier, war tactician, captain of a tank regiment, personal friend of Churchill. In between times the other Robin is homosexual, a musician, scholar and eager to emulate his famous uncle Willie and become a famous writer. Thus he has a tremendously varied life and his book is fascinating reading.

The “escape from the shadows” is his gradual departure from fearing and hiding his homosexuality, from which he has now almost escaped, his father a stem lawyer, who was obsessed with the idea that his son must follow his profession, and his uncle William Somerset Maugham, who wasn’t nearly so great an influence in Robin’s life as one would suppose. More so it was the people Robin met on his visits to his uncle’s chateau: Harold Nicholson, T. S. Eliot, Noel Coward and many others. One almost feels at some points in the book that he’s indulging in name dropping, what with his long passages on Churchill and Gilbert Harding et al, but he’s not being a William Hickey; he is pointedly honest about these people and their weaknesses and difficulties, rises and falls.

It becomes clear in the last sad chapter that he has written his autobiography at the comparatively tender age of 56, because he believes he is dying. He has diabetes and a heart condition; he is lonely and lives only to write, his boyfriend Jim whom he met in what he persistently calls a “queer” club, who lived with him for 20 years has gone. He seems drained of the vitality which made him surge through so many different avenues of life when he was younger.

This book is compulsive reading if you have enjoyed Robin Maugham’s work, or if you are interested in his uncle W’s work or the host of famous literary and political figures he has come into contact with and about whom he writes both honestly and entertainingly. And of how a man who has the advantages and freedom money and upper class privilege can buy, has to struggle with his sexuality for so long.

“TESTAMENT: CAIRO 1898” tells the story of a young soldier, who, while in hospital after being injured, finds himself in a bed next to a young, sensitive, sixteen-year-old who, needless to say, he falls in love with, with shattering results. He knows the boy is gay because they visit a brothel together and he can’t get an erection with a girl, and of course the boy is friendly and charming to him and he is absolutely sure that he is going to want to go to bed with him. After an age, this opportunity comes and after one caress, the boy struggles, screams and pushes him away – all our nightmares. At this point our hero, saddened and angry, pays a young Arab boy to sleep with him, and of course they fall in love. It sounds dreadfully corny, and I suppose it is, but so beautifully, feelingly, skilfully written, that I completely forgot to treat it as an entertaining fantasy, and took it absolutely seriously.