Noble Savage

Savage Messiah Starring Scott Anthony and Dorothy Tutin.

Don’t be put off by those earnest souls who tell you that Savage Messiah is about the role of the artist in society. And don’t be conned by people who tell you it’s a heart warming love-story. It’s both.

Ken Russell makes movies about artists mainly, I think, because he sees the artist, who is at one remove from society, having to suffer yer everyday trials etc on his own far more than yer average man-in-the-street.

I don’t know whether Mr Russell believes that artists feel things more, or any of that old stuff, but all that’s immaterial.

What Ken Russell does with every movie he makes is he comes up with a visually stunning piece of work that has a lot to say about the way we live.

The Russian authorised version of Tchaikovsky’s life is neither as interesting nor as good to look at as The Music Lovers. And Russell cut his teeth on telly biopics of people like Debussy, Rosetti, Richard Strauss and so on. His artists are larger than life. But what the hell? Especially as every movie has a serious core to it – quite apart from the sensational bits the publicity kids like to publish.

The Savage Messiah in question is a young artist, Henri Gaudier, who has a platonic relationship with a neurotic failed novelist lady called Sophie Brzeska. He goes to war, against his principles, and dies.

Scott Anthony – just two weeks out of drama school – got the plum part of being the young artist. Dorothy Tutin is superb as the hopelessly jumpy woman who won’t let her pretence of grandeur go as she gouges out the rotten bits of the vegetables she s picked up to make yet another inedible stew.

Because Sophie won’t let Henri sleep with her (in fact, she even gives him five bob to buy himself a tart at one stage) and because they love each other, they form a union of sorts — they share names. Which makes both of them Gaudier-Brzeska.

Their intimacy and lack of it – and the actual cruel opposites of intimacy that Russell uses makes this an intelligent person’s Love Story. Because, more than any other recent movie, this investigates what love is.

Thrillsville USA

“Prime Cut” starring Lee Marvin and Gene Hackman. Colour and Panavision. Directed by Michael Ritchie. A Cinema Center Presentation released by 20th Century Fox.

“Fast Kill” starring Tom Adams. Technicolour and Techniscope. Produced and directed by Lindsay Schonteff. Distributed by 20th Century Fox.

These two fine thrillers showing in a double bill couldn’t be more contrasting. Fast Kill starts off in a very old fashioned vein – it could almost have been made in the fifties. Big time wealthy gangster with mid-atlantic accent and a flat in Belgravia, rides around the East End in a Rolls, plans the biggest diamond robbery ever staged. This makes it necessary for him to fly around various European capitals to gather the best available talent – pictures of planes taking off and landing and interiors of bars, plus of course, an assignation beneath the Arc de Triomphe. Just like one of those Edgar Wallace shorts – remember them?

But suddenly it all changes – one of the woman members of the gang turns out to be one of your actual lesbians. Now that’s decidedly modern isn’t it. We all know there weren’t any lesbians in the fifties. But the film does really get better as well; more ruthless, full of suspense and generally exciting.

The robbery and later on the way in which the gang leader disposes of most of the rest of the gang, in order to secure a larger share of the loot, introduces an exceedingly well presented brand of extreme 1972 bloody violence. Taken as a whole the film is an extremely watchable, entertaining piece of trivia.

By complete contrast, Prime Cut follows the current American cinematic trend of developing the basic theme of the film, by making it into a semi-documentary on aspects of American life, through filming almost entirely on location. One of the big Kansas landowners has got slightly behind (to the tune of $500,000) with his protection payments to a Chicago gang, who are despatched to Kansas to collect. Thus we have the usual procedure of fights, threats and shootings, and even a combine harvester rather than car chase – all of which are skillfully and suspensefully directed. What considerably enlarges the film is the fascinating wide screen picture of modern rural factory large scale farming, as practised in Kansas and how the people who run it are just like large urban factory owners. It must be sounding a bit repetitive to those of you who read my reviews regularly, but really this is basically a film about atmosphere, the atmosphere of a certain part of rural America today. The fact that it is a thriller makes it exciting in parts, but it is really only incidental. If you’re fascinated by the great American sickness it is a film from which you will get a great stimulus, but if you follow the publicity and go because you’re expecting an exciting thriller and nothing else, you might be disappointed.

Coward and How to Play Him

Two of the biggest hits in London theatres today are works by Noel Coward. At the Mermaid a compilation of many of his songs, sketches and writings for an evening’s entertainment titled COWARDY CUSTARD, whilst the Queens Theatre in the West End houses his 42 year old comedy, PRIVATE LIVES.

Back in the 40’s and early 50’s a generation of theatregoers were able to enjoy many intimate revues starring such talented people as the Hermiones (Gingold & Baddeley), Henry Kendall, Betty Marsden, Max Adrian, Moira Fraser, Ian Carmichael, Joan Sims, Dora Bryan and Joan Heal. With the advent of BEYOND THE FRINGE, the whole style of humour in revue changed overnight. All of these artists knew their craft well. They could wring humour out of a mere sentence by the tone of their voice, or the expression on their face. Which brings me first to COWARDY CUSTARD and what I think is wrong with it.

Coward’s material in the main is still very funny but the handling of his works in this show is unworthy of him. I have enjoyed Una Stubbs comedy playing in several TV shows, and like Elaine Delmar on records. Richard Waring is a fine stage actor, as is John Moffatt. But none of these people seem able to adapt themselves to revue playing. The direction is pretty poor and the cast enters and leaves the stage so frequently one gets dizzy watching them.

The one shining light in this production is Patricia Routledge. It has been said of some performers that they could give a reading of the telephone directory and it would hold an audience. In Miss Routledge’s case, she could read the same book and manage to make it funny. She is indeed a very funny lady, and rightly stops the show with the old Beatrice Lillie song ‘I went to a marvellous party’ – but for myself ‘one performer does NOT make a show.’

On the other hand if you enjoy sophisticated comedy and would like to see it brilliantly performed, I urge you to join the queue at the box office to see PRIVATE LIVES at the Queens Theatre. This slim tale of a divorced couple who have both remarried and find themselves in adjoining suites on their second honeymoons with their respective new partners is played for all it’s worth by four fine players who understand the art of playing Coward.

Robert Stephens as the twice married man is ably supported by Polly Adams and James Villiers as the new partners. Which brings me finally to the star performance of Maggie Smith. She began her career in intimate revue and it certainly shows in her portrayal of Amanda. Watch what she does with a line like “who’s yacht is that?” and you’ll see what I mean. On two occasions she lunges forward for a cigarette, and lighting it, puffs furiously in a Bette Davis take-off. Her costume in the third act, particularly that hat, is alone worth the price of admission. A superbly funny performance in a gem of a comedy.

Wait and Watch

THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY

Starring Shirley Maclaine, Perry King, Michael Hordern. Directed by Warris Husein, Colour, an ITC Production. Distributed in the UK by Scotia Barber Distributors Ltd.

Some films have a good script and leaden direction. Some have a lousy script and brilliant direction. Films in both categories often come off really well. ‘Joel Delaney’ is of the second type.

The film is mainly a chillingly beautiful contrast between the two faces of New York – the smart middle-class home with its smart middle-class mum and well-controlled kids, and mum’s brother, living amongst Puerto Ricans in the heart of Spanish Harlem. From the schizophrenic city come schizo people – like Joel Delaney. Sometimes he’s a bored and rebellious middle American, sometimes he’s a raving maniac who beheads women with a flick-knife.

How, who, why, when and who’s next is the meat of the film. The tension, the uncertainty, the gruesomely understated deaths (look over the fridge door when Shirley goes into the kitchen to get the kid’s breakfast in the beach house), the powerful use of music. All these masterly touches from Waris Hussien lift what is sometimes a boring script into the realm of fear and tension. You might be tempted to walk out early on in the film, when nothing seems to be happening and the dialogue is banal. Don’t. Wait and watch. It’s worth it.

Steal this Movie

The Burglars starring Dyan Cannon, Omar Sharif. Written, produced and Directed by Henri Verneuil. A Columbia Picture. Colour and Panavision.

The Burglars is a very bad film, but it’s also a very entertaining and exciting one. The acting is drab 1950’s style. The direction abysmally unimaginative, except for the predictable, but nevertheless exciting car chase (not directed by Verneuil). Other cliches abound like flowery hats at a vicarage tea party. Dyan Cannon plays an American pin-up star and Jean Paul Belmondo survives an 800 feet fall. The burglars break into a solid steel safe in about 60 seconds. The dubbing is in a kind of mid Atlantic French. It’s all so terrible but such fun.