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.

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.

Up The Creek

DELIVERANCE, Produced and directed by John Boorman, written by James Dickey from his own novel. With Jon Voigt, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronnie Cox. Panavision, Technicolor. Distributed by Columbia-Warner Distributors.

Deliverance has been sold — to a certain extent – as the latest commercial product to hit London’s West End to contain a strong ‘gay’ content.

But after Stephen Murphy and Warner Communications have put away their scissors, there isn’t much of the famous male rape scene left — it’s a scene that got past the censors in every other country, in America and Europe but it’s one that’s lost 40 seconds in Britain.

Echoes here of what Warners did to Performance before showing it to John Trevelyan, the then-secretary of the British Board of Film Censors, and even then it was still cut some. The scene that we never got to see was James Fox and Mick Jagger making love, the scene that drove Fox into the arms of Jesus.

But the movie I’m supposed to be discussing is Deliverance. It’s a fine movie, but I just can’t bring myself to like it. And I don’t think it’s because I feel cheated at the rape scene. In fact, I didn’t feel at all cheated by that.

My main gripe (and that’s all it is) is that there’s a strong feeling of deja vu about Deliverance. Especially for those of us movie-buffs old enough to have seen The Misfits.

Deliverance is about a group of men trying to make the last canoe journey down a rapid-packed river (which is about to be turned into a reservoir). But they come to this confrontation with nature as city-bred men. The cruellest clash comes when two rough mountain men grab two of the party of four. They tie one up and bugger the other.

The city adventurers kill them both and hide the bodies under the rapidly rising waters of the reservoir.

I went expecting great things of Deliverance and felt a little cheated. Go with less expectations and you’ll probably enjoy it more.

One thing’s for sure, it’s a powerful statement about the degrading quality of American life. Perhaps the all-male cast does something to expose the phoniness of the wife-and-kids-at-home syndrome.

There’s a marvellous bit where Voight drops his wallet which contains his Diners Club Card and photo of his wife and kids, a photo that’s exactly like a credit card.

All the same, it’s a bit like the Misfits-On-lce-Under-Water.

Peter Holmes

More Deliverance

DELIVERANCE is one of the truly fantastic films of 1972, an explosion of the violence some of us feel about the way in which our world is being raped of the greenness, wildness, and the ways of living, which enable us to use some form of ingenuity and inventiveness, and to some extent, none of the four middle class, superficially stereotyped American suburban males, who go on a life-risking canoe trip down a rapid ridden river in cosy hamburger-ridden America’s last wilderness, accept this condition, albeit in some cases only semi-consciously. The men who live in desperate poverty in all ways except spiritually, in this wilderness, associate all outsiders with the bastards who are going to build a hydro-electric dam across their river and flood their valley, their 1920s idyll of undeveloped technology — rusty cars, straw hats, blue denim overalls and fishing. The now famous rape scene reverses the process; the man who gets raped is the one in the canoeing party who most symbolises the suburban horror. He’s fat and balding, working for an insurance company, looks like an oversized french fry.

Like all overtly realistic films. Deliverance is a mass of conflicts as it manifests Man’s dilemma. The leader of the canoe party who seems the one most anxious to return to Life, uses all his urban male chauvinist aggression, as he treats the locals like shits while remorselessly spearing fish and loving the river The guy who claims he’s been dragged along, doesn’t know why he’s there, would rather be home playing golf, is the one who finds it most difficult to spear and shoot.

This is a desperate film. Man is running round in ever-decreasing desperate circles. See it — you might find you are too.

David Seligman

An Apt Title

Endless Night. Starring Hywel Bennett and Hayley Mills. Directed/Produced by Launder & Gilliat. Based on the novel by Agatha Christie. Cert. ‘AA’ Distributed by British Lion.

Launder and Gilliat, the director-producer team of many successful British films were ill advised. Someone obviously thought of the long success Agatha Christie has had with THE MOUSETRAP must have dug through her novels in hopes of finding a suitable new film subject and they came across ENDLESS NIGHT.

The first twenty minutes are spent establishing the character of Hywel Bennett playing a chauffeur to the rich. He is seen first bidding for an expensive painting and a few moments later donning his working hat – the first ‘surprise’ twist, proving he is merely a working man after all. Soon after he is admiring the landscape somewhere in Southern England and taking photographs there. Enter our heroine, an American girl played by, of all people, Hayley Mills. She attempts an American drawl for a few moments and then gives up the game, going back to her arch accent.

Courtship follows by long distance and soon after our hero and heroine are wed. It is then established that Hayley is one of the richest girls in the world and of course her step mother is much against her marrying a chauffeur. But love overcomes all and they duly move into their dream house built on the site where they first met by a dying Swedish architect. No sooner have they begun to settle down to wedded bliss than Hayley’s former companion-secretary arrives, played prettily but without any talent by Britt Eckland.

The in-laws move into the district and Hayley’s step father is often seen riding a horse in the grounds. Also an old girl keeps appearing from nowhere with mysterious threats about the ground being unlucky. By now an hour has parsed and very little has occurred.

It wouldn’t really be fair to divulge what does occur without giving the plot away, but I can say that Miss Christie has one of her last-minute twists up her sleeve which manages to give an opportunity for some of today’s in-style violence to be shown. Hywel Bennett manages fairly well but Hayley Mills seems a bit stumped by her role, accent and dubbed singing voice. Poor old George Sanders makes a farewell appearance as the family lawyer and Per Oscarson does the best he can with the dying architect. The running time is around 100 minutes but for me it certainly seemed an endless night.

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.

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.

Who’s Whose What?

“Girl Stroke Boy” – Directed by Bob Kellett – Starring Joan Greenwood, Michael Horden, Clive Francis, Straker – Classic Victoria (834 6388) – Cert “X”

05-197208xx-8The basic idea is good, and has a lot of potential – two boys are in love, and want to meet each others parents. How will they break the news, and what will the reactions be?

Unfortunately, that is all it remains – a good idea, which gets swallowed in a mess of theatrical jokes and finally drowns in a confused sea of innuendo. Why Ned Sherrin thought this script, which flopped on the West End stage, was “a strange comedy . . . perfect for the times”, remains a mystery.

We see the whole situation from the point of view of Laurie’s parents, in their middle-class home counties residence, coping with bitchy neighbours, central heating jammed at full blast, and the nagging worry that their son has never shown any interest in girls. What, then, will his West Indian girlfriend be like? Mother, who writes romantic novels, including one titled ‘Love in Marrakesh’, feels that all will be well when she has her boy home, although her racial prejudice makes that unlikely. Dad, played with some depth by Michael Horden, wants peace after a tough week at the sec.modern school where he is headmaster, and when the young people arrive, he attempts to keep the situation calm.

Mother (Joan Greenwood) doesn’t know the meaning of the word, and the ambiguity of the girlfriend, Jo (Straker – Peter Straker of ‘Hair’ to his friends) leads to some of the nastiest bitching since ‘Till Death Do Us Part’.

The son, Laurie (Clive Francis) attempts to protect Jo from his mother, but she has her say, several times, until we see what Laurie means when he tells her he showed her books to his psychiatrist, and “he couldn’t believe they were written by a happily married woman”. While the ‘young people’ escape to the pub, Lettice persuades her husband to phone Jo’s parents – Michael Horden has his best moment panicking over the telephone – only to find that the Caribbean High Commissioner and his wife are looking forward to meeting Jo’s girlfriend Laurie. A row follows when Laurie and Jo find out about Lettice’s spying, and the story limps to a close in which the family close ranks in the face of an evil neighbour, the boys claim to be married, and Jo asks if he/she can call Lettice “Mother”. What a cop-out.

There are some good moments, including Michael Horden’s sincere but confused assertion: “I don’t give a damn if she’s a man – if she is she’s a jolly fine chap!”, and a radio weather report which refers to snow “in the homosexual counties”. The setting, a country house referred to in the credits as Faggot’s End, is attractive, if rather cramped, and one feels that the cast, especially the inimitable Miss Greenwood would really have felt happier on a stage. From the point of view of gay awareness, the film is so cramped it hasn’t even opened the closet door, and don’t let any publicist tell you otherwise.

Rank Revival?

03-197207XX-07The Moon and Sledgehammer” Directed by Philip Trevelyan. Documentary. Vaughn Films/Rank 65 minutes (cut from 90)

Rentadick” Directed by Jim Clark. Starring James Booth, John Wells, Tsai Chin, Donald Sinden, Julie Ege, Richard Briers, Michael Bentine, Spike Milligan. Distributed by the Rank Organisation. 90 minutes.

Carry on Matron” Directed by Gerald Thomas. Starring Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Cope, Terry Scott, Hattie Jacques, Joan Simms, Kenneth Connor et al. Distributed by the Rank Organisation. 89 minutes.

The Moon and Sledgehammer is initially a sweet picture of an eccentric family living in a scrapyard idyll in the woods near Horsham in Sussex. On the surface they are living the lives we all “ought” to be living, making everything they need with good old fashioned craftsmanship, restoring old traction engines, shooting the meat they eat. Subtly though, we are soon shown the desperation and unnaturalness of the their existance. The two sons over 30, devoid of wives/girlfriends/boyfriends. The daughter who runs off from time to time, does something crazy and ends up doing bird. Dad, chain smoking, the great dictator who rules mind and body over his family, cool and calculating, and almost succeeding in presenting a picture to the camera of a rosy rumbling country yokel. The precise outstanding direction makes the film by brilliantly capturing facial movements and mannerisms.

Rentadick the main feature of this ill assorted double bill is the latest British comedy from the re-expanding Rank stable. It tells the story of an incapable private detective agency, which is employed by an equally incapable chemical factory to guard the plans of their new nerve gas, from a marauding band of Japanese gas board people, a kind of natural peril. Despite the array of fine comedy actors, and writers, most of whom have had their names removed from the credits, the Monty Python style which rather weakly takes over the closing minutes of the film, gestures towards 1970s satire – there is a signpost with “Neasden” on it; the film is painfully rooted in 1950s style British comedy, the abject failure of which caused the original demise in film production at Rank and British Lion. Its all here folks – jokes about poofters, car chases in eccentrically peopled Rolls Royces and other old faithfuls; weedy young men fainting at the sight of big busted bikinni clad Swedes etc. etc.

The Carry On Films however, are getting ever more brilliant and entertaining as they parody and mock the extreme nonsenses of British Life and its weird sexuality. In the latest Carry On Matron, Sid and the gang plan to rob a large hospital of its stocks of birth pills, and export them to some underdevloped nation, the Republic of Ireland perhaps? This involves Kenneth Cope dressing in drag in order to pose as a nurse, nutty psychiatrists, randy house surgeons chasing the drag nurse, railwayman, and as always the regulation constipation joke. The jokes are blue and broadly funny, the acting, a host of brilliant parodies of those awful people who live next door and these we deal with every day. Everything’s a send up, including the critics, who constantly pan these films; even the big heterosexual womanisers are always played by gay actors; while the cinemas are full of loud escapist laughter, and occupied seats.

FROGS

02-197206XX 9WHEN IT’S SLEEPYTIME
DOWN SOUTH

Here we are back in Tennessee Williams’ deep south land on the old plantation. Granddaddy played by Ray Milland with a ‘fright’ grey toupee on, has all the family around to help celebrate both his birthday and independence day. There is so much family around the place that it’s hard to tell just who is related to whom.

The son of the house drives his speedboat too near to a rowing boat on the lake, overturns it and the occupant, who’s a pollution expel taking photos of the district. He is offered a change of clothing and refreshment up at the big house. Then he meets the family and guests which include the dusky lovely Judy Pace (last seen in ‘Omega Man’). She’s come along as guest of the photographer son of the house, and she gets togged up in the very latest in African outfits to go on the lawn to play croquette.

All the while we are meeting the family there are shots of the lawn and nearby swamps and of every reptile you can name running, jumping or merely sitting there poking its tongue out. The first hour passes uneventful and you begin to wonder if the film isn’t merely going to turn out into ‘Son of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’. There’s the alcoholic son, the discontented wife and sure enough honey the dignified coloured servants. Even the two kids begin to resemble the ‘no neck monsters’ from that other movie.

But as the last half hour begins the director decided to liven things up and we are given a fair variety of violent deaths . . . One guy trips, shoots himself in the leg and is covered by fast moving spiders . . . an old gal out catching butterflies is done in by a passing snake . . another son is gassed to death by poisonous fumes let loose by a friendly looking lizard . . . the mother of the kids is bitten by a turtle and drowns . . . an elderly man meets his death by crocodile (shades of Captain Hook in ‘Peter Pan’) . . . the servants flee by boat to a nearby island and from the look of things the vultures attacking them are straight out of Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’.

The title players, THE FROGS, come into their own at finale time taking over the house and causing the death by heart failure of Big Daddy – sorry Ray Milland. If you can bother to sit through the first dreary hour I guarantee those with ghoulish tastes will be more than satisfied.