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.

Superstar Sings Superstar

02-197206XX 9The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” – David Bowie – R.C.A.

After all the blurb about a “new superstar” and bringing back “glamour into rock-and-roll” I was prepared for the worst. Not so. This album manages to be intelligent and fairly entertaining at the same time. It seems that Bowie himself is aware of the perils of superstardom and also aware that it could happen to him, for the songs fall into a story-pattern about a rock-and-roll star who comes, godlike, from outer space becoming the focus of hope in a world with only five years of existence left.

The first couple of tracks ache with desperation and defeat, but in answer to them “all I have is my love of love – and love is not loving”. The madness is close to the surface, breaks through now and again. And when Ziggy arrives he is a sensation, confident. beautiful but he becomes so wrapped up in being a star, in being so egotistical, that in the end he is destroyed and the band (which by this time has become Ziggy’s band) is broken up.

So that’s the story. Very roughly. But it had me wondering as to what it was getting at At times it might almost be an attack on the Bolan phenomenon, at times it sounds like Bolan. At times it is superstar rock, at times a Bonzo-like send up of itself. The cynical key lies in the track “Star”, in which Bowie is clearly singing of himself – “Tony went to right in Belfast . . . Bevan tried to change the nation . . . I could make a transformation as a rock and roll star . . . I could do with the money.” Trying to convince himself he could do something by being a star, but knowing that it’s really only a massive ego-trip, and lucrative too. But he knows, because Ziggy becomes arrogant too, and dies.

Some of the album is a bit uninventive, but some of it aches with feeling, especially the first and last tracks (“Five Years” and “Rock-and-Roll Suicide”). Some of it is great fun, whatever it means, and “Suffragette City” really bangs along well. As a whole I don’t think the album comes off, but nice try, and it’s good to know you’ve got some idea what you’re doing David, even if you can’t do much about it.

Carry On Hitchcock

02-197206XX 9I used to be an Alfred Hitchcock fan but I cant say his recent films (post “Psycho”) have appealed to me at all. Therefore I approached his latest film with mixed feelings, hoping for a return to the suspenseful mystery thrillers he is capable of making but being prepared to see something as weak and soppy as “Torn Curtain”.

Having gone into the cinema with mixed feelings I also came out with mixed feelings as though “Frenzy” cannot be described aa a bad film it cannot be described as good for it is totally lacking in excitement, mystery and suspense and I seriously wonder that if it wasn’t for Alfred Hitchcock’s name would this film have had a West End showing at all?

It used to be sacrilege to divulge just so much as a line of plot in an Alfred Hitchcock film, but in “Frenzy” this is hardly likely to apply as there are no secrets or surprise endings to keep us guessing. The film is a straightforward thriller concerning a series of necktie murders which the hero is suspected (and later convicted) of committing though in fact he is, of course, innocent. The film is never boring as it jogs along at an easy pace and there are several amusing scenes concerning the great newspaper reading public who love a good gory murder, particularly amusing was the scene in which the hotel receptionist and porter having just let the “cupid” room to Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Wilde discover that their guest is the necktie murderer and that possibly his next victim has already met her fate. However for understatement the best scene is probably the first, in which a group of people (including Alfred Hitchcock) having just discovered the naked body of a woman floating face down in the Thames proceed to discuss the gory rumours circulating about the necktie murderer.

The film has rather a romanticised view of London. but fortunately the people are more down to earth (did I actually hear a Hitchcock heroine say “Balls”!). The murder scenes are well handled and though they lack tension they do make compulsive viewing. Also well handled was the scene in which the villain tries to get back a tell-tale tie pin from the grasp of his latest victim who he has dumped in a sack of potatoes on the back of a truck which is now heading north.

“Frenzy” carries little of the emotional impact its title implies, even Jon Finch as the hero screaming that he shall have his revenge appears to be too well rehearsed to be convincing. In fact the entire plot seems to unfold in something of an emotional void which not even the two lovers can break down. There are of course the numerous ned herrings e.g. though Billie Whitelaw is a fine actress was her part in this film really necessary?

Though this film is totally lacking in the Hitchcock ingredients of suspense, mystery and intrigue which made him a world famous director this film does have an unexpected flair for comedy. The sight of the detective (who is in charge of the necktie murders) enduring his wife’s exotic dishes is surely one of the highlights of the film. It is scenes like this which keep the film from being just routine or outright bad, but such scenes can only enhance a film and not make it, therefore I’m afraid I shall have to report that though this film is unlikely to win Hitchcock any new fans it should keep the rest of us quiet until he gets back to his old form of making exciting films with lots of mystery and intrigue and most of all suspense.