A HAUNTING IN VENICE Kenneth Branagh, 2023
Sir Ken's third Hercule Poirot film as director and star. Not as starry a cast as previously, though our own Michelle Yeoh is a standout as a medium. Tina Fey also gives a good performance as series regular Ariadne Oliver but the character is not written faithfully to Agatha Christie, unfortunately.
Given the title, it's no surprise that this is a more spooky effort than the first two. It's based very loosely on Christie's "Halloween Party"- if you want a more faithful version of that watch the one with David Suchet.
I hope it's successful enough to have a sequel. Since it's obviously a whodunnit I'll say no more.
It's a full novel, and almost totally different from the film. Yes, the design etc were well done and the Venice exteriors were gorgeous. Branagh's interpretation of Poirot continues to evolve and irritate in roughly equal measures, which is maybe his intention.
Yes, I agree - there's no topping Suchet and that isn't what Branagh is going for. A Mrs Oliver spin off would be interesting, and something quite different.
(We're watching Suchet in "Halloween Party" at the moment. So different there's really no comparison.)
Sorry, members, I am back just to p### @Number24 off with some high octane reviews set to challenge the mind, twist the tongue and generally assess them in a manner most people don't or can't be bothered to. You know, sometimes I really am too far up my own...
Well, it's been a while...
THE KILLERS (1964)
Ernest Hemingway’s magnificent observational short story The Killers (1927) was originally adapted by Robert Siodmak from Anthony Veiller’s script. While the short story describes the lead up to a mob execution, the 1946 noir classic concerned its aftermath and an insurance investigator’s attempt to explain how and why Peter Lund was murdered. This second adaptation, a brightly lurid and bloody thriller of much power and little sympathy, also takes inspiration from Hemingway’s story, but little else. It also changes all the character names from the 1946 version. Basically, it is less of a remake than a complete reinvention.
Here, Lee Marvin’s brooding, aging hit man is intrigued by the behaviour of Johnny North, a victim who doesn’t run, who even appears to welcome death. Charlie Strom decides, against his better judgement, to chase the truth, partly out of concern he’s been paid to assassinate an innocent, but also because if he hasn’t there is a million dollar hidden booty waiting for him. His partner, Lee, is a livewire fitness fanatic, health freak and vicious Cheshire Cat of a killer. Hiding almost permanently behind dark glasses and an acid-dipped smile, Clu Gulager turns Lee into a potent model of menace, disinterested in almost everything unless it serves his murderous, materialistic purpose. Lee Marvin, hovers, slightly hunched, like an American eagle watching its prey from an eyrie before springing into violent action. The two are synchronised less like a good-cop-bad-cop and more like two-bad-cops. There is no escaping their overbearing, deadly insistence. Almost all the scenes feature these two killers stand out. They intimidate, they absorb information, they cogitate, they conclude, all with a silky yet dangerous customised style. Just to see Marvin pick up a telephone receiver and utter monosyllabic replies into the speaker while Gulager twists from his push ups to watch and listen, is to witness two calculating, ever-prepared professionals at work. No moment of time is wasted, no words, no deed.
Similarly, Ronald Reagan inhabits the villainous Jack Browning with all the sly, snakelike cunning he would later exhibit as U.S. President. Reagan had never played a villain before but he’s remarkable efficient and cool, and nasty with it, controlling his woman, Sheila Farr, with a heavy hand and his small gang with a harsh tongue. He’s not even fazed by the appearance of Sheila’s old flame, John Cassavetes’ failed racing driver. The damsel in not-so-much distress is played by Angie Dickinson and she’s probably even better than Marvin and Gulager; the audience is simply never sure whose side she is playing for: Johnny’s, Jack’s or her own. She takes a battering as rough as anything dealt out by James Cagney. The violence is distinctly in-your-face – especially the rough stuff dealt out to women – and this led to NBC television refusing to show the made for television film. Universal snapped it up for cinema release instead. You barely notice, the cast and production is so good.
Gene L. Coon’s script crackles with intrigue, deception and menace. It begins in a school for the blind, which foreshadows everything happening within the film, as each character is ‘blinded’ to the truth of their situation. There is no happy heart and no happy ending to The Killers, everyone is scrambling for a million dollars, but it remains as unobtainable as Sheila was to Johnny North, or respectability to Jack Browning, retirement to Charlie Strom. These people are not searching for riches, merely personal fulfilment, approbation they have lived a good and decent life. We know they have all failed, but they can’t see that either. Blind men indeed.
Don Siegel directs with his customary urgency and introduces some startling observational angles to focus or un-focus our sightlines, almost as if he's trying to compete with Hemingway. The sound effects recording is phenomenal – listen to the cracks as fists burst onto faces – and the photography gaudily colourful. Even the production design is sleek. There is an early incidental score from John Williams, although it utilises a Henry Mancini theme.
Lee Marvin would recreate this flavour of character again in John Boorman’s stupendous Point Blank and Michael Ritchie’s underrated Prime Cut. Marvin exhibits star quality the like he hadn’t displayed before. A couple of years earlier he was overplaying his hand opposite John Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but the psychopath he plays here is a much more refined, believable and enduring character. Having chased across America for the opportunity to nab a million dollars, wounded and half-crazed, he doesn’t even have time for explanations: his gun is levelled and the bullets hit home. Yet there is no happy ending for Charlie Strom. Unlike Johnny North, Charlie tries to run, his dark sunglasses are cast aside and he sees the folly of his pursuit at the moment of death, the dollar bills caught in the wind.
A very fine updating of a classic noir.
A HIGH WIND IN JAMAICA (1965)
Anthony Quinn and James Coburn play late nineteenth century Caribbean pirates who, having stolen the cargo of a clipper bound for England, accidentally take on board the seven children being sent back to Blighty. Based on a popular and controversial children’s novel – the 1920’s equivalent of a Young Adult adventure – the film can’t quite cope with the broader subjects of adolescent desires and the potential for illicit sex on the high seas. Director Alexander MacKendrick injects some of these themes, but they are muffled so sufficiently to almost not be there at all. The rather one-note performances from the kids don’t help. One of them is renowned future author Martin Amis; another played Susan in the cinema version of Dr Who and the Daleks. Quinn and Coburn do not convince as pirates. The photography is muddy. The courtroom climax is bleak and over-hysterical. Not a good movie.
Just a heads up that Talking Pictures TV channel is showing Michael Caine's cult early 70s movie Pulp tonight (Saturday 30 Sep) at around 9pm.
And a very good film it is too. Did you watch it, Nap? I reviewed it last year:
Wilbur Smith wrote a series of great and unsubtle adventure stories following his breakthrough bestseller When the Lion Feeds. The epic sweep of that debut counted against it for cinema adaptation, but there seemed no reason why his shorter, grittier, contemporary books couldn’t prove good box-office. The Dark of the Sun was adapted as The Mercenaries and starred Rod Taylor, but despite the best efforts of his agent, Smith’s novels remained untouched by Hollywood. Micheal Klinger – producer of Get Carter – held the faith, but even he struggled to raise finance for this project about sabotage in a South African gold mine. He did well to get a star in Roger Moore, the new James Bond, who ably performs a cardboard role as the hero Rod Slater. Support comes from Ray Milland as mine owner Harry Hirshfield, Bradford Dillman as homosexual managing director Manfred Styner and Susannah York as Styner’s precocious wife Terri. She also happens to be Harry’s daughter and, following a series of short, sharp and sensually provocative meetings, she also becomes Rod’s lover.
Meanwhile oversees financier Fallon, played by John Gielgud in a part he probably filmed in a day or two, heads a shady multinational syndicate who are manipulating the gold prices. He has Styner’s assurance the Sonderditch mine will be flooded by Christmas, thus significantly increasing the syndicate’s other gold holdings. Sounds a bit like Goldfinger to me. Well, Rod Slater isn’t convinced, but Styner’s fake geologist’s reports sways him and he secretly leads a small team penetrating deeper into an underground dike hoping to strike a gold seam. Instead they penetrate a subterranean lake and a full blown flood erupts over Christmas. Can Rod evade the clutching arms of Terri long enough to save the mine and rescue the miners?
It's all very cliched. It certainly isn’t the worst film you’ll ever see. Character development is all over the place. The screenplay doesn’t care enough about the people to make them sympathetic. Acting is passable. Simon Saleba is notable as a native miner who turns hero more than once. Many Bond alumni turn up in the credits: Peter Hunt directed, John Glen edited, Maurice Binder did the title sequence, Don Black was the lyricist, Bernard Horsfall pitches up as a bigoted drill leader, Alec Mills is a second unit cameraman. The film looks pretty when on safari and pretty grim when down the mine. The crew spent several weeks filming in a real South African mine for authenticity’s sake and the effort pays off with some claustrophobic and suitably sweaty underground action. The effects are good and the editing is swift, strong and punchy. Elmer Bernstein contributes a score of some note, including a power heavy title song for soul maestro Jimmy Helms and a soft Oscar nominated ballad for Maureen McGovern.
So, they really tried to put a marker out for this film, but its doesn’t quite make the grade. It’s isn’t terrible, but the standard heroics, love affairs and big business skulduggery has been done to death and done better.
There was some controversy at the time of release as the movie broke the apartheid embargo. Box office was good nonetheless. I enjoyed it.
Me too. I saw it in the cinema on release, have a DVD now, and read the book. What, no T-shirt?
As you say, much of the plot and characters are purest cardboard but there's a solid Bernstein score and enjoyable scenery. Moore and York worked together so well that they appeared in another film shortly afterwards ("That Lucky Touch") which wasn't very good and didn't do well. Otherwise we might have had more screen pairings of the two.
Yes. It is interesting to watch Moore in an early movie role after he effectively became a movie star - as opposed to a television star - to see how hard he tries not to be the Saint or James Bond or even Brett Sinclair. I detected just a couple of moments: one during an assignation with Ms York where he does that cocky half smile, looks slightly stupefied and raises a quizzical brow; the other early on when he pulls a brunette in a bar and buys everyone drinks like he'd won the lottery. Oh, Sir Roger, you really were a STAR and not an ACTOR, but bless, you do try and the rewards, like here, are fleetingly watchable. I think he was best in The Man Who Haunted Himself and Escape to Athena. The Wild Geese was a decent effort also. Not seen That Lucky Touch. I have just added it to my ever increasing list of 'movies to see'.
Please, don't bother. There's plenty better movies to watch.
Such as A Touch of Class starring the late Glenda Jackson and the late - God it's depressing isn't it - George Segal. Not to mention the late Paul Sorvino. For some reason I feel the Moore film was sort of inspired by that. Touch of Class is never shown on telly any more and I have no idea why. My parents had it on late night telly back in the day. It's a comedy. The sort of thing they used to show late at night - Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf also with Segal another one that stayed with me, I caught that in 1983, year of Octopussy during the heatwave when my parents were down at Chichester for the weekend trying to sort out my Dad's elderly parents in their final furlongs.
Tonight I listened to a load of vinyl records from Sinatra to the Beatles and so on while my 94-year-old Dad listened on in his chair, happy recognition flickering at some but not others.
Double bill of Hammer movies -
The Satanic Rites Of Dracula 1974
A direct sequel to "Dracula AD 1972" and an odd blend of normal if updated horror ingredients with 70s spy stuff and a script that doesn't make much sense even if you don't think about it. A few Bond alumni (Joanna Lumley, Richard Vernon and of course Dracula himself) but the big plus is seeing Sir Christopher Lee as Drac and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing one last time together. They would each play those parts one more time, though not in the same movie.
Lee is simply going through the motions he hated so much, apart from one scene where he is attempting to persuade Van Helsing that he's a property developer named D.D. Denham and adopts a curious accent reminiscent of no less than Bela Lugosi! Cushing is excellent as ever, smoking a bit more than I remembered him doing, and persuades effectively as both loving grandfather and determined vampire hunter.
Prehistoric Women. 1967
Hammer had just had a huge hit with "One Million Years BC" so wanted to make a quick successor (it's not a sequel) without spending too much money. This has the same (or very similar) costumes, a set or two reused, but no star names or Harryhausen dinosaurs. Leading the cast is our own Martine Beswick, who had been in the previous film, and she does what she's going to be remembered for - girl fighting, as she'd done in that movie as well as FRWL.
The plot is so silly I'm not going to recap it, the effects are mostly poor, the acting non-existent. A weak follow up.
DEATH WISH (1974)
A famously violent film that isn’t anywhere near as nasty as it is made out to be. Once the initial shock of a horrific murder and rape of a mother and daughter has passed, we are on the familiar turf of Dirty Harry et al and watching a ceaseless gunning down of violent criminals. You don’t have much feel for them, although you sense their demise is an over-reaction to circumstances, and you don’t feel much for Charles Bronson’s vigilante Paul Kersey, who turns from a distinguished architect into a hardened killer. There are allusions made to the mores of modern society which still feel relevant today, both in his violent conduct and in the more environmental outlook of a Tucson billionaire who persuades Kersey to design a new build town with people not profit in mind. Reverse that of course to New York, where space is a prime asset and people are the victims of big business, dark alleys and little opportunity. Arizona is sunny, bright, fun. New York is in perpetual winter, almost always filmed at night and hemmed in by enormous buildings and shifting noisescapes.
Despite these efforts to engage us in a wider debate, or perhaps precisely because of the debate, the film lacks an edge. The attempt to contextualise Kersey’s behaviour doesn’t ring very true, for he appears to enjoy the killing. Vincent Gardenia’s police chief, all sniffles and bluster, hunts Kersey down with weary acceptance. He has been specifically ordered not to arrest the fledgling anti-hero as the popular press has begun to lionise his actions. So more points for the moviemakers alluding to individual notoriety and political exploitation, but the fact we know from midway that Kersey is never going to be called to account for his own crimes diminishes all hope of a tension filled finale.
Kersey in fact proves a less than capable crime fighter. Batman he is not. As his own targets start to fight back, he becomes injured, makes mistakes and is eventually caught. The final scenes, where a self-exiled Kersey goads a group of insolent teenagers at Chicago airport, just makes him appear a dumb caricature of himself. Incisively directed by Michael Winner, but without any ounce of subtlety, and accompanied by a bruising music score from jazz maestro Herbie Hancock, Death Wish is a film very representative of its time, but it is quite grim and dissatisfying fifty years on.
Hammer triple bill!
CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1964)
Well, you know this one even if you’ve never seen it- Egyptian tomb opened near the beginning of the last century by British arachae… arch… digging explorers financed by an American, said tomb carrying a curse warning anyone who opens it, mummy comes to life and begins picking off the team one by one, etc etc. No star names, no Bond alumni that I spotted- although the leading lady’s (? dubbed) voice sounded very much like our own Nikki van der Zyl.
As is often the case with Hammer, every expense has been spared. Sometimes they get away with that, making their films seem much more expensive than they really were. This isn’t one of those times.
THE MUMMY’S SHROUD (1967)
Er… more of the same. The best part of this one is that the always reliable Michael Ripper gets a more prominent part than normal (often he’s an innkeeper with a couple of lines), an opportunity he seizes with enough skill to make me wish that Hammer had used his talents more. Andre Morell is excellent, too. For fans of Mummy movies only.
THE GORGON (1964)
Best of this bunch, enormously aided by the two stars: Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. In a quiet village somewhere in middle Europe, a snake-haired woman has been turning people to stone for a century or two (one of whom is Michael Goodliffe, who played Tanner in TMWTGG) although the local authorities deny this. There is a paper-thin mystery as to how this is occurring, but I won’t say more. Lee for once is the good guy and Cushing the villain, which leaves me to wonder if they had a chat on the first day of shooting as to whether they had received the correct scripts. Terence Fisher directs, as he did for most of the best Hammer movies. As always, atmosphere is what counts and Fisher supplies it.
I've bought another box of Hammer movies so there are more to come....
Enjoy them @Barbel you can’t go far wrong with a Hammer movie!!
THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER (2023)
(No more spoilers than are in the trailers)
Having revived the 'Halloween' franchise for a largely inauspicious trio of films between 2018 and 2022, David Gordon Green has now embarked on similar service for another icon of 70s horror.
For much of its duration 'Believer' plays like a tribute to 'The Exorcist' (1973) - in subtle ways as well as obvious; in style as much as content. It's not entirely a homage 'by numbers', though: it departs from William Peter Blatty's themes - not altogether convincingly - while toying with a case of double possession; it contrives a more ecunemical, improvised approach to the act of exorcism itself, overdoing the visual effects in the process.
The sum of the parts isn't a patch on William Friedkin's original - 'The Exorcist' was profoundly impactful in its day, and remains a cinematic tour de force - though this latest cash-in does amount to passable, fan-oriented fare. It's difficult not to let Ellen Burstyn's comments about her motivation for returning to her role as Chris MacNeil - the money! - affect one's reception of her scenes.
I suspect that Blatty's 'The Exorcist III' (1990) is still the best of the sequels to date, though I'd have to check it out again.
On a personal note, 'The Exorcist' was one of my great formative experiences of the cinema. My first viewing of it was in 1980 when I snuck in to see it in a double bill with 'The Exorcist II: The Heretic' - before I was old enough to go to X-certificate screenings. Playing first, 'The Heretic' (1977) was a tedious film; 'The Exorcist' itself blew my socks off, giving me nightmares for days afterwards! At about the same time, give or take a year, I saw 'Carrie' (1976) in a double bill with 'Piranha' (1979), another illicit X-certificate forray! Again, the inferior movie played first... and then Brian De Palma's classic scared me witless, making for an unforgettable night in the cinema!
I agree entirely with Curse of the Mummy's Tomb @Barbel a quite dreadful Hammer production.
My Dad wanted to watch this:
THE FUGITIVE (1993)
It has been thirty years since director Andrew Davis rebooted the 1960s television series The Fugitive as a single suspense laden thriller starring Harrison Ford, who at the time was your go-to action star. Ford is rather good as Dr Richard Kimble, a man falsely convicted of murdering his wife, who fortuitously escapes incarceration and goes on the run. His quarry is the man with a prosthetic limb who he discovered in his house the night his wife was murdered. His hunter is US Marshal Sam Gerard – Tommy Lee Jones in forceful performance mode. The plot doesn’t deserve close examination but the thrills are still worth watching and the script sparkles and crackles with witticisms and hardboiled cliches which might have stepped right out of the sixties. It’s a very tense movie because it has two taut and well-delivered pursuits which run parallel to each other, converging in a rather tame, stereotypical finale. Very little needs to be said. It’s an excellent product and bagged seven Academy Award nominations if that’s any measure of success. Tommy Lee Jones won a Best Supporting Actor gong. Photography is exceedingly good, especially all those overhead nightscapes of Chicago. The music score from James Newton Howard is suitably highly sprung. Other than the ending, I feel Hitchcock might have approved.
Never Say Never Again is 40 today, going by the US release date.
Talking Pictures TV showed Play Dirty tonight, which I hadn't seen before.
Harry Saltzman produces this WW2 yarn from 1969 which stars Michael Caine, Nigel Davenport, Nigel Green and Harry Andrews - the cast list gets you salivating. It's seemingly all shot on location in North Africa and nicely lensed by the guy who did The Dirty Dozen, which this film seems to emulate a bit, and 633 Squadron. NSNA's Michel Legrand does the score, not that I noticed much.
So one to crack a beer open to - but I struggled to get on with it. It's meant to show the brutal, cynical side of war but didn't begin convincingly. You have Caine as an upper class officer, or captain - well, I suppose you can chose to go with that but there's an element of Caine not having his accent not quite being Caine. He is put in charge by Nigel Green of a ragtag band going through the desert to blow up fuel depots behind enemy lines. His personality isn't well established exactly. HIs support is Nigel Davenport, who is a bit like Quint in Jaws - an unreliable helper who thinks he runs the show. His backstory is that he pulled an insurance scam on a sinking ship that killed two dozen men - you know you're not going to take to the guy so for long stretches there is nobody to really root for. The set-up, which suggests Caine is not being played fairly by his superiors feels very similar to another Satzman-produced film The Iprcress File, given that both Caine and Green play the same kind of roles.
Stuff doesn't quite ring true - Caine seems to be out of his depth with his men but when he suggests to his men they need to get up a huge rocky cliff face with three trucks, they obey without question. What becomes ludicrous is the Nigel Davenport oversees the final truck screwing up by it being overloaded - just don't know why he would do that, or why Caine's character would not be on it, or at least run the 10 feet down the hill to unload some of the baggage in it, rather than just tensely watching the rope fray and then snap. Perhaps Harry Andrews' inclusion is nod to this scene, similar to Ice Cold in Alex, in which he starred. But both he and Green are only in a few scenes albeit key ones in the long film.
The film might be an easier watch as one of those tacky Italian Western-style WW2 films with dodgy dubbing. This film does go on for a long time too. The finale is rousing in a GoldenEye pre-credits sort of way. I don't regret seeing it but....
@Barbel Re: 'The Satanic Rites Of Dracula' (1973). I fully agree with your comments.
Like its immediate predecessor, 'Dracula A. D. 1972', 'The Satantic Rites' is a curious genre hybrid of its time - both scripts were penned by Don Houghton - and yes, an allusiveness to Bond is indeed in the mix. To give three examples: the Count's D. D. Denham persona is positioned in notably similar dramatic reclusiveness to Blofeld masquerading as Dubya Dubya - Willard Whyte - in DAF; the security guard electrocuted at Pelham House collapses flat on his face in exactly the same style as Harold Sakata in GF, and Dracula's three Establishment lackeys protest in a similar manner to DAF's Professor Doctor Metz on Blofeld's oil rig when it becomes clear that their diabolical master is actually prepared to unleash destruction rather than simply hold governments to ransom. 'A.D. 1972' had begun with a pre-credits sequence in which the villain is apparantly destroyed before the titles roll - DAF style - and I've commented elsewhere on intersections between Mike Vickers' score for 'A.D. 1972' and John Barry's contemporary Bond scores. This partial indebtedness to Bond - Bond on a shoestring - does make the last gasps of Christopher Lee's iteration of the Hammer Dracula seem like an audition for the part of Scaramanga: "Professor Van Helsing ... I've been expecting you!"
Overall, 'Rites' is decidely wobbly. Lee and Peter Cushing aside, the performances are so-so at best. Stephanie Beacham in 'A. D. 1972' made a far more engaging Jessica Van Helsing than Joanna Lumley does in 'Rites': Lumley gives a fairly wooden interpretation of the part. Freddie Jones' hammy Professor Keeley has the most dreadfully knotted kipper tie in cinema history. And Michael Coles' bewildered Inspector Murray is like a creation straight out of Euston Films. Cushing is immaculate, as ever, but he is hamstrung by ludicrous amounts of exposition: Van Helsing accurately infers Dracula's entire evil scheme from virtually nothing, over servings of soup in silly crockery and speculative conversation with bemused allies.
The idea of an academic Cushing character having a granddaughter to protect recalls Cushing's brace of 60s Dr Who movies for Aaru (Amicus) - Coles had played a glammed up Thal in the first of these; child actor Roberta Tovey had played Cushing's granddaughter, Susan, in both - though certainly the groovy Stephanie Beacham incarnation of Jessica Van Helsing in 'A.D. 1972' brings as much to mind the pairing of Jo Grant (Katy Manning) with the then incumbent Doctor Who on TV (Jon Pertwee) in their 'UNIT family' phase (for which Don Houghton had also written. See his 'The Mind Of Evil' serial in 1971, complete with its side reference to "Dracula's castle" in Part One. When 'D. D. Denham' boasts to Van Helsing that he is "the master" of the corporation, it's hard to resist a notion that Houghton will have been thinking of The Master - a Moriarty-In-Space character created for the 1971 season of Doctor Who, inveigling his way into positions of industrial, scientific, political and spiritual power and played with devilish charm by Hammer veteran Roger Delgado). As for Joanna Lumley's mature Jessica in 'Rites', she's more Liz Shaw (Caroline John) than Jo Grant - i.e. she's a bit boring. (In 1970, Houghton had written Who's 'Inferno' serial for that earlier, top-secret security team of Pertwee's Doctor, Liz and the Brigadier. In 'Rites' Richard Vernon's Colonel Mathews and William Franklyn's Torrence occupy a generically similar zone to Who's UNIT and various 'men from the Ministry' - albeit for an adult audience.)
Lee was on record as saying that he'd considered himself emotionally blackmailed by Hammer's producers to repeatedly return to the Dracula role, their argument being that if he didn't agree to star as the Count the movies wouldn't get made and he'd be putting out of work a regular crew and the other actors! A reluctant Lee apparently stipulated a condition of his recurring appearances that - amidst the increasing emphasis on sleazily sexualised nudity - the Dracula scripts should include at least some adaptation of lines from Bram Stoker. Personally, I'm not sure that this particular element works well for the films, as the bits of dialogue in question feel, to me, a little odd in context, not quite consistent with the overall style of the Hammer Dracula which, at least since 1966, had been established as a largely silent/taciturn character, only occasionally uttering short, declarative statements in between instinctual hissing, snarling and wailing.
Dracula's Stoker-ish exclamation in 'Rites', "My revenge has spread over centuries and has just begun!" - though delivered with melodramatic fervour by Lee - is an almost laughable oxymoron, a degeneration of the source line from the novel: "My revenge is just begun! I spread it over centuries, and time is on my side."
Another Stoker line, reworked in 'A.D. 1972', was hardly better, a slightly odd fit to the sequence of confrontation with Van Helsing: "You would play your brains against mine, against me who has commanded nations?" (- a simplification of Stoker's somewhat garbled, "Whilst they played wits against me, against me who commanded nations, and intrigued for them, and fought for them, hundreds of years before they were born, I was countermining them.")
Dialogue-wise, I'm generally more at home with earlier Hammer Dracula movies where the Count's lines are minimal and straightforwardly expository, albeit relished by Lee, as in 'Taste The Blood Of Dracula' (1970) where he marks with sinister simplicity each of the patricidal killings perpetrated by his acolytes: "The firrrrrst! ... The second! ... The thirrrrrd!"
An exception would be 'Scars of Dracula' (also1970), where I really like the more developed dialogue Lee's given, the formal courtesies of welcoming guests to his castle in a similar style to the welcome he extended to Harker in the original 1958 film. The difference in 'Scars' is that at the same time his undead pallor is really to the fore - zombie-like - infusing with spooky menace the impeccably mannered lines.
The reason why the lines adapted from Stoker in 'A.D. 1972' and 'Rites' seem odd to me, in context, is because the Hammer films show no other interest in the idea of the Dracula character as stemming from an historical warrior emperor - they don't otherwise explore the Vlad the Impaler mythos which Coppola engaged, in 1992. To the extent that Lee's Stoker allusions momentarily nudge towards a broader mythologisation of his Dracula, I suppose they do (sort of) serve the way in which, in 'Rites', Van Helsing envisages the Count in legendary terms, horrifically predicting that he will bestride the Earth as the Figure of Death Itself, supernal amidst an apocalypse of his own making, the bubonic plague he'll have unleashed ravaging the entire planet! Too bad the Count fails to live up to this publicity, anticlimactically meeting his end by blundering into a hawthorn bush in the grounds of Pelham House!
Cushing reprises for 'Rites' his shouted "Count Dracula!" line from 'A.D. 1972', baiting the vampire, but in 'Rites' the film is let down by the almost comic implausibility of the Count compounding that error of walking into a hawthorn bush - by getting himself more and more entangled in it, rather than simply extracting himself. The crown of thorns is a nice touch, though. And I'm always moved by the final image of 'Rites', the freeze frame of Cushing holding up Dracula's ring from amidst the Count's ashes, gazing at it with detached contemplation.
I have a theory as to why Hammer 's Dracula was fatally inept on a recurring basis. At one level, of course, it was a condition of the genre: audiences expected to see and enjoyed seeing at least one Dracula death sequence per Dracula movie, and the film-makers sought to meet that expectation in as many varied ways as they could square with vampiric lore. But maybe it's also part of the tragedy of the character. Lee's autocratic Dracula retains traces of the social and intellectual sophistication he may once have boasted when fully alive, but the instinctual, animalistic tendencies to which he's prone as a vampire often dominate, suffusing him with blood-red lust and rage, making it possible for his adversaries to outwit him in such moments. This might explain why Van Helsing goads his nemesis at critical points during those confrontation scenes in Lee's final two Dracula outings for Hammer.
That's a good summation @Shady Tree I'm glad you mention Scars of... as it features an almost entirely different Lee performance from any other Dracula movie. As I recall it is much more sensual and almost mute, the austere politeness makes a tremendously affecting contrast to an almost cannibalistic sexual blood lust which isn't so noticeable elsewhere. It's a very chilling performance.
Yes, agreed. And 'Scars' stands out as a Hammer Dracula with a different distributor, too - MGM-EMI - compared with the Warner pictures in the series before and after it. Complex distribution rights across the series are the reason why we'll probably never see, on retail, a complete Hammer Dracula box set.
I agree with @chrisno1, that's an excellent summation @Shady Tree.
Since we're on this subject it may be of interest that Hammer didn't secure the copyright on "Rites" (no idea how that came about) and it's now public domain so easily viewable online. Also there's an American version which I believe was edited (again, I don't know about that) called "Count Dracula And His Vampire Bride" which isn't a good description of the film.
Please also have a look at the second post in Imaginary Conversations - it's on this very film.
Ah yes, #2 - with Cushing and Lee exchanging career notes. I did one on a similar theme a bit later, #1661: https://www.ajb007.co.uk/discussion/comment/1031013#Comment_1031013
Also, I've now added a bit more geekery to my above comments on 'Rites'...
😁 As I said at the time, that one was hilarious!
As I was reading through the extra added geekery (and much enjoying same) I was reminded that we do have a thread somewhere which was devoted to Hammer movies. I've watched another today and am pondering whether just to post what passes for my thoughts here as usual or revive that thread.
SCREAM OF FEAR (1961)
Not all Hammer movies were full of vampires, werewolves, etc etc. Sometimes they were psychological crime thrillers (I’m sure someone has a better description) and this is one of them. Susan Strasberg plays a young woman who lost the use of her legs in a horse riding accident some ten years before the film starts. She comes home to her very rich father’s house, having not seen him for nine of those years and is met by her stepmother who tells her that her father is away on business. The atmosphere is decidedly unsettling, not aided by the frequent visits of the stepmother’s friend, the local doctor who clearly can’t be suspicious at all since he’s played by Christopher Lee…. And that’s about all I want to say for fear of spoilers. There are some startling moments, and things do not go the way that viewers may think they’re heading.
Very enjoyable and not the usual Hammer stuff. I believe there are a few others like it, and I might get round to them.
The Bride was sure that Lee would turn out to be the villain, which he isn’t. I was a bit less sure but still didn’t figure out the whole thing.
THE TWO FACES OF DR JECKYL (1960)
Having had great recent success with their revived versions of old monster movies (Frankenstein, Dracula, Mummy), it was now simply a case of ticking the other ones off. The Phantom of The Opera and a Werewolf would soon be unleashed, but for now it was the turn of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde. It isn’t anywhere near as good as the three mentioned, and I can’t help but think that there was one obvious way it might have been improved….
Hammer Exec 1: So, what are we doing next, then?
Hammer Exec 2: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
Hammer Exec 1: Good choice. Who have you lined up to be in it?
Hammer Exec 2: Well, there’s Christopher Lee.
Hammer Exec 1: Ah, excellent. He was good as the Creature in “The Curse Of Frankenstein”, even better as “Dracula”, and terrific as “The Mummy”. He’ll do a good job as Jekyll & Hyde.
Hammer Exec 2: Oh no, he isn’t playing Jekyll & Hyde, he’s the best friend. We’ve got some Canadian actor called Paul Massie as Jekyll & Hyde.
Hammer Exec 1: Well, if you’re sure….
I thought I'd read an @Barbel review of this movie, but I couldn't find it in the search facility. I hope he watched it last night...
THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT (1955)
A sharp and concise sci-fi shocker from Hammer productions, who emphasised the horror material by deliberately misspelling the title word as: Xperiment. The film is a rapid condensing of Nigel Kneale’s groundbreaking BBC television series and as with all adaptations of the ilk, it loses something in the retelling by the necessity to edit away a shedload of background and character material.
Here writer / director Val Guest cuts us straight into the action as quack scientist Professor Bernard Quatermass’ British space craft crash lands near London causing a panic. The government isn’t happy. They hadn’t authorised the test flight. He’s over the moon, as it were, until he discovers only one astronaut has survived. The other two appear to have vanished. The survivor, Victor Caroon, has turned mute, has a frozen, scaly skin texture and can barely move. Investigations by Quatermass’ doctor pal Gordon Briscoe do not hint at the terror which lies in wait. Caroon has been infected by a deadly spore-bearing space virus which has taken over his body, altering his metabolism into something that more resembles a plant. As the police chase the poor victim around London, Val Guest utilises many familiar tropes from horror films past, like Cat People and Frankenstein, reminding us that while this is science fiction the aim of the movie is to ramp up the tension and deliver the appropriate shocks.
Once or twice, he really does. There is a very effective moment where Caroon’s misguided wife tries to rescue him from hospital but on seeing her husband’s misshapen hand, she screams, cries interwoven brilliantly with the shrieking violins on the soundtrack. There are also a couple of nasty ‘drained’ corpses. Ultimately though, the monochrome gore content is well marshalled. When Dr Who ripped off the idea for 1976’s The Seeds of Doom, the human-plant transformation was all blood, puss and green algae, positively horrific. This version suffers from black and white and from the accents of its time. There isn’t much anyone can do about the octopus-like creature which finally materialises, clambering over scaffolding in Westminster Abbey. It looks like an inflatable puppet and probably was.
The real horror of The Quatermass Experiment is Brian Donlevy’s lead character, a man so driven and devoid of humanity you wonder how anyone could consider him to be a hero. I have never seen the original series [four of its six episodes are in the BBC archive] but if Reginald Tate’s interpretation was anything like this it must have been an equally tough watch in the summer of 1953.
Jack Warner, a few months away from Dixon of Dock Green, plays the police chief in control of the pursuit. In small support roles you can see Thora Hird, Gordon Jackson, Sam Kydd and a very, very young Jane Asher. The film bounds along with a lot of purpose but very little explanation or character definition. I don’t believe that was Hammer’s intent. The ‘X’ of ‘Xperiment’ was that and they get it just about right without ever threatening to give anyone heart attacks.
As a forerunner of Hammer’s more famous horror products, The Quatermass Experiment is an interesting half-way success. As a sci-fi film, it is a very good product indeed, as good as anything in the alien invasion subgenre coming from the USA at that time – stuff like Invaders from Mars or It Came From Outer Space. A little more depth would help, but it is an enjoyable, slick product, robust at the core and only fraying a little at its edges. The film makers were confident enough to introduce the likelihood of a sequel in the film’s final few seconds.
An important film in both Hammer Production’s history and subsequently the British Film industry as a whole, it really should be better known and more watched. I can only assume there’s a malicious snob value borne against it by those critics and naysayers who cite the excellence of Nigel Kneale’s original, which very few audiences have access to.
@chrisno1 - I didn't watch it last night, but I do know it very well and that's a well-written review. To paraphrase our founder in "Goldfinger", may I correct you without weakening your case? Only two rather than four episodes of the original six BBC episodes survive, which is very sad for we aficionados. In partial recompense, there was a remake in 2005 which like the original was done live. This has a few drawbacks, unfortunately (happy to discuss that if anyone wants to).
As you say, a good number of UK actors appear (Thora Hird is hilarious) and the big drawback of the film is Brian Donlevy's Quatermass. Of the several actors to have played the role, I put him firmly at the bottom of the list. I'm pretty sure you can watch Reginald Tate on YouTube if you want to do a comparison, though there's only the two episodes so it's a bit restricted. Donlevy would be back in "Quatermass 2", where he is a bit more sympathetic.
I've definitely written more about Quatermass here.
Edit - John Robinson was also a poor Quatermass but he had the excuse of coming to the part late. He was the replacement for Tate, who died shortly before the filming of the BBC's "Quatermass 2" started.