Holiday in Spain
The roadshow reissue in Cinerama with an overture by Mario Nascimbene to put you there, then an English mystery writer too long between the boards, who dreams himself a butterfly over the Alhambra, lighting on a rose.
“That’s Spain for you,” Scent of Mystery, a work of genius. “There’s probably no more to it than a girl buying a bottle of perfume.”
Will you heare a Spanish lady
how she wooed an Englishman?
Frank Capra’s The Strong Man with Harry Langdon has the original of the painter and her model of opportunity. Then there’s “Sally, lovely girl for an American.” The discussion of marriage ends in a Keaton gag from Seven Chances (and What! No Beer?). “The trains in Spain seem mainly in my lane.” The running of the bulls.
It is distinctly remembered by Terence Young (From Russia with Love) and Guy Hamilton (Goldfinger), also Christopher Miles (The Virgin and the Gypsy), our scribe’s hero Derek Carson is “so secret he doesn’t even have a number.” With his cabdriver, a sort of Cervantes acting out a chivalric romance in defense of the girl, from what? A notable recollection of the Spanish Civil War, perhaps.
A notable recollection of Powell & Pressburger’s Black Narcissus among the mountain reaches of the Villa Flora, “a matter of life and death.” The fistfight that ends Part One suspended from a balcony with fireworks is one of many light Hitchcock touches. The girls in the intermission song cry, “go, go!” The boys urge them, “wait, stop!” The Seville fiesta scene is remarkably like the Technicolor footage Welles shot for It’s All True, and Cardiff’s imperiled heiress skipping away from pursuit might well recall Anger’s Eaux d’artifice. So many are the gags, Peter Lorre suggests Secret Agent, Paul Lukas kibitzing a game of bridge Dieterle’s Grand Slam, the taxicab out of action by the sea Huston’s Beat the Devil (from Minnelli’s Yolanda and The Thief)... a certain Homeric laughter comes from the end of Mackendrick’s The Ladykillers with a train... “Lucky” Larker’s flight over the rugged terrain (“now let that fluttering butterfly follow me”) resembles another Cinerama masterpiece, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (and note the really startling resemblance of the English aviator’s wife to Angela Molina in Buñuel’s Cet Obscur Objet Du Désir).
Screenplay adapted from the same novelist on whom Gérard Oury and Annette Wademant et al. sired Boisrond’s Voulez-vous danser avec moi? (with Bardot), scene designs by Vincent Korda, cinematography John von Kotze (in one impressive up-angle conveying the sense of a Goya), assistant director Bernard Vorhaus under a nom de guerre. A very high plateau in the cinema, where the thematic use of aroma suggests Huysmans and the Japanese game of rare and costly incense evoking a given chapter from The Tale of Genji.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, ever the Gothamite goose, thought he was being swindled by some rude hucksters, “there is a strong smell of the midway... has to be classified as bunk.” Variety was not so taken in, “a fun picture, expertly directed”. TV Guide, “beautifully photographed”. Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide), “misguided attempt”. Halliwell’s Film Guide was not even curious, “more of a travelogue than a thriller.”
Sons and Lovers
Cardiff’s masterpiece, hard, bitter and cruel, went somewhat by the boards with critics. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times praised the pictures and Trevor Howard but had no idea of the film, it was British to him, an “emotional monotone,” and different from the novel, which was essentially Variety’s view as well. Tom Milne in Time Out Film Guide minces no words, “slack and superficial... stiffly literary”.
Damzel, anchoret and ranger
Share the woodland’s dream and danger.
The dream departs, the game warden returns to hunting, the wife “bewitched by Africa” goes to Connecticut with her husband and their little daughter, raised alongside a cub.
“A depressing, patronising conclusion” in the eyes of Time Out Film Guide, the subtle thread of argument on wilderness and civilization having eluded it, but the New York Times reviewer thought it was all “a distressing lot of twaddle” anyway.
The Long Ships
Cardiff’s monumental, variegated, heroic and utterly brilliant “raid on the inarticulate” drew a total and obstreperous blank with critics, and has ever done so.
A major and a minor joke. The Great Bell of Byzantium, Mother of Voices, “tall as three men”, cast all of gold brought by Crusaders to monks, besought by a Moorish prince and a Viking captain individually and, for a time, together (the afterthought to this is the Three Crowns of the Saxon Kings).
Ken Russell much later adopted the prize narrative of the Bell at the opening, Modesty Blaise is not very far off, The Thief of Baghdad goes into it and some of the films Cardiff photographed as well.
Almost incalculable, therefore critics have not reckoned with it at all.
It is all very simple, complicated as it is, a plan by M.I.5 to eliminate security risks in the face of ongoing spy scandals, all summed up with an ineradicable colloquy of enemy agents in Monte Carlo. “Baudelaire, I’m Chekhov. If only we could sell the house and go back to Moscow.”
“Oh, yes yes, of course, the password, just a minute. Life is just a bowl of cherry orchard, no?”
“Ah, of course. But first we must cut down the cherry orchard.” This was not followed by critics, it is fairly safe to say. The assassin is a bumbling American from the war, he hires a cautious contract killer well-known to the British and devotes his time to the ladies.
That includes No. 2’s secretary, which ensnares him in the enemy’s Operation Coronet.
Dark of the Sun
Very apt title, considering the reviews. “It did not seem to me very plausible” (Renata Adler, New York Times).
The point of the picture, as revealed near the end, is George Stevens’ Gunga Din, but no-one understood that picture either, and certainly not the New York Times.
Originally it was called The Mercenaries.
The Girl on a Motorcycle
A great Swiss joke. The husband teaches school in a dreary French suburb next to a million war dead, the lover’s a professor at Heidelberg, both men are Swiss.
She’s English, it’s a gift from the professor, she rides it to him.
And along the way, she thinks...
“It is just too much,” said Renata Adler (New York Times), deprecatingly.
This title, in place of The Mutations, would seem to have been added because critics saw no relation to Browning’s Freaks, neither did they notice Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors in Cardiff’s masterpiece on vegetable man, nor Kenton’s Island of Lost Souls.
A.H. Weiler’s review in the New York Times is indeed moronic, and so is the one in Time Out Film Guide.