Marriage of Convenience
The phony marriage that is a prison break, another by blackmail, and finally the real one with handcuffs.
An Edgar Wallace Mystery.
The Sinister Man
A poem on the river in the morning light, a journey to the Parsons Green lock. “Murder victim found in Thames” is the London cry.
Kytang, west of Big Brother, evidence of civilization. The assassin in the title. To Oxford, where the dead man was head of the College of Oriental Studies.
“Who’d be in the hire business? They turn up dressed as though they’re ready to sail the Cutty Sark herself, and they couldn’t steer a toy boat in a bath.”
“Oh, don’t be too hard on ‘em, Dad. It’s their honeymoon.”
“Well, that’s no excuse for steering a cruiser into the bank.”
“Yes it is.”
The juxtaposition of kempo and a Rolls-Royce is a presentiment of Hamilton’s Goldfinger and no mistake. Question of sale to an out-of-town buyer, so to speak, “they have an expanding economy.”
The seal is set with a “rousing randori” from Frank Lloyd’s Blood on the Sun.
An Edgar Wallace Mystery.
The structure is a recomposition of The Dwarfs for effect, the theme is identical, also with Buñuel’s Viridiana.
The filming is very accurate on location. A preparatory joke credits the financial contributors, extraordinarily.
Nothing but the Best
The scion of the firm is a chevalier d’industrie, he dies (“strangled by the old school tie” or a certain lady of Durban, the landlady) in the “ambitious yob”, a backward boy, the boy in the man, the brother in the husband, etc. (cf. What’s New Pussycat?, Alfred the Great).
On a theme dear to the poets from Robert Frost to Dylan Thomas and Howard Nemerov, a masterwork of the British cinema, by Raphael out of Ellin, Roeg cinematography, Grainer score.
A.H. Weiler of the New York Times was plurally amused, “a carefree, cocky comedy blithely seasoned with murder that is both biting and debonair and, above all, entertaining.” Variety, “stylish... sly, penetrating... ruthless”. Film4, “cynical and morally ambiguous”. Time Out, “witty script... tricksy direction”. Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide) has the plot somewhat muddled but the sum total is “sparkling”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “hard, skilful, rather unattractive”.
What’s New Pussycat?
The general style is so brilliant that small local structures tend to go unnoticed, like Victor and Carole onstage at the Crazy Horse after hours when M. Lefebvre wanders in drunken and jealous. Marvels like this occur throughout, so many individual compositions that from another point of view the general structure is lost.
“The worst curse in life is to be mediocre,” says the Paris fashion editor, who wants to emulate Hemingway by forsaking journalism for fiction. His dilemma is an impending marriage Carole insists on, he loves a stripper at the Crazy Horse who writes verses like these, “Who killed Charlie Parker? / You did, you rat!”, all the while maintaining her status as a self-described semi-virgin, “here I’m a virgin, in America I’m not,” and overdosing on sedatives.
He also loves Mme. Lefebvre, beloved of his psychoanalyst vainly.
Victor plays chess with an Existentialist mademoiselle outside La Closerie des Lilas, cheats and gets caught. He dresses the girls at the Crazy Horse, one in a suit of armor and one in a bridal veil, for twenty francs a week, “that’s all I can afford.”
Dr. Fassbender is married to “the creature that ate Europe,” Victor lives in a semi-artistic garret. A Viking funeral and a birthday party unite these two on a Paris quay by way of Chaplin’s City Lights. A “pussycat from the sky” descends upon the editor in his motorcar and he nearly capitulates, but in a spirited mêlée he takes his bride to him and away.
Shakespeare is thought to be Schiller by the psychoanalyst, whose resemblance to Jed Harris provokes a dream of Olivier’s Richard III. “Your face is like the autumn moon!” is the salient line in a Cyrano scene.
Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush
The great comedy of an English lad seeking a safe harbor for his genius ends not with Mary at the boatel, after Audrey at the furniture store (“Perring Flair”) and Whoozis at the family manse and Whatzit at the church bazaar and “runny” Wherezat, but off into the chilly precipices of university, where they don’t know what’s what, necessarily.
Reviewers were mainly befuddled in the extreme, Renata Adler of the New York Times leading the pack, followed by Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, Halliwell’s Film Guide and the Monthly Film Bulletin, all reputable institutions.
Variety noted “a nimble alertness” and “a nice flair”, Tom Milne of Time Out Film Guide finds it “so charmless as to be almost unwatchable.”
Alfred the Great
The major theme is an effective analysis of Pascal’s Major Barbara on the Danish invasion of Britain, the minor is the metamorphoses of the young king who initially desires to be a priest, this is carried on with more or less evident comparison to Bergman’s Wild Strawberries and was particularly opaque to Vincent Canby, who described this aspect of the film as “Christian Freud” and said in summation, “Donner has no genius” (New York Times).
Critics have been generally averse, “hasn’t the power or the passion to be a lavish historical epic” (Variety), “a dispiriting, disunified whole” (Halliwell’s Film Guide), and from Time Out Film Guide, “a curiosity.”
The work is essentially the same as Lang’s Man Hunt with an abstraction of the female lead, yet it is quite analytical at the same time and, filming in color, follows a taut line in the drama of “a pot at Hitler” that sends the hunter literally to ground in Dorset, noblesse oblige. “I wanted to know if it could be done.”
The terms of this silence are finally broken by Herr Hitler, who never needed an excuse anyway.
Raphael & Donner have the brisk opening sequence of grouse shoot and impromptu boar hunt whisked under the tablecloth with a furtive hunter lining up his shot at Adolf mit Eva for luncheon on the terrace. After the tortures and left for dead, the hunter meets a German angler, a fellow sportsman.
Major Quive-Smith reads the hunter’s book to know his quarry and the best rules for catching it (this is John Standing in the second lead, Peter O’Toole is Alastair Sim’s nephew, Harold Pinter is O’Toole’s attorney).
The Nude Bomb
KAOS has a plan to deprive the world of fabric and force every man, woman and child to wear the latest Saint-Sauvage creations, made of permafin. Plus, the UN has to pay ten billion a month rent.
The villain has a cloning machine to provide seamstresses. And so it goes, a work of genius by the masters of the series, a James Bond parody that includes a chase through Universal Studios on tour trams, another through Pershing Square with Smart behind his high-powered desk, and Saint-Sauvage’s Thimble Mountain laboratory and missile base, where the cave entrance is sealed with a zipper.
The consequences fall to Altman in Prêt-à-Porter. Agent 86 is no longer employed by CONTROL but at least for the nonce is working in the PITS (Provisional Intelligence Tactical Service).
Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen
The Lupowitz Case, involving Chan’s half-Jewish grandson, a shlemiel with a private dick’s office in downtown San Francisco.
“I got the mayor on my back and I got the governor on my back, I’ve got the goddamn Gay Citizens for Safe Streets Committee on my goddamn back, and last night the PTA was on my lawn throwin’,” here the hypochondriac police chief’s ulcer assails him, “rocks at my house... now, ya think I don’t want the goddamn Bizarre Killer caught? Whaddya think I want him to do, go free for Christ’s sakes? I want him caught as much as you do! Now, ya want a goddamn statement for your goddamn papers? OK, here’s my statement, NO COMMENT, ya got that? Now leamme alone! Get out o’ here!”
The great Honolulu detective addressed the initial murder on the islands years before (newspaper subhead, “CHAN SOLVES FORK IN TEA CUP CLUE”) and put the titular villainess away, now he is called again from retirement. Lee Chan, Jr.’s two college pennants, Shanghai and Yeshiva, recall the bonnie cosmopolitanism of Ozu’s prewar university students (Fighting Friends), as the chief’s ad hoc press conference suggests Mel Brooks’ High Anxiety (“here’s your paper!”) and Louis Malle’s Atlantic City (“not on my turf!”). “Probably take longer to read file than to solve case,” says Charlie Chan of the latest spree.
“Good lesson for young detective,” he tells the shlemiel, “when faced with the obvious, look elsewhere.” Case of a jealous mistress in Hawaii, and a curse “to the third generation.” The lad is full of emulation at least, as Andrew Marvell would say, it must be curbed, “detective disguises mean that you, as detective, must disguise self. Does not mean that you must disguise self as detective.”
Donner and his writers are graduates of Hal Roach’s school, Stan Burns in excelsis, “look at this crummy neighborhood... you could walk fifteen blocks and never leave the scene of the crime.” The influence of Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker’s Airplane! (where the jive translator is an homage to Chan the linguist) is at Club Shanghai, also Maté’s D.O.A., visibly. Every pimp in town takes to wearing Chan’s three-piece tropical suit. “So glad they’re not all detectives.” The frontal attack comes in Golden Gate Park. “Chan, curse you!”
“Charlie Chan’s old enemy, Dr-agon Queen!” Needham’s Smokey and the Bandit is well-studied in the paroxysmal chase through the park from the riding academy to the sea accompanied by the overture to Hérold’s Zampa, ou La Fiancée de marbre. “Charlie Chan Film Classics Today” at the Eltinge Theatre in Chinatown, implying most obscurely Mickey Spillane (Vengeance Is Mine). “Happy Birthday Dear Doggie,” the shlemiel and his vacuous bride sing to save their lives, a good long way from Godard’s Adieu au langage. Modest lad save life of “humble detective”.
The butler Gillespie’s arrival at the theater in his motorized wheelchair manages to suggest both Casino Royale (dirs. John Huston et al.) and Blazing Saddles (fearful Mrs. Dangers in a maid’s outfit is from Rebecca, as Canby lamented), and later Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.
“Bizarre Killer someone in this room.” The murderer’s confession backstage plunges the work into the kabuki realm of Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse, a fitting psychological evaluation and something of a tour de force. “In one day I had gone from being a popular society” so-and-so “to being this little” such-and-such “involved in something squalid.”
“Look like your plan have failed.”
“—Oh? Damn.” A gesture in Welles’ direction (The Lady from Shanghai) sets off the finale, a colloquy with the screen remembered in various ways by Woody Allen in The Purple Rose of Cairo and Manhattan Murder Mystery...
Vincent Canby of the New York Times, who considered Chan amongst “the pre-World War II pop artifacts... dispensing wisdom that came straight from domestically manufactured fortune cookies,” nevertheless acknowledgeded in this instance “a consistently witty point of view,” so much for that. TV Guide, “mindless direction and stereotypical portrayal”. Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader), “camped-up”. Time Out, “a blandoid pastiche”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “somewhat elementary”.
The most brutal and authentic version, almost but not quite an unremitting horror, minces no epithets and pulls no punches, and so we nearly have George C. Scott’s Shylock.
“In a previous television foray into Dickens territory,” O’Connor of the New York Times mentioned while writing of Donner’s A Christmas Carol, “Mr. Scott took an embarrassing flop on a curiously perverse interpretation of Fagin in Oliver Twist. In trying to make the nasty old moneylender sympathetic, Mr. Scott ended up queasily with something of a dirty old man.” This is a bizarre evaluation.
Time Out Film Guide also took great exception to the film as “nothing very original”.
The Scarlet Pimpernel
A tale of the “New Order”.
The main advantage accrues to Donner simply by timing, his original was filmed between the wars, he follows Powell & Pressburger in this.
The lady is on the stage of the National Theatre. Sir Percy has insufferable good clothes. Chauvelin is a toady of the regime.
A Christmas Carol
The peculiar characterization is rationally constructed on two points, that Scrooge is simply a businessman, and that he suffered as a boy, thus a hard stinted man who finds Christmas a humbug, suffers the visitation and recognizes in Tiny Tim a fellow sufferer, a complete analysis is therefore offered, the nightmare makes perfect sense.
John J. O’Connor of the New York Times almost saw this but for the trappings, which he found admirable nonetheless.
Dead Man’s Folly
A three-ring circus on the grounds of Nasse House (cf. Hal Roach’s Road Show), comprising the mental difficulties of a British scientist with an iffy past, the hallucination produced by this, and an artistic variant. The ringmaster is Ustinov as Poirot.
Sir George Stubbs is the projection of a mind in crisis, Renoir’s La Règle du jeu figures in a bracelet’s lost charm.
Donner handles the affair as magisterially as Christie’s detective. Fellini’s Ginger e Fred has an image concurrent with Ariadne and Poirot at Harrod’s.
Babes in Toyland
A very hard, brilliant satire. Donner goes to Munich (like Mel Stuart for Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory) in a very close approximation of the Meins & Rogers version, the Toyland set is outdoors, however, and there are many differences attendant upon Zindel’s construction of the teleplay as a dream.
There is a blizzard on the way to Cincinnati, a girl who works in customer service at a toy store leaves her job after an altercation with the boss. Her boyfriend and another stock clerk also go, and the girl’s sister (the boss is a lecherous moneygrubber who, when it’s suggested that he close in advance of the blizzard, responds that it’s his biggest night of the year—Christmas Eve—and “are you crazy?”). There is an accident on the road, the sister is knocked out and sees them all in Toyland.
She flies through the air and lands in a cake. The boss is Barnaby, about to wed Mary Contrary Hubbard, beloved of Jack Nimble, Jr. Georgie Porgie works at the Cookie Factory.
Barnaby wants to own Toyland and make some changes. The eye of his pet creature shows him all things. He rules the trolls in the Forest of the Night. The Toymaster has a bottle of distilled evil safely corked on his shelf. One of Barnaby’s henchmen, Zack or Mack, looks like Murnau’s Nosferatu.
The crux is put as “believing in toys”, the main artistic problem, solved by Donner in two quick shots of candle-powered whirligigs and a row of stuffed playthings. The go-cart chase in What’s New Pussycat? is evoked with flowered versions.
It starts out like a protest against the conglomerates sacking Hollywood, and might early on have been signed Alan Smithee to great effect. It rises to the height of inspiration and sinks back again.
The kids are fine, Mulligan is a great genius working with Donner, Brennan delivers the goods. The teddy bear policemen and Mother Goose and all have their incidental purpose relative to the theme.