Home to Danger
The drug trade afflicting old Blighty on behalf of the widows and orphans of Greater London, a murderous trade.
Beautifully filmed out in the country and on film noir streets, economically packed at just over an hour, delightful score by Malcolm Arnold.
“Tuppenny shocker” (Halliwell’s Film Guide), produced by Lance Comfort for Eros.
Blitz-scarred Cockney psychopath in prison gets her face rearranged by a kindly F.R.C.S., it’s therapeutic, he’s fallen in love with a Yank concert pianist who’s left on a permanent tour, he’s something of an artist himself.
The Vertigo foreglimpse is very strong, to the point of suggesting the master’s proper connoisseurship. Fisher’s film is quite another kettle of fish, however.
For all the intense elaboration, Halliwell saw nothing in it worth a curse beyond “quickie melodrama”.
Peculiarly fine score by Malcolm Arnold.
Four Sided Triangle
A couple of boffins out of Cambridge invent a replicator that copies anything down to its atomic structure. One loves a girl, the other replicates her but is still unloved. Wiping the copy’s memory clean short-circuits the apparatus, boffin and copy perish in the flames.
A two-pronged joke, adding a third by direct reference to Our Town (the fourth is Frankenstein).
The theme is current in the works of Borges and Calvino.
An extremely brilliant film with a stunning aside in mid-course (the Yank’s return home).
He’s been paid for his services and dismissed, he was drunk at the time. He’s married to an English girl, her father’s dead, she’s missing.
Mum killed Dad, she’d been milking him with phony charities set up for her by the solicitor he’d been investigating, a prospective son-in-law.
H.H.T. of the New York Times thought it was all blather, he really hadn’t a clue.
The Unholy Four
The Biblical names are Job (pronounced “job”), Saul, Harry (Esau), and Philip.
The envy of Saul, the patience of Job, the undoing of Esau.
Philip in the desert, “caught away”.
Simply an English businessman bushwhacked in a Portuguese harbor town, making his return (The Stranger Came Home, in UK).
A magnificent analysis, dryly and wittily filmed by Fisher from a script by Michael Carreras.
H.H.T. of the New York Times had no idea what it was in aid of, he pronounced it “a third-rate British-made whodunit... derived from a lightweight tome... a great deal of flat, redundant conversation. Terence Fisher's pallid direction and Mr. Carreras' flavorless adaptation... extremely tentative performances,” he preferred A Street Cat Named Sylvester (dir. I. Freleng) on the same Palace bill, “we’ll take Sylvester and his gang any day,” unconsciously pronouncing for the film. Leonard Maltin, “muddled drama”. Britmovie, “standard second-feature thriller.” Halliwell’s Film Guide, which has the plot wrong, “muddled mystery quickie.”
The peculiar constellation of British and American characters does not express a condition of “the special relationship”, on the contrary, William Sylvester’s bravura performance seems expressly designed for quite another purpose, a man whose ordeal has become a source of strength to him in highly dubious circumstances.
Army thieves and civvy thieves dealt with during the war and after.
Huston’s The List of Adrian Messenger is the complete analysis, rendering absurd TV Guide’s “feeble” echoed by Britmovie.
Question of getting off the agony column (cf. the “even weaker” Stolen Assignment) and under a byline.
Society reporter wants crime beat, snags story of painter’s wife found strangled.
Mrs. Hudson and Miss Watson people the admirably-directed screenplay, Miss Drew is the reporter’s name, the sufficient clue is given by Miss Dawn.
The painter is an advocate of modernism, the clue is a fawn chiffon scarf.
It is a question of not playing gooseberry at a literary bunfight whilst the writers wittily gather Miss Drew and Mr. Billings the crime reporter together in the picture.
Kill Me Tomorrow
“Look, I’m on the crime beat. You know how it is, Inspector. Your nose gets too long, those hoods try to slash it for ya.” Chinatown, dir. Roman Polanski.
Diamond smugglers shopped to the Clarion of Fleet Street. Three Days of the Condor, dir. Sydney Pollack.
“So long, sucker,” says Crosbie of the Clarion (“I’m not Bing”), snitch and publisher die the death, he needs a thousand quid to save his young son’s life. He did the deed, shot the boss who fired him, Scotland Yard is told. The flash of a red herring is Blackout... “There’s a coffee bar called El Rico off Knightsbridge. Bit of a long shot, isn’t it?”
“Now, let me teach you something about reporting. The minute you get the merest whiff of a story, follow your nose.” True Crime, dir. Clint Eastwood.
Principles, they’re what a Yankee chorus girl turned West End star has in plenty. Cf. Losey’s Time Without Pity again with Maxwell, Furie’s The Naked Runner, variously.
David Parkinson (Radio Times), “Terence Fisher directs with little enthusiasm.” Leonard Maltin, “adequate B film”. TV Guide, “overplayed and melodramatic”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “tepid”.
The Curse of Frankenstein
All but the very beginning and the very end of Baron Frankenstein’s life and career are represented. His studies advance rapidly to the galvanic resuscitation of a puppy, but he wants to create life. This requires the body of a hanged man, the hands of a great sculptor, eyes bought individually on the black market, and the brain of a top scientist, slightly damaged.
Frankenstein’s antiseptic mind is one thing, and his laboratory technique quite another. This constitutes the real drama and introduces a visceral sense of the horrible as he equanimously wipes his bloody scalpel on his lab coat, or inspects an eyeball in his hand with a magnifying glass that magnifies his own eye.
His only other passion is the maid, who threatens to undo him. She enters the laboratory by night to find out for herself about the experiments. Bartókian music is heard, not as you would expect associated with Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, but with The Miraculous Mandarin. The Baron locks her in from outside, and the monster attacks her. The same music is heard later when his fiancée attempts the same investigation.
Fisher’s technique, like everything else in this film, is subdued and unanswerable. The puppy is revived by placing it in a tank like an aquarium, which is filled with liquid and sustains a galvanic charge. The liquid is slowly consumed until the puppy lies exposed on the bottom of the tank, which is then opened to examine the patient and reveal that it’s alive. Once the Baron has assembled all its parts, the monster lies in an identical though larger tank. Unattended for a brief space, the experiment takes its course. As the level of the liquid drops, it slowly lowers the gauze-wrapped monster toward the bottom. There is no question of the result, because it’s been so meticulously prepared. Fisher cuts to Frankenstein’s other business, and follows him back to discover the monster alive and standing unsteadily outside the tank.
In the forest, an old blind man can’t elicit a response from the monster, who snaps his probing stick in two, and then the blind man, whose grandson is last seen innocently walking toward the scene of the crime.
The mysterious brightness of the lighting is analytical and heightened to a point at which scenes of intolerable strangeness take place without recourse to the suggestions of chiaroscuro. Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough) is frighted by an owl amid the pines, he looks up at the lighted window and is reassured, not knowing that his wife and Dracula are in the throes at that very moment.
The first confrontation with Dracula takes place in his library. He’s suddenly seen in close-up, blooded, then he leaps onto a table and beyond it to seize upon a vampiress like a backwoods nobleman berating a servant. Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) at the last leaps upon the table and onto the heavy curtains, which fall under his weight and expose the stained-glass windows streaming with light. He reaches the table again, takes up two candlesticks and holds them crosswise. All of this pulverizes Dracula, who is last seen as a small pile of dust blown away in the breeze from the open window with clear daylight visible.
Kubrick recalled the very first scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The traveler enters an empty hall, sees a feast, sits down to eat and knocks a platter onto the floor. He stoops down to pick it up, and beholds a mysterious figure...
As the Count, Christopher Lee exerts a furious presence, wielding a winglike cape, awaking with a twitch of the lips, insensate with bloodthirst.
The Revenge of Frankenstein
How Dr. Frankenstein became a Harley Street physician.
The Man Who Could Cheat Death
A Ripper for the parathyroid that keeps him alive, and young.
Four-fifths of an hour in sustained inspiration, then he rests his head and the tempo shifts to nightmare struggles.
The powerful analysis shows itself in the last moments perfectly on a par with Beaumont’s Baudelairean “Long Live Walter Jameson” (dir. Tony Leader) for The Twilight Zone.
He’s also a sculptor, beautiful women are in his line.
Pound has it,
Oh! I could get me out, despite their marks
And all their crafty work upon the door,
Out through the glass-green fields...
So let us not (with Britmovie) say it has anything to do with Spielberg’s Jaws. Here is the hidebound convention and its sham resurrection, undone by the beauty it serves so slavishly.
The dramatic element feasts on chops and flagons flung across the sound stage by Cushing with his limp and Lee with his automaton’s walk—and his strange eyes as he superintends the beheading of virgins to adorn the princess’s tomb, violated across the millennia!
English poetry of the richest and most delectable sort. The capper is a visual conception in the last scenes of Mehemet Bey’s Edwardian rooms, filled with looming Egyptian objects, an altar, and the mummy, all of which Kubrick must have remembered for the last scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey (space pod and monolith in eighteenth-century French rooms).
The Stranglers of Bombay
The great cult of thugs devoted to the goddess of destruction, Kali.
A great picture of India split by religious groups or class distinctions so that nothing whatever can be done about hundreds of people disappearing unaccountably each year.
The East India Company is in charge of civil matters but not very keen on local culture, one officer makes it his business to study the situation.
Great calamity brings the matter to the attention of higher-ups who at last begin to take a proper outlook and subdue the former patel or headman, who is turning the old cult into an instrument of self-aggrandizement.
Details are demonstrated and described, pertaining to the ancient worship. Stevens’ Gunga Din bears no little resemblance on this theme, which is vividly expressed in the fight of a mongoose and a cobra.
The Brides of Dracula
The “seal of Dracula” is set upon Van Helsing of Leiden University, “a Doctor of Philosophy, a Doctor of Theology, a Professor of Metaphysics”, who removes it at once with cautery and holy water.
Young Baron Meinster is fair-haired and given out as dead by his mother the Baroness, who keeps him chained within the chateau, a wild youth. The social set no longer pay visits, she brings him girls to feed upon, one of the latter frees him, moonlight on the vanes of a windmill casts a shadow that finally quells him.
“There is nothing new or imaginative about it” (Bosley Crowther, New York Times). “Patchy but striking” (Tom Milne, Time Out Film Guide).
Halliwell’s Film Guide finds it “the best of the Hammer Draculas.”
The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll
Perfect masterpiece from Wolf Mankowitz, delivered by Fisher as a completely stated equation from first to last, how the other and better half lives, away with it says the good doctor at last, his eyes open, charged with willful murder.
“Frankly ridiculous” was Eugene Archer’s evaluation in the New York Times (as House of Fright). “Mediocre”, says Time Out Film Guide. It made no impression on Halliwell’s Film Guide, either, “surprisingly flat and tedious”.
Excellent score by Monty Norman and David Heneker.
The Curse of the Werewolf
In the lore of mid-eighteenth-century Spain he is practically the Antichrist of Rosemary’s Baby, scion of most foul injustice, but truly he is the heir of Curt Siodmak’s The Wolf Man (dir. George Waggner) and something more, a living symbol of republican virtue and the Rights of Man, a gracious expression, a tale that is told as a fairy tale.
“Not by any means distinguished,” reported Howard Thompson of the New York Times. “A credit to all concerned” (Variety). “Badly lacking in dramatic tension” (Geoff Andrew, Time Out Film Guide).
Halliwell pronounces it “doleful Hammer horror”.
The Phantom of the Opera
The opera is Saint Joan, a purloined work the composer of which lives below the stage of the Albany Theatre in London.
The point is to see the thing performed with a capable soprano, its authorship established.
This was rather lost on Variety, “somewhat precariously” and “rather confusingly”, also on Time Out Film Guide, “peculiarly low-keyed” and “curiously abstract”.
Halliwell says “stodgy”.
The hand-cranked parlor apparatus displays a short scene (two men, woman, chair and dress) that is perfectly thematic.
Like The Curse of the Werewolf, with which it shares stylistic tendencies that are part and parcel of the structure and purpose, a hugely technical work exhibiting a grandeur on the sound stage almost neglected by the camera, in a way characteristic of Fisher, a certain kind of nonchalance. The greatly involving drama, which depends entirely on a certain kind of discernment amongst the materials of the screenplay and the studio, is to be discerned or not.
“Hell hath no fury” like the occasion missed on whatever pretext, nothing but a miserable sorrow like the sphinx-and-sleeper hallucination in Russell’s Altered States.
A conspiracy of silence and fear, it’s called.
“There is a tide in the affairs of men,” full moon, and she changes.
Homage to Waggner’s The Wolf Man.
The Earth Dies Screaming
Robots worked by signals on the radio and TV band rule a world of walking bodies with “grey blobs” for eyes following a gas attack of unknown origin.
A masterpiece of cogent fear laid out in terms that are easily understandable from Clair’s Paris qui dort to Wise’ The Andromeda Strain but quite specific, the end is contemporaneous with Godard’s Alphaville.
Fine score by Elizabeth Lutyens.
Dracula Prince of Darkness
There is no folderol about this Count, he is an oddly wizened but very forceful bloodsucker, eyes very red, hissing like a cat.
To revive him, a man is stabbed in the back and strung up by his ankles, then bled like a hog onto the strewn ashes of the castle’s late master, whose servant Klove performs this office.
Abbot Sandor doesn’t countenance the witch superstition but knows his vampires, though it’s commonly held in Carpathia that such a castle does not exist.
Frankenstein Created Woman
A great poem in the lucid Hammer style, which is exacerbated to give the essence of Redon and Beardsley on Judith and Salome.
The guillotine for murderers, the reedy stream or the rushing torrent for the girl.
Brash young men meet their fate. Soul and body united as one, indestructibly.
Baron Frankenstein conducts the experiment, with the assistance of Dr. Hertz.
Island of the Burning Doomed
The sound on the island in Robbe-Grillet’s Le Voyeur is said in English to be a “ship’s whistle”, but in French it’s “la sirène”.
A cast-off mistress ferrets out her married lover in an island village where the heat is tremendous, though England is freezing.
The material is very close, and fortuitously so, to Losey’s Accident.
The framework is classical science-fiction, a scientist lodged at the hotel and pub in MacDonald’s Devil Girl from Mars or Balaban’s Stranger from Venus, and whose character is built from Whale’s The Invisible Man, baits a trap for “beings from another planet” with a flash camera and a mirror in the woods, and sends away for an infrared extension lens (cp. Winner’s Death Wish 3).
The victim runs the hotel and writes novels up to opening time, the mistress hires on as his secretary.
Ineffectual opposition perishes, sheep die incinerated (Baudelaire’s word is “calcinated”).
The title is also given as Night of the Big Heat or Island of the Burning Damned.
They make a noise like overbearing crickets, these creatures of light, and thrive on heat.
Some very dull critics were entirely bewildered to say the least.
The Devil Rides Out
“The left-hand path.”
An “astronomical society” of thirteen only, with blood sacrifices.
The sabbat, attended by the Goat of Mendes.
The grand assault upon outsiders, the little girl and the spider, the Angel of Death (Black Knight on black horse, a skeleton in a suit of armor).
Black Mass, sacrifice of the little girl, averted by conjuration.
England between the wars, the Duc de Richleau rescues the son of a friend in the Lafayette Escadrille.
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
Why must the vision of darkness accompany that other vision, Veronica Carlson in bed all pink and white and gold? A parable of wine and bottles.
The world through another pair of eyes as a displaced universe consumed by fire.
Freddie Jones is nobly pathetic as the doctor whose brain is transplanted by Frankenstein, as if the limits of perception had been reached and he, formerly mad, achieved lucidity by exhaustion. Carlson lends a diminished tone to the account, suffering under Dr. Frankenstein’s dominion. Simon Ward acts the part of clear-minded science in its ephebic stage. Peter Cushing is unusually forceful and direct, even for him. The rape scene is a marvel of ellipsis, an artful dodge.
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell
The last word on the subject, a film as monstrous as its title.
The monster is made of choice bits from an insane asylum, there is a bid to mate him (Kenton’s Island of Lost Souls, preparing the foreglimpse of Frankenheimer’s The Island of Dr. Moreau).
This set of themes is typical of Fisher’s complexity, but note that Dr. Victor (a nom de guerre) has learned sanitary lab habits (cp. The Curse of Frankenstein), if his assistant surgeon has not.
Biochemistry is to be his next focus, there in the asylum that he, a patient, runs by blackmail.