Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category
Kirsty, Julia, and Pinhead are back!
Hellbound: Hellraiser II starts immediately after the first film ends. Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) wakes up in a mental hospital and tries to explain to doctors and the police why there’s so much blood at their house and everybody’s dead. Oddly, they’re not buying the cenobite story. Nutty Doctor Philip Channard (Kenneth Cranham), who interned with the Marquis de Sade, runs the sanitarium. He also has a wacky hobby. He collects puzzle boxes, phrenology diagrams, and spare body parts. Needless to say, he has a bangin’ social life. The doctor asks the police to bring a blood-soaked mattress from Kirsty’s
crime scene house. Yep, it’s completely normal for law enforcement to hand evidence over to some guy who collects kinky dead people stuff. Anyway, the authorities bring Channard the nasty mattress and since he’s done extensive research on nasty mattress dead people retrieval, he knows what to do. Channard’s a sadistic bastard so he brings a highly delusional patient to his home, plops him down on the bloody mattress and waits for the magic to happen. It does. Julia (Clare Higgins), emerges from the depths and steals the poor schizophrenic’s guts and Channard’s heart. Well, maybe the heart is the wrong organ.
“I’d walk through the gates of Hell for a good Chardonnay.”
Julia’s not ready to settle down, at least not until she gets a face. To that end, Dr. Channard drags his hopeless cases over to Julia so she can eat their innards and get some skin so they can consummate this affair.
“Bring me the head of a manic depressive.”
Dr. Channard has been yearning for this kind of depravity his whole life. We see flashbacks to the doctor’s misspent youth as a torturer of small animals and scenes of him experimenting on patients. He’s not a right guy. Of course, by now, we all know Julia’s no prize either so the doctor had better watch his back.
Breaking up is hard to do.
At the same time Dr. Channard and Julia are playing the balcony scene from Romeo and Dahmer, Kirsty and another patient, Tiffany (Imogen Boorman), battle with the cenobites in a weird Escher-like rampart opened by the puzzle box. Full of tortured souls, long hallways, and candles, the dungeon houses the cenobites, their victims, and Uncle Frank. Remember Frank (Sean Chapman) from the first Hellraiser film? He’s been lounging around Pinhead’s playhouse waiting for a little action.
I think I had this calendar once.
There are a couple side stories too. Tiffany is a gifted puzzle-solver the evil doctor imprisoned in his asylum to help him open the box. She’s compelled to do puzzles of all kinds and instead of curing that compulsion, Channard encourages it.
Cenobite Puzzle Boxes: You can’t stop at just one!
There’s also Kyle (William Hope), a young resident at the hospital, determined to help Kirsty.
“Sooo then the guy with nails in his face showed up? Mmmkay.”
That’s when some major stuff goes down. Kirsty, Julia, Frank, Dr. Channard, and the cenobites act out And Then There Were None in the Escher drawing. It’s bloody and thrilling and full of cool, disgusting effects. Dr. Channard’s torture is downright ghastly.
The writers, Clive Barker and Peter Atkins, interject some humanity into this morass as well. Kirsty and Tiffany are our heroes, of course, but they find an unlikely ally and that adds depth to the film.
“Does anyone have an aspirin?”
I like Hellbound: Hellraiser II a lot. For a long time, the first film in the series was my favorite, but this one is edging it out. I like it more with each viewing. The acting, especially in the first two films, is far better than in a lot of gory films of the period and the story and characters are riveting. Christopher Young’s music even won a Saturn Award. The best part is you get a lot more cenobite for the buck. The filmmakers must have known they had a good thing so they didn’t hide the leather-clad freaks. Giving Pinhead and his merry band more screen time works a treat. This is a fun one.
“Anyway, we opened the box.”
Recently, I joined a sold-out crowd at the Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation in Waltham, Massachusetts for Waltham Film Factory’s showing of the documentary, Voices from the Basement. The museum, filled with antique typewriters, vintage lathes, and classic cars, is the perfect setting for this look at what was the hub of the bargain universe for decades, Filene’s Basement. It seemed right to watch a film about the former retail giant in a former textile factory. The film, a tribute to the retailer, tells the story of a place that became a landmark and even a way of life for throngs of Bostonians. Filled with historic footage from the Downtown Crossing shop, the film chronicles the opening of the Basement in 1908 to its closing in 2007 and is a fascinating look at retail history and Edward Filene’s radical corporate philosophy.
Filene’s original Downtown Crossing, Boston location
Edward Filene, the son of founder William Filene, opened Filene’s Automatic Bargain Basement in 1908 as a way to sell overstocked merchandise from his father’s main store in the unused basement. As the store gained popularity, buyers began purchasing high quality goods from other large department stores from all over the country and marking it way down for quick sale. That meant the stock was always fresh and consumers could buy designer goods at a fraction of the original prices.
A packed house in search of inexpensive, but not cheap suits
The automatic part came from the method of automatically marking down merchandise according to a fixed schedule. Filene had other new ideas too. He wanted to keep his employees healthy, so he opened a clinic across the street from the Downtown Crossing location. Sick workers could receive company-sponsored medical care years before any other business owners even considered it. Basement employees ran a store newsletter and the Filene’s Coop Association allowed workers to voice their opinions on store policy. Filene also started a credit union for his employees. This business-as-social-experiment also encouraged employees to stay on for fifty years or more. People started in the stockroom and worked their way up to the sales floor. Employees were fiercely loyal to the company.
A poster depicting the schedule of markdowns
The concept that hard work and ability led to promotion added to the store’s reputation as an egalitarian business. The wide range of shoppers cemented it. Everyone shopped there. The Boston Brahmin browsed next to waitresses, moms, and students.
Bargain hunters sift through the bins.
If you were a savvy shopper, you frequented Filene’s Basement. If you were a female savvy shopper, you got used to changing in the middle of the sales floor. Another of the idiosyncrasies of Filene’s Basement was the lack of dressing rooms for women. I can remember going to the store as a child. My mom would grab wraparound skirts in a larger size for us. We’d put them on over our clothes so we could try on pants and skirts under them without exposing ourselves. Brides-to-be grabbed deals during the yearly Running of the Brides event. There’s a funny edit during that part of the film that shows footage of the Running of the Brides cut with scenes from the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Celebrities like Boston Mayor Tom Menino, actress, Estelle Parsons, reporter, Mike Wallace, Governor Mike Dukakis, and Boston broadcasters, Peter Mehegan and Carl DeSuze wax rhapsodic about the virtues of Filene’s Basement. They’re not the only ones. Voices from the Basement features longtime employees as well; many expressing their love and gratitude to managers and staff members who cared about their customers and each other.
Filene’s clock on Washington Street, Boston
After the film, director, Michael Bavaro and executive producer, Dr. Susan Edbril answered questions and listened to audience stories about their memories of the iconic hole in the ground. There were some great ones. A former marketing executive with Filene’s Basement recounted that once, when she was working, the fire alarm sounded, but no one would leave. They didn’t want to lose the bargains they’d found. Seeing this fun piece of Boston history in such a historic place was a lovely experience.
The Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation and the Waltham Film Factory will screen the film Voices from the Basement again on Wednesday, March 1. Tickets are on sale here.
In the vast wasteland of Australia’s post-apocalyptic desert, a powerful warrior liberates a harem from a water-hoarding despot with the help of a tortured nomad.
Yep. That’s it. I could probably end my piece right here, but I’ll go a bit deeper.
Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) leads the ground troops defending the empire of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). She heads out into the sprawling desert with a raiding party, but instead of collecting slaves or heads or gasoline, Furiosa goes astray and it’s apparent that she has another agenda. She has Joe’s wives secreted away in the cab of her fortified semi and is on her way to the Green Place, an oasis Furiosa knew as a child. The women, abducted from other tribes, served as breeders and sex slaves for the evil Immortan Joe in his mountain cave hideout. Joe holds his power over the people below with force and by controlling the most important resource, water.
Not one drop of water on Arrak…no.
Immortan Joe and his merry band of genetic misfits discover Furiosa’s betrayal and before you can say “two men enter; one man leaves” they’re gamboling through the outback in a charming array of motor vehicles hoping to convince Furiosa and her charges to return. With a crew of war boys in mime makeup chasing her and gangs of motorcycle-straddling sand people hiding behind every rock, Furiosa needs all of her ingenuity and strength, along with a humongous cache of firearms, to repel the crazed hordes from her tanker truck and bring her charges to safety.
“Did you say Humongous?”
Will she make it through the gauntlet without losing the rescued women? Will she get to the Green Space? Will this guy learn another tune?
There’s also Max. Did I mention Max? He’s in this too. Good old Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), whose name and demeanor bursts from the imagination of a frustrated teenage motorhead, begins this adventure as a captive of the war boy, Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Nux gets off with a little help from silver spray paint applied to his teeth. Apparently, the weird, powder-coated Immortan Joe devotees need a constant supply of new blood, so they capture vulnerable wanderers to use as permanent blood donors. Max is strapped to Nux’s car and hooked-up to an IV to keep him in hemoglobin.
“CALL MY AGENT!”
Max and Furiosa don’t hit it off right away. They try to kill each other until they realize their interests are better served by teaming up against the nutjob biker gang. That’s when it gets fun. Since this is a George Miller production, it’s chock full of nitrous-powered hot rods brimming with mutants with anger issues and massive car wrecks. Since I’m a fan of those, I found Mad Max: Fury Road entertaining. I’ve always loved the Mad Max franchise and hoped this would not be an exception. It isn’t. The Road Warrior/Handmaid’s Tale mashup worked and the action, for the most part, did not disappoint. I love Furiosa’s tricked-out truck cab. Her impressive armory makes sense and speaks to her strong warrior character. I also love the stilty flingy guys during the main chase sequence. In my notes, I call them pole vault warriors. That works too.
Hieronymus Bosch, cinematographer.
I wish I could say the film crushed it all the way through, but I found the first desert chase scene lacking. I think the stunt coordinator had a wardrobe malfunction because his CGI showed. It also looked like they sped it up for some reason. It was early in the film and we didn’t know the characters yet. That lack of involvement with the story coupled with the Benny Hill-like speed increase made the segment hard to watch. I have no qualms with the later stunts though. They quenched my Mad Max thirst.
“Say what again.”
A few character actors stood out in Fury Road. Nicholas Hoult as Nux adds a nice dimension to the film. He starts as your average war boy, but spends a good deal of the film trying to redeem himself. Since the whole Mad Max series deals with redemption, Nux fits. Riley Keough as Capable has an expressive and sympathetic face. She comes by it naturally. Elvis Presley is/was her grandfather. She says a lot without too much dialogue. Zoë Kravitz has a small, decent role, but doesn’t have much to do. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, as Joe’s favorite wife, The Splendid Angharad, has a nice supporting part as the leader of the harem who sets the example for toughness among the wives. As for the bad guys, Immortan Joe lacks the verve of a Toecutter, which is odd because he played that part in the original Mad Max film. John Howard and Richard Carter play The People Eater and The Bullet Farmer and I wish they had more screen time. They have Baron Harkonnen-levels of disfigurement. Miller comes up with great baddies, then he refuses to let us see them. He also makes up great names!
Toecutter and Immortan Joe: Together Again!
Charlize Theron as Furiosa and Tom Hardy as Max deliver. Theron looks hard and smart and fierce as a war-weary soldier who wants to go home. Hardy lets his guard down with Theron and they show great chemistry. It isn’t a romance. It’s two wounded souls recognizing each other. As soon as they realize how alike they are, Max has her back and Furiosa has his. It’s a loyalty based on loss and it works.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a terrific action film and I’m glad I finally saw it.
It’s Australia month here at Prowler Needs a Jump so get out your boomerangs!
“This damned burg’s getting me. If I don’t get away soon I’ll be going blood-simple like the natives.”
RED HARVEST by Dashiell Hammett
Commit a crime, and the earth is made of glass. Commit a crime, and it seems as if a coat of snow fell on the ground, such as reveals in the woods the track of every partridge and fox and squirrel and mole. You cannot recall the spoken word, you cannot wipe out the foot-track, you cannot draw up the ladder, so as to leave no inlet or clew. Some damning circumstance always transpires. The laws and substances of nature — water, snow, wind, gravitation — become penalties to the thief.
COMPENSATION by Ralph Waldo Emerson
What if there’s a crime and no one’s sure who committed the crime or what the crime is? What if you think you know who committed the crime, but you’re wrong? What if you can’t find your windbreaker anywhere? Also, what if you failed Conversation 101?
The owner of a dingy bar in Texas, Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) suspects his wife, Abby (Frances McDormand) is cheating. He hires lowlife private detective, Loren Visser (the excellent M. Emmett Walsh) to tail her and confirm his suspicions. Abby may or may not have cheated in the past, but on her way out of town she gets chummy with Ray (John Getz), a bartender in Marty’s saloon. Marty can’t live with the knowledge of his wife’s infidelity so he decides to do something permanent about it and asks Visser to help. He may have hired the wrong guy.
Dark, moody, and atmospheric, BLOOD SIMPLE moves at a steady pace and always moves forward. The plot isn’t complicated. Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen don’t go off on tangents which allows them to focus on the four main characters and what they think is going on. That’s the point, after all. The audience knows the entire story, but each character sees only his or her part in it. With limited information, they make poor decisions. They’re not crazy or irrational, but miscommunication or lack of any communication at all leads each of the main players to make bad decisions that compound each problem and dig them deeper into trouble. It’s like a high-stakes version of the telephone game, except in BLOOD SIMPLE, that innocent exercise of passing, “Dasher and Dancer are my favorite reindeer.” on as “Ashes cause cancer. Want a beer?” becomes dangerous confusion about a possible murder.
The characters, handicapped by limited access to the whole story, talk to one another, but their conversations muddy rather than clarify and people walk away from each exchange with less information than they started with. Only the audience is privy to the entire thing. This causes tension and a desire to yell at the screen. It also makes it hard to look away.
Shot in Austin, Texas with a small budget that Joel and Ethan Coen collected door-to-door, BLOOD SIMPLE looks and sounds more expensive than it should. Barry Sonnenfeld’s shadow-filled cinematography along with skillful editing by Roderick Jaynes and Don Wiegman lift the film’s quality above the usual mid-eighties thriller. Creative visual effects and a fantastic Carter Burwell score will stick with you, as will the trademark Coen gore. This was the Coen brothers’ first feature film and Burwell’s first film score, but you’d never know it. Their clear vision ties a simple plot, a small cast, and spare sets together to make an inventive neo-noir classic.
The cast, led by Frances McDormand, all excel at restraint. There’s so much left unsaid in every conversation, the script must have consisted largely of stage directions. That said, McDormand, Getz, Walsh, and Hedaya are all wonderful character actors who can say a lot without words. McDormand’s character, Abby, even mentions the lack of chit chat. After she says to Ray that he’s quiet like Marty, she explains, “When he doesn’t say things, they’re usually nasty. When you don’t, they’re usually nice.” That’s sweet and all, but if Ray could just finish a sentence… The dialogue we get is choice. When Visser warns Marty to keep their association to himself, Marty says,” I wasn’t about to tell anyone. This is an illicit romance–we’ve got to trust each other to be discreet. For richer, for poorer.” Visser comes back with,” Don’t say that. Your marriages don’t work out so hot.” The whole film is an exercise in understatement and it’s a subtle, brutal treat.
This piece appeared originally in the Brattle Film Notes.
Rose Sandigate (Googie Withers) lives a drab, joyless life. Married to dull, but decent George (Edward Chapman), Rose keeps house for her husband, his two nearly grown daughters from a previous marriage, and their small son. She’s worn out from rationing, slum-living, and her uneventful life in the East End of London.
“There’s another dead bishop on the landing!”
One Sunday, while preparing Sunday dinner, Rose finds escaped-convict Tommy Swann (John McCallum) hiding in her family’s air-raid shelter. Tommy was serving a prison sentence for a violent robbery committed years before on the day he was to have married Rose. He begs Rose to hide him until nightfall when he’ll make his escape. She tries to resist, but still loves him so she promises to keep him safely locked away in her bedroom for the day. As her husband and children go about their Sunday routines, Rose becomes more tense. She knows she should turn him in, but she loved him once. As the day progresses, Tommy tries to seduce Rose and his attention brings back thoughts she hadn’t entertained in years. Rose is torn. Should she give Tommy over to the police or chuck it all and go on the run with him?
To complicate matters further, Rose’s stepdaughters, Vi (Susan Shaw) and Doris (Patricia Plunkett) are old enough to feel claustrophobic in her home and Vi, the elder of the two, can barely contain her resentment. As it gets closer to nightfall, Rose can’t take the pressure and starts picking fights with everyone in the family. The bickering reaches a fever pitch on a usually calm Sunday afternoon.
“A noise? Nah. Must be your imagination.”
All the time Rose agonizes about having a convict under her bed, the law, led by Detective Sergeant Fothergill (Jack Warner) combs the streets for Tommy. Fothergill knows Tommy’s old criminal associates might have a line on where he’s holed up so he presses them for information. This adds to the overall feeling of pressure in the film. During Fothergill’s investigation we get to see the melting pot neighborhood where all this drama takes place. As the camera pans through the busy market, we hear a smattering of Yiddish among the English-speakers. It’s a working-class mix of different cultures with a lot of personality.
Must be a special on eel pie.
It Always Rains on Sunday, listed as a crime drama or film noir, also resembles some French films of the 1930s. Films like Pépé le Moko, directed by Julien Duvivier and Le Règle du Jeu (Rules of the Game), directed by Jean Renoir, show people on the fringes of society living in despair. These films in the subset of poetic realism often have a cynical point of view and at least one character resigned to his own sad fate. The characters hope for love or fortune or something grand, but are often beaten down by a series of misfortunes or a set of rules they didn’t make. Though not technically of that French genre, this film shares composer Georges Auric with many of the films of poetic realism. The style of It Always Rains on Sunday influenced many of the British kitchen-sink dramas of the 1950s and 60s like Look Back in Anger (1956) and A Taste of Honey (1961). These films departed from the usual upper-crust British films by showing working class people stuck in dead-end jobs and living in squalor and dealt more frankly with sex, race, and poverty than films had up to that point.
Poor is Hell.
Michael Balcon produced It Always Rains on Sunday and many other films for Ealing Studios. He also produced for Gainsborough Pictures, Gaumont British, and MGM British Studios and had a huge influence on British cinema. Director, Robert Hamer helmed this and Kind Hearts and Coronets for the studio. Ealing specialized in comedies and some of the locations look like those in the comedies The Ladykillers and The Lavender Hill Mob. Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe filmed It Always Rains on Sunday along with The Great Gatsby (1974), Rollerball (1975), and about eighty other films while collecting a basket full of Academy Award and BAFTA nominations and wins.
Such a pretty shot.
Fleshing out the story are some terrific British character actors. Hermione Baddeley, Alfie Bass, Sydney Tafler, and Nigel Stock all play the kind of small parts that make any film more realistic.
“It was a wombat, I tell ya!”
Watch It Always Rains on Sunday for the slice-of-life drama, the dingy, authentic atmosphere, and for the marvelous performance by Googie Withers. In the time it takes to make a Sunday roast, Withers unravels internally without going all Mystic River Sean Penn on us. She shows us just enough. It’s a restrained and artful take on what could easily have been melodrama. Withers also has great chemistry with John McCallum, who she later married so you know the steam is real. If you’re in the mood for a little gem of a film that’s a little bit noir and a little bit day-in-the-life, check out It Always Rains on Sunday.
Notes: Googie Withers and John McCallum were married for 62 years!
Googie means Little Pigeon and was a nickname her nanny gave the actress as a child.
Becker (Eric Roberts), a marketing genius, travels to Sydney from the United States to boost sales of Coca-Cola in Australia. He’s a hired gun, of sorts, sent by Coca-Cola headquarters to drum up business. The laid-back executives at the Sydney office don’t know what to make of him, but are told by the brass, “Don’t try to understand him. Just know that he doubles and triples sales.” Staff in the Sydney branch decide, wisely, to leave him alone. Given free rein, Becker looks for weaknesses in the Aussie market. A distribution map of the country shows a glaring hole in Coke sales. Rural Anderson Valley sells no Coke at all. Becker heads to the region to find out why. In Anderson Valley, Becker meets T. George McDowell (Bill Kerr), an autocratic businessman who makes his own brand of soft drinks and controls the soda market there.
The tutti-frutti is made of wombats.
T. George’s passion and entrepreneurship impress Becker. His old-fashioned, but well-run factory turns out delicious products and employs many of the town’s residents. Still, even T. George is no match for the Coca-Cola machine. The writing’s on the wall. Becker wants to bring in Coke and squeeze T. George out of his own territory.
Stand up, Matilda’s waltzing.
THE COCA-COLA KID has a simple plot and could take place in Australia or even rural Mississippi or Maine if it stuck with the ‘just the facts, ma’am’ approach. It’d also be an average film and be over in thirty-five minutes. What takes it to the next level are the characters and tangential stories Frank Moorhouse weaves into the screenplay. One involves an aboriginal didgeridoo player, Mr. Joe (Steve Dodd) and other local musicians; another, a hotel bellman (David Slingsby), in a subversive political organization who mistakes Becker for a CIA agent. A third story revolves around Terri (Greta Scacchi), Becker’s secretary in Sydney and her chaotic home life and history.
Tonight on Kris Kringle Yoga…
You’ll see familiar faces in THE COCA-COLA KID. Some Australian ‘that guys’ make appearances along with musicians Ricky Fataar and Tim Finn.
Ricky Fataar and Steve Dodd in the studio
Finn also wrote the original songs and the faux Coke ad which features Mr. Joe on the didgeridoo. It’s a catchy tune. Bill Kerr was a popular and well-known Australian actor and I noticed at least two cast members from THE ROAD WARRIOR. Rebecca Smart plays the precocious DMZ beautifully. Greta Scacchi’s role is not as fleshed-out as it could be, but she does a nice job with it as a flaky working mom with a complicated backstory. She and Roberts have great chemistry. Finally, Eric Roberts, plays Becker as a perfectionist who sees Coca-Cola as an extension of the Unites States and espouses its virtues with evangelical zeal. He’s thrown himself into his work and eschewed a personal life.
Brown and bubbly
He’s not like Alec Baldwin in GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS though. He has a tender heart and Roberts has the acting chops for it. In the 1980s, Eric Roberts made some terrific films. STAR 80, THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE, RUNAWAY TRAIN, and THE COCA-COLA KID all show his talent and range.
Becker in a vulnerable moment
During Becker’s mission, he meets a string of quirky, unpredictable characters which bring to mind the Bill Forsyth films LOCAL HERO and COMFORT AND JOY. As I thought more about it, I realized one of the offbeat players in THE COCA-COLA KID is Australia itself. Director, Dusan Makavejev lets the camera linger on the scenery as well as the actors. Like LOCAL HERO, the place has a personality. It’s foreign to Becker. Everyone speaks English, but they all function so differently from the businessmen Becker deals with that it throws him. His neat, orderly world changes and it hits him hard. He generally rolls in, sizes up the competition, makes changes, and jets home to Atlanta to await his next assignment. He doesn’t get involved in the private lives of his employees. He doesn’t meet odd people. He doesn’t get excited or upset. He does his job, then leaves. The funky wonderfulness of Australia and its people gets to him. It got to me too. I saw THE COCA-COLA KID when it came out in 1985 and I hoped Australia was like this. Maybe it never was, but I like it anyway.
Vicky Barton (Jean Simmons) and her brother Johnny (David Tomlinson) arrive in Paris on the eve of the 1889 World’s Fair. They’re traveling through, but Vicky, excited about her first trip to Paris, convinces Johnny to spend the next day in the city and take her to the fair. That night, the siblings dine in Montmartre and see a show at the Moulin Rouge.
“I’m having so much fun! I hope I don’t disappear.”
The next morning, Vicky waits for her brother to pick her up for breakfast. When he’s late, Vicky visits the hotel desk to get Johnny’s room key and check on him. Not only do they not have his key, but the proprietor tells Vicky no such room exists and Johnny was never there.
“I’m looking for my oh hello.”
Frantic, Vicky searches for Johnny and tries desperately to prove he was with her. The more she insists her story is true, the more people think she’s crazy. With no money, no friends, and no proof, how will Vicky find her brother?
SO LONG AT THE FAIR follows the main ideas originated in Anselma Heine’s story “Die Erscheinung” (“The Apparition”), in the Richard Oswald-directed silent anthology film EERIE TALES (1919). The concept appears again in Alfred Hitchcock’s THE LADY VANISHES in 1938. Based on Ethel Lina White’s 1936 story THE WHEEL SPINS, THE LADY VANISHES adds Fascists and spies to the already tense tale of a young woman who meets the elderly Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) on a train and then can’t prove she was ever there. In that film, Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) finally convinces Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) she’s not a nut and the two fight fear, indifference, and bad guys to find their friend. Hitchcock recycled the story again for his ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS television series in 1955 in the episode INTO THIN AIR starring his daughter Patricia. That show involves a daughter searching for her missing mother and gives Alexander Woollcott story credit. The stories mostly feature young women in the lead roles who spend the majority of the stories trying to prove to pretty much everyone that they’re not insane and “Oh, could you please look for my brother/friend/mom?”
“Have you met Dad?”
SO LONG AT THE FAIR differs from the other manifestations of this idea in its presentation. The Jean Simmons version was a Gainsborough Pictures production which means lavish sets, period costumes, and pearl-clutching drama. Costume drama is not usually my favorite film genre, but SO LONG AT THE FAIR is a good film with some genuinely tense moments. That probably has a lot to do with the cast and director.
This means no vampires.
Jean Simmons carries the film well. She’s a sweet and innocent girl in peril, but she’s smart and strong enough to stand up for herself and find her brother. She could easily have gone all limp and useless, but the story and the actress are stronger and that makes it more fun to watch. Along with Simmons, the cast includes a few other up-and-coming British actors who acquit themselves well and look lovely too. Honor Blackman has a small part as does the wonderful Andre Morel and the gorgeous Dirk Bogarde. Bogarde has a nice supporting role as a well-heeled artist living in Paris who helps Simmons in her brother quest. Bogarde is young and handsome and terrifically appealing in this film. He and Simmons look good together. Did I mention Dirk Bogarde is incredibly attractive? Oh all right. I’ll stop. He is though.
Another reason SO LONG AT THE FAIR WORKS as more than a vehicle for young stars is the direction by the talented Terence Fisher. Fisher directed a boatload of noir, thriller, and horror films for Hammer Film Productions from the 1950s through the 1970s and his ability in those genres transforms SO LONG AT THE FAIR from the usual Gainsborough melodrama to a more thrilling mystery and makes the heroine’s situation that much more frightening.
When in doubt, ask some nuns.
Unlike BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (1965) and other GASLIGHT-type films, we know Vicky’s brother exists. We’ve seen him. The question is will we and Vicky ever see him again?
I wrote this piece for the British Invaders Blogathon presented by Terence Towles Canote and his site A Shroud of Thoughts
Thanks for the inspiration, Terence!