Archive for the ‘Asylum’ Tag

Patrick Magee: Food? All Right?   7 comments

A Clockwork Orange

Perenially vexed and menacing with a gravelly voice that retained just a hint of his Irish roots, Patrick Magee played doctors, policemen, military officers, and the occasional psycho in films and television starting in the late 1950s. Though he worked most often on the British stage, Magee alternated theatrical roles with TV and film appearances, working with directors like Joseph Losey, Roger Corman, Francis Ford Coppola, and Stanley Kubrick.

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Kubrick films Magee and Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange.

Born in Armagh in Northern Ireland in 1922, Patrick George McGee, who changed his name to Magee, began performing Shakespeare and other classics in Ireland in the early 1950s. After coming to London for a series of Irish plays, he met Samuel Beckett and recorded some of Beckett’s plays for BBC Radio. Beckett and Harold Pinter, who Magee acted with in Ireland, remained close to him throughout his career and the two writers often requested Magee for pivotal roles in their plays and film adaptations. Beckett even wrote Krapp’s Last Tape with him in mind and said, while writing the play, Magee’s “voice was the one which I heard in my head.”

NPG x127341; Patrick Magee as Krapp in 'Krapp's Last Tape' by Ida Kar
These whale songs aren’t as calming as I had hoped.

After a handful of appearances in British television shows including Dial 999 and the BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, Magee started working in small, British crime films like Concrete Jungle (1960), directed by Joseph Losey. Stanley Baker stars in the film about the brutal lives of small-time criminals both in and out of prison. Magee has a small, but memorable part as a sadistic warder.

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Magee sizes up Baker.

Magee married another Armagh native, Belle Sherry about this time and later had twins, Mark and Caroline. Despite Magee’s bouts with alcoholism, the couple stayed married until his death in 1982.

His stoic, aristocratic manner often tinged with cruelty and/or wisdom worked well in his roles in Roger Corman’s The Young Racers and Francis Ford Coppola’s Dementia 13. In the modern gothic horror, Dementia 13, Magee is Dr. Caleb, a creepy physician who seems to live on the estate of the wacky Haloran clan during a series of grisly murders. Until the end of the film, we’re never sure whether Magee is good or evil, but he plays the part like he has a locked room in his house where he keeps his collection of femurs.

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“That’s right, little mouse. Just one more step and you’re in a sandwich.”

Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death (1964) came next. Magee’s evil in this one. Then, in Bryan Forbes’ phenomenal Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), he’s a police detective tasked with finding a kidnapped child. In Zulu (1964) Cy Endfield’s vivid retelling of the massacre at Rorke’s Drift, he plays a military surgeon. Sensing a pattern here?

Patrick Magee Seance on a Wet Afternoon
“I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV. I’m a detective? Oh. Nevermind.”

The wonderful Amicus film, The Skull, which, by the way, is awesome, has Magee as a police medical examiner and stars a couple nobodies named Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. It also features a malicious floating skull, so you should probably run out and watch it right now.

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The skull in question

In the 1965 film, Die, Monster, Die! Magee and Boris Karloff do Lovecraft and again, he plays a doctor. The film isn’t as good as the title, but it does involve radiation and large plants.

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Not the plant in question

The skull I mentioned earlier belongs or belonged, depending how you look at it, to the Marquis de Sade, who Magee played later in Marat/Sade (1967). The film takes place in an insane asylum in France and has the famous sadist directing a play about good and evil set during the French Revolution. Magee won a Tony for playing the role on Broadway.

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“You’re rushing it. Relax and follow through.”

William Friedkin directed the disturbing Harold Pinter play, The Birthday Party (1968) in which evil torturers, Magee and Sydney Tafler, team up against a vulnerable Robert Shaw. I’m sorry to say I haven’t seen this one yet, but after reading the description, it jumped to the top of my watch list.

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“THAT BOOK WAS DUE ON THE 14th!”

Magee got a chance to do some serious emoting in the 1971 Stanley Kubrick film. A Clockwork Orange. He plays the writer, Mr. Alexander, victimized by Alex (Malcolm McDowell) who exacts revenge using a little Ludwig van, big speakers, and a plate of pasta. Kubrick cast Magee in Barry Lyndon too. In the sprawling epic, he plays sympathetic gambler, the Chevalier du Balibari, who takes young Lyndon under his wing.

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I love Barry Lyndon, but hahahahahahaha.

My favorite Magee performances are in the Amicus films The Skull, Tales From the Crypt, Asylum, and And Now the Screaming Starts!. I’m a big fan of the Amicus portmanteau films and Tales From the Crypt and Asylum, in which he plays a blind man pushed a bit too far, and a doctor in a mental institution, are two of my favorites. All of the films here were directed by Freddie Francis and Roy Ward Baker and they’re terrific.

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“I sat on my keys.”

Magee even shows up in a Charles Bronson classic, Telefon as a Russian KGB officer and in The Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire, as Lord Cadogan, head of the British Olympic committee. His last film roles were in Roy Ward Baker’s The Monster Club with Vincent Price and Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat in 1981. In the Fulci film based on the Edgar Allen Poe story, Magee plays a psychic who converses with the dead and has a cat. When he has a bad day, Magee employs his cat as a hitman hitcat.

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Patrick Magee in disguise

Between the films in this article, Magee also acted in Antigone, King Lear, many television series, and a host of stage plays. He appeared in Krapp’s Last Tape, the play Beckett wrote with him in mind, in the theatre and on TV as a part of the British anthology series, Thirty-Minute Theatre in 1972.

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“I’ll divide my kingdom up and give it away. It’ll be great. Trust me.”

Earlier this year (July 2017), the Ulster History Circle honored the life of Patrick Magee by placing a blue plaque in Edward Street, Armagh, Ireland where he was born. Fellow Irish actor, Stephen Rea unveiled the memorial.

Patrick Magee had a long, successful career in both stage and screen. Though he tended to play authority figures on the edge of sanity, he had the talent to play a wide range of characters. He’s even in two films with exclamation points in the titles, which can’t be bad. Next time you serve your family dinner, remember his patented method to stop unwanted chatter.

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I wrote this piece as a part of the What a Character blogathon run by Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club, Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled, and Aurora of Once Upon a Screen. Thank you, ladies, for organizing this for the sixth time!

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Asylum (1972)   1 comment

asylum poster

I love anthology films.  It doesn’t matter if they’re anthology drama, comedy, or horror films, but I hold a special place in my heart for anthology horror.

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ASYLUM begins with Modest Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bald Mountain.  As the music swells, we see Dr. Martin (Robert Powell) arrive at a remote sanitarium.  Martin meets with Dr. Rutherford (Patrick Magee) who offers him a proposition.  Rutherford will hire Martin if, after interviewing four patients, he can identify which of the inmates is B. Starr, the former head of the institution.  Starr had a complete breakdown and is now an inmate.  Attendant Max Reynolds (Geoffrey Bayldon) takes Dr. Martin from room to room to hear each patient’s story.

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“Tonight on Spot the Loony…”

In the first segment, “Frozen Fear”, Bonnie (Barbara Parkins) tells the story of her lover, Walter (Richard Todd) and his wife, Ruth (Sylvia Syms) and their, um…breakup.  Walter, sweet guy that he is, takes his wife down to their basement to show her a gift he just bought for her.  She’s always wanted a chest freezer and is delighted until Walter surprises her further with a blow to the head.  Fortunately, the freezer is Ruth-sized so Walter has plenty of room to store the bits of Ruth he chopped up and wrapped neatly in brown paper and twine.  Now Walter can abscond to Rome or Nice or Trenton with Bonnie and live happily ever after, right?  Not so fast, bub.

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“Oh, honey?”

Barry Morse plays the titular role in “The Weird Tailor”.  With no money coming in and the threat of eviction looming, Morse gets an odd request from new customer, Peter Cushing.  Cushing commissions Morse to make him a suit made of special fabric he brings himself.  Morse must construct the clothing in a particular order to exact specifications and during the times mandated by the instructions.  Since Cushing wants the outfit immediately and promises to pay handsomely, Morse agrees to his terms.  Things move along swimmingly until delivery day when Morse makes an odd discovery.

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“I’m odd.”

Dr. Martin sees patient Barbara (Charlotte Rampling) next.  Barbara tells of her release from another sanitarium.  Her brother, George (James Villiers) drives her back to the family home and introduces her to her new nurse, Miss Higgins (Megs Jenkins).  Barbara, annoyed at the prospect of a nurse telling her what to do, goes to her room to find her friend, Lucy (Britt Ekland) there.  Barbara is overjoyed to see her old friend who immediately suggests that they go over the wall and go on a spree.  Their outing doesn’t go as planned.

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“Summerisle?  No, I’ve never been there.”

“Mannikins of Horror” stars Herbert Lom as Dr. Byron, a man who believes he can transfer the essence of himself into a small robot who will carry out his will.  All I can say is I want a Herbert Lom robot.

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The Lombot in action.

ASYLUM has a scary, dramatic score by Douglas Gamley and Mussorgsky, a great horror film setting, and a super cast of veteran British actors.  Robert Bloch of PSYCHO fame wrote the stories, and Roy Ward Baker directed.  Baker also directed A NIGHT TO REMEMBER and quite a few films for Amicus and Hammer Productions including the portmanteau horror, VAULT OF HORROR.  Amicus made a number of anthology horror film in the 1960s and 1970s and this is one of the best.

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haunty

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