Archive for the ‘blogathon’ Tag

Freddie Francis: Reluctant Horror Icon   3 comments

Freddie Francis once said, “Horror films have liked me more than I have liked horror films.”

The director of more than forty films and television episodes, including twenty-five horrors and the cinematographer of nearly forty more, Freddie Francis may have been typecast as a horror director for good reason. He was good at it.

He started his film career as a camera operator. A friend and protégé of Oscar-winning cinematographer, Oswald Morris, Francis worked for and with Morris and Ronald Neame at Pinewood Studios until World War II broke out in 1939. Francis joined the Army Kinematographic Society, based at Wembley Studios, and spent the next seven years making training films. After leaving the military in 1946, Francis found work as a camera operator at Shepperton Studios, where he worked with Powell & Pressburger, John Huston, Tony Richardson, and a bunch of other incredibly talented directors. On the set of Huston’s Moby Dick, Francis asked if he could head up the second unit. Oswald Morris gave an enthusiastic yes, and Francis acted as director of photography for the first time.


“Call me irresponsible.”

From 1956 to 1964, Francis was director of photography on over a dozen films before beginning his directing career with the film, Two and Two Make Six in 1962. It didn’t fare well. After winning the Oscar for cinematography with Sons and Lovers in 1960, and acclaim with The Innocents, (Francis’ favorite film), his friends were surprised he made the leap to directing.


Don’t turn around.

His background in cinematography may explain why Francis directed some of the most visually stunning of the Hammer and Amicus films. In the early 1960s, Francis directed Paranoiac, Nightmare, Hysteria, and The Evil of Frankenstein for Hammer before making Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, The Skull, The Psychopath, The Deadly Bees, and The Torture Garden for Amicus. In 1968, another terrific Hammer director, Terence Fisher was hit by a motorbike and broke his leg during post-production work on The Devil Rides Out. Fisher was set to direct Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, starring Christopher Lee, but Hammer replaced him with Freddie Francis. Throughout the 1970s, Francis worked for both Hammer, Amicus, Tigon, and other, smaller companies, making The Creeping Flesh, Trog, Tales from the Crypt, and an odd little nugget made by Apple films and starring Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr, called Son of Dracula. He also directed some episodic TV shows before returning to cinematography.


Ringo Starr is Merlin and Harry Nilsson is Count Downe. Yup.

In 1980, David Lynch hired Francis as director of photography on his disturbing and poignant film, The Elephant Man, and later his ill-fated, but gorgeously-photographed, Dune. Francis also served as DP on The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Executioner’s Song, Glory, for which he won his second Oscar, The Man in the Moon, Cape Fear, School Ties, and the beautiful and simply shot film, The Straight Story, again, for David Lynch.


Mr. Bytes thinks up his next good deed.

One of the reasons I chose to write about Francis for this blogathon was my love for Amicus anthology films and Freddie Francis directed three of them. In Amicus’ first anthology, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), six men meet on a train. Peter Cushing (Dr. Terror) pulls out a deck of tarot cards, claiming he can see what’s to come for each man in the car. Oddly, their futures don’t look bright. Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Donald Sutherland, and Bernard Lee also star in the five segments.


“Got anyyyy eights?”

In Francis’ next anthology film, The Torture Garden (1967), Burgess Meredith stars as Dr. Diabolo, a carnival barker who lures four unsuspecting victims into his cave-like back room where they learn about their less than rosy fates. Peter Cushing, Michael Ripper, Niall MacGinnis, and Jack Palance join in the fun. Robert Bloch, of Psycho fame, wrote the stories in The Torture Garden and many of the other Amicus anthologies. They’re literate, full of black humor and twisty endings, and a lot of fun.


“Lemme tell ya about the rabbits, Jack.”

Francis ended his anthology run with a bang. Tales from the Crypt (1972) stars Ralph Richardson as The Crypt Keeper, who leads five people through their terrifying stories. Peter Cushing, Ian Hendry, Patrick Magee, Nigel Patrick, and the spectacular Joan Collins star in these dark tales, based on William Gaines’ EC Comics.


“Want to hear a story?”

Francis dug Peter Cushing, by the way. He said of the actor, “I think Peter is absolutely wonderful. There is not an actor in the world who can speak rubbish like Peter and make it sound real.”


“I can’t believe it’s not butter!”

Amicus producers, Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg borrowed the template of individual tales connected by a linking story, from the portmanteau horror film, Dead of Night (1945). Dead of Night was not the first anthology film or even the first horror anthology, but it aligned well with Amicus’ association with Robert Bloch and suited the repertory company of actors working in horror films at the time. It also made money for Amicus, who made seven of these films.


“Once, I picked up a squirrel and squeezed it until it stopped moving.”

While I love the portmanteau horrors Freddie Francis directed, I love two of his films more. In 1965, Francis took the Robert Bloch story, “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade” and an all-star cast, including Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Nigel Green, and Patrick Magee, and made The Skull. The Skull is awesome on so many levels, it’s hard for me to contain myself to write this. Cushing and Lee collect demonic art. They also play billiards holding brandy snifters and wearing smoking jackets while discussing pure evil. The oft-sniveling Patrick Wymark is a scuzzy seller of stolen devil memorabilia, who offers to sell Cushing the skull of the Marquis de Sade. He happens to have it lying around. Since Wymark already sold Cushing a book made of human skin, he figures it’s a cinch. Amazingly, the skull of the Marquis de Sade is no ray of sunshine. Let’s just say anyone associated with the skull in question better have his beneficiaries updated. Story aside, the effects in this film are killer. The evil skull floats all over Cushing’s well-appointed gentleman’s lair of evil stuff and the skull POV shots are fantastic. The Skull is so much fun.


“Have I mentioned I sell Amway?”

The second film worth highlighting is The Deadly Bees (1966). If you know me at all, you know I love skulls and movies with bees in them. The Deadly Bees is a movie with bees in it. Suzanna Leigh is a frazzled pop star recuperating from a nervous breakdown. Her doctor recommends that she rest on friendly, Seagull Island, where no one is getting killed by bees or anything. While Leigh relaxes, her hosts, who might have watched Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf too many times, fight about just about everything, including bees. Will bees attack Suzannah? What about Michael Ripper? The Deadly Bees also has a cool cameo. Ron Wood, guitarist for the Rolling Stones, appears on a Hullabaloo-like show, early in the film, as a member of The Birds. The bee effects lack sophistication, but it was the first killer bee film, after all, so back off.


Suzannah Leigh wears a bear before meeting the bees.

Freddie Francis may not have relished his career in horror, but I do and if you’re reading this, you probably do, too. Francis directed and filmed the biggest stars in Britain over a career spanning sixty years. He worked with Hammer, Peter Cushing, the Archers, Christopher Lee, Amicus, John Huston, and Captain Ahab. Not a bad record for this vicinity.

I wrote this article for The Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon, hosted by Barry of Cinematic Catharsis and RealWeedgieMidget Reviews. They’re swell movie types and @Barry_Cinematic and @realweedgiemidge on Twitter.

 

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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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