Archive for the ‘Bryan Forbes’ 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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Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)   3 comments

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A lone, black candle burns against a black background as we join a séance in progress.  The camera pans over the anxious faces of the circle of believers.  A soft, reassuring voice breaks the silence.  The medium, Myra Savage (Kim Stanley) soothes the unruly spirits.

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“I hear dead people.”

After the séance, the faithful step outside, blinking at the daylight and we meet the players.  Myra and her husband, Billy switch on the lights to reveal a room full of overstuffed chairs and bric-a-brac.  Shabby and overdone, it looks as if it’s been stuck in time for fifty years.  As dominant, unbalanced Myra goes on and on about her ‘gift’ we see the weak-willed Billy.  He listens to her quiet ramblings with the resignation of a beaten man.  As the two discuss their history, Myra belittles Billy, not coarsely, but softly and gently with a sweet lilt in her pretty voice.  Amid the ‘yes dears’ and ‘you’re probably rights’, we see that Billy kow-tows to Myra, but she’s dependent on him as well.  Constantly seeking reassurance, Myra makes Billy tell her over and over that he needs her and loves her.

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“Tell me you love me, Billy!”
“Of course, dear.”

These two quiet, middle-aged people have a plan.  You see, for years Myra has held her weekly spiritual meetings for pitiful pay and even less recognition.  She craves attention and the means to pull herself out of her drab environment.  They plan to commit a crime.  Myra will use her psychic powers to solve it thus cementing her reputation as a medium and gaining them some spending money.  It’s clear that Myra’s plan doesn’t sit well with Billy and he tries weakly to talk her out of it.  Myra can’t be moved and the story begins.

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“Does this rag smell like chloroform?”

Their detailed scheme is set in motion as Billy goes out and Myra dispenses instructions from home.  Even after the first part of the crime goes off without a hitch, Billy has reservations and the strain of it shows on his face.  As the pair dive deeper into their twisted conspiracy, it’s clear that the plot, their marriage, and her sanity rests on a house of cards doomed to collapse.

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“Do you smell toast?”

Bryan Forbes (THE STEPFORD WIVES) directs SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON subtly with a slow, but deliberate pace that gives Stanley and Attenborough room to show off their prodigious talents.  The dialogue sounds natural and the two experienced character actors paint us a picture of an immature, possibly mad woman and the compliant, dependent man who indulges her.  The duo work in shades of gray allowing Myra and Billy to experience a range of emotions and pull us into their strangely touching relationship.  Stanley and Attenborough are all restraint and give beautifully nuanced performances.  Both were nominated by the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts).  Attenborough won.  The Academy nominated Stanley and she won both the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics’ Circle best actress awards.  Forbes was also nominated for a BAFTA award for his screenplay based on Mark McShane’s novel.

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“Did they spell our names right?”

Gerry Turpin’s cinematography was also BAFTA nominated and deservedly so.  The gorgeously shot black and white film has a look that screams 1960s Britain.  Turpin contrasts the bleak English countryside and the dull interior of the couples’ home with the clean, modern home of the rich victims of their heinous crime.  Forbes and Turpin chose beautiful tableaux to film and spend time there.  There are no jump cuts.  The suspense comes from the framing of the story and the understated performances of the two leads and the veteran actors like Patrick Magee, Mark Eden, Nanette Newman, and Gerald Sim working with them.

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This house; you have to watch it every minute.  Wait, wrong movie.

The music and sound effects heighten the suspense as well.  Much of the film has no music which accentuates the suffocating stillness of the Savage home.  The sounds of nature coupled with John Barry’s (Yes, THAT John Barry!) spare score add to the quirky eeriness of this dark tale.

I recommend SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON.  It’s a chilling character study that makes me want to see every British film of this era.

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“Yes, I know I Want to Hold Your Hand is number one.  Yes, I know it’s a séance.  You say that every time.  Stop giggling.”

 

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