Archive for the ‘portmanteau films’ 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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Quartet (1948)   Leave a comment

quartet poster

The anthology film began as early as the 1920s in Germany and achieved a modicum of fame during the 1940s and 1950s. TALES OF MANHATTAN (1942) dramatizes the adventures of several people who come in contact with a certain tuxedo jacket. DEAD OF NIGHT (1945), a British horror anthology, involves intersecting stories of people who meet at an English country house. Many consider DEAD OF NIGHT the inspiration for the Amicus Studios portmanteau horror films of the 1960s and 1970s. FULL HOUSE features five stories written by O. Henry and introduced by John Steinbeck. Beginning with DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS in 1965, Amicus Productions made several anthology horror films including TORTURE GARDEN, ASYLUM, and VAULT OF HORROR. Neil Simon made the anthology comedies PLAZA SUITE (1971) and CALIFORNIA SUITE (1978). In 1995, Quentin Tarantino and three other directors made FOUR ROOMS which center on a hotel on New Year’s Eve. V/H/S (2012), its sequels, and THE ABCs OF DEATH (2012) use the anthology format for their horror-filled tales as well. Even this film, QUARTET, was followed in 1950 by TRIO, a set of three Maugham tales also introduced by the author.

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Top: Maugham from QUARTET.
Bottom: Steinbeck from FULL HOUSE.

Introduced by W. Somerset Maugham, QUARTET tells four of the author’s stories. All four are set primarily in Britain, but cover a variety of subjects. The first, THE FACTS OF LIFE stars Naunton Wayne, Basil Radford, and Mai Zetterling in the story of a college student who travels to Monte Carlo for a tennis tournament and forgets all the advice his stuffy father gives him. Against Dad’s wishes, he gambles, lends money, and gets involved with a woman. We’re curious how these missteps will affect the young man. Will he fall prey to his vices or emerge from his adventures unscathed?

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“I’ll stay away from women tomorrow, ok Dad?”

THE ALIEN CORN stars Dirk Bogarde as a young man from a wealthy family who dreams of becoming a concert pianist. He has just graduated from Oxford, so naturally his family has plans for him. Bogarde surprises them and the girl who loves him (Honor Blackman) when he mentions his musical desires, but they work out a bargain. Bogarde will study the piano in a French garret for two years. At the end of that time, he will play before a professional pianist. If that pianist thinks he shows promise, Bogarde will continue with his dream. If not, he will begin a career in law or politics as his family wishes. Bogarde does a wonderful job of expressing his passion for music. We watch him practice and dream and we root for him. As with the rest of the stories in this group, THE ALIEN CORN has a solid cast and an unexpected ending.

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“Carry on, Pussy.”

In the third segment, THE KITE, George Cole plays Herbert Sunbury, a man with an unusual hobby. He loves kites. He and his parents, Hermione Baddeley and Mervyn Johns spend every Saturday afternoon at the park flying kites and many hours the rest of the week designing a special kite of their own. When he meets a girl who thinks his kite-flying is immature and silly, George must decide where his priorities lie. This story surprised me. I thought it might be the comic relief segment of the film, but it was a lot deeper than I originally thought. The cast of veteran character actors including Bernard Lee elevated what could have been an average story to something more.

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Go fly a kite.

Lastly, THE COLONEL’S LADY, directed by Ken Annakin tells the story of a dutiful wife (Nora Swinburne) who writes a book. The romantic and sensual tale of a doomed love affair is a surprise hit and booksellers can’t keep it on the shelves. Her stuffy, self-important husband (Cecil Parker) can’t be bothered to read it. He’s too busy drinking at his club and nuzzling his mistress to pay attention to his wife until people begin to theorize that the love story may be her own. Now the colonel takes notice. This last story shows the most restraint and Nora Swinburne does a lovely job as the ignored wife. As with all four stories, the ending might surprise you.

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“My wife has thoughts of her own?”

QUARTET boasts a wonderful cast of British character actors and short stories that hold your interest.  Maugham has a way with angst as do the players.  I’m a big fan of anthology films and this is a good one.

 

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