Saturday, 23 November 2013

Night of the Demon (1957)
 Night of the Demon is one of the most lauded of all British horror films. After all, it has a great cast, a truly scary villain, some truly eerie moments, is based on top quality source material (Casting of the Runes by M.R. James) and was directed by Jacques Tourneur - one of the true greats of 20th Century cinema. But what else does it have?
The least scary demon in the history of cinema
Yes, that's right: Night of the Demon has one of the least scary monsters I have ever seen. Dr Who faced scarier things than this in the 1980s (and Dr Who was really bad in those days, rather than just a bit rubbish with good effects as it is now). As my wife put it: "It looks like one of those rubber monsters you put on the end of your pencils at school."

She was right.

I looked at this scene, a the demon tears Niall McGinnis apart ..  
... and all I could think of was the Chewits Monster eating tower blocks in a 1970s sweets advert:
The Chewits Monster
The notes accompanying the DVD release indicate that Tourneur didn't want to use a demon, preferring to simply let the audience imagine its own demon. If so, he was right. If not, and he did have a hand in including this dreadful monster, then he sullied his own reputation.
But let's not dwell on that (even though, I'll say it again, the monster is laughable) since the rest of the film has so much to commend it. I first saw a version of this story in 1979 on British television, starring Jan Francis and Iain Cuthbertson. It was splendid and is well worth tracking down. Everything about the story - with its tension and final twist - struck me and remained with me until a few years later when I saw Night of the Demon on a late night BBC2 horror double bill (with The Ghoul, if I remember correctly).
Despite my earlier comments about Jacques Tourneur and the inclusion of the monster, the director showed all those touches an audience would expect from the man who directed Cat People. He doesn't need monsters when he can chill us with shadows ...
... build tension with sounds ringing around a darkened corridor ...

Dana Andrews
... and mystify us with a view of a briefcase ...
Dana Andrews
... and intrigue us with distortion:
More than anything, I jumped when a hand suddenly appeared on a banister:
That's how to scare me, not with the Chewits Monster:
Enough complaining, here's the pick of the cast:
Dana Andrews (we know he's questioning his beliefs, he's looking in a mirror)

Niall MacGinnis (we know he's evil, he has an evil beard)
Peggy Cummins
Liam Redmond
Percy Herbert in a small role: Herbert became a regular in British films and TV through the sixties and seventies
Out of interest here's 'Lufford Hall' the residence of the evil Dr Karswell (Niall MacGinnis):
Or as it's really known, Brocket Hall, near Welwyn Garden City:


Friday, 22 November 2013

So Long At The Fair (1950)
Jean Simmons
I found this film as part of a boxset of British 'Film Noir'. I read the description on the box, that informed me that it was a tale of a brother and sister travelling to Paris to visit the 1986 World Exposition, and was immediately sceptical.
Jean Simmons & David Tomlinson as Vicky and Johnny Barton
This just didn't seem to be the conventional setting for film noir. Why not Paris in winter 1946, a woman travelling to France to find out about the mysterious disappearance of her boyfriend in wartime Paris, only to discover that he'd been a black-marketer Nazi double agent? That would seem more like it. But no, we are transported to 1890s Paris where everyone seems to be having a good time. Nothing dark or mysterious going on:
Jean Simmons & David Tomlinson
And then suddenly it turns: on the first night Johnny Barton closes his bedroom door, the shadows close in, the mood changes from light to dark ...
... and Johnny disappears - forever. The film follows his sister's quest to find him as she faces hotel owners and staff who declare that he never existed, leaving her lost and alone in the city with no one to help her. So far, so noir.
I'm glad to admit that I was wrong: film noir is so much more than setting and period. There's absolutely no reason that a woman all alone, trapped in a web of deception in Victorian France should be any less appropriate a subject as someone in similar circumstances in misty 1930s San Francisco.
In her quest she is assisted by Dirk Bogarde, playing a British artist trying to learn to newly fashionable impressionism:
Dirk Bogarde
There is a lovely moment when he talks about impressionism and he is asked: "Do you think they'll ever take it seriously?" When he shows someone a painting and she claims she can't make it what it shows, he tells her: "Perhaps it would look better if you looked at it the right way round? Is that better?"
Betty Warren and Dirk Bogarde
She replies: "No, a little worse, I should say!"
The inspiration for the film was a famous urban legend about a man disappearing overnight and his companion being unable to find anyone who could remember him. The legend had already made it's way onscreen in the 1919 film Eerie Tales starring Conrad Veidt.
I won't reveal the ending (anyone who has read this blog knows I think it unfair to include too many spoilers) but it's certainly interesting, if not entirely convincing. But I'll let you be the judge of that.
As an aside, Honor Blackman makes one of her earliest screen appearances as Rhoda O'Donovan, a British woman who is in Paris expecting Dirk Bogarde to make her an offer of marriage.
Betty Warren, Honor Blackman and Dirk Bogarde
I found it interesting to notice that there were hardly any clear close-up shots of Ms Blackman. Even though she had an important role, and was certainly a fine looking young lady, it was as if the producer had told the director: "Jean Simmons is our leading lady, she's our star - don't let the competition get a chance to rival her." I'm not saying that's what happened, simply that's how it appears.
Let's see who else shows up:

Andre Morell

Austin Trevor

Felix Aylmer

Eugene Deckers

Blood on Satan's Claw (1971)

This is one of those film's with a rather good reputation which, to me at least, doesn't quite live up to one's expectations. Although it opens most effectively - mysterious and creepy, with an strong period feel - it suffers from the same problems as many low budget horror films: a poor monster. And in any horror, an unconvincing monster is the one thing we all remember.
So, what is the essence of the film and the basis of it's reputation? I feel it is famed for being part of the wave of 'Folk Horror' that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Along with Witchfinder General, The Wicker Man and, arguably, the often-overlooked Cry of the Banshee, there was a fashion for pastoral themes, moving away from gothic settings and into something earthier. It was a case of horror films returning to nature:

Of course, it's difficult to judge the reason for this - after all, fashions change almost without reason - but I think this world of country folk celebrating or confronting the 'old ways' was very much a thing of fashion. With the end of the 1960s came the hippies and their deliberate rejection of the modern industrial world. The hippy 'flower children' - dancing with abandon - seemed more suited to the world of village greens and maypoles than dirty city streets. The onscreen rituals of the folk-horrors are like a newspaper reporter's view of a hippy 'love-in' - all music, open-fires, ecstatic dancing and naked flesh:
Talking of naked flesh, maybe the real appeal of Blood on Satan's Claw wasn't actually the horror or the themes of pastoral revival, but that fact that leading lady Linda Hayden appears naked in a scene where she tries to seduce a clergyman.
Linda Hayden

Linda Hayden
What seems amazing is that Hayden was only seventeen years old at the time. One can't imagine a seventeen year old girl appearing naked on-screen now without causing a storm of controversy.
Anyway, let's see who else appears in the film:
We have Simon Williams:
Simon Williams
Michelle Dotrice:
Michelle Dotrice
Veteran British actor James Hayter:
James Hayter
Patrick Wymark:
Patrick Wymark
And an early uncredited appearance by Geoffrey Hughes, later to find fame as Eddie Yeats in Coronation Street:
Geoffrey Hughes (left)

Saturday, 9 November 2013

I Believe In You (1952)
Stanley Escane (centre) and Harry Fowler (right)
This is one of too-often ignored films to come out of Ealing Studios in the post-war years. All too often when people think of Ealing they automatically think of the comedies, rather then the quite-often equally as impressive dramas. Based on a memoir entitled Court Circular by Sewell Stokes, I Believe in You is the story of probation officers in South London in the late 1940s and focuses on the period's popular theme of the rising menace of juvenile delinquency. Stokes had worked as a probation officer at Bow Street Magistrates Court in London during World War 2, giving him an intimate knowledge of the trials and tribulations of those attempting to guide troubled teenagers away from crime.
Cecil Parker stars as Henry Phipps, recently retired from the Colonial Office (since the Colonial Office was finding itself short of colonies) who is bored and decides to try his hand at working as a probation officer after he meets Norma Hart and her probation officer Matty Matheson (Joan Collins and Celia Johnson).

Joan Collins and Celia Johnson
Collins literally crashes into his life after her criminal boyfriend crashes a stolen car whilst being chased by the police. She clumsily attempts seduction, but merely arouses his curiosity in the world of juvenile delinquents.
Joan Collins & Cecil Parker

Joan Collins
And so he starts work, taking on the case of Charlie Hooker (Ealing regular, Harry Fowler), among others.
Harry Fowler
Hooker is initially antagonistic towards Phipps but the two soon grow to understand each other. As Johnson and Parker slowly grow friendly, so too do their charges Collins and Fowler.
Harry Fowler & Joan Collins

Harry Fowler & Joan Collins
The film doesn't preach too loudly, despite its obvious sympathy for the petty criminals who pass through the courts. The impact of war on their lives is shown: Hooker's father died in the war yet the subject isn't pursued or analysed. Instead, the subject of bereavement is shown in a balance manner: another of Matty's clients, the Honourable Ursula (played by Ursula Howells) turned to drink after he fiancée was killed, whilst Matty herself had lost her husband to war. The message is clear: everyone copes with these things in their own way, and some people need more help than others to cope.
Much of the film looks at contrasts within society: Parker's comfortable life is far different from that of his clients. He lives in a smart flat ...
Cecil Parker
 ... yet they live on rubbish strewn streets, in crumbling houses or small flats ...
Cecil Parker

Cecil Parker

... theirs is a world of bombsites and endless smoky railway yards:

As Mr Phipps narrates: "'I'd always thought of London in terms of Knightsbridge and St James." The contrast between these two world's is highlighted by Matty who accuses him of dressing so posh that he "frightens the horses." Acting on her advise, he abandons his tailored overcoat and bowler hat, replacing them with a far less conspicuous combination of raincoat and trilby:
Cecil Parker & Joan Collins
The film is a good introduction to Joan Collins, in only her third credited role. She conveys her character's sensitivities well: showing both her soft and her hard side.
Joan Collins
She is naïve in her clumsy attempts seduce Phipps and brash with growing relationship with Hooker. In a scene shot at the Endell Street Baths in Central London, Collins switches from girlish giggling to convincing sensuality in seconds. And she does it well:
Harry Fowler & Joan Collins

Harry Fowler & Joan Collins
So what else is there to point out:
Let's see who else appears:
George Relph (the father of the film's director Michael Relph) appears as Mr Dove, a kindly senior probation officer
Mandy Miller (who also starred in the film Mandy)
Stanley Escane, who had previous featured with Harry Fowler in Hue & Cry
An early appearance of Laurence Harvey, as Edna's criminal boyfriend, Jordie Bennett.
N.B. this image appeared on some posters for the film:
This poster is currently available from film poster dealer Greg Edwards

Ada Reeves appears as a former artist's model whose glory days are far behind her. Reeves was herself a former Music hall star whose glory days had passed.


One of the portraits that she shows to Mr Phipps, making him realise how this seemingly dotty old lady had an interesting story to tell.
Gladys Henson
Glyn Houston
Ursula Howells

Sid James

Katie Johnson as a dotty old lady who believes her neighbours are trying to poison her
A couple of things to note: The photograph of Matty's dead husband keeps changing:
Blue uniform

White Uniform
Also, a hole in Harry Fowler's jacket manages to disappear halfway through a scene:
Before (complete with hole on left breast)

After (with hole gone)
You might also like to see the drawing of Mr Phipps done by the judge during a hearing:

 And, just in case anyone is interested, here's the shoes Joan Collins wears: