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The Night Mayor returns

The Night Mayor returns

Dream noir visions in April, with the re-release of The Night Mayor. Continue reading

On the web

  • My brief Empire review of The Signal is online.
  • My review of the restoration of Powell and Pressburger's The Tales of Hoffmann is online at Electric Sheep.
  • My Screen Daily review of We Are Still Here is online.
  • Did Rod McKuen have any idea what the film was about when he wrote the saccharine end title theme song ‘Jean’ (‘run if you will/to the top of the hill’)?  It’s among the most tonally inapt songs ever foisted on a movie, and was probably responsible for me not getting round to seeing it until now – I remember the saucy AA-certificate trailer and the chart success of the song, but was too young to see it in 1969 and not that interested in Ronald Neame-directed adaptations of Muriel Spark novels starring theatrical knighteds in the subsequent decades.  It was a big film – awarded and widely-seen – on release, but rather quickly fell out of fashion, like a lot of big studio art projects.  I’d wager that its commercial success was split evenly between admirers of Maggie Smith, who was recreating a stage star role, and leches who were waiting for young Pamela Franklin’s nude scene.  It’s a fussy preservation of the story, with art-direction ideas like dressing everyone in drab greys and not having all the settings be dourly grim so that Smith’s wardrobe as the unconventional teacher can stand out all the more.  However, it still works because of the material and the lead performances – Smith’s Jean Brodie comes on like the sort of inspirational teachers we’re accustomed to in the likes of Dead Poets Society and Dangerous Minds, clashing with the stuffy higher-ups (Celia Johnson) and fiercely devoted to her girls (‘the crème de la crème’), but it gradually becomes apparent that she’s a self-deluding and actually dangerous lunatic.  Amid all her talk of art and passion, she insists on her arbitrary preferences as facts (Giotto is the best Italian painter) and weirdly tries to shove one of her budding pupils onto her former lover, art teacher Lloyd (Robert Stephens).  Smith’s Jean Brodie, who claims descend from Deacon Brodie, is set against protégé-turned-nemesis Sandy (Franklin), who bridles at being classified as the sensible one and slips into Lloyd’s bed, only to be upset when she sees that his nude portrait of her – like all his paintings – looks like Jean.  The telling flaw is Miss Brodie’s enthusiastic admiration for fascist strong men in Italy and Spain, which leads her to romanticise the brother of a pupil who has gone to fight in the Civil War (misunderstanding which side he’s on) and encourage his sister to go off and get killed for principles that are actively evil.  Smith is such a vibrant performer and Sandy such a flawed character that the struggle between the two isn’t as cut-and-dried morally as it might be, which makes this a much more disturbing picture than it would be if remade now.  That said, the notion of sheltered students becoming radicalised and rushing off to die in wars they can have no understanding of is even more relevant now – and a plot strand that might have seemed far-fetched then parallels 2015 headlines about schoolgirls haring off to join ISIS.  With Gordon Jackson, Rona Anderson, Isla Cameron, Molly Weir and Ann Way on the staff and Diane Grayson, Jane Carr and Shirley Steedman in the class.  Scripted by Jay Presson Allen, whose play gets a bigger push in the credits than the novel. 
  • ... at the Rio Cinema on April 4th, as the Cigarette Burns contribution to the Sherlock Holmes in London season.
  • This underrated 1945 picture was an entry in the horror-comedy cycle kicked off by the Bob Hope Cat and the Canary.  It's complete with secret passages, a scheming mad family, a  mystery villain, a smart aleck city slicker hero and a nonsense rhyme (‘Honors flysis/Income beesis/Onches nobis/Inob keesis’) that’s a clue to a hidden fortune.  George Marshall, director of The Ghost Breakers, even lets it get self-referential when it seems as if a bit with a wheezing pipe organ is being lifted from the earlier film (‘the one with the zombie?’).  However, it’s an old dark house farce crossbred with hillbilly comedy – a mix also attempted in Whistling in Dixie (1942) – which makes this startlingly like a rough sketch for the redneck horror films of the ‘70s and ‘80s.  Poll company employee Pete Marshall (Fred MacMurray) ventures into the backwoods in search of a previous ‘snooper’ who hasn’t come back, and wanders into the homestead of the criminal degnerate Fleagle family.  Spotting the dead cow skull décor, Pete asks 'You folks in the slaughterin' business?'  Later, this even hits on a horror expression which didn’t come into use for decades ('Shall I splatter ‘im now, Maw?' 'No, splatter ‘im outside.') and the Fleagle family runs to archetypes like the snarling, canny matriarch Mamie (Marjorie Main), dimwit superstitious thug twins Mert and Bert (Peter Whitney), snarling gangster Bonnie (Barbara Pepper) and simple-minded mooncalf beauty Elany (Jean Heather).  Heroine Claire (Helen Walker) shows up impersonating escaped con Bonnie and sleuthing around for a stash of stolen money, and the initially-overhwelmed, fast-thinking Pete joins her in trying to stay alive.  Mamie’s latest husband is mad scientist Johnson (Porter Hall), who has invented a luminous poison that makes dogs and people glow and gets into all the food at a madcap family meal (which has a definite Texas Chainsaw vibe).  Johnson dies early, making for a glowing corpse, but comes back as the (spoiler!) surprise culprit.  It has a lot of inspired runabout and visual gaggery, with a classic vaudeville crazylegs routine – copied from a 1926 Syd Chaplin film The Better ‘Ole, and itself reused by Gene Wilder in Haunted Honeymoon – perfectly executed by MacMurray (who also pulls off a clever pretending-to-see-a-ghost schtick), and a rigged-up barnyard machine that turns all the Fleagles into haybales (still alive, though the gruesome possibilities are there).  For a nonstop comedy, it still has moments of nastiness: Johnson battering a tied-up Elany, who thinks he’s a ghost, and forcing her to sing is actually one of the cruelest moments in ‘40s cinema.   I’m surprised it’s not been remade with Bruce Campbell.
  • On March 7th, I shall be doing an event for the Cambridge University Science Fiction Society. All welcome.
  • My Empire review of Hyena is online.
  • I've recently watched a German DVD release of assorted Holmes materials - unsubtitled, but easy to follow. You'll already have the BFI's release of the Douglas Wilmer Sherlock Holmes on order; the German TV series uses the same scripts, so you can watched paired episodes and improve your language skills (one episode missing in English survives in German). Also included are a German language version of Terence Fisher's Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace which looks a lot better than the bleary grey US release, and a 1966 TV movie about the Edalji case which has the same plot as the forthcoming UK TV miniseries Arthur and George.
  • My Sight & Sound review of It Follows is online.
  • My Screen Daily review of [REC]4 is online.
  • My Empire review of It Follows is online.
  • My Sight & Sound review of The Duke of Burgundy is online.
  • I saw the 1921 British version of The Hound of the Baskervilles at the Barbican, with live piano accompaniment from Neil Brand. Here are my notes on the film - caution: reveals whodunit. Eille Norwood has the distinction of being the only one of a multitude of silent screen Sherlocks to own the role the way the likes of Rathbone, Brett or Cumberbatch did – eclipsing other contemporary portrayals and becoming the default Holmes for a generation. William Gillette and John Barrymore were bigger stars, but one was recreating his stage hit and the other crammed a Sherlock into a much more complicated screen career – and both drew on Gillette’s play, which should really be seen as the first Holmes pastiche and attempt to add in elements Doyle didn’t include in his originals, rather than the original stories. Norwood and his preferred Watson (Hubert Willis) appeared in three series of short films based on the stories and Norwood starred in two feature films, based on The Hound of the Baskervilles (with the grey, dignified, unmoustached Willis) and The Sign of Four (with the younger Arthur Cullin stepping in to do the romance). Norwood got the Doyle seal of approval and his performance is sincere, focused and respectful – plus he has the proper beaky nose and casts a striking silhouette, whether seen from a distance on the moors (played by the real Dartmoor, which has rarely been done) or in shadow over a shot of a witness telling his story (one of director Maurice Elvey’s striking touches). As with all Holmes films until 1939, the assumption is that the story takes place in the present – with a motorised bus trundling out to Baskerville Hall and Beryl (Catina Campbell) in bobbed hair and a beret among so many tweedy or stiff-collared men. The story is slimmed down but done straight, which means that Norwood is offscreen for a long stretch while Watson is supposedly handling the sleuthing – indeed, Watson gets to shoot the dog here, while Holmes is off having a fistfight with Stapleton (Lewis Gilbert) in the mire. It seems that screenwriters William J. Elliott and Dorothy Westlake took it that everyone had read the twenty-year-old novel and don’t bother much with concealing the villain’s identity – he’s seen in a false beard spying on 221B Baker St as Dr Mortimer (Allan Jeayes) and Sir Henry (Rex McDougall) consult Holmes and his lookalike portrait as wicked Sir Hugo is prominently displayed. Most screen Stapletons are exaggeratedly decent chaps in their early scenes, a tipoff as to their ultimate guilt, but Gilbert plays him like a glowering brute of the sort often seen in films of this vintage – it’s not his scheming for the inheritance that makes us hate him, but that he beats up, knocks down and ties up his ‘sister’ (actually wife). Beryl is given some Pearl White-style escaping to do – burning the bonds with a knocked-over candle, tying the sheets into a rope. Barrymore (Fred Raynham), the butler, skulks in sinister fashion and signals to the doomed convict, who is his brother rather than brother-in-law here, but takes part in the rescue of Sir Henry from the dog, which is given an optical glow which comes and goes in the print I saw. In contrast with Rathbone, who celebrates the solution of the case by demanding ‘the needle’, Norwood signs off by asking for a ‘whiskey and soda’. It’s too swift to be as atmospheric as it might be – the Dartmoor locations, augmented by a prop monolith, could have done with more exploring – but it does rattle along, proving this one of the most indestructible of all stories. Mme d’Esterre, the official Mrs Hudson of the series, appears briefly.
  • My Screen Daily review of The Treatment is online.
  • My Screen Daily review of 88 is online.
  • My Screen Daily review of Stonehearst Asylum (previously Eliza Graves) is online.
  • My review of Predestination is online.
  • My Empire review of Coherence is online.
  • My review of Jupiter Ascending is posted online.
  • My tiny Empire review of the British found footage film The Rendlesham UFO Incident is online.
  • My Empire review of The Duke of Burgundy is online.
  • My Empire review of Son of a Gun is online.
  • ... here I am introducing a Mario Bava double bill on BBC2's much-missed Moviedrome strand in 1990.
  • I've written an essay which appears among the extras on Eureka's BluRay/DVD release of Bill Gunn's movie Ganja & Hess.
  • ... I've contributed an article to the Guardian's Whiplash special. I also researched this insults list and helped devise this which-mentor-are-you quiz.
  • The story of the Reverend Henry James Prince.  Features a footnote including me.
  • At the Westfield Stratford City shopping centre in London currently you can visit the Hidden House - an immersive haunted house experience based on the Grimm Fairy Tales, and created by Unlocked Vision. Kim and some of his chums went along last week and were suitably terrified by the creepy house and its spooky residents. If you'd like to win two tickets into the ghoulish mansion, then suggest a caption to the photograph featured below. The best entry by 6pm on Tuesday, 23 December will nab the prize. Leave your suggestions in the comments. The Hidden House will be open for brave explorers until 4 January 2015 - a perfect antidote for Christmas cheer.
  • ... is posted at the Wickergirl site.
  • Look, up in the sky ... Simon Taylor's short film, Umbermensch!, based on my short story, is online.
  • My Screen Daily review of The Pyramid is online.
  • My Empire review of Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmaster is online.
  • I've written a piece on the British s-f films Invasion and Unearthly Stranger, available in Network's British Film Collection.
  • My Empire review of Monsters Dark Continent is online.
  • I shall be interviewed by Barry Forshaw at the Barbican Library on December 1st.  Do come ...
  • My 1990 horror novel Bad Dreams will shortly be reissued by Titan Books, with extras that include my hard-to-find novel Bloody Students (previously published as Orgy of the Blood Parasites, as by Jack Yeovil) and an afterword about how the books came to be written, explaining the involvement of Neil Gaiman, Phil Nutman, Stefan Jaworzyn, Norman J. Warren and Richard Gordon.  The cover is another splendid Martin Stiff/Amazing 15 creation. It can be pre-ordered from Amazon UK and Amazon US.  
  • I'll be chatting with screenwriter David McGillivray at the screening of Pete Walker's Catholic-themed shocker House of Mortal Sin at the Barbican this Saturday at 4.00.  
  • My brief Empire review of The Remaining is online.
  • Sterling work by Lee Moyer.
  • ... between me and Matthew O'Donoghue is posted at the Waterstones Blog.
  • ... is posted on the Dutch Girl in London site.
  • My Screen Daily review of Future Shock The Story of 2000AD is online.
  • My Empire review of The Vicious Brothers' Extraterrestrial is online.
  • I shall be signing An English Ghost Story and BFI Film Classics Quatermass and the Pit at 1.00 today at Forbidden Planet (London) as part of a large Hallowe'en signing.  Please come along ...
  • I'll be giving a talk about the great TV writer Nigel Kneale at the BFI Southbank this Sunday the 26th, after a showing of the rarely-screened 1965 production of his adaptation of 1984.  I'll also be signing copies of my BFI Film Classics book on Quatermass and the Pit.  Details here and here.  
  • I've contributed an essay on aliens ('Unearthly Strangers') to this book, edited by James Bell, which is published to tie in with the current BFI science fiction season.  It can be ordered from Amazon and the BFI online shop.
  • My Empire review of the outstanding Australian horror movie The Babadook is online.
  • ... by Lucy Walton-Lange is posted on Female First.
  • My Empire review of Annabelle is online.
  • My Screen Daily review of Monsters Dark Continent is online.

Kim’s Tweets

  • RT @tjegilbert: @AnnoDracula free screening of 1928 Passion of Joan of Arc with live score Fri 3 Apr @UnionChapelUK. Magnificent! http://t.… Tweeted 15 hours ago
  • RT @DJFrankiePigeon: @AnnoDracula You're the only person That might appreciate this sad news. Robert Z'dar (Maniac Cop himself) has died.😥 … Tweeted 21 hours ago
  • #edq ‘There’s a lot more money in guns than cows, and guns smell nicer.’ South of St Louis Tweeted 23 hours ago
  • #edq ‘I’ll never get used to air raids.’ The War Lover Tweeted 23 hours ago
  • #edq ‘You’re obviously a lot better at this than I am. Why don’t you fight him & I’ll jump up & down & give advice.’ The LadyVanishes (1978) Tweeted 23 hours ago
  • #edq ‘Many times I’ve thought of suicide. It’s disgusting, it’s degrading, it’s everlastingly the same.’ Cries and Whispers Tweeted 23 hours ago
  • #edq ‘It says here that if you should waken while I’m on duty I should tell you tactfully what happened. You went nuts.’ The Comeback Tweeted 23 hours ago
  • #edq ‘Now why is it every beautiful girl I meet is in trouble and has a note?’ The Falcon in Danger Tweeted 1 day ago
  • #edq ‘We’re not leaving this town until the storekeeper’s guts have been shot out.’ At Gunpoint Tweeted 1 day ago
  • #edq ‘You think you’ve beaten the political system? You’re just hidin’ out at the bottom of it.’ Flashpoint Tweeted 1 day ago

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