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Posts Tagged ‘Ingrid Pitt’

Eighty-fifth birthday wishes to Richard Matheson as we belatedly conclude the explication of my hundred favorite films, listed on the B100 page accessible above.

Touch of Evil:  Beginning with a single, unbroken, three-minute crane shot following a car with a bomb in the trunk until it explodes, this is one of Orson Welles’s best films.  Welles directed, adapted Whit Masterson’s novel Badge of Evil, and plays the corpulent sheriff of a spectacularly sleazy Mexican border town; a mustachioed Charlton Heston stars as a Mexican-American cop trying to enjoy his honeymoon with Janet Leigh (and who wouldn’t?) when the explosion changes his plans.  Brilliantly shot, written, and acted, it creates a palpable atmosphere of corruption and evil.  With Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich, Dennis Weaver, Joseph Cotten, Zsa Zsa Gabor (!), and Mercedes McCambridge (who dubbed the nasty bits for Linda Blair in The Exorcist) in supporting roles of various sizes and a splendid jazz score by Henry (The Pink Panther) Mancini.

2001: A Space Odyssey:  Madame BOF is perhaps not the only one whose patience is put to the test by this film’s rather, shall we say, leisurely paced 140-minute running time.  But she is too quick to dismiss its technical expertise, its profound script by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke (at that time an extremely rare cinematic venture by a world-famous SF writer, who expanded considerably upon his short story “The Sentinel” and, at Kubrick’s insistence, took sole authorial credit for the novel they wrote simultaneously), that famous Strauss theme song, and the sheer ballsiness of MGM in making the damn thing, which render it unique and influential.  A huge, featureless black monolith appears at various points in humankind’s development, its purpose initially unknown, and so begins Keir Dullea’s voyage aboard the aptly named Discovery.  “Open the pod bay door, Hal.”

Unforgiven:  To date, this is my favorite among Clint Eastwood’s directorial efforts, and I seem to be in good company, because the Academy awarded it not only Best Picture and Director but also Best Actor (Gene Hackman) and Film Editing.  He supposedly acquired the script by Blade Runner co-writer David Peoples (who also copped a nomination, as did Clint for his performance) and stuck it in a drawer for a decade until he thought he was ready to play the part of Bill Munny, who hung up his guns out of respect for his late wife, and only reluctantly picks them up again to support his two children when times get tough.  Joined by old pal Morgan Freeman and young gun Jaimz Woolvet, he goes after a bounty offered by a group of prostitutes for the cowboys who defaced one of their own.  But things don’t go according to plan, and he runs afoul of brutal sheriff Hackman.  Clint dedicated the film to his directorial mentors, BOF faves Sergio Leone and Don Siegel; the heart-wrenching score, guaranteed to choke me up, is by his longtime collaborator, Lennie Niehaus.

Up in Smoke:  Although I think one of my brothers started it by bringing home their album Big Bambu, my late father and I shared a perhaps inexplicable fondness for the drug-(dis)oriented humor of Richard “Cheech” Marin and Thomas Chong, who made their film debut in this stoner comedy that made “Low Rider” one of my theme songs in later years.  Their next movie (titled, with breathtaking originality, Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie) was followed by the likes of Nice Dreams, Things Are Tough All Over, and Still Smokin’.  Those looking for detailed descriptions of and/or penetrating insights into those later films are, at least for now, doomed to disappointment, because I haven’t seen most of them for years.  They do all tend to blend together, and quite frankly they’re probably all terrible in hindsight, but this one, at least, stands up to repeated viewings, and since my wife and daughter—who would no more toke up than ski down Everest—love it as well, it’s not just me.  In this, they unwittingly smuggle a van made of dope across the Mexican border.

Vertigo:  A Hitchcock masterpiece, probably almost neck and neck with Psycho in my book, featuring a stunning James Stewart performance (as an obsessive character whose make-over of a woman is, for Hitch, stunningly self-revelatory) and an absolutely shattering final scene.  Say what you want about Kim Novak’s acting, I think she does just fine with her dual role, and as always, Bernard Herrmann’s score is superb; the credit sequence alone is a breathtaking mix of image and music.  You’ll catch many nuances after mastering the complex plot, based on a novel by celebrated French crime-writing team Boileau-Narcejac.  “I don’t want to get mixed up in this darn thing!”

Walkabout:  Erstwhile cinematographer Nicolas Roeg (The Masque of the Red Death) made his solo directorial debut with this unique film.  Jenny Agutter (Logan’s Run), stunningly beautiful on the cusp of womanhood, and her younger brother (Roeg’s son Lucien John) are forced to embark upon an odyssey through the Australian Outback that intersects with, and in some ways parallels, the titular coming-of-age ritual of Aborigine David Gulpilil.  The bittersweet (or, per the somewhat less nuanced response of Madame BOF, “sad”) story is perfectly complemented by the film’s ravishing cinematography, also by Roeg, and its heartbreaking score by the late, great John Barry.

Where Eagles Dare:  Quite simply The Greatest Movie Ever Made.  Okay, I’m kidding, but it is my personal favorite.  Only Alistair MacLean could have concocted this complex tale of triple agents, centering on a commando mission ostensibly to rescue an American general—who knows the details of the D-Day invasion plans—from an inaccessible Bavarian chateau!  Only Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, and Mary Ure could play the stalwart leads, who massacre countless German soldiers with only one flesh wound among them!  Only Ferdy Mayne, Anton Diffring (Shatter), Donald Houston (The Longest Day), and Derrin Nesbitt could play the nasty Nazi villains!  Only Brian G. Hutton (Kelly’s Heroes) could direct the exciting action scenes, including the famous cable-car fight!  Only Ron Goodwin could compose the rousing, unforgettable score; I even have the soundtrack album on both LP and CD!  I also have a first edition of the novel (based on MacLean’s script, but published before the film was released), and even the Mad magazine parody.

The Wild Bunch:  In my opinion, this is director Sam Peckinpah’s greatest achievement, although Tom is free to prefer Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (admittedly one hell of a film).  William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Jaime Sanchez, Bo Hopkins, and Edmond O’Brien are among the members of this aging gang, running out of banks to rob and pursued by ex-member Robert Ryan, railroad man Albert Dekker, and sleazy bounty-hunters Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones.  The sanguinary finale is the apotheosis of Peckinpah’s “poetry of violence.”  Absolutely superb.  Even my Mom liked this, surprisingly.  My favorite quote says it all:  “When you side with a man, you stay with him.  And if you can’t do that, you’re like some animal—you’re finished.”

The Year of Living Dangerously:  I don’t think anybody saw this one and didn’t like it.  Reporter Mel Gibson and diplomat Sigourney Weaver mix it up in politically unrestful Indonesia in 1965 to spectacular effect.  This exceptional thriller was directed by Peter Weir, is extremely faithful to the excellent novel by Christopher J. Koch (who also co-scripted with Weir), has a score by Maurice Jarre (although I later learned that my favorite piece was written by Vangelis for another film entirely), and co-stars Linda Hunt in her Oscar-winning performance (as a man, yet).  Note for trivia buffs—Gibson’s character is the namesake of Goldfinger’s director, Guy Hamilton.  Coincidence?

Yellow Submarine:  I think you either love this one, as Alexandra does, or hate it, like Loreen and Gilbert.  Since the Beatles are my favorite group EVER, you do the math, even though the Fab Four did not voice the dialogue for their animated likenesses.  It features a bunch of their best songs (e.g., “Eleanor Rigby,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “All You Need Is Love,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Nowhere Man,” “A Day in the Life”), amidst surrealistic Peter Max-style animation, as they try to save Pepperland from the ravages of the Blue Meanies.  “O-BLUE-TERATE THEM!”

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A few random thoughts as we celebrate Harvest Home:  first, while I was working on last night’s obituary for Ingrid Pitt, I went to insert a link to my B100 review of Where Eagles Dare, only to discover that there was nothing to link to.  That’s right, I must have been so busy doing whatever the hell I was doing in the aftermath of posting “Bradley’s Hundred #81-90” back in May that I plum forgot, and the sad thing is that nobody noticed, not even me.  So, one of my first orders of business when time permits (“Aye, there’s the rub”) will be to rectify this shocking oversight and treat you all, if that is the word, to the final installment of my 100 more-or-less favorite movies.

Second, on a seasonal note, I have, as always, much to be thankful for throughout the year.  I am grateful for our wonderful friends and family (both two- and four-legged), gainful employment, relatively good health, and a home I love, even if its perennially chaotic condition does drive my long-suffering spouse to distraction.  I am grateful for the long-awaited publication of my book, although I wish it had made more of a ripple; for this humble little weblog and its “small, deeply disturbed following” (per William Hurt in The Big Chill); and for the legacy of those wonderful authors and filmmakers who ensure that I might run out of time to write this, but never material.

Finally, Bruno’s puckish comment on my recent Thriller post—yes, I’ll wait while you go and check it out—reminds me that I never did recount the story of this blog’s abortive original title, obliquely promised back in March, so, as the saying goes, there’s no time like the present.  You will be unsurprised to learn that my home-video library is vast indeed, requiring me to catalog its contents.  Possibly inspired by my Penguin pal Tom (I forget the chronology here), I wanted said catalog to be much more than a mere list of titles, but a collection of capsule reviews, written in a customarily off-beat, in-joke-laden style for the benefit (?) of the few who would actually read it.

Thus was born an ever-expanding document known as “Holdings of the Bradley Video Library” or, less formally, The BVL Catalog, which I (never one to waste good material) sometimes draw upon when creating posts for BOF.  The need for such a catalog became increasingly acute as the BVL grew exponentially, and I could no longer remember all of the riches it contained.  For that, I am eternally thankful to have known my friend Brian G. Ehlert, and although he did not live to see this blog, which I fancy myself he would have richly enjoyed, he is integral to this story, and indeed, it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to say that without him there might be no story.

Brian was, shall we say, a compulsive giver, and as compulsions go you could do a lot worse; we used to call him “the gift that keeps on giving” and Santa Ehlert.  He had a home-video library to dwarf any I’ve seen before or since, including not only professional releases but also stuff he had been taping from TV for ages, with many rarities that were—and perhaps remain—commercially unavailable.  Because he subsisted on an annuity, he didn’t work, which left him all day to make me (and my friends) copies of countless films and television episodes, first on VHS and then on DVD when burners became available, refusing reimbursement for blank tapes, discs, or postage.

Needless to say, we gratefully bombarded him with gifts at every available holiday, but nothing could equal his relentless generosity.  As a result of various upgradings and downsizings (he and his surviving significant other relocated a lot), he even gave us a laserdisc player, with more than a hundred discs, and our very first DVD player.  We had many interests in common, and we met through a personal ad courtesy of the now-defunct Movie and Entertainment Book Club, which I had posted in search of The Beat Generation, one of at least two Richard Matheson movies that, to the best of my knowledge, has never gotten a legitimate release…but of course he had a copy.

So I ended up with a document approaching 200 pages, complete with cross-referenced alternate titles, and the longer it got, the more often it occurred to me that this might make a book of some sort, kinda like Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide on acid, but what to call it?  It had to have a title that was catchy and hip and irreverent, while giving the reader some idea of the recurring elements that characterized many, if not all, of the films covered therein.  The genres most often represented were, naturlich, horror, science fiction, war, Westerns, mystery/noir, and exploitation, and after pondering what several of the categories had in common, I came up with Guns, Monsters, and Naked Women.

Obviously, that book never happened—or has yet to happen?—yet fate intervened when my friend Gilbert urged me to launch a website, which might serve both to promote Richard Matheson on Screen when it was released, and as a vehicle for some of my material that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day, except to a [smaller] handful of people.  My natural impulse was to retain the GM&NW title, which would have pleased me mightily, but I was afraid that “naked women” might give people the wrong idea (I don’t exactly review porno films here) and scare them away from what is, essentially, a family blog, so I wimped out and went with BOF.  And that’s the long of it, as Gilbert would say.

Bradley out, wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving.

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Presumptuous though it may be, when someone I’ve interviewed dies, I always feel like I’ve lost one of my own, and this is truer than usual in the case of Ingrid Pitt, who left us Tuesday at 73, although she seemed far younger—fitting for a star who embodied a vampire more than once in her memorable career.  First and foremost, of course, she played Heidi in my favorite film of all time, Where Eagles Dare (1968), as well as appearing in two other works that loom large in my legend, The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Smiley’s People (1982).  When I spoke with Ingrid for what became the cover story in Filmfax #62, I felt both an incredible vivacity and a far stronger connection than I have had with many of my other “victims,” despite her being an ocean away.

Ingrid’s relationship with the horror/SF genre dates back at least as far as her early Spanish credit El Sonido Prehistorico (The Prehistoric Sound, aka The Sound of Horror, 1964), which concerns an invisible dinosaur…one way to economize on special effects, I suppose.  Her other pre-Eagles roles reportedly included uncredited appearances in films ranging from Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight and David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago (both 1965) to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966).  Just before being featured in Alistair MacLean’s blockbuster, Ingrid starred in W. Lee Wilder’s justly obscure genre effort The Omegans (1968); I’ve already shared some of her recollections about that film and the Brothers Wilder in “The Wilder Bunch, Part I.”

Ingrid related an amusing story about being cast as Heidi:  “I was doing [an episode of] Dundee and the Culhane with John Mills.  Ralph Meeker was also on it.  He rang me up and asked me if I would like to go and play poker at [famed stuntman] Yakima Canutt’s house.  I had laryngitis but I thought, well, I couldn’t miss a big opportunity like that.  We went and it was absolutely amazing….When I’d lost all my money and had to cry ‘Uncle,’ Yak walked me to the door.  As I got in the taxi, he leaned in and said, ‘There’s a part in the film I’m just starting, why don’t you go for that?…Mention my name,’ he said as he slammed the cab door.  Of course, mentioning certain people’s names is magic.  I got to see Brian Hutton for three seconds the next day…”

Ingrid had several memorable scenes, and inspired a hilarious line from Richard Burton:  “She’s been one of our top agents in Bavaria since 1941, and…[leering at her ample décolletage] what a disguise.”  She enjoyed making the film, but lamented that “they gave me really lousy billing.  [Producer] Elliott [Kastner] had promised me, ‘Introducing Ingrid Pitt’…[but] it didn’t happen.  He forgot—he said.…I was just at the very end, since my name starts with ‘P,’ and the cinemas are empty by the time my name comes around.”  She experienced another disappointment with Hutton’s follow-up film, which reunited him with Clint Eastwood:  “I was going to be in Kelly’s Heroes [1970], and then he decided he didn’t want women in it after all.  I nearly killed him.”

Eagles is best known for action sequences such as its legendary fight atop a cable car.  “Yak was doing the great shot of the stuntman, Alf Joint, jumping from one cable car to the other….Alf was hovering in front of the camera as the cable car started to go.  (And didn’t he look just like Richard hovering there?)  The next cable car came towards him, and you must imagine hundreds of people, everybody watching.  They got into frame and Yak said, ‘Get those people out of the way!’…Anyway, when Yakima…said, ‘GO!,’ Alf went.  Unfortunately, the force of the thrust as he leapt for the other car caused the cable car to swing and the camera fell off.  Luckily none of the crew followed it.  Elliott went berserk.  They had to shoot the whole dodgy sequence again.”

Next, Ingrid appeared in a trio of films that ensured her iconic status among horror fans:  Roy Ward Baker’s The Vampire Lovers and Peter Sasdy’s Countess Dracula (1971) for Hammer, and the Robert Bloch-scripted anthology film The House That Dripped Blood (1971) for Amicus.  As fond as I was of Ingrid, I’ve never been a big fan of Countess Dracula, which in spite of its title concerns not a vampire but Elizabeth Báthory (1560-1614), the Hungarian countess who was said to retain her youth by bathing in the blood of virgins.  At least I’m consistent, because I feel the same way about other films directed by Sasdy (Taste the Blood of Dracula, 1970; Hands of the Ripper, 1971) or inspired by Báthory (Daughters of Darkness, 1971; Blood Castle, 1973).

Of her nude bathing scene in The Vampire Lovers, Ingrid said, “I had asked Jimmy [Carreras] to call his two producers [Harry Fine and Michael Style] up to London to show rushes.  I thought I might be a little inhibited.  They had this way of looking at me.  I thought, if they’re in London with Jimmy, then maybe it would be a sort of closed set…I came out of my dressing room and saw [the two producers] coming down the corridor en route to the car park with heads hanging down, very sad.  I thought, ‘God damn it, look what I’ve done!’  I had this terrycloth robe on and felt an uncontrollable urge to brighten their lives, so I whipped it open, did a bit of a jiggle and said, ‘Woo-whee!’  I tell you, Matthew, it made them so happy!  They were so bloody happy!”

Ingrid shared billing with Peter Cushing in The Vampire Lovers and The House That Dripped Blood, and with Christopher Lee in the latter, although the three starred in separate segments; she also appeared with Lee in Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973), written by Anthony Shaffer of Frenzy and Sleuth (both 1972) fame.  Other credits included two multi-part episodes of Doctor Who (“The Time Monster” and “Warriors of the Deep”) and the Reginald Rose-scripted action films The Final Option (aka Who Dares Wins, 1982) and Wild Geese II (1985).  But it is for the sanguinary roles she approached with such good humor and joie de vivre that we will remember Ingrid, and for the enthusiasm that made the word “fantastic” a veritable mantra in our interview.

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Happy Halloween!  In honor of the (apparently) late, lamented Watching Hammer, I offer this nostalgic list, written at their request just before the site ceased posting new material:

Sincerest thanks to Watching Hammer for inviting me to contribute a Top Ten.  Since Hammer’s heyday ended when I wasn’t quite old enough to drive, I haven’t had the experience other contributors did of seeing these films on the big screen, and was forced to content myself with TV, home-video and convention screenings over the years.  In my infancy as a genre-film aficionado, I thought Hammer was a bunch of pretenders who had the audacity to remake our beloved Universal classics, but our friends across the Pond had the last laugh because now, at any given moment, I’d probably rather watch a Hammer than a Universal, much as I love them both.  And the fact that my future wife and I bonded in high school by chatting about these films during chorus class didn’t hurt.

As the guy who had a hard time getting his list of favorite films on his own blog down to 100, I found it difficult to limit myself to ten, and must give an honorable mention to The Phantom of the Opera before beginning.  So, rather than subject myself to further agony, I am listing them in chronological order.  I make no apologies for including both of the films written by the object of my obsession, Richard Matheson, because I genuinely believe they were two of Hammer’s best, although this is really a list of favorites rather than those I would rank as “best” by some mythical objective standard.  Here goes…

The Quatermass Experiment:  Given my focus on writers, it’s no surprise that I think Nigel Kneale was one of the best things ever to happen to Hammer.  He might not have agreed at the time, since he was unhappy with both the casting of Brian Donlevy in the lead and the adaptation (by Richard Landau and director Val Guest) of his seminal BBC serial, but since some chapters of the TV version are lost, we’ll never be able to compare them in their entirety.  Be that as it may, Quatermass’s struggle to learn what happened to the three-man crew of his first space rocket is eerie and suspenseful from the start, as he learns that contact with an alien life-form has made one astronaut (Richard Wordsworth) absorb the others and begin mutating.  It was Hammer’s first big success, and rightly so.

Quatermass 2:  Many years ago, when New York’s outstanding Film Forum repertory cinema was still in its old Watts Street location, I arranged with my friend Greg Cox (now Matheson’s editor at Tor and a successful author of franchise fiction) to attend a screening of the Quatermass trilogy.  When I told him we might want to arrive early, he laughed and said, “Matthew, these are old British SF films from the ’50s and ’60s; we won’t have any trouble getting in.”  Well, the line was literally around the block, but we did get in.  Due to the vagaries of television programming, I think this was the first time I’d seen the original since childhood—perhaps the first in its entirety—and the first time ever for the sequel, which really wowed me.  Donlevy and Guest were back (the latter sharing script credit with Kneale this time), as Quatermass copes with a government conspiracy that turns out to represent an alien invasion.  The scene of the politician who has fallen into a vat of toxic liquid is a particular standout in this gripping and inventive thriller.

The Curse of Frankenstein:  With its unprecedented full-color gore and sumptuous period production values, this set the template for Hammer’s most famous films and established the “dream team” of their early days, including director Terence Fisher, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, composer James Bernard, and up-and-coming genre superstars Peter Cushing (as Baron Frankenstein) and Christopher Lee (as the Creature).  Cushing’s Baron is a fascinating character, and Hammer wisely built the ensuing series around him rather than the Creature, who gets dissolved in a vat of acid at the end.  Hazel Court is the delectable cherry on top as Elizabeth, and I love Cushing’s chutzpah as he yells, “Look out, Professor!”…while pushing the poor old guy—whose brain he needs—off a balcony, in order to throw anyone within earshot off the scent.

The Hound of the Baskervilles:  In all fairness, I haven’t seen a number of the screen incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, but of those I have, I would rank Peter Cushing as second only to Basil Rathbone in the role.  In most cases, Rathbone easily surpassed his material, much of which was not derived from Conan Doyle, but here, the above dream team (minus Sangster) provided a top-notch vehicle, complete with the always-welcome Andre Morell as an unusually intelligent Watson.  Although relegated to the role of the imperiled Baskerville heir, Lee adds considerable heft, and Cushing is a delight as he rips into lines like, “There are many strange things to be found upon the moor—like this, for instance!”  (Cue the loud “Thwock!” as he slams the ceremonial dagger into the table.)

Fanatic:  One might be forgiven for mistaking this as another of Hammer’s post-Psycho psycho-thrillers, written by Sangster and bearing similar one-word titles:  Paranoiac, Maniac, Nightmare, Hysteria.  But as much as I love Sangster’s seminal scripts for Hammer in the ’50s, I think Matheson far surpasses him in this adaptation of Anne Blaisdell’s Nightmare (whose title presumably had to be changed to differentiate it from the Sangster film).  Stefanie Powers is lovely and believable as the American girl imprisoned by her late former fiancé’s mother, equally well played by Tallulah Bankhead, and her growing realization that her captor is a dangerous religious fanatic rather than a harmless eccentric gives the film a satisfying dramatic arc.  Throw in the young Donald Sutherland as a mentally challenged servant, and you’re good to go.

Dracula—Prince of Darkness:  This is my wife’s favorite movie, but that’s not the only reason I’m including it.  I’m sure many would consider it sacrilege to give this the nod over what we Yanks think of as Horror of Dracula, especially since Lee’s distaste for the script (Distaste the Script of Dracula?) led him to omit his dialogue.  Still, I’ve always preferred Prince; maybe I never got over the fact that Sangster had Harker get turned into a vampire, just as Dan Curtis did in the Jack Palance television version—a plot point, I might add, that is not found in Matheson’s published teleplay.  But I digress.  Andrew Keir pinch-hits beautifully for Van Helsing as rifle-toting Father Sandor, and rich entertainment is provided by the interplay among the ill-fated Kent family, with Francis Matthews and Suzan Farmer amusingly cast as Charles and Diana and the ever-popular Barbara Shelley as the prim Helen, whose transformation into a sensuous vampire is most extraordinary.

Quatermass and the Pit:  Feel free to criticize me for devoting almost a third of my list to ol’ Bernie, but remember, I could have included Kneale’s The Abominable Snowman, as well.  Reuniting Keir (as Quatermass) and Shelley, this is truly a thinking man’s SF film, as Quatermass discovers a five-million-year-old Martian spacecraft that is buried beneath London and holds surprising secrets about mankind’s evolution.  With Roy Ward Baker [see “A Career to Remember”] succeeding Guest, and Kneale bearing sole script credit, it once again showed the triumph of good writing over pathetic special effects—in this case, those finger-puppet Martians.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave:  Yeah, we Bradleys love us our vampires (Captain Kronos—Vampire Hunter almost made the list as well), and I’ve always had a big soft spot for this follow-up to Prince, an affection that not merely the presence of Veronica Carlson can explain.  The redoubtable Rupert Davies as the monsignor has a lot to do with it, as does the spectacular climax, with Dracula knocked over his own battlements and impaled on a giant cross.  One of Fisher’s periodic hospitalizations forced Freddie Francis to direct this, but although he told me when I interviewed him that he was more interested in the young lovers than in Dracula, I think that once again, the story of the non-nosferatu characters is strong enough to keep us going in between visits from Lee.

The Devil Rides Out:  A pinnacle for all concerned.  Dennis Wheatley justifiably praised Matheson for his exciting adaptation of Wheatley’s somewhat verbose novel, and Lee has a rare heroic (not to mention sizeable) role as the Duc de Richleau.  Charles Gray is also outstanding as the Satanist villain, Mocata, and although the usual complaints are leveled at the skimpy special effects, see Quatermass and the Pit for my response to that.  With the usual superior contributions from Fisher and James Bernard, this is horror at its fast-paced, non-jokey and intelligent finest.  Lee and others have argued that it is ripe for a remake, but since you know it would just turn into another CGI-fest, I’m not sure I agree.

The Vampire Lovers:  I’d be lying if I said that naked women in general, a naked Ingrid Pitt in particular, and lesbian vampires didn’t influence this choice.  But, in my defense, look at the record:  you’ve got Cushing as the devoted and devastated father, General von Spielsdorf.  You’ve Jon Finch, soon to be brilliant in Roman Polanski’s Macbeth and Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy, in a supporting role.  And, perhaps most of all, you’ve got what may be the most faithful adaptation of J. Sheridan LeFanu’s oft-filmed “Carmilla,” with Baker at the helm.  Threadbare production values be damned, this is a good movie.

BOF Addendum:  Now I’ll sit back and wait for Drax to complain (albeit with love) about the absence of visuals.  I keep telling him I am the Word-Man.  Word-Man.  WORD-MAN!  BWUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

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Last night, I was surprised to learn that director Roy Ward Baker passed away on October 5 at the age of 93; surprised because, as is so often the case with someone so long off my personal radar, I had assumed he was long gone already.  I see now from the IMDb that he was working in British television as late as 1992, although the most recent credit I’ve seen is Sherlock Holmes and the Masks of Death (1984), with frequent Baker collaborator John Mills as Watson to Peter Cushing’s Holmes.  Of course, most people in the mainstream wouldn’t recognize his name in the first place, although they should thank him for giving Marilyn Monroe a solid early dramatic role opposite Richard Widmark in Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) during a sojourn in Hollywood.

Said sojourn also included, of all things, the 3-D thriller Inferno (1953), with Robert Ryan as a wealthy man stranded in the desert by his adulterous wife (Rhonda Fleming) and her lover, but soon afterward he was on his way back home to England.  There, Baker made the best film I’ve seen about the sinking of the Titanic, the 1958 adaptation of Walter Lord’s nonfiction bestseller A Night to Remember.  Unlike other Titanic films, e.g., the eponymous entries directed by Jean Negulesco in 1953 and that What’s-His-Name guy in 1997, Night found sufficient drama—to say the least—in the historical events themselves, without focusing on fictional characters and their soap operas, with Kenneth More heading a “usual suspects” cast (including Honor Blackman).

Baker was a prolific television director, notching episodes of such series as The Avengers, The Saint, Department S, The Champions (Alexandra Bastedo—woo-hoo!), Journey to the Unknown, The Persuaders!, The Protectors, and Return of the Saint (starring Ian Ogilvy, a fave of Madame BOF).  But to genre fans, Baker will always be recognized as one of the best of the second-tier Hammer directors, by which I mean most of those below big dogs Terence Fisher and Freddie Francis.  According to Dennis Fischer’s worthy McFarland tome Horror Film Directors, 1931-1990, his association with Hammer was an indirect result of A Night to Remember, since they wanted a technically savvy director, familiar with special effects, to helm Quatermass and the Pit (1967).

Known Stateside as Five Million Years to Earth, this SF epic was adapted by Nigel Kneale from the third of his BBC-TV Quatermass serials, with Hammer stalwart Andrew Keir in fine form as the titular scientist, who investigates the contents of a Martian spaceship found buried beneath London.  Oddly, top billing was given to James Donald, fondly remembered from The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and The Great Escape (1963), as Quatermass’s self-sacrificing colleague, Dr. Matthew Roney.  The effects are wildly uneven, with the finger-puppet Martians seen in the flashback sequences a hilarious low, but Baker’s command of the complex material was firm, and he wisely reunited Keir with his Dracula—Prince of Darkness (1966) co-star Barbara Shelley.

Having known Bette Davis in Hollywood, Baker next replaced Alvin Rakoff when the latter did not hit it off with the star in The Anniversary (1968), a black comedy scripted by the studio’s resident expert on psycho-thrillers, Jimmy Sangster.  I have seen neither that film nor Baker’s next Hammer outing, but given the conspicuously low reputation of Moon Zero Two (1969), I should perhaps be grateful that it is somewhat elusive today.  Perhaps notable only as the first space Western—a dubious precedent, perhaps, for Peter Hyams’s Outland (1981)—it was co-written by second-generation Hammer honcho and mediocrity-meister Michael Carreras, and as much as I love The Andromeda Strain (1971), I doubt that leading man James Olson set the screen on fire.

My other favorite among Baker’s Hammer credits is The Vampire Lovers (1970), with Ingrid Pitt as J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla,” backed by Peter Cushing and Jon Finch, and although its lesbian bloodsuckers pushed the envelope for its time, Baker kept it tasteful and, above all, serious.  His vampire credentials thus established, he bracketed Hammer’s ill-conceived modern-day Dracula films with two period outings that merit a closer look.  Scars of Dracula (1970) gave Christopher Lee a little more to do than usual, even throwing in a few dollops of material from the novel for a change, while for me to note that The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1974) was the first kung-fu vampire film is misleading, bolstered as it is by Peter Cushing’s presence as Van Helsing and Baker’s atmospheric direction.

In between, Baker directed Hammer’s offbeat Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), my enjoyment of which will be forever hampered by my loathing for Ralph Bates, and—like Francis—worked the other side of the fence by making several films for local rival Amicus.  These included two of their trademark anthology films:  Asylum (1972), adapted by Robert Bloch from his own stories, and The Vault of Horror (1973), based on the E.C. horror comics of the 1950s.  He also directed one of the better stand-alone Amicus films, —And Now the Screaming Starts! (1973), and after that company’s dissolution, Baker was reunited with producer and co-founder Milton Subotsky for another omnibus film, The Monster Club (1980), based on the stories of R. Chetwynd-Hayes.

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Our representative sampling of non-Hammer movies by recent birthday boy Christopher Lee (May 27) concludes with a look at his work in the ’70s, plus one token ’80s offering.

El Processo de las Brujas (The Trial of the Witches, aka El Juez Sangriento [The Bloody Judge], Il Trono di Fuoco, Der Hexentoeter von Blackmoor [The Witch Killer of Blackmoor], Night of the Blood Monster, Throne of the Blood Monster; 1970): Nasty knockoff of Michael Reeves’s Witchfinder General from director Jesus (aka Jess) Franco and writer-producer Harry Alan Towers, with Lee in the semi-historical role of Judge Jeffreys. Highly exploitative in scenes not involving Lee, including one in which the heroine is compelled to lick blood off the naked body of a dead girl (which pretty well speaks for itself, I presume).

El Conde Dracula (Count Dracula [1970]): This is the underrated, if undeniably shabby, Spanish version from Franco and Towers. Trying to play the role more faithfully than the long-running Hammer series frequently allowed him to do, Lee embodied Bram Stoker’s conception of an aging Count who grows younger as he feeds, and wisely insisted on using some of Stoker’s dialogue. The supporting cast includes Herbert Lom as Van Helsing, Klaus Kinski as an excellent Renfield, and Paul (Nightmare Castle) Müller as Dr. Seward. Until Bram Stoker’s Dracula came along, this was easily the most faithful adaptation, with a memorable score by Ennio Morricone’s sometime conductor, Bruno Nicolai. Leading lady Maria Rohm was also married to Towers from 1964 until his death in 2009, God bless her.

The House That Dripped Blood (1971): Of the three Amicus anthology films adapted by Robert Bloch from his own stories (the others were Torture Garden and Asylum), this is the only one to star Lee as well as Peter Cushing. (According to the DVD audio commentary with director Peter Duffell, Lee soon priced himself out of Amicus’s range, although Cushing continued working with them until the end.) “Method for Murder” stars Denholm Elliott as an author convinced his literary strangler has come to life; “Waxworks,” previously filmed as an episode of Thriller, stars Cushing and Joss Ackland (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) as romantic rivals captivated by a statue of Salome; “Sweets to the Sweet” (sometimes erroneously attributed to Richard Matheson) features Lee as a cold, distant father whose daughter delves into voodoo; and “The Cloak” has sometime Dr. Who Jon Pertwee as an actor whose search for realism in his low-budget horror films has unexpected results; Ingrid Pitt (The Vampire Lovers) co-stars.

I, Monster (1971): A depressing misfire, this Amicus adaptation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde suffers from producer Milton Subotsky’s lame script—which inexplicably changes the eponymous names but not those of the supporting characters—and even worse insistence on having it shot in a new 3-D process that required the camera and/or actors to be in motion at all times. It reportedly gave the people who watched the rushes splitting headaches, and ended up as such a fiasco that much of the footage was scrapped, resulting in an abnormally short running time. This would be a blessing were it not for the fact that it stars Lee (giving his all despite the film’s failings, and adding to his roster of classic movie monsters) and Cushing.

Nothing but the Night (aka The Resurrection Syndicate, The Devil’s Undead; 1973): I barely remember this as a sad reunion for Lee and Cushing in a tale of evildoers cloning kids, or something like that. Latter-day Hammer flash in the pan Peter Sasdy directed, and it was doubly depressing as the first and last solo effort from Lee’s Charlemagne Productions (although they apparently co-produced his Hammer swan song, To the Devil a Daughter).

The Three Musketeers (aka The Queen’s Diamonds, 1973): In light of his subsequent hard-drinking decline and death, it’s as difficult to believe that Oliver Reed was once considered enough of a star to be top-billed in this adaptation of the Dumas classic as it is nice to be reminded of what he was once able and allowed to do. The purist in me wishes this didn’t have so much humor in it, as befits Richard Lester, director of the Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, and screenwriter George MacDonald Fraser, author of the Flashman novels. But much of it is actually funny, and what isn’t is made up for by the uniformly excellent sets, costumes, score (by Michel Legrand), swordplay, and cast: Michael York, Richard Chamberlain, Frank Finlay, Raquel Welch (rarely more lovely), Geraldine Chaplin (daughter of Charlie), Faye Dunaway, Charlton Heston, Lee (as one-eyed villain Rochefort), Jean-Pierre Cassel, Simon Ward, Roy Kinnear, and Spike Milligan. Many of their characters died in the more downbeat follow-up (see below), while Kinnear, who appeared in many of Lester’s films, sadly died for real after falling from a horse while filming his The Return of the Musketeers (also with Lee) years later, and his part had to be completed by a double.

The Wicker Man (1973): Not one of my personal favorites, as those who have seen it may understand, but undeniably effective, with Lee as Lord Summerisle, presiding over the Scottish island where policeman Edward Woodward seeks a missing young girl. Ingrid Pitt and Britt Ekland up the pulchritude quotient. Senselessly remade with Nicolas Cage.

The Four Musketeers (aka The Revenge of Milady; 1974): Strictly speaking, this is not so much a sequel to The Three Musketeers as the rest of it, since it was shot as one mammoth film and then broken into two parts. As a result, just about the only new name in the credits is that of Lalo (Mission: Impossible) Schifrin, who composed a worthy score that falls only a little short of Michel Legrand’s original. Michael Gothard (seen as a blood-drinking android who rips his own hand off to escape a pair of handcuffs before destroying himself in a vat of acid in the Amicus-AIP co-production Scream and Scream Again, and an equally ill-fated assassin in For Your Eyes Only) has a small but key role. It’s been said that the stars didn’t even know the film was being released in two parts until the first one premiered in Paris, which seems pretty hard to believe, but apparently it established a legal precedent in which future contracts prevented producers from doing just that (the so-called “Salkind Clause”).

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974): My daughter helped persuade me that I ought to own this one, since it was the only Bond film before The Spy Who Loved Me that I didn’t already have, and with Lee as the titular villain, Scaramanga, I couldn’t really argue with that. It was, however, the first entry to rush ahead of the then-customary two-year interval between films since 1965, and it shows. Ekland, while decorative, is annoyingly spacey as the Bond girl du jour, and even Lee isn’t as effectively used as he might be, with Herve Villechaize (Fantasy Island) as his henchman and model Maud Adams, later to play the title role in the awful Octopussy, as an ill-fated romantic conquest of both adversaries. The fact that Clifton James returns as Sheriff J.W. Pepper from Live and Let Die sort of says it all.

House of the Long Shadows (1983): This is notable chiefly, if not solely, as the only film in which the genre’s latter-day Big Three (Vincent Price, Lee, and Cushing, previously gathered in Scream and Scream Again) teamed up with its own Energizer Bunny, John Carradine. It’s a shame that they couldn’t have done so in, first, something closer to their prime, as this is a bit like watching a bunch of fossils pottering around in a museum (Lee’s the liveliest and, aptly, the sole survivor offscreen) and, second, a genuine genre vehicle, as this is nothing more than the umpteenth version of Seven Keys to Baldpate, an old-dark-house novel by Charlie Chan creator Earl Derr Biggers that was adapted for the stage by George M. Cohan as far back as 1913. Not helping matters is the fact that the team behind the camera was as undistinguished as the cast was stellar: Cannon Films and exploitation hacks Pete Walker and Michael Armstrong. The plot, such as it is, involves Desi Arnaz, Jr. (strike one!) betting agent Richard Todd that he can write a novel in twenty-four hours in a secluded house, and then getting constantly interrupted as the stars pop up (and in turn get mowed down) one by one, along with sundry unknowns.

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Die-hard film fans know that the great Billy Wilder had an older brother, Willy, who directed under the nom d’écran of W. Lee Wilder (1904-1982), and whose work Billy dismissed in no uncertain terms (when he deigned to discuss him at all, which apparently wasn’t often). Family values aside, this is not surprising, since talent—to put it mildly—was not evenly distributed among the Wilder gene pool.  Further evidence in support of that theory is provided by the fact that Willy, who perhaps unwisely gravitated to Hollywood from a career in the handbag industry, had his equally untalented son, Myles, write most of his films.

The elder Wilder made several entries in the horror, science fiction and fantasy genre that is my usual beat.  His last credit, for example, was The Omegans (1968), the somewhat murky story of adulterous and would-be murderous lovers outwitted and done in by the husband, who slips them some H2O from the forbidden Black River.  The contents of this jungle waterway may alleviate arthritic pain and even resemble a fountain of youth, but with some undesirable side effects, e.g., a phosphorescent glow, long-term damage leading to deformity, and eventual death, whereupon the body self-cremates.  When I interviewed the film’s leading lady, the vivacious Ingrid Pitt, for Filmfax some years ago, she said, “I must tell you a funny story about [Wilder].  He and his brother lived in Vienna when the Nazis took over power, and they only had one passport between them, so Willy left and sent the passport back for Billy.  Billy wasn’t his real name, it was Samuel.  Samuel became Billy and he got out of the Nazi clutches.

“Many years after I did The Omegans, I auditioned with Billy here in London for some film, I can’t even remember what it was.  I went in there, flags flying and full throttle and said, ‘I know your brother, I made a film with him in the Philippines, isn’t it fantastic?’  He got really shitty and said, ‘Yeah, well, fine, good for you.  Why don’t you just bugger off?,’ or words to that effect.  I was so shocked.  I didn’t know he couldn’t stand his brother.  Why?  I never stuck around to find out.  Sad, isn’t it?  Maybe horrible things happened, what do I know, but I thought it was idiotic for him to treat me like that…. That film is so bad.  I think it wouldn’t be so bad if it hadn’t been for me.  I think I was just atrocious in it.  Somebody in America at the Chiller convention gave me a very poor pirated video of the film.  It was so grainy I could hardly see what was going on.  Unfortunately, not hazy enough to disguise what a terrible performance I was giving…I would much rather forget the whole thing.”  Luckily for Ingrid, better things lay immediately ahead:  her next credit was a solid supporting role in my favorite film of all time, Where Eagles Dare (1968).

Working backwards, W. Lee also gave us The Man without a Body (1957), which—incredibly—required the services of two directors, Wilder and Charles Saunders, and, if nothing else, gets points for the originality of its loopy scenario, sans Myles.  Ailing businessman George Coulouris (the star of Saunders’s Womaneater, aka The Woman Eater, the following year) has scientist Robert Hutton revive the head of Nostradamus to help him with his financial prognostications, and said head runs amok after being grafted onto a donor body.  Before that, he and Myles brought us the reincarnation yarn Fright and the Lon Chaney, Jr. vehicle Manfish (both 1956), the latter allegedly based on Poe’s “The Gold Bug” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.”  You tell me.  For better or worse, however (and if you guessed “worse,” then you can see where this is headed), W. Lee’s reputation, such as it is, rests primarily on a trio of no-budget SF films he and Myles made back to back under his own Planet Filmplays banner (as were Fright and Manfish):  Phantom from Space (1953), Killers from Space, and The Snow Creature (both 1954).

To be continued…

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