Saturday, 22 June 2013

TGI… Perfect Friday (1970)

This surprisingly snappy film was a vague memory from childhood viewing of a, no doubt heavily censored, version on TV… there’s very little violence but an awful lot of Ursula “Undress” as the wits of the day put it.

Smartly directed by Peter Hall (yes, that one: father of Rebecca and now a Sir…) it’s an ostensible straightforward turn of the decade heist movie which features a still unpredictable plot and three very strong leads. Its narrative structure is also unusual with deft turns in time which explain and elaborate on what could have been a less straight-ahead story.

The Office...Stanley Baker with TP McKenna next door
Hall keeps us on our toes throughout and it’s only when the robbery actually takes place when the viewer sees how it is to be done… not quite The Italian Job!

Stanley Baker (who also produced) plays Mr Graham a seemingly straight-laced Assistant Bank Manager with a great future behind him and a predictable course set ahead.

The film opens with a brief encounter with him telling an shadowy individual that he’s going to get some money… the titles roll in a computer-typeface over the modern London where Graham’s bank is located (Regents Park?). He walks into his glass office next to an identical unit housing Mr Smith (the great TP McKenna) and another, larger, room in which their boss Mr Williams (David Waller) practices his golf stroke.

Mr Graham has a meeting with Lady Britt Dorset (Ursula Andress) who is in need of a loan, too enable her to see her ill father back in Switzerland… She is granted £500 and two months in which to pay it back… now that’s what I call British banking!

Ursula Andress and Stanley Baker
The story is a ruse to allow her some funds to buy a new car – a splendid 1966 Sunbeam Alpine Series V – along with some new clothes. Taking a shine to her new financial friend she picks him up for dinner and explains the ploy.

A suit turns out, Britt’s dishonesty is exactly what Graham has been looking for – it’s unclear whether he arranged their first meeting… especially as their further connections are revealed.

Their date goes well and the Lady and the Bank Manager find themselves in bed – they obviously have more in common than at first appeared.

A boat briefing as they pass the old Southbank...
Graham begins to explain his true plans to Britt who volunteers her good-for-very-little, husband as a further accomplice.

But it seems that Graham and Lord Nicholas Dorset (David Warner) have already met – and it was "Nick" who suggested his wife as the potential third member of their putative gang… just one of many twists and turns that keeps things away from predictable.

Graham issues Britt and Nick with explicit instructions which verge on the over-cautious. He insists on their telling only the truth and feeds them both lines that he knows will come back to him unadulterated by their own agendas.

Nick is sent on various errands – to Amsterdam to buy a wig and elsewhere – untraceable steps in a larger caper. And, all the while Graham and Britt continue their bed-based intimacy… not that Britt and Nick have fallen out of their own habit.

Another side of Ursula...
Every Friday the bank sends an employee to count the money in the safe.  The person is identified with a passport and accompanied by the manager, Mr Williams. But Williams’ fondness for golf leads him to occasionally feign sickness in order to get a head start for weekend tournaments… and, when he’s away, Smith and Graham deputise in accompanying the teller…

All clear?

Now Graham has worked out a way to use this to his advantage and it would be churlish to reveal how this will be done, especially as the film takes so long to reveal the plot.

Needless to say, both Nick and Britt are heavily involved and everything is timed to perfection… well, almost everything…

The heist gets postponed in the nick of time and tension builds… can any of these people really trust each other: it’s not a question of will they get away with it but who will get away with it?

David Warner is his usual unsettling self - reminding me a lot of Rhys Ifans, a world-weary lothario who is just about likeable.

The face...
This is one of the best things I’ve seen Ursula Andress in and she acts with a subtlety that allows her natural beauty to come through much more than in her more overtly vampish roles… She has a good chemistry with Baxter and her sense of humour is reigned in to allow more sophisticated jokes to be made than in say, What’s New Pussycat?

Baker is also superb acting against type as the timid but determined Graham. Even the comb-over hair and appalling moustache can’t dent his masculine edge but he obviously relished the chance to play the blue-colour criminal.

Warner and Baker
Hall directs with invention and youthful zest and all is topped off by a superb score from John Dankworth (he also became a Sir later.)

Dusty verdict: An enjoyable crime caper with a little more under the bonnet than others of the same vintage may lead you to expect.

Now available on Blu-ray and DVD from those nice people at Network… it’s worth buying and re-watching every ten years as you’re bound to forget the plot details.

The Sunbeam Alpine
Tea and toast

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Artful horror… The Iron Rose (1973)

There’s a moment in this curious film when the characters from Jean Rollin’s earlier films seem to visit the shoot. The two lovers are in a graveyard and, as night approaches, a clown* appears to lay a wreath whilst a tall vampiric nobleman enters into a tomb… both nods to Rollin’s previous film Requiem for a Vampire and other genre staples.

A special guest clown...
But this is possibly the film that people who don’t like Jean Rollin films might like… a gothic horror that relies almost totally on the psychological and not the physical. It plays like an art-house film in terms of the shot selection and a gentle narrative that sometimes leaves the actors adrift. It’s low on plot and, for a Rollin film surprisingly chaste: even when the central couple do get it on it’s only in the form of restrained petting.

Is the restraint deliberate or was the director playing as safe as he could to guarantee distribution?
That said, there’s plenty of the lovely Françoise Pascal on view late in the film to satisfy connoisseurs of seventies sex-kittens if not sexploitation… it’s all in the best possible taste.

Françoise Pascal on the beach...
Unsurprisingly, the story is taken from the poem by one Tristan Corbière – a proto-modernist who died tragically young from TB at just 29 (in 1875). This was adapted by Maurice Lemaître and Rollin himself who claimed to have added autobiographical elements.

Françoise Pascal
The film begins on a beach where a young woman (Pascal) enjoys a solitary stroll, smiling at her inner world and coming across a black metal rose. She cradles it for a while and then throws it back into the sea smiling… a foretaste of the mystery to come.

The story starts at a wedding where Pascal’s ballet dancer meets a young poet played by Hugues Quester. The wedding party is filmed naturalistically well by Rollin – you can almost believe that he hi-jacked a real one.

The wedding party... Boy meets Girl
His camera drifts around a run-down northern French town and then onto a partially disused railway yard where the two have agreed to meet. They play cat and mouse dancing around the various dormant locomotives: another foreshadowing, this time of the human graveyard to come.

Dead trains
As their day starts to close, the couple rest their cycles on the wall of a cemetery and walk inside to sample the atmosphere.

A walk in the park...
They find a grave with an iron door and clamber down inside to see what is entombed and to enjoy some privacy… After they make love they climb back out to find that dusk has almost descended.

They look for the way out but gradually come to realise that they’re lost and trapped inside. The tensions between the two starts to grow – the boy gets a little violent and the girl starts to be overcome by the presence of the dead.

After hours...
It’s hard to know exactly what is happening but the claustrophobia and dislocation will be familiar to anyone who has found themselves in the wrong dream at the wrong time… You’re unsure where the threat will come from and Rollin demonstrates some considerable restraint in keeping what threat there is in the minds of the two living protagonists.

Hugues Quester in a spin.
The two have a fairly violent fight that, again, appears to act as a foretaste of future events: yet you worry for the girl who is physically outmatched by her boy…

The Girl comes across a grave with the metal rose we saw at the beginning drifts into her beach-bound reverie: this was not someone looking back in happiness but ready to surrender to the darker side of her nature.

I won’t give anything more away as this is one to watch, especially if you like your horror gothic rather than graphic.

Both the leads are superb with Hugues Quester the rational poet who refuses to be overcome with superstition.  Françoise Pascal – who many in the UK might remember from the sit-com, Mind Your Language, is a revelation here and holds much of the film’s horrific intent internally. Her acting is subtle and never over-worked… no screaming or hysterics, just the gentle calm of the truly spell-bound.

Rollin directs with aplomb, choosing some cost-effectively eerie settings and making the most of the landscape and the light. All is underpinned by a suitably jarring and very Floydian experimental score from Pierre Raph (les Français adore le Pink Floyd!).

Dusty verdict: Well worth grabbing on DVD – available here – if you fancy the kind of horror that accumulates rather than overwhelms. Pascal’s excellence makes up for some pacing issues in the latter half.

*That is indeed Mireille Dargent who also dressed as a clown in Requiem… Rollin’s way of saying you’re not getting what you’re expecting? Well, just a little…