Saturday, 29 April 2017

Snappy families… What a Carve Up! (1961)

John Peel once introduced Pink Floyd’s post-psych, proto-rave “One of These Days (I’m Going to Cut You into Little Pieces”, as being described by Roger Waters as “a poignant appraisal of the contemporary social situation…” before adding, acerbically, “make of that what you will…”

Could the same be said of this upwardly-mobile whodunnit in which familial betrayal is seemingly at the service of monetary gain? Jonathan Coe obviously thought so when he used the title for his book critiquing 1980’s Thatcherite “greedism” but, whilst its view of human nature is broadly cynical, the Ray Cooney source material is more slapstick farce than satire. It is in truth, hilariously, no more than the standard British disregard for upper class human frailty and if anyone’s going to make it out of this one alive you know it’s more likely to be the down-to-Earth Kenneth Connor and his mate Sid… oh and Shirley Eaton, of course: have you seen those pins?!

Shirley and Ken
As Adam Faith, who makes a late appearance in this film, once sang: “what do you want if you don’t want money?” Laughs, I suppose?? As it turns out there’s quite a few of those in What a Carve Up! Which features some of the finest comedy-performers of their generation in an age-old yarn about a shadowy house of mystery…

Sid and Ken play miss-matched best mates, sharing a flat and just about managing as Syd Butler a salesman and Ernest Broughton a horror novel proof-reader with an over-active imagination. News comes of the death of a distant relative Gabriel Broughton, the owner of Blackshaw Towers, and that Ernie must attend the reading of the will.

This bolt from the blue has Ernie dreaming of an inheritance but after a long trip on a smokey train he and his newly-appointed “legal advisor”, Syd, make their way through forbidding fog to the family pile: Blackshaw? Sure it’s black… and very, very dark.

The clan is gathered
They are greeted by Fisk (Michael Gough), the ghoulish family butler and ushered into the huge sitting room to meet Ernie’s family tree… There’s Guy (Dennis Price), Earnest’s cousin, a heavy drinker whose sardonic wit is utilised in permanent battle with his grimly-grasping sister Janet (Valerie Taylor). It’s hard to believe that they’re the off-spring of the bumblingly-avuncular Dr Edward Broughton (George Woodbridge).

But the Broughton’s seem an odd bunch for whom private education has not necessarily produced a balanced outlook: Great Aunt Emily Broughton (the genius Esma Cannon!) is a little confused and is convinced that the Great War is still on (did it ever really end?) whilst cousin Malcolm (a wonderful, wide-eyed turn from Michael Gwynn) is an unbalanced musician whose clearly had one too many Mozarts… he’s convinced it’s not him though but everybody else and to some extent he’s not wrong!

Fisk catches up on his reading
The boys arrive just in time for the start of proceedings with this grim clan all gathered around the dinning table waiting to hear if they’ve been left anything by Old Man Broughton as Everett Sloane (dead-deadpan Donald Pleasence) looks out with cold neutrality from over his spectacles… They are a most peculiar lot and generally none-too-keen on the mathematical impications of additional relatives.

But there’s one more to join them, the stunning Nurse Linda Dixon (the peerless Shirley Eaton, the sexual superpower of British comedy) who had looked after the old man – is there anything in the will for her and, as far as Ernie’s concerned, is there any of her in it for him?

James, Price, Connor and Eaton
Pretty soon there’s a lot more to concern Ernie’s over-active imagination as his relatives start being killed off one by one… the murdered is surely amongst them but who? Will Sid and Ernie find out in time, will Ernie recover from seeing Nurse Dixon getting changed, is the War really still on and what’s all this got to do with Adam Faith anyway…

You’ll have to watch it to find out.

Dusty verdict: If the plot sound familiar that’s because it bears resemblance to both The Old Dark House and The Ghoul both thirties classics ripe for the Cooney treatment and updating with extra – intended – laughs for the Carry On generation. It works too even though the humour was distinctly parochial, the New York Times reviewer being especially scathing of this “vulgar”, “inept” “ostensible British farce…”

A classic Connors cor!
Pat Jackson directs with swift efficiency making the most of every creaking door, hidden passageway and shadowy figure combing their effect on nervy-Ernie with a hit on the audience. What the New York Times failed to recognise is the film’s knowing heart: a post-modern awareness that is both comforting and satirically funny. Syd and Ken are everymen – thrust into this madness so we can have a laugh on our behalf, all sat together with post-war austerity barely giving way to a decade just about to swing.

Well worth a watch and readily available from Amazon and the rest.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Scott too… Joanna (1968)

A quirky piece of flowered-up whimsy which just so happens to have a score of sorts from Rod McKuen and, more importantly, a song from Scott Walker who, even on the album, Scott 2, that featured it, was reaching far beyond the pop culture he sprang from and which this film partly celebrates. Plastic Palace People would have been a much braver choice of song than When Joanna Loved Me… strange swirling strings, a dreamy take on social mores… a song that floats you along its drifting narratives with dislocating ease.

So it is that Joanna can be also conflicted and disconnected from itself and from any simple narrative explanation. The lead character, played by Geneviève Waïte, is frequently caught in fantasy, and you’re occasionally caught out although, when at the end she reaches up to kiss the director Michael Sarne and his crew before leading a full-cast song and dance routine at Paddington Station, you know there’s something arch going on…

Geneviève Waïte
Joanna is picaresque psychedelia in much the same way as say America’s Candy although it’s far less secretly earnest and much more delicate in its treatment of sex, power and, indeed, race. Joanna uses her sexuality but almost in a casual way whereas there’s something far more sinister about the sex forced upon Ewa Ulin in Candy: a stranger from a higher plane, or whatever she is, she rises above the petty abuse of men but has to endure it all the same. No, for Joanna, it’s just something she chooses to do and the film doesn’t even think enough of her promiscuity to show it.

Scott sings and Wally arranges...
Instead Joanna is shown as a chameleon, literally wearing a different costume in almost every scene and always co-ordinating with the colours around: she is literally “fitting in” waiting to find her own direction. The movement she needs, is undoubtedly on her shoulder…

Joanna begins in deary monotone as trains draw into Paddington in late 1968… her train arrives and she pokes her blonde head out and suddenly the film is in colour. She has come to London to study art and will be staying with her Granny (Marda Vanne) who whom she delivers several dozen bottles of mummy’s home-made jam. Granny lives in the whitewashed Georgian townhouse of a Kensington or a Knightsbridge although Joanna is a little cockerny…

Michele Cook and Geneviève Waïte
At art college she is soon admiring her teacher Hendrik (Christian Doermer) along with her pal Margot (Michele Cook – also in That Smashing Bird… reviewed last month). Hendrik is a serious painter and senses no commitment in Joanna; he won’t be the last to tell her to find what it is she must do.

Joanna’s relationship with men is revealed as cutting both ways as, in flashback, we see her morning going very badly when she comes in to find her lover Bruce (Anthony Ainley – the third Master in Doctor Who!) has an attractive blonde in the house, Angela (Jane Bradbury), even those he’s singing the Scott Walker song in the shower! Joanna offers her a cup of tea and is very British about it before cutting and running.

Geneviève Waïte and the very cool Glenna Forster-Jones
She meets a cool black girl called Beryl (Glenna Forster-Jones) at Hendrik’s digs and instantly has a fantasy about Beryl being her maid whilst the latter turns to camera after lying to her new pal about her brother living in a house full of dozens of immigrants: “they still believe this stuff” she says, or words to that effect.

Of course, when we do get to meet big brother he is the impossibly cool Gordon (Calvin Lockhart), a business man in a groovy American motor!

Christian Doermer and Jimmy Dean: posters of movie stars adorn the sets throughout
Beryl takes Joanna “clothes borrowing” from chic-shops and introduces her to her boyfriend Lord Peter Sanderson, played with just-about-acceptable posh-English by the mighty Donald Sutherland who manages to express so economically he really does distract from the rest.

Joanna takes a trip to Morroco  with Lord Peter and Beryl along with her new boyfriend, the rather shallow and ambitious Dominic (David Scheur). As Dom asks Peter for business advice Joanna enjoys the most lovely sunset with Peter who, in addition to telling her she must find herself, advises that he has a terminal illness and has not long to live.

Calvin Lockhart
For the first time in the film, Joanna’s happy-go-lucky carelessness is jolted from her and she begins to mourn the ending of her wonderful friend.

Dominic is soon discarded and Joanna starts seeing a man of considerably more means… Gordon is everything that the investment banker was not and is not just charming but dangerous too. In his plush, ultra-modern penthouse, he finds a man spying and is then confronted by a group of handy-looking business men. It’s a warning but he can look after himself and, after a reprisal has been made, he has to go on the run…

Reality bites for Joanna and in more ways than one.

Dusty verdict: Joanna is a very interesting film with a few dainty flaws here and there depending on how much you like the lead actress although I thought she did very well.

Overall the cast more than pass muster, none more so than the imperious Donald Sutherland and, whilst the story may meander, unlike others of the age, especially Candy, there is a point to all of this and it’s a rather fundamental of not mundane one. It’s also worth noting Walter Lassally’s crisp cinematography which captures the fashion, sooty London streets and magnificent Mediterranean light with equal aplomb.

Amazing colour and depth of field!
At the end Joanna promises her director and crew and the audience in general that she’ll be back… well, she is now.

Joanna is available as part of the BFI Flipside series in both BluRay and DVD, available direct or from Amazon.

The big finish!
The dull start...
Jenny Handley