Thursday, 28 February 2019

Frying tonight! Crucible of Terror (1971)

This feature was recently listed among the Daily Telegraph’s “twenty worst” British films yet, whilst it has some distinctly deranged elements, it’s also competently made and a lot of fun. Firstly, the cast are clearly enjoying themselves and a recent Twitter exchange from Judy Jarvis (nee Matheson) confirms this and secondly there’s some good direction even if the narrative is sometimes slow moving. What, perhaps, aroused the notoriously-unbalanced Telegraph’s disdain was no doubt the performance artistry of Radio One DJ Mike Raven, and a finale in which all hell breaks lose as the plot of another film seems to be rapidly squeezed into the dying embers of this one.

Now Mr Raven is no Christopher Lee but I bet he had a cooler record collection… he does OK in this film and is propped up by a skilled cast around him including James Bolam, Ronald Lacey and Mary Maude, as well as the aforementioned Judy who brightens every film I’ve seen her in.

The film begins with a gruesome scene in which an unconscious woman is covered in plaster before hot molten metal is pored over her to make a statue. The scene shifts to a trendy art gallery owned – just about – by Jack Davies (Bolam) in which said “sculpture” is one of several items being sold off by the artist’s son Michael (Lacey). His father Victor is a recluse, living in the family home out in Cornwall and is unaware of his grabby son’s theft of these items.

Yes, I grew it myself... James Bolam
But Michael’s a loser in love and commerce and needs the money as does Jack, whose gallery is struggling. He is reliant from flirtatious favours from the wives of wealthy benefactors such as Joanna Brent (Melissa Stribling), married to the much older merchant banker George Brent (Kenneth Keeling) who is intensely-compelled by the shiny, sexy statue… it’s the only thing in the gallery he wants but it’s already been sold.

Jack pushes Michael to get some more of his father’s works and they travel down to the remote Cornish valley where the tumble-down family “pile” remains. Jack takes his girl, Millie (Mary Maude) on Michael’s advice as he knows his father has a fondness for young women, including his own wife, Jane (Beth Alberge).

The house is near an abandoned tin mine where the furnace is still operable… yes, we see where this is going, or do we?

Happy families
 Living with the immaculately bearded Victor (Raven) is his loyal pal Bill (the excellent John Arnatt carrying so much gentlemanly menace) and his estranged – with the emphasis on “strange” - wife Dorothy (Betty Alberge) who seems to have quite lost her mind, dressed as a young girl, cuddling dollies, her mind broken by some awful trauma we can only  begin to imagine.

Completing this unhappy family is Marcia (Judy Jarvis née Matheson, who clearly relishes the chance to play a proper bad ‘un!), a tough model who has stuck with her artist as the rest of his muses presumably melted away under the pressure of his single-minded artistic vision…

OK, it’s all a bit weird but Jack and Millie settle in as he sets his sights on a deal with Victor whilst Michael tries to wind up Daddy but only succeeds in rowing with Jane who seems to have a more balanced relationship with her father-in-law who, really, is very keen on running his charcoal along the lines of her physique.

The artist at work: Mike Raven painting Judy Jarvis
Victor will only deal in cash and so Jack has to head off to London leaving Millie to be entertained by Marcia who soon proves to be more than a little interested in her potential rival whilst fending off Michael’s crude approaches with a superb display of pebble throwing… good editing perhaps, but Judy knows how to throw and looks like she means it!

Meanwhile strange things are happening to Millie who keeps on having odd dreams… there’s a feeling that there’s more to this than meets the eye...

Dusty Verdict: The build-up of tension is handled well and even though we think we know who the real baddy is there’s a rather spectacular twist that would put many of Giallo to shame. I enjoyed the atmospherics and the location and there are some excellent actors to admire who manage to elevate the script with nuance and by conveying more than the words perhaps intended: everyone is clearly enjoying themselves.

Them that throws stones shouldn't live in glass houses...
You have to be in the right mood but I’ve seen many more than 20 worse British films than this one! So, don’t listen to the Telegraph (which is always the best policy) and whilst it’s not great art it is certainly one to relish on a rainy day.

Also, James Bolam in a daft ‘tache; what’s not to like!?

Ow's that Mr Lacey?!

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