Friday, 29 February 2008


The first two parts of this series appeared on the Fleapit Annex blog and may still be read there by following the link from this page.

I left school in August 1962 and two weeks later began work as a messenger in the mailroom of Columbia Pictures at their London offices in Film House, Wardour Street. In those days the head of Columbia was Mike J. Frankovich. Frankovich, a former radio presenter (he can be seen briefly in the Abbott and Costello comedy BUCK PRIVATES) was every inch the classic image of the movie mogul : tall, silver haired, tinted glasses and a cigar that looked about a foot long. Working in the centre of London’s filmland was, of course, magic for me. The whole of Wardour Street was full of film companies – Paramount, Warner-Pathe, Hammer etc with others like British Lion and Twentieth Century Fox nearby. The street was situated in the middle of London’s Soho district with its strip clubs, pubs, drinking cubs, coffee bars, jazz clubs and brothels Nearby were all the big London Theatres, the Charing Cross bookshps, Chinatown. The area teemed with film people, actors, pimps, gangsters and prostitutes. I went straight from school into this environment at the age of sixteen! It was wonderland and I got free cinema tickets!!! After about a year in the mailroom I moved into the Publicity department as a general assistant and later as assistant to the Advertising Manager. The Director of Publicity in those days was a guy named Patrick M. Williamson who later went on to become Columbia’s head of production in Hollywood and later (I believe) top man in the company. My place in the mailroom was taken by a young guy named Ray. As I showed him the ropes it became apparent that Ray shared my love of the movies and we became firm friends – most of our lunch hours were spent either discussing movies while we ate or going to some of the many screenings set up in film company private screening rooms either by the companies themselves or by genuine film enthusiasts like ourselves who worked for those companies. These could be films about to be released or older films from the company’s 16mm catalogue. We saw a lot of movies! Although we now live in different towns, forty-five years later Ray and I still discuss the movies we've seen over the telephone.Then, of course, there were the people you met either as a direct result of the work or purely by accident. One day I was introduced to an elderly American who turned out to be silent comedy great Harold Lloyd. Another time I took some papers into a screening room where I discovered a very chatty George Sidney sharing coffee with the projectionst. Directors with big films about to be released sometimes moved into the Columbia offices – some like Richard Brooks (LORD JIM) were really nice and happy to talk about their older movies while some like Stanley Kubrick (DR.STRANGELOVE) were just a pain in the butt to everybody. I shared coffee a couple of times with writer Peter George who had penned DR.STRANGELOVE. He seemed a gentle kind of guy with an interest in science fiction and I was shocked and sadden when, he killed himself, supposedly because of depression brought on by the thought of the atomic accident that he spoofed so brilliantly in DR.STRANGELOVE. In the next part I will write about the fan scene that was going on parralell to my time with Columbia, the founding of Gothique magazine, the 1965 world Science Fiction Convention etc.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

HONDO (1953)

It is sad that such an interesting director as John Farrow should be remembered today primarily as the father of actress Mia farrow. Yet Australian born Farrow made some really good movies during his career. Among the best are WAKE ISLAND, THE HITLER GANG, THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES, THE BIG CLOCK, WHERE DANGER LIVES, HIS KIND OF WOMAN and HONDO. On the strength of these I’d be pretty confident that there are a few other gems in his list of titles. HONDO is a cracking Western which, perhaps, while not up to John Wayne’s work with Ford or Hawks stands out as one of the stars best films away from his two mentors. Based on a short story (later expanded into a novel) by Louis L'Amour the film (shot in 3-D) tells the story of Hondo Lane, an Army scout in Apache territory, who discovers a woman and her son in a deserted ranch. Later he is forced to kill the woman’s husband and then return to rescue her from marauding Apaches. The growing attraction between Hondo and the woman (beautifully played by Geraldine Page) is sensitively handled and both characters are, refreshingly, given back stories to round them out. Another point in the film’s favour is the way the Apaches are presented. The famous Apache leader Vittorio is allowed to develop as a person and his growing relationship with the woman’s young son makes for an interesting sub-plot which allow the Indians to become more than faceless bodies biting the dust. Besides Wayne and Page the most notable performance comes from Farrow’s fellow Australian Michal Pate. Pate, born in Sydney, Australia in 1920 was a notable movie villain during the 50’s and 60’s was by varying degrees an actor, writer, producers and television executive. He did many memorable roles (such as the vampire gunslinger in CURSE OF THE UNDEAD) but his Red Indian roles really stand out. After playing Vittorio in HONDO he later made a memorable cameo as Apache leader Sierra Charriba in Peckinpah’s MAJOR DUNDEE. Before returning to Australia in the late 60’s Pate repeated his role a Vittorio in the television series based on HONDO(from which the above image is taken).. Also notable in the cast are John Wayne’s old drinking buddy Ward Bond and everybody’s favourite Western movie thug, Leo Gordon. Rating ***


Made in 1960 but looking like a product of the mid-50’s this sci-fi adventure directed by serial expert Spencer Gordon Bennett towards the end of his career is quite watchable thanks to a serviceable cast of B-movie stalwarts such as Arthur Franz, Dick Foran, Tom Conway and Paul Dubov. Regular passenger carrying atomic submarines are being attacked under the Artic ice and a U.S.Navy killer submarine is sent to seek out and destroy whatever is responsible. The whatever is an alien flying saucer complete with cyclopean occupant who is scouting out the possibilities of colonizing Earth. Naturally the U.S.Navy are having none of this! It’s all rather routine except for the amazingly tacky special effects which, like the cast, raise it a notch or two above the boredom level. The submarines all look line they were free gifts in a cornflake box and the interiors of the UFO are simply a blacked out sound stage with rubber hoops and cardboard sliding doors. The alien himself is a talking eye on the end of a hairy sausage. Rating *

Thursday, 21 February 2008

THE DOOR WITH SEVEN LOCKS/Chamber of Horrors (1940)

THE DOOR WITH SEVEN LOCKS is a film I've waited to see for about forty-five years. Loosely based on the novel of the same name by Edgar Wallace and starring Leslie Banks it seems, at first glance, to have a lot going for it. Sadly, it is a disappointment. It moves at a snail's pace and although made in 1940 it could easily have been made ten years earlier. England really didn't have any decent directors working down among the low-budgets. Despite the American title the film makes absolutely nothing of its torture chamber - which is a merely a collection of torture instruments which we are not really shown beyond a rather unconvincing Iron Maiden and a couple of poisoned chalices. The film's one redeeming feature is the presence of Banks who, as Dr.Manetta, recreates his classic performance of 1932 as Count Zaroff. He deserves a much better vehicle than this tired old melodrama. Rating *

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

LUDWIG (1972)

Most of my knowledge of mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria comes from the 1955 film LUDWIG II directed by Helmut Kautner and starring O.W.Fischer as Ludwig with Klaus Kinski (in his second film role) as mad prince Otto. This, rather more detailed, exploration of this fascinating story is by director Luchino Visconti and stars Helmut Berger. It is generally agreed by critics that Visconti’s greatest contribution to the cinema was with his neo-realist films such as OSSESSIONE, LA TERRA TREMA and ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS and I certainly won’t argue with anybody who feels that way. But for sheer breathtaking entertainment I personally love his big budget extravaganzas – visions of crumbling hierarchies, madness and perversion.These films are almost universally regarded as technically brilliant but emotionally cold works where one can feel little sympathy for the characters. I can’t subscribe to this view (although to a degree I can understand it). Visconti was also a noted director of operas and these films SENSO, THE LEOPARD,DEATH IN VENICE and THE DAMNED are virtually operas without the arias (the certainly have the music : Verdi, Wagner, Mahler with Richard Wagner himself appearing as a character casting a heavy shadow over the story of LUDWIG.) The cast of the film is superb to say the least with Berger as Ludwig descending wonderfully into madness and, at least, equalling his transvestite, paedophile nazi in THE DAMNED (that film’s lederhosen gay orgy is mirrored here as the bureaucrats move in to remove Ludwig from the throne) and Romy Schneider, Silvana Mangano, Trevor Howard, Gert Frobe and Helmut Griem (as a loyal officer who questions whose fault Ludwig’s extravaganze really was) inhabiting their roles to perfection. Visually the film is stunning – the spectacular fairytale castles, of course, designed by Ludwig himself. It’s the sort of movie that one must be prepared to immerse oneself in – it checks in at 246 minutes so a thermos and sandwiches might be a good idea. Rating ****

Saturday, 9 February 2008


Remember Uma taking on the army of Japanese assassins in KILL BILL Vol.1 ? Well, there is a similar scene in SEX AND FURY. Maybe not as many opponents are despatched but Reiko Ike goes one better and does the whole scene stark naked! This is vintage Japanese exploitation fare and features, in addition to the aforementioned scene a couple of assassination attempts, several murders, bondage, some girl on girl action, rape, shootings, a flagellation scene with a buckskin clad girl whipping another in front of a religious fresco and watched by an audience of flick knife wielding nuns! It starts with a bloody murder in the 1880’s and the jumps forward to 1905 for its tale of revenge, police corruption, pick pockets, gambling…and, oh, did I mention the poisoned vagina O.K. admit it…you want to see it. Right?

Friday, 1 February 2008


I met Otto Preminger very briefly when he was in London filming BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING. Although I was very much in awe of him I got the strong impression that he was not the most pleasant of men. This was very much confirmed by some of the stories that filtered back from the film’s locations in Hampstead, London, and remarks made by some of my colleagues who had much more contact with him than my few moments. It is said that Rouben Mamoulian, the original director of the classic film noir LAURA had difficulty coming to terms with the self-centered meanness of that film’s characters so Otto was called in to take over the production. The result was a classic movie – no small part because Preminger understood the characters so well. WHIRLPOOL also has a set of flawed characters but with one exception they lack the downright self-serving meanness of those in the previous film. However the exception, the film’s hypnotist villain, played superbly by Jose Ferrer (and this is no spoiler as his villainy is revealed almost immediately), makes up for it by the bucket load. After being caught shoplifting, the wife of a successful psychiatrist is saved from arrest and embassment by the intervention of a hypnotist (Ferrer). At first it seems that her suave rescuer has blackmail on his mind but it soon transpires that his true motive is far more sinister. WHIRLPOOL is a gripping thriller, maybe not quite top drawer film noir(one has top admit that the plot by Ben Hecht and Andrew Solt is very silly if examined too closely), but great entertainment thanks to the truly bizarre method used to commit the murder and the superior cast which is headed by the truly beautiful Gene Tierney, Richard Conte and Charles Bickford. I first saw WHIRLPOOL about fifty years ago and the scene where how the crime was committed is revealed burned indelibly into my young mind. I also know that I was aware of Jose Ferrer as an actor (long before any of the other stars would have registered.) Seeing it again recently I was surprised that I did not remember any other scene or plot detail. However, it was nice to catch up with this atmospheric thriller again. Rating ***