… of Peggy Mount, that is, in fine shouty matriarch fettle as Emma Hornett, one in the long line of, well, shouty matriarchs she cornered the market in, from Ada Larkin through Gabrielle Dragon and Mrs Bumble to, er, Aunt Fanny in Ghost-of-Frankie-Howerd-starring children’s sitcom All Change. This may be decried as one of those ’50s films adapted from a creaky old stage farce in much the same manner as Carry On Admiral and all that bunkum, but come on – Peggy Mount! Plus there’s Cyril ‘Hugh and I’ Smith as Peg’s hen-pecked feret-keeping spouse! Shirley ‘Goldfinger’ Eaton as the daughter! Esma Cannon as the sister-in-law! Gordon Jackson as a rollicking Scottish sailor! George A Cooper as the petty officer! Michael Caine and Henry McGee as yet further sailors! Thora Hird as a nosy neighbour! Geoffrey Keen as a vicar! Alfie Bass as his organist! And Fred Griffiths as – yes! – a cabbie! What’s not to sit contentedly in front of?
S is for…
The spy spoof genre’s all about cinematic in-japery and self-indulgence, so how could it be complete without a visit from the Rat Pack? Dean Martin spent the sixties stumbling through a series of low-rent, girl-crazy Man From UNCLE-style adventures as Matt Helm, but that was The Godfather compared to this. An ageing Sammy Davis Jr (Charles Salt) and Peter Lawford (Chris Pepper) are owners of a ‘legitimate’ Soho nightclub led by a series of suspicious murders into a web of silly intrigue culminating in a plot by a one-eyed John le Mesurier to wipe out a British city with a stolen Polaris sub. The pair, reluctantly recruited by MI5, stumble in and out of Soho dives, panicking, wisecracking and booting Le Mesurier soundly in the nuts. Throw in Michael Bates as a comedy copper and serial car bomb victim, a clunky customised kit car complete with array of unreliable pursuit gadgets, a riot of overcooked double takes and a Lionel Blair dance routine and you’ve got a film that might have been a lot of fun if its two stars weren’t, according to exasperated director Richard Donner, permanently hungover on set. (Celluloid evidence bears him out.) The sequel, directed by Jerry Lewis, was even more foolish, featuring Lawford in a duel role as his upper class British cousin and a bit of business where Davis opens a secret passage behind a bookcase to discover Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in costume as Frankenstein and Dracula, seemingly put there for no other reason than the lairy old Packers rather liked Hammer films.
TV CREAM SAYS: TWO MORE MARTINIS OVER HERE, PRONTO!
Dudley Moore is subjected to more indignities with this uncalled-for film so dire there’s no humour to be had in its shortcomings. Burgess Meredith, Melvyn Hayes, Don Estelle, Christopher ‘Mike’ Ryan and John ‘Mallens’ Hallam are also implicated. Sheena Easton and the immortal Kaja provide the soundtrack.
TV CREAM SAYS: "THE SUIT'S GONE BACK TO BURTON'S!"
Hammer’s penultimate and Christopher Lee’s last caped catastrophe. We’re all for bringing the Count into the 20th century, if only to get out of having to see the same old plaster of Paris castle walls over and over again, but here the erstwhile impaler does precious little apart from get some boardroom types to conduct a sub-Wheatley black mass, call upon a gang of sheepskinned biker heavies to knock off anyone who’s onto him and fiddle about with a phial of urine – sorry, bubonic plague. We can’t help thinking writer Don Houghton (best known for creating Take the High Road, coincidentally) hasn’t thought this one through. If he’s just going to carry on like your average Bond villain, what’s the point of him even being Dracula, apart from the still-extant pull of the brand name, and a convenient get-out-clause cause of demise when the time runs out (and this film’s Geoff Hamiltonesque vampire despatch is the most silly yet, beating even AD)? Still, Cushing gamely turns up as a nine-stone Van Helsing, here working for the Secret Service and armed with Joanna Lumley as a feisty daughter. Richard Vernon, William Franklyn and Freddie Jones try their best (well, OK, they turn up to the set on time and say the words on the board without smirking) and Alan ‘Dominick Hide’ Gibson tries to jazz up the dynamics with the occasional rakish camera angle, but really, in the year Hammer was also producing the far superior Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (and indeed the far superior Man About the House), this effort couldn’t look more irrelevant, sorry and bedraggled. Also, we’re especially annoyed for this billing because we had a dead funny line about the Setanta Rights of Dracula but the idiots went bust before we could type it out. Bloomin’ fly-by-night media conglomerates!
TV CREAM SAYS: STEPHANIE BEACHAM WAS 'UNAVAILABLE'. 'TOO BLOODY DISCERNING' MIGHT BE NEARER THE TRUTH
They entertained a generation of snot-fuelled youngsters in post-war fleapits, and subsequent generations via the medium of summer holiday telly. They were responsible for shaping the landscape of mainstream Hollywood for decades to come. They routinely saved Earth from destruction in thirteen exciting episodes. They kept the exclamation mark in rude circulatory health through the world’s darkest hours. They were the lovely old adventure film serials from the thirties, forties and fifties. The likes of Columbia (Superman vs Atom Man, Captain Video: Master of the Stratosphere), Universal (Flash Gordon, The Green Hornet, The Phantom Creeps) and most of all ‘poverty row’ outfit Republic (with a small mention for plucky Mascot), produced mile upon mile of the sort of transition-wipe-filled, microbudget slam-bang programme filler Lucas and Spielberg spent the best part of two decades trying to resurrect, with massive budgets. But the essential elements of this venerable genre’s ramshackle originals, from Spy Smasher to The Masked Marvel, break down something like this:
Right from its early days, the serials thrived on a marketable formula. early silent serials like What Happened to Mary, The Perils of Pauline, The Exploits of Elaine and so predictably-titled on, majored in the “flapper in distress” format that’s since become the defining cliche of antiquated melodrama, but was probably regarded as corny even then, with its weekly parade of cloche-hatted heroines being tied to train tracks by their moustache-twirling abductors. But that corniness travelled well, making international stars of the films’ feisty heroines, as well as their abominable antagonists, The Clutching Hand and The Iron Claw. Many of the later serial successes were purloined from other sources. There are your comic strip spin-offs like The Batman, Buck Rogers, Captain America and The Green Hornet. Zorro proved popular enough for eight serials, even if some, like Zorro’s Black Whip, cheated a bit by not actually having Zorro in them at all. Best of them was Zorro’s Fighting Legion, in which a tribe of Mexican Indians worship a little old boy in a tin hat, Zorro effects several deft escapes, including one from a burning church by swinging through a plate glass window right at the camera, and that much-purloined crawling-under-the-stagecoach stunt is performed for neither the first nor the last time. But the most famed are surely Universal’s three Flash Gordon adventures, which set the tone and style of the sci-fi elements in these films until well after the war, despite getting that ‘look’ from the remnants of ‘proper’ Universal films like Bride of Frankenstein. Well, except perhaps the demented third installment, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, which for some reason puts half the cast in Robin Hood outfits.
‘Watch out for those giants! They’re dangerous!’ – The Lost City (Super Serial Productions Inc., 1935)
As basic as possible, preferably. Due to the serial’s episodic structure, the first episode had to feature the set-up – hero encounters bad guy, bad guy nabs hero’s girl, sticks hero in pit of snakes etc. – with the following twelve-or-so episodes consisting of the same thing again and again, plus at least two punch-ups every week between the opposing forces to help chivvy things along. Who could ask for anything more? Even within these production line limitations, the scenarios couldn’t help but get weirder and weirder, solely due to the number of them churned out, and the consequent increasing desperation to avoid repetition. Like an ever-mutating adventure story made up by two bickering boys mucking about on a patch of waste ground, the plot gets bored with itself, goes off on some bizarre tangent, sets up an ingenious trap, escapes from it in perfunctory manner, goes back to an earlier idea, stops for a bit of a punch-up, and so haphazardly on. Late-period Mascot entry The Phantom Empire, allegedly cooked up by a serial writer under the influence of laughing gas at the dentist’s, was perhaps the most bizarre of them all. Gene Autry plays himself, as a singing cowboy with a radio show, who keeps getting captured by the denizens of a Futurist underground city, every week neatly escaping from the Art Deco caverns, just in time to do his radio show.
‘This is a court of law, not an optical clinic!’ – Son of Zorro (Republic, 1947)
Howard and Theodore Lydecker are the names to conjure with here. Yes, there was that omnipresent stock footage of a palm tree in a hurricane to signify environmental catastrophe (usually brought about by the antagonist’s new secret death ray), and of course Flash’s time-honoured rockets with smoke coming out the back. But, for their minuscule budget, there was quite a lot of solid model work going on here. Some of the flying scenes in Fighting Devil Dogs, for instance, are still pretty good today, and the much-loved tabletop avalanches and volcano eruptions are still top fun for the unjaded eye. And the physicality of King of the Rocket Men‘s simple springboard/dummy slung on wires combo beats any amount of back projection for our Depression-era money. Then there were the optical effects, the drawn-on-the-film death rays (best example being The Lightning’s zappy ray gun on Fighting Devil Dogs). On the minus side, The Batman (1943) had, as his Batmobile, a, er, car. With a spare tyre on the back and everything.
‘No doubt Vultan will compel the Earth girl to marry him. It is a habit of his.’ – Flash Gordon (Universal, 1936)
This being the age of Art Deco, or maybe just a little bit after it, sci-fi sets had a streamlined, curlicued look. A fragile, plastery sort of streamlined, curlicued look, but a streamlined, curlicued look nonetheless. This is chronologically halfway between your silent baroque era and the gubbins-festooned fifties sci-fi heyday, so a little bit of each is what’s called for. Elsewhere, labs – sorry, secret labs – were festooned with big bakelite knobs and dials. Costumes were threadbare but various, ranging from the genuinely effective – The Lightning off Fighting Devil Dogs had a spiked black helmet and cape combo later half-inched by Darth Vader – to the risibly camp – the denizens of Phantom Empire‘s underground city seem to be wearing campy gear pitched halfway between some modernist ballet costumes and the ever-popular ‘Bob Todd in a dress’ look. And don’t mention The Batman‘s crumpled crepe ears, please.
‘No wonder my plans never succeed. These wild parties must stop!’ – The Spider Returns (Columbia, 1941)
‘I’m mighty grateful!’ ‘That’s all right, Jack.’ ‘You know who I am?’ ‘I should – I’m your twin brother!’ ‘Alan! But I thought you were killed in that plane crash in France last year!’ ‘So did everyone, including the news agency I reported for! That’s why I became Spy Smasher, to fight the Nazis on their own ground! Now it’s time to fight them here! In the United States!’ – Spy Smasher (Republic, 1942)
‘We’ve been tricked by cleverness!’ – The Crimson Ghost (Republic, 1946)
In Flash Gordon, of course, you had the great Dr Zarkov, forever pulling a new device out of his lab just in time for Flash to use it against the advancing Mongo hordes. Needless to say, Flash had no need of a technical manual in order to operate the thing. Other serials made merry with the gnomic nomenclature. Brick Bradford travelled through space and time via the mysterious Crystal Door. Captain Video battled the evil Vultura with such twirly wonders as the Opticon Scillometer. The Lost Planet played host to over fifty such trinkets, including the Cosmic Cannon, the Thermic Disintegrator and the Prysmic Catapult. You get the formula by now – technically abstract adjective welded to old-fashioned item of weaponry equals acceptable serial gadget. Hardware in Serial World was made with ease of use to the fore. The King of the Rocket Men controlled his hi-tech jet pack with just three knobs – on and off, up and down, and fast and slow. The Crimson Ghost had the titular villain – a bloke dressed, for reasons never adequately explained, in ghost train skull mask and cowl – endlessly going after an electricity-nullifying super weapon called the Cyclotrode: a sewing machine case augmented with bits of twirly tubing and some massive dials on the bottom. In Fighting Devil Dogs, The Lightning battled the Marines in a snazzy ‘flying wing’ aircraft, streamlined to a fault (though still able to do a quick vertical take-off when the need arose). And don’t forget those unwieldy gun-toting robots that looked suspiciously like an old tin boiler on legs, as evinced in just about everything from the Republic stable, from Undersea Kingdom to The Mysterious Dr Satan.
‘With his vibrator, he could bring the city to its knees!’ – Captain America (Republic, 1944)
‘What you thought was butchery was really a marvellous brain operation!’ – The Galloping Ghost (Mascot Pictures, 1931)
Where would the serials be without Raymond Bernard, fitness trainer to the stars and, as Crash Corrigan, the meaty presence under many a fur costume as, for example, the Mighty Orangopid of Mongo in Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers, or Bonga the gorilla in King of Jungleland. However, he got his big break, sans fake head, as the dashing, fit and mostly topless naval officer in Undersea Kingdom, handily also called Crash Corrigan, riding about with an old professor on his ‘rocket submarine’ (with huge bubbles coming out the back, natch), the requisite stowaway kid and two comedy idiot sailor sidekicks, to mediate in a black-cape-vs-white-cape Atlantean war. When will people learn, eh, Crash? After he retired from films, Crash set up Corriganville, a theme park along the lines of The American Adventure. ‘Start the disintegrator!’ Also, spare a thought for the perfectly-named Arthur Space, a prolific serial veteran whose oeuvre includes various fistfight-tastic bottom drawer Republic entries like Government Agents vs Phantom Legion! Or Canadian Mounties vs Atomic Invaders! Or Panther Queen of the Kongo (sic), where he was an evil scientist scaring folk away from his African diamond mine with giant crayfish, Scooby Doo-style. A job of work and no mistake.
‘She doesn’t hear you because she’s cracked up. You understand me? Cracked up because you don’t have the brains of a moron child!’ – Sky Raiders (Universal, 1941)
A car goes over the cliff. The hero’s inside. It smashes onto the rocks below. The end. Gasp! But, of course, next week, we see the hero unshackling himself and pegging it out the car just at the last moment (presumably unseen by the first camera). Kids called it cheating, but they still came back for more. And anyway, isn’t it more like a third umpire, giving another view on events? A symbol of Republic’s thriftiness, that same car went over the same cliff in King of the Rocket Men, King of the Forest Rangers, The Crimson Ghost (twice!) and Radar Men from the Moon, to name but four. Other well-worn favourites included the shrinking room, the falling spiked ceiling, piloting a small boat down the ever-narrowing gap between two oncoming larger boats, and any number of burning and exploding buildings housing the bound and gagged protagonist. All immensely satisfying in their innate unsatisfactoriness, as it were.
CRIMSON GHOST: ‘The Cyclotrode’s power is irresistible! Nothing can stop it!’
DUNCAN RICHARDS shoots Cyclotrode. Cyclotrode stops.
DUNCAN RICHARDS: ‘That stopped it, my ghostly friend!’ – The Crimson Ghost (Republic, 1946)
TV CREAM SAYS: I SHALL DESTROY HIM!
The main source of mirth with this being, of course, Martin Amis’ notorious dabbling in sci-fi scripting. Not sure if he was aping his dad on this one (who was more a ghost story man really, although our investigations into lost Republic movie serial Kingsley Of The Rocket Men remain inconclusive), but the results speak – stiltedly – for themselves. Farrah ‘something for the dads’ Fawcett and Kirk ‘something for the grandmothers’ Douglas farm that soya stuff those Usborne books told us we’d all be eating all the time by now, play unconvincing minimalist chess and go jogging in gossamer leisurewear until Harvey Keitel turns up with top-heavy brain-in-tank tin-squeezing behemoth Hector, and man vs. machine fun ensues. At least, it does if you play TV Cream’s patented Spot Ed ‘UFO’ Bishop game.
TV CREAM SAYS: WHEEL AND PEDITATE!
One of those long, turgid films made by Italian directors that could roughly be lumped under the banner ‘classical soft porn’, or ‘todgers and togas’ if you will (and there’s no reason why you should). Hence Salo, Caligula, and this rum-and-raisin effort from Fellini, all decadent orgies, oiled-up blonde boys, minotaurs, hermaphrodites, grapes and naked people jumping about on the spot. It all looks great, thanks to the lads down Cinecitta way, but for why?
TV CREAM SAYS: "THERE'S LOTS OF PEOPLE MAKING LOVE, BUT THERE'S NO MENTION OF GEOFF BOYCOTT'S AVERAGE!"
Yes, Cuddly Ken Russell tackles the life of yet another Great Artist (though here it’s some sculptor we’ve never heard of, and we’ve got O-levels in Divinity and stuff) who conveniently found plenty of time between creative bursts to fit in the requisite Lashings of Shagging. We like the way Ken’s film company was called Russ-Arts, thus inadvertently suggesting both some kind of On the Buses rough innuendo and the involvement of the erstwhile star of September Song.
TV CREAM SAYS: WHO'S IT ABOUT, AGIAN? DETAILS, DEAR BOY...
Slight Alec Guinness mystery wherein He Who Hopes They Don’t Laugh plays a mild-mannered English teacher and his villainous aristocratic French double. Enough with the multiple roles, already! Anyway, this Features the great Geoffrey Keen. The lugubrious actor is best known as Sir Frederick ‘What *is* Bond doing?’ Gray, but he’s staked a claim in just about every part of the Cream-era films canon throughout his career. From early bit parts in classics like Odd Man Out and The Third Man, he quickly set out his stall as a player of pompous, slightly malevolent figures of authority. Policemen, priests and military types were his domain, whether concocting a corpse conspiracy in The Man Who never Was, or chasing after a begoggled Kenneth More in Genevieve. Overlooked cod-Ealing brandy smuggling romp Green Grow the Rushes, superior sci-fi The Mind Benders, Dymchurch-based Georgian adventure The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh and strike-busting Dickie Attenborough drama The Angry Silence all benefitted immeasurably from his presence. His only bill-topping role was on TV, as the deputy head of Mogul Oil in BBC boardroom inrigue drama The Troubleshooters, though he came close in Hammer’s fun Taste the Blood of Dracula, buying vampiric artifacts from Roy Kinnear and generally hamming up the Victorian dignitary bit for all it’s worth, until Linda Hayden stoves his head in with a spade. Then, while he was Bonding, he cheekily moonlit with eerily similar cameo roles in some of daft ‘maverick’ indie producer Lindsay Shonteff’s lairy late ’70s Bond spoofs. A man who had a humble, self-deprecating opinion of his oeuvre (something his Dracula co-star Christopher Lee could do with a bit more of), but who made potentially ho-hum parts memorable for the best part of three decades: the toast is Geoffrey Keen.
TV CREAM SAYS: ALSO PLAYED A GYNAECOLOGIST INHOLOCAUST 2000! OH SORRY, THIS WAS MEANT TO BE A CELEBRATION
Anthony Andrews plays the Ffing toff liberator in this TV movie from the venerable London Films stable. Look out for Von Gelb off of Freewheelers, Professor Vana off of Captain Zep, and the late Roy Evans off of Eastenders among the wigs and breeches.
TV CREAM SAYS: WHAT IS IT YOU FRENCHIES SAY? TOUCHE?
In between ‘early promise’ of She’s Gotta Have It and the massive success of Do the Right Thing came Spike Lee’s obligatory ‘difficult’ second, and perversely enough it was a musical. The social phenomenon of black US college students separating into groups of various degrees of ‘blackness’ was the big point here, but it gets lost in the raggedly-shot musical numbers. The music’s pretty turgid too – a brave attempt to mix trad West Side Storyesque musical numbers with the rather turgid sax-’n'-fairlight funk-lite of the time does no ears any favours, sadly.
TV CREAM SAYS: STILL, DWAYNE WAYNE OFF OF A DIFFERENT WORLD AND DOC OFF OF THE RED HAND GANG, TOGETHER AT LAST!
Another Frank Randle stormer. He’s now in the centre of the dramatic plot, as a kindly old janitor going after a troubled schoolgirl who runs away to be a dancer on the London stage, and is finally revealed to be his daughter. The Formby-esque emotional final scenes are fairly well handled by Randle, but as ever the set pieces are the important factor, and when they work they work well indeed. Randle gives a demented (and very Ken Dodd-like) comedy lecture on the cow, with the help of a life-sized electric prop heifer operated by Dan Young. ‘Now, you will see the cow is a very large animal, but not quite as large as a bigger one of the same size. The cow has a leg at each corner, and several other appendages that we need not go into at the moment.’ Dan Young and Alec Pleon complement him beautifully for an almost balletic coal-shovelling three-hander routine in the boiler room. Welsh star Maudie Edwards is a grand female foil as Bella Donna the school cook, halfway between Tessie O’Shea’s permanent mardiness and Somewhere in Civvies star Mrs Spam’s incessant randiness.
TV CREAM SAYS: WEIRD, BUT STILL ACE
Ian Carmichael is the perpetual loser always trumped by arch-cad Terry-Thomas. That is until he takes instruction from Alistair Sim and learns how to win at the titular academy. Groaning with a cast of actors we never tire of seeing – John Le Mesurier, Hattie Jacques, Gerald Campion etc – Carmichael turns in one of his best performances as he is driven to desperation by the swine TT, comes unstuck and then rallies to achieve for himself the status of bounder. Also involved are Dennis ‘Kind Hearts’ Price and Peter ‘voice of the book’ Jones as underhand car-dealing double act Dunstan and Douglas, who should surely have got a film of their own. Amongst the lofty peaks of I’m Alright, Jack and Privates Progress this is often forgotten but it deserves to be right up their alongside the very best of them, and Ian Carmichael deserves far more recognition for the superb performances he turned in for these excellent films. You don’t have to play a cripple or psychopathic maniac to be a good actor, you know.
TV CREAM SAYS: BASED, NATCH, ON STEPHEN POTTER'S GENTEEL 'GAMESMANSHIP' SERIES OF GENTLEMANLY BLUFFER'S GUIDES
And here the British horror portmanteau came to die. Sexploitation kingpin Stanley A Long tied up three supporting features penned by Michael ‘Eskimo Nell’ Armstrong with a perfunctory linking device involving a bunch of Americans renting some ‘British’ horror videos and, er, watching them. First, a Punch and Judy man takes revenge on his puppetphobic family (including stepson Jonathan ‘Bread’ Morris) by enacting the seaside entertainment for real. Then a young woman is haunted by housebound hallucinations with a rather effective supernatural twist. Finally, Dollar’s David Van Day has his petty cash thieving exploits undone by some possessed garden gnomes. An ignominious end.
TV CREAM SAYS: REST IN PIECES
Dame Joan Collins as a nun and Richard ‘Medusa’ Burton as a biscuit are the leading lights for this Cinemascope show reel into which the producers helpfully foisted onto the story Creamcast players a-lary including Nicholas ‘morning cock!’ Hannen, Joan ‘excuse me but I’ve left my washing machine on’ Hickson, Ronald ‘Million Pound Note’ Squire, Ronald ‘The Ruling Class’ Adam, Cy ‘Scarlet’ Grant and Basil ’80 Days’ Sydney. All to little effect unfortunately.
TV CREAM SAYS: 'NOT ROBERTO ROSSELLINI'S CUP OF MINESTRONE' CLAIMED DIRECTOR IN HALF-ARSED STAB AT FUNNY BANTER. BACK BEHIND THE CAMERA, YOU!
If there had to be an acknowledged king of the cut-price Bond knock-off, self-financing string-and-sealing-wax auteur Lindsay Shonteff would be your man. Here he casts Tom Adams, latterly famous as the grey-haired stiff in a long-running DFS ad campaign, as shop-soiled Endsleigh League Bond Charles Vine, drafted in to guard an anti-gravity device from the Russkies. Comparisons with Bond proper are played for cheap laughs, Adams exhibits an un-Bond-like amoral streak by shooting folk in the back, and Sammy Davis Jr warbles the Bondesque theme. Adams/Vine returned for two sequels, Where The Bullets Fly (1966, featuring Sid James and Wilfrid Brambell) and the ultra-threadbare, Spanish-produced OK Yevtushenko (1968, featuring nobody), but by then the wayward Shonteff had moved onto other things…
TV CREAM SAYS: FIVE YEARS INTEREST-FREE... ER, FILMING
A mysterious private organisation promises luckless bankrupts and failures a completely new physical identity. Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), ageing and penniless, gets wind of the place through a friend, and, after a trip via a laundry service and the back of a white van, finally locates their morbid offices, staffed by a variety of nutty eccentrics, including an over-eager salesman who orders a “last meal” for Hamilton, then, when it’s refused, gleefully scoffs it himself while discussing procurement of the corpse that is to stand in for Hamilton’s body when his death is faked, and the owner of the establishment, a KFC-esque avuncular Southern colonel type, all smiles and encouragement. Entrusting his new life to these nutballs, Hamilton undergoes all-over plastic surgery – cue labcoats, swabs and acres of bandage – to re-emerge as one Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson), followed by a weird debriefing from a moustachoied greaseball who for some sinister reason can’t stop giggling. Job done!
Although it all goes wrong of course, neatly spiralling to a harrowing, unexpected but neatly circular end. On top of all that, there’s John Frankenheimer’s delirious camerawork – wide angles, fisheyes, PoV shots (with camera physically attached to Hamilton/Wilson as he meanders down the corridors, the est part of a decade bfore Martin Scorsese pulled the same trick with a pissed-up De Niro in Mean Streets) and that much-loved PoV-of-trolley- bound-patient-staring-up-at-corridor-lights shot, which may well have made its debut here, and certainly became a well-worn signifier of the “sinister lab” setup (see Jacob’s Ladder, which consists of little else).
(Note for paranoids – this being a sixties film and all, its disorientating subject matter and style made waves among the more… shall we say, chemically susceptible members of the public, most famously Brian Wilson, who, on spotting the fact Rock’s character had the same surname as him, naturally inferred that the film was all a plot by Phil Spector to psychically nobble him for nicking his string arrangements. Makes sense to us. Tony Wilson’s thoughts on the film, alas, are unrecorded.)
TV CREAM SAYS: THAT GRAPE-TREADING SCENE, HOWEVER, IS A BIT MUCH
Strike two for Liz Taylor, as an ageing London prozzie who can’t shake off supposed long lost daughter Mia Farrow. She eventually lets her stay with her, only for the kid’s child-molesting stepdad, Robert Mitchum, to turn up in a Michael Eavis beard. There’s not much fun to be had here, though the daffy double act of Dames Peggy Ashcroft and Pamela Brown comes close. When the losses started rolling in, Universal desperately re-imagined the thing as a psychiatric procedural plodder and flogged it to the telly networks. It was, amazingly, even worse.
TV CREAM SAYS: AT LEAST BOOM! WAS DAFT AS A BRUSH
Not the Michael J Fox thing, but a genuine slab of intriguing ’60s oddness with James ‘Kenny Ames, you know, Ally Fraser’s dodgy mate with the yacht off of series two of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet’ Booth as an ambitious, wet-behind-the-ears copper goaded by his domineering mum into unwittingly helping Stella Stevens, Honor Blackman and Shirley ‘Partridge’ Jones commit increasingly heinous misdeeds, starting with murder and ending in a revolution down Mexico way. Fantastically peculiar fare as only ’60s comedies can be, with a smattering of sauce, Lionel Jeffries in multiple roles, a Teutonic Blackman breeding giant spiders, and Richard Vernon, Martin Benson and George Woodbridge on set. Fun would appear to be, as they say in the corridors of Westminster, a-comin’.
TV CREAM SAYS: ALTHOUGH WE MUCH PREFER ITS ALTERNATE BELGIAN TITLE, WIDOWS A-GO-GO
Yes, the sexploitation gang muscled in on the portmanteau horror genre too, with this delirious bitty saga in which a mummy with the voice of Valentine Dyall links half-a-dozen short stories ranging from sub-Mayfair cartoon ‘clothes fall off’ titillation to full-on grotesque body horror, by way of a man splitting himself in two astride a razor-augmented vaulting horse. You can’t accuse the ‘twists’ in these tales of not being up to scratch, as it’s hard to believe they’re meant to be twists in the first place. Wilful non-sequiturs is nearer the mark. Masterminded by William Burroughs acolyte Anthony Balch, creator of the similarly off-centre Horror Hospital (1973), which pitted hippie Robin Askwith against Michael Gough and his customized youth-decapitating Rolls-Royce.