Diary of a Madman (1963) ***

Contemporary perspectives occasionally raise a film in the estimation. Here, our knowledge of the psychology behind serial killers sheds quite a different light. The idea that a killer can blame outside forces over which he has no control was one of the original tenets when the ordinary mind could not take in that some folks just enjoyed the act of murder so much they were inclined to do it over and over again.

Where I come there there’s a saying – “a big boy did it and ran away” – a device used by small boys in big trouble. And that’s pretty much the idea here. The innocent can be taken over by an evil entity, rather than admitting to surrendering to their most heinous desires.

A prisoner condemned to death in 19th century France confides in magistrate Simon Cordier (Vincent Price) that his murdeorus acts were the result of direction by the mysterious and, unhelpfully, invisible “Horla.” Naturally, Cordier dismisses the notion until, in self-defence, he kills the prisoner. Disturbed by his action, he seeks counsel and is advised by a psychiatrist (an “alienist” as such a person was known at the time) to spend more time on his hobby, sculpting.

Although Cordier appears to be a model citizen, there lurks in his past a suicidal wife who killed their child, and the notion that somehow he was responsible. Into his world comes woman-on-the-make Odette (Nancy Kovack) who earns more money as an artist’s model than her husband Paul (Chris Warley) does for his paintings. Unaware  that she is already committed, Simon proposes marriage. It doesn’t take long for him to suspect she is not what she seems and he does away with her only for Paul to become the main suspect and be condemned to death.

Cordier, discovering by accident that the Horla, is frightened of fire, lures the entity into his deserted house (servants sent away) and plans to destroy the entity but in the process the fire melts the door handles and Cordier can’t escape, dying in the process.

Price and Kovack.

A modern reading of course would set it up a different way, putting greater emphasis on the past, trying to uncover what drove Cordier’s wife to suicide. That he gives in to overwhelming urges might well be followed by periods of guilt until he realises that the only way out is his own suicide.

But the 1960s moviegoer – possibly still recovering from the murderous goings-on at the Bates Hotel, and grateful that it was fiction, and The Boston Strangler only just getting into his stride – was not quite ready to put any faith in a landscape filled with predators and victims, so it would make more sense for outside forces, voices or the like, to be controlling the ordinary person.

An eerie glowing light comes over the eyes of Cordier (and the earlier convict) any time the urge to kill dominates. But if you were going to set this up as a picture of innocence driven to dark deed you would not populate it with Vincent Price (Witchfinder General, 1968), who had form for dastardly deeds. Nor is Price quite able to pull it off, those sepulchral tones always seeming to indicate something lurking, and he’s hardly in the debonair category so at the very least he belongs to the caste of entitled rich taking advantage of a poor woman to press his case for marriage.

Nancy Kovack (Jason and the Argonauts, 1963) is more convincing as the manipulative object of his desire. I half-expected her to turn into a murderer in order to rid herself of her the husband getting in the way of her chance at a new, wealthier, life. Chris Warfield (Dangerous Charter, 1962) is the talentless dupe, whichever way you cut it, and you have to admire his wife for sticking with him for so long.

Given that director Reginald Le Borg’s career dated back to the 1940s and he had been lumbered with the Joe Palooka series and any number of B-movies, it was perhaps surprising that horror, although still strictly on B-movie budgets, became a forte – The Black Sheep (1956) and Voodoo Island (1957). While this one was clearly filmed on a studio backlot, he does a good job of bringing a bit of lushness to the proceedings.

Perhaps the most interesting element is that the idea originated in the mind of famed French short story writer Guy de Maupassant – you might be surprised to learned that nearly 300 movies and television adaptations have been made from his works, a dozen alone in 1963 including Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath. Worth comparing with Maniac out in the same year where the idea of the mad killer is exploited for a different end.

Very old-school, but with passable sfx.

Maniac / The Maniac (1963) ****

Such an ingenious thriller you just have to applaud. Opening with a close-up of a predatory eye, this scarcely draws breath as it dashes through a latter-day film noir maze, spawning out auditory and visual cues, beautiful woman luring dupe, twisting the expected narrative round her little finger.

Artist Jeff (Kerwin Mathews) setting up his easel in the Camargue, hardly one of the most tourist-friendly spots in France, eyes up Annette (Liliane Brousse), the daughter of a hotelier Eve (Nadia Gray), but, in extremely opportunistic style, settles for the mother. In true noir fashion she is using him, seducing him into a scheme to free her husband George (Donald Houston), incarcerated in a mental asylum for torturing and killing with a blowtorch the aforementioned predator who raped Annette four years before.

Eve convinces Jeff that in return for his freedom the madman will effectively give his blessing to their affair. It’s a deal only a besotted dupe would fall for. George has an ally inside the asylum, assisting his escape, but when George turns up, and Jeff drives him to Marseilles, he leaves behind the corpse of his criminal associate in the boot. Jeff dumps the body in the river.

Cue the start of a series of strange events. A fired-up blowtorch is discovered in the garage where Georges committed his initial crime. Annette, jealous of her mother’s relationship with Jeff, plans to leave and go with her father.  

And I’m sorry to say that in order to explain the attraction of this neat little picture I’m going to delve into SPOILER ALERT territory.  

All the while of course you are wondering whether George will keep to his side of the bargain, especially as Eve starts to get antsy with Jeff, and the investigating police inspector seems overly suspicious. And it being this kind of picture you expect a twist.

But not one this clever.

George, blowtorch at the ready, traps Jeff in the garage. He has fished the corpse out of the river. He plans to burn the garage to the ground, leaving behind two dead bodies, assuming the police will imagine that in a further bout of psychotic behavior the murderer gave in to his desires and killed again, but in the process accidentally killed himself.

But that’s not the final twist.

One of the victims survives. But which one? He is so badly mutilated as to be rendered unrecognisable and lies in a hospital bed covered head to foot in bandages. Has Eve’s plan backfired? Has she accidentally killed her lover?

But that’s not the final twist.

Eve knows who the man in the bed is. It’s not her lover. Because Jeff is just the dupe. The body dumped in the river was George. All the time Eve was visiting her husband in the mental asylum she was carrying on an affair with one of the guards. The guard killed George after the escape, retrieved the body from the river, left it in the garage and planned to kill off his competition at the same time.  If you’re going to be tabbed a maniac, you better behave like one.

It’s a shame you can’t see the shock on the face of poor Jeff because he is encased in bandages. And this isn’t just the clever villain unable to stop herself boasting about how clever she has been. This is Eve getting into the murder racket. She switches off his oxygen.

But that’s not the final twist.

Jeff ain’t dead. He wasn’t even on a life-support machine. He was just trussed up to tempt Eve in revealing herself. He had escaped the garage inferno and told the police what was going on. So you can guess the rest, but even then there’s one other ironic twist. Just like Jeff, the imposter George is as taken with the daughter as the mother.

The twists are so well done, the narrative so compelling, that would be enough to make a convincing case for entry into the category of cult. What makes an undeniable case is the directorial style. Sights and sounds drive the story as much as anything. The eerie bright light in the garage, the sound of blood dripping on the floor, the bold close-up of the eye, the advancing blow torch, setting it in a bleak rather than scenic area of France, are cinematic notions belonging to classic movies, not to a tawdry B-picture.

Although The Devil Rides Out (1968) is generally considered the top Hammer picture of the decade, I would argue this runs it a close second, and possibly even tops it.  Taking time off from his studio job Michael Carreras (The Lost Continent, 1968), later Hammer’s managing director, delivers a little masterpiece working to an effortlessly clever original screenplay by future director Jimmy Sangster (The Horror of Frankenstein, 1970).

It’s enough that Kerwin Mathews (The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, 1960) is playing against his screen persona as upright hero. The biggest advantage in casting Nadia Gray  (The Naked Runner, 1967) was that she was unknown and didn’t have the kind of onscreen presence that might have you doubting her motives from the start.  Liliane Brousse (Paranoic, 1963), in her penultimate movie, is initially too much all-arched-eyebrow and pout, only coming into her own when she becomes dutiful daughter rather than wannabe seducer. The pretend George, real name Henri, Donald Houston (A Study in Terror, 1965), hidden beneath dark glasses most of the time, is a dab hand at a pretend psychopath.

Surprisingly effective little gem.

Seven Thieves (1960) ****

You wouldn’t figure director Henry Hathaway for a caper movie. He seemed more at home with action, whether that be war (The Desert Fox, 1951), adventure (Legend of the Lost, 1957) or western (Nevada Smith, 1966) although he was a dab hand at film noir (Kiss of Death, 1947). And before the big-budget all-star Oceans 11 entered the equation in the same year as Seven Thieves – and stole much of its thunder – the heist movie ran mostly on B-movie steam such as Rififi (1955), The Killing (1956) and Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958).

And probably judged against other glossy efforts of the 1960s like Topkapi (1964) and Gambit (1967) Seven Thieves would appear on the surface to come up a bit short. No doubt accounting for it being so under-rated. But while this is in itself a neat little thriller the kick comes in the emotional entanglements and a succession of twists at the end that sends it in my book into a higher category.

And it’s so outrageously clever that the mystery of why French-based criminal mastermind Theo Wilkins  (Edward G. Robinson) would reach out across the Atlantic Ocean to recruit former jailbird Paul Mason (Rod Steiger) to spearhead the heist of a cool four million dollars from a Monte Carlo casino is not resolved until the end, and in spectacular fashion.

Technically, there are actually only six thieves, the other is an inside man, Raymond (Alexander Scourby), who has fallen for the seductive charms of nightclub dancer Melanie (Joan Collins). Making up the rest of the septet are safe cracker Louis (Michael Dante) and muscle-cum-driver Hugo (Berry Kroeger) with Poncho (Eli Wallach) playing the key role of the pretend crippled, arrogant, irascible millionaire – and contrary to the claims of one poster he is the decoy not Melanie.

Distrust of his team makes Theo bring in Paul, who ruthlessly knocks them into shape, putting into seamless action the plan devised by Theo. Simply put, Poncho is going to act as a distraction by having a heart attack at the gambling table while Paul and Louis climb out a window along a ledge to the casino director’s flat which provides, by means of an elevator, direct access to the underground vaults. Once they’ve stolen the cash, they clamber back along the ledge and hide in the flat where, by this time, Theo, playing the role of Poncho’s personal physician, has taken him. The money will be hidden in Poncho’s wheelchair and removed to a waiting ambulance.

But Paul is a rather suspicious character and wants to know what he’s letting himself in for so in turn works out the weaknesses of his team. Melanie hides behind a façade of high birth, Pancho is too reckless, “measuring danger only in terms of profit,” Hugo prone to unnecessary violence, while Louis has omitted to mention he is terrified of heights, the ledge on which the operation depends standing on a 100ft high cliff.   

In some posters, this was promoted as Al Capone (Steiger)
vs Little Caesar (Robinson).

The plan relies on Poncho actually appearing to be dead, so dead that the casino director (Sebastian Cabot) will not hesitate, at Theo’s insistence, to shift him out of sight of the rest of the gamblers into his flat. But Complication No 1 is that Poncho doesn’t want to be dead, even if it is a ruse, skeptical of Theo’s plan to convincingly knock him out by means of a carefully measured dose of cyanide. Complication No 2 is that a night club client recognizes Melanie and casts doubt on her credentials as a lady of quality. Complication No 3 is that English physician Dr Halsey (Alan Caillou) questions whether Poncho is as dead as he seems.

But such complications are nothing compared an extraordinary range of twists that raise tension sky-high at the movie’s denouement. I challenge you to guess what these three superbly-conceived twists would be, all of them one by one turning the project on its head, and it rapidly shifts from one direction to another, ending with an unbelievable – and yet so in keeping with the premise – climax.

Attention to character detail lifts this out of the rut, whether it be Theo’s penchant for collecting seashells, Paul resplendent in a white suit, Melanie resisting the blandishments of becoming a kept woman, Raymond trying to climb out the murky depths into which the lure of Melanie has taken him, and a series of subtle relationships, some developing through the robbery, others which began long before the heist working themselves out.

The heist itself is well done, tension kept constant mostly through the failings of the crew and the suspicions of the dupes. All in all an excellent picture.

This was a critical film in the careers of most of the cast. Edward G. Robinson (The Cincinnati Kid, 1965) was handed his first top-billed role in four years. It was a deliberate change of pace for Rod Steiger (The Pawnbroker, 1964). For Eli Wallach, best known at the time for stage work, it was the first of three films that year that would launch him into the higher ranks of top supporting stars; it was followed by The Magnificent Seven and The Misfits. After being leading lady to the likes of Gregory Peck and Richard Burton, this spelled the end of Twentieth Century Fox’s belief in Joan Collins’ star qualities while for Michael Dante (The Naked Kiss, 1964) it was a step up.

Wallach and Dante could be accused of over-acting but Robinson, Steiger and Collins all act against type with considerable effect. Hathaway does a superb job working from a script by Sydney Boehm (Rough Night in Jericho, 1967) based on the Max Catto bestseller.

The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun (1970) ***

Fashion photographer Danielle (Samantha Eggar) sets off on road trip from Paris to the south of France only to discover everywhere she goes a doppelganger has been there first. She’s on edge anyway because she’s “borrowed” the car of employer Michael (Oliver Reed) and once police start recognizing her she gets jumpier still. The discovery of a body in the boot and the titular gun (a Winchester rifle) don’t help her frame of mind. But instead of reporting the corpse to the police – she’s a car thief after all – she tries to work it out herself. Amnesia maybe, madness because she keeps having flashes of memory – a spooky surgical procedure – or something worse?

She’s got a battered hand she doesn’t know how. Michael’s wife Anita (Stephane Audran) says she’s not seen Danielle in a month though she is convinced she stayed with the couple the previous night. A drifter Philippe (John McEnery) starts helping her out. Eventually she ends up in Marseilles none the wiser.

It’s a tricksy film and like Mirage (1965), recently reviewed, being limited to her point of view means the audience can only work out everything from her perspective. The string of clues sometimes lead back to the original mystery, other times appear to provide a possible solution. The explanation comes in something of a rush at the end.

This was the first top-billed role for Samantha Eggar (Walk Don’t Run) and she would not scale that particular credit mountain again until The Demonoid (1981) but she is good in the role of a mixed-up woman struggling with identity. But since it’s based on a novel by Sebastian Japrisot (The Sleeping Car Murder, 1965) there’s a sneaky feeling a French actress might have been a better fit. Oliver Reed (Women in Love, 1969) is not quite what he seems, a difficult part sometimes to pull off, but he succeeds admirably.

Stephane Audran (Les Biches, 1969), jealous of Danielle, a friend whom she views as a rival for her husband’s affections, has the most intense part, using Danielle as an unwitting cover for betraying Michael. John McEnery (Romeo and Juliet, 1968) could almost be a London spiv, blonde hair, impecunious, clearly using women wherever he goes. Watch out for French stalwarts Marcel Bozzuffi (The French Connection, 1971) and Bernard Fresson (The French Connection II, 1975).

There’s certainly a film noir groove to the whole piece, the innocent caught up in a shifting world, and that’s hardly surprising since director Anatole Litvak began his career with dark pictures like Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) while previous effort Night of the Generals (1967)  also involved murder.

Being released in 1970, this film falls outside the parameters I had set for myself but I had become so intrigued by the prospect of Eggar taking top billing and screen adaptations of Japrisot’s work – add Adieu L’Ami/Farewell Friend (1968) to The Sleeping Car Murder – that I expected a project laced with more atmosphere and a host of original characters. In truth, this is less atmospheric than the other two, the interplay between the characters not so tightly woven, nor the climax so well-spun but it was enjoyable enough.

YouTube has this.

If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium (1968) ***

The combined tourist boards of Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Italy must have funded this film. Although Belgium and Switzerland may have been justified in asking for their money back since all we glimpse of either country is cheese. Nor does it particularly show the American tourist in a good light. In fact, the occupants of the tour bus seem drawn from the worst clichés of the American personality – characters who demand hamburgers wherever they go, think there sex available everywhere, steal everything in sight, and demand more than their money’s worth. These are characters who are not difficult to send up. And ever the democrat, director Mel Stuart pokes fun at every country.

So it’s something of a surprise to find the movie is perfectly palatable, a smorgasbord of  conflicting attitudes, on an 18-day bus tour of Europe rattling through a host of comedic situations, held together by burgeoning romance between playboy tour guide Charlie (Ian McShane) and soon-to-be-married Samantha (Suzanne Pleshette) by way of running gags revolving around Harve (Norman Fell) chasing wife Irma (Reva Rose) who jumped on a rival tour bus, kleptomaniac Harry (Aubrey Morris), and more guest stars in blink-and-you-miss-it roles than were cast in The List of Adrian Messenger (1963) or It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).

Like films nowadays (Marry Me, 2022, for one) that seem to think an audience needs to kept constantly apprised of social media, this goes overboard on technology, in this case, the camera, in one instance legitimately comedic, but the rest of the time just to cram in much of what would more sensibly be left alone.

Luckily, the two central romances work. Charlie, initially rebuffed at every turn by Samantha, who has a nice line in one-liners (“I am about to turn into an Ugly American before your very eyes”), eventually believes it is time to part company with his playboy ways and settle down, while Samantha, about to settle down back home, discovers she has not yet sown enough wild oats. The ever-amorous Shelley (Hilarie Thompson), taken on holiday to prevent her giving in to lust at home, conducts a country-by-country romance with a young swain on a motorbike ending up – serve ‘em right – in a cellar listening to a dirge by pop star Donovan.

Some of the jokes hit an interesting target. German and American tourist at a shrine to the Battle of the Bulge, in the same loud, hectoring tones, deliver a story of victory, the kleptomaniac even steals a lifebelt, an Italian fed up with patronizing tourists reports one to the cops, Harve embarking on a daddy dance in a glamorous nightclub, an authentic shoemaker (Vittorio De Sica) sells a tourist an authentic shoe that he buys out of a catalogue, the mismatch of languages sets up endless permutations. However, it’s a bit of a stretch in the late 1960s to find a bidet in a London hotel.

Still, if you fed up trying to keep up with the countless plotlines or are trying to work out which country is which, you can always keep yourself entertained spotting the cameos. It’s some list: Senta Berger (Istanbul Express, 1968), Yutte Stensgaard (Some Girls Do, 1969), Anita Ekberg (La Dolce Vita, 1960), Catherine Spaak (Hotel, 1965), Carol Cleveland (Monty Python’s Flying Circus TV series), Joan Collins (Subterfuge, 1968), Elsa Martinelli (Maroc 7, 1967), Virna Lisi (The Secret of Santa Vittoria, 1969) and Patricia Routledge (Keeping Up Appearances television series) And that’s just the women. There are also glimpses of Robert Vaughn (The Venetian Affair, 1966), Ben Gazzara (Bridge at Remagen, 1969) and John Cassavettes (Machine Gun McCain, 1969).

While all eyes are likely to focus on Ian McShane wondering how this fresh-faced lad turned into the gravel-voiced spittoon-soaked stylish icon of John Wick (2014), it is worth taking a look at the performance of Suzanne Pleshette (The Power, 1968) who was rarely given the opportunity to essay such a rounded character. Supporting players include Murray Hamilton (Jaws, 1965), Mildred Natwick (The Maltese Bippy, 1969) and the generally choleric Norman Fell (The Graduate, 1967) turning positively volcanic.

A documentary film-maker up to this point, Mel Stuart (I Love My Wife, 1970) generally keeps the audience on-side with a non-stop barrage of ideas. David Shaw (A Foreign Affair, 1948) devised the screenplay.

Banned, Ignored, Shelved

If anybody in Britain told you they saw Wild Angels (1966) when it came out that year you could safely accuse them of being liberal with the truth for that was one of the many films banned by the censors there. Global censorship remained a major issue for studios during the 1960s, every country imposing its own system, and very rarely did they conform with each other. At the beginning of the decade, the biggest issue was sex, by the end it was joined by violence and drugs.

Films were rarely banned in the United States since scripts for movies liable to violate the agreed guidelines tended to be submitted in advance and a compromise reached prior to production. However, local U.S. censorship bodies acting independently prevented some films being shown, This Rebel Breed (1960) in Memphis, Room at the Top (1959) in Atlanta. Movies banned in different countries included: Operation Eichmann (1961) in Israel and Germany, Queen Bee (1963) in Italy, The Collector (1965) in New Zealand, Wild Angels (1966) in Denmark, Lady in a Cage (1964) in Sweden and Geneva, Ulysses (1967) in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and Easy Rider (1969),  despite winning a prize at Cannes, in France. Doctor Zhivago (1965) was banned in Thailand for being pro-communistic and in India for the opposite reason. Ireland banned 56 movies in 1960, Finland 12 in 1962, Sweden 10 in 1963 and West Germany 19 that same year. In South Korea in 1962 you still could not see any Japanese movies.

Being banned of course became a promotional tool. It was a regular joke in America that a low-budget picture had no chance of box office success unless it was banned in Boston. In France, Les Teenagers (1968), Young Wolves (1968), The Nun (1966) and Paris Secret (1965) all benefitted from being released after tussles with the censor and the controversy over Ulysses saw it break box office records in Dundee in Scotland.

The British censor prevented screening of films deemed too violent including The Couch (1962) about a serial killer, Samuel Fuller’s Shock Corridor (1963), Violent Midnight (1963), The Thrill Killers (1963), Shock Treatment (1963) – despite a cast that included Lauren Bacall and Stuart Whitman – Fuller’s The Naked Kiss and Weekend of Fear (1966). Among horror films denied a showing were Blood Feast (1963), Two Thousand Maniacs (1964) and, initially, Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960) which was later reprieved and shown as Revenge of the Vampire.

Juvenile delinquency, often straddling the biker world, was another subject to fall foul of the British Board of Film Censors. Among them The Choppers (1961), Jacktown (1962), The Cool World (1964), Kitten with a Whip (1964) starring Hollywood sensation Ann-Margret,  the aforementioned Wild Angels (1966), Rat Fink (1966), Hot Rods to Hell (1966) with Dana Andrews and Mickey Rooney, Riot on the Sunset Strip (1967), Born Losers (1967), Devil’s Angels (1967) and virtually anything that mentioned Hell’s Angels.

Drug taking was also forbidden to be seen, thus accounting for the absence on British screens of The Trip (1967), Hallucination Generation (1967), Mary Jane (1967), LSD Flesh of the Devil (1967) with Guy Madison and Revelation – The Flowering of the Hippies (1967). Easy Rider (1969) was passed for “being actively concerned with human beings and the effect of drug taking.” Films considered too morally dubious or too sexually open to let loose on British audiences included Sinderella and the Golden Bra (1964), 3 Nuts In Search of a Bolt (1964) starring Mamie Van Doren, 90 Degrees in the Shade (1965) with Anne Heywood, Russ Meyer’s Motorpsycho (1965), Good Morning…And Goodbye (1967) and Lee Frost’s The Animal (1968). Explicit language was the objection to Warrendale (1967) and Ulysses (1967), homosexuality the problem for Deathwatch (1965) starring Leonard Nimoy and Shirley Clarke’s documentary Portrait of Jason (1967).  

In Britain, to get round the censor’s strictures, the “cinema club” was invented in 1960 by Gala Film Theatres, an offshoot of a distributor specializing in racy fare, and within a month had 7,500 members, the operation launching with a showing of The Wild One (1953).  Local authorities could also take exception to the national censor’s findings and grant a reprieve for various films, Wild Angels and The Trip eventually achieving exposure in this fashion. Most cinema clubs would eventually segue into becoming outlets for soft porn but some stuck with the original concept of showing arty movies considered too risqué by the censor. The New Cinema Club in London, for example, in August 1969 programmed Wild Angels and Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1963)

But the censor was not the only reason why films were not shown and ended up either ignored by the distributors or stuck on the shelf and we’ll come to those in another article.

David McGillivray, “The Crowded Shelf,” Films & Filming, September 1969, 14-15; “High Cost of Censor Fights vs. Principles,” Variety, March 2, 1960, 1;“If Banned in Britain, All Is Not Lost,” Variety, April 20, 1960, p48; “Theatre, Not Censors, Banned Breed,” Variety, June 1, 1960, p24; “Room at the Top Ban,” Variety, July 27, 1960, 4; “Operation Eichmann Banned in Germany, ” Variety, May 3, 1961, 1; “211 Pix Scissored, 56 Banned in Ireland,” Variety, May 3, 1961, p15; “Operation Eichmann Banned by Israeli,” Variety, November 1, 1961, p2; “12 Pix Banned by Finland Censors,” Variety, March 28, 1962, 17; “Singapore Censor Gets Tough with U.S. Pix; Satan, Suzie Banned,” Variety, August 8, 1962, 21; “Japanese Pix Still Banned by S. Korea,” Variety, December 12, 1962, p16; “Bee Banned by Italian Censor,” Variety, January 23, 1963, p18; “W. Germany Claims Only 19 Pix Banned, “ Variety, December 4, 1963, p11; “Swedish Censors Banned 10 in ’63,” Variety, February 5, 1964, p2;  “The Group Banned,” Variety, April 8, 1964, p84; “Lady in Cage Banned by Sweden Censors,” Variety, July 15, 1964, 2; “New Zealand Censors Turn Down Collector,” Variety, November 3, 1965, 11; “Cage Banned By Geneva Censors,” Variety, January 19, 1966, 16; “Can’t Second Guess Global Censors,” Variety, November 30, 1966, 20;  “Banned in Australia,” Variety, May 24, 1967, 26; “Scot Exhib, Whose Town Disapproves Censorship, Cleans Up with Ulysses,” Variety, May 1, 1968, 27; “Film Censors in France Spark B.O.,” Variety, May 8, 1968, 131; “Dracula Sole Film Banned in Israel Last Year,” Variety, May 28, 1969, 39;  “Britain gives ‘X’ Tag to Fonda’s Rider Pic,” Variety, June 18, 1969, 30; “Eire Banned 35  Films in ’68,” Variety, August 20, 1969, 32.

Kaleidoscope (1966) ***

Amazing the tension that can emanate from one turn of a card. Or, more correctly, waiting for one. Only problem is we’re two-thirds through the movie before high-stakes poker begins – the pot nudging £250,00 (close on a cool £5 million now). Mostly, the earlier tension derives from not knowing what the hell is going on in this enjoyable thriller made at the height of the Swinging Sixties as playboy gambler Barney (Warren Beatty), a walking Carnaby St model driving an Aston Martin DB5, tilts the odds dramatically in his favor.

Barney is a gambler but the problem with gambling is the odds. They can be against you too much. So Barney decides to turn himself into a burglar, the kind that can clamber over rooftops, abseil between buildings, and break into – a printing business called Kaleidoscope. This just happens to print the playing cards supplied to all the major European casinos. So Barney does a little doctoring of the master printing plates. Bingo, the odds are a bit more even now that he knows what cards are coming out of the shoe – he plays chemin de fer (as it is known in posh casinos; pontoon or 21 to you and me).

While cleaning up he bumps again into fashion designer Angel – their original meet-cute taking place in a traffic jam – who he dated once in London. Unbeknownst to him, she is on a scouting mission, looking to snare the kind of high-rolling gambler who can take on and completely fleece drugs kingpin Harry (Eric Porter) being pursued by her father Manny (Clive Revill), a cop who, rather than waste so much time collecting the required evidence to put the villain behind bars, decides it would easier done by making him broke. Unable to pay his debts, some other villain would put him out of business in the traditional cemented-boot fashion.

It takes a while for the movie to line up all its ducks in a row, mainly by holding back the vital information the audience requires. But the audience is privy to details of the way Manny works that Barney is not. Even for ruthless villains, Manny has a peculiar calling card, one that would make any gambler think twice about entering his lair. Of course, it doesn’t take long for Manny to rumble Barney’s game so the stakes are much higher than the charmer imagines.

Throw in as much fashion as London was capable of generating at this time, the burgeoning romance, some exotic European locations, a castle with a moat, and the usual tourist guide stuff of red buses, Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus, pubs and Tower Bridge and you have all the ingredients of an easy on the eye thriller.

A bit over-reliant on star power. That is, if you don’t need Beatty to do much more than be Beatty, all teeth and charm. At this point Beatty’s career looked as if it was fast approaching its end. The box office success of Splendor in the Grass (1961) had been followed by a string of flops, romantic dramas and comedies that should have had audiences queuing up plus an occasional wild card like Arthur Penn’s Mickey One (1965), the biggest flop of all. He does make an engaging crook, and he never loses his screen charisma here, but there ain’t quite the right number of twists that moviegoers weaned on the likes of Topkapi (1964) had come to expect.

Hollywood had been doing its best to position Susannah York as a top box office attraction and she had snagged leading female roles in The 7th Dawn (1964) opposite William Holden and Stanley Baker in Sands of the Kalahari (1965)  but she was recovering from the colossal flop of Scruggs (1965) by ‘poet of the cinema’ David Hart.  Kaleidoscope offered  the kind of role York could do with her eyes closed. So while the screen pair were not exactly sleep-walking it was not the kind of story that was going to create sparks.

Character actor Clive Revill (Fathom, 1967) and Eric Portman (The Pumpkin Eater, 1964) take more leeway with their roles, the latter almost chewing he scenery, the former content with just chewing his lips. Look out for Jane Birkin (Blow-Up, 1966) and British television stalwarts Yootha Joyce, George Sewell and John Junkin.  

The title would have been more enigmatic, original meaning of images twisted out of shape, had it not also applied, straightforwardly, to the card-making company. Giving Harry the surname of Dominion seems overkill.

Director Jack Smight (No Way to Treat a Lady, 1969) came to this after twisty private eye picture Harper/The Moving Target (1966), a big hit starring Paul Newman, but this is too lightweight a feature to command such interest, but he does keep the story rolling along and it’s an effortless watch and it has a certain offbeat quality. The screenplay was fashioned by Robert Harrington and Jane-Howard Hammerstein, making their movie debut, who also co-wrote Wait until Dark (1967). It was also the debut for Winkast Productions, the Jerry Gershwin-Elliott Kastner production team who went on to make Where Eagles Dare (1968).

Behind the Scenes: “Waterloo” (1970)

As dramatic a box office flop as this movie scarcely deserves a book as superb.

In quite extraordinary detail, author Simon Lewis discusses every aspect of the making of the film, from initial set-up to release, by way of analysis of dozens of separate scenes through to rarely discussed elements like the editing and mixing, and even the myth of the missing longer version and the importance of wooden boxes (as illustrated by the front cover).  It might have helped the movie’s commercial chances, and not put too much of a dent in the ultimately massive budget of $26.1 million, if producer Dino De Laurentiis has snagged original dream team of Richard Burton (Napoleon) and Peter O’Toole (Wellington), both of whom carried much greater box office marquee than Rod Steiger and Christopher Plummer.

Burton was never really a possibility but by 1968 O’Toole was “practically set” although turning it down because he thought it would flop. John Huston, who had just completed The Bible (1966) for De Laurentiis, was original choice for director and got so far as being involved in the screenplay being written by H.A.L Craig (Anzio, 1968). When he dropped out, Gilles Pontecorvo (The Battle of Algiers, 1966) was briefly in the frame. However, a six-hour version of War and Peace (1965) put Sergei Bondarchuk in pole position.  

Requiring thousands of properly trained and preferably “celluloid-seasoned” troops to carry out disciplined manoeuvres rather than extras, De Laurentiis was in negotiation with Turkey, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria before plumping for Russia, whose production arm Mosfilm pumped in $8 million (later rising in line with budget increases). Paramount and Columbia contributed a combined $7 million with worldwide rights selling for a total of $25 million. Once filming began, Paramount chiefs Charles Bludhorn and Robert Evans, watching elements of shooting, were so taken with what they saw they wished they had invested more. Evans was reportedly “enthralled by hours of film material.” Craig’s screenplay was augmented by the director and Vittorio Bonicelli as well as uncredited contributions by Jean Anouilh (Becket, 1964), Samuel Marx and Edward O. Marsh, not to mention additions by the two main actors. Steiger pocketed $385,000, Plummer $300,000, Craig $121,000 but Anouilh only $21,000. Gordon Highlanders pipers and drummers picked up £7 a day.

Lewis is at his best when forensically examining particular scenes, for example, the Duchess of Richmond Ball which used 4,000 candles inserted into candelabras, the slightest draught causing these to melt and drip wax on performers, a carpet used to get camera shots from a very low level.

Steiger played Napoleon almost as a dead man walking, having got hold of a copy of the French Emperor’s autopsy which revealed advanced cirrhosis and gonorrhoea. Steiger and Bondarchuk met the night before to iron out ideas for the following day but Steiger was not above forcing the director’s hand by in one instance the actor removing his trousers to ensure he could only be shot in close-up. Orson Welles matched Steiger in trickery. Only hired for two days, Welles extended his employment by insisting on doing his own make-up which of course was never up to scratch and required amendment. And in terms of movie trickery, Steiger was required to sit on a wooden box on his horse to ensure he could be kept in focus. Jack Hawkins dispensed with the horse altogether – he was either atop a box or on top of stilts, as he was unsteady on an animal.

In the absence of CGI of the kind Ridley Scott could employ for his battle scenes, the real soldiers were occasionally augmented by mannequins. Five thousand were made, two real soldiers at either end of a row held eight mannequins in place by the use of a single wooden plank which “allowed all regiments to march forward.” Among the many wonderful candid pictures in this lavishly illustrated tome – 200 photographs, many never seen before – is one of three girls staring at the mannequins as well as photos of Steiger and Hawkins on their boxes.

The Waterloo battlefield had one of the biggest sets ever built. A total of 17,000 soldiers, mostly from Siberia and  including 2,000 cavalry, lived in a tented city a mile away. Steiger noted: “It would have taken assistant directors three days to put untrained men, mere extras, into position. When they broke for lunch it would be another three days to arrange them again. These guys are superb.” Real soldiers working with their actual commanders was the difference between waste and superb. Having a general in charge of the troops often created issues. Bondarchuk would select the horses he wanted based on the effect he wished to achieve with the light, demands often obstructed by the commander if it meant the chosen horses had not been properly fed. “I will order soldiers – but how do I order animals?” was the dry comment from the army chief. .

Although the battlefield was primarily authentic  – mud for one scene created by pumping two days’ worth of water into the soil before cavalry churned up the area – there were occasions when filming conformed to the Hollywood norm. “The use of fiery explosions had been cinematic shorthand for battle scenes long before Waterloo” when in reality these would be minimal. “Most ammunition that was fired comprised large iron balls and so low was its speed it was possible to watch their progress.”

 The famous charge of the Scots Greys was described thus in the script: “they came straight into camera – like centaurs in their magnificence.” The sight of 350 Arabian mounts travelling at breakneck speed was captured by use of a specially constructed railway powered by a diesel locomotive. Five cameras were sited in different positions on the train. The famous slow-motion effect – possibly the most exhilarating moment in the picture – was achieved by over-cranking the camera at 100 frames per second which slowed down what you saw by a factor of four.

Perhaps the best reveal regarding movie trickery was the moon above Wellington as he rode past the carnage. It comprised “special silver paper for front projection – 3M – like shark skin. You put one light on it and it reflects ten times brighter.” The moon was shown as one quarter less than full since the effect of a full moon would be harder to carry off. “Blue ink made some spots as moon craters.” The fake moon was suspended with one wire on top and two left and right to prevent it from moving, then one light was projected onto it.

Back cover of the book.

Lewis rebuts the myth of the missing longer version. He reckons this probably came about because over 300,000 feet of film – 55 hours – was shot and the first rough cut was five hours long. The final cut was 133 minutes – not much longer than if you had worked out the length by counting the pages of the screenplay – and release cuts varied because, for example, the British censors cut out 28 seconds of horse falls and the ending includes 50 seconds of music over the credits. It was never shown with the intermission which was de rigeur at the time for longer roadshows and would have, artificially, inflated the running time.  There was some confusion over the final print because a novelisation by Frederick E. Smith included some scenes that didn’t make it into the final print, and Smith’s book, written of necessity before the film appeared, would have used as its main reference tool the screenplay. But Lewis spends a whole chapter explaining why a longer cut never existed.

The world premiere was held on 26 October 1970 in London where the movie released as a roadshow (i.e. separate performances) was a huge success. It ran for a few weeks short of an entire year in the London West End, breaking box office records at the Odeon Leicester Square and the Metropole where it opened on December 3rd, 1970, before shifting to the Columbia on June 17, 1971, and then a final week at the Odeon Kensington from September 30 1971. But audience appeal in the United States was at the other end of the spectrum. It went from a strong opening week of $25,436 at the Criterion in New York to just $1,775 in its fourth week, and nationwide racked up only $1.4 million in rentals (the studio share of the box office). It was derided in France in part because the film was about the defeat of a legend and the French could not come to terms with the idea that it was directed by a Russian.

Where most “making of” books concentrate on the stars and the director, Lewis goes into fantastic detail about all aspects of the production, the chapter on editing and mixing an education in itself. There’s a chapter on how historically accurate the film actually was. The author was helped by the discovery of a diary kept during production by actor Richard Heffer who played the small part Mercer. But Lewis also managed to make contact with Dino De Laurentiis’s daughters, Raffaella and Veronica, and around two dozen people connected with the film in some way, and clearly examined every scrap of information available on the picture. The Notes are another mine of information.

Even if the film is not at the top of your must-watch list, this book should go to the top of your must-read list.

Waterloo, The Making of An Epic, The Spectacular Behind-the-Scenes Story of a Movie Colossus  by Simon Lewis is published by Bear Manor Media, 534 pages, illustrated (B&W), Hardback, Paperback & Ebook, ISBN  978-1-62933-832-3 .

The Lion in Winter (1968) ****

Template for The Godfather (1972) and the current Succession. King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) has to choose an heir from Richard (Anthony Hopkins), Geoffrey (John Castle) and John (Nigel Terry). Helping set the Machiavellian tone are Henry’s wife Eleanor (Katharine Hepburn), his mistress Alais (Jane Merrow) and French King Philip II (Timothy Dalton). Cue  plotting, confrontation, double-crossing, rage and lust.

Some other complications: the queen is actually a prisoner, the result of organising a failed coup against her husband, the sons participating in this attempt to overthrow their father, and with Henry willing to sacrifice his mistress in order to achieve an alliance with Philip, relations are less than cordial all round. Eldest son Richard, strong and aggressive, would be the obvious choice, and should be the only choice I would guess by law, but Henry prefers the youngest son John, who is weak, while the middle son Geoffrey is the most savvy (see if you can guess how easily these characters fit The Godfather scenario, or Succession for that matter). Geoffrey reckons that even if passed over for the top job, he will rule from behind the scenes as John’s chancellor.

This is not your normal historical picture with battles, romance and, let’s be honest, costumes, taking central stage. And there’s little in the way of rousing speeches. Virtually all the dialogue is plotting. And, like Succession, there are elements of vitriol and pure comedy. In five crisp opening scenes we know everything we need to know. The King brings his family together for Xmas, the Queen freed for the occasion, to decide the succession. Richard is shown in hand-to-hand combat, the wily John leading a cavalry attack, the whiny John pouting and complaining, Alais realizing just how much a pawn she is in the game as Henry explains she is to be married off to Richard.

And if you are not the chosen one, your only chance of gaining the throne is by the back door, by having a powerful ally in your pocket, one whose armies would threaten the King,  which is where Philip comes into the equation as potential kingmaker. Let the intrigue begin, especially as those who ought to be little more than bystanders – the women – have ideas of their own. “I’m the only pawn,” says Alais, “that makes me dangerous.” Despite her current status, Eleanor still owns the French province of Aquitaine and taunts her husband by revealing that she slept with his father.

The plot twists and turns as new alliances are formed between the conspiring individuals. The overbearing Henry will certainly remind you of Logan Roy, “When I bellow, bellow back.” And there is a Hitchcockian element in that we, the audience, know far more than the participants and wait for them to fall into traps. Richard is revealed as homosexual, having had an affair with Philip.

The dialogue is superb, brittle, witty, and it could have been all bombast and rage except that emotion carries the day. Henry clearly could not have wished for a better Queen than Eleanor, more than capable of standing up to him, more capable than any of his sons, and he probably wishes she was by his side rather than confined, as by law, to prison. Eleanor still retains romantic notions towards him, even as she forces him to kiss his mistress in front of her – only the audience sees the truth revealed in her eyes, not Henry who is too busy kissing. The uber-male Richard complains to Philip that he never told him he loved him.

Maternal and paternal bonds ebb and flow and throughout it all is the dereliction caused by power. A father will lose the love of the children he rejects. Or, realizing they are more powerful together than as individuals, they could turn against him. The mother faces the same fate – she risks losing the love of the ones she does not back.

Unlike Alfred the Great, the monarchs have stately castles, so the backdrops are more commanding, but once an early battle is out of the way, it is down to the nitty-gritty of plot and counter-plot. A truly satisfying intelligent historical drama.

Peter O’Toole (Lawrence of Arabia, 1962) had played Henry II before in Becket (1964) and is in terrific form. Katharine Hepburn (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, 1967) won her second successive Oscar – and her third overall – in a tremendous performance that revealed the inner troubles of a powerful woman, Anthony Hopkins (When Eight Bells Toll, 1971) gave an insight into his talent with his first major role.

John Castle (Blow Up, 1966), Nigel Terry (Excalibur, 1981), Jane Merrow (Assignment K, 1968) and future James Bond Timothy Dalton, in his movie debut, provide sterling support, Dalton and Castle especially good as a sneaky, conniving pair.

This was an odd choice for a roadshow – at just over two hours considerably
shorter than most of the genre. But the 600-seat Odeon Haymarket in London’s West End
was an ideal venue for building word-of-mouth and it ran for over a year.

Modern audiences might bristle at the idea of woman as commodity, but women in those days were the makeweights in alliances of powerful men, though the fact that they bristle at the notion as well evens up proceedings, Eleanor in particular happy to jeopardize Henry’s ambitions in favour of her own, Alais warning Henry to beware of the woman scorned.

Director Anthony Harvey (Dutchman, 1966 ) was deservedly Oscar-nominated. James Goldman (Robin and Marian, 1976) won the Oscar for his screenplay based on his Broadway play which had not been in fact a runaway Broadway hit, only lasting 92 performances, less than three months. John Barry (Zulu, 1963) was the other Oscar-winner for his superb score.  

Behind the Scenes: “Operation Kid Brother / O.K. Connery” (1967)

A new episode in the James Bond legend began on February 23, 1966, when a plasterer from Scotland made an audacious bid for movie stardom. His name was Neil Connery, currently earning $10 a week, shooting for a $5,000 payday as he took part in a screen test in Rome for producer Dario Sabatello (Seven Guns for the MacGregors, 1966) for a film entitled Operation Casbah that would later be tagged Operation Kid Brother (O.K. Connery in Italy).

Sabatello was an experienced producer beginning with The Thief of Venice (1950) starring Hollywood legend Maria Montez. Connery was a skilled laborer living in the four-year shadow of elder brother Sean and with little intention of moving out of that shadow. However, as a result of a work-related incident, he became the subject of a newspaper article and then a radio interview. Nobody was much interested in the reason for the interview – stolen tools – but everyone was impressed by the sound of Neil’s voice. “Sean’s brother spoke exactly like him.”

Archers Assemble! Connery on the bowstring.

The newspaper interview caught the eye of Sabatello, who noted the actor’s likeness to his brother and who flew over to Edinburgh to interview Neil and in so doing becoming aware of his athletic attributes, height and good looks. A month later came an invite for the screen test. Neil’s agent, who had no right to make such a claim, promised that if Neil got the part big brother Sean would play a cameo. For the test, Connery had to “embrace a girl, sing, dance and finally end up in  a hand-to-hand fight with a guy with a knife.” However, the test was so successful that the presence of Sean was not required. Sabatello signed the neophyte actor to a six-picture deal that would generate a six-figure salary if the film turned the Scot into a star.

Italian production giant Titanus sold the world rights (except for Italy) to United Artists, ironically the distributor of the James Bond pictures, thus securing the funding for the $1.2 million three-month shoot that kicked off in Cinecitta in Rome on December 14, 1966. Locations were scheduled to include Monte Carlo, San Remo, Turin, Barcelona, Malaga and Tetuan.

The supporting cast was dominated by actors with a Bond connection including Adolfo Celi, Daniela Bianchi, Anthony Dawson, who had all worked with director Alberto De Martino on Dirty Heroes (1967) and Lois Maxwell and Bernard Lee. Ennio Morricone, another De Martino aficionado, was brought in to do the score.

Affiliates Assemble! Connery with Bond regulars Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell.

Connery’s boxing training in the British Army came in handy when he had to become an archer. Pulling a bow takes considerable physical exertion. Target practice was held at Adolfo Celi’s house outside Rome. “I had remembered everything about putting the bow down, bringing it up, pull and push, as there was quite a pull on it,” he said. Celi’s arrow managed just a few yards but Connery hit the target. His luck did not hold when filming the real thing in Monte Carlo. Celi’s shot did not go far again but this time Connery’s arrow missed the target.

Although Connery had read the script he was only given his lines in the morning as he went into make-up. He acquitted himself well in the fight scenes, except for one scene which ended with him being taken to hospital.   

The film opened in Britain at the Pavilion in London’s West End on April 25, 1667, with a general release slated for May 5. But it didn’t get a circuit release. That is, it didn’t go out on either of the two main cinema chains, ABC or Odeon, or the lesser Gaumont circuit, so its bookings would have been restricted. It didn’t appear in the United States until November, 1967, having been reviewed without much enthusiasm in Variety which posited “at best the film deserves bottom half bookings”, i.e. the bottom half of a double bill, which means it would play for a fixed rental rather than a percentage.

It did open in first run in a number of city center picture houses in November and December, to occasionally decent but hardly lush box office. Its $20,000 week in Chicago was deemed “good”, as was the $4,000 in Providence, while $13,000 in Philadelphia was considered “brisk” but $5,000 in St Louis considered only “fair.”  There was a first run showing in New York but only at a 600-seater arthouse.

But when it went wider in “Showcase” releases the box office collapsed. In New York it managed only $67,000 from 25 theatres compared to, in the same week, British film The Family Way on $223,000 from 26, and the second week of Point Blank with $145,000 from 25. Business was worse in Los Angeles, just $49,000 from 26 compared to $125,000 from 29 for Barefoot in the Park, and it was dire in Kansas City, only $9,000 from eight houses.

Given the relatively low budget, the film globally may well have broken even but it certainly did not send Neil Connery’s box office status into the stratosphere. He had small parts in two more low-budget movies, The Body Stealers (1969) and Mad Mission 3: Our Man from Bond St (1984) plus some television.

SOURCES: Brian Smith, “Bond of Brothers,” Cinema Retro, Vol 4 Issue 12 2008, p13-19; Allen Eyles, Odeon Cinemas  2, (CTA 2005), p212; Allen Eyles, ABC (CTA, 1993), 123-124; Allen Eyles, The Granada Theatres (CTA 1998)’ p247; Allen Eyles, Gaumont British Cinemas, (CTA 2005), p197; William Hall, “Big Brother Is Watching Him,” Photoplay, June 1967; “International Soundtrack,” Variety, February 23, 1966, p33; “Titanus Sets Pre-Prod Deals for Two UA Pix,” Variety, December 14, 1966, p24; “International Soundtrack,” Variety, December 21, 1966, p24; “Hollywood and British Production Pulse,” Variety, December 28, 1966, p17; Advertisement, Variety, January 4, 1967, p65; “Connery Pix a Family Affair with UA,” Variety, March 8, 1967, p24;  Review, Variety, October 11, 1967, p22; “Picture Grosses,” Variety November 1, November 8, November 15, November 29, December 13, 1967.  

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