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Universal-International studios. Two tough American buddies (Robert Ryan,
Anthony Quinn). Sunken treasure off the Caribbean. Plots about scuttled
ships and sunken gold. A thuggish sea-captain. Giant squids. A
bar-room brawl. Even voodoo drums. Tacky colour. You can almost picture
the lurid cover of the 10-cent paperback novel the film was based on. All
that's lacking is a real femme fatale.
Bud Boetticher was a cult director in the Don Siegel/Sam Fuller vein, later acclaimed for the series of sparse but superb western quickies he made in the late 1950s with actor Randolph Scott (Ride Lonesome, The Tall T, Westbound, etc).
Irresistible and well made.
. But worth noting for its star Richard Johnson and director Seth Holt. A
former Royal Shakespeare Company actor, Johnson was Bond director Terence
Young's original choice to play 007 and might have proved much closer to
author Ian Fleming's concept of him. Indeed, Johnson was briefly groomed
the Rank Organisation in the late Sixties as their answer to Sean Connery,
hoping to ride the Bond slipstream (but the two films Deadlier Than the
and Some Girls Do were too cynically packaged to work as either imitation
Johnson's brand of worried suavity found a better vehicle here. A minor addition to the murkier side of the genre, it remains most notable for Holt. A former editor, Holt's deft cutting room skills had made two suspense films he directed for Hammer (Taste of Fear and The Nanny) unusually seamless and subtle.
Alas, in Danger Route, even his assured touch failed to enliven an intractable plot about Cross-Channel espionage. But an exceptionally strong support cast - Harry Andrews, Diana Dors and Gordon Jackson - and a certain casual ruthlessness, lift this film above the totally routine. And Carol Lynley and Barbara Bouchet are truly gorgeous.
Trite cynicisms and a trashy title-song date Danger Route unsympathetically. But Holt's admirers will discern enough in its minor virtues to compensate.
The Eon style at its deftest. Director Guy Hamilton tautly steers Sean
Connery's inimitable 007 through some of his most memorable encounters: the
gold-painted heroine, the Aston Martin car chase, the laser beam, the plot
to irradiate Fort Knox. It has the best Bond villain in the eponymous Auric
Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) and the best henchman in Oddjob (Harold
And the wittiest script. About to be dissected by a pencil-thin ray of scarlet laser-light, Connery demands: "Do you expect me to talk?" "No, Mr Bond," scoffs Froebe. "I expect you to die!" Like the scene in the mosque in From Russia With Love, this scene is brilliantly written, designed, storyboarded, lit, photographed, edited and scored. If Hitchcock had shot this it every frame would have been analysed.
And the best gadget. As described by Desmond Llewelyn's deadpan Q, the Aston Martin DB5 is of course an outrageous affront to audience credibility. But the subsequent chase through the Pinewood backlot is done with such verve and unabashed conviction that even the most absurd device, the passenger ejector seat, is persuasive.
And the best climax. The choreographed fight in the echoing and cavernous Fort Knox set has a ferociously cool sadism, perfectly offset by the shot in which Oddjob smilingly beckons the battered Connery to get back on his feet.
Goldfinger cleverly builds up character by minor touches. Froebe's furtive, covetous glance at the stacked goldbars inside the vault, his gold-plated Colt.45, his petty vanities in naming his alpine factory Auric Enterprises, his Kentucky stables Auricstud, even labelling the geiger-counter Auricspectrometer'.
And there's minor touches of quirky humour. Oddjob's impassive smile, the matronly Swiss gate-keeper who drops Connery a small curtsy only to later machine-gun the Aston Martin as he makes his escape. And still the best joke in the entire series is in the pre-title sequence where Connery , after sabotaging a Caribbean ammunition dump, nonchalantly unzips his wetsuit to step out in immaculate evening dress, and affixes a carnation to his lapel.
Goldfinger is also composer John Barry's most successful integration with character and action, from the brassy exuberance of the title song to the almost imperceptible base that marks out Oddjob's robotic stride, and the menacing triangles that underscore Goldfinger's sinister Koreran retinue.
True, there are thin bits. The American gangsters, the Sindy Doll pilots. And Honour Blackman is miscast as Pussy Galore. But, there's no doubt, Bond peaked in 1964.
The Gorgon ranks among Hammer's very best. Its premise is daring and
imaginative - a female spectre so hideous that all who gaze on her are
turned to stone, a power even more unnerving than the physical ferocity of
lycanthropy or vampirism.
It boasts a wealth of Hammer expertise: Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are at their peak; John Gilling scripted lucidly; James Bernard's score is one of his finest, the familiar overwrought strings underlaid with a spectral organ effect; and Michael Reed's pathecolor photography defines the Hammer look', all sombre interiors and gorgeous autumnal forests. But the triumph is finally director Terence Fisher's.
The film begins beautifully with the credits superimposed against the twilit battlements of Castle Borski. Other touches fleetingly capture the mood of gothic-romantic literature. Professor Heitz beguiled into the forest by the Gorgon Magaera's distant siren-call. Her reflection glimpsed through the dead leaves floating on a mill pond. The encounter by moonlight in the graveyard between Richard Pasco and Barbara Shelley.
The Gorgon is certainly one of Hammer's most pessimistic entries. The setting is turn-of-the-century Middle Europe and the production-design more Teutonic than ever (Hammer, ever economical, transposed the monster of Greek classical myth to their familiar Germanic milieu). When we join the story the village of Vandorf has been under Magaera's baleful spell for seven years. Much of the action takes place in a repressive asylum. And Castle Borski is not the richly appointed seat of other Hammer films but a broken windswept ruin.
Characterisation is equally unrelenting. Cushing's Dr Namaroff is a more ruthless and maniacal variation of Van Helsing. Lee's Professor Meister , though gruffly benevolent, is overbearingly fatalistic. Meanwhile the most sympathetic characters - Carla, Paul, his father and brother - are all killed.
OK, inevitably the Gorgon's makeup is weak (though it scared me when I first saw it at age 11). The sickly green palor and spidery wrinkles are good, but the snake-hair just looks like she washed it the night before and couldn't do a thing with it. Half-glimpsed, her first appearance is remarkably effective, though. Her graceful tiptoe from behind the cobwebs in ghastly counterpoint to what we know will be her terrible visage. A sudden shock close-up and she disappears - almost glides - back into the shadows in long shot, a sequence as well done as anything Fisher has ever constructed. Alas, audience expectation (something Hammer usually deferred to) demanded a full-facial exposure at the end.
The temptation would be to say that The Gorgon might have worked better in black and white - but that would be to deny Michael Reed's disciplined use of colour. Perhaps only today's enhanced computer-graphics could properly pull off the effect required.
That flaw apart, The Gorgon survives as an early Hammer classic that can stand alongside Dracula, Brides of Dracula and The Hound of the Baskervilles.
An ageing Boris Karloff turning into another unpleasant something in a
competent but stolid entry from director Danial Haller, trying to do for
H.P. Lovecraft what Roger Corman did for E.A. Poe.
Haller was Corman's art director on the latter's much admired Poe chillers for the same studio, American International Pictures. His set-designs on impossibly low budgets were inspired, especially for The Pit and the Pendulum and The Raven.
When Corman came to England to shoot the last, and best, of his series (Masque of the Red Death and Tomb of Ligeia) Haller followed and made his directorial debut with this. He had another shot at Lovecraftian terror in 1970 with The Dunwich Horror, but AIP's moment had already passed.
Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager, two contract killers, walk into a Midwest
for the blind and cold-bloodedly murder John Cassavettes. "We walk in, we
put him down, we walk out," muses Marvin distractedly on the train back to
Chicago. Cassavettes had the chance to run but didn't, and Marvin wants
Initially, Don Siegel's colour remake of the Ernest Hemingway story was intended as the first made-for-TV movie. Vetoed by the network for its amoral viewpoint and violence, it was released in cinemas and quickly became a cult 1960s B-movie.
Anonymous and menacing in executive suits, sunglasses and briefcase, Marvin and scene-stealing Gulager memorably personify organised crime under Siegel's expert direction. They're pure all-American evil.
True, the main plot - pieced together in flashback as the two hitmen track down the mail robbery gang led by Ronald Reagan (his last film) - is pretty routine stuff. But even that serves to heighten the threat represented by Marvin and Gulager, as they unravel the real reason for Cassavettes' deathwish.
"No one ever knows what we're talking about," mocks Gulager when femme fatale Angie Dickinson tries to act dumb. The scene in the hotelroom where the killers force her to tell is handled with a ferocious cool that is Siegel's trademark.
The Killers was still in production when Kennedy was assassinated - perhaps one reason, given its theme, why TV network ABC pulled it from their 1964 schedule. The scene where Gulager is shot down on a sunlit sidewalk even echoed the killing of Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald (Gulager's character is called Lee).
OK, it's not a masterpiece. Even the great Don Siegel can't quite disguise a B-movie budget, a repetitious screenplay, brightly artificial colour, and exteriors that are only too obviously the Universal backlot. But it is tense and exciting, thanks to Siegel's authoritative grasp of the genre.
"I shot it in the style which I think is my style at its best," Siegel concluded later. "Very taut and lean with great economy. If I had to do it over again, I don't think I would change much."
Definitely in the BBC pantheon (alongside I Claudius and Pride and
Prejudice), partly for its formidable cast, but mainly for John Irvin's
directorial grip - a model of visual economy and uncompromising narrative
A double-agent or 'mole' is suspected at the top levels of the British secret service and retired spymaster Alec Guiness must narrow down the suspects amongst his former colleagues. Arthur Hopcraft's adaptation, while capturing the bureaucratic intrigue and perfidy of John Le Carre's novel, will demand viewers' utmost attention if they want to stay with the unfolding plot.
Irvin shoots Tinker, Tailor as if for widescreen - edge of the screen compositions, careful background detail - and demonstrates how a determined director can overcome the limitations of television(usually seen as a writer or producer's medium). Look at how he composes and cuts the scene where Guillam (Michael Jayston) is interrogated round the boardroom table towards the end of the first half. How Irvin provides deft little 'bookend' shots with the characters slowly walking away from camera.
Not that his sparse, pared-down style doesn't translate to action scenes with equal verve. The prologue - Ian Bannen's abortive mission into Czechoslovakia and its climatic chase through the forest - is as tense as anything you're likely to see on the big screen. Wintry settings and a fraught music score (mainly strings) add to this bleak, cynical vision.
Irvin landed the Hollywood actioner Dogs of War on the strength of Tinker, Tailor, but despite clever touches it didn't launch a notable cinema career. Look out, however, for his earlier television adaptation of Dickens' Hard Times. (For another example of very superior television direction, check out James Goldstone's handling of two first-season Star Trek episodes - 'Where No Man Has Gone Before' and 'What Are Little Made Of').
Author Le Carre may have topped Tinker,Tailor with a dazzling sequel (The Honourable Schoolboy, published 1977), but this is still far and away the best espionage suspenser ever televised. Indeed, it's hard to see how anything else, post Cold War, could quite match this relentless, ruthless dissection of personal and political betrayals.