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Remembering a Maestro of Cinema

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Notes:
1) DVD/Blu-ray of the movies referred to in this article is available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
2) DVD sleeves/posters credits: Wikipedia, amazon, and from my private collection.
3) This illustrated post is an affectionate nosegay to the personality and movies referred therein. Please check “About” of my webpage for more details.

(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

Red Sun (Soleil rouge – StarChoice.26)

 

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This second post concludes my preceding article of March 29, 2016: The Galloping Riders of Almería

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By early 1970s, Charles Bronson’s charm had transcended the borders of Europe and invaded far of corners of Asia. Movies such as The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen and Once Upon A Time In The West have all contributed their magic for the popularity of Bronson. No sooner, large billboards of the craggy-faced, toughly built Bronson appeared in strategic locations in Japan where he was elevated as the quintessential ‘Western Man.’

His aura of toughness and animal magnetism even earned him an appearance in the Japanese television commercial for Mandom, proclaiming a new toiletry brand for men. The ad-film was created by none other than the Japanese filmmaker Nobuhiko Obayashi, known for his surreal visual style. As for Bronson’s film career, there was no dearth in films for he was already in talks with filmmakers about a project called Red Sun.

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According to a book on Charles Bronson, the script for Red Sun was already available – having been passed around the major studios since 1966 when, based on an idea outlined on fifteen-pages, veteran producer Ted Richmond (Solomon and Sheba, Villa Rides!, Papillon) obtained the consent of Toshirô Mifune to star in it.

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Owing to unenthusiastic response to get the film off the ground in Hollywood, Richmond associated with producer Robert Dorfmann (Le Cercle Rouge, Cold Sweat, Papillon) in Europe who signed Bronson and Delon. The choice was easier since the two stars had not only starred in their earlier projects, their commercial appeal made it possible to secure financing. The result was a co-production, between Les Films Corona, France; Oceania Produzioni Internazionali Cinematografiche (Oceania Films), Roma/Italy; Producciones Balcázar S.A., Spain, – an arrangement, besides other benefits, assured distribution in three markets.

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They also roped in Terence Young to direct the movie. Young has proven his flair in directorial skills through a wide range of genre including peplum and war films since his directorial debut in 1948.

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International in scope as the stylish action director of three of the first four James Bond films, Dr No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963), and Thunderball (1965), Young himself was then ranked a colourful character – consistent to the image of the British secret service agent James Bond’s taste for fine wine, expensive clothes and beautiful women.

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Ever since his departure from the James Bond series, Young was engaged in direction of The Poppy is Also a Flower (Operation Opium, 1966), L’Avventuriero (The Rover, 1967), Wait Until Dark (1967), Mayerling (1968), and Cold Sweat (1970), the first of three movies that Terence Young would make with Charles Bronson.

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Red Sun was shot during the first half of 1971. Chosen as a stand-in for the American Southwest are the atmospheric mountains, virgin grounds, stark terrain and delicious climate of Spanish Almeria’s El Cabo de Gata (Cape Agate), Tabernas and Cortijo de la Sartenilla as well as the area between La Pedriza de Manzanares El Real and La Calahorra, effectively cutting the production cost.

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Some of these places, studded with agave plants and other desert succulents, flat-roofed whitewashed houses and abandoned/renovated farmsteads, were familiar to Bronson for having worked there recently in earlier production of Sergio Leone.

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Set in the 1870s, Red Sun opens with the arrival of prairie rider Link Stuart (Charles Bronson) at a deserted railway station from where he boards a mail train bound for Washington. Besides the civilian passengers and the US soldiers protecting the gold and other valuables on the train, a delegation led by the Japanese ambassador to the United States occupied a private car.

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During the reign of the 121st emperor of Japan, Emperor Kōmei-tennō (July 22, 1831 to January 30, 1867), Japan had begun its transformation into a modern industrial power following the arrival of US Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry and his “Black Ships” on July 8, 1853 on a mission to force the opening of Japanese ports to American trade, through the use of gunboat diplomacy if necessary. Within the next decade, the drive for modernization resulted in the opening of Japan’s doors to the rest of the world.

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Ten years later, as the movie goes, Sakaguchi, Lord of Bizen and the first Japanese ambassador to the United States by authority from the Emperor, had arrived in San Francisco after a long and perilous voyage by sea. Even though his safe arrival to Washington is guaranteed by the US government, anticipating dangers on their way, the entourage rightfully consisted of two samurais to protect their liege lord – one being Kuroda Jubie (Toshirô Mifune) (1) to whom loyalty and death is part of his air and sea and earth.

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Once the train had chugged out of the station, its control was forcefully taken over by the bandit group belonging to Link and co-leader Frenchman Gauche (Alain Delon) who soon set to rob the train of its valuables. Having sent off all civilian passengers by foot, Link and Gauche barge into the private car of the Japanese entourage and steal their money while the two samurai stay meek at the ambassador’s instance.

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It was after Link had left the car with the money when Gauche’s attention was drawn to a precious Mikado katana, a gold embossed sword, the Japanese was carrying for presenting to the 18th U.S. president, Ulysses S. Grant. Gauche forcefully steals it after killing one of the samurai (Hiroshi Tanaka) who aggressively opposed him. With his mission successfully completed, Gauche double-crosses his partner Link (who was promised 1/3rd of the loot) by throwing dynamite at him. Believing Link to be dead, Gauche and his henchmen ride off with the spoils.

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Link was fortunate to survive the attempt on his life and was discovered by Kuroda by the railroad track. Regaining consciousness, Link was compelled by the Japanese ambassador to accompany samurai Kuroda to track down Gauche and retrieve the sword. Kuroda will attain this within seven days maintaining the code of morals and manners of the Bushidō (the way of the warrior) (2) and if he failed, carry out seppuku (belly-cut) or hara-kiri, the Japanese ritual suicide reserved for samurai.

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Although Link reluctantly agreed to this he was troubled by the samurai’s intention to kill Gauche in a bloody reprisal as soon as he retrieved the sword. This would not leave Link enough time to catch Gauche alive, and obtain the loot ($400,000/-, give or take a dollar!) from the train robbery. For purpose of expediency, Link must elude Kuroda and go after Gauche alone. The journey that follows is a concoction of action, humour, nudity, betrayal, revenge and restitution of honour.

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A French/Italian/Spanish production, the film was a hit in Europe and Asia while in the USA the regular critics were unkind to it which the filmgoers mostly discarded. An uncomplicated action director, Terence Young keeps the movie at a semi-brisk pace sprinkled with humour and brings the story to a dramatic climax amidst the reed thickets, shot in Venta Nueva, Adra, Spain.

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Red Sun contains the three situations essential to every western: isolation, violence and law. Kuroda, a man of dignity and honour, but quick and deadly as a rattle snake, is an isolated man in the West in his pursuit to retrieve the stolen sword and protect the honour. He was forced to associate with the outlaw Link into a path of violence, taking the law and justice into his own hands, hardly concerned whether he may die doing it or not.

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Since most of the action takes place while Link and Kuroda are on the trail of the sword, director Young gives more emphasis to the interaction between the always very meticulous Bronson and much-focused Mifune – the events depicted in the movie leading to the point where Kuroda brings respect in Link for the strict bushido code which Kuroda adhered to, whereas Link manages to convince the revenge-minded Japanese to restrain from killing Gauche until Link could learn of the location where Gauche has hidden the loot. The script also briefly offers Kuroda, who generally dominates Link, an opportunity to speak of the disappearing values of the samurai as his countrymen no longer value the customs of old.

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The two foreigners, Kuroda and Gauche, in the western settings of the movie contrasts dramatically: Mifune’s Kuroda representing the good and the gallant, while French actor Alain Delon’s Gotch ‘Gauche‘ Kink epitomises the bad and the ruthless; and within the limited but fairly meaty sequences of Gauche, the story maze clearly defines his debauchery, grounds for Kuroda to exact lethal vengeance. Relevant to Delon’s then public image as a “toughie” off screen, he comes across effectively as crafty and aggressive – and then again, there is always the visually interesting aspect – his pretty-boy good looks.

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Statuesque Swiss-German actress Ursula Andress, who received second billing in the movie credits, is the foul-mouthed prostitute Christine who is the connection with Gauche whilst in love with Link. Red Sun displays her in a parody of scenes: in partial nakedness, as a helpless hostage of outlaws, as a victim of refined Indian torture, etc.

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Although Andress has donned roles in Le Avventure di Giacomo Casanova/Sins of Casanova (1955), What’s New Pussycat? (1965), The Blue Max (1966), Anyone Can Play (1968), etc, it is her smouldering screen appearance as Honey Ryder in Dr. No (1962) that she is much remembered for, although she also appeared as Vesper Lynd in the satirical James Bond spoof Casino Royale (1967), a role turned down by Joan Collins, Elizabeth Taylor, Shirley MacLaine and the patrician French actress Capucine (The Pink Panther, ‘What’s New, Pussycat?).

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As it turned out, Capucine (Kap-u-SEEN), whose original name is Germaine Hélène Irène Lefebvre but changed it in honour of France’s nasturtium, co-starred with Andress in the role of Pepita in Red Sun.

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In the supporting role as Hyatt is Scottish actor Anthony “Tony” Dawson – a regular in Terence Young productions and often cast in a variety of villainous roles in the 1950s and 1960s including movies such as Alfred Hithcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954) and Dr. No.(3)

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Other members of supporting cast: young French actor Luc “Luke” Merenda (Chato), Hungarian dancer/circus artist Bart Barry/ Bernabé Barta Barry (Paco), Lee Brown/Guido Lollobrigida (cousin of actress Gina Lollobrigida) (Mace), John Hamilton/Gianni Medici (Miguel), George W. Lycan (Sheriff Stone), Hiroshi Tanaka (Second samurai), Canada born Satoshi (Tetsu) Nakamura (Japanese Ambassador), Jo “José” Nieto (murdered Mexican farmer), Spanish actor Julio “Jules” Peña (Peppie, train passenger with newspaper), beautiful Spanish rose Mónica Randall/Aurora Julià Sarasa (Maria), John B, Vermont, plus a whole team of stuntmen (4).

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Original Music by French composer/conductor Maurice Jarre (Maurice-Alexis Jarre) is an interesting mixture of Anglo/Japanese themes. The brilliant Eastmancolor cinematography owes to Henri Alekan of Roman Holiday (1953) fame.

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The script adapted by Denne Bart Petitclere/William Roberts/Lawrence Roman is based on the story by American author Laird Koenig, famous for his novel, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1974). Further crew consists of: Gerald Devriès (dialogue); Johnny Dwyre (Film Editing); Enrique “Henry” Alarcón (Set Decoration); Tony Pueo (Costume Design): Alberto de Rossi (Make-up); Karl Baumgartner (Special effects).

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Released in 1971, Red Sun  is also known as: Sole rosso (Italy), Sol rojo (Spain), Rivalen unter roter Sonne (Germany), Sol vermelho (Portugal), Monomahia ston kokkino ilio (Greece), The Magnificient Three (Philippines)

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Red Sun has its moments of fun and rough spots besides providing the opportunity to see Bronson/Andress/Mifune/Delon coming together in a pleasing blend of their American/Swiss/Japanese/French charm, embellished by the direction of Britain’s Terence Young. Until next time. Jo

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Notes:

  • Toshirô Mifune’s character in Hell in the Pacific is called Tsuruhiko Kuroda.
  • The eight virtues typified by the Bushidō code: Righteousness; Courage; Benevolence; Respect; Sincerity, Honour, Loyalty, Self-Control.
  • According to a film trivia, it is Dawson’s hands we see stroking a white cat in the scenes depicting Bond’s arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld in From Russia with Love and Thunderball.
  • One of Hollywood’s top gun coaches and fast-drawing experts, chickasaw Indian Rodd Redwing died on May 29, 1971 following a heart-attack aboard the flight while returning home from Spain after work on Red Sun.
  • Books, DVD/Blu-ray of the books/movies referred to in this article are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  • DVD sleeves/posters credits: Wikipedia, amazon, and from my private collection.
  • This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to the movie reviewed above. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.
  • In memory of French actress/model Capucine (January 6, 1933 – March 17, 1990)

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

The Galloping Riders of Almería

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International superstardom finally started to cast its glare on American actor Charles Bronson in the late sixties – essentially since his appearance as the half-breed gunslinger l’uomo dell ‘armonica in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Western “Once Upon a time in the West” (C’era una volt ail west, 1968). In the mind of filmgoers, the gristly face of Bronson with his sleepy eyes and drooping moustache had become distinguished as an image of a ‘tender tough guy’ with an explosive air of elemental violence about him, drawing audiences to his movies shown across Europe over to Asia. The Italians nick-named this stone-faced and powerful personality, their “Il Brutto” – The Ugly One.

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While Bronson’s films never received wide release across America where he remained an unknown actor, his leading parts were confined to European products such as Guns for San Sebastian (1967), Farewell Friend (Adieu I’Ami, 1968), Villa Rides (1968), etc.

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Born to Lithuanian parents settled in the bleak mining town of Ehrenfeld (known locally as Scooptown), Pennsylvania, USA, “Shulty” (nickname of Bronson as a boy) was initially a coal miner who led a life full of deprivation. Charlie served the army from early 1943 to early 1946, following which he went on to do short stints as bricklayer, waiter, baker’s helper, etc before venturing into the theatre where his face and figure could draw only bit-parts of heavies and ethnics.

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Without any film-acting experience other than a year of learning at the Pasadena Playhouse, he had headed for Hollywood where, from his film debut in You’re in the Navy Now (initial title: U.S.S. Teakettle, 1951) till director Robert Aldrich’s Apache (1954), he was known as Charles Buchinsky, his birth name. With Drum Beat (1954) he changed his name to Bronson after the Bronson Gate at Hollywood’s Paramount Studios which derived its name from Bronson Street in Los Angeles.

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Having met actress Jill “Dorothy” Ireland in Bavaria, Germany, in 1962 during the filming of The Great Escape (then married to Welsh actor David McCalum whom she divorced in 1967), Bronson (divorced from his first wife Harriet Tendler in 1965) and Jill married in October 1968, which was few months after Bronson left Hollywood for Europe where he travelled from 1969 to 1973, making various movies.

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He soon fitted himself into a world infested with immigrant western actors such as Steve Reeves, Clint Eastwood, Cameron Mitchell, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, Van Heflin, John Ireland, Ty Hardin, Woody Strode, Rod Steiger, Jack Palance, etc, who had taken trek to Europe to join the European actors (most of them given Western-sounding names) to star in Peplums as well as in Euro-Westerns mostly shot in Almería which provided a perfect match for the deserts of Arizona.

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Impressed by Bronson’s performance in Machine-Gun Kelly (1958), French actor Alain Delon had by then developed an interest to work with him. Conveyed to Bronson through French producer Serge Silberman while Bronson was on location in Spain (at El Casar de Talamanca, Guadalajara, Castilla-La Mancha for director Buzz Kulik’s “Villa Rides”), the outcome was Bronson in the role of Franz Propp in Adieu I’Ami (Farewell Friend/Honor Among Thieves).

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When the film came out, his pairing with Delon earned them lavish praises from the critics, spiralling progress in Bronson’s career through a series of European productions including director Richard Donner’s Twinky (Lola/Statutory Affair, 1970) and French director René Clément’s chilling suspense piece Le Passager de la pluie (Rider on the Rain, 1970), the role in which, according to a book, had come seeking Bronson with a bit of urging of Alain Delon.

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In the late 1960s, with the sensuality of facial features that made Alain Delon a beautiful leading man still intact, Delon retained his physical presence and stylish, enigmatic look in domestic productions such as The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968), La Piscine (1969), Le Clan des Siciliens (The Sicilian Clan, 1969), Borsalino (1970), etc.

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Earlier in 1966, he had acted as a hitman clad in a trenchcoat and sporting a felt-hat in French director Jean-Pierre Melville’s cult classic Le Samouraï (The Samurai, 1967) which had kindled his interest in Japan where he had recently earned a large number of fans and commercial success that extended not only to his iconic status, his screen muscularity and sex appeal, but even to the sunglasses branded with his name. According to IMDB, at that time, Delon even kept a samurai blade hanging on the wall of his bedroom.

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Producing films since the 1970s under the name of his own production company, Adel Productions, and in a position to attract investment from across Europe and USA, Delon was then very active in filmdom and given the scale of his popularity as a global style icon, no doubt he would have gladly welcomed any interesting story angles of diverse genre to revamp his image, including a proper role where elements of Japanese culture are interestingly featured.

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The box-office success in Japan of more than a dozen films that director Akira Kurosawa made between 1950 and 1965 and other elements of Japanese film culture were already fanning their influence on the American filmdom. Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” (1950) came out as “The Outrage” (1964), “The Magnificent Seven” (1960) was based on “Seven Samurai”, while “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964) which invented the spaghetti Western was inspired by “Yojimbo” (1961) (1).

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Simultaneously, “You Only Live Twice” (1967), the fourth James Bond starring Sean Connery, predominantly set in Japan, featured prominent roles for Japanese actors Tetsurô Tanba, Akiko Wakabayashi and Mie Hama. Director Richard Fleischer’s “Tora, Tora, Tora” (1970) about the Pearl Harbour attack featured a fusion of West-Orient actors and crew and Kurosawa was originally slated to direct the Japanese half of the film which did not materialised due to technical issues.

The West had also taken note of Toshirô “The Wolf/The Shogun” Mifune’s strong, monolithic screen presence. Mifune had built his career on several wonderful classics of Kurosawa which included Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), Yojimbo (1961), Red Beard (1965), and The Hidden Fortress (1958), which was Kurosawa’s personal favourite.

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The power of Mifune’s screen presence engendered the strength of character through silence, together with quick and deadly dynamism in action sequences. In “Something Like An Autobiography” Kurosawa wrote that, in Mifune he had come across “a kind of talent he had never encountered before in the Japanese film world.”

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Toshirô Mifune, himself a producer on several samurai films, was no stranger to roles in Hollywood products. Referred to as Japan’s John Wayne, he had appeared in Grand Prix (1966) and later with Lee Marvin in director John Boorman’s Hell in the Pacific (1968), a World War II drama of two adversaries, an American pilot and a marooned Japanese navy captain Tsuruhiko Kuroda, on a small uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean. The film offered good contrast in acting styles of Marvin and Mifune (both actually served in the Pacific during World War II) as the two men of opposing countries who cease their animalistic confrontation and come to terms with peace and cooperation in order to survive.

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It was during this period that the American producer Ted Richmond decided to create a Shogun-type Western, with a fusion of Japanese folk legends. Jo                 (To be continued)

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Notes:

  • According to A New Guide to Italian Cinema, Leon has insisted that the source of A Fistful of Dollars is a play by Carlo Goldoni Arleccchino il servitor di due parroni/The Servant with Two Masters (1745)
  • Books, DVD/Blu-ray of the books/movies referred to in this article are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  • DVD sleeves credits: Wikipedia, amazon.co.uk, and from my private collection.
  • This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to movies of the past. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

The Kaleidoscope of Hoof Prints

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(This follows my article The Ballad of JEANETTE and MICHEL  of March 2, 2016)

If there are phrases on my tongue which connote the blessings that can unwittingly come in many disguises to the gentle-natured donkey, it is those plans and purpose which chanced upon as revealed in some events of “The Bible”. With Palm Sunday (March 20, 2016) followed by Easter (March 27, 2016) coming up, bringing in a time when it is not unusual for people to be religious in thoughts, I take a little liberty to reflect on those events.

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Animals like sheep, camel, donkey, have afforded their presence to many episodes of the Bible. Indeed there are momentous occasions when the donkey was part of events that were important junctures in the life of Jesus Christ.

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The ass of Palestine and the Bible has been identified as the Nubian wild ass of Egypt. This common beast of burden, used for agricultural work and also for riding, is not in the East by any means a despised or a despicable animal – but considered part of a moderate household. Whole families rode him, shared food with him, and sometimes allowed him to stay in a section of the room with the family.

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Visitation: It is related that Mary, pregnant with Jesus, used a donkey when she set out on her journey for her ‘Visitation’ to congratulate cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant with the child who would one day become known as John the Baptist. According to tradition, that donkey had travelled about seventy miles from Nazareth over hills and through valleys to the little town in the Judaean hills where Elizabeth and her husband, priest Zachary dwelt. Considering that the feast of the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus is held on March 25th, this journey could probably have occurred during the last days of March or early April when the rainy season was just over. Although Joseph is not named in this journey, it is unlikely that Mary would have ventured on a long and arduous journey alone and abode with Elizabeth for about three months before she rode back to her home in Nazareth. Besides, it was customary to have a driver for the donkey, when women rode on them.

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To Bethlehem: The initial scenes of William Wyler’s biblical epic movie “Ben-Hur” (1959) portrays Joseph, a village carpenter, leading a meek donkey by the bridle, on which sat his pregnant wife Mary covered with a long cloak, during their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in Judea to enrol their names in a census which had been ordered by Caesar Augustus. The vague details of that journey of about seventy miles could be visualised as five days of privation, fatigue and discomfort through an uncomfortable path in the winter chill of December. A book on the Virgin Mary names this donkey as “Eleabthona”, but we could only wonder if it was the same animal which had previously been similarly used when Mary went on her “Visitation” to Elizabeth.

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To Jerusalem: Whichever donkey it was, that animal had the opportunity to be closer to the newly born Jesus in the stable outside Bethlehem. Besides, amongst the few other domesticated animals present there, he was the one who would render service as the mode of transport to Joseph’s family when, at the age of forty days, the infant Jesus was taken to Jerusalem for presentation in the Temple and return.

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To Egypt: Sometime thereafter, warned of an imminent danger to the child, the family hastily embarked on a journey in the middle of the night, with Mary and the child riding the donkey, as they rushed out of the territory of King Herod to retire into Egypt. With the winter still persisting, that journey of ten days covering about two hundred miles via the city of Pelusium (modern Tell el-Farama) was not without difficulties and dangers arising from cold, wet and stormy weather, lack of shelter over their heads, less water, attack by robbers and wild beasts, proceeding partially through the shifting sands of the desert as far as the land of Gessen, where they resided (1). Not until had King Herod died in the spring of 4 BC, did they retire to the early home of Joseph and Mary at Nazareth of Galilee.

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Soon after, the donkey of those journeys slips into obscurity even though according to a recorded event of Jesus’ youth, at the age of twelve, Jesus was taken on a long journey to Jerusalem to attend the Passover before returning to Nazareth when the service of a donkey would have been required.

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It is widely held that the dark line down a donkey’s back and across the forequarters in the shape of a Latin cross denotes the heritage of that race from the day one of their forebears carried Jesus on its back during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem which is commemorated as the first Palm Sunday (Dominica in ramis Palmarum), and marks the beginning of what is technically called Passion Week.

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To Jerusalem: According to the Gospels, Jesus, having come to the little village of Bethphage (Beitphage) on the summit of the Mount of Olives sent two disciples into the village to fetch an ass and a colt they would find tied there. Having brought the animals, they cast their garments upon the ass and made Jesus sit thereon. (2) The animal carried Jesus, sitting meek and gentle on its back, as it treaded over the olive palm fronds strewn over the garments laid on the path, amidst the joy and singing of a multitude of accompanying people wielding branches of palm trees as a testimony of honour and respect.

At that time Jerusalem was surrounded with fertile fields and trees, and on the southern slope of Olivet, where they were passing, date-bearing palm trees grew in great abundance. The Palm has been in all times and places the emblem of victory and its reward and it was the custom to carry and wave palm-branches as a sign of joy and victory.

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At length, the donkey carried Jesus down the hill, passed between the walls of Gethsemane and the Garden of Olives, crossed the Cedron valley (Kidron), through the road leading up to St. Stephen’s Gate (Lions’ Gate), and entered the Temple through the Golden Gate with its beautiful pillars. This occasion, commemorated on Palm Sunday with a Procession of Palms was customary in Jerusalem as early as 386 when it was first mentioned, and was adopted in the west by the seventh century as attested to by Isidore of Seville, who died in 636.

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Until the Reformation in the Middle Ages, the event was remembered in a folklorised ritual on Palm Sunday (Palmsonntag) in some southern German speaking regions when, in addition to the tradition of the blessing of palms (Palmbüscheln), a procession known as “Palmesel” (Palm Sunday donkey) was held when a statue of Jesus mounted on a wooden effigy of an ass fixed on a wheeled wooden bier was taken round the streets spread with clothes and strewed with palm branches. To mark this joyous occasion, people sang hymns and waved fronds of palm or of some other similar tree, while at some places bouquets of flowers attached to boughs of trees were sometimes carried in the procession calling it the Easter of Flowers.

The ass was not forgotten either. A book on ecclesiastical architecture relates an old tradition that “the ass on which Christ made His entry into Jerusalem left Judea immediately after the Crucifixion, and passing over the sea dry-shod to Rhodes, Cyprus, Malta, Sicily, and Aquileia, finally reached Verona, where it lived to a very old age. After its death its bones were collected and deposited in the belly of the wooden ass of Santa Maria in Organo, which was made as a memorial of it and its exact image.”

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Just as that event at Jerusalem made them an object of peculiar reverence to the early Christians, the cross on its back inspired belief that children suffering from whooping cough will be cured if they are made to sit on the mark and the donkey walked in a circle nine times.

It is interesting to think, with what different sentiments one regards the donkey at different periods. The poor quadruped which tradition says earned its reputation for stupidity in the Garden of Eden when it could not remember its name when God asked it, is actually, as one of my friends wrote, a poorly understood animal.

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Ass, when properly kept, is a handsome animal – much stronger in proportion, and much more hardy than the horse. The positive efforts of institutions such as Kölner Zoo in Germany, The Donkey Sanctuary in Devon, England, etc, very much help the welfare of the docile and friendly donkey to save them from becoming snapshots of a bygone era. Let us be glad that they are there and keep alive the age old tradition that to see a donkey will bring one the good luck. Until next time, Ciao, Jo

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Notes:

  1. According to some publications, the particular place where Joseph settled in Egypt is probably Metaryieh, near On/Heliopolis, about two hours distance north-east of Cairo.
  2. A Franciscan church, built on the foundation of an ancient shrine, stands to commemorate the place where Christ mounted the ass, contains a stone traditionally identified as used by Jesus to mount the ass for the journey to Jerusalem.
  3. Thanks to: Mr. Bernd Marcordes, Kurator, AG Zoologischer Garten Köln, Germany for the picture of Michel and Jeanette; to Ms. Pippa Helock of The Donkey Sanctuary, Devon for the picture “Looking Handsome”; and to Stefan Ahrens of Bistum Regensburg, Germany for the four pictures.
  4. Print and visual versions of “Ben-Hur” is available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.

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Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

Dracula, Prince of Darkness (StarChoice: 25)

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The sun is down, darkness covers the land – and Dracula lives!”

January 9th, 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the initial release (UK) of Hammer Films’ Dracula, Prince of Darkness”, the second instalment in their colourful Dracula series with Christopher Lee in the title role.

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Produced by Anthony Nelson Keys (1911 – 1985) at an estimated budget of £100,000 (according to imdb)(1) and presented by Seven Arts and Hammer Films, the story centers around two couples finding shelter in the night in a dark and mysterious castle situated in the forest outside the village of Carlsbad. They had been traveling through the Carpathian Mountains of central Europe for climbings and sightseeings, and were forced out of their hired horse-carriage at the crossroads of a mountain track by their coach driver terrified at the approach of the sunset.

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Taken to the castle by a mysterious driverless coach and having arrived at the very plaace which was the subject of a cautionary advice of a Father Sandor for them to stay away from it, they were surprised at the hospitality extended to them by the sinister Klove, the manservant of the lord of the castle, Count Dracula, who apologised for the absence of his master since he was dead for the past ten years. A crackling fire burns in the grate, dinner table set for four created the impression that they were expected. Indeed Klove’s master had left instructions that the castle should always be ready to receive guests… The couples drank a toast to the master of the castle: “To Count Dracula!”.  

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As if he was convinced that the new arrivals would spend the night in the castle, the mysterious Klove had already prepared their rooms, had their luggage secretly brought in from the carriage and placed neatly at the foot of the beds before he had gone to greet them. Once the couples had retired to their respective rooms following their dinner, sometime soon in the dead of night, the occasion appeared auspicious to Klove to set out to implement his plan. Many years ago, he had faithfully collected the clothes, signet ring, dust, etc, of Dracula after his master’s body had disintegrated into a pile of human dust. The set of scenes that would unfurl during that night in the underground vault depicted the resurrection of Dracula – by intermixing Dracula’s bodily grey ash with the blood flowing from the corpse of Alan Kent suspended on a rope above the sarcophagus. And therein, blood fired the ashes and Dracula, the Lord of the Darkness, fully restored, rose to go about his single-minded pursuit of blood and ghastly deeds!

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When Welsh scriptwriter Jimmy Sangster was assigned to re-write the old script (The Revenge of Dracula), by prolific screenwriter Anthony Hinds, based on characters created by novelist Bram Stoker, none of them had known that the incongruity of the final product would allow them to attach only their noms de plume, to it, viz., John Sansom and John Elder respectively. In his late thirties, Sangster kept abreast of the pulse of Hammer’s target audiences. He would spend four decades at Hammer, in the capacity of production manager, scriptwriter, producer and director.

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Sangster was then known for brilliant ideas and sudden shocks which, as a rule, he sprinkled into the storylines of scripts; often linking the ideas to traditions related to vampires however minor they are – as, in “Dracula, Prince of Darkness”, when Charles and Diana escape from Dracula’s castle, he leaves Diana near a hut at the crossroads before returning to the castle. It was deemed that she would be safer there from vampires. I would have imagined such a scene is in tune with the European tradition that if a suspected vampire if killed or buried at a crossroads, he will be unable to rise again.

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As for the resurrection of the Count for this sequel, a convincing method was drawn up to use blood as the ingredient since the Count was destroyed into a pile of dust in Hammer’s “Dracula” (1958, U.S. title: Horror of Dracula), the first Dracula film in colour with thrilling visual treats of vampire violence, blood and sexuality. This method of resurrection with blood would be repeatedly used by Hammer to revive the Count in their subsequent Dracula films.

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Christopher Lee as the pale-looking Count Dracula topping gray streaked hair with a widow’s peak and eyebrows that join across, appears around 46 minutes (based on DVD edition of 86 minutes. Theatrical duration is 90 minutes.) into “Dracula, Prince of Darkness” (DPOD), clad in his long black cloak (now lined with blood-red lining), at times, with red contact lenses that covered the whole ball of the eyes, except for the cornea and iris, and of course, with the trademark pair of canine fangs intact (“long, but not too long, sharp but not sabre-toothed”, as a writer wrote). The Count’s character traits of commanding manner, fit constitution, cold austerity, penetrating eyes, icy sadism, tremendous ferocity, fiendish snarls and charismatic sex appeal are all there but short of dialogue to which Jimmy Sangster later claimed that the script was written without any lines for the Count. Alternate opinions to the contrary exists, including Lee’s own assertion in an autobiography that he did not use the dialogue as it was impossible for anybody to write convincing lines for him. Lee is reputed to have read Stoker’s “Dracula” many times over and over and, given the opportunity, always ventured to provide his personal view of its interpretation. There is another reference in a book which relates that when Lee finally consented to star as Dracula in 1965 he had become an expensive commodity and his services were being charged on a daily basis which resulted in his scenes being brief and without dialogue. Anyhow, short of dialogue, Dracula hissed and snarled and menaced in the movie, emphasising the vampiristic elements of Dracula.

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For Hammer, Lee’s mere appearance as the good-looking Count Dracula was enough to click the box-office and create fans for Hammer which had increased ever since the 6’ 5” Lee first appeared as a silhouette before he came out of the shadows and glided down the long baronial stairs of his castle and introduced himself as “Count Dracula” in Hammer’s “Dracula” (HOD).

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Following Lee’s marriage to the Danish model and painter Birgit (Gitte) Kroencke in 1961, the couple had moved to Switzerland. Hammer was happy to see Lee move back to England in 1965, and agree to appear in “DPOD” since afraid of being typecast as the Count, he had refrained from starring as Dracula for nearly seven years, venturing into other films, which had pushed Hammer to bring out different vampires as antagonists, viz., blonde-haired Baron Meinster (David Peel) in “Brides of Dracula” (1960) (2) and Doctor Ravna (Noel Willman) in “Kiss of the Vampire” (1963) while retaining Dracula for enactment by Christopher Lee whenever he is ready. Although Lee went on to become admired as an actor of vast experience and wide-ranging acting talents, like Sean Connery got docketed to James Bond, Lee’s career was always popularly tagged with the “old toothy”, and had gained him great financial success and international stardom.

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Barbara Shelly, the auburn-haired English beauty with her bewitching brown eyes, makes a very exciting vampire in “DPOD”, her initial style of attire of the Victorian wife Helen giving way for a seductive outfit when, in the dark of the night, the process of her initiation into the realm of vampires gets underway. Director Terence Fisher had rightly divulged Shelly’s capacity to aptly showcase the mannerisms of the spitfire vampire she had turned into, quite contrasting to her initial portrayal of the shrewish wife who seemed strangely fearful of something bad she had sensed present in the castle in which they had taken shelter.

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Lovely blonde Suzan Farmer appears as Diana Kent, the brave wife of Charles, notable for her liveliness and attitude to take things as they come. It was Diana who had the presence of mind to initially grab the gun and shoot at Dracula on the frozen moat which led to the discovery that running water is a deterrent for him – a realization that would add to an earlier instance when she accidently discovered that the crucifix on the chain around her neck could stop the evil although, at a later scene, under the demonic influence of Dracula, she would submissively take the crucifix off her neck and stand unprotected before Dracula ready to oblige to his demand to taste the blood flowing from his chest.

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Peter Cushing, who first appeared in the title role of Hammer’s “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957), shot to international stardom as the indomitable vampire-killer Dr. (Prof.) Abraham Van Helsing in “Dracula”, a role which represented the force of goodness, making him an integral part of the Dracula cycle and a perfectly matched team with Christopher Lee. I have read somewhere that it was Cushing’s idea to make Van Helsing run along the refectory table and hold Dracula back with the glare from two metal candlesticks used for a cross until the Count desiccated into a heap of dust in the closing scenes of “Dracula”. According to one of Peter Cushing’s memoirs, when Anthony Hinds found that Cushing could not appear in “DPOD” due to contractual commitments, Hinds had obtained his consent to use the ending scenes of “Dracula” as opening scenes of “DPOD” for which Cushing was subsequently remunerated by Hammer Films.

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DPOD” featured a new adversary for Dracula, Father Sandor (Andrew Keir), the Abbot of Kleinberg who, on his way to Kleinberg, accidently meets the four English travellers at the wayside inn and warns them to avoid travel to Carlsbad or stay clear of the nearby castle which the couples disregarded opting to keep up with their schedule only to meet with dire consequences. British TV actor Philip Latham, who had earlier appeared in Hammer’s 1964 films “The Devil-Ship Pirates” and “The Secret of Blood Island”, comes across very effectively as Klove, the quiet and sinister manservant of Count Dracula – soberly clad in black, devoid of gesticulations – a tool of the forces of evil.

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b16 Terry-FisherAustralian born British television heart-throb Charles Tingwell (Alan Kent), and television star Francis Matthews (Charles Kent) appear as brothers and husbands of the visiting English ladies. The cast also includes: Thorley Walters (monastery calligrapher Ludwig), Walter Brown (Brother Mark), George Woodbridge (Landlord), Jack Lambert (Brother Peter), Philip Ray (Priest), Joyce Hemson (Mother), John Maxim (Coach Driver), etc.

DPOD” tenders some excellent visual treats under the directional chores of Terence “Terry” Fisher (1904 – 1980). Starting as a clapper boy in the film industry at the age of 28, his first directorial assignment was “The Last Page” (aka. Man Bait, 1952, based on a 1946 play by James Hadley Chase) from where he rose up to become one of the best known directors to work for Hammer and one of the virtuosos behind the success of their films like “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957), “Dracula” (1958), “The Revenge of Frankenstein” (1958), “The Mummy” (1959), “The Phantom of the Opera” (1962), etc.

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Consistent with Hammer’s reputation of using the major chunk of a film’s scanty budget on its production design, sets, models, costumes, photography, editing for stunning visual impact, “DPOD” has impressive sets and lavish-looking production values. It was from the brilliant talent of Bernard Robinson, the Set Designer for Hammer’s first two Dracula films that earned Hammer their signature looks for stunning backdrops and sets of the Dracula movies. Although in this official sequel, the story of “DPOD” takes place ten years after the end of the first movie and supposedly happens in the same castle of “Dracula“, Robinson’s ingenuity shows through in the difference of the interiors and exterior of the sets of Castle Dracula, everything dusted and polished. The coffins used for Dracula and Diana in the film have gold covered hinges to contradict with the old custom of Transylvanian coffin-makers using silver nails as a protection against vampires.

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Entirely shot in Technicolor  from April 26 through June 4, 1965 at Bray Studios, Down Place, Oakley Green (Berkshire); and on locations at Black Park in Slough, Iver Heath (Buckinghamshire); and St Michael’s Church, Bray, Berkshire, England, the crew consists of: James Bernard (Music), Michael Reed (Director of photography), Chris Barnes (Film Editing), Don Mingaye (Art Direction), Roy Ashton (Makeup), Frieda Steiger (Hair stylist), Rosemary Burrows (Wardrobe), Bowie Films Ltd (Special effects), among others.

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The special effects team of Les Bowie did not have to deal with “Kensington Gore”, the fake theatrical blood (stage blood) manufactured in England, since both the final scenes of “Dracula” and “DPOD” are devoid of blood,  though there is massive amount of fake blood shown during the resurrection of Dracula in “DPOD

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According to a magazine, for the complex shooting of scenes depicting the final destruction of Dracula, Bowie’s team had tried many techniques to get the scene right: they tried real blocks of ice in a swimming pool for few close shots; wax moulds at another time as it floats on the water; and for the final shots, a circular section of plaster mounted on pivots. At the same time, Christopher Lee has written in a book that he slid down a piece of wood on a hinge, painted white to look like ice.

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Part of the many trivia is about an incident while shooting the last scenes when one of the contact lenses of Lee fell onto the salt-covered wooden board (made to look as block of ice) which was retrieved and re-fixed to his eye without properly cleaning off the salt causing acute agony to Lee. An unfortunate incident would have intervened the production and turn fatal for Eddie Powell, Lee’s stunt double and husband of wardrobe mistress Rosemary Burrows, when he was trapped in the freezing waters of the castle moat during enactment of the scene when Dracula finally sank through the layer of ice into the water, but was rescued in time from drowning. However, as the story goes, Dracula will lay trapped in that icy grave until Hammer decided to allow him to be resurrected in 1968 in “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave”, ironically, with the blood of a wounded priest.

Besides “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave”, Hammer Films’ Dracula series continued featuring Christopher Lee in the role of the Count in “Taste the Blood of Dracula” (1970), “Scars of Dracula” (1970), “Dracula A.D. 1972” (1972), and finally in “The Satanic Rites of Dracula” (1973).

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It is undisputed that so many old manor houses in England have their ghost story. The legends of vampires (Vukodlak for Serbians/Murony to Wallachians) have always been there and will survive and flourish on print and visual entertainment in future also. As the viewers, we enjoy the choice to discern whether they are good, bad or indifferent for us – or for horrorsceptics to reassert their sense of rational control. When Hammer Films were first shown, they were sometimes reckoned as objects of derision and censure in some quarters. Now they are treated as classics of their kind. Since 2012, starting with “Dracula Prince of Darkness”, Hammer’s classic library of films are being restored/re-mastered into HD for Blu-ray and future media formats under the restoration project initiated by StudioCanal in coordination with major studios.

I have enjoyed some of those movies on several occasions, including “Dracula, Prince of Darkness” – and although sadly Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are no more, I would imagine many would have gladly watched another Hammer movie in which Lee reprised the role of Dracula in the period and Gothic ambiance of Stoker’s novel. No doubt, Hammer Films, at its finest, were truly distinctive.  Jo

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Notes:

  1. The budget is projected as £220,000 by BFI screenonline.
  2. For more on “Brides of Dracula”, please refer to my reviews of May 10 & 14, 2013
  3. Dracula, Prince of Darkness” was initially released as double bill with Hammer’s “The Plague of the Zombies
  4. Books, DVD/Blu-ray of the books/movies referred to in this article are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  5. DVD sleeves credits: Wikipedia, amazon.co.uk, and from my private collection.
  6. This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to the movie reviewed above. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.
  7. This is in memory of director Terence Fisher who was born on 23rd of February. May his soul rest in peace.

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

Hammer – H as in Horror

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British actor Christopher Lee is no more, but the nocturnal Transylvanian character he immortalised in Hammer Films’ Dracula series is very much alive and baring fangs at the discerning viewers. For centuries, folklores of blood-drinking vampires and other supernatural characters were tales of enduring fascination, dark passion, belief and fear.

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For most people, the name Transylvania conjures up haunted castles and vampires; and maintain some understanding about the characteristics of a vampire: that the vampire’s power ceases at the coming of the day; that they feed on human blood and their bite could transform the victim into a new vampire, that the objects for protection against them is a Christian cross, garlic, running water, etc.

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Such tales of uncanny, having echoed throughout Europe down centuries, may have now died down, their existence judged improbable in the modern view. Yet, what is the truth behind the legends of the undead? Are they alive and immortal only as products of fertile imaginations, dreams and fantasies? Anyhow, potential immortality is considered a salient feature of the vampire.

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b6The evil title character of the gothic horror novel, “Dracula” (published in June 1897) written by Irish writer Bram (Abraham) Stoker (Nov 8, 1847 – Apr 20, 1912) has been linked to Vlad Ţepeş (Vlad Tsepesh/Vlad Dracul/Vlad the Impaler, 1431 – 1476) (1), a flesh-and-blood prince who launched the Romanian resistance against Ottoman expansion in the 15th century.

Of the qualities attributed to Prince Vlad are his practice of impaling enemies on stakes in that age of brutality; his heroism in defending his country against the Ottoman invasion, but nowhere there is evidence proving him as a vampire.

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The review that would follow this frontrunner post is just my humble tribute to a movie from the very-British Hammer Films, a trailblazer for the genres of horror and suspense during the 1950s and ’60s.

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Most of the films of Hammer had triggered the adrenalin of millions of audiences across the world with their quality entertainment primarily produced at a splendid private residence called Down Place, in Bray, Berkshire, England where, it is claimed, there existed a resident ghost known as “The Blue Lady”. Charming!

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Hammer had all the ingredients in place to reincarnate the monster of Frankenstein, Count Dracula, Baron Meinster, Countess Dracula …. – mostly 85-minutes spine-chilling storylines of hauntings, spirits, exorcisms, poltergeists, banshees, consistent with the rules of folklore and legends, oral or written, prolific to Ireland, Scotland, Eastern Europe, India, etc.

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However true they are, I do not have any personal experiences to believe or disbelieve those beyond the grave incarnations. But while watching a Hammer horror movie, when I see a door open without a human hand on the knob, or hear the light or heavy sound of footsteps in the corridor when no one is supposed to be there, or see the face of someone who had been buried the other day calling through the open window in the dead of the night, I guess I like to have a sense of fearlessness. One thing is certain, I doubt I would ever want to run into any one of those undead creatures, especially Count Dracula, “the most evil and terrible creature who ever set his seal on civilisation.”

(Review in my next post)   Jo

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Notes:

  1. For more on the origins of Vlad Ţepeş: Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times by Radu R. Florescu & Raymond T. McNally
  2. Books, DVD/Blu-ray of the books/movies referred to in this article are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  3. DVD sleeves credits: Wikipedia, amazon.co.uk, and from my private collection.
  4. This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to Hammer Films. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

The Roots and Wings of Valentine

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Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year – the holidays of the short evenings are over. The spring vegetables are slowly entering the markets. Given that love is the keynote of that sweetest day of February when moments are made into memories, shops have displayed pretty favours for exchange between lovers and couples to mark the Valentine’s Day. As usual, a good number of high-flying hotels will be a much sought after destination on the 14th of this month for the lovers and couples out for a memorable candlelit evening of gastronomy, drinks, music, romance and to feel like a million dollars.

2Where we live, distinctive venues for such occasions are many and more are sprouting up every other month. Ecstatic to get it going, the dining tables there will be prettily decorated with fresh flowers, ferns, bisque cupids, candles, tableware, in addition to scattered red rose petals over the table cloth where a wide range of delicacies will be served with emphasis on its appearance since eye has much to do with the flavour of all food. Some even have in-house Mehndi artists or caricaturist to enhance the romantic ambiance.

The succulent specialities on offer in many restaurants, especially on occasions of festivities, present an extensive spread of seafood, meat and vegetarian delicacies and gorgeous after-food deserts very much compatible to all those gourmets. There, only few of the dishes need any explanation. From past experiences, the cuisine for the V-Day could include freshly shucked oysters, poached lobsters with dill and limoncello cream sauce, river Prawn Saganaki, baked fish, Beef Stroganoff, Braised Balsamic Chicken, Porcini Pork Tenderloin, Broccoli Quinoa Casserole, asparagus salad, etc, incorporating many of the general favourites of authentic regional Indian favourites cooked to perfection by chefs and their skilful teams playing cupids at the live stations. Be it ever so humble, praise for their delicious food never misses to light up their eyes as if they had won the lottery.

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The objective is to make the Valentine’s Day the sweetest and memorable day of the year – touchingly sentimental, fun and ethical for those who wish to share their love and affection towards one another. In a time when affection and meaningful human communication takes a back seat as most eyes are buried in Smartphones, iPads, or other distractions, occasions like the V-Day reminds us to show that we love.

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The tradition of the Festival of Love probably owes its origins to one of the pagan Roman festivals, Lupercalia, the festival of fertility which was celebrated in mid-February in ancient Rome. As part of its ritual, two young boys of patrician families dressed in goatskins, daub their faces with the blood of sacrificed goat and dog, and during a traditional course whipped maidens with stripes of leather as they passed. Expressing joy and happiness, such lashes were appreciated reckoning they would miraculously prevent or cure infertility. Somewhere between belief and doubt lies the faith.

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After Christianity became more prevalent in Rome, the festival became associated with St. Valentine (1) a Christian priest and physician in Rome who was martyred on February 14, c. 269 AD (on the eve of Lupercalia) for being an advocate for the cause of peace and love. The book “Saint Valentine” by Robert Sabuda relates the story about how Valentine restored the blindness of a young girl with his deep faith and healing skills.

The custom of sending Valentines stems from a medieval belief that birds began to pair on the day Valentine was beheaded under the cruel Roman Emperor Claudius II Gothicus (Marcus Aurelius Valerius Claudius/Claudius the Goth, 268 to 270) who succumbed to plague in 270 AD. Amongst the customs that continued was the opportunity to choose a sweetheart or Valentine and letters or tokens can be sent secretly to the object of affection as a declaration of romantic love.

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The rejuvenation of this event, after a slack in popularity but persisting through writings including those of Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1345-1400) and William Shakespeare (1564-1616), could be attributed to the innumerable cards, books, poems, songs, stage presentations and films that flourished since the eighteenth century onwards. Nevertheless, it is always those couples entwined in their genuine love for each other, blessedly always much abundant in the world, who have kept this tradition of love alive and blooming. Some of the legends and stories of love that sparkled as jewels through the timeline of our world has inspired millions and has undoubtedly caught the imagination of the world.

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I can think of many love deities and personalities in every culture dedicated to different fervours of love: Egyptian divinities Osiris and Isis; Roman Jupiter and Juno (Greek Zeus and Hera); Solomon and Sheba; Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) and Queen Nefertiti; Orpheus and Eurydice; Queen Cleopatra and Mark Antony; Justinian and Theodora; Lancelot and Guinevere; Layla and Majnun; Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal; Salim (Emperor Jahangir) and Anarkali (Nadira Begum or Sharf-un-Nissa);

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Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; Napoleon and Joséphine de Beauharnais; Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir; Romeo and Juliet; Tristan and Isolde; Robin Hood and Maid Marian; Tarzan and Jane. I do not exclude  those stars of the film world who, at certain times, had become real life romantic characters they played on screen (2):

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Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks; Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini; Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh; Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy; Clark Gable and Carole Lombard; Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles; Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall; Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor; etc… the love is always in the air and for many of them sometimes everything falls together.

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Of the many customs built around this festival of love, few old customs like the artistic Victorian cards have sadly disappeared while more formal ways of messaging through emails or SMS or that great equalizer called WhatsApp have taken over in popularity.

11Then again, besides the enthusiasm of some couples, the reason Valentine’s Day has garnered more popularity today is due to the print and visual media and to the efforts of the corporate/marketing strategists striving to make it a gross consumer fest.

If the customary choices of the old school fancied Valentine cards, books, tokens, boxes of Belgian chocolates or selected kinds of gifts, and even considered a hug as a great gift; the preferences has presently progressed to all things high-flying – the posh sort – choices big and small, often putting some aficionados under “wallet” pressure – choices such as couture labels, a Visconti pen, a Supreme Goldstriker iPhone with the highest GB, a gorgeous clutch bag, a beautiful sparkling necklace, amazing Stuart Weitzman shoes, vintage boots, a Patek Philippe or Breitling wristwatch, luxury fragrances, a Lamborghini Veneno car, a holiday in The Bahamas, diamonds, secret tattoos, belly button ring, …. the list has become endless to maximize the vibes… The choice is ours.

Nevertheless, fresh flowers have always remained one of the popular gifts.

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To give fresh flowers – those embodiments of perfect beauty – to a sweetheart….. what gift could honestly be nicer and special? They even leave their fragrance on the hand that bestows them.

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When young mortal Adonis of Greek mythology lost his life owing to a wound he received from a boar during a chase, Aphrodite (Venus to the Romans), the goddess of love and beauty and the love of his life, found solace from her deep grief in the beautiful Anemone flower which sprung from his blood (or from her tears), until the gods of the lower world favoured her by allowing Adonis to spend six months of every year on earth with Aphrodite. And it is from Aphrodite’s son Eros (Cupid/Amor) that V-Day earned the grace of Cupid, the god of love – a wanton boy with arrows in a golden quiver, who is related to a thousand tricks and cruel sports – the most potent being the pierce from his golden arrow that would kindle love in the stricken heart.

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When my wife first came to meet me, she brought along an enormous bunch of fresh ivory coloured tulips in a box all the way from England, carefully looked after by the cabin crew of British Airways. Truly a heart of gold she has. She had specifically chosen that spring flower due to my ardent “tulipomania”. Of course, one’s own preferred choice would be different. A friend’s wife preferred velvety red roses from her husband since it’s the symbol of happy and passionate love, while another friend suggested that, if possible, we bring garden daisies to cheer his hospitalised wife when we visited her.

15Somewhere along the way, love has taken its place in the age-old form of art that associate flowers with different meanings. Floriography signifies the name of the language of flowers as practiced in traditional cultures in many parts of the world. The Japanese call it Hanakotoba.

As ivory coloured tulips will always be the symbol of true love for me, the symbolism and hidden meaning of those flowers that express love and affection, subject to change with various combination (3), is generally regarded as: Apple Blossom (Good fortune) – Balsam (Ardent love) – Jasmine (Grace and Elegance) – Lavender (Devotion) – Lilac (First Emotions of Love) – Orchid (Fertility, love and Beauty) – Red Tulip (Declaration of Love) – Sunflower (Adoration) – Violet (Faithfulness), Hibiscus (Sacred Love and Beauty)….

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Amongst the vast array of flowers lingers the “Forget-Me-Nots”, the lover’s flower. The legend has it that a valiant German knight slipped and fell into water when stooping to gallantly pick up some beautiful blue flowers growing in the water which his paramour wanted him to get for her. Before he finally sank under the water, he threw the flowers at his love and implored her to “Vergiß mein nicht” (Forget Me Not). It was the voice of genuine love that was calling out, to remind, “I will be always with you. I will love you just as you are.”   

Amore!   If love is the key to our hearts, no doubt, then the heaven is within us. Ciao, Jo

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Notes:

  • According to the Roman Martyrology, two persons under the name of Valentine were martyred on February 14, c. 269. One was St. Valentine who was buried on the Flaminian Way where a basilica was erected in 350. Another Valentine was the bishop of Interamna (Terni) about 104 kms from Rome, beheaded there by order of Placidus, prefect of Interamna. Many scholars believe that these two persons are the same.
  • The book Saint Valentine by Robert Sabuda and DVDs of the movies of the stars referred above are available with reputed dealers.

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 (©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

StarChoice 24: The Shell Seekers

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“Life is so extraordinary. Wonderful surprises are just around t

he most unexpected corners.”

This quote appeared on the Facebook page of a friend just in time for Christmas of last year. The quote from Winter Solstice by British author Rosamunde Pilcher was familiar to me from one of the only two books by her I have read in early March 2001 while in Rome. The part-time Receptionist of my hotel, an American student in Rome, had just finished reading it and lent it to me to keep me “company”.

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Set in the north of Scotland, Winter Solstice tells the story of Elfrida Phipps. Single and in her 60s, she had retired with her canine companion “dog size” Horace to Dibton in pretty Hampshire, England after a long career on the stage. Though this delightful novel of people who converge to form an unlikely family; of loss and the healing power of love, was a best seller; unlike the 1989 TV movie adaptation of her 1987 novel The Shell Seekers, (the only other novel of Ms. Pilcher I have read), the TV movie adaptation of Winter Solstice (2003) starring Sinéad Cusack, Geraldine Chaplin and Jean Simmons did not conjure up much inspired reviews.

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Author Rosamunde Pilcher OBE (née Scott) was born to Helen and British commander Charles Scott on 22 September 1924 in Lelant, Cornwall, England. After World War II during which she was on active service as a member of the WRNS (Women’s Royal Naval Service), she married Graham Hope Pilcher in 1946 and moved to Dundee, Scotland, where she raised two daughters and two sons. It was here she took up writing in order to earn a living. Setting off as an author of Mills and Boon romances, she wrote under the pseudonym Jane Fraser: (Half-Way To The Moon (1949), Dangerous Intruder (1951), A Day Like Spring (1953), A Family Affair (1958), The Keeper’s House (1963), A Long Way from Home (1963), Young Bar (1965), etc).

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Having switched her pseudonym to her married name Rosamunde Pilcher in 1955, her breakthrough into the more lucrative American fiction market in the 1970s gave a much needed transformation to her career and the birth of nearly 30 novels, the front sleeves of some of which are pictured here.

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While many of her stories are set in the land of her childhood and featured characters so very human, they also presented culinary recipes and tips for gardening. “The Shell Seekers”, Ms. Pilcher’s 13th novel and international breakthrough, had topped the New York Times best-seller list for 30 consecutive weeks and was nominated by the British public in 2003 as one of the top 100 novels in the BBC’s Big Read.

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In the Introduction to the Tenth-Anniversary Edition of “The Shell Seekers”, Ms. Pilcher wrote that the ideas for this “big fat novel for women” took shape when she saw a programme on television entitled “Painting the Warmth of the Sun” – about the painters of West Penwith, in Cornwall, some of whom she had known. Of the many Pilcher movie adaptations in my movie collection, viz., September (1996), Nancherrow (1999), Winter Solstice (2003), etc, the one I preferred most was her poignant family saga The Shell Seekers (1989).

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Filmed entirely on location on the beautiful island of Ibiza (Islas Baleares, Spain), Cornwall, Lee International Studios, Shepperton, England and the picturesque villages of the Cotswolds, “The Shell Seekers” is the story of Penelope Stern Keeling and “the disastrous effect that the prospect of an inheritance, worldly goods and money, can have on a perfectly normal family.”

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This typical English poignant family drama opens with Penelope, age 63, recuperating in a hospital bed from a mild heart attack. No sooner we take in the scene, she discharges herself from the hospital where she was supposed to stay at least a week and heads for her little cottage called Podmore’s Thatch in the village of Temple Pudley. Happy to be back home, she was absolutely determined to get down to make her garden into something special that year.

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However, Penelope’s departure from the hospital against the doctor’s wishes was nothing short of concern and displeasure to her children owing to their concern for her living alone at her little cottage.

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Progressively, the film moves ahead to reveal the passions, tragedies, and secrets, her bohemian childhood at Cornwall with her painter father and French mother years and years ago, her loveless marriage during the World War II with Ambrose Keeling; her forsaken love affair with Richard Lomax, an American friend of her father; down to the troubled relationship with her three children, Nancy, Noel and Olivia, she had failed to bring up a little better.

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  1. Nancy Chamberlain: Penelope’s tiresome social-climbing first born, who liked to think that she was responsible for her mother. Brought up in London and indulged in fantasies nurtured by the romance novels of Barbara Cartland and Georgette Heyer which she devoured, she presently lived in an old Georgian vicarage at Bamworth, Gloucestershire, trapped in a miserable marriage with George, and overshadowed by Dolly Keeling, an unsolicited alley who is her father’s sister, the one who disliked Penelope and sought every opportunity to belittle her.
  2. Noel Keeling: The young and handsome, materialistic and self-centred son, obsessed with his desire to become a commodity broker.

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  1. Olivia Keeling: A cool-headed, compassionate woman in love and living in Ibiza with a divorced Italian called Cosmo Hamilton and his teenage daughter Antonia. She was desperate to secure a career as a Managing Editor of a magazine, a position for which she had worked for quite some years. Liked by matriarch Penelope, she is the only one of Penelope’s children truly concerned of her Mumma’s health and knew her closely down to the point that Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nacht Musik” was her Mumma’s favourite.

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When Nancy and Noel learned that one of the landscape paintings of their long-dead grandfather Lawrence Stern (1870-1945) had fetched £200,000/- in an auction triggering a flurry of renewed popularity in his paintings, the event set Penelope’s life on a course of discoveries about the hidden sides to her children’s ugly personalities and family devotions.

15Nancy and Noel were quick to figure out the fortune that could be earned from the sale of Stern’s last painting “The Shell Seekers”, which their mother owned and considered her prized possession, although Noel had till then thought of it as old fashioned. Symbolizing Penelope’s unconventional life, Stern’s painting featured his wife Sophie Stern (1906-1943) and their child Penelope happily playing on the beach.

Nancy’s first ploy was to incite her mother to sell the masterpiece which hung on the wall of her little cottage and to use the money mainly for her mother’s well-being and care, She lauded about all the good things that the money could bring Penelope: she could have a gardener; a housekeeper; a nurse…. Simultaneously, Nancy and Noel’s necessities, which were also of a higher nature and could not be attained with their present financial resources, can be appropriately resolved.

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  1. For Nancy the simple has become obsolete and the complex more attractive. Nancy was prodded with monetary issues such as: money to pay the school fees of her two children Melanie (age 14) and Rupert (age 11) to attend expensive boarding schools; to purchase new clothes for Melanie; funds for George’s club fees which were already late, etc. Allowing that Penelope could unload some money from the painting on Nancy, all these could be dealt with to her satisfaction;
  2. Noel could use the money to keep up his extravagant lifestyle which he was now striving to achieve from a tiny apartment in a superior location of the town. It would still remain a distant dream for him unless he could obtain his share of inheritance which would enable him to leave his low-income job and become a commodity broker. He would also buy a bigger Flat from where he could work, break into certain highflying circles and entertain them.

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Like Penelope, Olivia was unmotivated to cash in on her inheritance. She loved her mother and admired her non-judgmental attitude. Penelope knew it all. For her, the painting and some sketches are mainly all that’s left of her father. If an occasion arises for her to sell the painting, she will only chose at her own choice. However, she cannot sit on the fence undecided. The emphasis on monetary affairs had left her bruised, but much wiser. She devised a scheme which she believed would not only be important to her but would also be best for her children and could pave way for peace amongst them. The first step toward creating an improved future is developing the ability to envision it. At the outset, she would go to Cornwall. You simply cannot do away with the past.

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A Central Film production for Central Television in association with Marian Rees Associates, Inc, The Shell Seekers was produced by Anne Hopkins and directed by the BAFTA Award-winning, Lucknow, (Uttar Pradesh, India) born Waris Hussein (“Henry VIII and His Six Wives” (1972), “Edward And Mrs Simpson” (1978)). It is adapted from the novel for the TV by John Pielmeir, the winner of the Humanitas Prize for “Choices Of the Heart”, and features the following:

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Production crew: James di Pasquale (Music), Fred A. Chulack (Editor), Jane Martin (Production Designer); Brian West (Director of Photography); Judy Moorcroft (Costume designer); Ann Brodie/Magdalen Gaffney (Make-up); Paul le Blac (Ms.Lansbury’s Hair & Wig Design).

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Many of Rosamunde Pilcher’s novels were made as long-running series of television adaptations (“Die andere Frau”, “Federn im Wind”) in Germany and were shot on location in Cornwall and other parts of England. It is an undeniable fact that her novels have given a much needed fillip to the tourism in Cornwall as tourists flock there to enjoy a first-hand experience of Ms. Pilcher’s world in Cornwall where good things happen to good people.

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What a happy woman I am, living in a garden, with books, babies, birds and flowers, and plenty of leisure to enjoy them. Sometimes I feel as if I were blest above all my fellows in being able to find happiness so easily,” Ms Pilcher wrote in The Shell Seekers. Plain and simple – if you like happily ever after movies that warm the heart, The Shell Seekers is a gift for you. So long for now, Jo

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Notes:

  • To honour the 90th birthday (22 September 2014) of Rosamunde Pilcher, a Cornwall Art Exhibition titled “THE SHELL SEEKERS” was organised by Seventh Wave Gallery, UK featuring 30 Cornish Artists showcasing 60 pieces of original artwork at The Castle, Bude, Cornwall from 11 September to 4 October 2014.

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  • The Shell Seekers was adapted for the stage in 2006 by husband-wife team Terence Brady and Charlotte Mary Thérèse Bingham.
  • Another TV adaptation of The Shell Seekers directed by Piers Haggard appeared in 2006 starring Vanessa Redgrave, Prunella Scales and Victoria Hamilton.
  • Books/Audio books, DVD/Blu-ray of the books/movies referred to in this article are available with http://www.amazon.com, http://www.amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  • This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to the movie reviewed above. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

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The disease of indifference toward others arises when

each person thinks only of himself, and loses the sincerity

and warmth of personal relationships.” Papa Francesco

(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)