Tag Archive | oscars

StarChoice 18: The Brides of Dracula (Part 1 of 2)

(aka. “Le spose di Dracula”, “Les maîtresses de Dracula”, “Dracula und seine Bräute”, “Dracula – blodtörstig vampyr”, “As Noivas de Drácula”, “De bruiden van Dracula”, “Las novias de Drácula”, “Las novias de Drácula”   – 1960 – Colour)

1a

Few of my friends have expressed their interest in film reviews of a particular genre which British actor Peter Cushing always referred to as “fantasy” instead of its much common adjective “horror”. When I thought about selecting such a movie from my collection for review, my criteria was to stick to the old masters of horrors: Hammer Films – which led me to the rarest of the Hammer horror Draculas, “The Brides of Dracula”, even though that film is devoid of the chief Transylvanian Count and Christopher Lee.

1b

During the final years of my school days in the Seventies, one of my classmates had a steadfast knack of narrating stories of occult and superstitions which are folklore in his native place. Those were the days when television was on its slow trek to Cochin and the only visual entertainment for us was the movies though accessing them had its limitations due to lack of time from studies and that ever missing essential called pocket money.

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Although, my friend’s knowledge on the subject of the undead was limited to a certain religious perspective, whenever time permitted, he carried on entertaining us over and over with the same ancient folklore, each time improvising and adding more spice to it. Despite the scant narration about the dualistic principle of the offsetting of good by evil, his stories often emphasised the use of ritual magic for personal gain or lust.

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But then, what is the truth behind the legends of all this? The existence of Satan as the centre of evil is part of the teaching of both Old and New Testament and accentuated in catechism classes to elucidate the righteousness. Whilst the various phenomena related to this subject are difficult to explain, to us teenagers, the twilight world of the unseen seemed fascinating and mysterious.

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Horror stories and films have always been popular even though lot of people won’t admit they like such genre. But the fact is that, if you ask about “Cimarron” which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1931, it is doubtful that it is remembered. On the other hand, it’s unlikely that you have not heard of “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” which came out in the same year. How can one forget the image of Christopher Lee when he first appeared as the starkly, statuesque and satanic Count Dracula at the head of the stairs in Hammer’s “Dracula” (USA: “Horror of Dracula”)? How can one forget those welcoming words of Dracula in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel: Welcome to my house! Enter freely. Go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring!”?

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Count Dracula has followed us through the years – remaining either a reincarnation or undead – regularly making his various onscreen appearances in many manifestations, speaking different languages. His recent outings were in movie creations titled “Dracula 3D” by Italian director Dario Argento and in two movies by Indian directors: in Vinayan’s “Dracula 2012” (in which he came to our State to taste its “bountiful local winepress” and spoke Malayalam!) and in Rupesh Paul’s “Saint Dracula 3D”. Evidently, the interest in him has remained undiminished to this day. And I suspect it always will be. How could such an undead beast be so romantic as to catch the popular imagination, although, most likely, blended with fear?

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When I think about the ghoulish tradition of “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” started by Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone, how could I resist from thinking about that wonderful British production company, “Hammer Film Productions” who revived Frankenstein and Dracula myths, and gained fame and fortune from their cycle of horror films?

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Shot in Bray Film Studios, Berkshire, England and in real old houses, the classic horror movies of Hammer, with rampant blood and gore, not only gave the audience graphic violence and sex but also created a feeling of gothic horror amidst purely British atmosphere. Triggered by the tremendous impact of Hammer horrors, those wonderful people earned a massive audience base around the world.

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In the wake of the success of Hammer’s “Dracula”, produced by Anthony Hinds in 1958 based on characters in Bram Stoker’s (1847-1912) novel “Dracula”, a surge of confidence spread across Hammer prompting them to press ahead with a sequel which would also be produced by Hinds.

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After all, Hammer had already released “The Revenge of Frankenstein” (1958), a sequel to “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957) which had resurrected the horror genre and had started its race to become the most profitable film ever to be produced in England by a British studio, a position it would retain for some time.

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14According to a publication, by early 1959, British horror screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, an associate of Hammer, was commissioned by Anthony Hinds (who would write screenplays under the name of “John Elder” from 1961 onwards) to prepare a treatment titled “Disciple of Dracula” which revolved around Baron Menister, a disciple of Dracula, who terrorized a couple of visiting English girls and feasted on the blood of few ladies of a nearby girl’s school. Having been fed up with Baron’s notorious activities, Latour, the hero of the script, calls for the spirit of Count Dracula to put an end to his disloyal disciple.

Christopher Lee knew that the character of Dracula has become the object of popular entertainment and he is unlikely to lie down for long. After his appearance in “Dracula”, the audience has started to consider him the personification of Dracula. Lee wanted to disengage himself from being typecast as the Count. In a desperate attempt to rope in Christopher Lee to the project, Hammer prepared another treatment to suit him which they named as “Dracula the Damned”.

Once the studio realized that Lee didn’t wish to be associated entirely with one part and intend to expand his area of creative endeavour, the options left for Hammer was either to recast the role which could possibly adversely affect the character in their future sequels or else, base the story solely around the character of Dr. Van Helsing, the vampire hunter.

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Opting for the second option, a revision was made on “Disciple of Dracula” by writer Peter Bryan wherein the character of Dracula was replaced to bring in Dr. Van Helsing. By now, the script has acquired the misleading title of “The Brides of Dracula”, as a marketing strategy.

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Then again, when they tried to hire Peter Cushing to reprise the role of Dr. Van Helsing, Cushing sought further modification on the draft and suggested it be done by Edward Percy (Member of Parliament from 1943 to 1950), known to Cushing from his days with theatre. In spite of the minor facelift to the draft by Percy, the script underwent yet another modification as a precaution to avoid any scissor-work from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).

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Slated for production under the alternative working title “Dracula 2”, the principal shooting began on January 26, 1960 (7 days after my birth) and came to an end by mid-March*. It was shot on locations in England: at Black Park (Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire); Oakley Court, (Windsor Road, Oakley Green, Windsor); and Bray Studios, (Down Place, Oakley Green, nestled beside the silver Thames). The post-production work was precipitated to meet the delivery date of Universal and the movie was premièred on July 6, 1960 at the Odeon, Marble Arch, London. I read somewhere that actress Yvonne Monlaur, the leading lady of the film, made a regal appearance for the Premièr in one of the horse-drawn carriages used in the movie.

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Not far into its general release, the film’s earnings showed progressive improvement which encouraged Hammer to initiate talks about an outing of the Count in Dracula 3. This headway is hardly surprising since, on all fairness, Dracula was not missed in the movie as all the usual ingredients of a Hammer horror was in place – and then, there is the ever distinguished presence of Peter Cushing to keep the audience’s mind alive with the existence of Dracula.

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Synopsis for those who have not seen it yet:

After the credits are shown, the movie opens when a horse-driven carriage is rattling and shaking its way through a muddy track cutting across the wet and misty Transylvanian forest. The carriage’s route-board showed: “INGOLSTADT-ABENSBERG-REGENSBURG-BADSTEIN”*. A voice-over narration is heard:

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Transylvania, land of dark forests, dread mountains and dark unfathomed lakes. Still the home of magic and devilry as the nineteenth century draws to its close. Count Dracula, monarch of all vampires, is dead, but his disciples live on, to spread the cult and corrupt the world

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Inside the carriage was Marianne Danielle a naïve young Frenchwoman from Paris on her way to her first appointment as a students’ teacher at Langs School, a girls’ teaching centre at Badstein.

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After the driver stopped his carriage to clear the log that was blocking the road and resumed the journey, a mysterious stranger who had appeared from the woods, jumped onto the back of the carriage and hung on, unseen by the others. It was dark when the carriage finally pulled into the courtyard before the Running Boar Inn*. While Marianne went into the comfort of the Inn, the mysterious man in black, approached the scared coach-driver and gave him some money.

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The Inn was crowded at that time of the night by village people and Transylvanian folk music can be heard, accentuated by the tones of cimbalom. Johann, the landlord, offered her hot Goulash, a dish of sauerkraut and red wine from the valley. Marianne told him that she would be eating alone and would leave quickly since she must reach Badstein latest tomorrow. At that moment, the mysterious man suddenly appeared before the doorway and stood glaring at her. The gay mood inside the Inn suddenly changed. The music and conversation came to a quick stop. As abruptly as he appeared, he was gone a moment later, closing the door behind him.

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There was a scurry amongst the customers as most of them started to leave. Johann expressed his advice to her to leave immediately on grounds that she was alone, and he didn’t want the coach to leave without her. It so happened that the minute he finished talking, they heard her coach leaving. Running out into the courtyard, they were in time to catch sight of the coach disappearing beyond the gate. Her luggage had been left behind, neatly stacked by the entrance to the Inn.

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Stranded at the Inn, Marianne’s attempt to spend the night there was not successful since Johann and his wife stressed that none off the rooms were vacant. Nevertheless, the compassionate wife soon sent her husband away to the nearby farm to ask for their cart while she would get something for Marianne to eat.

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By the time Johann returned, Marianne had a wooden tray full of hot soup, bread and a bottle of wine set in front of her.

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Johann had the cart ready in the back and there was no time to loose. She must leave now. Just then, they heard a carriage pull up before the inn.

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Shortly, the local Baroness Narbonne Meinster came in and ordered wine. When Marianne was invited to join the noblewoman, she happily complied leaving her food untouched. The Baroness claims that the Tokaji (Slovakia: Tokaj) wine she ordered is twin brother to the best in the emperor’s cellar – rather different from the wine of the valley Marianne was drinking.

Hearing of Marianne’s futile endeavour to get round her untoward situation and report for duty at the school tomorrow without giving bad impression by arriving late, the Baroness expressed her inability to take her to Langs School that night, but she could see to it that the young teacher gets there early in the morning. Marianne doesn’t need to stay in a poor place like this.

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She would be welcome to stay at the Baroness’ castle in the hills just above the village. She’s a lonely woman who often longed for the company of a woman with a little breeding – a rare thing in these parts. Marianne graciously accepted the offer, ignoring the landlord’s wife’s discreet intervention with an offer of a room for her stay which was denied earlier due to mistake of her husband. Soon their carriage departed for the castle, and we could catch a glimpse of the mysterious man stepping out from behind it.

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At the Castle Meinster, she was left under the care of housekeeper Greta with instructions to Marianne to be ready for dinner in ten minutes.

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Before long, she was out on the balcony of her room, enjoying the breeze when she caught sight of the dark figure of a man on the lower stone balcony.

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Moments later, when Greta came to fetch her, she didn’t provide Marianne with a proper explanation about the man who didn’t look like a servant. But at the dining table, the Baroness brought up the subject and let her know that she is not living alone. She has a son who is ill. She never sees him, but Greta, his old nurse, looks after him.

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Soon after, with the evening meal out of the way, having retired to her room, Marianne was lying on the bed when she heard sounds, similar to knocking, from outside. From the vantage point of her balcony, she saw the young man again, this time, bracing up to jump off the balcony. Horrified, she abruptly shouted at him to stop, drawing his attention to her. Bidding him to wait, she ran down the rough-hewn steps of the grand stairs to the lower room and over to the dashing young man.

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Obviously surprised to see her in the castle, he assured her that he can’t throw himself out of the balcony because his mother had shackled him, keeping him a prisoner. His is Baron Meinster and this castle, the mountains, the dark acres of forest, even the valley below belongs to him – his inheritance. His mother is a vicious evil, a jealous woman. She has made the villagers think that he is dead. Wouldn’t Marianne be kind enough to find the key that fits his iron shackle and free him? According to Greta, it is inside the locked drawer of the bureau in his mother’s bedroom, next to Marianne’s.

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It didn’t take her much longer to locate the key and before the Baroness could find her, she tied the key to her handkerchief and threw it down to the Baron on the lower balcony. As he hastily unlocked his shackle, he told her to hurry up and meet him outside.

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When the Baroness had gone to look for Marianne in her bedroom earlier and found her missing, she was inclined to expect for the worst. Returning to Marianne’s bedroom, she found the Frenchwoman getting ready to dress.

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Instantly, she demanded to return the key which she knew Marianne had taken from her room. Denying any knowledge of the key, Marianne ran out of her room, down the stairs and straight into the arms of the Baron. By now, the Baroness had come to the top of the stairs. Having assured Marianne that his mother can’t harm her now, the Baron sent her back to her room to wait. As she left him, he commanded his mother to come down to him. As if hypnotised, she meekly obeyed him. Clearly under his sway, she moved down the stairs, resigned to face the dread that is to befall on her soon. Marianne ran up and disappeared into her room.

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Cut to Marianne’s bedroom. She had changed into travelling clothes when she heard the hysterical cries of Greta from the lower floor. No other noise followed from below. Rushing down, she found Greta on her knees, holding the iron shackle and lamenting that the devil is free to roam the night.

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She showed her the lifeless body of the Baroness, lying on a cushioned chair, the wound on her throat clearly visible – the bite of the vampire.

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At the sight of the horrible scene, Marianne ran out of the room, down the stairs and out of the castle into the cold night and dark woods.

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Inside the castle, Greta was mumbling to her mistress about how truly she had kept faith with the Baroness for twenty years. She accused that the Baroness had spoiled the boy, who was always self-willed and cruel. It is the Baroness who encouraged him and the bad company he kept too, laughing at their wicked games until, in the end, one of them took him and made him what he is. The Baroness had kept him supplied with hot blood of young girls* to appease his unquenchable thirst for it – to prolong her son’s existence of life in death. But the powers of darkness are too strong and they have beaten her.  …………….. Continued in Part II

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PS:

1)             The DVD of this movie is available with main dealers such as amazon.com, TCM Shop, etc. Reportedly, the Blu-ray version is scheduled for release on July 22, 2013

2)            Some reports have indicated the dates of principle photography as January 16 to March 18, 1960.

3)            Ingolstadt, Abensberg, and Regensburg are all Bavarian cities, but Badstein could be contrived.

4)            A comic series of the movie name the Inn as “Running Bear Inn” instead of “Running Boar Inn

5)            Look for a red board with caption “THALHEIMER SCHLOSSBRUNN” inside the “Running Boar Inn”.  This relates to the water from the springs of the “THALHEIMER SCHLOSSBRUNNS” (Thalheim castle well), still in use since 1578, which comes from one of the oldest Styrian springs.

6)            Also look for the symbol of “Gösser Bier” which is the main brand of the Göss brewery in the Styrian city of Leoben, in central Austria, located by the Mur River.

7)            Prescribed by both doctors and witches, the blood, especially of virgins, was an important cure for ailments in the eleventh century.

8)           Photo of Bram Stoker from Wikipedia.

9)           This illustrated article is meant for the promotion of this movie. Please refer to “About” for more details.

10)        The reduced posts in my blog is resultant of a troubling eye which is being sorted out.

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(Text: © JS/Manningtree Archive)

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StarChoice 17: Anne of the Indies

(Aka: La Mujer Pirata – La Regina dei Pirati – A Raínha dos Piratas – Die Piraten Königin – Technicolor – 1951)

1

Ahoy, landlubbers! Come abroad the good ship “Sheba Queen” and lend an ear to Anne of the Indies

So much has been written about the buccaneers of the high seas. Even though the deplorable activities of pirates are rightly condemned by the humanity, world literature has nonetheless romanticised them with stories depicting the daredevil deeds of pirates such as Sir Henry Morgan, Blackbeard, etc and correspondingly lionised them in many movies produced in the Americas and Continental Europe.

The West Indian buccaneers were initially hunters of pigs and cattle on the islands of Hispaniola and Tortuga until they became pirates after being driven off by the Spaniards. Long before Johnny Depp flashed on screen as Captain John Sparrow doing his rounds with the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, swashbucklers in the kinds of Elliott Dexter, Douglas Fairbank, Errol Flynn, Burt Lancaster, Gregory Peck, Louis Hayward, etc. ruled the high seas. This doesn’t mean that the period was devoid of dashing females wielding deadly swords and thrived in the sunshine. Historians tell us that a significant minority of historical pirates have been female, who were acclimatized to the wild ways and conquered the seas.

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The 1945 film, “The Spanish Main” by director Frank Borzage (The Big Fisherman) featured the fictionalized account of the real-life cross-dressing buccaneer Anne Bonny (1698-1782), a daring Caribbean femme fatale who joined the crew of pirate John “Calico Jack” Rackman after having an affair with him. Reputed to be the first film of RKO Radio in the Technicolor, starring Paul Henried, Maureen O’Hara and Binnie Barnes in the role of Anne Bonny, it told the story of Dutch sea Captain Laurent “The Barracuda” Van Horn. Shipwrecked on the coast of Spanish-governed Cartagena, he escapes from the hangman’s noose and takes up piracy for revenge against Spain. The film registered impressive profit in the box-office and won George Barnes an Academy Award nomination for Best Colour Cinematography.

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In 1946, a short story by Herbert Ravenel Sass titled “Queen Anne of The Indies”, appeared in the Saturday Evening Post which generated enough excitement amongst the New York publishers and Hollywood studios prompting Sass to draw up a movie treatment of the story in 1948. Originally slated to be a Walter Wanger (Walter Feuchtwanger – 1894-1968) project starring the indestructible redhead Susan Hayward, this fictionalised treatment failed to generate necessary enthusiasm in independent producer Wanger due to its larger budget that he sold the story rights to 20th Century-Fox. (Some confusion prevails here regarding the different treatments of the story prepared for Wanger). At that time, Wanger was also busy with a grand project for the comeback of Greta Garbo who was on long retirement. But when “Anne of the Indies” was finally released in 1951, Wanger was in the “cooler” for having shot and wounded his wife Joan Bennett’s agent Jennings Lang when he found them together in the MCA (Music Corporation of America) parking lot.

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In early 1950, at Fox’s instance, a new script was prepared by Romanian born screenwriter/playwright Arthur Caesar incorporating unused footage shot for “The Black Swan” (1942) starring Tyrone Power. The studio assigned George Jessel to produce while tests were done with Patricia Neal and Valentina Cortese for the title role.

However, Darryl F. Zanuck, Vice-president in charge of production for 20th Century Fox was still unsatisfied with the script that a revision was done on it by Philip Dunne, a contract writer at Fox since 1936, sprucing up the character of Anne. When the film would finally appear on screen, Philip Dunne and Arthur Caesar are given credit for the screenplay.

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Naïve, darkly sensual actress Linda Darnell was also considered for the role of Anne before it finally went to American actress Jean Peters (Oct 15, 1926 – Oct 13, 2000). Hailing from East Canton in Ohio, Elizabeth Jean Peters grew up on a small farm, majored in literature and won a screen test with 20th Century-Fox as prize for winning the Miss Ohio State Pageant title in the fall of 1945. Owing to a contract with Fox, Jean moved to Los Angeles and later acquired a small part in “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now” (1947). However, it would be her role as Catana Perez (replacing Linda Darnell) in director Henry King’s “Captain from Castile” (1947) that will bring her star treatment and public attention though the film grossed net loss because the studio spent more for it than the market could afford.

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After a brief slump in her popularity, the 5’ 5” (166cm) Jean had pursued the studio and convinced them to cast her as “Anne of the Indies”. It was a down to earth, unglamorous role– exactly what she preferred since sometime earlier the studio had put her on her first suspension owing to her refusal to don sexy roles. However, being the current romantic interest of the legendary billionaire Howard Hughes, beautiful Peters with brown hair and green eyes must have found it easy to step over that suspension. Even though she had a celebrated romance with Hughes in 1947, their marriage will take place only in 1957 after living with him off and on for a decade.

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Jacques Tourneur was given the director’s hat for the project in January 1951. Essentially a small-budget director with a penchant for the macabre, Tourneur had a reputation to direct movies on various genres since he always accepted all the scripts offered to him.

37mHaving finished directing “The Flame and the Arrow” (1950) starring Burt Lancaster and Virginia Mayo, Tourneur was in the right mood for yet another swashbuckler. With a secured contract with Fox and devoid of interference from producer George Jessel, the film went into production at the 20th Century-Fox Studios in Los Angeles.

Synopsis: Once the credits flashed over the screen, an establishing note on the state of affairs of the 17th century Indies is shown: “Less than two hundred and fifty years ago, the last of the great pirates wrote their names in blood and fire across the pages of maritime history. This is the story of a buccaneer Captain whose name for one short year struck terror in the hearts of seafarers and merchants, from the ports of the Caribbean to the great trading houses of London….”

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As the movie begins, we are shown the names of two English ships, Royal Charles and Sea Lady are being stricken off a register of ships for having been destroyed or sunk by the notorious Captain Providence. We then cut to: the deep ocean off Antigua where the English vessel Gemini is preparing to repel the attack of Anne’s flagship Sheba Queen. As the two ships draw nearer and the canons started firing, Anne suddenly appears on the deck of her ship while her men valiantly fought the English, their swords flashing in fierce combat. Even Anne joined her men in the fight. Before long, the English Captain had surrendered.

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Inside her cabin, Anne threw the enemy’s flag on top of the wooden desk and was pleased to learn from Dr. Jameson that he had attended to all the wounded. At this time he wanted to tend to Anne’s wound which he was sure would leave a scar on her beauty. Anne was not unfamiliar to scars most of which she had received from the English. But she is not a wench to brood over her scars, has chosen not to show her pain, even now, at her moment of glory though the fact remained that she had lost her sailing master in this assault.

She invited the doctor, her confident, to the deck where her crew were making the prisoners walk the plank – a sight, she was certain, would put some iron in the alcoholic doctor’s soul. The Captain of Gemini was grumbling that he had struck his flag hoping to receive some water. He protested to Anne about the merciless treatment meted out to the prisoners by her men. Anne retorted that she had learned such mercy from the English. Did they show mercy to her brother? They had hanged him in chains in the wharf of Port Royal with all the English just spitting on his face – she snapped at him.

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The hatred towards the English that had grown in her heart for the death of her brother, was one of the many scars Anne accumulated in her life that made her reject her femininity. The Captain was given the opportunity to express his last words. All he had to say was that, her brother was a pirate and he deserves the end that he got as Anne will deserve hers. But Anne knew that she had chosen to live with that. “By the veins of your nose you have drunk your king often in wine, now drink him in salt water” With that reply, she ordered the Captain to walk the plank.

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It was then she noticed the handsome man in irons being led to the plank, the upper part of his body exposed. They have found him imprisoned in the English vessel which meant he is not a friend of the English. Questioning him, she learned that he is a Frenchman named Pierre François. When she introduced herself to him, it was a revelation to him. Caught in the propaganda that surrounded Captain Providence, Pierre had never expected the buccaneer Captain to be a woman. Furthermore, he had least expected it when her palm cracked on his face for having disrespectfully addressed her as “mademoiselle” rather than in her proper title of “Captain” which displayed the forcefulness of the identity she had chosen.

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It was revealed that Pierre was the owner/master of the Bordeaux registered Irish privateer, Molly O’Brien, captured by the English. He is being sent to England to stand trial for having captured too many English ships. Anne had allowed her men the pleasure to make their prisoners walk the plank except for Pierre. Being sea-smart, Anne knew that Pierre, a sea artist, would make a suitable replacement for the navigator she had lost and that was what she did to the displeasure of her Scottish first mate Red Dougal, who had been delegated by Blackbeard to protect her. As for Pierre, who is fond of life, it was not a hard choice to make when his choice was between joining the buccaneers or walk the plank.

When the booty from the Gemini was shared with her crew, Pierre was permitted to choose something for himself. While Pierre decided a woman’s dress, Anne laid her claim on a sword with a long blade, the virility of which reflected on her authority. However, Pierre’s choice had kindled her curiosity to make her enquire if he has a wench somewhere. Pierre would only reply that he is a Frenchman. Anyhow, she let him know that the sword was selected for Captain Teach, Blackbeard, a great sea-rover of a soul whom she is certain she would find in Nassau where they plan to get the supplies. The Sheba Queen headed for Nassau.

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Anne is a protégée of the notorious English pirate Captain Edward Teach (aka. Blackbeard ca. 1680–1718). Since childhood, he was father, mother and schoolteacher to her and her half-brother. Although she knew that her father was English, his name never passed the lips of her mother who succumbed to death when Anne was young. She was called Anne Providence owing to her birth on New Providence Isle, a night to Nassau town.

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The Black Anchor Tavern in Nassau looked a beehive of boisterous merriment. Apparently, the tavern was taken over by Blackbeard and his men and their women for partying and their idea of fun appeared to be to laugh, shout, fight, bear-wrestle, break things, get drunk, etc in the dreadful manner possible. The enormous figure of Blackbeard sat at the head of a wooden table with a woman on his lap, drinking heavily and having a great time.

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It was during the bear-wrestling that Anne and her entourage walked in. At the sight of Blackbeard, Pierre had tried to excuse himself to go off for some business in Nassau, but reluctantly stayed when Anne assured him of her protection. So excited was Blackbeard to see her there, that he said she’s like a Northeaster after a calm.

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Although Blackbeard had doubts about Pierre which was also intensified later by Dougal, his main interest was focused on Anne and the sword she presented him. When all of his men shied away from being a willing partner to the impulsive Blackbeard to help try the new sword, Anne was ready to let him try to carve her. A fierce but friendly duel of swords broke out between Anne and Blackbeard in which Anne displayed some playful but competent skills of swordsmanship but it was pretty obvious that he could have won over Anne easily. However, when Blackbeard was momentarily distracted, Anne grabbed the chance to win; a trickery which Blackbeard merely laughed off in a fatherly manner. Then again, Anne’s glory was short-lived when she learned from Dougal that Pierre had slipped out of the Tavern while the duel was on. The confidence she had placed in him has been displaced.

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Later, confronted by Anne in her cabin, Pierre didn’t provide her with a proper explanation about his absence, to satisfy her doubt about his loyalty. He had neither gone to see a wench, nor is he a spy because he knows nothing of her plans. All Nassau knows that she’s in the port. Suspicious that he is hiding a secret, she ordered Dougal to put him in irons. Subsequently, he was tied up on the deck and mercilessly flogged until Dr. Jameson convinced her to stop.

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Dr. Jameson was evidently dismayed for having been ordered by Anne to search Pierre’s cabin where he had found half of a map tucked inside his mattress. Though Anne cannot read, she can read from patterns. Assisted by Dr. Jameson, she finally figures out that the map is a link to Captain Henry Morgan’s treasure. When Morgan (ca. 1635-1688) captured Panama City, he had taken a king’s ransom which has not been accounted for.

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Having matched the piece of map with her main map, she questioned Pierre, now lying on the wooden floor of her cabin, drained from “the taste of the cat”. Pierre had no qualms in telling her that he had bought it five years ago from an inn-keeper on the Bordeaux waterfront who found it in the body of a lodger of his. Once Anne assured him to make him equal partner with her, Pierre opened up further and related to her that his men in Porto Bello had told him of a Portuguese in Nassau trusted by Henry Morgan, In fact Pierre had been taken prisoner by the English while he was heading to Nassau to meet the Portuguese. At Nassau, Pierre had learned from the Portuguese man that a man called Pedro Mendoza living in Port Royal in Jamaica possessed the other half of the map.

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It was then Dr. Jameson remarked to her that since she now knows what Pierre knows, she could very well kill him and go after the treasure on her own. But Anne would have none of that, for she had given Pierre her word. And that counts.

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Port Royal was the lion’s den – the Headquarters of England’s Caribbean Squadron. That’s where they will go once they careen the hulk of Sheba Queen encrusted with hardened barnacles, to restore the ship to its proper speed. Dr. Jameson confirmed that the parchment and the ink of the map looked authentic to him.

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As Blackbeard had taught her, Anne had carefully docked her ship in a secret cove, known only to Blackbeard and Anne, ideally positioned to cannon and command the passage through the reef while her ship lay inoperable.

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Later, while she was walking along the beach with Pierre, she was surprised to learn that he was born in Paris. Anne advocated that he can take her there as a partner after they have lifted the treasure. But overriding this subject was her curiosity to know for whom he had chosen that yellow dress.

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He had obviously noted the anxiety in her question and told her that it is for no one in particular – perhaps for a woman he hoped someday to meet. Having caught with her guard down, she quickly pulled herself up to her rank, but her sudden change in manner essentially gave away the tell-tale sign of affection for him that was growing in her heart.

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The following day, Pierre walked into his make-shift cabin and found Anne trying on the yellow corseted dress he had chosen from the booty. This is the moment for which that dress was made for. She looked like a breath of spring. Even though her face looked unaffected from his sudden intrusion, the thoughtful Frenchman knew that he had awakened the feminine side of this ruthless pirate queen.

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Well, she can’t underestimate his ability to get through to her heart and to melt away her defences. But he would use his power responsibly. Pierre helped her tie the back ribbons of the dress, an act which acted as the precursor to a conversation that stirred the woman inside her, exposed her inner feelings she was silently weaving around Pierre. She dared him to tell her “how a Frenchman, a gentleman, made love?” knowing that it would draw him to her. Soon, they merged into a passionate kiss.

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It seems all good things in life are not meant to last. The expression of their “burning” desire turned out to be short-lived and frustrating as Dougal suddenly walked in and caught them in the act.

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On hearing the news about an approaching ship, Anne’s spyglass confirmed the arrival of Blackbeard’s flagship “(Queen Anne’s) Revenge”. How happy she appeared in welcoming Blackbeard with Jamaican rum. She listened to him saying that he had looked for her in Tortuga and had realised that she’s docked here to careen.

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Without losing much time, Blackbeard accused that Pierre is a traitor. He is Lieutenant Pierre François La Rochelle of the French Navy. He had seen Pierre at Martinique when the French hanged his colleague Sam Austine from a yardarm. Confronted once again by Anne, Pierre explained that everything which Blackbeard told was true. He merely neglected to mention about the commission because the memory of that chapter was painful to him. He was cashiered from the navy in disgrace. He had witnessed the hanging only because the entire officers were ordered to be present. Anne is in command here, and he is not on Blackbeard’s deck. She can be assured that he will serve her loyally.

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Disregarding her support for Pierre, Blackbeard’s sword struck out at Pierre. Abruptly, Anne’s sword lashed out at Blackbeard with dynamic forcefulness. During the angered spat of words that followed, Anne slapped his face- in front of his men. She ordered him and his men off the island. The line has been crossed. Blackbeard never forgets an insult. Now there will be war between them.

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As Blackbeard and his men left the island, Anne ordered Dr. Jameson to care for Pierre lying unconscious on the ground. Before she moved off from Pierre, she couldn’t resist planting a kiss on his forehead.

The Sheba Queen was safely anchored off the coast of Jamaica. Given that Anne was denied from going to the island in his place to obtain the other half of map from Petro Mendoza, she arranged with Dougal to take Pierre on a row boat to leave him ashore at the Portland Point and wait for him on the beach. She gave Pierre some English Guineas to pay the man and advised him to offer Mendoza a share of the treasure if he insists for more.

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At Port Royal, Pierre went straight to “The Governor’s Tavern” where the English Aristocrats were engaged in smoking, drinking, playing table games or other things such men usually do in such places. Pierre was recognised as “Captain La Rochelle” by the Maitre d’ and promised to arrange the people whom Pierre wanted to meet urgently.

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In a dark room upstairs, he met a pretty woman we soon discover to be his wife Molly La Rochelle. He confirmed to her that their plan has succeeded and that the legendary Captain Providence is a woman. They seal their reunion with a kiss before he was called downstairs to meet up with the English Naval officers who have engaged him to entrap the pirates.

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The English were rejoiced at the news that the Sheba Queen was anchored off Portland Point and will remain there till daybreak. And, of course, they appreciate that Captain Providence suspects nothing though they were rather surprised to learn that the notorious pirate is a female. With this information in hand, the English attack Anne of the Indies …..

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As Darryl Zanuck once said, “Success in movies boil down to three things: story, story, story.” The final climax of the film was subject of deliberations since Zanuck was not satisfied by the motive provided for Anne. The result was that Dunne suggested shooting the climax in different ways. However, after the shooting was completed, having found that the present ending was unsatisfactory to the audience, the ending was again modified with further retakes. According to Tourneur’s contract which stipulated that the production was to be completed within fifteen weeks, the production of “Anne of the Indies” must have been wound up before May, 1951 since by then Tourneur was supposed to be in Argentina for the production of “Way of a Gaucho”.

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Adventure movies call for a directorial and an acting style which is well known to adventure directors such as Raoul Welsh, Howard Hawks, John Huston, Richard Fleischer, Henry Hathaway, Michael Curtiz, and Jacques Tourneur. Shot in Technicolor by Cinematographer Harry Jackson and ably edited by Robert Fritch, director Jacques Tourneur’s film features restraint and admirable performances of his stars in well made up sets, lighting and studio locations.

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The film truthfully portrays Anne as a ruthless pirate who has denied her femininity and doesn’t know what it means to be a woman, or to be loved. In order to illustrate Anne’s crisis of identity, Tourneur used a scene in the beginning of the film to establish Anne’s strong heart and the softness of her bosom when Dr. Jameson tends to her wound. Despite Jean Peters’ cute and pretty looks which occasionally subdue her efforts to make Anne look dangerous and ruthless, her performance with an athletic agility is flawless though, couple of times, her cheerful countenance has appeared rather teasing.

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Louis Jourdan’s performance in the role of Frenchie merited critical acclaim. Ever since Zanuck had that terrible polo ball accident in late December 1941, he had switched his interest in sport to croquet which he used to arrange on the lawn of his house in Palm Springs. Frequented by a cross-section of Hollywood society, international celebrities, etc, his lawns became the croquet capital of California. Jourdan who was a contract star of Fox and best of the regulars to Zanuck’s house, was found to be perfect fit for the role of Pierre.

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Louis Jourdan’s movies conjure up an image of him as a suave, dashing, romantic charmer. In spite of this, the Marseilles born Jourdan (aka Louis Gendre) had also managed to appear in villainous roles. Beginning his acting career in the French film “Le Corsaire” (1932), Jourdan became a star after producer David O. Selznick cast him in Alfred Hitchcock’s court room drama “The Paradine Case” (1947) for which Franz Waxman was the music director. But his finest performance before he acted in “Anne of the Indies” was in Max Ophuls’ “Letter from an Unknown Woman”.

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British actor Herbert Marshall (1890-1966) with considerable stage experience acts as the alcoholic Dr. Jameson who helplessly hovers around watching Anne trapped in her crisis of identity. The mannerism of the wise and philosophical Dr. Jameson in the scenes where Anne displays her determination to acquire the respect she deserves; when she is in conflict with her human emotions; is well portrayed by Marshall.

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In the role of the boisterous Blackbeard, the heavyset, stage character actor Thomas Gomez (Sabino Tomas Gomez – 1905-1971) made use of the opportunity to drink, laugh, turn tables, and swash his sword to realistically portray the larger-than-life of the renowned pirate.

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Gomez was a member of the Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne theatre group before he ventured into movies. An aficionado of gourmet dining and a close friend of Jean Peters, he had co-starred with her in “Captain from Castile

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Tall and hefty, England born actor James Robertson Justice (James Norval Harald Robertson Justice – 1907-1975) with whiskers and booming voice had completed a series of films, viz. “The Black Rose” and “The Magnet” (1950), “Blackmailed”, “Pool of London”, “Captain Horatio Hornblower” and “David and Bathsheba” (1951) prior to his role as Red Dougal.

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The mannerism of Dougal when Anne chose Pierre as her sea artist when she knew nothing of him; his confidential talks with Blackbeard and Dr. Jameson; his ever watchful eyes on Anne; the suppressed outrage on his face when he caught Anne and Pierre kissing – have all been perfectly portrayed by Justice.

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Hailing from a show biz family, the 5’ 2” (157cm) Debra Paget (Debralee Griffin) obtained an acting contract from 20th Century-Fox at the age of 14, debuting in “Cry of the City” (1948). Having earned proficiency in speaking from Helena Sorrell, the dramatic coach of 20th Century-Fox, and fairly active in movies at that time, she co-starred with Louis Jourdan and Jeff Chandler in director Delmer Daves’ “Birds of Paradise” which also hit the screens in 1951.

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Although Paget’s role in “Anne of the Indies” is confined to few dark scenes, her effervescent beauty lights up the darker scenes which are rampant in many of Tourneur’s films. Appearing pale and innocent, Paget has nothing much to do except look distressed and wear a few moments of brave face when she antagonizes Anne over Molly’s rights over her husband.

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Other members of cast are Francis Pierlot (Herkimer), Sean McClory (Hackett), Holmes Herbert (British sea captain), Byron Nelson (Bear handler), Douglas Bennett (Bear wrestler), Mario Siletti (Auctioneer), etc.

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Notwithstanding the lesser budget, the film features sets and props with truthful authenticity, there are Naval cannons, antique swords, males’ earrings and some of the guns used by the pirates and the English are even Flintlock pistols.

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The artistic and talented art directors Lyle Wheeler (1905-1990) and Albert Hogsett have faithfully created the set pieces, though standard and familiar, with the expertise of set decorators Thomas Little and Claude Carpenter.

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Lynn had started his career at M.G.M when David Selznick hired him to work under production designer William Cameron Menzies on “Gone with the Wind” following which he ran the art department of Twentieth Century-Fox from 1944 to 1960. Lynn won five Academy Awards for Best Art Direction after having been nominated twenty-nine times, four of which in 1951.

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While the makeup is by Ben (Benjamin Emmet) Nye, the film’s wardrobe is directed by American Costume designer Charles Le Maire (1897-1985) who ran the Wardrobe department of 20th Century-Fox from the early 1940s. For this film he had collaborated with Costumes designer Edward Stevenson (1906-1968) who himself started in Hollywood from 1922 and became the chief designer at RKO from 1936-49.

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Although most of the costumes are standard pirate and navy gear which kept up the atmosphere, the feminine costumes for Jean Peters and Debra Paget and for some extras are very minimal. Apart from the yellow dress Anne wears inside the make-shift cabin, the other one is a white nightgown shown in very dim lighting as she gazed at the glittering sea.

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German composer Franz Waxman (Franz Wachsmann – 1906-1967) with orchestration by Edward Powell have provided a rousing score that blend well with the romantic nature of the story. Other than montage, music is one of the two most “invisible” contributing arts to cinema and Waxman is renowned for his very close understanding of when music should appear in the narrative.

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Arriving in America in 1934, Waxman provided his first original score for “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) after which he worked for two years with Universal Studios, before moving to M.G.M and later onto Warner Bros until he won the Academy Award for “Sunset Boulevard” (1950) and “A Place in the Sun” (1951).

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Years and years later, this routine swashbuckler evoked some deliberations in seminars and conferences because of the identity crisis of the lead character. There were also some writings including an essay titled “Femininity and the masquerade: Anne of the Indies”.

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Considering the lack of depth in the psychological density of the main characters and also in the thinly plotted story, I would think this movie was just another job for Tourneur.

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I would also like to think that Tourneur made this film without any alternative agenda other than to make a simple pirate tale – some 81 minutes of entertainment which has all the virtues of the genre: sea-battles, swashbuckling, adventure and drama with a twist showcasing the protagonist as a female dressed in male attire to suit the environment of the buccaneers of the story; and also, to differentiate this film from a series of swashbuckler films featuring male leads various studios were chucking out during 1940s and 50s.

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Anne of the Indies cannot be compared to a lively, colourful period film featuring a protagonist with the lighter-than-air agility of Douglas Fairbanks or an extrovert, acrobatic hero portrayed by Burt Lancaster. Nevertheless, this old-fashioned harmless family movie has an underlining story of Anne going through her identity crises, searching for love which is quite unfamiliar to her.

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Anne’s love is her weakness and to us it has made her human, even though she is riddled with faults. By making Anne endearing to us, lovely Jean Peters leaves a memory of a breed of heroines long gone from our screens. Until next time, Ciao, Jo.

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(This review is dedicated to the memory of lovely Jean Peters)

(Text: © JS/Manningtree Archive)

StarChoice 15: Adventures of Don Juan

 

(Aka: “The New Adventures of Don Juan”, “El Burlador de Castilla”, “La Avventure di Don Giovanni”, “Die Liebesabenteuer des Don Juan”, “Les Aventures de Don Juan” – Technicolor – December 24, 1948)

Back in 1944, Samuel Goldwyn productions released a romantic comedy titled “The Princess and the Pirate”, starring Bob Hope and Virginia Mayo which told the story of a distressed princess who travelled incognito on the high seas and was rescued by the most unlikely of the knights. The production of this swashbuckler was made with utmost secrecy to protect its ending which naturally caught the curiosity of certain studio heads in Hollywood.

 

At that time, the situation was ripe for a diversion from war movies which the audiences were getting tired of since the middle of 1943. Taking into account the major interest of the audience in the glitz and glamour of the movies of historical-romantic fiction set during 17th & 18th century, Jack (Jacob) Warner, the president of Warner Brothers Studios, decided to bring in some power of his own to such movies by casting Errol Flynn in a big-budget swashbuckler film he had kept in the wings for some time.

 

Back in 1926, Warner Brothers had made a silent version of Don Juan with legendry actor John Barrymore in the lead. Jack Warner had noted the parallels that connected the character of Don Juan de Maraña with John Barrymore and his fellow-drunk Errol Flynn whom Warner Brothers had initially employed at their Teddington studio. Warner draw up an action-filled script centered on the romantic exploits of Don Juan with Flynn as the title character. However, this version does not in anyway correlate to the drama, literature, poetry, or music of the Don Juan legend portrayed in earlier presentations. As an alternative to the youthful, morally righteous hero, the new Don Juan will be a distinct ladies’ man who would cut a dash on a horse and wield a sword even though he would be a tad more jaded and fickle.

The studio immediately swung into action and roped in director Raoul Walsh to start shooting in May, 1945, nearly four months prior to the end of World War II on September 2. The shooting dates were set up since few sets were already prepared. Then everything went topsy-turvy. An industry-wide strike of studio set designers that broke out in March, 1945 paved way to a bloody riot in front of the main gates of Warner Brothers studios in California on October 5, 1945 (known as Hollywood Black Friday). Although the strike came to an end one month later, it soon brewed up into another strike which lasted some 13 months before matters were somewhat sorted out. Several attempts by the studio to reorganize the cancelled dates of the project (initially with non-strikers/replacement workers) in the next two and a half years were met with failure.

Being the period following the end of the war when the box office receipts were slumped, in order to make the production economical, producer Jerry Wald (1911-1962) started taking steps to revise and embellish the script (based on the original story by Herbert (Addison) Dalmas (1902-1989)), with the help of a series of writers, including “Max Brand” (aka: Frederick Faust) and William Faulkner. Aside from the use of props and scenes from “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex”, a sequence relating to a great ball was definitely removed from the final screenplay that would be at last credited to screenwriters George Oppenheimer (1900-1977) and Harry Kurnitz (1907-1968). Some people in the field of film-making have an innate ability to turn screenplays into star-studded blockbusters.

Director Vincent Sherman and George Oppenheimer were two of them. Oppenheimer who was the co-founder of the Viking Press, was often used to improve the scripts of others.

In 1948, “Adventures of Casanova” produced by Bryan Foy who had long association with Warner Brothers came out to good reviews. Starring Mexican actor Arturo de Cordova, this swashbuckler devoid of historical accuracy, was packed with first-rate swordplay about an 18th-century Casanova returning to Palermo, Sicily to help overthrow the tyrannical rule of the king of Naples. This is the first movie that was shown on WCBS-TV’s Channel 2 which would become the legendry late-night movie channel “The Late Show” in 1951. The film would act as a suitable precursor for Warner Brothers-First National Picture’s new Errol Flynn vehicle.

Adventures of Don Juan”, does not follow the basic storyline of a great lover’s entanglements with the Italian Borgia family, as featured in John Barrymore’s version. On the contrary, Flynn’s Don Juan de Maraña, living in 17th century Spain, is concerned with spoiling the dastardly schemes of the lovely Queen Margaret’s first minister, Duke of Lorca and wooing her.

Synopsis: Outskirts of London. The night had fallen now. We see a dark figure stealthily climbing a tree which was leaning towards the balcony of a villa. We can see a beautiful young lady anxiously looking down at the figure lifting himself up through the branches to keep up the secret rendezvous with her. The narrator had already started to explain the state of affairs of the period:

In Europe, as the 17th century dawned, mankind was lifting itself from ignorance and superstition. The old frontiers of the mind were rolling back. New books, new methods were aiding man in his time taught knowledge and wisdom. In the laboratory, in the arts, in every field of endeavour, man was lifting himself, hand over hand, climbing onward, ever upward. And on the outskirts of London, on a summer night, another man was lifting himself, hand over hand, climbing upward, ever onward toward his objective” – Count d’Orsini’s wife, Catherine.

Having climbed onto the balcony and into the arms of robust, rosy-cheeked Catherine, she demands to know what took him so long. Don Juan explained that no power on earth would have kept him away from her. In this entire world there has been only one image in his heart, one vision for his eyes. He had loved her since the beginning of time. Now Catherine was confused: She had only met him yesterday! Don Juan was ready for that: Yes, yesterday was when time began. After they surfaced from a kiss rooted in flowering passion, he tenderly assured her that he is hers alone – 101%. Yet Catherine could not believe him – he has made love to countless women. Once again his smile flashed. “Catherine, an artist may paint a thousand canvases before achieving one work of art. Would you deny your love the same practice?” He had apparently developed some wonderful poetic skills. When Catherine implored him to let her know how long he will love her, he decided to release her from her emotional chains. “Sweet lady, love is not measured in terms of time, but only in ecstasy.”

Don Juan found some ground for solace when she told him that even though she is married, she is unattached to her husband, Cecil, who is now on a hunting trip to satisfy his extreme fondness for grouse. Inside the privacy of her bedroom, their amorous exploits were abruptly cut short by the arrival of Catherine’s elderly husband. Vanity is fair in love and hate. Her wrathful husband promptly challenged Don Juan to a valiant duel of swords which Cecil was inevitably set to loose. Disappointments have taught Don Juan to be realistic. Don Juan de Maraña took the trouble to advise Cecil that he should be ashamed of himself to leave a beautiful young woman alone neglected while he indulged in his selfish pleasures – grouse hunting! When did he last tell her that she is beautiful? The man appeared to have a mental block when it comes to admitting he is wrong. Cecil should remind her of her beauty every day of her life. Write poetry, send her flowers (to which Catherine added: “and jewelry”) When he put her back into her lovely mood, she is such an exquisite delight. No argument there.

Though Don Juan departed from the balcony with a carefree smile, he and his faithful servant Leporello, were given chase by the guards of Count d’Orsini. On the road, they came across a cavalry of Queen Elizabeth of England who were waiting for the Duke of Cordoba to arrive by dawn to escort him along the road to London. Having been taken for the Duke of Cordoba, Don Juan and Leporello were accorded royal escort to London and to his bride.

 

They were led in a pageant parade through the streets of London town teeming with its populous. Though Lady Diana was reluctant to her betrothal to the Duke of Cordoba which ensured a new cycle of prosperity for England, having found the imposter to be Don Juan, she was over the moon that he had found her again.

 

She edgily poked his mind to remember of their secret tryst four months ago at the garden of a Countess in Paris. How could he forget those pleasantries and pleasures? As she bolted the door, a thin smile flickered on her lips, and there was a malicious glitter in her eyes. This time she will not let him forget her. It didn’t take much longer for the paramours to drift into a kiss which was broken by the arrival of the real Duke of Cordoba. Though Don Juan and Leporello were immediately imprisoned, they were soon paroled to the custody of His Excellency Count de Polan, the Ambassador of Spain.

 

With his release from the English jail, Don Juan seemed headed for the Spanish prison since having returned to Madrid, the Duke of Cordoba had complained to the weak and feckless King Felipe III and Queen Margaret of Spain about the series of amatory escapades of Don Juan de Maraña who had damaged the prestige of Spain and messed up the marriage of convenience shaped expressly for the purpose of peace between Spain and England. There is a fair chance of hanging. Count de Polan, who is a friend of Don Juan’s father, told him to leave London and return to Madrid to present himself before the Spanish Court for Her Majesty’s judgment.

 

The Count had written to the Queen urging that she deal gently with Don Juan. Though Don Juan claimed he knew nothing of matters such as court intrigue, the ambassador had maintained that he devote his time to help the heartbroken Queen to attain peace in her country ruled by the subservient sovereign King Felipe III under the influence of his first minister, who has been plaguing her of late. His loyalty to the Queen would help her to face the cunning Duke of Lorca who is hatching a ruthless plot to elevate himself as a power behind the throne. Don Juan and Leporello rode across the midlands into the city of Madrid….and so the future began….

 

The shooting of ”Adventures of Don Juan” started in October, 1947 under Vincent (Vince) Sherman (born Abram Orovitz – 1906-2006), a former American stage actor who joined with Warner Brothers in 1938 where he was assigned to their B-picture unit. Sherman who had associated with chubby dynamo Jerry Wald since “All Through the Night” (1941), had launched his directorial career with the horror movie “The Return of Doctor X” (1939). Owing to his experience in numerous Theatre Guild productions on Broadway, reworking of scripts and finally directing movies, Vince Sherman became an expert in film making: in its continuity and cutting and progression. He made films relishing in the love and devotion of his wife Hedda Comorau who turned a blind eye to, according to IMDB, his occasional romantic flings with actresses Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and later with Rita Hayworth. Being a good friend of Errol Flynn who was the big white hope of Warner Brothers, Sherman had no qualms when Flynn asked to direct him in ”Adventures of Don Juan” which he did with his customary efficiency.

1944 was a period when the Tasmania born Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn was spawning lot of publicity from his off-screen feats, especially the foul smell derived from his rape trial of 1943. Flynn had been an English repertory theatre actor before obtaining a contract with Warner Brothers and would become rated as the best swashbuckler of the sound cinema – an image created with the help of director Michael Curtiz with whom he finally quarreled and split.

Keeping up with the image of the daringly gallant and dashing swashbuckler, Errol Flynn maintained an appetite for a delightful and hard life. He had his own dedicated group of drinkers and keeping him within the production schedule was one heck of a job for director Sherman and unit manager Frank Mattison. The “Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry once said, “(Flynn) spent more time on a bar stool, or in court, or in the headlines, or in bed, than anyone I knew.” He was once described by David Niven as “a magnificent specimen of the rampant male.” The frivolous, sardonic, and rather witty initial scenes of Don Juan wooing an enamoured Catherine and the inevitable encounter with her enraged husband is a spoof of the personality of Don Juan and of star Flynn himself.

While the burden to carry the film focused on the title character is loaded on the star performer; few weeks into the production, Flynn disappeared out of town for a few weeks, possibly for one of his major binges, leaving the artistic collaborators in the enterprise to shut the unit down and wait it out until he returned. When he finally positioned himself before the camera, he appeared sodden with alcohol which was consumed from mid-afternoon onwards, forbidding him from going on with a scene for long. This is despite Flynn’s famous trick of spending half hour in the steam room to get the booze off him. However, all this resulted in a good deal of additional set ups, retakes, editing rhythms and extra time though Sherman once said that this happened only once.

 

Despite the studio’s endeavor to wink at Flynn’s age, there was some concern about the roughened state of his face from his hard living.  In spite that Flynn sometimes failed to generate the excitement of the performance of Douglas Fairbanks or Burt Lancaster, I think he had great personal style and that the flamboyant Flynn’s physic was tailor-made for the swashbuckling roles. Being a great natural athlete, it was Flynn’s lighter-than-air agility, light-hearted seriousness, a degree of grace and style, and pure English-speaking voice which turned out “Adventures of Don Juan” to be a good film.

The role of Spanish Queen Margaret was portrayed by the Uppsala born 28-year old Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors (Elsa Viveca Torstensdotter Lindfors – 1920-95). Before she was imported to Hollywood by Warner Brothers in 1946, she was appearing on stage and in films having been trained at The Royal Dramatic Theatre School in Stockholm like her fellow Swedish actresses Greta Garbo, Signe Hasso, Mai Zetterling and Ingrid Bergman.

Queen Margaret would be Lindfors’ first appearance in a Warner/Hollywood movie. I have a strong feeling that the appearance and mannerism of Lindfors in the role of Queen Margaret had influenced in formulating Sophia Loren’s character of Doña Jimena in “El Cid

The role of the subservient King Felipe III is played by Romney Brent (1902-76), the dapper Mexican actor/director also known as Romulo Larralde.

Buckinghamshire born stage actor Robert Douglas (Robert Douglas Finlayson – 1909-99) was a student of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and appeared on British stages before he moved to Hollywood after the war and specialized in roles of suave and arrogant villains. Douglas stars as the king’s illusory minister, the Duke de Lorca who had his heels on the king’s neck. This role was originally meant for Claude Rains and later for George Coulouris. Well versed in swordplay, Douglas had studio experience in having dueled with the likes of Stewart Granger, Robert Taylor, Burt Lancaster, etc. Douglas’ stylish daredevil duel with Flynn on the grand staircase in the king’s palace, though at times not totally fair, has by now attained cult status.

Burly Alan Hale Sr. (Rufus Edward MacKahan – 1892-1950) was a cheerful actor who played heroes in silent action films and similar to his role of Leporello, was often cast as a jovial sidekick of Errol Flynn. Having acted in period films such as “The Last Days of Pompeii”, “The Man in the Iron Mask”, “The Sea Hawk”, his career would see him acting as Little John in three movies, viz., “Robin Hood”, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and in “Rogues of Sherwood Forest”. Interestingly, innovations such as the folding theatre-seats and hand fire extinguisher are credited to him.

The lady in the coach at the end of the movie is played by none other than  Nora Eddington (1924-2001), the second wife of Errol Flynn whom the nineteen year old Nora had met in 1943 while working at the courthouse where Flynn was undergoing trial for statutory rape from which he was acquitted. Unfortunately the couple who married in 1944 at Mexico will be divorced in 1949.

The former child stage star/leading lady Ann Rutherford (Donna Elena), character actor Robert Warwick (aka: Robert Taylor Bien – Count de Polan), British actor Aubrey Mather  

    

(Lord Chalmers), former child actress Helen Westcott (aka: Myrthas Helen Hickman – Lady Diana), dwarf actor Jerry Austin (Don Sebastian), Douglas Kennedy (aka: Keith Douglas – Don Rodrigo), Jeanne Shepard (Donna Carlotta), Mary Stuart (Catherine), G.P. Huntley, Jr. (Count d’Orsini), Spanish Opera singer Fortunio Bonanova (Don Serafino), Irish character actress Una O’Connor (Duenna), heavily-built Canadian actor Raymond Burr (Captain Alvarez), etc rounded off the supporting cast.

 

The film features impressive photography by English Cinematographer/actor Elwood (Bailey) Bredell Sr. (1902-1969), a former lab technician who would, while working with Universal Studios during the period 1937-46, reveal his cinematographic skills in films of genre: thrillers and film noir. Bredell’s chance to picture big-budget movies came after his shift to Warner Brothers in 1947, when his sumptuous visual style attained a new dimension in filming that resulted in richly textured images which embellished movies such as “Adventures of Don Juan”, “Female Jungle”, and “Journey into Light”, the latter of which also offered him occasion to work with Viveca Lindfors once again. For “Adventures of Don Juan”, Bredell and his team not only took care of the artistically and dramatically expressive angles, but generated a mixture of shadows and diffused lighting that would provide a memorable atmosphere of sinister visions to the frames.

The film is edited by Alan Crosland, Jr. (1918-2001), the son of Alan Crosland who directed “Don Juan”, the 1926 silent film of Warner Brothers starring John Barrymore. Crosland. Jr’s expert editing patterns can be noted in the brisk pace as the duel heightens, as well as in the smooth flow of scenes he had put together from the asymmetrical frames occasioned by disruptive filming.

Though the location filming was done in West Hills, Providencia Ranch (Hollywood Hills) and Warner Ranch (Calabasas), the interiors were mostly shot in semi-Expressionist sets at Stages in Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, California, under the direction of Art Director Edward Carrere and Set Decorator Lyle B. Reifsnider.

 

The specially constructed magnificent sets of the king’s palace and the grand staircase adds colour and dynamism to the expertly choreographed duel between the heroic Flynn and scoundrel Douglas which takes place to the splendour of Max Steiner’s rousing score. The initial scene at the balcony gives a richly coloured texture, the streets of 17th century London and Madrid, the entire palace including the dungeon were all arranged to provide a picture-book-look by providing due consideration to the minute details. Edward Carrere justly received an Academy Award for the Art Direction for this movie.

 

The characters were dressed up beautifully by Costume designers Leah Rhodes, Marjorie Best (uncredited) and William (Billy) Travilla. The costumes that express authenticity, especially of delectable Viveca Lindfors, are befittingly designed, the influence of which is evident in the costumes worn by Sophia Loren in “El Cid” and “The Fall of the Roman Empire”. The black band around Flynn’s head during the final scenes conjures up the flair and grace of Douglas Fairbanks. The film would win the Academy Award for Costume Design. Dress designer Billy Travilla (1920-90) was an employ of Columbia Pictures from 1941 to 43 before he was brought to Warner Brothers by actress Ann Sheridan, where his first work is for this movie. He would later become famous for his dresses designed for Marilyn Monroe one of which is the snow white ivory halterneck cocktail dress blowing in the breeze in Monroe’s “The Seven Year Itch”.

 

Perc Westmore who handled the make-up for this movie is the son of George Westmore, the head of the famous family of Hollywood make-up artists who had earned their reputation during a period when none of today’s popular creams like Diors’ “Capture Totale”, or Lancôme’s “Génifique” to name a few, were available.

The enthralling dueling sequences were staged with a tongue-in-cheek approach by the team of Assistant Director Richard Mayberry, Fencing Master Fred Cavens and special-effects men William McGann and John Crouse blended together by maestro Sherman by casting doubles. The duel scenes in the dungeon, in the halls of the palace and on the grand staircase were aptly staged, even though Don Juan’s spectacular leap from the stairs during the duel was performed by Jock Mahoney (1919-89), the only stuntman who was willing to do that dangerous stunt and was paid S1,000 for it.

 

The film is laced with the romantic and richly melodious score of Austrian composer Max Steiner (Maximilian Raoul Walter Steiner – 1888-1971) with orchestrations by Murray Cutter. One of Hollywood’s most prolific film score writers, Steiner had provided music for “Gone With the Wind”, “Casablanca”, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, “The Jazz Singer”, to name a few. It was Max Steiner who first came up with the potentiality of scoring films with original compositions, convincing the producers about the important role music can play in conveying the mood, character and pace of a film. Originally, fellow Austrian Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) was assigned to score for “Adventures of Don Juan” but was reassigned to Steiner since Korngold had left Warner Brothers by the time the filming was wrapped up.

To provide score for an action film like this is a complicated art requiring tremendous skill in precision timing which Steiner has fulfilled by providing the most enjoyable accompaniment to the pageantry and stylish scenes of the movie.

 

To promote the movie, Warner Brothers even reissued “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “The Sea Hawk” in America which performed very well in spite that they lacked Technicolor photography. Though “Adventures of Don Juan” did thriving business in Europe, it put up only a reasonable success in the U.S box office – a clear indication that Flynn’s golden days were not going to have resurgence and this expensive, but generally entertaining swashbuckler would be Flynn’s last big-budget extravaganza.

Every movie leaves something to the imagination. “Adventures of Don Juan” has a safe corner in the memory as a film created with the involvement of great talents who had impeccably crafted wonderful sets, high-end action scenes, colorful period costumes, a harmony of melodious, rousing score dominated by violins, trumpets, and drums – all that and more…

Take your pleasures where you can. The curious are urged not to miss it. Ciao, Jo.

(PS: The DVD of this movie is available with main dealers such as amazon.com, TCM Shop, etc)

(Text: © JS/Manningtree Archive)

StarChoice 14: The Million Pound Note

(Aka: “Man with A Million”, “Big Money”, “L’homme aux million”, “El millonario”, “Il forestiero”, “Sein größter Bluff – Colour – 1954) 

A true Englishman doesn’t joke when he is talking about so serious a thing as a wager”, wrote Jules Verne in “Around the World in Eighty Days”. This brings to my mind the high-profile bet the Virgin boss, British billionaire Sir Richard Branson made with Tony Fernandes, the group chief executive of Air Asia. By way of passing, I also remember a wager struck up between a couple of my friends during their recent shopping spree at an upper-class boutique in Madrid, when they came across a middle-aged Indian lady admiring the bridal gowns par excellence by prestigious wedding dresses designers displayed there. As for the subject of their bet, one maintained that the lady is looking for a wedding gown for her daughter while the other one heldthat it is for herself. Mind you, as it turned out, none of them were right. The salesman known to them from previous visits later told them that while seeing her off at the door, he had courteously complemented her that he is sure the bridal gown she just purchased would be lovely for her daughter.  Right away, she had given him a baffled look and retorted: “For my daughter?! This is for me to wear at a high society party back in Bombay!” That said, she walked out in a huff.

It is not hard to make a decision when you are firm in your belief as to its objective. Apparently, it is Victoria Beckham’s belief in her sense of style that earned her the Womenswear Designer of the Year award at the 2012 WGSN Global Fashion Awards. Quite similarly, the success in a wager is related to the belief in the standpoint of the bettor. However, to play safe from gamble, a better way to triple the money is to fold it thrice and stash it inside the wallet.

Today I am writing about a wager set by two Englishmen which is the theme of British director Ronald Neame’s “The Million Pound Note”, a film which is rated in a guide as “Witty, intelligent and charming”. Assessing the four main elements of movie making – script, acting, cinematography and editing, I have no reason at all to disagree to this rating.

The Million Pound Note” was released in the United Kingdom in January 1954. This Ronald Neame and John Bryan production was produced at Pinewood Studios in England in 1953 when the film industry and exhibitors were striving to curb the menace and progress of television against box office. It was during this year that 20th Century Fox released their initial CinemaScope film, “The Robe” and also when drive-in theatres sprang up across America. The year saw the release of “Bwana Devil”, the first film on Polaroid’s dual projector 3D system, the precursor to 3-D or three dimensional films. A string of high quality movies hit the screen during 1953: “Julius Caesar”, “Stalag 17”, “From Here to Eternity”, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, and William Wyler’s “Roman Holiday”, catapulting its leading star Gregory Peck to greater heights.

The tall, principled and handsome Gregory Peck was 37 years old when he was cast in the role of Henry Adam which was perfected for him. It is a jolly good treat to watch Peck’s unpretentious seaman going through the experiences goaded by a million pound note as he gained wisdom from the fascination it created in the London society. Born Eldred Gregory Peck, he had attended Sanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater in New York where performers like Grace Kelly, Geraldine Page, Steve McQueen, et al had attended, following which Peck performed on stage till the early 1940s. Actor Eli Wallach remembers him as “tall, slim, almost regal and very shy”, while his contemporary Karl Malden in his memoirs sums up Peck’s days as a stage actor as: “I knew right away that he was going to be a big star. He had a resonant voice and a winning, relaxed manner on stage.”

Peck’s opportunity came when Hollywood was experiencing the absence of romantic leading men due to the war, debuting with 1944’s “Days of Glory”. Having become an instant star with “The Keys of the Kingdom”, Peck was rated as a downright decent leading man. He had worked with Hollywood legends such as Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, William Wyler, Elia Kazan, etc, though some of his best films were under the direction of Henry King. His considerable charm had been put to effective use in comedies such as Stanley Donan’s “Arabesque” or Vincente Minelli’s “Designing Woman”, but Peck is least interesting when he is portraying straightforward integrity. Ever the gentleman, Peck was a “straight arrow, who took the job of acting seriously and analytically.” While acting, he maintained that anyone standing around in his eye line had to be moved off out of the way.

Esteemed as one of the great screen actors with a string of outstanding performances in movies, Peck went on to win five Academy Award nominations and won the Best actor Oscar in 1963 for his performance as the courageous small-town lawyer Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mocking Bird”. He was also awarded with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

He would become the first actor-president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for three years from 1967 to 1970, a period known for his efforts to rejuvenate the organization and its image by trying to bring in younger stars into its membership.

In 1953 when the pre-production work on “The Million Pound Note” was about to begin, Gregory Peck was in Italy acting in “Roman Holiday”. He was also going through a patch of despair due to separation from his Finnish wife Greta Kukkonen (née Eine Matilda Kukkonen), which was soon reversed when he fell in love with Paris-born journalist Veronique Passani, whom he met when she interviewed him for the French daily newspaper France Soir. Peck would marry her soon after his divorce from Kukkonen in 1955.

The Million Pound Note” starts with a display of the company logo of J Arthur Rank Organisation of a golden gong being struck by the gong man’s familiar slow-motion swing of arms. The man you see there is the English heavyweight boxer, Bombardier William “Billy” Thomas Wells, the first of Rank’s gong men. The credits are shown with melodious classical music with stirring effectiveness and snippets from instrumental version of the patriotic British song “Rule Britannia”.

According to the narration at the beginning of the movie, the story starts at a time when Britain was very rich, and deep in the vaults of England there was more gold than anywhere else in the world. Safe, people used to say, safe as the Bank of England. In this time, there lived two elderly and superbly wealthy brothers named Oliver and Roderick Montpelier at their grand mansion at Belgrave Square. Being a bit oddball in nature, they entertained different opinions regarding people’s attitudes to the symbol of wealth. Having decided to play a wager to prove this, the brothers acquired a single currency note for a million pounds issued on June 20, 1903 by the Bank ofEngland.

Oliver Montpelier thought that the note felt good and maintained that such is people’s attitudes to the symbol of wealth that by merely possessing this scrap of paper, without ever cashing it, you could have everything you wanted. On the contrary, Roderick found the note quite unique, an exquisite thing of beauty and believed that it would be quite useless if you were denied the right to cash it.

For now, we are introduced to the leading character of the movie, a penniless and friendless young seaman named Henry Adams from New England who was stranded in London. He was at his wit’s end for having failed in his efforts to find a job. As a last resort, he had even approached the Consulate of the United States of America where he encountered a display board which discouraged American citizens from approaching the Consulate for monetary help:

“This Consulate is not provided with funds by the U.S Government

for the assistance of needy Americans in London”

 

It was when he was trying to pick up a discarded pear from the pavement that he was invited by the two brothers to their mansion. Though Adam was expecting to find work from them, he was given a letter in a sealed envelope informing him that everything will be explained once he opened the envelope at two o’clock, exactly one hour and ten minutes from then.

 

On the strength of the assumed fortune in the envelope, Adam went into a decent restaurant and ordered a wonderful, long over due meal which explains the bill:

“Ham, eggs, steak, potatoes, beans, carrots, twice.

Trifle, cheese, coffee, two quarts of ale. Three and ten pence.”

On the threshold of being thrown out of the restaurant for non-payment of the bill, the envelope was opened to discover the note of the enormous value of One Million Pounds! The instant transformation in the attitude of all those around him owing to the gargantuan value of the note was evidently amusing.

 

Taken for an eccentric millionaire, the red carpet was rolled out for him. He is most welcome to come in anytime he wanted, and to have whatever he wanted. As for his present bill, he doesn’t need to pay it – just forget it, it’s of no consequence at all.

Upon rushing back to the mansion of the brothers to return the note, Adam learned from James, the butler that the brothers were unavailable, having gone abroad for a month. At this point, sitting on the stairs to collect his thoughts, he learned from the letter in the envelope that:

As his mind brooded over the contents of the letter, the note accidently flew off his fingers, the retrieval of which creates a series of funny sequences. In a while, the note again does the grand-work for him at the tailoring shop of Jonathan Reid who, upon seeing the note, takes it as their pride and glory to see His Eminence properly attired for the season.

 

From here, Adam is referred to as an admiral of the seas to the prestigious Hotel Bumbles, the very place to stay – quiet, modest and discretion itself. Having gone through further complications on arrival at the hotel, and after a good deal of Yes-my-lord-ing and Very-good-my-lord-ing, Adam was elegantly accommodated in the Bridal Suite after the current occupant, the Duke of Frognal, was instantly chucked out.

 

With his social status realigned, Adam started to move in exclusive social circles of the British aristocracy aided by the American Ambassador. This provided him with the opportunity to meet lovely Portia Lansdowne, niece of the toothy Duchess of Cromarty to whose reception at her Hampshire House he was invited to attend.

 

Some people will tell the world anything they know about everything. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Given that the sugar-coated rumour mills started to roll about his mere acquaintance with Lord Lloyd Hastings, the shares of Hasting’s company shoot up – a rather happy moment at the Stock Exchange.

Whilst Adam was all set to soar and score, things unfortunately started to look pretty foul when the Duke of Frognal pulls a prank and hides the note with the help of Renie, the hotel chambermaid. It was a wake up call for Adam. As Adam started to scale down the heights he had climbed, it began to dawn on him that he would have to actually spend the money if he wishes to live like a Lord….

 

Produced by Ronald Neame and British production designer turned producer John Bryan, the film features an array of British crew and technicians though a good number of the casts are not credited. The screenplay founded on an updated version of a short story by Mark Twain called “The Million Pound Bank Note” is by expert British documentary director and writer (Noreen) Jill Craigie.

The characters of the two brothers being integral to the structure of the film are joyously portrayed by two brilliant British actors. Trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, jovial Ronald Squire from the Liverpool Repertory Theatre had acted in many light comedy roles before he appeared in the role of Oliver Montpelier. Wilfrid Hyde-White’s role as Roderick Montpelier, marks one of the various comedies he made before shifting to America in the 1960s. An impeccable character actor of stage and screen who had often acted opposite Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, and is best remembered for his role as Col. Hugh Pickering in George Cukor’s “My Fair Lady” (1964) in which he sets up a wager with Prof. Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) challenging him to transform flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) into a lady.

Joyce Grenfell (born Joyce Irene Phipps) who portrays the Duchess of Cromarty was initially a radio critic columnist who went on to debut on the London stage before she made entertaining the troops her principal work during World War II, a period which she described as “The Time of My Life*. After the war Joyce, along with Viola Tunnard, her accompanist who was a gifted musician and able pianist, went for one more tour to “Re-Joyce” the troops, starting at Benghazi in December 1952 and finishing off in Malta by January 1953. Following this, she acted in a movie called “Genevieve” before her appearance in “The Million Pound Note”, which her mother approved since she was appalled of the number of unattractive characters her daughter played in films.

A.E. (Matty) Matthews in the role of the hard hit Duke of Frognal who repeats his title as a form of bragging about his “wealth” but is a lot poorer is perfectly cast. Matthews is popular for a crack he once made, “I always wait for “The Times” each morning. I look at the obituary column, and if I’m not in it, I go to work”. The film also stars Wilbur Evans (American Ambassador), Jane (Mary) Griffiths (Portia Lansdowne), bald-headed American actor Hartley Power (Lord Lloyd Hastings), Maurice Denham (Jonathan Reid), Reginald Beckwith (Rock), Brian Oulton (Lloyd), John Slater (Parsons), Hugh Wakefield (in his last role, Duke of Cromarty), Bryan Forbes (Todd), George Devine (Chop house/Restaurant proprietor), Hugh Griffith (Potter), etc.

 

The music is provided by prolific post-Romantic English composer William Alwyn and conducted by the Scottish conductor/composer (James) Muir Mathieson. Once a professor (from 1926 to 1955) at the Royal Academy of Music in London, Alwyn had progressed from scores for World War II documentary films  for the British Ministry of Information to scores for feature movies such as “Svengali”, “Zarak”, “Swiss Family Robinson”, etc. He has decorated the movie with classic symphonies; music that is both melodic and eminently accessible. At times, his tunes are both subtle and profound, dominated by violin notes, atmospheric waltzes, snippets from popular British music and he even used bits from the Yankee Doodle.

 

One of the greatest of British cinematographers, Geoffrey Unsworth is a recipient of an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire), and winner of two Oscars, among others. Unsworth has done a wonderful workmanlike job here, assisted by camera operator Jim Bawden. With a long string of superb films behind him, among them “A Night to Remember” (1958), “Cabaret” (1972), “Superman” (1978), etc, he died of a heart attack at the age of 64 on the set of Roman Polanski’s “Tess” (1979).

Production designer Jack Maxsted (“The Adventurers”, “Diamonds are Forever”, etc) together with John (Allan Hyatt) Box did the Art Direction for the film. Though Box’s career got an upshot with David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), he was known for recreating exotic locations in unlikely places. He had effectively constructed Chinese city walls in Wales for “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness” (1958) when the unit was denied permission to shoot in China. When a Russian country house in snowy landscape had to be replicated in Spain for “Doctor Zhivago” (1965), he would accomplish that by using white plastic sheets and marble dust. (For references on John Box and William Alwyn, you may read my review of August 23: “StarChoice 9: Zarak”)

The Costume design is by Margaret Furse, the Academy Award Winner for Best Costume for “Anne of the Thousand Days” who also did costumes for “Oliver Twist”, “The Crimson Pirate”, “Mary, Queen of Scots”, etc. If one looks closely at Furse’s costumes in the movie, we can find out how the small details which would normally go unnoticed make an impact on the overall effect in the frames.

Make up and Hair styles are done by George Blackler and Biddy Chrystal respectively. Blackler had headed the make-up department for “Black Narcissus”, “Operation Crossbow”, “Dracula A.D. 1972”, “The Satanic Rites of Dracula”, etc; while the renowned hairstylist Chrystal (aka. Eileen Chrystal) has enough feathers to line her nest for having worked on movies such as “The Sword and the Rose”, “Sword of Lancelot”, “The Fearless Vampire Killers”, “11 Harrowhouse”, etc. While the set dressing is by Dario Simoni, editor Clive (Stanley) Donner cuts it all together.

As for director Ronald Neame, he was born in 1911 in London to beautiful silent film actress Ivy Close, Neame was the producer of British filmmaker David Lean’s (1908-1991) early British films “Great Expectations” (1946), and “Oliver Twist” (1948). Like director George Stevens, Victor Fleming, Phil Rosen, he was an outstanding cinematographer, before becoming an expert director at light, frothy comedies. Although Neame was uncredited, he was an assistant cameraman on Alfred Hitchcock’s “Blackmail” (1929), the first sound-on-film British talkie.

As in every movie, there is a price dictated by the subject matter, the content and the showmanship values. “The Million Pound Note” is a fairly pleasing comedy which aptly displays the Edwardian atmosphere, flavour and local colour of England. You could see the muffin seller walking down the street, the family picnic on the green grass, uniformed school children lined up for outing, etc.

 

With a witty, well-written screenplay by expert writer Jill Craigie, Neame didn’t have to run to the hull every other minute to check for leaks. The meal at the restaurant leading to the discovery of the note is beautifully staged and ably photographed by Geoffrey Unsworth while Alwyn’s pleasant music flutters all around it. Another amusing scene is the incident at Jonathan Reid’s tailor shop.

 

The scenes of Portia Lansdowne which ends with a pop at matrimony, provides the emotional quotient. In all fairness, the movie is nicely ornamented and acted under the graceful direction of Ronald Neame. Being a comedy, everything works out happily though the movie will set us thinking about the extraordinary way some people’s attitudes change by the symbol of wealth and also why some regard the rich as superior to the poor. “The Million Pound Note” is a classic comedy which can be watched by the whole family.

 

(Text: © JS/Manningtree Archive)

Viva Britannia – 3: Leicester Square, Londres

Happiness is where we find it. When you travel abroad to different cities, you look for attractions which are unique to that place, part of what provides character to it. During our days in London, life moves pretty quick. You would miss it if you don’t stop and look around once in a while. The way forward is to think things through, endeavour to search and seek – measure and weigh those missing links such as, a series of right things that was not yet done; the places that we have failed to visit ….. so many worlds and everything in between. Open Sesame! The most glorious fact in my experience is that the right links which belong in our cycle of life will eventually come to us and stay.

 

Of all the places of interest we have visited in London, the global city of finance, one Public Square had evaded our attention –a missing link. Then one day, after a late breakfast at The Old Swan Restaurant in Kensington Church Street, Notting Hill, it rolled out exactly as it needs to – we went to a cinema house in that picturesque and historic place – Leicester Square, our missing element.

Located in The West End within the City of Westminster, Leicester Square, part of which was once known as Leicester Field, is adorned with a small English garden, surrounded by Victorian-style black railings, and festooned with mature trees, plants and full length statues of William Shakespeare (situated in the central concourse) symbolizing the Square’s connection with the theatre, and of the comic actor Sir Charles Spencer “Charlie” Chaplin (1889-1977) with his trademark bowler hat and walking stick touching a rose pinned to the lapel of his coat.

The garden also hosts four marble busts on granite plinths of artist William Hogarth (1697-1764) by J. Denham; scientist Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) by Calder Marshall; portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts) by H. Weekes and Scottish Scientist John Hunter (1728-1793the father of scientific surgery) by T. Woolner. The inscription on the white marble pedestal of the “Stratford” statue of the Bard and Fountain by G. Fontana rightly proclaims “This enclosure was purchased, laid out and decorated as a garden by Albert Grant Esq. M.P. and conveyed by him on the 2nd July 1874 to the Metropolitan Board of Works to be preserved for ever for the free use and enjoyment of the public.”

North from Trafalgar Square and east of Piccadilly Circus, the Square, which can be accessed on foot in less than five minutes from Leicester Square Tube Station, is named after English diplomat Robert Sidney (1595-1677), 2nd Earl of Leicester (Fourth Creation) who, in 1630 had the mental alacrity to acquire four acres of land in St. Martin’s Field and built Leicester House (demolished in c. 1791-2) on the site of the Swiss Centre. Though the Earl was busy serving as ambassador in Denmark and later in France from 1632 to 1641, he agreed with the Privy Council of King Charles I to provide St. Martin’s parishioners with a tree planted public area around which grand houses eventually sprouted up.

When this public garden, the launching point that set off the Square on its long path to popularity, fell into poor repair, it was purchased by Baron Albert Grant (born Abraham Gottheimer – 1831-1899) and the deeds were gifted to the Metropolitan Board of Works on July 2, 1874.

Grant commissioned architect James Knowles (who designed the Aldworth house of poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson) to lay out the garden and provision to position the statue of the Bard. The Square has had other plusses and minuses. During the Edwardian era when many areas in London became famous as places of public entertainment as theatre and musical hall culture blossomed, Leicester Square, which was long renowned as haunts of prostitutes and Turkish baths, also became prominent for its show-business institutions. The Alhambra was then the most popular music hall there, catering to the lower classes with acts ranging from singing to magic. The downfall of the already loss-making music halls came with the increasing popularity of radio and cinema.

 

Nick named Theatre Land, the Square’s movie houses Vue Cinema, Empire (also house “The Casino at the Empire”) and Odeon Leicester Square with its looming tower, regularly hosts red-carpet European premieres of movies (limited to the invitees or ticket winners of competitions). These cinema houses offer large variety of movie options including impressive facilities (fitted with Infra Red Hearing Systems compatible with most hearing aids) that reflects in the ticket prices, though there are half-price ticket booths, too. Here you may catch a glimpse of the famous and glamorous stars to the like of Brad Pitt, Kristen Stewart, Leonardo diCaprio, Bérénice Marlohe, Katherine Heigl, Daniel Craig….. treading the red carpet as they promote their movies and often indulge in posing for photographs or sign autographs.

 

 

An added attraction is that the pavement around the Square is embedded with bronze hand-casts of prominent screen actors, studio emblems, etc made as part of the celebrations during British Film Year 1985, etc. Leicester Square has provided us with many wonderful opportunities to enjoy movies and also, owing to my wife’s fondness for steaks, we could drop in at the Angus Steak House in the Square, as well – “Ok, I will have what she has.”

 

The restaurants and pubs dotted around the Square offer many options to suit all tastes and budgets for “eating out”. There is Chiquito (Mexican) Restaurant, TGI Friday’s, “Bella Italia” serving Italian cuisine and fast-food joints like McDonalds and Burger King.

For enthusiasts of Gelato there is Häagen-Dazs, and also “Rendezvous”, a popular spot offering a super range of Gelato, Sorbets and Yogurt in exciting flavours inspired by Italy. Not far away is another landmark, The Radisson Blu Edwardian Hampshire Hotel. Many souvenir shops thrive through sales around the vicinity and you can watch the world sail past or the street painters at their work earning the admiration and possible sale from a passerby. During the night, the Square becomes a hubble bubble of lights and activity.

London, whose histories focus on a legion of monuments, public centers, roads and squares, the essence of the city’s soul, has always been in a state of transformation, though there is a shortage of space. On the strength of the London 2012 Olympic Games and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations – occasions for grand manifestation of patriotic fervor when throngs of extra tourists were expected to enjoy the dynamo of enthusiasm and energy of the West End, this green jewel in the center of London also underwent a massive 18-month renovation project initiated by the City of Westminster which commenced in December 2010 at a cost of £15.5 million.

 

Back in 2008, the Swiss Glockenspiel, (an astronomical clock and a procession of 23 farmers herding their cows to Alpine pasture, installed in the Square in 1985 as a gift to the City of Westminster on its 400th anniversary by Switzerland and Liechtenstein as a token of centuries of friendship), was demolished to redevelop the land where the Swiss centre was situated. Redesigned by Swiss artists and rebuilt by clockmaker Smith of Derby with the combination of traditional elements and new wireless technology, the musical clock with new music was reinstalled on November 28, 2011 on a 10m (32 ft) high free-standing steel structure sponsored by the Swiss Tourism Office featuring 11 moving wooden figures representing traditional farmers forming part of a rotating Swiss Alpine backdrop beneath 27 bells. (Read the book “’A Curios Colony’: Leicester Square and the Swiss” by Peter Barber which portrays the deep-rooted connections between the Swiss émigrés and the area around the Square.)

 

On May 23, 2012, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, his eyes probably set on No: 10, re-launched the Square/garden terming it “an urban oasis” in a lively ceremony inside a make-shift stage, just in time for the May 31st premiere of Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” starring Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron.

 

 

As we look through the handprints of the actors on the pavement, a medium through which people could experience a bit of movie history, certainly we will find many missing names of stars including that of Daniel Craig. It occurred to me that, with the year 2012 commemorating the London Olympic Games, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Eon Productions’ 50 years of James Bond celebrations and release of the 23rd Bond series at cinemas in the Square, with the best will in the world, it would be a grand gesture to endorse the hand-prints of Daniel Craig to cut a dash with the other A-List celebrities on the pavement which would provide a new feature of fame to the intimacy of this beautiful Square. Perhaps some can live without Craig’s handprint, but there are also some who don’t want to…. Maybe the point is that it was always so.

 

 

The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses,” wrote Hanna Rion ver Beck (1875-1924). Promoted as “Your Square, Your Choice!” the revamped Square has a water feature that jets recycled water two meters high into the air. Perhaps influenced by minimalism, the aide-mémoire busts of Hogarth, Newton, Reynolds and Hunter that have stood at the four corners of the Square were removed during the renovation as they were “fairly weather-beaten and fragile” may be reinstated or housed in museums or libraries. Nothing is more real than nothing. However, it’s comforting to learn that the removed bronze statue of Chaplin which consecrates the Square to cinema and theatre will be returned, cleaned and repaired. As the Square entered its new phase, a friend is enthusiastic about the outcome of the renovation observes that the levels of popular fascination for the gated Square is in “good form”, both relatively and absolutely.

 

In the stylish and coherent new look designed by architects Burns & Nice, the Square is bordered by polished stainless steel railings and hedge plants (for colour and form all year round), and, the pathways to demarcate the spaces within the re-landscaped gardens, adorned with the natural flair of trees and ornamental plants, are ingeniously paved with granite blocks. It is also surrounded by a white (to reflects light and colour) granite ribbon seating arrangement (with special coating to deter chewing gum) which runs undulating around the Square where you can sit and get revitalized –think happy thoughts, cajole stressed spirits. This ribbon seating could be ideal for drunks to rest their feet and nurse their stupor (inexpensive and pragmatic) considering that, according to a book, the British allegedly drink more than any other people in the Western world unless they are Keralites who soak in it.

 

If you note your diary for a visit to Leicester Square for its restaurants or bars or casino or for diverse entertainments, be sure to mark the garden for relaxation or for a meander on the lawns. No, the Seed Fairy doesn’t live in it. It’s just a special English garden, simple but vibrant – that merits a visit. Ciao, Jo

(PS. Photos of Italian food/ice cream for representation purpose only)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Photos: © JS-CS/Manningtree Archive)

StarChoice 10: THE FIVE MAN ARMY

(Aka. Un Esercito di Cinque Uomini  / Die Fünf Gefürchteten – Italy – Colour – 1969)

In July 1969 when the U.S Astronaut Neil Armstrong (who died last week) landed on the Moon, Italian film director Dario Argento was in his initial foray into movies through his appealing stories and screenplays that derived into movies such as “Every Man is My Enemy”, “Heroes Never Die”, “The Love Circle”, “The Five Man Army”, … – an interim period before he embarked into directing thriller movies such as “The Cat O’Nine Tails”, “Deep Red”, “Suspiria”, etc and went on to establish a career that would leave an indelible impact on modern horror films and popular culture.

Back in 1968, a movie titled “Oggi a me…. Domain a te” (Today It’s Me…. Tomorrow You!) co-written by Argento with Tonino Cervi came out and met with moderate success. Starring Montgomery Ford (born Brett Halsey) and Bud Spencer and shot in Manziana (in the Province of Rome), it had characteristics of Japanese Samurai films – a fount of style from which directors like Sergio Leone onwards drew ideas for their western films shot mainly on locations in Spain.

By late 1960s, Italian producer Italio Zingarelli (who would later show industry wisdom in bringing the Terence Hill/Bud Spencer comedy duo together) had tried his hand in almost all genres (sword & sandal to westerns) and was engaged in the production of two screenplays written by Dario Argento “La rivoluzione sessuale” (1968) (co-written with Riccardo Ghione) and “La Stagione de sensi” (1969) (with Barbara Alberti).  Argento had completed his collaboration with Bernardo Bertolucci on the story for Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West”, and was preparing for his directorial debut “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” (L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo), a landmark giallo film that would be nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe award for best motion picture. Argento had also prepared a third treatment “Un Esercito di Cinque Uomini” (The Five Man Army), in collaboration with Marc Richards, an interesting premise of cowboys and samurai that followed the adventurous path of movies such as “The Magnificent Seven” series, “Kill Them All and Come Back Alone”, “The Deserter”, “The Dirty Dozen”, etc.

The direction of “The Five Man Army” produced by Zingarelli and presented through Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is credited to American actor/director Don Taylor (actor: “Stalag 17”, “The Men of Sherwood Forrest” – Director: “Escape from the Planet of the Apes”) but a small mystery surrounds the identity of the director of this film. Though Taylor is confirmed as the director by Dario Argento and Peter Graves, other sources, including actress Daniela Giordano, remember that Taylor did the direction only on the initial few days and the remaining part was done by producer Zingarelli himself who is also credited in some Italian posters and sleeves of DVDs. Anyhow, this contradictory opinion and why Taylor left is yet to be clarified.

To determine requisite economical locations in Europe, quite similar to the geographical formations of Mexico where the story is set, the natural choice was Spain, then known in the movie circles as “the west of Europe”, which offered sun and proper range of accessible locations – relatively ideal conditions for film making. The locations ranged from Almeria (where Zingarelli’s last main hit, the western “Johnny Yuma” was shot) to Madrid to Barcelona where hordes of film makers were exposed directly to the kind of places they were supposed to be portraying. Further enticement was the railroad and farmhouse sets of Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968) which was still in good condition. Only the remaining scenes were to be shot at Incir de Paolis Studios near Rome which Zingarelli had used earlier to produce “Ciccio Forgives, I Don’t” (1968). The Spanish crews are no less generous, warm, and enthusiastic like the Italians who worked in team spirit – at times charged with sambuca and coffee. Yes, there is something very special about Spain.

As the story goes ……: It’s 1914. Mexico is caught in the middle of the revolution. The country is reeling under dictator Jose Victoriano Huerta Marquez, the Military General who became the President of Mexico in a coup d’état by executing the Constitutional leader, President Francisco Ignacio Madero Gonzalez and his vice president during La Decena trágica (The Ten Tragic Days). By circumventing the great fighting and other “encounters” of the Mexican Revolution, the story of “The Five Man Army” is set few months prior to Toma de Zacatecas (the Battle of Zacatecas) when on June 23, 1914, the Division del Morte of Pancho Villa defeated the troops of General Luis Medina Barrón at the last stronghold of Victoriano Huerta’s forces which led to the resignation of Huerta on July 15. To set the mood of the historical background, the film’s opening credits are shown intermixed with illustrations in black and white depicting the tragedy of the ferocious Mexican Revolution (including a disclaimer citing the events of the movie as fiction) enriched by the melodious music of Ennio Morricone’s “Un Esercito di Cinque Uomini” which will take the hold on you from there and never let go.

The main protagonist of the film, the Dutchman has planned to assemble a group of four acquaintances who are specialists in their individual fields, to assist him to rob a heavily guarded military train carrying a shipment of gold valued at $500,000/- which is being sent as a fee to General Vertbas (meant to be Huerta?) by his friends in Europe to protect their interests in Mexico – literally to finance the Mexican Revolution. Each man of the group will be rewarded with $1000/- on successful completion of the job.

A former circus acrobat, the outlaw Luis “Flying” Dominguez (played by Italian actor Francesco “Nino” Castelnuovo who acted as the white-clad, whip-slinging sadistic Junior in “Tempo di Massacro” (1966)) who attacks his opponents with his lethal sling shots, was send by the Dutchman to Texas to round up the remaining three men which are shown in three interesting episodes. Luis had been locked up many times for robbing banks until he escaped by killing two guards that earned him notoriety with his face plastered on every wall in Mexico.

On the casting side, the 6-foot-2 blond American star Peter “Aurness” Graves was roped in to play the Dutchman, the leader of the group. From 1967 onwards Graves had been portraying the cool spymaster in the American television series “Mission: Impossible” (1967 – 1973) for the remaining six seasons when he was offered the lead role in this film. Besides, Graves knew director Don Taylor from his role in the WWII movie “Stalag 17” (1953) in which Taylor was also a star.

For the role of the hunk Mesito, the Italian actor Carlo Pedersoli (Silver medal winner for Swimming at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics) popularly known as “Bud Spencer” was signed. Spencer who sported similar facial features of producer Zingarelli, had finished his appearance in the second installment of his friend Giuseppe Colizzi’s “Cat Stevens” spaghetti western trilogy “Ace High” (I Quattro dell’Ave Maria) and Giuliano Montaldo’s “Dio è con noi” (The Fifth Day of Peace). Interestingly Spencer’s own voice was allowed in the English version of the movie while his voice for the Italian version was dubbed. Mesito was an employee of the Kansas City Railroad before he was kicked out when he stole a train load of market-ready beef and tried to sell it back to its original owner. He broke loose from the prison he was locked up and was secretly working in a farm “feeding chicken” when Luis recruited him. Mesito is a great lover of food (especially cooked beans or a chunky leg of lamb – the bigger the better) who likes knocking baddies down by crashing his chubby fist on top of their heads.

Popular American TV/stage actor James “Firman” Daly was cast as Capt. Nicolas Augustus who gets his kicks out of blowing up anything with dynamite. Daly had won an Emmy in 1966 for supporting actor in the then popular Drama series in the Hallmark Hall of Fame show “Eagle in a Cage.” Augustus was recruited right from the middle of a card game with coalminers.

And the last of the five, the Samurai was portrayed by Japanese actor Tetsurô Tamba (born Shozaburo Tanba). The selection of Tamba was easier since he was already famous as “Tiger Tanaka” in the James Bond movie “You Only Live Twice” (1967) and for appearances in “Bridge to the Sun” (1961) and “The 7th Dawn” (1964). Unlike Tatsuya Nakadai who starred in “Oggi a me…. Domain a te”, Tamba, in his one and only appearance in a Euro-Western, spoke English and didn’t require an interpreter. However, in the role of samurai, he was hardly expected to display verbal brilliance. The Samurai who had once escaped from his native country and wound up slicing six men in three seconds, was located at a circus sideshow flaunting his expertise with knives aiming at a lovely “lotus flower”. One of the great samurai swordsmen, his mastery in handling the sword will be revealed later as the movie progresses.

As the story unfolds, the four of the group, dirty, sweaty and dusty, ride to the Mexican town of Sierra Morales to keep rendezvous with the Dutchman to constitute the five man army. They found the townsfolk gathered in front of the church to witness the Mexican army prepare for the execution of the rebels’ leader Manuel Esteban (Claudio Gora). For them, it’s either a bullet or hanging. A bullet ended things quickly.

As the condemned man was brought to the square, the townsfolk, suppressing their anger and humiliation, but in deep bereavement, broke into a poignant song (Muerte Donde Vas). Soon after the visitors recognized the Dutchman amongst the crowd, they made the move to save the condemned man. Before the firing squad of four could pull the trigger at the “traitor”, they were shot at and killed by the five man army. In the ensuing shootout and commotion, Esteban was injured, but the soldiers present there were either shot or mauled to death collectively by the protagonists and the enraged crowd. The Mexican Revolution is certainly based on popular participation.

Once Esteban’s bullet wound was found not serious and he was left to recuperate in the safety of a room, they indulged in the modest extravagance of the womenfolk of the town who, keeping up with the Mexican custom of eating the main meal at midday, served them a fine feast. One of the generous Mexican women, Maria (Miss Italia 1966 Daniela Giordano), always sporting a joyless expression, was evidently more interested in the Samurai. No less behind, Samurai himself had noted her lazy feline grace and her physical magnetism.

Mesito, always ravenously hungry, was happy at the sight of the food, especially the cooked beans and a jug of red wine. In this room, the four were introduced to each other by the Dutchman and the nature of the mission is revealed. He informs that Estaban, the leader of the revolutionary forces is their paycheck, knows from where they can pluck half million dollars of gold – from a bank on wheels – a big fat juicy train. The gold is to be handed over to the revolutionary forces to support the revolution but he never explains why he is in league with the Revolutionaries.

A dreamer by nature, Mesito was only interested in the prospect of sharing that enormous loot with his comrades in arms. The Gold Fever….. he would buy 200 heads of cattle – honestly this time. Things are surely looking up for Mesito. But the gambler Augustus who believed in the Dutchman, with whom he had spent five years in the army in Cuba and had gone hiding after he blew up the safe of the Cuban army during the Cuban War, nevertheless had doubts and qualms about the viability of the plan.

Sometime later, fearing retribution from the soldiers for killing their comrades, the peasants were leaving Sierra Morales to a safer place. Before their exodus started, Estaban let two of their young women, Perla (earthy Annabella Andreoli) and Maria, accompany the five men in a horse cart.  Should they be stopped, it’s better to have a family. They camped for the night in the quite of an abandoned building, but were subsequently captured by the Mexican soldiers and produced before the sadistic and ambitious Capt. Gutiérrez (effectively portrayed by Carlo Alighiero), in whose jurisdiction they have been captured.

In a parody reminiscence of the interrogation scene in director J. Lee Thompson’s “The Guns of Navarone” (1961), they are lined up in the Comandancia Militar of Gutiérrez (named after Eulalio Gutiérrez Ortiz, Mexican President between Nov. 1914 – Jan. 1915?) for questioning. Having found them embracing the cause of the rebels, they will be shot except for American Luis who will be hanged, very slowly, because he is an outlaw on the run from the Mexican army.

In order to go free they must reveal their names, what they are doing in Mexico and who send for them and gave them hospitality. That’s all. Having met with silence, Gutierrez decided to wait until they cracked. While they were led to the prison, another fiasco was unfolding in the courtyard where the Mexican soldiers were preparing for the execution of a batch of rebels. On seeing the Samurai, Maria ran to him and secretly slipped a knife under his right elbow before they were taken away.

This leads to their daring escape from the prison cell through a trap door on the roof. As Maria and Perla were being interrogated by Gutierrez, the Samurai bursts in and makes some expert carvings with his sword that would thrill the audience and quicken the yen in Maria’s heart for him. In the ensuing shoot out the soldiers were killed and the ARMERIA is cheerfully blown up by Augustus well after securing sufficient dinamita sticks from the arsenal for later use. They escape from there with Maria and Perla in the horse cart and before the five man army headed for the mission, they send off the two women to rejoin with their people. This unwished for separation was a quick and sad parting for the Samurai and Maria (in a role devoid of dialogue like the Samurai). Love happens when you least expect it. They had been granted only few moments of paradise and then cast into the darkness of frustration. But, Maria would be waiting for him.

Riding at an angle away from the chasing soldiers scouting for them, they soon gave the slip to the soldiers on their trail with the help of revolutionaries. Soon, the Dutchman provides his men with their first view of the target train. They were by now convinced of the importance of meeting with success in the mission, but getting their hands on the gold appeared to be impossible considering that the train was guarded by a good number of heavily armed soldiers, a cannon and a work train that would travel ahead of the gold train by twenty minutes to ensure the tracks are clear and safe from assault. Besides, there was military corps stationed at six mile intervals along the railway track to ensure the safe passage of the real train.

Once an army truck is hijacked for their later use, the Dutchman took them to an isolated railroad station house ideal to settle down and fine tune the finer details and prepare to pull off the job within three days. What follows are the thrilling action sequences featuring their ride under the train from Puebla Railway Station, their raw skills aboard the train, the Samurai running for the departing train, the daring robbery, and………….

Being an Italian- American co-production, “The Five Man Army” has high production values.

The excellent Cinematography by Enzo Barboni (“Django”) in Metrocolor/Deltavision reproduces a real atmosphere of Mexico and U.S in the Spanish locations by capturing the beautiful solitude of vast desert regions; panoramic views of lush country side; the enchanting mood of the isolated, dusty village; the well-crafted interiors by art director Enzo Bulgarelli and set decorator Ennio Michettoni – all of which are masterfully framed, blended with appealing trolley and crane shots.

Notwithstanding the ablest performers chosen for the film, the thrilling action scenes (about twenty two minutes) aboard the train makes our attention glued onscreen, tracking the skillful maneuvers of the protagonists in a series of sequences as they take on whatever hair-raising perils were necessary to defuse the guards and complete the mission, proclaim great film making without the help of back projection or computer graphics.Then the music really takes its thumping rhythm (Una Corsa Disperata) when the Samurai speeds after the train (sequence of about four minutes). The rousing and melodious score by Morricone is a perfect accompaniment for the film. Morricone had skillfully left certain scenes devoid of music (especially the train sequences), leaving the action to carry the story forward at its gripping pace and suspense, which unmistakably relate to Dario Argento’s contribution.

Backed by the brisk and cutting-edge editing by Sergio Montanari, the script by Argento and Richards never allows for a boring moment by keeping the action fast-paced and dotted with humour (especially the boy peeping at the Dutchman hanging under the train; the waving of the hands of the dead soldiers), shifting the characters quickly from one sequence to another, and most of the time, never letting a scene run longer than necessary.

The film portrays the protagonists as believable human beings and the chemistry between them as they plan and successfully complete their mission weathering all the great obstacles is fantastic. The interesting romantic angle between the Asian Samurai and western Maria has credibility and “sparkle” – offering ample scope for improvisation. But this is hardly a movie about love. Besides, the story is devoid of brutality by many prowling tigers, but limited to the villainy and absolute power of the Mexican Capt. Gutierrez, the baddy who is sliced up by the Samurai even before the five men embark on their mission.

By underlining Mesito’s colourful and immature character with his dreamy sequences, greed for food, gimmicks in fighting the baddies, makes him appealing to the general audience while at the same time paved the way for advancement of a style that will be fully utilized in Spencer’s later films, starting with the slapstick western comedy “They Call Me Trinity”, the directorial debut of Cinematographer Enzo Barboni under the pseudonym E(nzo).B(arboni) Clucher, and the sequel “Trinity is Still My Name!”, which Spencer co-starred with Terence Hill (born Mario Girotti).

The Dutchman depicted by Graves has come across effectively as a solitary man, a loner without a home though, curiously, the leadership of the Dutchman is asserted by the avertable scene in which his old friend Mesito is slapped on the face as he spread his arms to greet him. Likewise, the scenes depicting execution of the rebels, the townsfolk who mournfully sang during the execution of Esteban while the soldiers abuse and brutalize them in their attempt to end the song, are emphasized as catalysts to generate easy displeasure in the audience towards the Mexican army and thereby to elevate the five men to the status of heroes. It’s a wonder that the film, which was a hit, didn’t spawn a sequel or a series like “The Magnificent Seven”.

A harmless entertainment, The Five Man Army is a western film full of “sunny” adventure, of getting people together and remembering. It’s about heroes – and heroes need to be remembered. (© JS/Manningtree Archive.)

(PS: This review is my special tribute to all those brilliant talents who made this wonderful movie possible. JS)

StarChoice 9: ZARAK

 ZARAK (aka: Zarak Khan / Zarak le Valeureux – Colour – 1956)

Yesterday I watched a movie in which the music teacher of a school held a chronometer in hand to measure how long her students could hold their breath. That stint was pretty short compared to the few months required for the decks to be cleared and a new chapter in the life of the British spy James Bond will be revealed. The media is abuzz with news about the upcoming movie “Skyfall” which is the twenty-third installment of the Bond movie franchise of Eon Productions founded in 1961 by Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, a Canadian producer working in England who had options on all available James Bond novels.

But a decade before “Cubby” Broccoli ventured into Bond’s territory, he had formed another production company in 1951 called “Warwick Film Productions Ltd” in collaboration with the Polish-American producer Irving Allen, a partnership that launched about 24 independent feature productions until they went their separate ways in 1961. So far, so familiar.

Warwick Film Productions kick started its activities when American actor Alan Ladd, who had left Paramount Pictures over contractual disputes, signed with them for a three picture deal. Ladd’s regular scriptwriter Richard Maibaum was brought in to co-write with Frank Nugent the script for Warwick’s first movie “Paratrooper” (The Red Beret – 1953). This film, the first one directed by Terence Young for Warwick, is the debut movie of Broccoli as a producer. (Young would later direct three James Bond movies for Eon Productions of which most of the production crew would be from “Paratrooper”.)

They gave emphasis to make films of solid production values, on international locations, with British crew featuring American actors. The films were contracted for release through Colombia Pictures with whom, in 1956, they negotiated a deal for producing 13 pictures in a period of three years. They also took advantage of Government grants to film producers under the British Empire development schemes to promote shooting of films on location in British Commonwealth countries.

Back in 1949, author A.J. Bevan published a book “The Story of Zarak Khan” about an arrogant and deceitful Afghan brigand called Zarak Khan who fought the British across the great tract of the North West Frontier (a British invention) for nearly twenty years. He was later captured, convicted and deported to the Andaman Islands from where, for leniency obtained for obedience, he was allowed to fight for the British, and gave up his life for them. Adventure and action being the mainspring of Warwick Films, the book was chosen for adaptation into an epic scale movie to be made under the direction of Terence Young assisted by Yakima Canutt and John Gilling since Terence Young had finished direction of the adventure film “Safari” at Kenya and in England which starred Victor Mature and Janet Leigh.

The film Zarak stands a bit outside the accuracy of history. Though Cubby Broccoli didn’t believe in messing with the original storyline of books, reportedly at Allen’s insistence, the historical accuracy of the story is compromised to provide emphasis to the human element under in-house scriptwriter Richard Maibaum who would later find fame for writing more than a dozen scripts for James Bond vehicles. Zarak went into production in early 1956.

Presented through Colombia Pictures, the film opens as the entourage of merchant Akbar (Alec Mango) is passing through the dangerous terrain of the North West Frontier to the village of Haranzhai located amidst lush and rugged countryside. Haji Khan (Frederick Valk), the despotic Chieftain of Haranzhai tribe, though at first reluctant to see Akbar, changed his mind to give him audience. To suit this purpose, he sends Salma (Anita Ekberg) away from his tent. Salma was the most beautiful, youngest and favourite of Haji’s many wives.

Grabbing that opportunity, Salma slips out of the village into the depths of the mountain to meet her secret lover Zarak, who is Haji’s eldest son. But unbeknown to her, she had been observed by one of Haji’s sons and the visiting merchant Akbar. A little later, she cozies up with Zarak in the seclusion of his mountain den and implores him to either take her away from the village or take her back to her own people. The dynamics of their interaction emphasizes the notion that up till then she had enjoyed the adventure of adultery without forfeiting the security of monogamy and she had no intention to jeopardize their safety in that closed community. Zarak disagrees to her appeal on reason that she’s one of his father’s wives and leaving Haji would bring him shame and also to Zarak. She countered him with the fact that she’s also shameful for having been sold to a man she hates.

When Zarak, her ray of hope, forbids her to visit him or talk to him anymore, she grabs his dagger and tries to stab him. Though Zarak easily managed to thwart her attack, the ensuing struggle between them merge into a maze of illicit passion that progresses into a passionate embrace and high-charged kiss. Just then the needle stuck in the groove.

A love affair of this nature doesn’t run smoothly. Unaware of his wife’s exploits, but certainly tipped off now by his son and Akbar, Haji Khan together with his sons, Akbar and some henchmen walk right into the fervor of the lovers. The consequences were predestined and predictable. Disgraced and furious with rage, Haji Khan orders his son to be killed immediately before his eyes. The offense is so serious that only bloodshed can wipe out the shame. However, he quickly changed his mind and instructed his men to flog Zarak to death as a knife is too quick, too merciful. Horrified with dread and fear, Salma could only protest as they took Zarak away, but she pleads to her husband that it was she who is to be blamed. Cast with the stigma of a promiscuous woman, her husband condemns her to death by throwing her down to the rocks from the hills of Chamin. Instantly, Akbar, who hungered after her, proposed to Haji to sell her to him.

While Zarak was being flogged, the holy Mullah walks in to the village on his way back from Mecca. Mullah who considered Zarak as “the eye of an eagle” was distressed at the sight of Zarak being flogged in the village square, in front of the women. He promptly requests for the life of Zarak which was denied. However, when the elderly Mullah persisted with his intervention, Haji Khan, in a tone of high morality and out of reverence to the holy man, agrees. But he declared Zarak as an outlaw and ordered that he be stoned out of the village. As is common with the people of these tribal areas which the contemporary British officers called Pathan (Pashtun), life is led almost according to the tribal customs and follows a rigorous code of behaviour. Zarak was stoned and expelled from his village.

In a sudden upsurge of confidence, his two brothers, Biri and Kasim, disgruntled by the tyranny of their “honourable” father, decide to follow their elder brother. But the great virtue of that disaster that befell Zarak was that it gave him the possibility of demonstrating his fire before the British. Zarak becomes the head of the brigands he had formed to fight the British forces. Soon they travelled the bumpy path to notoriety, leaving a trail of fire and destruction along and beyond the strategically vital Khyber Pass.

Due to increased insurgencies led by Zarak, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) declared a reward of Rs.5000/- (a sizeable amount at that time) for information leading to the capture of Zarak Khan of Haranzhai. These lands were annexed to the British East India Company in 1849 following the Second Anglo-Sikh War and many conflicts took place to protect the land from Russian expansion, which also resulted in conflict with the frontier tribesmen.

Some twenty miles from Fort Abbott, the provincial fort of the British forces in the tribal territory, a horse driven Royal Mail Coach (HMC 1476) was rolling through the rugged mountain path. It carried Major. I.P. Ingram, a military specialist of the British army with secret assignment to capture Zarak Khan and put an end to the insurgent activities in the area and to keep the whole provinces safe. With a price set on his head for opposing the British, but handy with the information about the arrival of Maj. Ingram to finish him off, Zarak decides to play a prank on the British Major, The coach was blocked by a camel squatting in the middle of the stony road, with its master settled next to it. When the soldiers tried to get them off the path the master of the camel (Zarak) signals his brigands to attack.

A fight between Zarak and Maj. Ingram erupts and Zarak rides away with the Mail coach which was soon lost over the cliff into the steep rocky slope. Maj. Ingram, seemingly incapable of bitterness, had to walk almost twenty miles to the town of Ziarat where he is assigned to take charge of the Political Agent’s office. In fact, Ingram’s valiant reputation had preceded his arrival to Ziarat. There is talk among the British Frontier Corps that when the new Major takes over as the Political Officer, there will be no more bandits within a hundred miles of the Khyber Pass, especially no more Zarak Khan who’s first on their list. As the Major immersed into the official activities, his wife Cathy surprises him with a sudden visit.

Meanwhile, at Peshawar (one of the most important bases on the frontier), Zarak learns that his father Haji Khan has died and being the eldest of the sons, the tribesmen expected him to be their new chieftain which is promptly declined by Zarak. He visits an entertainment tavern where, unbeknown to him, the beautiful houri Salma is the main floorshow attraction. They meet after Salma sends for him and renew their passion for each other in her private quarters inside the tavern. Zarak learns from Salma that Akbar the merchant was kind and had saved her. Akbar had let her buy back her freedom – and, no, she’s not married, yet. She refuses Zarak’s proposal to marry her claiming that it’s written “to do not marry the same woman as your father married.” She wouldn’t budge even though Zarak proposes that they would make their own laws.

On the rebel front, Zarak and his men were on a rampage disseminating a reprehensible panic among those thought to be made of sterner stuff. The British army soon increased the reward amount on his head to Rs.50,000/- which would lead to further bloody encounters and develop an unseen bond between Zarak and Major Ingram…

The film “Zarak” strikes a note as a curiosity considering all those upcoming landmark people of show business involved in making it. Even author A.J Bevan rendered his services as a technical advisor.

The role of Zarak was originally intended for Errol Flynn, who was then going through a bad phase of personal financial difficulties. Besides, owing to commitments to a string of movies such as “Let’s Make Up” (Lilacs in the Spring), “The Warriors” and “Istanbul”, the role ultimately went to Victor Mature.

Even though adventure stories (especially Biblical movies like “The Robe”, “Demetrius and the Gladiators”, “Samson and Delilah”, etc) were exclusive vehicles of Victor (The Hulk) Mature’s road to stardom, he had also captured the imagination of the audience with his roles in movies such as “My Darling Clementine”, “Million Dollar Mermaid”, “The Last Frontier”, etc. Mature, freelancing after expiry of his contract with 20th Century Fox had earlier starred in Warwick’s “Safari” (1955) directed by Terence Young. A man of some style and a sense of humour, Mature had finished acting in director Richard Fleischer’s “Violent Saturday” in Bisbee, Arizona and was available. Mature was signed to play the role of Zarak Khan even though he considered doing his own stunts as an impediment to his performance, something renown from the days of Cecil B. DeMille’s “Samson and Delilah” when he declined DeMille’s request to wrestle the tame lion of M.G.M.

Actress Claire Bloom in her memoir “Leaving a Doll’s House” relates Mature once saying “I wouldn’t walk up a wet step”. The matter was solved by assigning the stuntworks to the legendary wham-bang stuntman Yakima Canutt and his team of daredevils. With the stunts taken care of, all Mature had to do was act the way he always did. According to the biography of another reputed actor, Mature once made a remark about his acting to a director: “….. I got three expressions – looking right, looking left and looking straight ahead. Which one do you want?” However there was also a kind of passion he brought to his work that held on. Besides, the directorial skill of Terence Young also figured to establish the real character of gallant Zarak which proclaim the nobility of the human spirit.

For the grace and sensuality of the role of Salma, the alluring beauty of 25-year old former Miss Sweden 1951 Anita Ekberg (Kerstin Anita Marianne Ekberg) was found most appropriate to decorate the film with. She had no qualms to flash her voluptuous body during the two skimpily clad erotic dance scenes choreographed by Tute Lemkow. The scenes of glamourous Ekberg gyrating her hips to the invigorating tunes of classical Pashto music accompanied by scantly-clad girls and men in a room filled with heady smoke (meant to be sweet scented fragrances of Persian tobacco, herbs and spices, coarse sugar, oudh, …) drifting from hookahs certainly appear exotic to the senses. These provocative scenes of Ekberg depicted in British film posters generated protests from the House of Lords. Unfortunately, this tall pin-up who was reportedly once promoted as “Paramount’s Marilyn Monroe”, would show some improvement only later in Federico Fellini’s“La Dolce Vita” (1960). After her marriage in 1956 to the tall and dashing English actor Anthony Steel in the huge square outside the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence (with no hat, no gloves and no stockings) following the release of “Zarak”, Ekberg would take a breather before she would co-star once again with Mature in Warwick Productions’ “Pickup Alley” (1957).

The English gentleman Michael Wilding, hailed at that time as another David Niven, did a realistic portrayal of Maj. Ingram in bright scarlet (Red Coat) of the British military uniform, in spite that in 1956 he was going through a wretched personal crisis. Though he was slated to act in M.G.M’s “The Scarlet Coat”, the film didn’t work out for him since his contract was not renewed. On the domestic front, though his wife Elizabeth Taylor had accompanied him to the locations of Zarak in Spain and Morocco during early spring of 1956, their marriage, which was going through a bad patch then, would finally culminate in their separation by July that year.

Finlay Currie as the Mullah, and bejeweled Eunice Gayson (attired in beautiful Victorian costumes designed by Phyllis Dalton) as Cathy Ingram, provide fair performances in the supporting roles. In addition to music by prolific British composer William Alwyn (played by Sinfonia of London and conducted by Muir Mathieson), to add more spice to the film, it features the hit song “Climb Up the Wall” sung by British singer Yana. Snippets from Johann Strauss II’s “The Blue Danube” (An der schönen blauen Donau – 1867) and Robert Burns’ “Auld Lang Syne” (1788) for the couples swishing on the dance floor during the New Year Ball for Armed Forces, proclaim the elegance of a life in the past.  The studio scenes, primarily of the town tavern and the colourful bazaar full of flavour of the East, by Art directors John Box and Bill Andrews were filmed at the M.G.M Studios, Elstree, England. The titles are shown on colourful paintings depicting the ensuing scenes from the movie. For authenticity, the Enfield Pattern 1853 rifle-musket is mostly used as arms for the British soldiers in the film.

Cinema communicates through emotions, behaviour and relationships which are related to in many memorable scenes in the movie, viz. Zarak playing the flute on pretense to get the camel off the road; the pole dances (may be the first of its kind in a movie) by Salma; the rapport between Maj. Ingram and Cathy; the Pashtun’s Khattak dance at the court of Ahmed Khan’s Citadel in Afghanistan, etc. The factual errors include the constant changing of the sky from plain to cloudy in consecutive scenes.

The action scenes breathe instant authenticity: the cavalry swirling across open plains; the rip-roaring battle scenes (shot in CinemaScope on locations in Morocco and Spain by Ted Moore/John Wilcox and Cyril J. Knowles); the daredevil stunt-works are ample evidence of Yakima Canutt’s gift of skill (thank heavens) to create the chaos and arrange it into a semblance of order. Then there is the exotic Anita Ekberg, the potent ingredient to certainly provoke the viewers’ level of admiration for her. So sit back, relax and watch Zarak as a quite joy. (© JS/Manningtree Archive.)

(PS: The character of Zarak has nothing to do with the 1963 Italian movie “Zarak der Rebel” (Original title: Il Pirata del diavolo) starring Richard Harrison. – JS)