Tag Archive | Sean Connery

The Galloping Riders of Almería

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Notes:

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

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

Dracula, Prince of Darkness (StarChoice: 25)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Notes:

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

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)