Monday, 21 June 2010

Captain Clegg

Okay, faithful readers (all two of you!), as promised, here are my thoughts on Hammer's Captain Clegg.

I have to admit to being a little nervous when I put the DVD in the machine. I've been wanting to watch this film for many years and have read about it in books and on the internet loads, and I had a few moments of worry that it wouldn't be able to live up to the build up it's had. Luckily, my nerves were proven wrong!

The film opens with a ships court hearing, being held in the captains quarters of a pirate ship. A stocky, bald mixed race man (referred to only as The Mulatto - this was 1962, folks, and that's taken directly from the novel which was published in 1915) is being tried for the murder of the Captain's wife, and he is sentenced to having his tongue cut out and his ears slit before being marooned on a deserted island.

The action then switches to the Romeny Marsh, where a middle aged bearded man is heading home. He seems rather fearful, and we soon see that he has reason to be as he is ambushed by a group of horsemen, clad in black with glowing skeletal figures painted onto their clothing. He is chased a short way over the marsh before he his struck dead and left to the swamp as the horsemen gallop away.

We're set up perfectly for the story to unfold and all that is left to do is introduce us to Peter Cushing's charachter, Doctor Blyss (more on that name change later). We are in Dymchurch church and the parish vicar, Dr. Blyss, is leading the congregation in the singing of a hymn. Dissatisfied by the volume and passion his parishoners have shown, Blyss calls for one more go through the last two verses with gusto.
Inter-cut with this, we are introduced to the antagonist of the film, Royal Naval officer and customs man, Captain Collier. He and his men have landed not far from Dymchurch and are making their way across the marsh to pay a visit to Blyss and the villagers as he's recieved word that they are smugglers extraordinaire! As they are fighting their way through the boggy land, they happen across the body of the middle aged man who died the night before, and it is revealed that he was their informant. No wonder he was looking warey the previous night!

The Captain and his landing party arrive at the villiage in time for the last verse of the hymn, and the officer enters the church and passes his steely gaze over the congregation. As the last notes die off, Blyss asks Collier to remove his hat since he's in church, and Collier declines, saying that he is on the Kings business, not God's, kicking off a verbal duel between the two men that lasts the length of the picture. Soon, we see that Collier has an ace up his sleeve: the Mulatto! It turns out that Collier and his men were sailing not too far behind Clegg, and they landed on the island to see what they had done, found the abandoned man and rescued him, in exchange for him helping capture his former master.

Okay, I'll leave it there, just in case anyone wishes to have a watch themselves - I don't want to ruin the whole film, after all - and I'll get onto the cast.

As previously stated, Peter Cushing is the lead in the film, playing the title role of Captain Clegg and his alter-ego, Doctor Blyss, and boy does he give a good performance. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's one of his best. In the earlier film version of the novel, George Arliss played the good Reverend as a softer version of Clegg, all be it with a twinkle in his eye. Here, Cusing tries his best to portray someone acting as a different person, rather than just facets of a whole, and he succeeds admirably. As Clegg he is tough and confident, hard but fair, while as Blyss, he becomes almost the archytypal country vicar, all soft kindess and piety, but with depths that only the audience (and some of the congregation) know of. Cushing employs his vocal range to great effect, using a more exagerated version of his own softly-spoken voice for the vicar and a deeper, more firm tone for the smuggler, differentiating between the two sides of the man clearly and effectively. Indeed, there are even times when the two meld, denoting the true man behind the masks, but these moments are few in amoungts the intrigue and action, and generally involve Yyvonne Romaine's character, Imogene.

Oliver Reed plays the squires son, Harry, in one of many films he made for Hammer, and his character is one of the areas where Hammer deviated from Thorndikes story. Harry is in on the smuggling ring, unlike in the text, and it is Harry, not Blyss/Syn, who disguises himself as a scarecrow to spy on Collier and his men, gaining a tell-tale wound in the process.

Michael Ripper is present in yet another Hammer film - one can fully imagine a member of the public answering Cushing or Lee if asked who acted in more Hammer films than any other actor, but in reality it was Mr Ripper - this time as the first mate-come-undertaker, Mr Mipps. He has a little more to do here than in his usual Hammer roles as innkeepers and the like, and he clearly revels in it, giving a strong supporting perfomance and proving just why Hammer returned to him over and over again.

The Hammer Glammour quotient was provided by Yyvonne Romaine, who starred along side Oliver Reed in the previous years Curse of the Werewolf. As was usual for the period, she didn't have much to do apart from play the damsel, but she gives a solid performance and really sells her characters love for Reed's squires son.

Captain Collier was played by Patrick Allen, an actor who would later go on to perform voice over work for two programmes I admire, the BBC nuclear war drama Threads and The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer, and who started his acting career as an uncredited extra in the 1952 RKO pirate picture, Blackbeard, the Pirate. His lantern jawed looks are perfect for the role of a steadfast Kings man, and he gives the part a dogged determination and grit that really sells his quest to find the apparently dead Captain Clegg and bring him to justice.

The rest of the cast are as solid as any Hammer gathered together during this, their most succesful period, and they all come together to really sell the idea of a small villiage trying to get a little luxury any way they can while avoiding paying the extortionate duty the government places upon the desired items.

The sets are, as one would expect from Hammer at the top of their game, beautifully realised, dressed and shot, really showing an understanding of the period and Hammer's expertise at fashioning it on a budget. Again, they made excellent use of both Bray studios and Oakly Court, as well as finding some excellent locations that could almost be South East Kent (if it weren't quite so hilly).

I'd better take time to mention the name changes, as I said earlier that I would. Around the same time as Hammer decided to adapt the novel, Disney had purchased the film rights to the name Dr. Syn, so Hammer were forced to change the title characters name in order to stave off a law suit. Luckily, they were able to use most of the novels plot points without too much change, although some changes were implimented in order to keep their production as unique as possible, such as the squires son being the one wounded while disguised as a scarecrow.
The film was retitled Night Creatures in the US because Hammer had promised their American distributor, Universal Pictures, a film of that title. They were initially planning to give them an adaptation of Richard Matheson's vampire tale, I Am Legend, but when the BBFC said they would not pass a film version of that tale made by Hammer, they deftly attatched the title to this picture instead, and doubtless ordered the Marsh Phantoms to look all the more demonic and scary in order to fit, hence the all-over glow, rather than just the masks of the novel.

All in all, I have to say this is a fantastic movie and one that I'll have no trouble returning to again and again! I will, however, have trouble choosing between this and the earlier Dr Syn for my favourite adaptation. This keeps Thorndikes bittersweet ending (initially, the tale was to be the only Syn book, so RT killed him off in the end) and the first adaptation sweetens it up by having the crafty vicar live, but they are both excellent adaptations in very different ways and I love them both.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Oops. Pic n' mix entry.

Looks like I'm doing my usual where blogs are concerned and forgetting to update! I really am rather rubbish at journal keeping. This is gonna be a little bit of a mixed bag.

There is some good news. My copy of Captain Clegg arrived and it has an English soundtrack, so huzzah! I've not got around to watching it yet as I've more than a few unwatched DVDs ahead of it, but knowing me I'll bump it up the queue at some point soon.

Speaking of Hammer DVDs, I've also recently managed to finally nab myself a reasonably priced copy of early Hammer sci-fi film (and precurser in tone to their first Gothic horror, Curse of Frankenstein), Four Sided Triangle. In a nutshell, two men build a duplication machine and fall in love with the same woman, as you do. She agrees to marry one of them, and the other decides to create a duplicate of her for himself, but the duplicate falls in love with the other guy, too. Hilarity ensues. Or not. I don't know yet. I'm kinda half hoping for a custard pie fight between the woman and her duplicate, but I think that's best left in my head.

I cracked my SNES out today for the first time in around three or four years, and again lamented the fact that my Super Mario All-Stars cartridge is missing. That was one ace cart; three Mario games all in one grey plastic box. Mario 3 is my fave, with the first Super Mario game a close second. Anyway, I spent an hour or so trying to get past level 2.1 of Bram Stoker's Dracula and getting eaten by aliens in Alien3. I am so gonna have to buy SMA-S again and Jurassic Park.

I've got myself a box of Ungor for my WHFB Beastmen army. After much thought I decided to arm them with bows (as in "I saw there were bows on the sprues and that decided that") for use as Ungor Raiders. I'm thinking a goat-man version of Robin Hood, although that'll be tough since they don't have clothes on to paint Lincoln Green. Perhaps they'll just be Robin and the Merries in my head.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Bootlegger: Part One

Okay, this isn't what I'd planned to write for my first post in this 'ere blog (well, first one since I deleted the ones that I wrote almost 3 years ago), but nevermind,

One of the few things I'm grateful for regarding my father and his side of the family is their association with the Romney Marsh, Dr Syn and the resulting interest in smuggling (and, by extension, piracy) that it spawned in me. I loves me a good yarn about sneaky locals off-loading tax-free booze and goods from a ship off the coast of Dymchurch, sneaking it back to their hiding place and raising a glass to themselves as the Customs men try and track them down.

All the romance and adventure of smuggling was made all the more real and exciting after my aunty traced our family tree and found one of our ancestors was hanged in Dymchurch for smuggling. Suddenly I had a blood connection to a real smuggler and, despite the fact that he was either rubbish or hated so much that he was used as a patsy (neither of which would surprise me, if the family trait of extreme arrogance were in evidence back then and not a modern phenomena), he seemed very cool to me.

What made it all the more exciting was that he was from the time that Russell Thorndyke's Dr Syn books are set, and my imagination was sparked, seeing my ancestor riding accross the Marsh towards the coast with the gang, all wearing their glowing scarecrow masks and the Rev. Christopher Syn riding at their head. My brother and I spent many a day swashing a buckle and firing our imaginary flintlock pistols at imaginary Excise Men that summer!

Not long after that, I found out that there were three films based upon the novels; Dr Syn (1937 starring George Arliss in the title role), Captain Clegg (1962, Night Creatures in the US, made by Hammer and starring Peter Cushing) and The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (a 1963 Disney tv miniseries starring Patrick McGoohan that was edited for British cinema and retitled Dr Syn, Alias the Scarecrow); and I became desperate to watch them and see Dr Syn do his thing!

The first one I saw was The Scarecrow of Romeny Marsh, shown on ITV one Sunday, retitiled with it's US TV title but still in the feature length format. The main thing that has stuck in my mind about it was the theme song - a galloping ballad about The Scarecrow that's so full of character and fun and The Scarecrow's eerie cackle! - but I can remember being enthralled by it. What I've seen of it on YouTube is still good, and I've been trying to track it down on DVD with little success. Disney released a limited run a couple of years ago, and now it goes for silly money. It's still possible to by from their members club, but even that is $29 and only open to members (naturellement).

Sadly, it took me until earlier this year to track down the 1937 film. I've never, ever seen it on video or on television, but I stumbled upon a DVD copy on Amazon of all places and before I could even think "it will be mine", I'd bought it.
It's a charming film that plays the story as one part comedy to two parts adventure and it works very well. It keeps pretty close to Thorndyke and George Arliss is fantastic as Dr Syn. As good as McGoohan's performance is in the Disney film, Arliss is miles better, full of charm and grace yet with a twinkle in his eye that speaks of hidden depths, just as it should be! Fittingly enough, I have the distinct feeling that the DVD is a copy, or, should I say, bootlegged!

Regarding the third film (or second, chronologically), I haven't seen it. Yet. For some reason it has either never been shown on British television (which I can't believe, it being a Hammer film starring Peter Cushing), or I've had the misfortune and/or lack of observational skills to notice when it was on. I am, as you may have guessed, opting for the latter explanation.
Happily, this situation is about to change as I managed to track down a DVD copy of Captain Clegg on ebay just yesterday, and it will soon be winging its way to me! It is, alas, a German version, but if the sellers info is correct, it's only subtitled in German and retains the English soundtrack, so it's not too big an issue (fingers crossed).
As I'm sure you are aware, I'm a massive Hammer fan, so I'm already getting rather excited at the prospect of seeing two big fandoms of mine collide with one of my favourite actors in the title role! Watch out for part two of this 'ere subject with my thoughts about it!