The Chimes of Midnight: Smash Comics Part 1


ASS

Long ago, in the Eighties, I had an on-and-off relationship with DC’s Golden Age-set series, All-Star Squadron. On the one hand, I was a card-carrying Justice Society of America fan of a decade and a half’s standing, but on the other hand it was being written by Roy Thomas.
Not having been a Marvel fan in the decade when it really counted, I’d only really been exposed to Thomas’s writing on things like Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja, and had seen barely, if any, of his superhero work. With the JSA’s most recent stint, under Paul Levitz and Joe Staton, having petered out, I was glad to see another vehicle for them, and one that set them in their prime, in World War 2, looked ideal.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t taken into account the degree by which Thomas had become obsessed with continuity, and ‘retroactive continuity’ or retcons. From the very start, All-Star Squadron was bogged down by Thomas’s urge to draw connections between old and obscure stories, old and even more obscure characters, and not just simple and well-thought-out connections but multiple connections, many of which had to be tortured into place to even stand, leading to the story collapsing under a weight that coherence was never meant to bear. Indeed, it was painfully obvious that Thomas simply could not tell a story for a story’s sake any longer.
Sometimes I could stand it. Sometimes it got just too fussy for my liking, the elevation of things that, even in a comic book universe, didn’t mean anything like enough to be worth it.
But when we got to issue 31, my blood boiled. It began with a full-page splash page of very recognisable design, a man running full tilt towards the ‘camera’. The man was equally recognisable. Blue suit. Blue fedora. White shirt and loose red tie. Blue gloves. Blue domino mask. It was The Spirit, Will Eisner’s classic creation, whose reprinted stories I was then collecting in the Kitchen Sink magazine series.
But DC didn’t own The Spirit. And this wasn’t The Spirit, it was Midnight, aka radio announcer, Dave Clark. It was a blatant, out-and-out ripoff, as if we wouldn’t notice, and it infuriated me.

Q - Invisible Hood

However, I didn’t know as much then as I knew later and in this instance I was maligning Roy Thomas unfairly. It’s true that Midnight was a blatant rip-off – his alter ego even has the same initials as Denny Colt – but it was not Thomas who perpetrated it: the real culprit was Jack Cole, the creator of Plastic Man.
Cole was operating under the instructions of Everett ‘Busy’ Arnold, publisher of Quality Comics, where Eisner’s Spirit appeared in comic books. Apparently, concerned that Eisner might be killed or incapacitated whilst in the Army (or was he just plain ripping him off?), Arnold had Cole create Midnight to ensure he had things covered. Midnight debuted in Quality’s Smash Comics 18, hit the cover in issue 28 and kept it until it was cancelled with issue 85.
And you know how curious I can get…
Nevertheless, Midnight’s delayed debut means we have ground to cover before we begin. The first issue, cover-dated August 1939, was credited as published by Everett M. Arnold. It’s a weird business, multiple strips, mostly drawn decently well for the period, mixing all sorts of adventure and comedy, but most of the writing is poor. The closest we come to a costumed hero is in ‘Hooded Justice’, which features the Invisible Hood, aka Kent Thurston, who dresses in a voluminous and decidedly non-invisible cloak and initially wields a gas gun a good year or so ahead of The Sandman.

Q - Bozo

This is not to say that the Invisible Hood is the top feature, anything but. It’s hard to distinguish any of the features from the rest, several of which were starting in midstream, having previously run in Feature Funnies. Some, like Abdul the Arab, were intrinsically racist. Hugh Hazzard, just one of a number of identikit adventurers would have his strip overtaken by Bozo the Iron Man: seriously, Bozo.
Hooded Justice became Invisible Justice in issue 2, in which the Invisible Hood gains the power of invisibility. A new feature arriving in issue 3 was John Law, the ‘Scientective’, no relation, in theme or quality, to Will Eisner’s unsuccessful later creation. He was joined by Flash Fulton, newspaper photographer, next issue, rather unnecessarily since we’ve had Chic Carter, newspaper reporter, since the start. And my mild curiosity about the Invisible Hood was already sated before then: it’s rubbish. Quality Comics? Far from it.
It’s noticeable that the vast majority of the art in Smash Comics is drawn on a rigid 12 panel grid of three panels in four tiers, with variation mainly to combine two panels on a tier. This and the Eisner connection suggests to me that these features were being supplied by the Iger-Eisner Agency, who built their conveyer-belt process on pre-designed panels that would be passed up one side of a room and down the other, speeding up the procedure of producing the comic immensely at a cost of creative suppression.
There was a weird story in issue 5, in the ‘Espionage’ series, starring a monocled US Agent known only as Black Ace. The story was about an impending Europe-wide War, a continent of Kings not Dictators, a massive American re-armament Defence programme and a campaign of sabotage foiled by Ace, after which Europe enters into a Peace Pact, because America could wipe it out – innocents included, but there are no innocents in this scenario – inside a year. What a bizarre mix of elements and national chauvinism! But in an issue cover-dated December 1939, it’s very much an up-to-the-minute production that must have been barely finished when the actual War was declared.
Black Ace had been Black X in Feature Funnies and reverted next issue, once War had started overseas, his monocle being disclosed as concealing an eye put out during unsuccessful torture. The same issue also introduced the contemptible racial stereotype of Wun Cloo, a Chinese amateur detective: disgusting. And from Jack Cole, too.
A dozen issues represents a full year and a moment to reflect on the series to date and the omens are not favourable. Smash Comics thus far is a pretty flat experience. Surprisingly, the art is of a pretty high standard for the era, and the DVD is scanning from actual issues, not microfiches, so reproduction is very good, but the stories are flat and samey. ‘Espionage’ is the best by some margin, despite the pompous, portentous tone it had taken on since the start of the War. The artists can’t draw maps of Europe with the least accuracy and the overriding tone of American super-superiority rings hollow in the face of what we now know of the real events. But it’s a window onto a certain attitude towards the War in 1940, and the tone is consistently anti-War on the simple grounds of the death and destruction it causes to ordinary people. It may be simple but it’s heartfelt and genuine.

Q - Magno

In contrast, Wings Wendall of Military Intelligence is penny plain. The same basically goes for the two journalists, Chic Carter and Flash Fulton. The stories are trapped within the rigid four-by-three panel grid and there are frequent rushed moments when you’re wondering just how A got to G. The same goes art-wise for the two detectives. Captain Cook of Scotland Yard is dull and bears an even greater distance from the real London than usual. John Law, the private criminologist, was advantaged by running as a quasi-serial but had poorer art. Clip Carson is a super college athlete who wins things for his college at the last minute like a Roy Race without the semi-decent soap opera.
I refuse to consider the comedy stuff, especially the repugnant Wun Cloo, and although it’s played straight and the character is shown as a hero, I refuse to read Ahab the Arab just on account of the name. The Archie O’Toole stuff is pleasantly drawn but usually negligible, until issue 12, when as vile a stereotypical blackface character was introduced. As a bootblack, naturally.
But the bottom of the pile are the two vaguely ‘superheroic’ series. I was curious to see the Invisible Hood stories for myself but they’re dull as dishwater and the hero’s ‘costume’ is not just a dotted outline but a bulky and preposterous one at that. Elsewhere, issue 12 sees the series header switched round, as Bozo the Robot gets top billing above Hugh Hazzard. I am neither old enough nor American enough to know what meanings Bozo might have had in 1940 but it makes the series, which is nothing to write home about anyway, impossible to take at all seriously.
I do so hope Midnight is worth it after all of this.
Espionage and Black X are credited to William Erwin. Erwin was the middle name of Will Eisner who, by that time, was working with ‘Busy’ Arnold on The Spirit Section. I think we know who was really producing the feature, though that doesn’t explain the maps…
A new feature came in with issue 13, The Purple Trio, impecunious vaudeville performers who can’t get a paying job so turn their particular talents to fighting crime. Also on debut was Magno the Miracle Man, another of those superheroes whose most impressive power is getting people to not recognise them when they don’t wear any kind of mask. To make room, Flash Felton and John Law were dropped and there was a double dose of Philbert Veep, the Holmes-esque cartoon detective instead of the disgusting Won Cloo, which I hope is a permanent uplift.

Q - Ray

Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Philbert and Captain Cook were out with issue 14, to make room for another and this time more interesting superhero, The Ray. Though the costume was instantly familiar, apart from the bare legs, the character was not the one that turned up in Justice League of America 107: the origin’s the same but ‘Happy’ Terrill, reporter is supposedly dead and The Ray is The Ray. He turns up from nothing in beams of light and his powers are more electromagnetic than light-based, and we’ve already got the feeble Magno for that.
The second instalment was more like it, with spectacular art credited to E. Lectron, who was the great Lou Fine. There’s still no sign of Happy Terrill, and The Ray’s powers, though more oriented to light and rays, are still uncontrolled but Fine can sure draw an excellent short-skirted lady, and I’m talking more-than-Carnaby-Street short here.
By the next issue, The Ray had replaced ‘Espionage’ as the lead feature. And the rapid turnover continued with a new series, The Scarlet Seal, though that was as dodgy as month-old bread. Barry Moore, film star, quits the industry to take a job with his hometown Police, under his Police Captain Father. But the new Commissioner has declared war on brutality and stoolies: henceforth policing will be calm and polite. So Barry goes undercover. Alright so far, except that Barry yellows up as a Chinese stereotype, or to use the strip’s parlance just this once, a Chink. Ok, that does it. Add in the cliché of the Commissioner being more determined to bring in The Scarlet Seal – named for the symbol he stamps on bad guys’ foreheads – than he is actual criminals, and this is one ripe piece of pus demanding squeezing out, but if Wun Cloo is still running…
Interestingly, The Ray’s story in issue 17, which brings back Happy Terrill as if he’d never been missing, let alone dead, is the only one I’ve previously read, in a 1972 100 page Reprint Giant that also featured the Black Condor, already flying in sister title Crack Comics (now there’s a title we won’t be hearing much about reviving).
But at last the man we’ve all been waiting for arrives. Midnight made his debut near the end of issue 18, and my prayers are answered because it’s the ‘funny’ strips that take a dive for him, Archie O’Toole and the despised Won Cloo. It’s credited to Jack Cole from the first page. It’s a pretty perfunctory five pager in which Clark, a spot announcer for Station UXAM doesn’t wear a mask and seems to be known as Midnight when he’s dressed for his day job. This is not Eisner-standard work.
With mask in place, Midnight made it onto the cover parade next time, with a better story, though we’re really not seeing the real Jack Cole art yet. We are seeing those god-awful ‘funnies’ again, including guess who.
Though overall it’s a more entertaining prospect than it was a year ago, Smash, like its four stable-mates, is suffering from the fatal flaw of carrying eleven features each, which means far too little space for far too many things. And far too little attention to what you’re doing, as when Espionage brought back the beautiful villainess Madame Doom, despite having shown her blown to pieces from within.
Issue 21 started with the Ray as usual. Lou Fine was one of the most gracious and accomplished artists of the Golden Age with a wonderfully flowing and delicate line, instantly recognisable for his clear images and lithe figures. Frankly, he’s a hundred times better than the story, though this episode showed a certain premonitary cleverness in positing a would-be Emperor of the Pacific intending to provoke America into war by attacking Hawaii.
It’s hard to assess Midnight at this early stage. Cole’s drawing mostly straight and the stories are bouncy and energetic, but they’re rather more fantastic than the Spirit. I’m not really familiar with the first half of The Spirit’s career, so I don’t know the like to which Midnight may be like. The later Eisner, post-War, was something very different. The Spirit never acquired a sidekick in the form of a talking monkey named Gabby.

Q - Wildfire

As for Magno, I confess I rarely read it, which is down to Paul Gustavson’s art. Like Fine, it’s clear and graceful, and not confined to rigid lay-outs but his figure work on Magno puts me off with its effeminacy. Magno is always skipping around of tiptoes; like a Fotherington-Thomas I expect him to be lisping ‘Hello clouds, hello trees’ all the time. It clashes horribly with the superhero action and I can’t shift my automatic antipathy.
The next issue introduced The Jester, also drawn by Gustavson but in a much more solidified way, with Magno moving elsewhere. This is another one who arrives already in costume and notorious but it’s a bright start and looks potentially good. Wun Cloo was once again missing: dare I hope? Nah…
The ongoing costumed adventurer takeover of the comic was extended in issue 24 as Chic Carter, the reporter, donned a costume to clear himself of murder. He also picked up a sword, being a fencing champion at college (of course he was) and called himself The Sword. Not only that, Wings Wendall caught a costume, whilst Midnight’s popularity was evident in the announcement that his series was to be expanded from five pages to six.
In contrast, a new Police series started in issue 25, Rookie Rankin, along with Wildfire, the series’ first costumed heroine who, when in costume, has red hair down to below her ankles. And Chic Carter, alias or not alias the Sword, made way for them, transferring to first Police Comics (home of Plastic Man) then Military Comics (Blackhawk). The Scarlet Seal was also out, for which heartfelt thanks.
And then, exactly as promised, Midnight hit the cover for the first time, in issue 28, though the Ray continued to hold the premier slot, and next issue he showed why, with a phenomenal art job from Fine that would have been astonishingly good in any era: linework, body language, panel breakdowns, compositions, this was fantastic and, quite frankly, worth the whole damned DVD alone. If this is what Fine’s art was evolving into, roll on further episodes. And I’m getting seriously impressed with Paul Gustavson’s work on The Jester.
The Ray story in issue 31 was much less impressive, suggesting Fine had had less time to work, or possibly couldn’t maintain the intensity for so long, which was supported by the far better, but still not quite top quality episode that came next. And I’d like to make it plain that this extravagant praise is for the art alone.
The attack on Pearl Harbour was reflected in issue 33, with everyone suddenly hot against the caricatural Japanese. It’s no less racial for the time, but very understandable, for which I am forced to give it the pass that Won Cloo will never have. At the same time the European Front was reinforced by the Marksman, a hooded archer and Polish Count undercover as a Nazi Agent. This was achieved by shelving the Invisible Hood.

Q - Midnight

Issue 35 saw Midnight promoted to the first feature, and to nine pages, a reflection of his growing popularity and, after a succession of cartoony Jack Cole covers, the next issue saw a beautifully drawn, dark and moody head shot that belied his every appearance to date. It covered for a moody but ridiculous story about Midnight dying and going to Hell to battle the Devil, but being hooked back by some mysterious old codger who wanted Gabby and Doc’s lives in exchange… There was a new name in the credits for Espionage and Black X, Alex Kotsky replacing ‘Will Erwin’, whilst Wildfire’s costume was abruptly rendered much more modest by joining her bikini top to her high-waist pants (boo).
Modesty only lasted an issue, thankfully, bringing a pleasant little wrinkle when Carol ‘Wildfire’ Martin decided she was fed up of being thought of as just a playgirl and punched out two crooks! Sadly, that was her last appearance. Smash Comics was paring down its features. Old stalwarts were falling by the wayside. Wings Wendall and the Purple Trio both cashed in their chips to leave space for the Yankee Eagle, who was as nondescript as they came, but patriotic in a time of War. And in his second appearance, sheer poison beyond the justification of that War.
Lou Fine had left The Ray, leaving the series moribund. Paul Gustavson left The Jester, dealing a similar blow. Issue 40, a good enough point at which to end this first part, sees the comic in a bad state, with its two catastrophic ‘comedy’ series intact, The Marksman and Yankee Eagle crude rubbish and its two strongest features artistically with their legs cut out from underneath them.
Thankfully, Midnight was going from strength to strength, and slowly taking on a distinctly Spirit-esque spirit. Apart from the obvious visual similarity, which is not that pronounced when viewed through Jack Cole’s cartoonist style, there’s not really been any equivalence between the two features, though I say again that I am comparing different eras, Midnight 1941-3 against The Spirit 1946-50. And Cole’s style is much more kinetic and unrealistic than Eisner’s, and much closer to a pulp-hero/costumed hero crossover. And whereas The Spirit had Ebony White, over whom there is still so much controversy, Midnight has Gabby the Talking Monkey and Doc Wackey, inventor of preposterous machines. Though it’s considerably more lightweight, I do enjoy Midnight, and I look forward to every instalment in the same way that I avoid reading the asinine Wun Cloo.
Next time, we’ll see how things progress in the second half of the series’ life.

Boys from the Black Stuff: e04 – Yosser’s Story


Black

This is the one. This is the episode by which this series is defined. This is not a story but a picture, and the picture is Hell on Earth. Forty years ago, I had a premonition that Boys from the Black Stuff was going to be different, that it was not going to be the usual ephemera of television that could be allowed to evaporate, but that it needed to be recorded, kept permanent. I had no premonition of how right I would be in the case of ‘Yosser’s Story’ but right I was, then, now and in a thousand years time.

For all that I have been entranced and astounded by such things as ‘Fall-out’ (The Prisoner), Episode 8 (Twin Peaks – The Return) and ‘If – Then – Else’ (Person of Interest), this is to me the most important episode of television ever made in my lifetime. And it is bloody hard to watch, as this morning has reminded me.

To be honest, I have so many thoughts about this story that I don’t know where to begin or how to make them coherent. To date in the series, Yosser – the hard man, the bastard, the twat of The Black Stuff, the guy who thinks he’s something when he’s obviously a blowhard and a nothing blowing himself up out of all proportion – has been a peripheral figure, yet even then he’s stood out. Some of it was his appearance, black hair, that iron bar of a black moustache overgrowing his mouth, the long black coat swinging in his wake, the black top and black jeans, the pale face such a contrast, the hard, too-intent stare, the three silent children, baggy and scruffy, trailing him, a mute chorus.

And some of it was his desperation, and the catch-phrase everyone adopted in a time of recession and creeping misery, ‘Gizza job.’ Gizza job, go on, giz it, I can do that. It was almost funny back then, the way catch-phrases are supposed to be funny. You havin’ a laugh? Is ‘ee havin’ a laugh?

Now’s the time to look Yosser in the face, and watch him drown.

Bleasedale does this both literally and symbolically. He starts with an horrific scene that’s supposed to be Liverpool’s Sefton Park, though for health reasons it was filmed on private land. An idyllic afternoon, families relaxing around the lake, Yosser appears, kids in tow. They walk into the lake, into the middle. They go under. One by one the children disappear. George Malone is rowed by, in pyjamas and flat cap, but ignores Yosser’s appeals. Loggo rows Chrissie past, the pair in striped blazers and caps like a Three Men and a Boat parody, and they ignore him.

It’s all a dream but it represents Yosser’s greatest nightmare, having his kids, Jason, Anne-Marie and Dustin (note the ambitious names, and note that the trio are played by Alan Bleasedale’s own children) being taken away. Because everything else has been. His job. His wife. They live in squalor and dirt. The rent is overdue. The electric is going to be cut off. Yosser’s dreams, ambitions, his lifelong internal delusion that he is somebody, that the world is his oyster, that he is big, and he is noticed, because he’s Yosser Hughes, is being stripped away. I’m Yosser Hughes me, everybody notices me.

We know it’s going to happen, that it will end with the kids being taken into care. It takes only one glimpse of how the family lives that it is not just inevitable but right, on any grounds of the safety and welfare of those children. We know it’s going to be brutal. But it is self-evident that, no matter how inept he is at looking after them, Yosser loves his kids with a passion. They are a part of him, and he is a part of them. They trail around after him silent and staring. They look bored, they have no toys, nothing to do, but he is their Daddy. It’s not just going to be painful, it’s going to fucking hurt like Hell.

And it does.

But there’s a long way to go before that. Yosser’s wife Maureen, a perfect yet nasty portrayal by Jean Warren, has left him, is living with a musician who decides that the fuck isn’t worth the hassle from Yosser and throws her out. Maureen’s a hard-faced bitch, with dyed-blonde hair, wearing short skirts to show off her legs. She hates Yosser, she has nothing but contempt for him, she doesn’t want the kids, she does a face-only monologue to Social Services just to shit all over him, including the hint that they’re probably not even his, none of them, she had this ‘friend’, a German Sea Captain. Is that enough? she ends up asking.

How much of that is true? Yosser wants her back, but that’s just because she’s his possession and she can’t go away from him of her own free will. She claims he hit her all the time, which we can believe, though when he corners her, shoves her up against a lamppost, makes to headbutt her, it’s his hand that moves her head at the last moment so that he headbutts the concrete instead.

But that he hit the kids all the time, took it out on them? That’s hard to accept from the way he treats them now – there is a tear-jerking momemt where he lies down on the bed the three share, and Dustin wriggles into his arms, hugging him – but this is Yosser Hughes. He’s no hero, nobody exceptional, that’s the point. He’s a weak man, an insecure man, a twat in his own right, so we cannot ever be certain about what and how he was before this all started happening to him.

And Maureen hasn’t finished stickling the knife in. First, she more or less openly says that he was crap at sex, which is very believable, but then she waits for him to go out and brings a furniture van to strip the house of practically everything behind his back. Except for a record-player that’s not paid for yet.

Of course, this is Liverpool, where they compulsively joke, and there are jokes in here along the way, and Bleasedale’s skill is to make us laugh, despite our wish not to, laughter that’s bitter and sharp. The most famous is the gag in the Confessional, to which Yosser has repaired. He can barely talk, in fact he sobs, uncontrollably. Only here, in some kind of sanctuary, can this hard man belie his own self-image and cry in pain and fear, of what it is and what it’s going to become. He’s in a place of miracles but no miracles were due in 1982, not for the likes of Yosser. Practically the only thing he can articulate is that he’s desperate, desperate, and so Bleasedale’s less-than-idealistically portrayed priest, trying at the last to establish some kind of intimacy, to be of genuine aid to the broken man behind the grille, works through versions of address, from Father to Father Thomas, to Father Daniel Thomas, Dan, Call Me Dan. And of course we’ve seen it coming, and it comes, and even after all of that we still laugh when Yosser pleads that he’s Desperate Dan.

But the moment comes. The Social Workers have the Order but Yosser chucks them out. They return with the Police, who have no time for shite. They kick down the backyard gate, break the back door window to get in, they beat Yosser to the ground with truncheons to the kidneys and kicks to the legs, back and stomach. The junior Social Worker, Veronica, is sickened enough to call them bastards. A minute later, placing a struggling Anne-Marie in the van, she smiles, talks sweetly to the girl. Who smiles, draws back her little gold head and butts Veronica between the eyes.

It still isn’t done. Yosser is bordering on madness now, searching for his kids, wanting to be put away, he’ll play the looney, if he can be put away with them. By now, the episode is starting to flicker out, because this is not a story and therefore it has no end, and it is searching for somewhere where it can stop. Yosser sits in a bench in the rain. An old Scottish wino he’s already met (James Ellis, the long-standing Bert Lynch on Z-Cars, only recognisable if you know who he is) tries to get a dry cell for the night by kicking at a takeaway window, but Yosser heaves a metal barrel through it. You stole my window, complains the wino. They stand there, waiting for the Police (Andrew Schofield, who played Bleasedale’s Scully on radio and TV), who reject Yosser: of course it was the wino who did it, it’s always him, until Yosser headbutts Scully and gets himself arrested that way.

The car is diverted to a supposed disturbance down by Sefton Park. We’re circling back to the beginning. Yosser’s coming to the end, to the realisation that none of it, not one of his illusions, his expectations, his dreams, the seemingly overwhelming possibility of the world when he was growing up, none of it is real, none of it has ever happened, or will happen. He has found his absolute nadir and understands that this is it, that this is how it is going to be. He’s 36, and it will never get better.

So he feigns being sick and once he’s out of the car he runs away, into the Park. He throws himself into the Lake, like the beginning, under water, intent on drowning, on death, on an end. For amount, Scully says let him, but his driver can’t. They dive in, find him, drag him out. And there the camera freezes, on the manic expression on Yosser’s face, the mad, staring eye. And if you can stare at that frozen frame through the whole of the credits without tears coming to your own eyes, then you’re a harder bastard than I am.

That’s not all there is. I haven’t even mentioned the guest appearances of Graeme Souness and Sammy Lee, Liverpool footballers of the era and beyond this passing line I won’t. They come over as partly a gimmick, but it’s a gimmick Bleasedale builds into the overall story, a moment of great embarrassment yet paradoxically the only high point of the episode.

But what has to be mentioned, has to be shouted about very loudly, is Bernard Hill. His Yosser is an incredible performance. At no point is it any one thing. Yosser may be a simple character on many levels but never in Hill’s acting. I have by no means seen all he has done but I cannot think that he was ever better than this. No-one else, no matter their skill, could have been Yosser Hughes, could have made him a figure of faults and flaws, who has brought his own destruction down upon him, yet have our sympathies lie with him at every moment. Never do we escape the knowledge that we are watching a man being driven out of his wits, nor the fact that he is an ordinary man, just as we are ordinary men and women, and that all of this, every horrible second, is a thousand percent real, and could happen to us.

Yes, the greatest horror of all this is just that. It could happen to us.

*Guest Post* Garth Groombridge – My 40 Favourite Movies; 14 – To Catch a Thief


to-catch-a-thief-lg

14: TO CATCH A THIEF: 1954. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. US. Crime thriller. Cary Grant. Grace Kelly. John Williams. Brigitte Auber. Frances Stevens.
Sadly to be Hitchcock’s third and final film featuring Grace Kelly, this is based on the 1952 novel of the same name by David Francis Dodge (1910-1974), who combined fictional thrillers with travel writing, the former “characterised by tight plotting, brisk dialogue, memorable and well-defined characters and often exotic locations.” The screenplay was again by John Michael Hayes. Screen time was 106 minutes, the budget was $2.5million, and box office receipts totalled $8.75million. Apparently the rights are still owned by Paramount.
Cary Grant plays John Robie, aka ‘The Cat’, the ex-thief/cat burglar, but later war-time French resistance hero, now retired and living on the French Riviera, in a nice secluded villa up in the more rural hinterlands – actually at Saint-Jeannet. Grace Kelly, in her third role with Hitchcock, played wealthy American socialite Frances Stevens, living it up at the posh Carlton Hotel in Cannes, with Jessie Royce Landis as her mother, Jessie Stevens. Cue for lots of elegant clothes and poses, and high-speed car chases along the mountain roads above Nice, the Cap Ferret, and Monaco. John Williams, who featured as the police inspector in Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder, plays the very English insurance agent, H.H. Hughson, who is prepared to believe Robie is innocent of the latest spate of ‘copy-cat’ burglaries. Finally Brigitte Auber plays Danieile Foussard, daughter of one of the French resistance heroes who Robie knew. The police, of course, immediately suspect Robie, as the break-ins have all his characteristic trademarks. Even his old resistance pals in Monaco are apparently convinced he is guilty, if (at first) politely declining to say so. Cary Grant is deeply sun-tanned and rather wrinkled in a mature, still quite handsome way, enough apparently to soon have the two women – Kelly and Auber – each after him, although Kelly – supposedly the elder of the two (which in real life she wasn’t) – is by far the most tempting.
Compared to the darker undercurrents in Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, Vertigo or Psycho, this is one of Hitchcock’s lighter, more playful, movies – as Donald Spoto (who has written extensively on Hitchcock and Grace Kelly) remarks, this is Hitchcock on holiday in a pre-tourist, pre-overcommercialised South of France, having a good time with two of his favourite actors – Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, in her last movie with him. After The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, if I had to name my next favourite movie, it would be To Catch a Thief, my second of four Hitchcock top movies. The general consensus is that Hitchcock’s best movies for plot, suspense and technique, are Vertigo, Rear Window and Psycho, but the truth is, Hitchcock movies can be watched – and still enjoyed – over and over, countless times. They are such masterpieces, and there is always something new to discover. One poster for To Catch a Thief announced: “Shocking Suspense! Sizzling Romance!” I would be the first to concede the truth is no to both those hyped-up, publicity claims. This is a very routine version of the Hitchcock theme of the ‘wrong man’ accused of a crime he didn’t commit, striving to prove his innocence and uncover the real villain. Suspense – in the usual sense of a Hitchcock movie – is minimal, almost non-existent. Full-on romance too, in the usual sense, is rather muted, although in no part thanks to the restraints still being imposed by the ridiculous Hollywood Code. Aside from the occasional kiss, and the delightful innuendo-laden banter – notably over the chicken picnic (Grace, as Francie: “Do you want a leg or breast?” Grant, as Robie: “You make the choice.” Francie: “Tell me – how long has it been?” Robie: “Since what?” Francie: “Since you were in America.”) – fireworks has to be the nearest substitute for actual love-making – not at all Grace Kelly’s reputed real-life seduction technique. While not quite as seductively steamy as Grace Kelly’s Lisa in Rear Window, the dialogue is still a delight, with lines such as Francie saying: “If you really want to see fireworks, it’s better with the lights off. I have a feeling that tonight you’re going to see one of the Riviera’s most fascinating sights – I’m talking about the fireworks, of course.” Of course, Grace, what else? Despite the fade-out just as they first kiss again, it’s obvious what, even though they still keep their clothes on!
According to Spoto (in his book High Society: Grace Kelly in Hollywood), “Grant had singular memories of filming several especially clever sequences. In the first, Danielle [Brigitte Auber] and Francie meet in the waters of the beach club [off Cannes beach], as rivals over Robie.” The subsequent dialogue – particular the emphasis on Danielle being the younger of the two, which in real life she wasn’t, is quite hilarious, and the comparison to buying a car, has Grant’s Robie – a mere hapless male – totally bewildered and out of his depth as the two women banter. Spoto reports Grace’s version of the sequence: “Hitch told us to improvise some of the dialogue, and so Cary and I did just that. We rehearsed it first with Miss Auber, whose English was not so fluent. We all had terrific fun trying to see what we could get away with, because we knew Hitch wanted us to go as far as we could. Cary and I shared the same warped and sometimes risqué sense of humour, so it was just a great deal of fun for us.” If true – and the fun comes through in the scene – then it belies the usual myths of Hitchcock regarded actors “as cattle”, only there to say their lines, or his reputation for having complete control over dialogue and action. It says a lot for the trust and good relations he had with Cary and Grace.
Although Kelly and Cary Grant were good friends – remaining so for the rest of Grace’s tragically all-too-short life – he was already too self-aware of the apparent absurdity of them romancing, with him being twice her age – he was born 1904, she 1929. If the stories about Grace’s real life romances are only half-true, she had no such inhibitions. She preferred older men, perhaps (one can only speculate) trying to compensate for the indifference of her boorish, hypocritical, none-too-bright father, who never acknowledged her beauty, talent or intelligence. And Grace did have talent and intelligence. When it came to acting, she might not have had the ingrained brilliance of, say, Deborah Kerr or a Diana Rigg, but she had dedication and determination, and the ability to memorise and get into the skin of characters. By her own admission, her performances in earlier movies – she singled out High Noon (1952) and Mogambo (1954) – were not as good as they could have, as she was, in her own words, “still learning”. When filming Mogambo – the needless John Ford remake of Red Dust, with Gable thirty years on from the original with him and Jean Harlow (who was now played by Ava Gardner) – she astonished Gable and fellow actor Donald Sinden (who played the role of Grace’s character’s hapless husband) by ordering their get-together meal at the New Stanley Hotel, Nairobi, in Swahili. As soon as she knew the film’s location, Grace had taught herself the rudiments of the dialect! Much later, as Princess Grace of Monaco, she proved to be a formidable businesswoman and committee member, with a good grasp of detail, as well as charm and skill in human relationships. While she professed no great love for Hollywood, and its phoniness and hype, she loved acting. As Princess Grace, in her gilded cage, it was this she missed the most, especially the possibility of theatrical work. She later confessed she had long wanted to play the title role of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, and in the stage-play Behold the Bridegroom, a play written by her uncle George Kelly, and first performed on Broadway in 1927. Hitchcock had wanted her for Marnie, and Donald Spoto says Prince Reiner was supportive, but Grace fell pregnant and later had a miscarriage, and there was a political standoff with France over taxation, that meant that was not to be. In retrospect, Grace would not have been ideal for the part, which went instead to Tippi Hedren – nor was it the best of Hitchcock’s films, the Old Master was already starting to lose his magic touch. However, even before Grace Kelly’s decision to marry Prince Reiner and take her last, and perhaps most enduring, role of Princess Grace of Monaco, Hitchcock was planning more films with her. He was certainly ‘in love’ by her, in what he himself would have known was an impossible school-boyish sort of way, but he still hoped to ‘own’ her, professionally, as soon as her contractual obligation to MGM were resolved. Grace herself was intelligent and experienced enough by now to know Hitchcock’s true feelings for her, other than as just an actress, “but she did not see her life and career as ineluctably linked to his”, as Spoto later wrote. Hitchcock’s summing up of her performance in To Catch a Thief was thus: “Grace can play comedy not only sexily but elegantly. It’s a quality most woman do not have. It has already taken her a long way – it may even take her to the top. But so far, she has yet to play the character around whom a whole film is built. That will be her big test. But I am sure she will come through it with flying colours. I hope to go through it with her, to make sure that she gets a rich role, not a tintype part in a celluloid soap opera.” Of course, this was not to be. As far as Hitchcock was concerned, this was Grace Kelly’s swansong with him, but a worthy one.
However, when it came to the movie itself, the critics were less than impressed. “Strong on sight and performance” was one (rather grudging) verdict; “plot weakness” complained another. “Light and swiftly-paced, offers dramatic and comical developments,” mused another, while the dialogue was “daring and delightful”. But yet another reported to “thorough disappointment”, and that Hitchcock had “failed” and “abandoned his devotion to tension”. “The climax,” declared another critic, of the final unmasking of the ‘Cat’ impersonator, “Comes as mildly as bread and milk.” However, French movie director (and Hancock fan) Truffaut insisted it, “still managed to be one of the most cynical films Hitchcock has ever made.”
A mixed bag of opinions, indeed! So, why do I love it? Simply put, it is just a delightful, fun, sunlit, comic, character-driven, visual and dialogue joy. British-born Cary Grant was another of those actors (one thinks of George Clooney on the current contemporary scene) who still looked pretty good for his age, while Grace Kelly was at her most stunningly beautiful, even in Hollywood that was filled with lots of extraordinarily beautiful women. While she had featured in some early television dramas in the late 1940s and early 50s, her first movie was in 1951, a minor role in Fourteen Hours. Straightway, her next movie was a game-changer – the classic western High Noon, in 1952, with Gary Cooper. He was reputed to one of her early big Hollywood sexual conquests. Grace often got romantically and sexually involved with her male leads, not that some, like Cooper, complained. They were just as bad, and Coops had his own reputation. The remake of Red Dust as Mogambo followed in 1953, with the aging, if (for some) still sexy, Clark Gable, then her first two Hitchcock movies, Dial M for Murder (with Ray Milland, rumour had it another of Grace’s romantic conquests), and Rear Window, both 1954. We have already argued these movies saw Grace mature into an actress of great depth and possibilities. That year saw another three movies, of which The Country Girl, with Bing Crosby is best remembered, then To Catch a Thief, followed in 1956 by The Swan, and High Society, with Bing Cosby again, and Frank Sinatra, two lovers – or, at least, ex-boyfriends, both on and off screen! And that was it! Just eleven movies, and Grave Kelly retired to be Princess Grace of Monaco. At least some critics and commentators think her best movies were the three Hitchcock ones. Hitchcock certainly thought so. Thereafter, he tried – largely in vain – to discover another blonde Grace Kelly. The beautiful blondes came and went; it was obvious he found no one else who had that magic or rapport.
Even before she became a real-live princess, Grace Kelly was already being typecast into playing rich, glamourous socialites – in the three Hitchcock films, and again in her final movie, High Society. The role fitted her perfectly, never more so than in To Catch a Thief, when Hitchcock had her dressed in a series of dazzling outfits, staying at the posh exclusive Carlton Hotel in Cannes, and driving a flashy (very rare) metallic-blue 1953 Sunbeam Alpine Mk I – all very much playing to her own character. That said, one cannot help but speculate how would her Hollywood career have progressed is she hadn’t been swept up in the Monaco fantasy bubble? How, for instance, might she have played the Kim Novak role in Vertigo? Or with Cary Grant again in North by Northwest? In an alternative time-stream, it would highly unlikely that Hitchcock would have passed her over for these roles. And beyond Hitchcock, could she have expanded her acting repertoire into more complex, demanding, even darker roles? She was never going to be an actress of the versatility of, say, Meryl Steep or Michelle Pfeiffer, but she had potential for drama, comedy, perhaps historical romance – she looked a natural in the 18th century costume in the masked ball sequence. It is possible to imagine her playing the later Glenn Close role in a version of Dangerous Liaisons, for instance. As it was, within two years of her scene with Cary Grant, parked up on the slopes above the tiny Principality of Monaco, she would be playing her final, and (as already stated) most enduring, role of the beautiful wife and mother in one of Europe’s oldest royal dynasties – but a role that was perhaps ultimately as false as that of Frances Stevens or Lisa Carol Fremont.
Some movies, almost irrelevant to their plot or box office success, are valuable and fascinating in other ways – as a detailed snapshot of time and place. The Third Man is an example of this with Vienna, as are some of the Ealing Studio movies, like The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) or Passport to Pimlico (1949), for their black and white glimpses of early post-war London. Two movies from the 1960s also stand out, again depicting a long-since lost London – Alfie and Blow-Up, both included amongst my favourites below. Here we have 1954 Cannes and Monaco, and the villages and countryside of the immediately hinterland, before they were despoiled and defaced by mass tourism and modernity. For this alone, I would rate To Catch a Thief with affection, aside from the clever, racy dialogue and the amusing triangular romance between Cary Grant, Grace Kelly and the ‘younger’ French girl Danielle, delightfully played by Brigitte Auber – the French actress born Marie-Claire Cahen de Labzao. Incidentally, although in the movie Auber plays the younger woman, seemingly at most in her early-twenties, in fact she was actually four years older than Kelly, being born in 1925, again to Kelly being born in 1929 – the art of deception in movies!
The impression I got, even before I read the Donald Spoto book, was this was Hitchcock taking a bit of a brief ‘holiday’ from his previous domestic or sadistic murders and dark obsessions – the only death is of a luckless ex-resistance guy who gets killed by mistake, his assassin thinking he is Robie. The identity of the new ‘Cat’ is neither dramatic, nor much of a surprise – if not Robie, than the number of possible suspects are rather limited! The crimes themselves is almost incidental – lots of rich women having their jewellery stolen, so what? Even Cary Grant’s attempts to clear his name, clumsily trailed by the local flics, are an excuse for widescreen vistas of beautiful scenery, winding roads (the Route Grand Corniche, now the D2564), through the Côte d’Azur hinterlands, speeding through tree-shady villages – Éza, Le Bar sur Loup, Tourrettes sur Loup – or visiting exotic villas – actually La Croix des Gardes, Cannes. This is Hitchcock at his most visual as well as playful, indulging two of his favourite actors – and us, his audience – in what was, at that time, pure, unadulterated escapism. And it still is, just for a different reason now. Then it was to view the south of France before the advent of the cheap package holiday. Now it is to view a south France that, alas for the most part, no longer exists. At the time it was like a 106-minute moving travel poster. Now it can be viewed almost as an historic documentary with some glamourous people thrown in for good measure. Hitchcock sits next to Grant on the bus, together with a lady with a bird cage – some already later saw some secret Hitchcockian symbolism in that, but his movie The Birds was almost a decade away. Long before then Hitchcock had returned to embrace the darkness, revisiting his obsession with murder and voyeurism, and shock. This might be his least satisfying movie in terms of thrills, tension, dark neurosis or body count, but is still a fun, even joyous, movie by the ‘Master’, as well as a sad reminder of what cinema-goers were soon to see no more – Grace Kelly at her most humorous and delightful. Again in retrospect, although neither he or his audience knew so at the time, this was destined to be Hitchcock’s enduring ‘love-letter’ to her. As I see it (yes, a Hitchcock fan), he was a complex character, at heart as obsessed with the Catholic notion of ‘sin’ as any Pope or priest, aware of the darkness within his own soul – equally aware of the flawed darkness that exists in most of his fellow human beings. Although he helped raise film-making to an art-form, for him I think, it wasn’t just about entertainment or creativity. Perhaps each movie was like a visit to the confessional. At the same time, such was his visual mind and fastidious perfection for detail, he once said only when the script had been finished was the film perfect. Then when it came to actually shooting it, there emerged only 40% of the original imagery and perfection. Meantime, of course, the feminists hate him, for how he sometimes treated his lady actresses. Not without reason, perhaps, but again for Hitchcock there was no black or white. Life, and the human psyche, is a confused mixture of both, and a lot in between. There were plenty worse, nastier, directors (Grace Kelly had thought John Ford was one, genuine misogynists are a-plenty in the years since). It’s also worth remembering that both Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman worked with him three times, while Janet Leigh praised and greatly respected him. If the ‘dark’ Hitchcock appals you, especially the Hitchcock of later years, than To Catch a Thief is the antidote.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: s01 e10 – The Finny Foot Affair


Uncle

With a title like ‘The Finny Foot Affair’, I was understandably wary of this latest episode. However, I had no need to fear, there being a simple and indeed logical explanation, delivered during an autopsy on a common-eared seal, or pini pedia (spelling?), or ‘finny foot’.

The title may have been serious but the episode, despite its thriller plot, was not. This was the U.N.C.L.E. I remember and love in that, whereas the story was serious enough, the tracing and securing (or destroying) of a chemical compound that causes rapid ageing and death, it was still only an extended McGuffin for the fun of pairing Napoleon Solo up on his mission with a 13 year old boy in search of a suitable second husband for his widowed mother! Add in that the 13 year old boy, Christopher Larson, was played by a young Kurt Russell, and we were in for a treat.

The episode went out of its way to present us with a disturbing open. Dressed in what we would now call hazmat suits, Messrs Solo and Kuryakin descend by helicopter onto the harboutr of an ‘island off Scotland’. Before they depart the copter, they put on spacesuit helmets. They clump around a still and silent town. There are no words until over five and half minutes into the episode and these are spoken elsewhere by General Yakura, the villain (Leonard Strong). Here and there, the fallen figures of old men lie where they died. By the surgery, the men from U.N.C.L.E. find a wooden crate which they remove and fly away. It’s a spooky sequence, which ends, after the General (who is Japanese and not Chinese as I automatically assumed, China being an enemy and Japan an ally, except that this is still less than twenty years from the end of the Second World War) orders the helicopter brought down, with Ilya taking a bullet in the shoulder which sets him up to disappear from the show again.

After a sequence in London (cue red bus in black and white) that features the autopsy and the explanation of episode title, Solo is sent to Norway to find the chemical compound. Enter young Christopher, at the airport, clearly on the look-out for someone to give his mother – who is beautiful and a great cook, you’ll lover her, he tells the clearly amused Napoleon – some new orgasms. Chris attaches himself to our man Solo as only a determined kid whose voice hasn’t yet broken can. Nothing Solo can do can shift him. Even when he’s temporarily sent to watch out for an international spy who’s short, fat and wears a black patch over one eye, Chris sees U.N.C.L.E. agent Henderson drawn into a fight and stabbed, and handed to him the mysterious ring with miniature telescope attached tat’s meant for Napoleon, along with the even more mysterious message, ‘Marry the Maiden’.

To do this, Chris has to swap his New York flight for one to Bergen in Norway (which he was doing anyway). After that, there’s no way of getting rid of him, what woth Yakura’s men hanging around Solo in a none-too-subtle manner and taking him hostage to use against Solo. But, on the plane, Chris has demonstrated a joke he’s bought, a little black box with a small lever. Flick the lever to switch it on and it rumbles conspicuously until a lid opens, a small plastic hand reaches to the the lever – and switches it off. Of course I immediately thought of the pass-taker in The Prisoner episode, ‘The General’, an actual Japanese toy, and wonderfully, this black box was made by the same people, and was the Mark 1 of the idea! And it’s not just there for show, either, though I’d love it if it were, but when Yakura is quizzing Napoleon in that wonderfully cliched mixture of do-not-try-my-patience and I-do-not-believe-you, Solo claims the sought-after-compound is hidden in the little black box: just push the lever. And when everyone is distracted, he grabs a gun and shoots one bodyguard before taking Yakura hostage to get them out!

The final sequence is in the town of Stromberg, where I got to the Marry the Maiden but before Solo, but then so would the whole audience so I’m not claiming to be clever. It was a neat idea, however. As was Solo discovering a direction-finder clipped to Chris’s pants-waist. To throw the General off the track, he attached it to the collar of the gorgeous dog Chris was throwing sticks for, hurled the stick into the harbopur and scooted whilst the mutt was swimming for it. And when Solo led Chris to the cave he’d seen through the miniature telescope, once the ring was placed on the third finger left hand of the Maiden of Norway sculpture, guess what? The dog found them, setting up the climactic shoot-out in which Yakura bites it and his beautiful (and very voluptuous) girl aide speaks her only line. She was Tura Satana, later to be the star of Russ Meyer’s famous Faster Pussycat… Kill! Kill!

So all that was left was to be the comic pay-off. All throughout the episode, young Chris was describing his mother as beautiful, and ofering to show Napoleon her picture, which he kept brushing off. I immediately suspected she would be genuinely gorgeous. And so Solo delivered Chris to New York, where his mother was waiting to collect him. But Chris has changed his mind: his mother needs a stable and regulare sex-… I mean, home life, but as Napoleon is an international spy who’ll be off on missions, he’s not suitable: Chris will keep looking.

It’s a disappointment Solo feels he can bear, especially when Chris points out his mother waving, a sallow-faced, prominent-teethed, glasses wearing fright of a woman. Who’s waving to her husband. The woman who steps out from behind to hug Chris is an absolute doll…

Oh yes, favourite episode to date.

The Infinite Jukebox: Graham Bonney’s ‘Super Girl’


Some songs are doomed to be regarded as minor songs: not necessarily for anything to do with the song or its quality. One-hit wonders whose one hit doesn’t make it that far up the chart fall into this category, remembered nostalgically but dismissed as being of any importance, or influence.
I’m not going to claim that Graham Bonney’s one-off hit, ‘Super Girl’, which got to no 19 in 1966, is any greater or more influential than it is. It’s of no great weight or moment, just a typical pop song of 1966, a thing of and reflecting its times. Bonney, who was far more successful in Europe, especially Germany where he had a string of hits over many years, co-wrote the song with professional songwriter Barry Mason, co-composer of many MOR and pop smashes.
I’ve heard ‘Super Girl’ described as Northern Soul and whilst the songs medium tempo doesn’t really sit well with that category, it’s lazy swing, its upbeat air and it’s saxophone soundtrack make it easy to hear being blasted out in a crowded club. Bonney himself, at this time, was a young, fresh-faced lad whose cheeky grin was perfect for the song.
It’s a love song. Of course it’s a love song. It starts with a brief joggingly buoyant intro on horns before Bonney comes in, initially using a falsetto to sing some great oo-ee-oos leading into his introductory line, ‘Hey, super girl (hey hey)’. The song’s wormed its way into our head before he’s even dropped down into his natural register to plead his case. Hey super girl, with your fine feathered friends, super girl, let’s leave them, we don’t need them tonight.
There’s a clash of worlds thing going on here. He wants her and he loves her, and he wants her to understand that she may be running with a fashionable crowd, one that can afford fine fancy clothes for her, that have pretty things, but only he really sees her, sees her as the super girl of whom he dreams: he’s only at the fringes of this superficial world, but he’s the only one she needs, because he and only he loves her.
Bonney sings his plea with a lightness, a casualness that only in moments slips to reveal the depth of his feelings that match the song’s lyrics. Little inflexions in the voice, a moment of depth, almost of despair in how he sings ‘but they ain’t got what true love brings’.
There’s a middle eight that uses rumbling saxophones to sustain the melody as Bonney returns to his falsetto, singing his oo-ee-oos and calling her super girl again. Until he returns with his plea, to see what she has before her.
Because this world in which she orbits might be bright and breezy but it’s only puddle deep, and he wants her to leave her golden cage, for him, who will love her tonight and, by implication, forever after. He will give her something much more important than good times, if she is ready to want them.
There’s nothing to either song or performance to put this anywhere near a first rank of Sixties singles, yet it’s a nice, bouncy little mover, with a lightness of touch that echoes Bonney’s surface smoothness, incongruous though it is to the message he’s giving. Can serious commitment really be this light-hearted? Well, why not?
Even so, he’s still got to convince her, and the song doesn’t let us in on whether she listens or not. Instead, there’s a subtle downturn, as Bonney cries again, Super Girl, oo-ee-oo, Super Girl, a slight, almost subliminal slowing of the tempo, a slight mournfulness of the horns creeping in, as if to prepare the ground for his ultimate failure. But I say that if she loves her dancing, with a bit of good honest worship thrown in, he should find her bopping happily in front of him, returning his grin, for the rest of the night.
A song doesn’t have to be heavy to be meaningful, or meaningful to be delightful.

Change! Change, o form of Man: The Demon


Demon 1

Jack Kirby’s run at DC Comics was already sliding towards its ignominious end when I started showing interest in comics again. New Gods and Forever People had already been cancelled and were nothing but subscription blanks: I only became aware of them, and very intrigued by the names, when I started picking up some back issues. Mr Miracle was still running but was in decline artistically as well as commercially, dragged out of its Fourth World frame: I would end up only buying its last issue.
The same went for another of Kirby’s creations, The Demon. It ran sixteen issues, I bought the last. Gradually, I collected the Fourth World series’, even down to Jimmy Olsen but my only substantial exposure to Etrigan, the Demon, would be in later appearances, under diverse hands: never Kirby. Until now.
Except that his contributions to First Issue Special were very much below Kirby’s exalted standards, the first issue of The Demon follows the same pattern, of an extensive set-up leading to a cliffhanger ending that is our first introduction to the central character. There are substantial differences, not least in the considerably greater confidence and power of the art, but mainly in that this was a genuine first issue, with a no.2 all set to roll two months later, taking up the story from its moment of poised menace.
Instead, the story concentrates on initially establishing Morgaine le Fay’s last and successful attack on Camelot, and her inability to prevent the escape of Merlin, who takes with him a demon in red and yellow, together with a slip of parchment torn from a larger spell, that he charges the demon to preserve. As Camelot is spirited away by Merlin, the squat figure of the Demon, Etrigan, straightens, grows tall and wanders away, human. He is now Jason Blood, he of the long life, demonologist. He is not Etrigan. But he is the fleshy form out of which Etrigan, if summoned, will rise to battle with fire and rage.
The origin is a two-parter, showing not just Blood and Etrigan but establishing Morgaine le Fay as a recurring enemy, intent on using Etrigan to get to Merlin, who she needs to restore her eternal life, and with it her eternal youth and beauty. It also establishers Blood’s existing friends and one about to become even closer.

Demon panel

The first of these is the most puzzling, advertising executive Harry Mathews, eager and energetic, with his perpetual cigar. Harry’s a Ben Grimm figure, a rough diamond, the common man (though not from Brooklyn). You ask yourself how he’s so close a friend of a demonologist that he gets to learn Jason is a literal demon, because he has nothing that recommends him as being right for this kind of world. Maybe they just like each other?
Of more direct relevance is United Nations delegate Randu Singh. Like Harry, he’s a long-standing close friend, part of the trio. But unlike Harry, Randu is much more subtle. He has psychic powers, amongst them the ability to summon Etrigan from the form of Jason.
And then there’s Glenda Mark, beautiful blonde, first introduced to Jason in issue 1, the two hitting it off on very short acquaintance, though not to the extent of confidences like that.
The Demon was an instant hit, leaping to monthly status by issue 5. The response warmed Editorial Director Carmine Infantino, who’d seduced Kirby to DC in the first place with promises reneged upon without any unnecessary delay. Kirby had started on his Fourth World books, which he’d intended as interlocking finite series, only to be told that they couldn’t end. He’d intended to be the equivalent of what he was at Marvel, a creation machine who would start books off, draw two or three issues then pass these into the hands of acolytes to progress under his direction, but the moment The Demon sold, Infantino insisted Kirby write and draw it himself. In order to ensure he had time to do so, Infantino cancelled New Gods and Forever People.
It’s to Kirby’s credit that, despite the absolute devastation he felt at this decision, he did not allow it to spoil his commitment to Etrigan and Jason Blood. According to his friend and assistant Mark Evanier, Kirby had no interest in horror comics and only created The Demon because DC wanted a horror series. But, being Kirby, he produced a vivid job and a character who, like so many Kirby others, has lasted.

Demon spread

Issue 7 conjured up Klarion, the Witch Boy, and his cat, Teekl (I like cats), though he was quickly dismissed.
Kirby’s next move could be read as a rip-off of The Phantom of the Opera, down to the gothic organ playing. The masked Phantom of the Sewer steals fabulous objects, hoping to bring to life his statue of the beautiful Galatea. When he sees Glenda, he recognises her as the spitting image of his love and kidnaps her. Ordinarily you’d say No Problem and send in Etrigan, but Jason Blood is growing fearful of the Demon within him, fearful of the Demon taking him over and has killed Etrigan, severing their connection by using Absolute Zero cold. Not a timely step.
Kirby was relaxing into the series now. Blood managed to summon back Etrigan using the same Philosopher’s Stone by which he had banished him, but the Phantom’s story ended with his revelation as a tormented victim of an evil witch, whose spirit returned, albeit briefly, to restore the Phantom’s face before he died. This led directly into a Frankenstein take-off that ran over four issues. Kirby was freewheeling in the best manner possible and the results were pure kinetic fun.
There was a two-parter showcasing the return – and re-banishment – of Klarion, and then we come to issue 16, the only issue I bought all that long time ago, in which Morgaine le Fay returned. I remember practically nothing about it. Morgaine subjugates Etrigan to her will, but Glenda rescues him with the Philosopher’s Stone, learning in the process about Jason’s dual identity.
And that, suddenly, was it. No word, no explanation, just a look-for-Kirby’s-next idea. In the absence of other explanations, always assume low sales, though as Kirby’s contract was either in or rapidly nearing its last year, his own attitude to the work may have played a part.
Until now, The Demon 16 is the only comic done by Kirby outside the Fourth World titles that I’d ever read (I have never had the least interest in Kamandi). Though I suspect I would have struggled with Kirby’s art in 1974 or thereabouts, I’m glad now to have had the chance to read the full series. I’ve no great insights to take from it, but I liked it and wouldn’t have minded seeing more.

Demon 16

A dozen years later, in the wake of Alan Moore using Etrigan in Saga of the Swamp Thing, Matt Wagner wrote and drew a four-issue mini-series, yet one more among those thousands of comics I have had and sold. It’s on the DVD, I’ve re-read it. It’s very nicely drawn but in contrast to Kirby, large sections of it are purely static and it’s so bloody verbose, between the overcap narration and Etrigan’s exceedingly long rhymes, I’m very quickly reminded of why I didn’t keep it.
Storywise, the knowing, cynical narration, with its continual contempt is the authentic note of Post-Crisis DC, a tone that’s only multiplied in extent and volume ever since, until nothing is free from it any more. The miniseries is a befuddling and befouling of the original series. One can say that The Demon, above almost everything else, invited it, but at this late stage I’d rather not have it at all.

Boys from the Blackstuff: e03 – Shop Thy Neighbour


Black

Every episode, it gets harder and harder to watch Boys from the Blackstuff with any kind of intellectual response. It has lost none of its visceral power over forty years, but then with the Governments we had then and now that’s hardly surprising. It’s about the degradation of people, ordinary people, the yous and mes of the working class North, and when it’s done with the kind of emotional truth that exists here, I at least find is almost impossible not to be overwhelmed with the pain of it all. This is what we do to people when we get the chance. We can’t fucking well resist it.

‘Shop Thy Neighbour’ is the midway point. It co-stars Julie Walters as Angie Todd, Chrissy’s wife, aged 28, mother of two, married since she was 17. It’s about her and Chrissy and what having no money, no bread for the children’s breakfast, the gas cut off, fighting over the last fag, does to two people who once upon a time used to love each other, but who are now only scared, angry, despairing and tearing at each other because they’ve no-one and nothing else to tear at.

It’s not even as if they don’t understand, but rather that they won’t understand what it’s like for each other. He wants – needs – a place of peace, to be supported, to have some recognition of what he’s going through, and all he sees is the woman who should be providing this, the woman he feels – knows – he’s let down, who is blaming him for what he has done to her.

And she, who has never yet had a life of her own, anything that didn’t involve him and/or the kids, who foresaw this as the time she would come into her own, use her mind, be recognised for herself, does blame him, but not for what has happened, but because he won’t fight back, because he does the Scouser thing of laughing instead of crying, when his constant ‘wit’ is no longer funny and hasn’t been funny for a very long time: not just subjectively, to her, but objectively, because it’s become a mechanical thing, a rote response, an endless sarcastic note.

The hell of it is, what else is there for either of them. Even the horrific ending, creating a moment of forced yet utterly agomising sympathy between them, as Chrissy is finally driven too far, and Angie realises, truly, for the first time, just how low he is, offers no hope. It’s nothing but a few secobnds respite, frozen by the final frame, and nothing changed. Just a bunch of dead chickens and geese, and a rabbit licking blood off its fur.

That’s not all the episode. If it were, if there were not relief from it of some kind, it could not be borne. What we get is a kind of comic relief, but it’s comedy of a kind beside which The Goon Show is commonplace and orthodox. Jean Boht – who would go on to be matriarch Nellie Boswell in Carla Lane’s Bread – plays DoE Manager Miss Sutcliffe. We’re introduced to her at home, a tasteful, genteel home, where she has to cope with a near mad, bed-wetting mother, thus setting up why she’s what she is, a frustrated spinster, a dyed-in-the-wool cynic and a horribly petty tyrant.

Miss Sutcliffe sees the futility, stupidity and utter pointlessness of the system she’s employed to run, a system that persecutes people who have nothing and only want a little. She torments her staff with an overt sweetness that doesn’t disguise the vicious ways in which she manipulates them. She takes pleasure in putting the screws on Chrissy and Loggo over the events of two weeks ago, in which her assistant, Derek, takes great and sadistic pleasure in acting like a total twat to the ‘scum’ as he sees them, all of them. Derek’s a petty Hitler, addicted to his sense of power, but Miss Sutcliffe is worse. Not only does she refuse to let him prosecute, especially as it causes a tantrum, but she takes great pleasure in pointing out the overwhelming absurdities that would be exposed if they did anything that stupid.

Yes, Miss Sutcliffe is a nasty piece of work, against whom Derek is but a boy playing in a sandpit.

But that’s what it’s all about. There isn’t an ounce of sanity in this world. There wasn’t then, there isn’t now. Watching it brings it all back in floods. And this isn’t the one we all remember. No, that one comes up next week. We get a presentiment of it this week, but next…

A Xmas Day Treat


Despite not having had a television set for a dozen years now, I’ve just learned of a Xmas Day treat for those of you who have clear access to BBC1.

Gary Morecambe, son of the late and forever missed Eric Morecambe, was searching in the att ic for old scripts when he found seven cannisters of film. One was Morecambe and Wise’s first ever show for the BBC in 1970. The tape was long ago wiped for re-use. The film Gary found was salvageable. It has been cleaned, re-mastered and even colourised. It will be shown on Xmas Day. I strongly suggest that you do not miss this. Somehow or other I will have to get to warch it.

But that’s not all. The BBC will also be showing a Morecambe and Wise Xmas Show, from 1971. It’s guests include Andre Previn. A Morecambe and Wise show not seen for 51 years, and that sketch, all in the same day.

My word, it almost feels lilke Xmas!

*Guest Post* Garth Groombridge – My 40 Favourite Movies: 13 – Rear Window


RW

13: REAR WINDOW: 1954. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. US.
Crime thriller. James Steward. Grace Kelly. Thelma Ritter. Wendell Corey. Raymond Burr.
The first of my Alfred Hitchcock choices, based on a short story “It Had to be Murder”, by Cornell Woolrich, published in 1942. The screenplay was by John Michael Hayes. Running time was 112 minutes – Hitchcock famously said that the length of a movie should never exceed that of the endurance of the average human bladder. It was budgeted at $1million, with box office taking of $36.8million (initially $5.3million in North America alone). It was premiered at the 1954 Venice Film Festival.
Almost always innovative, this is one of Hitchcock’s more ‘theatrical’ movies (like Rope or t), in as much as the entire picture is viewed almost exclusively from the room of the principle character’s apartment looking out onto an internal courtyard. Studio designers Hal Pereira and Joseph MacMillan took six weeks to construct the New York, Greenwich Village courtyard set based on (at the time) that of 125 Christopher Street, although the movie address is given as 125 W. Ninth Street – for legal reasons moviemakers cannot use authentic addresses. Said to be the largest specially built indoor set in movie history, it had to be equipped with an elaborate drainage system to accommodate the rain sequence, and special lighting to create the natural daylight or night shots. In addition, the movie incorporated natural sounds, motor traffic, snatches of music, etc. Essentially the core of the movie is a ‘four-hander’, with the distant supporting cast of the various occupants of the apartments viewed opposite, only one of whom – the elderly neighbour who is accused of murdering his wife – later physically intrudes into Jefferson’s apartment. So we have: L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jefferson (James Stewart) as a professional adventure photographer – perhaps loosely based on Robert Capa – stuck in a wheelchair, having broken one leg, recuperating and waiting impatiently until the plaster-cast can be removed. New York is in the grip of a sweltering heatwave. Windows are thrown open. Some attempt to sleep out on the fire-escapes. Bored and restless, he amuses himself watching the antics of his near-neighbours across the courtyard. He is a voyeur, and we – the audience – became voyeurs also, spying on other people’s lives through his binoculars and camera telephoto lens. James ‘Jimmy’ Stewart (1908-1997) was a Hitchcock regular in the 1950s. He was yet another big Hollywood star who started in theatre in 1932, moving to movies in 1936, and top billings 1938 to 1941. Although a life-long Republican, unlike some of his more flag-waving, über-patriotic contemporaries, Stewart actually served on the European front, flying bombers over Germany from 1941 to 1945, eventually attaining the rank of major-general. Returning to Hollywood in 1946, he featured in light comedy, romance, crime stories and westerns, often the ‘good guy’, but Hitchcock managed to bring out a darker side. His last movie was in 1978. He was married in 1949, and widowed in 1994. Despite their political differences, he was good friends with Henry Ford (a life-long Democrat supporter), apparently enjoying time together making model aeroplanes and kites. When Ford died in 1962, Stewart said he had lost his “best friend”. He was one of a number of big, high-profile names in Hollywood, including Burt Lancaster, Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers and Martin Scorsese, who opposed Ted Turner’s drive to colourise black and white movie classics. Steward – rightly, I think – described it as “morally and artistically wrong.”
Grace Kelly, in her second movie with Hitchcock – more confident now – plays Lisa Carol Fremont, Jefferson’s beautiful, stylish, fashion-model girlfriend – referred to by one commentor/critic as a ‘Park Avenue socialite’ – who is hoping to eventually get married to him. Donald Spoto – expert on both Hitchcock and Grace Kelly – argues that essentially the film is about Jeff and Lisa. In High Society – Grace Kelly and Hollywood, he writes: “While the characters are completely absorbed in proving the guilt of the killer, Hitchcock was clearly unconcerned about it: the crime was only another example of his so-called MacGuffin, the pretext for a story that really has to do with the difficulties of a romantic relationship. The audience does not see the crime in Rear Window, nor do we know anything about the Thorwalds other than his occupation and her bedridden state. Throughout the picture, Hitchcock is more concerned with the reactions of the watchers than with the private life of the killer and victim.” Later, Spoto adds: “The focus of the movie is on the romantic efforts of Lisa, who tries and tries again to get through to the man she loves. Jeff remains a cool, independent, detached observer of life, while Lisa is involved in it and places herself at risk to help in trapping Thorwald. Throughout the picture, what the audience feels depends entirely on the performance of a secondary character: Lisa. When Rear Window was released, Grace was still not given before-the-title credit, but there was no doubt where the emotional focus was – and no doubt about Grace’s extraordinary poignant, funny, stylish yet deeply human portrait.” The dialogue between Jeff and Lisa crackles with sensuality – which we will again see in To Catch A Thief. It is clever, funny, droll, and sexy, despite the Hollywood Code. Later Hitchcock said of her role of Lisa, “I didn’t discover Grace Kelly, but I saved her from a fate worse than death. I prevented her from being eternally cast as a cold woman.”
Wendell Carey is NYPD Detective Lieutenant Thomas ‘Tom’ J. Doyle, a friend of Jefferson, a typical disbelieving cop, to whom he relates his suspicions. Thelma Ritter, another Hitchcock regular, is Stella, the insurance company’s nurse, calling on Jefferson, who also gets caught up in his apparent paranoia. She has lines like: “The New York State sentence for a Peeping Tom is six months in a workhouse.” Or – even more a truism now – “We’ve became a nation of peeping toms.”
Finally Raymond Burr is Lars Thorwald, the taciturn, rather unfriendly neighbour who Jefferson is convinced has murdered his wife, following the sounds of a scream and breaking glass during a night-time thunderstorm. Raymond Burr (1917-1993), a Canadian-American, was best known for playing US lawyer Perry Mason (from the Erie Stanley Gardner novels), 1956 to 1966; followed by Ironside, 1967 to 1975, the wheelchair-bound San Francisco police chief Robert T. Ironside. Away from the camera, Burr was quite secretive about his private life, and his biographical details, from either him, his manager or publicists, were often unreliable and unverifiable. His known partner was Robert Benevides.
In addition we have the other neighbours, whose wordless stories are also being played out throughout the movie, and some of whom Jeff and Lisa give their own, rather playful, nicknames: ‘Miss Lonelyhearts’ (Judith Evelyn) – singleton, obviously unlucky in love, who throws dinner parties for imaginary male guests, and who – virtually unnoticed by Jeff, obsessed as he is with the possibility of Thorwald catching Lisa snooping around his apartment – makes a failed, semi-tragic attempt to commit suicide. ‘The Songwriter’ (Ross Bagdasarian) – also known as the ‘Pianist’, a composer in fear of a stalled career. However, there is – for Hitchcock – a comparatively happy ending for him and Miss Lonely-hearts perhaps getting together. Maybe he will write her lots of love songs. ‘Miss Torso’ (Georgina Darcy) – who likes to dance, is often seen in just her bra and panties. She throws drinks parties, inviting several men at a time. The newlyweds (Rand Harper and Hans Davenport) – by the end of the film, in a more cynical Hitchcock vain, we see them quickly start bickering. The ‘dog couple’ in apartment above Thorwald (Sara Berner and Frank Cady) – their pet dog is hoisted up and down from the fire-escape to the courtyard in a basket. Thorwald strangles their dog when it starting digging the courtyard garden. At the end of the movie they have a replacement dog. And again, finally, Mrs Anna Thorwald (Irene Winston), seen in bed all day like an invalid, seemingly giving him grief. Later Lisa, searching the apartment, finds her wedding-ring – apparent proof that she is not visiting relatives ‘up state’, as Thorwald claimed. Hitchcock’s routine ‘cameo’ appearance has him briefly in the Songwriter’s apartment, winding up a clock.
In his book, High Society: Grace Kelly and Hollywood, Hitchcock expert Donald Spoto suggested that each of the neighbours, in their own way, reflect Jeff’s dreads of marriage or a settle-down relationship with Lisa – Thorwald’s nagging blonde wife; the blonde wife who lavishes all her affection on the pet dog; the shapely blonde “entertaining a small platoon of men” while waiting the return of her true love from the army; or the middle-aged sculptress “with obviously dyed hair”; or the “sexually insatiable young bride” of the newly married couple just moved in; or the pathetic spinsterish ‘Miss Lonelyhearts’. In truth, Jeff is a voyeur even with Lisa: she is delightful eye-candy, a trophy girlfriend only; modelling beautiful clothes, but he is, at the same time, using his temporary immobility to evade any emotional or sexual commitment to her. Spoto suggests that “Rear Window reveals a great deal about Alfred Hitchcock – and as much about Grace Kelly: indeed, it presents all the evidence needed to cite him as a majestic talent and her as an icon of her time.” Hitchcock himself said he was “feeling highly creative at the time”, his “batteries fully charged”. It could be said – indeed, Spoto does – that much of this creativity and energy was due to working with the woman who was probably – all of the Hitchcock blondes – the one he was most ‘in love’ with, both on- and off-camera.
Although Hitchcock’s filmography is an impressive half-century-plus, from 1920 to 1976, for me his best movies – his masterpieces – fall into that 1950s to very early 60s period – Strangers on a Train (with its revolving carousel climax that surely Hitchcock lifted from Edmund Crispin’s comic detective novel The Moving Topshop); the remake of his own The Man Who Knew Too Much (with a surprisingly strong performance from Doris Day – what pity they didn’t do more together, alas, she obviously wasn’t his type); The Wrong Man – another typical Hitchcock theme of the falsely accused man striving to prove his innocence; Vertigo, James Stewart again, in perhaps of his darkest roles, and the real-life Hitchcock obsession to create his own image of a woman; North by Northwest, which we will discuss below; Psycho, perhaps his most famous, if not his best; and perhaps one might include The Birds, his strange trip into what is almost the genre of science fiction. Outstanding amongst these, however, are the three movies with Grace Kelly – Dial M for Murder (with Ray Milland as the cuckolded, but villainous husband); Rear Window, where Kelly smoulders as the passionate, sexy Lisa; and To Catch a Thief, Kelly this time in sexy dialogue with Cary Grant, who was to become a life-long friend even after she transmogrified into a real-life fairy-tale princess. Before, in between, and after, there were lesser, weaker films, but as a director Hitchcock stands head and shoulders above most of his contemporaries – certainly in pushing the boundaries. Yes, he had some odd – even rather unhealthy – obsessions, especially sometimes towards his blonde leading ladies. Kelly was, almost certainly, his idea of perfection – ever more so than Ingrid Bergman; although the two even looked quite similar. One might discern a certain frustration that none of his leading ladies thereafter came up to that lofty standard Kelly had unwittingly set. So, yes, there are elements of anger and even misogyny, and certainly misanthropy, a contempt or disdain for his fellow humankind, in his work. He was overweight and physically unattractive, but could be charming, as well as rather sinister. It is perhaps difficult to distinguish his protective persona – that voice, that silhouette, that coiled feeling of menace – from the real person underneath. Again, he once famously said that actors were like cattle, but Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly, as well as lesser known actors like Thelma Ritter or John Williams, happily worked with him on what are without doubt some of his greatest movies. He liked order, and he liked being in control. That might be a ‘man thing’ – it certainly is a film director’s thing. Novelists do it on paper, with figments of their imagination. Film directors do it with real people. Sometimes movie auteurs like Hitchcock or Huston forgot there is a difference. Also, with Hitchcock, it must be said, in this period in particular, he seemed to like having familiar faces amongst his production and design team – people he could rely on, to do his bidding even without instructions perhaps.
Rear Window might lack the hustle and bustle of many other Hitchcock movies, but much is still going on here, not least Hitchcock challenging us, the audience, to share his own fascination of voyeurism (again perhaps a fetish shared by most film directors, Hitchcock was just more upfront about it). But there are also other aspects – our own collective obsession with murder; and finally, that other Hitchcock motif, here lurking in Jeff’s apparent indifference to Lisa, that of male impotence. Who, one might think, could resist Grace Kelly bringing you champagne and oysters, or trying to kiss and seduce you. Jeff can. His excuse to keep emotional distance from her, is a fashion model wouldn’t last long in a desert or jungle. He would rather watch his neighbours’ lives play out – as we have pointed out, a time-line of relationships or marriage – than make a commitment to Lisa. He preferred to view life through a camera lens, rather than live it. But, in sneaking into Thorwald’s apartment looking for murder clues, Lisa shows herself to be brave when called for. Perhaps she isn’t such a fashion page air-head after-all, while, eventually, in a life or death tussle with Thorwald, who tries to push him out of the window, Jeff ends up with his other leg broken, and even more dependent on Lisa. The ending, therefore, is not too dissimilar to the next Grace Kelly/Hitchcock movie, To Catch a Thief, in that Grace also manages to eventually get her man (this time Cary Grant’s rather crinkly-at-the-edges John Robie), and it’s very obvious she intends to keep him! As for Jeff and Lisa, trekking up the Himalayas together, here we come…maybe.

My Take On…


There’s a piece in the Guardian today slagging off the Kevin Costner vehicle, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

I remember watching it one Xmas Day, somewhere in the mid-Nineties, having been invited by a then close friend to join her and her family, instead of spending the day on my own, as had become my custom after my mother’s death just after Xmas 1991. It was a good day that I remember mainly for two things. The first was a post-dinner game of Risk or some other world-domination strategy game. Never having played this before, I was the first to be eliminated. Rather than just sit around, I started advising their younger son, then not much more than eight. Don’t ask me to explain how, but before too much longer we were on an unstoppable roll that ended up with our steam-rollering everybody until we had everything. It was great and glorious fun, and he had a whale of a time, but I most remember his Dad’s grumble that this was the first time he’d ever lost at Risk or whatever-it-was – and he was ex-Army!

The other memory was settling down to watch Robin Hood. I used to watch the ATV series starring Richard Greene, I remember that, no more than a month before my Dad died, they showed the Errol Flynn version that he’d longed to see again for so long, I’d read all the legends when I was a kid, in short I was a receptive audience for a Robin Hood film.

And it was perfect late-Xmas Day afternoon viewing, when everyone was warm and full and comfortable and several drinks along, and ready to jump on anything risible, and o my god, the entire film was risible. It started with the bit that nearly everyone picks out in the comments under this Guardian piece. Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman get landed at the White Cliffs of Dover at dawn, set out to walk to Nottingham, and at sunset stop off to camp at Hadrian’s Wall. I can’t remember who of the three of us laughed the loudest at that but it was probably me, my incredibly well-developed sense of the absurd triggered.

At that point, the film was done up like a kipper. Nobody could take any part of it seriously. Alan Rickman’s completely OTT performance as the Sheriff was perfect – prior to this viewing, my only experience of the film was at some Awards show where Rickman got Best Supporting Actor and gave an acceptance speech consisting of his discovery that acting is not always about subtlety…

So I agree whole-heartedly with every word of the review, my only reservation coming in relation to the attempted rape of Maid Marion sequence, and that only because I don’t remember the slightest thing about it. The film genuinely is a ripe hunk of old ham from start to finish, and I seriously recommend that if you are ever tempted to watch it, have a minimum of three alcoholic drinks first: this is not a film to be taken in soberness.

And then again, I also agree one hundred percent with those in the comments who love the film. I can’t agree, but good on you. Don’t let anybody’s disdain for the film stop you enjoying it: the only opinion that matters is always yours.

But I bet you watch it half-pissed too, don’t you?