Category Archives: ARTICLES

Articles in this section reflect a personal view of the author only.

DEAD OF NIGHT. (1945).

Just Room for One Inside Sir!

In recent years the Horror genre has certainly changed direction, we as audiences always seemed to be content to be scared out of out skin by the likes of Vampires, Mummy’s and Werewolves, but in more contemporary movies the frights shifted to coming from a more cerebral script and plot plus a lot more gore in the form of Zombies et, there are it seems no boundaries in contemporary movies, which at times is itself horrifying. Back in the late 1940,s audiences were still just literally a finger touch away from their first encounter with the infamous Count Dracula as depicted by Hammer films, and portrayed by Christopher Lee, but had been unsettled and perplexed by the likes of films such as Night of the Demon(1957) and nearly a decade before this the classic British horror Dead of Night (1945). Dead of Night was the precursor for many films, it is in my opinion the forerunner to movies such as Creepshow, Tales from the Crypt, The House that Dripped blood and The Monster Club etc.

Dead of Night is an anthology, a collection of stories that are vaguely connected but only by a location where people meet at the beginning of the movie. At the time of the film being released it was something of a gamble for Ealing studios to produce a film such as this as during the war years films that were of the Horror variety were banned from being produced, so Ealing were treading on unfamiliar ground with Dead of Night, but it was a gamble that paid off as the film is probably one of the most successful British films from the 1940’s. Although the movie was essentially a horror picture, it did contain elements of comedy, which is what Ealing became more remembered for it pieces together a handful of unconnected storylines and characters.

That opens with a man driving to a cottage, when he arrives he is convinced that he has been there before and then tells the other guests that he has met them all before in a recurring dream which is more like a nightmare He  discusses his dream with the other guests most of which believe what he is saying but there is one a psychiatrist Dr. Van Straaten (Frederick Valk) who is more than skeptical, and explains away logically and scientifically what the man has experienced and is going through. But then each guest at the location tells their own story, each one of them including details of their encounter with the supernatural.

To be honest the majority of the stories are rather cliched but remember this was 1945, and if you did not watch Dead of Night before seeing the aforementioned films and others that were released after Dead of Night then it would seem rather old hat, but in fact it was this 1945 movie that was the inspiration for many of the stories and the film that other authors and filmmakers had borrowed from many times. The film opens with an architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) driving to a cottage in the countryside just outside of London, he is welcomed by the owner, Eliot Foley (Roland Culver), who introduces him the psychiatrist Dr. Van Straaten (Frederic Valk), his friend Joan Cortland (Googie Withers), his young neighbour Sally O’Hara (Sally Ann Howes) and a race car driver Hugh Grainger (Antony Baird). Craig tells his fellow guests at the cottage that he has the sensation of Déjà vu since he had had a nightmare with them in that house but one lady at this point is missing. However, Mrs. Foley (Mary Merrall) soon arrives completing the assembly of the characters in Walter’s dream.

So, the scene is as they say set four the quartet of tales that are to follow. Grainger had a car accident and then a premonition that saved his life; Sally had met a ghost during Christmas, Eliot and his wife had lived an evil experience with a haunted mirror, two golfers that love the same woman and decide to play for her hand in a game on the fairways, but one of them dies and haunts the other,

this was a more light hearted story within the anthology and paired Basil Radford and Naughton Wayne who had worked so well together in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes.  

Dr. Van Straaten tells the story of a ventriloquist with double personality that is dominated by his dummy. But when Dr. Van Straaten accidentally breaks his glasses and the power goes out, the nightmare begins.

There are, two stories in the anthology that have to them an almost hypnotic attraction and stand out amongst all the tales, the first being about a mirror that when investigated reflects not the room behind the person in front of the mirror but a totally different one. The other is about a ventriloquist, who has a dual personality, and it is probably this section of the film that is remembered more than any other. Simply because it was and remains chilling and unsettling more than seventy years after it was first released. It is probably true to say that the Anthony Hopkins movie Magic drew a lot of its inspiration from this part of Dead of Night.  It is without any doubt a marvelously atmospheric and affecting film which contains some terrifying moments that are wonderfully acted out and superbly directed. Being an anthology there were four directors, one for each story in the movie, Alberto Cavalcanti (as Cavalcanti), Charles Chrichton, Basil Dearden, and Robert Hamer, were behind the camera each one bringing their own inimitable style and creativity to the production.  

The musical score was by French born composer George Auric, who also became a music critic, he scored several movies for Ealing studios, many of them such as Passport to Pimlico, The Lavender Hill Mob, Hue and Cry, and The Titfield Thunderbolt, becoming firm favourites of cinema audiences and soon attaining that classic label.

Georges Auric.

But he was not under contract to score just films produced by British studios, the composer wrote the soundtracks for a wide variety of movies and worked in France including Beauty and the Beast. Auric also wrote a suitably majestic and romantic soundtrack for Caesar and Cleopatra in 1945, as well as scoring Moulin Rouge for director John Houston. In 1961 the composer produced a superb score for The Innocents which had a screenplay adapted from the story The Turn of the Screw. directed by Jack Clayton, the film starred Deborah Kerr. He displayed a great versatility in his work and specifically within his film scores and excelled when writing for comedies in particular, the composer seemed to be able to purvey the correct amount of comedic tone but also had the ability to incorporate more romantic and melancholy sounding themes into his soundtracks. Passport To Pimlico is probably one of his better known Ealing comedies, the composer fashioning a not only highly enhancing work but an entertaining one, that in later years when sections were re-recorded took on a life all of their own away from the images on screen, but re-kindled fond memories of the movie and its stars.

George Auric was born in Lodeve Herault in France on February 15th 1899, he was associated and considered to be one of Les Six which was a group of artists who worked with and were mentored by Erike Satie and Jean Cocteau. Auric was a prolific composer and also an arranger and orchestrater. Before the composer had reached his twenties, he had already orchestrated and composed music for ballets and stage productions. Which would stand him in good stead when he began to write for the motion picture industry. His involvement with music began at an early age, he would perform piano recitals when he was twelve years of age and several of his songs were performed as he reached his teens at The Societe Nationale de Musique.

Auric also studied at the Paris Conservatory and was schooled in composition by Vincent D’Indy and Albert Roussel at the Schola Cantorum de Paris. Auric was a recognised child prodigy and because of his abundant talent became the protégé of Erik Satie, from 1910 through to 1920, he contributed many pieces to the world of Avant-garde music in the French capital. It was in the 1930.s that the composer began to write for film, scoring the movie A Nous La Liberte in 1931, the movie itself was criticised heavily for its communist themes, but the score that Auric penned was well received. In 1931 he composed a piano sonata which was It seemed at one point that although the composer’s music for films was being applauded his music for the concert hall was entering a period of stagnation, his 1931 piano sonata received very little recognition and this led the composer to enter into a five year period where he wrote very little apart from three film scores. The composer’s friendship with Cocteau continued during this period and Auric penned the score for his Le Sang D’Un Poete. But by 1935 had decided to write for what he called a younger audience and began to compose music that he thought would reach a more general audience rather than the elitist few he had been previously associated with. He also began to attempt to express his own political views via the way he wrote music, and between 1935 and 1945 worked on a variety of pictures all of which were French language productions, these included. The Mysteries of Paris (1935), The Messenger, The Red Dancer The Alibi, (1937) The Lafarge Case (1938), Beautiful Adventure (1942) and Francois Villon (1945). It was in 1945 that he began to score British movies his first being Dead of Night. The rest as they say is history. Auric died on the 23rd July 1983.

I was always attracted to the music of Georges Auric; I think it was because his use of solo trumpet within his scores and also the way that he combined strings and brass, the composer creating wonderful melodies as well as fashioning atmospheric music that underlined, elevated, and punctuated each storyline adding depth and bringing to them a greater dimension. The composer had a style which I considered to be rather like that of Walton, but at times when required he could adapt and alter his style, with the sound achieved becoming a little more flamboyant, lighthearted, thematic and haunting. This approach was conveyed perfectly in his score for Dead of Night.

The score for the anthology was a little harsher for the most part than we normally got from Auric, with rasping brass, flyaway woods, and thundering and at times abrasive sounding percussive support throughout, the combination of brass and percussion augmented by the string section purveyed a sense of urgency and a feeling of uncertainty and dread. With the strings at times bursting into a melodious piece that delivered a more re-assuring air. Auric’s score was not released as far as I can see, because at the time of the film being in cinemas soundtrack releases were mostly unheard of unless the score contained a popular song or composition, as in the 1941 movie Dangerous Moonlight which contained The Warsaw Concerto by Richard Adinsell. But there is a suite from the movie included on The Film Music of Georges Auric which is released on Chandos records, and available on digital platforms along with many re-recordings of the composers works for cinema.

Main titles and end theme.

Dead of Night was an original and inventive collection of horror tales that became the source of inspiration for so many movies and TV shows that were to follow, The Twilight Zone, Tales from The Crypt, Vault of Horror, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie amongst them, where the screenplay discloses a core story that unfolds into segments. The final twist in the film is totally unexpected and a plus in this great British piece of cinema that is a classic. Surprisingly American distributors decided that the original print of the movie was too long. Therefore, the golfing tale and the Christmas ghost tale were cut completely. This left American audiences confused because they could not understand what Michael Allen, from the Christmas ghost tale, was doing in the nightmare montage at the end of the movie.  

NIGHT OF THE DEMON.

Chosen ….Singled out to die, Victim of his Imagination or Victim of a Demon.

Night of the Demon is without a doubt one of the most accomplished, scary and superb horror films that deals with the occult. Seeing as it made in 1957 it stands the test of time well and still holds the attention of even the most disconcerting audience. It has been a regular to late night TV screenings for a number of years now, but in recent times these screenings have become less, which is a shame seeing as there is so much for want of a better word rubbish on the TV these days.

Jacques Tourneur

Director Jacques Tourneur who also was responsible for films such as Cat People and The Leopard Man, originally wanted to make a movie that emphasised the more psychological elements of the storyline, in other words he did not feel that the actual demon should appear in the flesh as it were, but more should be confined to the mind of the person who thinks that they are being hunted by it.

I think it would have been an interesting movie if the director had been allowed to continue with his original concept, but the studio executives were nervous and of the opinion that audiences at that time would not be able to envisage such a scenario, executives thought the demon had to be shown to create the horror and also purvey the panic and sheer fear of its victim. If there was nothing on the screen and the victim went into a blind panic would the audience get it? Probably not!

The movie is certainly a classic, but thinking about it maybe by not showing the demon so early on in the proceedings it could arguably been more tense? The storyline focuses upon an American scientist, Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) who travels to Gt Britain to disprove the beliefs of many that a Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall McGinnis) claims of having black magic powers are totally fabricated. Holden’s partner in Europe suddenly dies and this along with warnings from close friends and colleague’ s is not enough to dissuade the good doctor to stop investigating Karswell.

He is determined to expose him and let everyone know what a fraud he is. Karswell, is of course incensed at Holden’s accusations and places a curse upon him, a terrible curse that becomes ever more mysterious, fearful and increasingly dangerous as Holden refuses to stop his exposure of Karswell, it is the curse of the demon. The movie is such an atmospheric viewing experience, well-acted and wonderfully directed with special effects that are not awful (remember this was 1957). It is a movie that I consider to be one of the top 10 horror films of all time, in short a virulent, tense and unsettling piece of cinema that deserves the title of Masterpiece.

The movie is an intense and bizarre journey into the dark and foreboding world of the occult and black magic. With various sequences within the movie showing Holden being pursued by a force that is more than evil, these sequences are helmed magnificently and effectively by the director and conveyed  convincingly by Andrews.

Filmed in black and white it also has some great sets and set pieces that add dimension and become alluring and convincing for the watching audience. I think if you did not believe in the occult or black magic before seeing this movie you might change your mind after watching it. The movie was based on the original story by M. R James entitled Casting the Runes, an edited version of the movie was released in the United States but is inferior to the original UK release.

The musical score was the work of British composer Clifton Parker who provided the film with a tense and dark sounding score, and also a theme that has become as iconic as the movie itself.

CLIFTON PARKER.

The original score has never been released, and because of the age of the film I am of the opinion it will never see the light of day, however, there are re-recordings of the theme and sections of the score available, most notably of the Silva Screen compilation Horror, and also the Chandos CD release entitled The Film Music of Clifton Parker, which includes a three minute section from the score.

Plus the opening music and narration from the movie is on digital platforms on a compilation entitled Scary  Movie Soundtrack Music. The Night of the Demon, or The Curse of the Demon to give the film its the American title, is arguably one of the composer’s best known main themes and effective scores. It contains all the qualities and ingredients of a good horror movie soundtrack being dramatic, eerie, attention-grabbing and thrilling. 

Parker was one of the driving forces behind British film music during the 1940s through to the late 1960s. Like fellow composer/conductor Muir Mathieson, Parker was involved on many projects and was responsible for being an innovator in the style of music that was to be utilized in British movies for decades to come. The son of a bank manager, Clifton Parker followed his two elder brothers into the commercial profession but studied music in private. After obtaining an A.R.C.M diploma in piano teaching at the Royal College of Music in 1926, he continued in commerce for a while before obtaining employment as a music copyist. Several of his own classical pieces began to get published, and these eventually attracted the attention of film music conductor Muir Mathieson. Much admired for his lively symphonic style, Parker scored more than fifty feature films over a twenty one-year period, plus he worked on numerous documentary shorts, radio and television scores, and music for ballet and the Old Vic theatre.

His second wife Yoma Sasburg was principal dancer in several ballet productions. In 1963, Parker was one of three composers who quit film scoring in protest at the exorbitant percentage of royalties being raked off by the publishers.  Parker continued to write scores for R.A.D.A. and the Hampstead Theatre Club. Sadly, Clifton Parker was inactive for the final 13 years of his life owing to ulcers and emphysema. His death in 1989, at the age of 84, for many brought to an end an era that we can proudly call the Golden Age of British film music.

THE SMALLEST SHOW ON EARTH.

It’s funny that certain movies or TV shows and even pieces of music seem to stay with you throughout your life. I was born in the mid 1950’s and started to become interested with TV and films from a very early age around 5 I think, my family too were very cinema orientated as in they would go to the cinema at least twice a week, and in the 1960’s there were so many movies around to watch.

But also as the 1960’s progressed movies that had been made in the 1950’s started to appear on the little box of wonders that was stood in the living room of most households in the UK. Mainly black and white TV’s but there were a few colour especially as the world cup became more interesting and England were in the 1966 final and subsequently became the Champions of the World.

So the BBC in most cases would show the great Ealing comedies and films by the Boulting Brothers, classic British war movies, robbery capers, suspense filled dramas, and the kitchen sink dramas that were so popular such as A Taste of Honey, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, A Kind of Loving and before these Love on the Dole. The films were usually shown on a weekend, normally on a Saturday afternoon on BBC 2 because sport was on BBC 1, and then with more hard-hitting stuff being screened late at night. It was these Saturday afternoon matinees that I as a ten year old would love to sit and watch, things like The Lady killers, The Lavender Hill Mob, Passport to Pimlico, Man in the Moon, The Mouse that Roared, Genevieve, Kind hearts and Coronets, I,m Alright Jack, being wonderful pieces of comedy and escapism. One movie that I really loved was The Smallest Show on Earth (1957).

And although I am not in anyway, making comparisons between this movie and Cinema Paradiso. I have to say it gave me the same thrills, uncovered the same emotions, and evoked a sense of nostalgia, that is hard to generate nowadays with the so-called big movie block busters.

The Smallest Show on Earth, had what I think was an impressive cast, a veritable who’s who of 1950’s and 1960’s British cinema which included Virginia McKenna, Bill Travers, Peter Sellers, Margaret Rutherford, Bernard Miles, Leslie Phillips, Sid James, Jane Cunnigham, and Francis De Wolff. With a storyline that although maybe was a little implausible was something that we believed in and a string of events that seemed so innocent compared to today’s standards.

The talent did not stop in front of the camera as the movie was directed by Basil Dearden (Dead of Night, The Blue Lamp, Khartoum), with cinematography by Douglas Slocombe (The Titfield Thunderbolt, Hue and Cry, The Man in the White suit, Rollerball, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark) and a musical score by renowned British composer William Alwyn (In Search f the Castaways, The Swiss Family Robinson, A Night to Remember, Carve her Name with Pride, Malta Story).

Director Basil Dearden was a former stage director and entered the world of cinema as an assistant to director filmmaker Basil Dean. Born Basil Clive Dear in 1911, he soon worked his way up the ladder and directed his first film in 1941;which was a film that  he collaborated with actor/director Will Hay on entitled The Black Sheep of Whitehall. Two years later he directed his first film in his own right as a filmmaker and eventually became associated with writer/producer Michael Relph, together they made films on themes not often tackled in British films, such as homosexuality and race relations. In the ’60s Dearden embarked on a new phase of his career by directing large-scale action pictures, the best of which was the epic war movie Khartoum, which starred Charlton Heston and Sir Laurence Olivier in 1966. The film which became a classic and was a critical and financial success is still regarded as an iconic British movie today by fans and critics alike. In 1970 he worked on the Roger Moore thriller The Man Who Haunted Himself, but it was soon after the movie was released in 1971 that Dearden was killed in a car crash on the same stretch of road where Moore’s character was also killed in an accident in the movie. He won the BAFTA for best British film in 1959 for Sapphire.

Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe was born in London on February 10th 1913, and has long been regarded as one of the film industry’s premiere cinematographers, he began his career as a photojournalist for Life magazine and the Paris-Match newspaper before the outbreak of World War II. During the war he became a newsreel cameraman, and when the war finally ended he began to work for Ealing Studios as a camera operator, making his debut as a full-fledged cinematographer on the studios Dead of Night  (1945). Slocombe, is credited with giving Ealing films that unique, realistic look it became famous for. He left Ealing embarking on a freelance career because he did not want to be tied to just one studio. He started to divide his time between England and America. He won the BAFTA for his work on the Dirk Bogarde, Joseph Losey directed movie The Servant in1963 and went onto lift numerous awards for his work on movies such as The Great Gatsby in 1974, and Julia in 1977. Slocombe became a favourite of director Steven Spielberg, working with him on three Indiana Jones movies. Slocombe, also worked on movies such as The Blue Max, The Lion in Winter, Never Say Never Again, Jesus Christ Superstar and Rollerball. He passed away after a fall in 2016. His career began in 1940 with Lights out in Europe for which he did not receive acredit, his final film being Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade in 1989.

Born in 1905, William Alwyn was a composer who not only scored movies but was an active and important British concert hall composer. He was a Virtuoso flautist and composer who taught at London’s Royal Academy of Music as a professor from 1926 to 1955. During the war years, he was employed by the Ministry of Information, where he came to the fore as a composer of scores for documentary films which were used for morale building, the instruction of troops and for propaganda. One of these films, a newsreel reportage entitled The True Glory which was released in 1945 and won an Academy Award.



After the war, Alwyn had several successful collaborations with the director Carol Reed, the most notable of these being his haunting music for the 1947 movie Odd Man Out. The Fallen Idol from 1948 and The Running Man which was released in 1963. Alwyn also composed a rousing and robust score for the Burt Lancaster comedy adventure The Crimson Pirate in 1952. In addition to his film work, Alwyn composed operas, symphonies, chamber music, and concertos for piano, violin, viola and harp. He conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra in several recordings of his compositions. William Alwyn became a fellow of the British Film Academy in 1958 for his contribution to the development of British cinema. In 1975 Alwyn married Doreen Carwithen who was also a respected composer who wrote for film.

English film comedies I fear are now extinct, we will alas never see the likes of Margaret Rutherford, Bernard Miles and Peter Sellars work their magic and bring so much to a storyline. This trio of excellence were vital to the success of The Smallest Show on Earth  the timing and sheer quality of their performances were astonishing and rewarding to watch. Three eccentric yet emotive portrayals of characters that were the life force of the picture house at the centre of the films attention The Bijou or the Flea Pit as it was referred to in the movie by some. In its heyday it had been an opera house and in recent times re-branded a Kinema but after many years of falling into disrepair it had fallen to its lowest ebb becoming a poor second to the Grand picture house in the same town. I think actor Bernard Miles, gives what is probably one of his best performances as the Bijou’s resident handy man, cleaner and door attendant, who’s only request throughout is to have a proper uniform. Old Tom was it seemed content to carry on working way past retirement and as long as he had his cats a uniform and was allowed to earn a living, he would go on forever.

The same goes for Mrs Fazackalee (Rutherford) and Mr Quill (Sellers), content to stay forever as long as she could get rid of the rats in the building and he got new projectors or at least had the old ones repaired. Then there is the couple who inherit the Bijou because of the death of an Uncle, these are played by Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, (pre Born Free days). Who together probably had some of the worst lines in the script, but once you get past the period humour of the time they become quite endearing. With the script containing some of the most natural and dry wit penned, a thing that Hollywood has never been able to do successfully in my humble opinion.

There are many entertaining and memorable moments within this gem of a movie, but one particular scene stays with me after so many years, it is a scene that is poignant and filled with heartrending emotion, it is when the new owners return from a dinner engagement to hear music coming from the theatre, they discover the three old employees are watching a silent movie.

Margaret Rutherford’s character accompanying the images from the pit on piano, Old Tom sits embracing his cat mesmerized by the flickering scenes and the delicate and fragile sounding music, with Mr Quill moved to tears as he shows the movie from the projection room, and talks briefly to the new owners explain that the films are sections of silent movies which he has kept over the years, all three are lost in the old days of the Kinema, the sight of Rutherford playing the piano and Old Tom fixated upon the screen is superbly acted out and something that is engaging and highly emotional.

The Smallest Show on Earth is a treasure trove of sights and sounds from a bygone age, that is still sorely missed by many.

A PALACE OF IMAGINATION, AND A FACTORY OF DREAMS.

The movie industry has its bases, its studios and its famous names and certain locations and buildings that become synonymous with movie making, in England there was Shepperton, Bray, Pinewood etc etc, in the States it all comes under that glitzy and somewhat false persona that is under the Hollywood umbrella, but there is one European studio that seems to stand out and even now is mentioned and lauded by many, Cinecitta quite literally meaning 

The City of Cinema was the base and location for the production of hundreds of films, and not just Italian titles. Films such as Ben Hur, Cleopatra, Sodom and Gomorrah etc all used the facilities the cast of thousands as in extras and the technicians, such as cinematographers, that the studio had on offer.

And the stunning locations also for more contemporary movies in the form of the city of Rome. So let’s take a look at the history of this hallowed place, where Fellini created masterpieces such and Leone cut his film making teeth as an assistant director, this was The Factory of Dreams, the production line of hope and the place where escapism and reality combined to create stunning cinema. Cinecitta was founded in 1937 by Mussolini, Il Duce intended to put to good use what he called the power of cinema in a way that promoted him and his propaganda.

But when WWll broke out the site was taken over by the Italian army and the country found itself without a central place to make movies, it was at this time that directors decided to take to the streets of Rome and other cities to commit to celluloid their hopes, dreams, and visions. Filmmakers such as Visconti and Rossellini who were to become known as the pioneers of neorealism, took to the streets to film in real locations, and shooting in natural light rather than under the gaze of artificial lighting, and producing movies that were seen as true to life in Italy at that time, rather than the contrived and flawless visions of utopia as conveyed by the Fascists.

These Golden age productions as they were also referred to included seminal Italian films, such as Roma Citta Aperta, Ladri di Bicicletti, I Vitelloni, La Strada, and Viaggio in Italia.

The movies often using unknown actors or even non-actors and setting the story in a amongst the poorest people in the country and focusing upon the struggles of the working class. This type of film was at its most prominent from 1943 to 1952 and showed a side to life that was directly the opposite to that which was being purveyed by Hollywood filmmakers, Ironically the films in is category proved to be more popular with audiences outside of Italy and appealed to audiences more in the States and the UK.

The success of Cinecitta literally took off as the 1950’s dawned, with American directors deciding to shoot their movies there because of its superior equipment and more affordable labour, the studios were to be the location for so many big box office movies which earned Cinecitta the name of Hollywood by the Tiber.

Films such as Quo Vadis, The Robe and Roman Holiday were all made there, and mega stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Charlton Heston and Richard Burton were all well known actors that filmed there. Taylor was an extra in Quo Vadis before reaching her mega star status, as was Sophia Loren.

Fellini focused upon the glitzy stars in his La Dolce Vita, satirising the beautiful people or so-called icons of the glamorous and opulent silver screen. I suppose one could also say that Cinecitta and Italian directors also parodied themselves in films such as After the Fox which starred Peter Sellers.

Sellers plays Aldo Vanucci (aka the Fox), one of the greatest criminals of the world and master of disguise. After Aldo escapes from the Italian prison, he was held in, he meets again with his friends and plans to retrieve the “Gold of Cairo”, a large shipment of gold that waits to be unloaded somewhere in Italy.

Aldo devises the perfect plan- posing as a famous director, he finds the ideal coastal village to unload the shipment and persuades the entire population of the village that he has chosen their home as the set for his new movie (actual location: Ischia Island, Perugia, Roma).  

De Sica.

Everybody, including the idiot chief of the local police (Lando Buzzanco) are so excited, that they can’t even imagine that in fact they are helping the Fox to get the “Gold of Cairo”. Directed by Vittorio De Sica, the film also starred Britt Ekland as Gina Romantica, and Victor Mature as Tony Powell. It’s a great romp, and includes references to the neorealism movement in many of its scenes with the villagers, some of which were filmed without prior rehearsal.

The score for the movie was by Burt Bacharach with a title song performed by 1960’s pop group The Hollies and Peter Sellers.

Fellini on set for Satyricon.

Director Federico Fellini is known to just about everybody with films such as Roma, La Bidone, La Strada, The Clowns, 81/2, Satyricon, and so many more.

So revered was Fellini that he had his own studio at Cinecitta, which was the Teatro 5, in which the director lived whilst he created the wonderful sets for his movies that would become his trademark, the scene in La Dolce Vita, where Anita Ekberg walks into the Trevi fountain, was not filmed on location but on a purpose-built set that Fellini had constructed in Teatro 5.  Cinecitta was one of the busiest studios during the 1950,s

and this continued to be the case into the early 1960’s, however audience tastes were changing, and the epic film and Biblical tales were beginning to become out of vogue, with audiences craving the likes of James Bond etc. So it was in this period that Cinecitta’s fortune were to take a nosedive, but because the American filmmakers had deserted Italy to return to tinsel town, a new genre emerged from the ruins that American studios left behind them, and the Italian western was born to great success.

Sergio Leone.

And along with it came a new breed of directors, such as Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci, and Sergio Sollima, plus the Italian film industry also began to stir once again with directors such as Pasolini and Pontecorvo entering the arena.

Along with these movies came a new sound as in the music on their soundtracks with the likes of Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai, Stelvio Cipriani, Gianni Ferrio, Nico Fidenco, and Francesco De Masi, who along with numerous other composers and artists realised the Sound of the Spaghetti western.  It was not until the 1990’s when the soaring production costs in Hollywood persuaded the American studios to once again look to Italy and to Cinecitta to make movies, it was the location of the studio and its enormous expanse its twenty-two stages and its forty acre backlot plus a gigantic 16,500 sq foot outdoor tank.

It was perfect for films that had hundreds in their cast such as Gangs of New York, which was filmed at the studios in 2001. It was this and a handful of other productions that put the studio back on the filmmaking map, and the new stars of Hollywood once again paraded around on its impressive sets. With movies such as The Passion of the Christ being shot there, and the The Life Aquatic utilising the vast outdoor tank.

The many craftsmen and women that work at Cinecitta play a vital part in its popularity, with many that worked on the likes of Ben Hur, still working there and also mentoring younger artisans in their craft of model making etc. Remember the Torch Holder in Ben Hur that stood high above Circus Maximus, and the huge Medusa head from Casanova, the Warrior Statue from The Last Emperor, these are as iconic as the movies that they were created for.

There are whole families of costume makers, mothers and fathers passing down their skills to sons and daughters, skills that are hard to find anywhere else.

In recent years the studio has adapted well and the gigantic Teatro 5, is on occasion used for variety TV shows such as the Italian version of Big Brother, and productions such as Rome, which boasted impressive sets with a budget that was rumoured to be over 100 million dollars. The craftsmen re-creating the Roman forum and taking it back to its former splendour looking as it did in 50 BC. Nowadays one can visit the studios, as it is the base for several attractions as this ad tells us- Transport yourself into the world of fiction and fantasy at the Cinecittà World, a theme park that combines the best of cinema and television in 40 attractions, 7 themed areas, and 6 shows. Head over to the many rides and attractions that are made keeping in mind every guest’s needs, from those who prefer adrenaline-filled fun to those who want to make a splash at the aquatic rides. Enjoy any of the 6 shows that run every hour daily, covering different genres. 

So, it is still a studio that is giving and creating entertainment, may its memories never fade and may it reign supreme forever, in the hearts and minds of everyone.

THE ASPHYX.

I OBEY GODS WILL MY FRIEND. MY ONLY FRIEND, MY ETERNAL AND EVERLASTING FRIEND, MY COMPANION IN IMMORTALITY.

The Asphyx, is a movie that I have always been drawn to, and for a long time now I have considered it one of the better Horror movies to come out of England during the 1970’s. But is it a horror? It certainly has been categorised as one by many and even been given a cult status as a horror. But I am not entirely sure that it fits squarely into the genre. I was surprised that the movie was a B feature when it was first released to cinemas in the UK or maybe I am being unkind as it was more of a double A feature being billed alongside Hammer films Demons of the Mind.

There are within The Asphyx certain issues and scenarios that can be seen as horror, but the storyline encompasses many subjects and situations, romance being one, it is I feel essentially a love story, that deals with loss, discovery and includes an abundance of science related items. In some ways it evokes shades of Burke and Hare but in this case, it does not pursue the more grisly and macabre side of that tale, also there are similarities between its story and that of Shelley’s Frankenstein, because we see man acting as if he is God, not in so much as a creative way by taking body parts and manufacturing a monster/being, but more leaning towards altering lives.

The film or at least the storyline is quite unique, but also highly implausible and yet at the same time it does make the audience think, What if? It is a classy, enticing, and interesting movie, that has a fascinating appeal to it. I say implausible because the plot is somewhat science fiction, but at the same time the movie comes across so well one does forget this and the interest levels rise, I would even go as far as to say it is thought provoking. I think this is mainly due to the impressive cast, who all produce performances that are believable, each actor being perfectly suited to their respective characters and a well written screenplay, and helmed by filmmaker Peter Newbrook.

Released in 1972, The Asphyx, aka- Spirit of the Dead or The Horror of Death, opens in present day England, where in the brief pre-credits sequence we see a road traffic accident, the police attend the scene, but other than that the audience are kept in the dark. It then cuts to the main title credits which lead into the opening scene proper of the movie set in 19th Century England. The story focus upon Sir Hugo Cunningham who is portrayed superbly by English actor Robert Stephens.

Sir Hugo is a highly respected scientist, and a revered member of the parapsychological society, which is an organisation that studies various forms of psychic occurrences. In their latest studies the members have been photographing people who are at the point of death, all have started to notice a smudge or a shadow on the photo as the person passes. The members conclude that they have captured the persons soul leaving the body as they die. Sir Hugo, however, disagrees and decides that he must continue to investigate more thoroughly.

Cunningham, holds a party at his house, and whilst there he uses a camera that he has invented himself to capture moving pictures of the event, whilst he is using the camera he films a terrible boating accident, in which both his son and Fiancée are tragically killed. After the accident he watches the film and notices the same smudge or mark that has been noticed on the photos of the society. On closer examination he notices that the smudge is moving towards his son and not away from him. After re-watching the footage many times, he deliberates and concludes that this is not the soul departing the body, but is instead The Asphyx, a mythological entity spoken of by the Greeks.

Later Cunningham attends a public execution, as a protest against capital punishment he records the execution on his camera, after this he returns to his home and with his assistant Giles played by Robert Powell, he shows the film and together they see the executed mans Asphyx suspended momentarily in the light from Cunningham’s device, Sir Hugo very quickly reaches the conclusion that if he could suspend a dying persons Asphyx that person would become immortal all the time the Asphyx is contained or trapped.

The two men then trap the Asphyx of a Guinea Pig, and seal it in a well-fortified room in Sir Hugo’s house with a door that is virtually indestructible. Things take a turn for the worse, (as they very often do-the best laid plans scenario). And the storyline becomes ever more sinister with Cunningham deciding that he will trap his own Asphyx, and lock it in the same room as the one from the Guinea Pig, thus ensuring that he will live forever.

Assisted by Giles Sir Hugo subjects himself to high charges of electricity, and Cunningham installs a combination lock on the door of the room or the tomb as it is called in the movie. Giles soon realises that he cannot trap the Asphyx alone and enlists the help of his Fiancee Christiana (Jane Lapotaire).

After trapping his Asphyx Cunningham decides to offer both Christina and Giles immortality, which they agree to, but Christina is killed and later Giles to is killed due to an experiment that goes horribly wrong, and even though Giles has left Sir Hugo the combination to the tomb Sir Hugo destroys it because he decides to stay living and roam the countryside forever wrapped with guilt because of the deaths of Giles and Christina. Which takes us back to the beginning of the movie. We see the two cars that are involved in a fatal collision, and the police on the scene of the accident, the two drivers are killed but a pedestrian an old man is miraculously still alive and walks away from the accident unscathed holding a Guinea Pig.

Its an entertaining movie, and one that I can gladly watch over and over, and even if the storyline does at times drift into the preposterous, I still enjoy it.

I also love the score, which is by Bill Mc Guffie, the Scottish born pianist was mainly known for his jazz performances and compositions, and also via his performances with the likes of Cyril Stapelton, Teddy Foster and Kenny Baker, but he did occasionally work on film scores. Daleks invasion of Earth, 2150 AD, The Challenge, The Comedy Man, and The Leather Boys all in the early to mid 1960’s.

The Asphyx, is a romantically laced soundtrack that is fully symphonic, and contains a particularly haunting opening theme. The music is lilting and subdued, with the music acting as a subtle but powerful background to the story as it unfolds. The style is vaguely evocative of the style employed by fellow Scottish composer Harry Robinson who also excelled writing music for horror movies, and Mc Guffie’s affecting central theme has many affiliations with Robinsons Demons of the Mind. Mc Guffie’s music lulls the audience into what is a false sense of security, and because it is subtle and mostly melodic has the desired effect of making the moments of horror or shock even more powerful.  

Sadly, the score has never been released and I think I correct when I say that there has never even been as much as a cover version of the theme. I would imagine that the score will now never see the light of day and is either gathering dust in a cellar somewhere or has already been thrown out or destroyed. Mc Guffie went on to record several easy listening albums which became very popular, he died in March 1987.