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Posts Tagged ‘Bernard Cribbins’

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I am in the fortunate position of knowing exactly which Peter Cushing film was my first, mainly because it’s the very first film I remember being taken to see at the cinema: it was, of course, the original Star Wars, in which our hero makes a relatively small but nevertheless potent appearance as co-villain Tarkin. The funny thing is that these days I don’t really think of Star Wars as a Peter Cushing movie, mainly because I was aware of it long before I came to appreciate Cushing as a performer.

The same is really true of the second Cushing movie I remember seeing, again at a very young age. This is another example of Peter Cushing lending his considerable powers to a wider pop-cultural phenomenon, and one which has a very special place in my affections. The movie is, of course, Gordon Flemyng’s Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150AD, from 1966. It’s Peter Cushing! It’s Doctor Who! What other movie was I possibly going to review on this, the centenary of Cushing’s birth?

daleks_invasion_earth_poster_01

Recent years have been kind to the standing of the two very-nearly-Amicus movies within the wider world of Doctor Who, with various design elements from the films finding their way into the 21st century version of the show, and – I think – people being a bit more prepared to just relax and enjoy them on their own merits. For a long time, though, they definitely seemed to be frowned upon, if not actually reviled, for the heinous crime of conflicting with the canon of the TV show.

Well, they do, there’s no denying it: Peter Cushing is playing someone actually called Dr Who, and this isn’t exactly an adaptation of the original Dalek Invasion of Earth TV story, either. However, much to my amazement, I recently came across something purporting to be an interview with Cushing from the 70s, in which he proposes his own theory explaining how these movies could still be in continuity with the television series: the Celestial Toymaker turned the Doctor into a human called Doctor Who, and… well, anyway. If this is genuine (which I still doubt), it reveals a depth of knowledge of Doctor Who and interest in its continuity which resonates deeply with me. Mr Cushing, sir: as an actor you have thrilled and entertained me. As a writer and a decent human being you have inspired me. But it’s as a continuity cop that you really take my breath away.

But on with the movie. Whatever the faults of this film, and there are a few, the pre-credits sequence is perfectly crafted: Special Constable Tom Campbell (Bernard Cribbins) stumbles upon a burglary in progress and is roughed up by one of the thieves as they make their escape. Dazed, and attempting to summon assistance, Tom stumbles into what looks like an ordinary Police Box…

Well, inside he find the gadget-ridden interior of a time machine belonging to Dr Who (Cushing), who is just setting off on a trip to London in the year 2150 (Dr Who can apparently steer his version of the TARDIS, which his TV counterpart was still many years away from in 1966), taking his grand-daughter (Roberta Tovey) and niece (Jill Curzon) with him. However, the London of 2150 is in a right old state – everything has been demolished, except the matte paintings of famous landmarks and the billboards advertising a popular brand of breakfast cereal.

It transpires this is because the planet is now under the management of the universe’s most notorious mobility-challenged aliens, who have used an evil confluence of phone cubicles and hair driers to convert Earthmen into their PVC-clad slaves, the better to pursue their plan to extract the metallic core of the Earth (located just under Luton, apparently). Naturally Dr Who and his friends join up with the local resistance (principally Andrew Keir and Ray Brooks) to put a stop to this.

There’s no getting around this: there is an awful lot in Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150AD that’s practically crying out to be mercilessly mocked. The costume designs are frankly disastrous (the options are either 50s working class chic or head-to-toe PVC), the up-tempo jazz soundtrack borders on the inappropriate, there’s the whole issue of the product placement, there’s the question of how the Daleks managed to conquer the world when their ray guns appear to have an effective range of about fifteen feet, and so on.

In short, it’s all very, very camp, and outside the context of the wider TV series it comes across as silly, bordering on the outright ridiculous. Certainly, when compared to the TV version of this story, all the grimness and sharp edges of the story have vanished, its occasionally-nightmarish atmosphere completely dispelled. The much higher production values of the movie don’t really work in the story’s favour, much reducing its rawness and darkness.

Having said all that… this movie is still a tremendous amount of fun. The Daleks look fabulous, better than they ever did on TV until the 80s at least, and there’s Peter Cushing giving us his take on the Doctor, too. Given that Cushing took the role partly because he wanted to shake off his image as the horror man (shades of William Hartnell!), it’s not really surprising that his performance here is much more mannered than usual: he’s putting on a rather affected voice and acting older (he was 52 when this film was made). I’ve heard his Doctor described as a doddery old gent, but if so he’s no worse than the first Doctor of the TV show. There’s steel here, too, when it’s called for, and also a very charming mercuriality that Hartnell himself could never quite manage.

Even when the film is being monumentally silly, it still entertains. Bernard Cribbins plays most of it fairly straight, but he does get the chance to participate in the awesome food machine sequence. Andrew Keir (who played a surrogate Cushing for Hammer a couple of times, as well as a brilliant Quatermass) appears to think he’s in a serious drama, but still doesn’t come across as ridiculous for doing so.

And it is still fundamentally classic Doctor Who in terms of its imagery, its structure and its plot: there is good versus evil, the merest dash of moral ambiguity, the triumph of wisdom over brute force, and an overwhelming faith in the power of kindness, decency and silliness as a defence against the horrors of the world. I’ll buy that and call it Doctor Who, any day of the week. Peter Cushing was apparently always grateful to have been involved with the world of Doctor Who, even in such a peripheral way. I hope we have finally reached a point where everyone who cares about Doctor Who can be proud of – and indeed celebrate – the fact that we can count an actor as great as Peter Cushing amongst our Doctors.

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You know, I’ve started to wish I’d planned ahead with this special series of Peter Cushing-related posts – here we are with number three and our hero still hasn’t had a proper leading role yet. Still, at least it’s finally a film, and a Hammer production to boot: from the studio’s heyday, it’s 1965’s She, directed by Robert Day.

she

Based on the (according to the credits) ‘Famous Novel’ by H. Rider Haggard, our story opens in a Palestinian nightclub in the aftermath of the First World War, where we meet three English survivors who are looking for a purpose in life. Holly, a former academic, is played by Cushing, his manservant Job is played by Bernard Cribbins, and Leo, the one with juvenile lead written all over him, is played by perennial Hammer hunk John Richardson. While Holly and Job cavort with some belly dancers (the actors appear to be enjoying this, as you would I suppose), Leo is led astray by a mysterious girl named Ustane (Rosenda Monteros).

I feel obliged to point out that not least of the mysteries surrounding Ustane are her accent and ethnic origin. I think she’s supposed to be of vaguely Arabic descent, or possibly Egyptian, but Monteros is of course Mexican (she famously played Horst Bucholz’s love interest in The Magnificent Seven), and her accent basically defies description. That said, if you’re going to worry about roles being given to people of the wrong national ancestry, then She will almost certainly give you an ulcer, as we shall see.

Anyway, Ustane lures Leo off to an encounter with another mysterious woman, Ayesha, who is played by top-billed Ursula Andress (ancestry and accent: Swiss-German). She seems eerily familiar to Leo, and not because he’s seen Dr No. Ayesha gives Leo directions to a fabled lost city where she is in charge and invites him to come on a visit. This is not particularly to the liking of her high priest, Billali, played by Christopher Lee (ancestry: all over the place, accent: unmistakably English). Such is the scramble for prominence at the top of this film – even Richardson, the male lead, only gets fourth billing after Andress, Cushing, and Cribbins – that Lee has to settle for a dignified ‘and’, though he does have rather more than a cameo. (I still think naming a character ‘Billali’ only ten years after the release of Rock Around the Clock was probably a mistake.)

The fact that this is rather a lavish production by Hammer standards is made clear as the movie goes on location in the desert of southern Israel to show Leo, Holly, and Job’s journey to the lost city. It all looks rather impressive, and suggestively reminiscent of another famous 60s movie, but apparently it was not a comfortable shoot for the cast: in his autobiography, Peter Cushing recalls that Richardson contracted dysentery from drinking contaminated water and Cribbins was shot up the fundament by a misplaced pyro during one of the action sequences.

Anyway, la chica Ustane rescues our hero from the perils of the desert (and the special effects) and takes them home to meet her dad, the slave-master of the lost city, played by Andre Morell (ancestry: ooh, I’m not sure, Dutch from the sound of things, accent: sort of vaguely neutral). Unfortunately the slaves try to eat Leo, but before they can tuck in our heroes are whisked off to the city to meet Ayesha formally and have the plot explained to them.

It transpires that Andress is a three-thousand-year-old Egyptian noblewoman. (I know that sounds far-fetched, but I promise you: she really is supposed to be Egyptian.) She and her followers were banished here in ancient times after she jealously murdered her lover. Luckily, a passing desert hermit showed her the secret of immortality and she has been waiting for the reincarnation of her ex to show up ever since. And Leo is he! But will he surrender himself to the power of a woman who, despite her obvious charms, is clearly a bunny-boiler on an epic scale? How will Ayesha react to the thing that Leo and Ustane clearly have going on? And does anyone seriously expect Christopher Lee to appear in this kind of movie without having a go at being the main villain?

She is really a film of two halves – the first half, which really contains all the location stuff, really does a good job of showing the budget off, and one has to wonder if all this yomping about in the desert is actually Hammer’s attempt at knocking off Lawrence of Arabia: Richardson appears to have been styled to resemble Peter O’Toole, there are various long shots of folk on camels, Montero gets an entrance not entirely unlike Omar Sharif’s, and so on. If so, one can’t fault the ambition of the studio, but an epic panorama and a sweeping soundtrack do not a classic make.

The problem is that the rest of the movie is stringently studio-bound – the sets are mostly pretty good, but nevertheless it’s on soundstages – and really not very much happens beyond a lot of slightly abstract discussion. Despite the Hammer name, this isn’t really a horror movie, there’s a slave revolt at the end but you still couldn’t honestly call it an action film, it’s obviously not a serious drama, and yet the central relationship between Andress and Richardson is so underpowered that it doesn’t work as a torrid romance, either. The whole thing is much too well-behaved to work as an exploitation movie of any kind, if we’re honest – in the end it’s just an odd sort of fantasy adventure, more by default than anything else.

It doesn’t really help that the three most obvious charismatic cast members – by which I mean Cushing, Lee, and Cribbins – all get stuck in what are basically supporting roles, with the main plot concerning Richardson and Andress. Neither of them are brilliant actors, if we’re honest – I suppose we must cut Andress some slack because she is being dubbed, after all (insanely, the person dubbing her lines is also doing a Swiss-German accent) – but the script is much to blame as well. It is rather insipid stuff that never really gets going, and in the end one is left wondering exactly what the idea behind this film is – the danger of obsessive passion? The corrupting effects of beauty, immortality, and absolute power? The cyclical nature of history?

In the end I rather suspect She is more about some well-cinematographed bits of desert and Andress in a series of nice frocks than anything else, with the character actors cunningly deployed around the edges to give it some gravitas and charm, which they obviously do. It’s not a great film, or even a particularly fun one, but it’s pretty to look at and hard to actively dislike, despite some very dated racial politics. There aren’t a huge number of non-horror films that you could honestly say were essential Hammer, but She probably qualifies, despite all its weaknesses.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published September 25th 2003:

It seems a bit fatuous to write about a low-budget British comedy that’s just about finished its run on the big screen even as I write, but what the hell. Mel Smith’s Blackball is breezy good fun, and features a rare big-screen outing for the legendary Bernard Cribbins (Cribbins’ status as a comic genius should be evident to anyone who’s seen Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150AD), so let’s have a look at it anyway.

Based, admittedly quite loosely, on real-life events, this is the story of crown-green bowling prodigy Cliff Starkey (Paul Kaye) who, despite his enormous talent for the game, scandalises the bowling grandees of his native Torquay with his irreverent attitude towards it. Chief amongst his enemies is the Basil Fawlty-esque reigning champion Ray Speight (James Cromwell). Cliff beats Ray in the county championship, but after (justifiably) calling him a rather rude name, finds himself on the wrong end of a fifteen year ban. But the incident also makes him a bit of a celebrity, and before long the siren song of wealth and fame is calling him…

To be honest, any claim to a basis on true events which this film may have evaporates after about twenty-five minutes, at which point the appearance of a rather incongruous Vince Vaughn heralds its transformation into a rather cartoonish parody of many sports movies and a satire on the way many sports have been glitzed up for the media. The comedy is broad, knockabout stuff, but performed quite well by a cast containing many familiar faces off the telly. Bernard Cribbins is, predictably, great as Cliff’s grandad, and so is Johnny Vegas as his best mate – even if he’s simply just recycling his standard comic persona for the occasion.

This is a fun film, but an substantial one. The near-total lack of depth or realism jars with the ‘too much, too young’ arc of the middle section of the plot, which in any case seldom strays very far from predictability. The jokes do get increasingly daft as it proceeds, and it does strongly resemble a shambolic 1970s comedy film in a couple of places. But it’s very likeable, and does make a few astute observations about the commercialisation of sport along the way. Enjoyable.

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