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Posts Tagged ‘John Richardson’

It’s quite common, when people make their start-of-year lists of the films they’re anticipating mostly keenly, for these things to be heavily loaded with sequels, follow-ups, and remakes – generally, there seems to be a lot more excitement about Age of Ultron than Jupiter Ascending, for instance. Sequels are respectable, at least with studio bean-counters. They have money thrown at them and are often planned well before the initial film comes out.

It was not always thus. There was a time when the follow-up was a slightly disreputable beast, and those that got made generally had to work with rather lower budgets and less impressive material, with correspondingly less stellar results. Such is definitely the case with The Vengeance of She, a Hammer sequel released in 1968.

vos

Directed by Cliff Owen, this movie is set fifty years on from the original She (i.e., the late 60s, when it was made) and mainly concerns the travails of Carol (Olinka Berova), a young woman from somewhere in Europe (she claims to be ‘from Scandinavia’, but no-one seems very convinced by this, mainly due to Berova’s Czech accent). As the movie opens, Carol is wandering south through Europe, driven by impulses she doesn’t fully understand, and – it seems – subject to harassment by virtually every man she meets.

The movie indeed opens with an episode of spurious and rather iffy Fem Jeop, with Berova discovering the perils of lone hitch-hiking, which concludes with her assailant managing to run himself over. Following this, things take a more Mediterranean bent, as Carol ends up on the slightly pokey yacht of a shady millionaire (Colin Blakely), which appears to be crewed exclusively by fringe figures from British telefantasy – the captain is George Sewell from UFO, while the first mate is firebrand producer and general grumpy-trousers Derrick Sherwin, in what must have been one of his final acting roles before becoming script editor on Doctor Who.

Anyway, everyone soon realises that Carol has got issues: she has bad dreams and is obsessed with travelling south, for some reason. This is because she has had the ‘fluence put on her by a cabal of sorcerers in the fabled lost city of Kuma, which has really gone downhill since the 1965 film.

The back-story here gets a bit tangled. In charge of Kuma in the late 60s is Kallikrates (Hammer hunk and jammy git John Richardson), an immortal in a dodgy costume, who is awaiting the reincarnation of his lost love Ayesha. The implication seems to be that Kallikrates is really the Leo character from the first film, who in the intervening time has lost his original identity – they’re both played by Richardson, for one thing, although his haircut is radically different this time – but this isn’t gone into. Basically, Kallikrates has hired the sorcerers to find his girlfriend’s reincarnation so they can be together again, in return for which he will tell their not-at-all-sinister leader (Derek Godfrey) the secret of immortality.

Well, Carol eventually arrives in north Africa and heads for Kuma, but in pursuit of her is a psychiatrist friend of the millionaire, who has taken a bit of a shine to her. (The psychiatrist is played by Edward Judd.) Will he be able to save her? Will the evil sorcerers learn the secret of eternal life? And, perhaps most importantly, is Carol really the reincarnation of Ursula Andress…?

I’ve said some pretty lukewarm things about the original She in the past, but one thing guaranteed to make it look like a classic is watching this sequel to it. All the problems which She has – a less-than-powerful central performance, an unengaging plot which takes forever to get going, zero chemistry between the romantic leads, and so on – recur here, but with the additional issue that this film was, relatively speaking, made on the cheap.

Oh, okay – they did do all the location filming in Spain, I’ll grant you that, and it does fill in for north Africa surprisingly well. But for something which is supposed to be a grand romantic adventure, everything looks depressingly washed-out and mundane, and totally lacking in glamour. There’s a reasonably lengthy sequence on the yacht, which is – I presume – supposed to conjure up the excitement of the international luxury lifestyle, but it’s just dull, and you wonder if it’s there to serve any purpose other than padding out the film to a frankly overlong 100 minutes.

The same is true of most of the other exploits Carol wanders into on her way to Kuma, beset by lechers and unconvincing back-projection every step of the way. The most bemusing of these, for the savvy viewer, is her encounter with a benevolent scholar and magician who tries (unsuccessfully) to aid her against the evil sorcerers. Again, it feels very much like filler, except for the fact that the guy is played by Andre Morell. Morell was, confusingly, in the original She, of course, but here he seems to be playing a totally unconnected character. Given these films are actually about reincarnation and the same faces reappearing throughout history, reusing an actor this way is a bit of a mis-step, but a relatively minor one.

(And if we’re going to be super-critical about this film’s links with the other one – a spoiler approacheth – what’s going on with the ending? Kallikrates has his immortality revoked and instantly reverts to a raddled skeleton, which crumbles into dust. If he really is meant to be Leo from She, then he would quite possibly still have been alive in 1968, albeit at the age of 80 or so, and time catching up with him might not have been so instantly and spectacularly fatal. But I digress.)

The original She hugely benefited from lavish production values and a strong cast of charismatic performers, which just about compensated for its other weaknesses. Vengeance of She is much more slipshod by comparison, which means that the problems with the story are thrown into sharper relief. And like the original, it’s a fantasy film in which very little that’s actually fantastical happens – there’s hardly any horror, not much in the way of action, nothing really dramatic to speak of, just people talking near-gibberish to each other very earnestly, other people wandering the landscape, and a slightly turgid romance. You can make a reasonable movie out of this sort of material, but you need to have style, ideas, and the money to put them into practice. Vengeance of She has none of the above – and, by the way, it doesn’t even have any vengeance in it worth mentioning. One for the bottom drawer.

 

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With the UK in danger of vanishing entirely under a pile of snow, I find myself wanting to watch something light and sunny and daft. And so, to a movie which holds the distinction of being the first Hammer film I ever saw, round about the age of six.

Hammer horror movies were a staple of the schedule (admittedly the late-night schedule) in the eighties and nineties – my own adolescence might have been rather different if they hadn’t – but they’re very little seen on TV nowadays, which I think is rather a shame. However, still relatively common now, as it was in the late seventies, is the appearance of one or other of the Hammer caveman fantasies. You know, I say caveman fantasies, but if we look at the poster we can perhaps get an idea of what the film-makers’ priorities really were:

onemillionyearsbc

Yes, it’s Don Chaffey’s One Million Years B.C., and as you can see the actual cavemen are not the main feature of the publicity. Somewhat more prominent (in every sense of the word) is former weathergirl Raquel Welch, almost wearing the remains of several rabbits (actual rabbits are mysteriously missing from the film itself). If you can tear yourself away from Raquel, I would direct your attention to a couple of other features of the poster: the strapline ‘This is the way it was‘, which is a very brave assertion given the poster features a caveman being eaten by a brontosaurus, and the bit of the blurb concluding ‘…a savage world where the only law was lust!‘ – which, as we shall see, is arguably overegging the pudding.

Anyway, One Million Years B.C. is set in what scientists have come to refer to as the Dumbassic Era of history, and opens with the formation of the Earth – which strongly resembles someone letting off a catherine wheel at the other end of a very smoky shed (I may be giving away special effects secrets here). Eventually we find ourselves in a bleak, prehistoric world (for once, not the woods out the back of Hammer’s Borehamwood production base but the Canary Islands), where we meet the good folk of the Rock Tribe, who – as their name suggests – are the original rockers, with matted hair, beards, and bearskins (well, maybe not the last one). In charge of the Rock Tribe is Akhoba (Robert Brown, later to evolve into James Bond’s boss), but jockeying for preferment are his two sons Sakana (Percy Herbert, a ubiquitous if fairly anonymous film actor) and Tumak (John Richardson). Also on the scene is the luscious, slightly naughty cavewoman Nupondi, played by Martine Beswick. I know everyone goes on about Raquel Welch when they talk about this film, but if you asked me to make a choice between her and Martine, I really don’t know which way I’d jump (so to speak). Even if I plumped for Raquel, I can’t guarantee I wouldn’t be thinking of Martine.

Sorry, back to the film. John Richardson is an interesting example of that very rare stock figure, the Hammer hunk – in most of their films, the juvenile male lead ends up playing a very secondary role to character actors like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Richardson, however, gets to play a proper leading man role here and in She (he gets a reasonable part in Vengeance of She, too), based as much – one suspects – on his good looks as his acting ability. There is a persistent story that he was also married to Martine Beswick, too, so all-in-all his position on the All-Time Jammy Git chart is looking good.

Some things never change, and even in the Dumbassic Era a family barbeque is the cause of friction. Tumak finds himself kicked out of the Rock Tribe and banished into a vast lava desert inhabited only by carnivorous ape-creatures, and poorly-composited giant spiders and iguanas (effects maestro Ray Harryhausen apparently suggested using the blow-ups, the idea being that having seen live creatures, the audience would be more likely to think the animated dinosaurs were real. Ray’s logic is at fault here, as all one is left with are two different kinds of obvious special effect, the animation (which is great) and the blown-up real animals (which are rather embarrassing)).

On the other side of the desert is the sea, where Tumak encounters the Shell Tribe, a more culturally and technologically advanced group (they have invented spears, painting, and leg-shaving). He finds himself strangely drawn to Loana (Welch), perkiest of the Shell Tribe’s young women, although this may be because she had less rabbitskin to work with when fashioning her outfit than anyone else in the tribe. Despite saving a child from an attack by some sort of theropod carnivore (is it a juvenile tyrannosaur? is it an allosaur? does it really matter anyway?), Tumak gets himself kicked out of the Shell Tribe too, mainly because he is a selfish thicko. Loana finds herself caught in the grip of a force beyond her control (I’m talking about the requirements of the script, by the way, not love) and goes along with him.

Meanwhile Sakana has carried out a bit of a coup in the Rock Tribe, Martine – sorry, Nupondi has done some mildly provocative dancing, and Akhoba has been doing some very dodgy I-am-crippled acting. At this point the plot starts to unravel a bit, as is wont to happen when your film has virtually no actual dialogue beyond grunting and people saying ‘Akita!’ to each other. (This appears to mean ‘Please render assistance,’ though I could be wrong.) People start wandering back and forth between the two tribes almost at random (or being flown there by helpful pterosaurs), develop an almost-supernatural knowledge of events they weren’t present to see, and so on. In the end there is a volcanic eruption which switches the plot off and gets rid of various members of the supporting cast (hey, no spoilers – but suffice to say I Am Not Happy).

For a long time this was the most financially successful film Hammer ever made, although I suspect it has lost this crown to the Nu-Hammer movie The Woman in Black. There’s something mildly depressing about that, given that this is such a silly piece of disposable kitsch, but I suppose it’s also understandable given its very, very obvious charms and the fact you know exactly what you’re going to get when you sit down to watch it.

The star attractions, other than Martine and Raquel in those fur bikinis, are Harryhausen’s animated dinosaurs. There are fewer of these than you might think, and it’s quite a long time before the first proper one shows up – a decently animated archelon (surprisingly, the Shell Tribe call the archelon ‘archelon’, suggesting they have also invented Latin taxonomy). However, the actual fight between the archelon and the Shell Tribe is so dull that even some of the characters involved don’t seem that interested in it. Much better is the fight between Tumak and the tyrannosaur/allosaur/whatever – not quite up to the standard of the sequence with Gwangi and the cowboys from The Valley of Gwangi, but still top-tier Harryhausen. Equally good is an all-animated fight between a triceratops and a ceratosaurus, and there’s quite a nice fight (you may have noticed a pattern developing) between duelling pterosaurs as well.

The rest of the time we are watching actors in skins grunt at each other. To be honest, the differentiation between the surfer-dudes of the Shell Tribe and the rockers on the other side of the desert had the potential to be reasonably subtle, but the movie chooses to beat you about the head by giving all the dudes blonde hair and all the rockers brown hair. At least the script shows a rare flash of logic by making Tumak as much of an arse as everyone else from his tribe – as mentioned, he is stupid, selfish, and bad-tempered, at least for the first two-thirds of the movie, at which point he appears to lose all personality and the script starts to unravel too.

And what a script it is. Apparently it took four people to write this thing, which works out at roughly one word of dialogue each – nice work if you can get it. I wonder why they insisted on using made-up caveman language? It surely can’t be out of a desire to maintain historical accuracy, because this film doesn’t have any. I suppose not having any dialogue does mean your film will travel much better internationally (hence those healthy box office returns), but the downside to all the grunting and the ‘Ahot! Akita Tumak!’ stuff is that it not only robs your film of any subtext, it also takes away most of your text. You can’t have any characterisation that can’t be expressed through physical action, your scope for plot complication becomes severely limited, and – perhaps most crucially – it becomes very difficult to be witty or even broadly funny without resorting to slapstick. So you end up with a very simplistic, earnest film which is still palpably absurd.

Although it is still a fairly well-behaved film. All that stuff about the ‘law of lust’ on the poster is rather misleading, as the primitive passions of cavemen and cavegirls get virtually no screen time. The fur bikini stuff is all quite wholesome and not prurient at all (well, there’s a bit where Martine and Raquel have a catfight – you’d’ve thought Martine’s track record in From Russia With Love would stand her in good stead, but clearly not…), and the film isn’t really suggestive at all. This would be amended with the release of the follow-up, When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth, in which Victoria Vetri’s fur bikini memorably goes a-flyin’ (although the version which shows up on TV these days has been expurgated).

In the end one is left with a collection of simple, honest, largely visual and almost wholly guilt-free pleasures – Raquel, Martine, and Harryhausen are, on the face of it, a combination unlikely to produce anything of moment, but One Million Years B.C. does seem to have lasted. It’s silly. It’s very silly, in fact. But it’s also a lot of fun.

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