Thursday, January 28, 2021

OUR MOTHER'S HOUSE 1967

 

The Home Sweet Home Blogathon Hosted By Reelweegiemidget ReviewsTaking Up Room



"We know a secret...We won't tell. For if we tell, we'll go to hell"



After spending years in the British film system director Jack Clayton appeared to be on quite a roll in the first half of the sixties. After ROOM AT THE TOP in 1959, followed by the great THE INNOCENTS in 1961 and then 1964's THE PUMPKIN EATER he seemed destined to become one of the leading figures of British cinema, and then in 1967, he directed this adaptation of Julian Gloag's novel of the same name. A failure at the box office, the film was saddled with a wholly inappropriate ad campaign that attempted to sell it as a Hammer-type PSYCHO-inspired psychological horror complete with lurid one-sheets along with a spoiler-laden trailer that managed to pack every bit of perceived salacious & violent content into its brief running time. With its blend of old-fashioned Gothic ambiance combined with a very dark (this film truly goes into some shadowy & disturbing places) storyline along with a very creepy and unsettling blend of religious hypocrisy and dark sexual undertones (all of which involve children) it no doubt was a tough sell.

 In the London suburb of Croydon, the seven Hook children (with the name of "Hook" perhaps being a reference to Peter Pan) live with their sickly bed-ridden & deeply religious mother in a large rambling Victorian house. Ranging in age from pre-school to middle teen they tend to their mother and with their only outside contact being school and a visit from an occasional housekeeper they live isolated in the home which the mother has festooned with crosses and biblical verses. One night right before "bible story time" the mother dies suddenly and faced with the prospect of being sent to an orphanage the children conspire to secretly bury her in the garden.




Building a makeshift shrine to their mother in a shed, they dismiss the suspicious housekeeper Mrs. Quayle (Yootha Joyce), and set about to carry on as before. At first, all seems to go reasonably well with the older siblings Elsa (Margaret Brooks) and Hubert (Louis Sheldon Williams) taking charge with Elsie playing the mother role as she cooks and sends the younger children off to school. Hubert suggests to Elsie that they might want to bring an adult or authority figure into the situation but is chastised for this. The stuttering and shy Jiminee (a pre-OLIVER Mark Lester) shows an aptitude for forgery which is put to good use in the form of replicating their mother's signature on the monthly relief checks.

Things begin to get darker however when they begin to hold candlelit seance-like "mommy time" sessions in the dark garden shed with the coming-of-age Diana (in a wonderful performance by Pamela Franklin) rocking back and forth in their mother's rocking chair while quoting biblical verses, intoning advice from "mother" and doling out punishment. In the film's most horrifying sequence perky young Gertie (Phoebe Nicholls) is punished for accepting a ride from a stranger on a motorcycle by having her hair cut off while she terrifyingly shrieks and the other children scream "harlot!" at her.

Into this increasingly dark environment arrives the smiling and affable Charlie Hook (Dirk Bogarde) the children's absent father who arrives just in time to help pacify an inquiring school teacher and later the returning and nosy housekeeper Mrs. Quayle. At first, Charlie seems to fit in with the children well. He accepts their story of the mother's demise and subsequent garden internment without an afterthought. Taking the children for outings in some of the few sequences where we are not in the increasingly claustrophobic house, he initially seems to be the adult figure needed but underneath there is something devious lurking in him. The older Elsie quickly grows suspicious of him while Diana seems enamored of him and although it is initially left ambiguous as to who (if any) of the children he is the actual biological father of, his attraction to Franklin's Diana is very queasily disturbing. 




With a sly glint in his eye, Charlie befriends Jiminee when he learns of the latter's forgery skills and soon begins to bring the outside world into the up till then cloistered home. This includes pop music, Playboy magazine, liquor, and women with which he carries on sexual relations within full view of the children. This all turns the then swinging 60's on their head by having the adult figure indoctrinate the children into the changing trends and morals. However, it seems that along with the strict religious upbringing the children also have in them a sense of biblical retribution which plays out in the film's terrifying and somber climax.

As he demonstrated with ROOM WITH A VIEW and especially in THE INNOCENTS Clayton was a master of mood and here, he is helped immensely by Larry Pizer's shadowy cinematography that shows off the films gorgeous, muted brown, and autumnal color palette along with Georges Delerue's spare musical score who's gently descending & ascending chords suggest a child's lullaby. The book was adapted for the screen by Jeremy Brooks and Haya Harareet (who played Esther in 1959's BEN HUR and was Clayton's wife). 

Although Clayton had a reputation as a taskmaster on set, he seemed to have a special gift for working with children as evidenced in THE INNOCENTS and here he conjures up a wonderful ensemble performance from the children letting each show a distinct personality while still behaving like children and not "little adults" which was a common trait in films of the period. Pamela Franklin (whom Clayton had worked with previously in THE INNOCENTS) is magnificent here. Her role as the child Flora in THE INNOCENTS followed by the young teenage Diana here and then the troubled adult medium Florence Tanner in THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE in 1974 form a wonderful symmetry.

Dirk Bogarde who started out in light comedies for Rank brings that easy-going charm to our initial impression of the wayward father and later turns to a darker complex personality more related to his roles in THE SERVENT and THE VICTIM.  In his memoir, Bogarde related that he “loved every second of the film,” and upon his first day on the already in production film he found a note in his dressing room which read “Let us hope you’re as good as you’re cracked up to be" and it was signed "The Children". It was his work in this film that brought him to Luchino Visconti's notice and cast him in THE DAMNED and DEATH IN VENICE. 

The British Board of Censors slapped the film with an "X" rating (the rough equivalent of an "R" today) and its failure at the box office led to a downturn in Clayton's career and he did not direct again until the somewhat messy version of THE GREAT GATSBY in 1974 and later Disney's SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES in 1983 which suffered from post-production tampering by the studio. Regulated to the occasional late-night TV showing and later sporadic scheduling on TCM, OUR MOTHER'S HOUSE was finally given a release on bare-bones DVD release by Warner Archive in a soft but serviceable 1.66 transfer. However, this film screams out for a beautiful new restoration and packed Blu-ray edition from Criterion and/or Indicator. 

I did some exploring on Google Maps in the Croydon area hoping to find the house, but the entire area seems to have been redeveloped. 
















Monday, January 25, 2021

TRUCK TURNER 1974

Black, Bold and Bloody Mean! 

"Anybody ask you what happened, tell 'em you've been hit by a truck...Mac "Truck" Turner!" 


In recent years blaxploitation has been parodied and riffed on so much that the entire genre has sadly become an almost huge joke upon itself and lost in the shuffle is the fact that there are excellent films here along with more artistry at work in them then you might imagine. TRUCK TURNER was released just as the genre was peaking with THREE THE HARD WAY, FOXY BROWN, ABBY, and TNT JACKSON among many others all being released the same year. 

After the massive success of his soundtrack for 1971's SHAFT, it seemed only natural for the composer Isaac Hayes would make the transition to acting, and his role in TRUCK TURNER was immediately preceded by the quirky but excellent TOUGH GUYS which paired him with Lino Ventura (and is overdue for a legit release). And of course, Hayes supplied the soundtrack to both films with his work on TRUCK TURNER soundtrack is great and stands right up there with his work on SHAFT.

Written by Oscar Williams (BLACK BELT JONES) along with Michael Allin (ENTER THE DRAGON) and uncredited help from Leigh Chapman (DIRTY MARY AND CRAZY LARRY), it was originally conceived by American International as a project for a Caucasian actor (Robert Mitchum and Ernest Borgnine were among those considered). It was re-written right before production as a blaxploitation vehicle which according to the informative commentary on the Kino Lorber Blu-ray by director Jonathan Kaplan caught him by surprise. Kaplan also relates that when Isaac Hayes was first shown the script, he objected to the title character's misogyny and the use of the word "bitch" with the result that they took the character in a different direction than most blaxploitation male leads and in turn brought a rather sweet love story into the plot. 



The opening credits start off in the shiny & new office building Los Angeles and then moves to blighted urban streets with endless rows of bail bondman storefronts and were introduced to the title character who on a bit of reverse-SHAFT, lives in a squalid apartment littered with food containers and empty beer bottles.  Hayes is ex-football player-now bounty hunter Mac "Truck" Turner who along with his partner Jerry (Allen Weeks - who was the recipient of the "picking your feet in Poughkeepsie" interrogation by Gene Hackman in THE FRENCH CONNECTION) are hired by a slimy lawyer (the great Dick Miller in a wonderful pink sports jacket) to track down Leroy "Gator" Johnson (Paul Harris ACROSS 110TH STREET) a notorious pimp who skipped bail leaving Truck's friend & bondsman Nate Dinwiddie (Sam Laws HIT MAN). Tracking Gator down, Truck & Jerry participate in a high-speed car chase while pursuing the pimp in a spectacularly staged sequence. 

After Truck kills Gator in a shootout, Gator's "business partner" Dorinda (in an off-the-rails performance from STAR TREK's Nichelle Nichols) vows revenge on Turner thereby setting in motion the main plot of the film. Dorinda who operates her girls out of a swanky Beverly Hills house (with a huge picture of her late partner adoring the living room) gathers a cadre of her fellow pimps (one of whom wears a variety of terrific western shirt/matching eye-patch combos) and offers half a cut of her business to whoever kills Turner. The standout among the would-be assassins is the cold, calculating & very quietly menacing Harvard Blue (Yaphett Kotto).



Nichols as Dorinda is a true force of nature here - not so much chewing scenery but devouring it whole and then spitting it back out. She seems to be gleefully glad to shed her Star Trek image and her long uninterrupted monologues are the highlight of the film as she spews bile at anyone that comes within her sight.  Throwing out lines such as "We call her Turnpike, cuz you gotta pay to get on and pay to get off!" she brings a grin to your face whenever she is on-screen.

The film alternates between bloody squib-filled shoot-outs (Hayes's Turner carries a .44 Magnum in a nod to DIRTY HARRY) and light-hearted moments (there is some genuinely funny stuff here). Although Hayes's acting range is limited, he brings a great presence & charisma to the screen whether being shirtless while coolly dispatching would-be assassins (along with a complete lack of police presence) or sharing some tender (and sometimes funny) moments with his girlfriend Annie (a nicre performance from Annazette Chase THE MACK). Although Week's performance as Turner's partner Jerry has come under criticism from some, I think he is quite good here and his scenes with Hayes show some real chemistry between the two (along with some light comedy) and makes me wish there were a sequel with the pair and Chase's Annie. 

Jonathan Kaplan had started out with Roger Corman on NIGHT CALL NURSES and THE STUDENT TEACHERS (which is my favorite of the "student" and "nurses" cycle) and THE SLAMS with Jim Brown. He worked his way up the food chain later directing WHITE LINE FEVER, HEART LIKE A WHEEL, and MR. BILLION (which deserves a nice Blu-ray) among others then a busy career in TV. In TRUCK TURNER he stages some great action sequences including a prolonged and bloody shootout in a hospital with patients on gurneys being pushed over, an operating room being invaded with exploding blood bags, and a nifty death POV sequence.    












Sunday, January 17, 2021

RUN ANGEL RUN 1969

 

"He Squealed On His Gang...And The Word Was Out...WASTE HIM!"



 RUN ANGEL RUN from 1969 is notable for having several "firsts" attached to it. It was the first biker film that William Smith (THE LOSERS 1970) appeared in and in which would be a genre that he in the coming decade he would become synonymous with. It also marked the acting debut of blog favorite Margaret Markov (BLACK MAMA WHITE MAMA 1973) and most importantly was the directorial debut of the great Jack Starrett (RACE WITH THE DEVIL 1975) who would go on to helm a string of drive-in classics along with being a vastly underrated actor (check him out as the evil deputy in FIRST BLOOD).

Produced by Joe Solomon (WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS & ANGELS FROM HELL and who specialized in these) and Paul Rapp SCREAM FREE & THE STUDENT NURSES) it was released during the pivotal year of 1969 for biker films that also included the classics THE CYCLE SAVAGES, FIVE THE HARD WAY, HELL'S BELLES, HELL'S ANGELS '69, NAKED ANGELS, SATAN'S SADISTS, and of course EASY RIDER. All of which would lead to an explosion of choppers, iron crosses, and sleaziness which burst on the screen the following year. Although an exploitation genre film at its core (including a couple of brutal offscreen rapes) there is a surprisingly rather tender love story in RUN ANGEL RUN that makes this film a bit of an outlier.   



Angel (William Smith) has incurred the wrath of his fellow outlaw cycle gang members as he has sold a tell-all story about the biker lifestyle to a major weekly news magazine (titled "Like") for the sum of $10,000.  Unfortunately, Big Bill Smith did not seem to think this one through too carefully as not only does he have to wait two weeks to collect his payment but in addition, he must drive from his home base of L.A. up to San Francisco to retrieve it. Adding to his problems he is thrown in jail and upon having bail posted by his girlfriend, Laurie (Jack Starrett's daughter Valerie Starrett) he learns surprisingly (to him at least -somewhat oddly it would seem) that he is the subject of a massive manhunt by the biker community. All of whom are angrily clutching the magazine while snarling vengeance.

Heading off on his chopper with Laurie he is immediately sent upon by a gang of bikers who pursue him to a railroad yard where Starrett stages an excellent chase sequence involving a moving train that climaxes with Laurie jumping into an open boxcar (probably courtesy of stunt woman Randee Lynn Jensen) and Angel jumping his bike on a flatcar which is helped by some quick editing and changeover from a chopper to a motocross bike for the jump. The sequence also has some multi-screen editing and is a precursor to what a great director Starrett was and his feel for staging terrific action sequences. 

After tangling with some hobo-rapists Angel and Laurie take to the backroads and finding themselves in a small, isolated town they set up home in an abandoned house and attempt a kind of domestic tranquility (which is shaky at best) as Angel gets a job with local sheep rancher Dan Felton (Don Kemp THE GIRLS FROM THUNDER STRIP) where he initially seems eager to settle down. He bonds with Felton after repairing the rancher's antique motorcycle and begins to learn the intricacies of sheep farming including "sheep dipping"(??). Things turn dark when Angel's old gang tracks him down and begin their brutal revenge which tragically involves Felton's teenage daughter Meg (Margaret Markov).

Made for under $100,000 and shot in 13 days it went on to gross 13 million at the box office putting it directly behind A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN and just ahead of THE WILD BUNCH making it one of the most successful films of the outlaw biker drive-in genre. Starrett gets the most out of the film's meager budget and it does get bogged down for short periods of time with some of the mundane plot elements there's slow-building tension as Angel's old gang tracks him down. Although the scenario of the biker wanting to quit and go straight would be used later (such as 1970's ANGEL UNCHAINED), RUN ANGEL RUN is deservedly considered one of the best among the golden period of biker films. 




Thanks to an engaging script and the presence of William Smith who even in this early big screen appearance has a gravitas that comes bursting through. Although seeming eager to settle down with Laurie ("the straight life") he slowly begins to get frustrated only coming to life slowly with the restoration of Felton's antique motorcycle and later during the film's violent climax.

Markov who although in a small early role here shows the beginnings of her later cult status as an actress in the coming decade who is not only a beautiful face on the screen (she is one of those actresses that the camera seems to love) but bringing a wonderful presence to her film roles. After her marriage to actor and later producer Mark Damon (THE DEVIL'S WEDDING NIGHT), she would drop out of sight but in the past several years has turned up in several DVD extras and documentaries. 

The screenplay was written by Jerome Wish (his other two credits are THE GAY DECEIVERS and ANGELS FROM HELL) and a V.A. Furlong. As this is the pseudonym-sounding V.A.'s only screen credit I'm wondering if it could actually be Jack Starrett? The busy Stu Phillips (BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, THE CURIOUS FEMALE, FOLLOW ME, and a truckload of other credits) supplies the score with the catchy & melodic (and a bit out of place) title theme by country superstar Tammy Wynette with some additional songs by The Windows.   

The full-frame DVD from Media Blasters is taken from a VHS master and features a Joe Bob Briggs commentary.