Definitely Maybe (1994)

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Cover: From left to right are lead guitarist Noel Gallagher, rhythm guitarist Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs, bassist Paul ‘Guigsy’ McGuigan, singer Liam Gallagher and drummer Tony McCarroll. Noel was the last to join the band, which was originally called The Rain, but soon took over as songwriter and de facto leader. He wrote all 11 tracks on Definitely Maybe, their debut album. For its cover shoot the group are in Bonehead’s living room, surrounded by not-so-subtle clues to their interests: football is represented by a photo of Manchester City legend Rodney Marsh; movies by 1966’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly playing on the TV; music by a poster of Burt Bacharach and a couple of guitars; and cigarettes and alcohol by an ashtray and glasses of wine. The group’s logo has their name in lower-case Helvetica Black Oblique, while the album title is in a handwrite-y scrawl.

Best track: Live Forever is a soaring rock ballad full of heart and emotion and optimistic yearning. It begins with just drums, then builds up layers and layers of instruments and vocals. The chords are so basic they feel inevitable; the melody is catchy; and the guitar solos are ace. The fact that Oasis songs were often optimistic – even if naively so – was a big reason why the band became so popular. They came along when a lot of guitar music (grunge, shoegazing, art-house Britpop) was pessimistic or aloof. Oasis were like fans of a mid-table football team: life might be shit, they said, but it could get better at any moment. Although a fan of Nirvana, Noel has admitted that Live Forever was a deliberate response to their nihilist attitude.

Honourable mentions:
* Listening to Rock’n’Roll Star makes you walk taller: it’s a straight-up, pumped-up, heads-up track full of attitude. It also introduces Liam’s bizarre delivery of certain words: “I need some time in the sunshiiiine…”
* Shakermaker is a psychedelic rock song and was the second single released from the LP. It has an infectious, singalong melody… because it’s stolen from I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony), a song originally written for a 1971 Coca-Cola advert. The lyrics are – let’s be charitable here – a child-like game of free association. Noel mentions plasticine, a character from a 1970s TV advert, a song by The Jam, the cartoon series Mr Benn… The track doesn’t especially *mean* anything, but then again neither did the Beatles’ I Am The Walrus. The verse about Mr Sifters, a record shop in Manchester, was written on the way to the studio when the band’s car stopped outside it.
* Columbia is a pile-driver of a song and a good indicator of the kind of thing Oasis were doing before they got a record deal. Bootlegs of early recordings tend to be in this vein: simplistic, heavy and repetitive.
* The fun Supersonic was the opening single from the album. It was written and recorded in one day when an ad-hoc jam sounded promising. Like Live Forever, it begins with just the drum beat. Then the riff comes in and we’re away. The nonsense lyrics contain a Beatles reference – “You can sail with me in my yellow submarine” – and were written in 30 minutes.
* Cigarettes & Alcohol has a riff taken from T. Rex’s 1971 song Get It On. This wasn’t the first time Noel had pinched something and it was far from the last. But it’s an apt steal – Marc Bolan got the Get It On lick from a Chucky Berry song. Unlike the gibberish of Shakermaker and Supersonic, or the hopefulness of Live Forever, this fourth single from the album is a more cynical song. It’s all about how life is terrible so why not just get drunk and high? But its sound is immense: tough, big, loud, sneering.
* Slide Away was written during the recording sessions for the album, on a guitar Noel borrowed from Smiths legend Johnny Marr. Liam’s vocal is great (his best performance, reckons Noel) and the melody is terrific. The song also sounds fucking enormous: it’s prime stadium-singalong material. Never a single because Noel balked at having five singles from the same album, Slide Away is said to be Paul McCartney’s favourite Oasis track.
* The gentle Married With Children is a deliberately atypical album closer. It has a comedy lyric and even a key change. It was recorded on a guitar that once to belong to John Squire of the Stone Roses.

Worst track: We could probably live without the throwaway Digsy’s Dinner. It’s an in-joke about an eccentric friend of Noel’s… who then hated the song. At least it’s only two minutes.

Weirdest lyric: Supersonic is a good example of Noel Gallagher’s laisse-fairre attitude to lyrical meaning. Check out this section, which is little more than a succession of empty rhymes. “I know a girl called Elsa; she’s into Alka Seltzer. She sniffs it through a cane on a supersonic train. She made me laugh; I got her autograph. She done it with a doctor on a helicopter. She’s sniffin’ in her tissue, sellin’ the Big Issue.” (Elsa, by the way, was actually a Rottweiler belonging to the studio engineer who recorded the song. She had bad flatulence. The dog, that is, not the engineer.)

Best video: The promo for Supersonic was shot on a rooftop near Euston train station in London. In retrospect it’s a weird choice, given how Oasis often emphasised their Manchester-ness. It’s mostly in black and white (with some shots in colour meant to create a cinema-vérité feel but which actually make it look like a student video). Performing on a rooftop, of course, is a reference to the day in January 1969 when the Beatles went up to the top of their Mayfair studio and played until the police told them to stop.

Review: It’s all about attitude. Definitely Maybe is a full-on, aggressive, unapologetic sound – thanks in large part to Owen Morris, a producer brought in after the recording sessions. No one was fully happy with the state of the album, so Morris was given carte blache to remix the tapes. He added effects to the drums, stripped out some unneeded guitars, pushed every dial up to 11, and created an amazing wall of noise. It perfectly suits the songs, which are full of ambition and attack.

10 days moving just too fast for me out of 10

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Downton Abbey: series 3 episode 6

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SPOILER WARNING: Plot points will be revealed in this episode-by-episode discussion of ITV period drama Downton Abbey.

Written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by Jeremy Webb. Originally broadcast: 21 October 2012, ITV.

Sybil has been buried, but the family disagree over her baby daughter’s future. Also, Cora’s still giving Robert the cold shoulder, Mrs Patmore helps Ethel cook a feast, while Alfred and Jimmy both flirt with new kitchen maid Ivy… and Thomas flirts with Jimmy.

When is it set? A few days have passed since the last episode, so we’re still in the middle of 1920.

Where is it set? The house. Isobel’s house. The village. The prison. Violet’s house. Mrs Bartlet’s house in London.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* There’s mention of a wet nurse called Mrs Rose, who’s looking after Sybil and Tom’s infant daughter.
* Daisy goes to visit her father-in-law, Mr Mason, and he asks her to help run his farm. He wants her to be his heir. Daisy is typically ungrateful. 

Best bits:
* The family assume that Sybil’s daughter will be christened, but then Tom says she will be raised Catholic. “He wants the child to be a left-footer!” says Robert, disgusted.
* Isobel, in an attempt to cheer up Cora, invites her and “the girls” to lunch. But she hasn’t spotted that Violet is also in the room. “Do I count as one of the girls?” asks the Dowager, and Isobel flinches.
* Violet’s flustered reaction when Robert reveals that Ethel worked as a prostitute: “Well, you know, these days good servants are so hard to find…” Meanwhile, in a fuck-you to Robert, Cora treats Ethel with respect. (As a rule, the female characters are much more sympathetic towards Ethel than the men.)

Worst bits:
* In the argument over what religion the baby should be brought up in, Mary reveals that Sybil told her – on the day she died – that she wanted her child to be Catholic. Convenient. It’s almost like Sybil knew she was being written out.
* The servants discuss religion. “What do you feel about transubstantiation?” Thomas asks Alfred sarcastically.
* The Mr Bates subplot continues to drag. This week, his solicitor attempts to disprove the evidence of a key witness. The moment when he achieves it happens *off-screen*.

Real history:
* Robert says there hasn’t been a Catholic in his family since the Reformation.
* Mr Mason has seen the future: “Do you think these great house like Downton Abbey are gonna go on, just as they are, for another forty years? Because I don’t.” He’s not wrong.
* Mrs Hughes says that Sybil was a “bright young thing”. The phrase was a nickname given to rich socialites in the 1920s. Their scene was typified by parties, booze, drugs and dancing. Sybil was admittedly a bit of a rebel, but the label is still a bit of a stretch.

Upstairs, Downton: Ethel’s storyline is reminiscent of the Upstairs, Downstairs character Sarah (Pauline Collins), who starts out as a domestic servant, then sleeps with a ‘better’, leaves her job, has a child out of wedlock, and – controversially – returns to domestic service.

Maggie Smithism of the week: Violet wants Dr Clarkson to tell Cora that he couldn’t have saved Sybil. “So you want me to lie and say there was no chance at all?” he asks. “Lie is so unmusical a word,” she replies.

Review: The episode begins just after Sybil’s funeral: everyone is dressed in black, and religion dominates proceedings – especially an anti-Catholic prejudice.

Next episode…

Night Gallery: The Devil is Not Mocked (27 October 1971, NBC, Gene Kearney)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: A castle in the Balkans during the Second World War. There’s a brief framing device in the modern day (ie, the early 70s).

Faithful to the novel? The Devil is Not Mocked makes up the last quarter of an hour-long episode from the American TV show Night Gallery (1969-1973). This anthology series was created by Rod Serling as a more horror-based version of his earlier hit The Twilight Zone. He appears on screen at the start of the hour to introduce the episode’s first story (A Question of Fear, which stars Leslie Nielsen) then again after 45 minutes to tee up The Devil is Not Mocked. The latter segment was based on a short story by pulp writer Manly Wade Wellman and is about a Nazi general called von Grunn (Helmut Dantine). During the Second World War, he arrives at a Balkan castle, intending to search it for resistance fighters. His soldiers force their way in, but the castle’s owner – a strange, calm nobleman in a cape (Francis Lederer) – seems unconcerned. Von Grunn reckons that the man is the leader of the local resistance, but when midnight strikes all the Nazis are wiped out by the nobleman’s acolytes and wolves. As he closes in on the general, the man confirms that he’s the leader of the rebels and then announces that he’s also Count Dracula…

Best performance: This was Francis Lederer’s second go as the famous vampire: 13 years earlier he’d starred in a tame horror movie called The Return of Dracula.

Best bit: When von Grunn tells Dracula that they’re going to burn his castle down, Dracula just smiles benignly. If he were a Twitter gif the caption would be, “Bitch please.”

Review: Evil meets evil in a 15-minute drama. It has just one story beat: a punchline that surely every member of the audience sees coming a mile off. In its favour, the plot is notable for Dracula being (relatively speaking) the good guy.

Five paintings out of 10

Downton Abbey: series 3 episode 5

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SPOILER WARNING: Plot points will be revealed in this episode-by-episode discussion of ITV period drama Downton Abbey.

Written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by Jeremy Webb. Originally broadcast: 14 October 2012, ITV.

New servants Jimmy and Ivy settle in, Matthew has bold ideas about how to run the estate, and Lady Sybil suffers a traumatic labour…

When is it set? Not long has passed since the previous episode, so mid-1920. We’re told that Bates was arrested “a year ago” – and that was in April 1919.

Where is it set? The house. Bates’s prison. Isobel’s house. The estate.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Isobel hires former prostitute Ethel to work at her house. The cook, Mrs Bird, responds by quitting because she doesn’t want people thinking that she too is a fallen woman. “Nobody could look at you and think that,” deadpans Isobel.
* Sir Philip Tapsel (Tim Piggot-Smith) is a physician brought to the house to oversee Sybil’s labour. Dr Clarkson gets the hump at being superseded, though is on hand to point out that things are not going well: Sybil’s ankles are swollen and she seems muddled. Sir Philip doesn’t think this is a problem, but Dr C reckons she’s toxemic with the possibility of eclampsia and wants to move her to a hospital. Sir Philip says no and…
* …Sybil gives birth to a girl…
* …then in the middle of the night, Sybil’s in awful pain. It’s the eclampsia that Sir Philip insisted wouldn’t happen. “Once the seizures have started,” says Dr Clarkson sadly, “there’s nothing to be done…” Sybil dies a few moments later.

Best bits:
* Miss O’Brien says Thomas Barrow is a “clock expert”. Well, nearly. (This week, Thomas is enamored with new footman Jimmy and even gets flirty. This makes manly man Jim uncomfortable.)
* Isobel calling her cook’s bluff and accepting her resignation.
* Cora sticking up for Dr Clarkson when he disagrees with Sir Philip.
* Sybil’s death scene is *intense*. For a show dominated by stiff-upper-lipped-ness, it’s raw and emotional to see characters such as Tom and Cora balling their eyes out. After Sybil has passed away, we cut to downstairs: the servants are told and there’s shock all round. Thomas Barrow is distraught because he knew Sybil relatively well.
* The last scene of the episode is Cora coldly announcing that she blames Sir Philip and Robert for her daughter’s death.

Worst bits:
* Robert points out that Dr Clarkson misdiagnosed Matthew’s paralysis and missed the warning signs of Lavinia’s fatal flu. Probably not the best idea to draw attention to such things.
* Robert says Sybil is 24 years old. In a series-two episode, which is set just a year before this one, we were told she was 21.

Real history:
* When Edith is asked to write a newspaper column, she says it’ll cover modern women’s issues – not the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Maggie Smithism of the week: When Dr Clarkson starts mentioning things such as urine, Robert blanches and asks him to remember that his mother is present. She’s not bothered, though: “A woman of my age can face reality far better than most men,” she says.

Mary’s men: Mary tells her sister Sybil that she wants to have a baby soon. While Sir Philip is at the house, Matthew takes the chance to ask him whether his wartime paralysis could have affected his fertility. He and Mary have had no luck after a few months of marriage. Matthew also talks to the family solicitor about his plans for the estate – and Mary’s not happy that he’s doing it the day after Sybil’s died.

Review: At the start of Downton Abbey the regular cast signed three-year contracts. As the end of that period approached, a number of actors decided to move onto pastures new – and here’s the first loss. In truth, Sybil’s never been the strongest character and, after her romance with Tom the chauffeur was revealed to the family, she’s faded into the background. But she gets a good exit: this episode is a barnstormer of melodrama.

Next episode…

 

The BFG (2016, Steven Spielberg)

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An orphan called Sophie is kidnapped by a benign giant who takes her to a strange land. He won’t let her go home because he can’t risk people finding out about giants, so she comes up with a plan…

Seen before? No. But Roald Dahl’s 1982 novel was probably my favourite book when I was a child.

Best performance: Penelope Wilton is fun as the Queen. It’s never actually specified that she’s Elizabeth II, but that’s certainly who she looks like.

Best scene/moment/sequence: Being a Steven Spielberg movie, there are plenty of great images and visual gags – especially when the BFG is creeping around London in the middle of the night. He has to hide in plain sight to avoid passers-by.

Review: Spielberg has made children’s films before, of course. The best of them – ET, The Adventures of Tintin – are for kids of all ages. But The BFG is more like 1991’s Hook: aimed squarely at a very young audience. There’s whimsy and fart gags, but the film misses the ‘real life’, wit, and sense of danger that make ET so effective. We start in an arch, fantasy-land London of cobbled streets, bumbling drunks and an orphanage that doesn’t notice when one of its girls goes missing. It’s possibly the 1980s (there’s a gag about ‘Ronnie and Nancy’). The action then moves to a magical realm and huge stretches of the film are two-handed scenes. Aside from brief appearances by some other giants, Sophie and the BFG are the only characters in the first 74 minutes… The film seriously drags. Not a huge amount happens, and given the difference in their sizes you soon get very bored of shots of Sophie actress Ruby Barnhill looking up and shouting her dialogue. It’s a huge relief when the action returns to London. Sophie’s plan for helping her new friend is to give the Queen a dream that will make her predisposed to giants, so we then get a childish but lively sequence at Buckingham Palace. As well as Penelope Wilton, this section also features Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall, two good actors gamely playing cardboard characters in return for a chance to work with Steven Spielberg. The BFG himself is a marvellous creation, played charmingly by Mark Rylance via motion-caption technology. But overall this was a chore to sit through.

Four snozzcumbers out of 10

Cheers has the same scene twice…

Rewatching superior sitcom Cheers recently I noticed that two episodes contain the same scene. This isn’t a case of footage being repeated in a later episode. The same minute or so of dialogue and action has been restaged and refilmed.

The first instance is in an early episode called Coach’s Daughter (broadcast on NBC on 28 October 1982). After approximately 10 minutes comes a moment where Cheers owner Sam (Ted Danson) asks a barfly called Chuck (Tim Cunningham) about his job search…

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Chuck tells him that he’s now working as a janitor at a biology lab where they experiment with DNA and mutant viruses. He’s nervous about being so close to ‘weird stuff’…

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Sam, barmaid Carla (Rhea Perlman) and customers Cliff (John Ratzenberger) and Norm (George Wendt) react with mild interest and tell him not to worry about the dangers.

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Chuck then downs his drink, says he feels better after the encouragement, and leaves…

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…and as soon as he’s out of the bar, everyone snaps into action and cleans the entire area. Sam sprays the counter, Carla scrubs the floor, Norm and Cliff polish the telephone, then Sam disposes of Chuck’s glass and gingerly picks up his tip.

It’s a self-contained gag that doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the episode (which is a really terrific and very moving story about barman Coach not liking his daughter’s boorish fiancé).

Then in the final episode of the same season – Show Down (Part 2), broadcast 31 March 1983 – the exact same scene happens again. Only, it’s not *exactly* the same. The section of script has been restaged. Again, the joke has no connection to the rest of the episode, which sees Sam and barmaid Diane (Shelley Long) confront their feelings for one another.

This time it’s the episode’s opening scene. Sam asks Chuck about his job search…

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Chuck tells him about the clinic…

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The others – now including Coach (Nicholas Colasanto), who was absent from the earlier version – tell him not to worry…

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Feeling more positive about the job, Chuck leaves…

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And everyone frantically cleans the bar.

The dialogue and actions are almost identical, though in the second version Sam no longer picks up Chuck’s glass with a cloth or his cash with his fingertips. Another difference is that Carla is pregnant in the redo. The character was expecting a baby because the actress was: Rhea Perlman gave birth on 11 March to Lucy DeVito, who’s now a 34-year-old actress.

Incidentally, Tim Cunningham returned to Cheers many times. He played a customer called Greg for two episodes, then was in a further 33 as a barfly named Tim. To all intents and purposes, Chuck, Greg and Tim are all the same character.

But does anyone know why this bit of comedy business was performed twice, just a few months apart?

Downton Abbey: series 3 episode 4

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SPOILER WARNING: Plot points will be revealed in this episode-by-episode discussion of ITV period drama Downton Abbey.

Written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by Andy Goddard. Originally broadcast: 7 October 2012, ITV.

Tom Branson shows up unexpectedly, having fled the authorities in Ireland. Also, Mrs Hughes and Isobel help former maid Ethel, Edith struggles to find a purpose, and Matthew takes an interest in the management of the estate…

When is it set? A historical reference to US politics tells us that the episode takes place not too long before 18 August 1920.

Where is it set? The house. Prison. Violet’s house. Isobel’s house. Dublin.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* The Archbishop of York, Dr Lang (Michael Culkin), comes to dinner. This is the first instance of a real person being portrayed in Downton Abbey. Cosmo Gordon Lang (1864-1945) was Archbishop of York between 1908 and 1928, then Archbishop of Canterbury until 1942.
* Mr Carson hires a new footman: Jimmy Kent (Ed Speelers). The female members of the household (and Thomas Barrow) are very pleased by this. He used to work for the Dowager Lady Anstruther, but she’s now gone to live in France.
* Ethel’s son, Charlie, is now a toddler and Mrs Hughes arranges for him to meet his grandparents. Mr and Mrs Bryant initially offer the down-on-her-luck Ethel some cash (“unless you don’t want to give [prostitution] up,” says Mr B cruelly). Then they agree to let Charlie live with them.
* Daisy has been moaning for ages about having too much work to do, so she’s promoted to assistant cook and a new kitchen maid is hired to work under her. Never happy, Daisy then begrudges that Ivy Stuart (Cara Theobold) is very pretty.

Best bits:
* The reactions of two characters to the word prostitute are neatly telling. Former nurse Isobel doesn’t flinch, while the more sheltered Mrs Hughes is uncomfortable. (They’re talking about Ethel.)
* The Archbishop says he doesn’t want to sound anti-Catholic. Robert asks, “Why not? I am… There always seems to be something of Johnny Foreigner about the Catholics.”
* During his job interview, Jimmy says to Mr Carson, “You know what women can be like.” Carson replies dryly: “Not, I suspect, as well as you do.”
* Mary’s description of footman Alfred: “He does look like a puppy who’s been rescued from a puddle.”
* Mrs Hughes uses a new-fangled toaster. And nearly burns the house down.

Worst bits:
* In prison, Mr Bates is actually sewing mail bags. It’s presumably historically accurate, but still… Again, this subplot frustrates despite having two strong actors. Both Bates and Anna worry because they’ve not heard from the other in a long time, then each get a bundle of letters all in one go. In the storyline’s favour, there’s then a lovely crossfade between the two characters reading their letters.

Real history:
* Robert reads in the newspaper that Tennessee is going to ratify the 19th Ammendment to the US Constitution, after which all American women will have the vote. Edith points out that, in the UK, only house-owning women over 30 can vote.
* Robert is urged to speak to Home Secretary Edward Shortt (1862-1935) after Tom admits he was involved in some recent terrorist activities. The upshot is that Tom will remain free but cannot return to Ireland, a deal reached because the Government doesn’t want him to be a martyr. Some real-life champions of Irish nationalism are namechecked during the discussion: Maud Gonne (1866-1953), Augusta, Lady Gregory (1852-1932) and Constance, Countess Markievicz (1868-1927).
* Violet is aghast that Edith has written to a newspaper in support of universal suffrage, saying that ladies don’t do that kind of thing. Edith counters with Lady Sarah Wilson (1865-1929), a member of the Churchill family who worked as a war correspondent in Africa.

Upstairs, Downton: Votes for women was the subject of the Upstairs, Downstairs episode A Special Mischief (1972).

Maggie Smithism of the week: Edith has bought some perfume on behalf of her grandmother, who isn’t pleased with the price. “A guinea? For a bottle of scent? Did he have a mask and a gun?”

Mary’s men: Matthew hears the pitter-patter of tiny feet when he’s asked to meet Mary in the nursery having recently heard that she’s been to see a doctor. However, Mary is simply converting the room into a sitting room and needed something for her hay fever.

Doggie! Isis sits attentively as Robert and Matthew have a cigar.

Review: Now we’re in season three, the regular cast is getting a bit of a spring clean. Footman William left last year and was replaced by Alfred, and now we get two further servants: footman Jimmy and kitchen maid Ivy.

Next episode…

The Return of Dracula (1958, Paul Landres)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: Mostly the fictional town of Carleton, California, but there’s also a brief sequence in eastern Europe (we spy a Berlin newspaper in one scene). It’s the 1950s.

Faithful to the novel? This 1958 B-movie horror begins with a portentous voiceover telling us all about Count Dracula, the infamous vampire who terrorises innocent people and spreads his dominion around the world. We’re told that various attempts to destroy him have been unsuccessful and then see a group of men break into a tomb only to find the coffin empty… Then we cut to an artist called Bellac Gordal, who’s about to travel from Europe to California and stay with his cousin. On the train, however, he’s killed and replaced by Dracula (Francis Lederer). In the US, Cora (Greta Granstedt) hasn’t seen her cousin for a long time so doesn’t notice it’s an imposter. She welcomes Dracula into her home but he soon focuses on Cora’s grown-up daughter, the wholesome Rachel (Norma Eberhardt). He also turns Rachel’s friend Jennie (Virginia Vincent) into a vampire. (If we think of this as a loose remake of the book’s plot, Rachel is the Mina equivalent; Jennie is Lucy.) But when people start to suspect he’s not Gordal, the Count has to start killing. Meanwhile, Rachel’s finding it difficult to resist him…

Best performance: Francis Lederer plays Dracula as a man rather than a monster. There’s no Bela Lugosi cape (instead he wears a suit) and you almost feel sorry for him. The actor had the distinction of living in three different centuries: he was born in Prague in 1899 and lived until 2000. As well as a successful film and theatre career, he fought for the Austrian-Hungarian Army in the First World War. Lederer later played Dracula again, in a 1971 episode of TV show Night Gallery. Incidentally, while we’re on the topic of actors’ backgrounds, Cora actress Greta Granstedt had a notorious incident in her past. In 1922, when she was 14, she shot her 17-year-old boyfriend with a pistol. She claimed it was accidental, though newspapers said she’d stalked him from some bushes and wanted to hurt him because he’d been with another girl. The boyfriend eventually recovered and Granstedt was sentenced to time in a reform school.

Best bit: A few neat tricks are used to show off Dracula’s vampirism: when he first arrives in Carleton he appears out of thin air; we later get the clichéd no-reflection-in-a-mirror shot; and there’s also a great moment when he forms from a cloud of smoke. In the latter, the actor speaks dialogue as the smoke dissipates around him. The effect was achieved by having Lederer talk backwards as smoke is blown around him and then reversing the shot.

Review: For a horror film, this is incredibly safe material. We’re in a pre-rock’n’roll, small-town America where Cora bakes cakes, Rachel has a child-like enthusiasm for life and her boyfriend drives around in an enormous convertible. There’s no sense of danger to anything, and the whole film falls very flat. It’s directed with no attitude, there’s a bland cast, and lots of night-time scenes are shot in broad daylight. One notable – and very effective – aspect of the film is that it’s in black and white… aside from the shot of gushing red blood when Jennie is staked!

Four dull and useless worlds out of 10

Dracula’s Widow (1988, Christopher Coppola)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: The 1980s. A seedy, neon-lit Hollywood full of punk gangs, graffiti and rain.

Faithful to the novel? This 80s B-movie is essentially a sequel to the events of Bram Stoker’s novel. In Los Angeles, a wax museum is preparing for a new display based on the long-dead Count Dracula and an extra crate of materials is delivered from Romania. It contains a female vampire called Vanessa (Sylvia Kristel), who wakes up from hibernation and says she wants to find a way to get home to Romania. While she puts absolutely no effort at all into that, she goes on a killing spree. She also enslaves the museum’s manager, Raymond Everett (Lenny von Dohlen). But she’s troubled when Raymond tells her that her husband, Count Dracula, was killed many years ago. Meanwhile, a cop called Hap Lannon (Josef Sommer) is investigating her murders. Soon, local antiques dealer Helsing (Stefan Schnabel) figures out that vampires are in LA and offers Lannon help. He’s the grandson of the famed Dr Van Helsing who killed Dracula in 1893. The movie contains a few other references to the Dracula myth: at one point we see Raymond watching the 1922 film Nosferatu, while his girlfriend has the same surname as one of the novel’s characters (Harker) and sleepwalks like another (Lucy).

Best performance: Josef Sommer as LAPD Detective Hap Lannon. Here’s a character actor having fun with a rare leading role. He plays the film-noir voiceover for all its worth, wears a hat and raincoat, smokes, and tosses off the dime-novel dialogue. (Hap jokingly claims to be Sam Spade’s nephew.)

Best bit: The schlocky special effects are a real treat. The physical monster make-up and gore are both gross and charmingly cheesy. (Vanessa turning into a bat during the climax is more risible, though. You can almost see the prop’s strings.)

Review: The film has a lot of style to it. It’s lit like a giallo movie, with lots of bold colours that expressionistically match the mood of the scene (and even change during a shot to reflect the drama). The production design is also good fun. The story is set in the 1980s, yet the feel and look of a 1940s or 50s noir is never far way. However, the story is muddled and drab, and there’s a very mixed cast (Sylvia Kristel is especially rubbish). It’s enjoyable in a trashy kind of way, though doesn’t linger long in the memory. The film was directed by Christopher Coppola, the nephew of Francis Ford Coppola (who made his Dracula movie a few years later). In a not-so-sly nod to his famous relative, Christopher places the museum of the story right next to Francis’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Seven pentagrams out of 10