Mystery and Imagination: Dracula (ITV, 18 November 1968, Patrick Dromgoole)

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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 late Victorian era. The action all takes place in a town near the sea. There’s mention of a headland and it’s fair to assume it’s meant to be Whitby. In flashbacks, we also see Castle Dracula in Transylvania.

Faithful to the novel? The British horror anthology show Mystery and Imagination began on the ITV network in 1966. Each episode was an adaptation of a classic story by gothic authors such as MR James, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, Sheridan Le Fanu and Mary Shelley. Initially, a recurring character – David Buck’s Richard Beckett – was shoehorned into the adaptations, but this conceit had been dropped by the time they got round to doing Dracula. It was the final episode of the show’s fourth series and is essentially a shuffled retelling of the novel.
* As we begin, Count Dracula (Denholm Elliott) is already in London, mixing in polite society. He wears sunglasses, can’t cope with daylight, and has an eastern-European accent.
* The count has befriended a young couple, Dr John Seward (James Maxwell) and Lucy Weston (Susan George); he also seems to know one of Seward’s patients, a mentally unbalanced man (Corin Redgrave) who’s known as 34 after his room number.
* Lucy’s other suitors from the novel – Arthur Holmwood and Quincy Morris – have been dropped. But her mother is still around, played by Joan Hickson.
* John says that 34 was recovered from a local shipwreck, the Demeter. Lucy points out that it’s the same ship that brought Dracula from Varna, a coastal city in Bulgaria.
* John’s old tutor Dr Van Helsing will soon be visiting to examine 34 – Dracula has clearly heard of him and wants to meet him.
* Van Helsing (Bernard Archer) turns up – much earlier than in the novel – and sees 34. The man has been babbling about his ‘master’ and catching flies (as the lunatic Renfield does in the book).
* We learn through filmed flashbacks that 34 once visited Dracula in Transylvania on business. He encountered three vampire Brides (one of whom is played by Carry On dolly bird Margaret Nolan) but Dracula saved him…
* Back in the present day, Dracula tells Lucy that he’s descended from Attila the Hun. Then Lucy’s friend Mina Harker (Suzanne Neve) arrives for a visit. She’s shocked to meet Dracula because her husband, Jonathan, went to see him overseas and never returned. Dracula says Jonathan left the castle safe and well, but then Mina discovers that her hubby is locked up in Seward’s sanitorium: he’s 34! What are the chances?!
* Lucy, who has developed a fascination with Count Dracula, and Mina get a version of the book’s scene where an old duffer ridicules the headstones in the local churchyard. In the novel, the scene takes place before the count arrives in England. Now, after they head home, we see him rise from one of the tombs. He turns into a bat, visits Lucy while she sleeps, turns back into a man, and feeds from her.
* The next day, Lucy is ill so Van Helsing is called in. He clocks the bite marks on her neck and arranges a blood transfusion. He also brings in what John haughtily calls a ‘popish affront to Christian conscious’ – ie, a crucifix – to ward off her attacker. However, in her sleep Lucy knocks the defence away and Dracula attacks her once again.
* Van Helsing tells John about vampires. John reckons they were mythical beings that were supposed to exist in a bygone age and drank the blood of others. Van Helsing says, “Well, Lucy has been attacked by one!” He shows John his research of vampire history – they appear in many cultures’ legends, he says, under a variety of names. When Van Helsing mentions Transylvania, John realises that’s where Dracula comes from. He also twigs that Dracula pretended not to recognise 34 yet we now know he’d met Jonathan Harker.
* John finds Lucy dead – drained of blood. But then she wakes and attempts to attack him. Then she seems dead again. Van Helsing says she’s under Dracula’s thrawl.
* Mina sees the undead Lucy wandering the graveyard. Lucy is now vampiric and ever-so Sapphic: she bites Mina, who enjoys the experience. Dracula then finds and tries to seduce a confused Mina.
* Van Helsing and John open Lucy’s coffin, which is empty. Later, Lucy shows up, wafting around in a white nightgown, and tries to bite John. So Van Helsing wards her off with a crucifix. They find her again in her coffin and Van Helsing stakes her.
* Van Helsing and Mina then ask Jonathan where Dracula is. Harker goes potty, though, when he senses that his wife has been bitten by his master. She can’t remember how she got the bite marks… but then hisses and shrieks and breaks down. She admits that it was Lucy who bit her.
* Van Helsing and John follow the manic Jonathan to the graveyard and realise Dracula is using the unconsecrated grave of a suicide victim as his daytime lair. The count shows up, but the men distract him until the sun rises and destroys him. His demise is done in a gruesome series of crossfades between increasingly burnt and decayed heads.

Best performance: Susan George as Lucy.

Best bit: There’s a lovely rejig of the novel’s plotline going on here. Combining Jonathan Harker and Refield into the same character is a really smart move: he’s in an asylum because of his experiences in Transylvania. The idea is not unique to this version but this sells it best.

Review: This is a very contained piece of television, mostly taking place in just two buildings (plus some minor location filming), and the cast is good and the script tight. It’s an economical idea to only see Transylvania in flashback, for example, while the Whitby-based climax betters the book’s ending in both conception and execution. The dialogue can sometimes be stilted and on-the-nose, but overall this is an enjoyable 80 minutes.

Seven smashed windows out of 10

 

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Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968, Freddie Francis)

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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 prologue is set in 1905, then the bulk of the film takes place a year later. The location is Hammer’s default, mid-European fantasyland. A lot of the story takes place in a village called Keinenberg.

Faithful to the novel? This is the fourth entry in Hammer Films’ Dracula series. At the start, Count Dracula is terrorising a village, but we then cut to a year later – ie, after the events of Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966). The count is dead but the villagers still fear him – so a visiting monsignor called Ernest Mueller (Rupert Davies) attempts to exorcise the abandoned castle. However, during the ceremony the local priest (Ewan Hooper) accidentally resurrects the vampire (d’oh!) when his blood drips into the vampire’s icy-moat grave. (During this scene, Dracula sees his own reflection in the water.) Unaware of any trouble, Mueller returns home. Dracula (Christopher Lee) follows, wanting revenge for what’s happened to his castle, and targets Mueller’s niece Maria (Veronica Carlson). Maria’s mother (Marion Mathie) and fun-loving boyfriend (Barry Andrews) get caught up in the mayhem, as does local barmaid Zena (Barbara Ewing).

Best performance: Barbara Ewing as the flirty Zena.

Best bit: The prologue shows a young man discovering a corpse in the church: a woman hanging upside down in the bell tower.

Review: This film is hamstrung by all the usual Hammer limitations: the cast is tiny, we get very used to the same few sets, the locations are generic, and there’s some risible day-for-night shooting. But in a couple of ways it’s an interesting entry in the series. The nominal hero of the story, Paul, is an atheist. Admittedly, this detail doesn’t really go anywhere, but it’s a nice change from the norm. And Freddie Francis (an Oscar-winning cinematographer as well as this film’s director) uses coloured filters on the edges of shots associated with Dracula. This gives them a strange, stained-glass-window quality, which is both unusual and effective.

Five rooftops out of 10

Planet of the Apes (1968, Franklin J Schaffner)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Where, when and what: The story begins in space. Four astronauts are six months out of Cape Kennedy and know it’s a one-way journey. The date from the crew’s perspective is 14 July 1972, but because of the time displacement caused by travelling at such high speeds, back on Earth it’ll now be March 2673. The astronauts go into hibernation, but a year later the ship crash-lands on a planet. According to the ship’s controls, ‘Earth time’ is now 25 November 3978. From this point, the film makes big efforts to disguise the planet’s identity. Not only does lead astronaut Taylor (Charlton Heston) assert that they’re 320 light years from home, but the world has no moon and abnormal weather patterns (a storm in a desert, for example). Famously, the story’s climax confirms that Taylor is actually on Earth – within a horse ride of New York City, in fact.

Humans: Taylor is the point-of-view character and is in virtually every scene. Rugged, hirsute, very often near or actually naked, and sometimes seen smoking a cigar, he’s masculinity squared – and Charlton Heston is decent casting. When the character finds himself in Ape City, however, he’s locked up, can’t speak due to a throat injury, and his captors even threaten to geld him. At first, Taylor has three crewmates. One is killed in the crash; another dies when they encounter the apes; and the third, Landon (Robert Gunner), goes missing. He later returns to the story when we discover the apes have lobotomised him. The only other human character of note is Nova (Linda Harrison), a sexy, mute savage woman who attaches herself to Taylor in captivity.

Apes: They first appear after half an hour in an action scene – and they’re on horseback, which is a good way of immediately telling us they’re not normal apes. They have a medieval culture (well, mostly: they use modern guns and have cameras) and, notably, can talk. “Smile!” is the first word we hear, when a soldier takes a photo of some colleagues. All the apes are actors in masks, of course, and while they masks are not especially articulate the performances still pop through. The fact you can see the actors’ eyes is very important. The two chimpanzees we get to know best – scientist Zira (Kim Hunter) and her archaeologist fiancé, Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) – are likeable and decent characters. They nickname Taylor ‘Bright Eyes’ and help him escape. Their superior Dr Zaius (Maurice Evans) isn’t quite so liberal. There’s also talk of the Forbidden Zone, a nearby region of desert where relics from an age-old culture have been found.

Review: Based on the 1963 novel La Planète des Singes (Monkey Planet) by Pierre Boulle, this film was co-written by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling. And like a lot of good science fiction, it’s deceptively full of meaning and subtext. The story of a human outsider encountering a society run by apes can be read as a number of different metaphors. It could be a satire of the class system, a discussion of science versus superstition, a look at feminism (the chimps represent women while the other apes are the male establishment), a parody of religion, war or the legal system… or simply a comedic role-reversal plot. But it never feels bogged down with dogma. This is an engaging movie that’s very often a lot of fun. And it’s solidly directed: well paced, inventively filmed, with good action and jokes that hit home. There’s also good use of wide-open, ‘alien’ locations and a terrific score by Jerry Goldsmith, which is mysterious and dramatic. But it’s such a shame that the two biggest shocks are so famous. That the society is ruled by intelligent apes is kind of given away by the film’s title. The twist that the planet is actually Earth has been revealed so often over the years it’s one of cinema’s best-known endings. (The film’s spoilertastic final image is on both the DVD cover and menu screen of the copy I used for this review.) Excellent, nevertheless.

Nine stinking paws out of 10

Carry On… Up the Khyber (1968)

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India, 1895. When a local discovers that members of the colonial 3rd Foot and Mouth Regiment are wearing pants under their famous kilts, the British reputation is left in tatters…

What’s it spoofing? The British Raj, a period of colonial rule in the Indian subcontinent (1858-1947). Although obviously set in other places entirely, Michael Caine movie Zulu (1964) and Charlton Heston’s Khartoum (1966) are also being referenced.

Funniest moment: The dinner scene at the end – the British characters calmly and serenely getting on with their meal while the entire building is attacked by the local warlord.

The Big 10:

* Sid James (9) plays Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond, the randy British governor.

* Joan Sims (11) is Sir Sidney’s working-class wife, Joan, who’s so smitten with the Khasi that she betrays her husband in hope of a bunk-up.

* Kenneth Williams (15) plays the Khasi of Kalabar, the local native leader who wants to incite anti-British sentiment. Williams mostly uses a vaguely ‘foreign’ accent for the part, but gets laughs when he slips into earthy English if the character is annoyed.

* Charles Hawtrey (15) is Private James Widdle, the soldier who’s caught wearing undergarments. His regiment’s fearful reputation comes from being known as the ‘Devils in skirts’, so his affection for underpants is a problem.

* Bernard Bresslaw (5) plays Bundgit Din, an Indian warrior. The name is a spoof of Rudyard Kipling’s Gunga Din.

* Peter Butterworth (6) plays missionary Brother Belcher. The Brits use a honey trap to blackmail him into helping them.

Notable others:

* Julian Holloway plays Sir Sidney’s aide-de-camp, Major Shorthouse (pronounced with a posh accent, it sounds like ‘short arse’).

* Angela Douglas appears in a Carry On film for the final time, as Princess Jelhi, the Khasi’s daughter. She plays the sitar in a couple of scenes.

* Terry Scott (Sgt Major MacNutt) was in Carry On Sergeant in 1958, but hasn’t appeared since.

* Roy Castle, in his only Carry On, essentially replaces Jim Dale in the young romantic part. His earnest Captain Keene falls for Princess Jelhi.

* Alexandra Dane is Busti, a well-endowed member of another Carry On harem. Dane also had a tiny role in Carry On Doctor.

* Valerie Leon, uncredited, also plays a girl in the harem.

* Wanda Ventham appears as a wife of the Khasi (he has many), who visits Sir Sidney and offers to sleep with him in reparation for Joan running off with the Khasi.

* Peter Gilmore has a small role as Private Ginger Hale, one of the 3rd Foot and Mouth Regiment.

Top totty: Alexandra Dane.

Kenneth Williams says: “Got the script of Up the Khyber Carry On film. They’re offering me the part of Khasi. Which is Hindustani for lavatory [note: it isn’t]. I imagine they think it’s appropriate.” – Monday 12 February 1968 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, pp319-320)

“First day’s work on Up the Khyber. It was a lousy little scene between me and Sid James but he blows a raspberry in the middle which will get a big laugh. Roy [Castle] is v. good in the rushes & photographs v handsomely: he is incredibly naïve & ingenious.” – Tuesday 16 April 1968 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, pp324-325)

Review: Well, it’s based on a ridiculously silly premise. And you have to turn a blind eye to yet more ‘comedy’ racism. But while this is perhaps not the masterpiece some people think – it once made a BFI list of the 100 best British films – it’s still broadly enjoyable stuff. There’s also a mildly interesting structure in that there’s no lead character. Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Roy Castle all have vague claims on that position, yet no one really drives the story.

Eight fakirs out of 10

The Beatles (1968)

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Title: It was going to be called A Doll’s House, but then another band put out an LP with a similar name – so the Beatles instead went eponymous. The entire world chose to call it The White Album, thanks to the…

Cover: Just the band’s name embossed on a white background.

Best song: I’m going to break my own rules here and not pick one. I’ll explain why in the review section.

Honourable mentions:

* Back in the USSR (written by Paul) opens Side A and is a trad rocker with witty lyrics.

* Dear Prudence (John) is the first of many lovely examples of finger-picking guitar work on the album. (It’s also one of four White Album songs recorded at Trident Studios in Soho, just a minute’s walk from my office.)

* Glass Onion (John) has lyrics that reference previous Beatles songs, mocking fans who look for hidden codes, and a pleasing chug-chug bassline.

* Ska pastiche Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (Paul) has really grown on me over the years (I used to hate it, as John, George and Ringo did at the time, but now find it fun).

* FM-radio-friendly While My Guitar Gently Weeps is George’s best song since Revolver and features a guitar solo from Eric Clapton, an outsider brought in by Harrison to try to improve morale in the camp.

* The mysterious Happiness is a Warm Gun (John) is a number of song ideas skillfully bolted together – apparently, everyone involved really enjoyed tackling the challenging structure.

* The laconic I’m So Tired (John) will always have a place in my (long-time insomnia sufferer’s) heart.

* Blackbird (Paul) is a stunningly beautiful guitar piece.

* I Will (Paul) has a cute sung bassline.

* The delicate Julia, John’s paean/farewell to his dead mother, is heartbreaking.

* Yer Blues (John) is brutally raw and a tight ‘live’ performance.

* Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey (John) is throwaway but worth it for the terrific section near the end featuring garbled singing, a relentless cowbell, a heavy guitar riff and a mixed-highly bass.

* Sexy Sadie (John) is classy doo-wop done as a rock ballad. (The song is about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Transcendental Meditation guru who the group followed for a time. Lennon – probably incorrectly – came to believe that the Maharishi was a dirty old man, and the original lyrics were: “Maharishi, you little twat/Who the fuck do you think you are?/Who the fuck do you think you are?/Oh, you cunt.” Harrison suggested being more opaque.)

* Helter Skelter (Paul) is fantastically raucous, loud and ‘punk’: the Beatles at their wildest since Twist and Shout.

* Long, Long, Long (George) is largely dull but I love the ending – during the recording, Paul’s sustained note on the Hammond organ audibly rattled a wine bottle in the studio and the band improvised a banshee-wail of a climax.

* Honey Pie (Paul) is an accomplished exercise in style: I easily picture bob-cut flappers dancing the Charleston at the Ritz.

Worst song: Come on, who actually listens to Revolution 9?

Notable outside contributions: Lots of pals provide backing vocals (Yoko Ono even gets a line to herself in The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill), while the group was by now routinely employing session musicians to provide trombones, trumpets, clarinets, cellos, violins, saxophones, tubas, French horns, stumpf fiddles, flugelhorns and the like. The most famous playing on the album by a non-Beatle is Clapton’s guitar solo.

Review: John, Paul and George wrote a cache of new songs while staying in India for a few weeks in early 1968, enough in fact for a double LP. There is plenty of good stuff here, but nothing to equal the best of 1965-67. Instead, the album’s joy comes from a) its rambling, eclectic nature (brilliantly, listening to one track gives you no idea what the next one will be like), and b) the fact it’s significantly greater than the sum of its parts. Producer George Martin has said he wished they’d cut away the flab and made one really strong single LP. I don’t agree. Meaning and power lie, as it were, ‘in between’ the songs: there’s a nebulous cumulative effect, helped by the smart running order worked out during the Beatles’ only ever 24-hour studio session. That’s why I struggle to name a standout track – The White Album is a successful football team with no star players. Ironic, then, that there wasn’t much teamwork behind the scenes. The recording sessions were famously tense. Lennon and McCartney rowed often, George Martin found excuses not to be around, Paul grew more patronising, Yoko Ono’s presence in the studio caused resentment, and Ringo even quit the band and fled to Sardinia (he was convinced to return a few days later by his contrite colleagues). Many songs were recorded essentially as solo pieces: only 15 of the 30 tracks feature all four Beatles. The long break-up had begun.

Nine all-American, bullet-headed Saxon mother’s sons out of 10.