Category Archives: Imaginary British Cinema

#241 – Death Boat

(1980, US/GB, 105 min) Dir Hank Hogart. Cast Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Donald Pleasance.

Following firmly in the footsteps of the likes of The Wild Geese, The Sea Wolves and North Sea Hijack, all of which proved that there was a market in the late Seventies/early Eighties for action films populated exclusively by men who were a bit over the hill, Hank Hogan reteamed with his Pinwheel co-conspiritor Richard Burton and Burton’s fellow goose Roger Moore for this stodgy WW2 maritime yarn. The plot’s simple – in fact it’s so simple it’s been nicked from 1964’s Burt Lancaster starrer The Train but with the artwork stolen by the Nazis loaded onto a boat instead of a train. The best bits of the film are those on the Nazi boat, not the allied one, as the titular Nazi ‘Death Boat’ is helmed by Donald Pleasance who is, as ever, worth every penny, investing his scheming German with more character and, in the end, pathos than a distracted Burton and Moore can muster for their own wheezing heroes. What’s never explained is why the boat transporting all this art is called a ‘Death Boat’ when no death is dealt by it – it’s transporting things, not killing people. It’s a mystery that occupied me the most of this forgettable film’s running time… Not to be confused with the equally pulpy but much more entertaining Hell Boat.

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#241 – Pinwheel

(1974, US/GB, 110 min) Dir Hank Hogart. Cast Richard Burton, Richard Attenborough, Fred Williamson.

Rollicking WW2 action nonsense based on real-life wartime derring-do but seasoned liberally with bullcrap. Richard Burton (distracted) is heading up a crack team to infiltrate the German held Chateau de Moulinsart in occupied France under the moniker Operation Pinwheel. Their target – an encoding device that controls the line of communication directly to the Führer. Taken along is gun-shy boffin Mallory (Attenborough – his speciality freaking out during attack) and violent Yank representative Colt (Williamson – his speciality strangling Germans). To make it through hostile territory Burton and Attenborough disguise themselves as Nazi officers escorting Williamson as their prisoner. Of course this ruse can only work for so long and in no time they are rumbled by a nosey Nazi and all subtlety is lost as they cut a swathe of fire across the countryside towards their target. Though bloodily violent Pinwheel still manages to find the time for some moments of misplaced humour – keep your eyes peeled for Marty Feldman as a confused French villager for example.

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#234 – Flesh of the Air, The

(1923, GB, 32 min, b/w) Dir B. Richard Crisp. Cast Ivy Bean MacTashman, B. Richard Crisp.

Another of B Richard Crisp’s lost ‘Meat Films’. It’s a short one too, with a simple story – a wandering lady (Ivy Bean MacTashman) grown hungry on the moors pulls from her skirts a shotgun and with it plucks a passing duck from the air. Plucked and gutted it is soon cooked on a rough fire and eaten with gusto. Then, from the gloom about from the setting sun, steps the self proclaimed Keeper of the Flesh of the Air (Crisp himself, in another of his homemade and apparently foul smelling suits fashioned from real meat). After that your guess is as good as mine – as mentioned the film itself is lost and indeed there appears to be no record of it ever having been screened either, the scant particulars of the film having been provided by the director during what appears to have been his sole interview recorded mere days before his death. An intriguing mystery of a film as much of his oeuvre is with even his devotion to the subject of meat being a grey area – some reckon it to have been a fetish for him but others see each his films to be anti-meat propaganda. The only thing we can be certain of is that we’ll never really know for sure.

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#231 – Sobek: City of Death

(1978, GB/Mex, 91 min) Dir René Cardona Jr. Cast Hugo Stiglitz, Susan George, Fiona Lewis, Robert Guzman.

On the Nile, southwest of Memphis in Egypt, there once was the city Shedet, established in 4,000 BC by the worshipers of the crocodile god Sobek (and later renamed Crocodilopolis by the Greeks). This city and it’s worshippers have long faded into history but, to fast forward about 6,000 years and swing about 6,500 miles west, it is found being re-established by a death-cult of crocodile worshippers southwest of the modern-day city of Memphis, Tennessee. It’s discoverer is Michael Chad, a rough and tumble swamp explorer played by Hugo Stiglitz, who takes it upon himself to stop these reptile revering maniacs, rescue the local virgins they have kidnapped to sacrifice and kill the monstrous beast that they worship as the living incarnation of the foul Sobek. Stiglitz, an old hand at nonsense such as this, takes it all in his stride, as equally unfazed by the beasts he must battle (and the effects by which they are rendered) as he is by the women flinging themselves at him.

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#229 – Astonishing Transparent Man, The

(1958, GB, 99 min) Dir Henry Phillips Breech. Cast Peter Cushing, Alison Lucy, Alex C Bream.

When Albert Meeler (Cushing, with typical gravitas) is accidentally subjected to a large dose of ‘X Radiation’ in the lab he works he soon finds himself see through. That’s right, he has become transparent but not invisible – apparently someone then owned the rights to the story of a man inflicted with invisibility. If you’re so desperate to make a film about a man who has become invisible to go to these semantic lengths then you must need to bring something new to the table. In this instance Albert is totally pleased to have become invisible (sorry, transparent) and instead of railing against his separation from society the rest of the film follows his attempts to leave civilisation behind. Of course he finds himself thwarted at every turn – how can he drive himself to the middle of nowhere where he can live an ascetic life when a car that is apparently driving itself draws so much attention? How can he buy food or even steal it when it appears to everyone else that loaves of bread and that are floating clean through the air? Unable to overcome such logistics for long the films end finds Albert still among society, using his transparency to survive on the detritus of the visible. Basically a feature length Twilight Zone episode, it’s an amusing tale with a bittersweet end.

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#225 – Meat Palace

(1921, GB, 41 min, b/w) Dir B. Richard Crisp. Cast Conrad Hoot, Phillidia Fitzhibbert, Ivy Bean MacTashman, B. Richard Crisp.

A delicious Scots oddity, the fever dream of the unnamed, destitute and moor-stranded lead (a bearded, shambling Hoot) who is led by moonlight to the titular edifice (constructed, as suggested, of food flesh) by a beautiful pair of diaphanously gowned and supernaturally glowing women (Fitzhibbert and Bean MacTashman). Therein our anonymous bum hero finds himself at the service of The High Lord Meat and Creamy (the director Crisp himself, encased in what was apparently a self-made and fantastically pungent ‘Beef Suit’) whose whims begin at the curious and before long descend into the downright wrong. All this is gleaned from the script – of which a half-dozen scribbled pages remain – a roll of mostly fogged-out photographs from the set and the recollections of esteemed film critic Maxim Puccini who was, at the time, a fourteen year gaffer’s hand. The recollection of the set’s “thick creamy stench” apparently put him off dairy for the rest of his life. The result is a grab-bag of suggestion and little in the way of fact – the ‘downright wrong’ of Lord Meat’s whimsy, for example, is frustratingly unknown. It seems to have found little favour with audiences of the time and it’s last recorded exhibition seems to have been in 1926, when it was screened to a visibly discomfited Lord Evelyn French-Parstley, the keeper of the King’s Exceptionals, at the Royal Estate of Bip, West Scotland. Now presumed lost and much sought after by aficionados of Crisp and his ‘Meat Films’.

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#217 – Holy Lover, The

(1996, GB, 57 min) Dir Leck Mitchum-Arsch. Cast Ross Lawrence, Louis Black Ferdinand, Roger Roger.

Though it seemed the day would never come, The Holy Lover saw gay punk filmmaker Leck Mitchum-Arsch (not his real name) plant his flag within the realm of respectability – not that that stopped the film being promptly banned in the film of its production, his new home of Great Britain. To be fair, what can he have expected when he produced a work that revolves around the supposed sexual relationship between one Hugh Wray, an incarcerated lunatic in the year 1796, and what he believes to be the loving spirit of his Lord Jesus Christ? Despite it being based on a terribly reputable source – that of Dr Handrake Masslington’s notes made while treating Wray – those in a position to decide took a dim view of such shenanigans. Despite the intervening years making the sacrilegious content less contentious in the UK, it seems that the rudeness was still very much an issue which seems the reason why the film remains shelved. This is also the reason why I haven’t seen the film under discussion and since none of my colleagues at the Imaginary Film Guide have either we will have to presume it to be of the high standard of his following UK works such as Loggers and A Passage Under Night.

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#207 – Hedge

(1976, GB, 103 min) Dir Adrian Fisher. Cast Kevin Thirs, Emma Russell, Pete Postlethwaite.

As Kes is for kestrel, Hedge is for hedgehog and the director, the working class magic realist Adrian Fisher, wouldn’t deny it. “The producer of my second film, Tony Goldfinch,” he said in a 1986 interview, “Was a man without imagination but in possession of a very fat wallet. The only way to sell him a film was to show him one that had already made money and then say to him ‘That’s what I’m going to make.’ After that he was very hands off.” Naturally Fisher used this freedom to his own ends. Initially Kes is imitated quite faithfully in the broad strokes – brother and sister Michael and Alice are growing up on a council estate in an unnamed Northern town. It’s the summer and their parents, it seems, are fighting all the time. In their back garden one morning they find a pair of wounded hedgehog and bond while nursing them back to health in the shed. Where Fisher detours is when the hedgehogs get better and swap personalities with Michael and Alice. The film then follows the Michael and Alice hedgehogs for a wordless half hour through the back gardens and green patches of the world around before returning home to find that their parents have reunited and all is well with the world. Returning to their natural form the hedgehog snuffle off into the night once more. Fisher, despite being proud of his new film, was concerned about Goldfinch’s response to his liberal interpretation of the Kes style film. “I needn’t have worried,” he revealed, “As the lights came up at the end his cheeks were shining with tears.”

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#199 – Royal Ridgefort All-Star Palladium, The

(1983, GB, 104 min) Dir Andrew Burgundy. Cast Dexter Fletcher, Norman Wisdom, Clare Grogan.

The Royal Ridgefort All-Star Palladium is on it’s last legs – for the ornate 1920’s picture house in the declining seaside town of Ridgefort a busy night sees all of three customers. That may be a blessing in disguise for the staff runs to a grand total of two people – Albert (Wisdom) the owner/projectionist who wakes only to change film reels and his apprentice Rob (Fletcher) who does everything else from the box office and concession to toilet cleaning and bouncing out trouble customers. The majority of his time on the quiet nights is spent roaming the halls, talking to the old film posters. The trouble begins when the posters start talking back, intensifying when Bogart’s Sam Spade, Eastwood’s Man With No Name and more make the leap from two to three dimensions. Initially Rob makes the most out of his new companions, mining them for advice as to how to approach the object of his affections, motorbike riding older woman Pat (Grogan). Soon enough he realises that he’s not going mad when they start bothering the customers. Will he have to wake up Albert or can he deal with this himself? A sweet low-key film that builds to a climax that’s a movie lover’s dream when the cinema becomes packed with a century’s worth of film characters.

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#196 – Dreams of Anatomy

(1988, GB, 130 min) Dir Anthony Greenwood. Cast Patrick Stewart, Tim Roth, James Fox.

Another exquisitely dressed piece from professional intellectual window dresser Anthony Greenwood. Stewart is Phillipe O, a synesthesic composer in a massive white box of an apartment who is in the midst of his magnum opus – a suite of music about the human body with a piece for each part. Of course he’s blocked though with the last piece produced that of the Anus to be performed all in brass section. Instead of working he now divides his time between haunting his home in silk dressing gown and having body part nightmares. Tim Roth features as Jawney Scaggs, his working class former protégé turned bitter rival who turns up on television to promote his massive performances with excruciating bad-boy interviews, all sunglasses indoors and chewing gum. James Fox is, in a nod to his role in Cammell and Roeg’s Performance, the uncouth gangster funding O’s new work “’cause me muvver loves the music” and who shows himself unreceptive to not getting what he wants. Before long O has lost it and has traversed the abandoned and wind-ravaged streets of London to kidnap and dismember Scaggs for inspiration. All done in the best possible taste, of course.

Twitter: @MadeUpFilms