Tuesday, May 28, 2013

PETER CUSHING CENTENNIAL BLOGATHON / Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film: THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959) starring Peter Cushing, Andre Morell and Christopher Lee

It's a combo Tuesday again, the day I usually post about movies for Todd's blog, which today means I'm talking about the 1959 version of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES - my entry in the much anticipated Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon:

To learn more about the Blogathon and the one and only Peter Cushing (1913 - 1994), British actor and gentleman extraordinaire, please use the link labeled above as 'source'.


THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959) is a film directed by Terence Fisher with a screenplay by Peter Bryan based on the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, it stars the splendid Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes, Andre Morell as Dr. Watson and Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville.

For me it's always seemed a slam dunk: Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes, I mean. First things first, doesn't he just look the part? Those chiseled cheekbones, that gorgeous nose, the clipped, superior way of speaking, the intense gleam of intelligence shining in his eagle-eyes, that high forehead. Who would ever doubt that he was Sherlock Holmes?

Andre Morell as Dr. Watson, I'm not so crazy about. Though there is one comy-cozy scene at the end when he and Holmes sit down to tea which leaves one with a very nice feeling of shared camaraderie. And he does get to wear a very fetching herringbone cape while traipsing on the moors.

But I'm getting ahead of myself as usual.

Since this is a 1950's production from Hammer Films, we get the usual harsh (and often garish) color of the time. It was the kind of film color that came as close to being 'film noir' as color would get - perhaps unintentionally. This was brazen color with no subtlety, no softly rounded edges, if you know what I mean. The film was also the first HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES shot in color.

And of course, being a Hammer Films Production, the movie begins with a story of crazed blood lust. The legend of the Baskervilles (as recounted by Dr. Mortimer) is fully visualized with proper over-the-top details, starring an overwrought David Oxley as Sir Hugo Baskerville run amok, complete with curved, bloody dagger and murderous soul. Not to mention, a dead virgin.

This sequence takes up about ten or fifteen minutes of the film, but immediately thereafter we're transported to Holmes' Baker Street rooms where Dr. Mortimer has arrived to try and interest the famed consulting detective in the details of the fantastic Baskerville case.

The current Sir Hugo has died in a rather bizarre way, obviously a victim of the notorious family legend, and now his heir, Sir Henry is in deadly peril. Having just arrived from Johannesburg ready to take control of his fortune, Sir Henry (Christopher Lee) comes complete with a heart ailment which makes him susceptible to stress. Uh-oh.

I love the early scenes in which Peter Cushing so ably establishes Holmes as a man who doesn't suffer fools gladly (but really, when did he ever?) as he slices and dices Dr. Mortimer's pomposity down to size. Mortimer, as played by David de Wolff, is a gruff, unusually quarrelsome gent, so much so, that one wonders why he's appealed to Holmes for help in the first place.

But Holmes isn't having any of of his guff.

If you've read the Doyle story and/or seen the other films based on the book, you'll notice that there are two points missing from this first, all important meeting: 1) the walking stick deduction and 2) the incredible oversight of the best piece of dialogue from the written story: "Mr. Holmes they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!"

The screenwriter saw fit to leave that out. If you can believe it.

At any rate, on we go with the story: Once Holmes hears the legend out, he poo-poos it to Mortimer, as only Peter Cushing as Holmes could poo-poo it, lounging in a comfy chair wearing what looks like a silk robe (or smoking jacket) all the while puffing on a long stemmed pipe. He owns the part right there. Mortimer, of course, is nearly apoplectic. He is not a man used to disrespect.

Holmes accepts the case and shows up, with Watson in tow, at the heir's hotel room where they find Sir Henry Baskerville (Christopher Lee) bemoaning the loss of a brand new boot. Minutes later the heir has an unfriendly encounter with a large tarantula spider (not in the original story) and from then on, things move along mighty quickly. It is agreed that Sir Henry needs looking after.

Holmes, citing other pressing duties, chooses 'to stay behind in London' but sends Watson in his place to guard over Sir Henry. Watson, Mortimer and Sir Henry then travel to Dartmoor and sinister Baskerville Hall, Holmes's dire warning ringing in their ears: under no circumstances must Sir Henry be allowed to walk about the moor at night when the 'forces of evil are exalted'. 

Well, we all know that where mysterious doings go, there must also go Holmes, so it's no surprise when he turns up having gone to Dartmoor incognito to get the lay of the land, as it were, without interference and without letting Watson know. In this behind the scenes investigation, Holmes has already gotten friendly with Selden, the escaped lunatic murderer who has escaped from Dartmoor Prison and who has sworn never to be re-taken alive.

From Selden, Holmes has apparently gotten the background dope on all of Dartmoor's dark doings. It is obvious from the very beginning whom Holmes suspects may be behind the very darkest of those doings.

Note: Many of the plot points we know and remember from Doyle's story are given short shrift in this movie version - set aside, I suppose, in order to keep things moving ever more swiftly.

Stapleton, Holmes and Mortimer looking for trouble and finding it.

Enter Stapleton the butterfly collector (though I believe in this version of the story he is a farmer), here played most grimly by Ewen Solon, with a congenital deformity of the hand. That tells you right away that he bears watching if you didn't know immediately by the perpetual scowl on his face.

Senorita 'Stapleton'

On Dartmoor, Sir Henry (who seems to have a lascivious eye for the ladies) then meets the puzzling Cecile Stapleton (Marla Landi in true Spanish spitfire form), here described as Stapleton's daughter. One thing will lead to another as these things always do and Sir Henry is soon besotted with the mysterious dark-haired beauty.

Admittedly Christopher Lee makes for a rather more dashing Sir Henry than other actors in the part before or since though here he is called upon to make some absurd 'scary' faces when under duress. Christopher Lee afraid? I don't think so.

The Bishop and his nifty bike.

Almost stealing the movie from under every one's noses is Miles Malleson as the short-sighted, absent-minded and rather endearingly bumbling, Bishop Frankland who keeps a nice collection of spiders.

'To a great mind, nothing is little.'  Not a quote from this story, but it seems apt.

When one evening Holmes reveals himself to Watson and apologizes for having kept him in the dark, the game is afoot as the Hound makes himself heard on the moors and Holmes and Watson give chase.

In the end everyone gets their more-or-less just desserts, the wretched hound is vanquished, the great Grimpen Mire claims another victim and all is right with the world.

What I like most about Sherlock Holmes as a character (besides his brilliant deducing) is that he assumes he is the star of any room he enters, the master of any situation he encounters and yet, somehow, he always remains likable. In Peter Cushing's hands, he is gracefully, delightfully eccentric and has a very nice wardrobe.

I've mentioned before how the story of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES has never received any real justice on screen. The main reason is that screenwriters are forever tinkering with the original plot for one reason or another and always mucking it up.

In one case, that of the excellent Jeremy Brett in the PBS Hound of the Baskerville adaptation, the disastrous casting of Kristopher Tabori (for whatever reason, an unlikeable actor) as Sir Henry Baskerville ruins the film for me and renders it unwatchable. (Everyone forgets that Sir Henry MUST be likable in some small way or else we won't care what happens to him.) The Basil Rathbone version has very good casting but leaves enough holes in the plot as to make it mostly non-sensical.

This version of Doyle's classic (though it too leaves many holes in the plot) works best if you don't pay much attention to cohesion and just sit back and enjoy Peter Cushing and Miles Malleson as they do their stuff. A terrific film for a dark and stormy night.

Afternoon tea with Holmes and Watson.

I hope you'll link on over to Pierre's The Frankentenia Blog hosting the Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon and check out all the links to all the participating bloggers, all film mavens, all Peter Cushing aficionados.

Also don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what Overlooked (or Forgotten) Films other bloggers are talking about today.

Please note that all the photos on my post were culled from various film blogs on the internet and meant purely for entertainment purposes. If you own a pix and would like it removed just let me know and it will be done.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memorial Day Weekend

Painting by N.C. Wyeth

Remember the men and women whose sacrifices made and continue to make it possible for us to live in a free society.

"If you don't know history then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree."   Michael Crichton

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: WHEN IN ROME (1971) by Ngaio Marsh

The elegant and oh-so-handsome Superintendent Roderick Alleyn of the C.I.D. is travelling in Rome pretending to be a tourist. He is hot on the trail of drug smugglers whose apparent point man is Sebastian Mailer, a seedy, blackmailing low-life tour guide - 'the cicerone' of Il Cicerone Conducted Tours.

Working with the approval of the Italian police, Alleyn joins the tour alongside several rather eccentric if not out-and-out suspicious individuals: 

Lady Braceley, a charmless British woman of a certain age still attempting to use her ravaged beauty to lure men - if not for her sake, then for the sake of her gay nephew. He is the Honorable Kevin Dorne, drug-addict and general shifty-eyed, no-account sponger.

Major Hamilton Sweet, retired ex-Army chap. The kind of huffy and stuffy 'old school' sort beloved of Agatha Christie once upon a time. In fact, he appears too good to be true, almost as if he'd wandered in from another book.

The Baron and Baroness Van Der Veghel noticeably resemble each other as many long-term married couples do, except more so. The Baron, who works for a very conservative Dutch publishing house, is huge and ungainly and besotted with his equally huge and ungainly Baroness, a woman who shies away from the sordid ugliness of life. The Baron will do anything to protect her from said ugliness.

Sophy Jason, a young and attractive writer of children's books on her first visit to Rome. For her, the tour is an impulse event.

Last but not least, there is Barnaby Grant, famous bestselling author, hardly the sort you'd expect to find tagging along on a seedy tour. When it becomes obvious that Grant is there against his will, Alleyn naturally becomes intrigued.

In fact, we've already met Barnaby Grant in the first chapter - the story expands from Grant's first supposedly accidental meeting with Sebastian Mailer. A most unfortunate incident with unexpected consequences.

The only saving grace for Grant on tour, is Sophie Jason, though he knows he is probably too old for her.

Add to the mix, an abandoned slattern of a wife with a vicious tongue, inquisitive priests, an uneasy restaurateur, a nervous chauffeur/assistant guide, various porters, waiters and even the British Ambassador and you have a lively murder tale full of atmosphere, foreign accents, intrigue, excitable Italian police and plenty of local color as the tour culminates in murder at the basilica of San Tommaso in Pallaria. 

I recommend WHEN IN ROME as the perfect vintage summer reading.

Also: don't forget to check in at Patti Abbott's blog Pattinase to see what other forgotten books other bloggers are talking about today.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sunday Salon: More Mario Cooper (1905 - 1995)

Mario Cooper for Colliers 1941 source

Mario Cooper 1930 Source

Mario Cooper - Source

Mario Cooper 'Bad Dream' Colliers 1944 Source

Mario Cooper - Colliers 1942 Source

Mario Cooper for Agatha Christie's 'Murder in Retrospect' American Weekly 1947 - Source

Mario Cooper for Agatha Christie's 'Murder for Christmas' Colliers - Source

Mario Cooper for Agatha Christie's 'Appointment with Death' Colliers - Source

Mario Cooper for Agatha Christie's 'Sad Cypress' - Colliers 1939 - 40 Source

Mario Cooper for Agatha Christie's 'The Patriotic Murders' aka 'One, Two, Buckle My Shoe' Source

A few more of Mario Cooper's wonderfully evocative illustrations. He had a long life as a gifted illustrator and teacher who specialized in watercolor and was a Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame Inductee. I wish I could find even more of his work, but for some reason there's not a lot posted on the internet.

Read more about artist Mario Cooper at this link.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Don't faint, it's still me.

Yeah, I know, I'm fussing with the blog again. Can't help it. A new grand-baby and I'm in the mood for a change.

The basic design always stays the same, I like it well enough. But I like to tinker with the colors and the header at the change of seasons.

I love this vintage Mario Cooper illustration and here's my chance to share it with you.

Friday, May 17, 2013

B is for Boy!

I have a grandson now! My granddaughter is officially a Big Sister.

Adorable grandson born yesterday. Mom and baby doing well.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Additional Comfort Reading

Artist: Rae Andrews - via

Okay, ladies and gents - what's better than a package of books on the doorstep?

All together now: NOT MUCH!!

I had ordered a couple of baby things (my grandson is due to make his debut this week) and a few books a while back and everything arrived packed together.

Here's the loot:

Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik

Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik

The Plumed Bonnet by Mary Balogh

Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer

The first two books are part of my on-going love affair with Naomi Novik's alternate history account of the Napoleonic Wars. Even if you don't like fantasy, I urge you to give these books a look. Novik is a brilliant writer. Begin at the beginning though, with HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON.

'THE PLUMED BONNET' is a re-read - but couldn't find my own well-worn copy on my shelves, so had to order another. Luckily there are plenty of used books online. I'm a big fan of early Mary Balogh. I think I've read all her Signet Regencies at one time or another.

The last title on the list is part of my continuing conversion to the books of the glorious Georgette Heyer. I'm a late in life convert and of course that makes me even more convinced that Heyer was a diamond of the first water.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film: HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (2004) starring Ziyi Zhang, Andy Lao, Takeshi Kaneshiro

This is a film which, from beginning to end, is like an unraveling of a dangerous but beautiful visual poem. It is a feast for the eyes and yet, in one spectacular scene near the end, pulls in all the emotions it has toyed with for most of the film and delivers a heart-stopping pay-off with dialogue rather than visuals. (Though we are staggered as well by the incredible duel of knife and sword which has taken place in the snow.)

HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (2004) is a martial arts film from China, directed by Yimou Zhang, written by Feng Li, Bing Wan and Yimou Zhang, and starring Ziyi Zhang, Andy Lao and Takeshi Kaneshiro. The brilliant cinematography is by Xiaoding Zhao. Check out the entire technical crew over at the film's imdb page. It lists an almost overwhelmingly hefty group of artists and technicians involved in bringing this ravishing fable to the screen.

The movie is like nothing you've ever seen. (By the way, I liked it much, much better than Crouching Tiger, etc.) Though there are lots of lightning quick computer nips and literal flights (by the actors) of fancy, in this case, the digital manipulation only adds to the magic. It doesn't jar, and it doesn't take away or disrupt as is so often the case. 

Manipulation is also used in heightening the intensity of the colors - something I've learned is a hallmark of this particular director. There are technical terms which describe this school of movie-making featuring fantastical martial arts scenes, but I'm not a technical person and really, if you want to learn more about this sort of thing, the Internet is your oyster. 

Takeshi Kaneshiro as the heartbroken hero, Jin.

In an odd way, I'm convinced this film is meant to dazzle the eye in the same way that the onslaught of fabulous studio Technicolor productions were first meant to take us up and away out of ourselves in the late 40's and early 50's when color and movie razzmatazz were new things. Not sure if I'm making myself clear, but the idea intrigues me.

Whether you know anything about Chinese movies or not (I don't), I believe HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS is a film for the ages based purely on its beauty. The actors and costumes are gorgeous, the setting is almost too beautiful to comprehend with the human eye and the camera work and stunts dazzle as they upend your sense of reality. Things happen in this movie that defy visual logic, but the way of it is such - at the hands of a genius director - that you  immediately cease to resist. You throw logic out the window.

All of this splendor almost serves to hide the weakness of the nonsensical story. In truth, the screenplay has so many holes in it that if you try to dissect the thing rationally you will only wind up befuddled and bemused, asking yourself: 'Well, why didn't he do this? Why didn't she do that? Why didn't they do this? Why? Why? Why?'

There is no answer my friends. This is a vision of the gods. There is no answer.

It's best not to pay too close attention to plot-points, and just sit back and let this glorious film wash over you like a waking dream. 

Having said that, I'll give you the basic plot which, as I said, only pays off emotionally near the end with one final burst of beautiful, heart-breaking dialogue. This particular film is more love story than mere martial arts tomfoolery  - not that there's anything wrong with that.

The film is set in 859 A.D. (I only know this because the Wikipedia page tells me so.) The exquisitely beautiful  Ziyi Zhang,  plays Xiao Mei, a blind dancer who is suspected of being part of a revolutionary cult - the House of Flying Daggers. She is the daughter of the old leader. 

Before being lugged off to prison, Xiao Mei must, of course, dance.

Though the old leader has been killed, the Flying Daggers have not been destroyed. They are led now by a new mysterious leader. The government is eager to be rid of him and his followers. Xiao Mei is arrested and thrown in prison.

Two local police captains, Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Liu (Andy Lao) are charged with killing the new leader. To that end, they plot to break Xiao Mei out of prison and allow her to lead them back to the revolutionary lair deep in the forest. Jin (using a different name) will trick Xiao Mei into thinking he is in cahoots with  her - thus he will escort her back to her revolutionary friends.

Most of the movie is made up of the journey of Jin and Xiao (Jin gains her trust and they grow close) followed out of sight by Liu. 

There are several dangerous encounters with brigands and such along the way, and Jin and Xiao come to rely on each other as they fight for their lives. There is one extraordinary scene set in a bamboo forest which will take your breath away. The technical artistry of it all boggles the mind. 

Once they reach the revolutionary hiding place, there are double-crosses to be dealt with, pretenses to be unraveled but the eternal question of 'why?' never really does get answered.

I can say no more without giving away essential mysteries.

If you love the glory of film and the idea of being taken completely out of yourself, then don't miss THE HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS. I promise you it's like nothing you've ever seen.

Watch the fabulous trailer here: http://youtu.be/zLkedDMb8vI

You can watch the film free on youtube at this link.

Also don't forget to check in at Overlooked (or Forgotten) Films Central (Todd's Blog) and see what other films and/or other visuals, other bloggers are talking about today.