Friday, November 30, 2012


This wartime propaganda film and fictionalized biopic of British aircraft designer R.J. Mitchell (Leslie Howard) begins in 1940 with pilots discussing the legendary Mitchell, designer of the famous fighter plane the Spitfire, and wondering whether he's living in Inverness or Canada, or even still alive. Flight commander Crisp (David Niven), a good friend of Mitchell's, tells his men Mitchell's story beginning in 1922 when he was inspired by the flight of birds to build better planes, making the wings fully part of the body and not just attached. Mitchell and Crisp, a test pilot, work together to build and race planes; in 1925, a plane that Crisp flies crashes in the ocean but in 1927, they win a race in Venice despite Mussolini's prediction of Italian victory. In the early 30s, two events affect the course of Mitchell's life: a friendship with Lady Houston, who, in trying to strengthen the British military, puts up a sign that says, "Down with the government! Wake up England!" in flashing lights on her yacht, and a trip to Germany which convinces Mitchell of the need for vigilance. He begins work on the Spitfire, a streamlined fighter plane (to "spit fire and destruction"), working himself into a state of exhaustion.  Despite initial indifference, the government comes around and commissions a fleet of Spitfires to be built. The sickly Mitchell hears the news from Crisp, then dies in his wheelchair while watching one of his planes fly past overhead. Howard and Niven work well together, and despite a full supporting cast, much of the film comes off as a 2-man show. The propaganda elements don't feel overdone, though apparently in real life, Mitchell never went to Germany. Howard (pictured, to the right of Niven) also directed the film—it slows down a bit in the middle but moves along fairly well—but didn't live to see its release; a plane he was in was shot down by German fighters. In America, this was titled SPITFIRE. [TCM]

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Ann Todd is on a ship headed to England; her husband, a missionary, died in Jamaica of malaria. Ray Milland, a man whom we know is on the run from police, is also on board and suffering with the same illness. Todd nurses him during the trip and once both are in England, he searches her out and rents a room from her. She starts to fall for him, thinking he's a starving artist, but we know that he's actually a thief, art forger, and murderer. When his latest heist fails and he runs out of money, he tells Todd he's broke and will have to leave the country. She goes to an old friend (Geraldine Fitzgerald) who married well and asks to borrow some cash. Here's where things get a bit tangled.  Fitzgerald is an alcoholic; her husband (Raymond Huntley) is a jerk; Todd gets a job as a companion to Fitzgerald, and, prodded by Milland, considers blackmailing Fitzgerald with some indiscreet letters from her youth. Soon, Todd begins to enjoy the shady life and becomes just as calculating as Milland. There are dueling blackmail attempts—Todd & Milland vs. Huntley, then Huntley vs. Milland—and a poisoning before the return of Milland's mistress brings things to a nasty climax.

This is a subgenre of film noir, the Victorian noir (GASLIGHT, UNCLE SILAS) closely related to the Gothic melodrama. The atmosphere is as dark and grim as any modern urban noir. What I like best about this film is that by the middle of the movie, there is no one to root for—everyone is amoral. Of course, that also means we don't really care what happens to anyone, and since it was made under the Production Code, we know everyone will get punished one way or another. Still, it's fun watching things fall apart. for all concerned. The acting is top-notch across the board, with Todd (pictured, with a blurry Milland behind her) giving the best performance as she goes from relatively innocent widow to scheming lover.  [TCM]

Sunday, November 25, 2012

THE MAZE (1953)

Kitty, her aunt Edith, and Kitty’s fiancĂ© Gerald are vacationing in Cannes when Gerald gets a message to go immediately to Castle Craven, the home of his Uncle Samuel, lord of Craven. Weeks later Gerald sends a cryptic message calling off the marriage. Kitty and Edith read an obituary stating that Lord Samuel has died and they travel to the Scottish castle only to get a frosty welcome from Gerald, who looks like he's aged prematurely. He reluctantly agrees to let them stay while Edith recovers from a cold, but they must follow the rules of the castle to a tee, including letting themselves be locked in their rooms at night—and they hear about a cleaning lady who ignored the rules, was attacked by some kind of creature, and died. Nevertheless, that night when Kitty hears strange shuffling noises, she finds a secret passage that lets her see a strange figure in the garden maze. The next day she sees a wet webbed footprint in the hallway. What exactly is happening and what part does Gerald play in the bizarre goings-on?

This Gothic horror/fantasy film is long on atmosphere but short on horror. I won’t reveal the family secret—though most reviewers do because it is indeed a problematic plot point. It's not really the secret that's the problem, it's the way it's represented visually. If this were made today, CGI would allow a respectably creepy creature to be revealed, but in 1953, all they did was put a man in a ridiculous costume, keep him the shadows as long as they could, then cause a lot of unintended laughter when they had to show him. The film was shot in 3D and there are a number of strange or disorienting shots to highlight that. Richard Carlson (pictured) is OK as Gerald—his character could have been written better—but Veronica Hurst is lackluster as Kitty. This was directed by William Cameron Menzies, an art designer known for the visual style he brought to films like GONE WITH THE WIND and CHANDU THE MAGICIAN, but here he seems to have been stymied by a low budget and a script that promises more than it can deliver. Because I saw this in my youth, I have a soft spot for it despite its letdown of an ending, but I must say, let the viewer beware. [Netflix streaming]

Saturday, November 24, 2012


The land of Neffer has been conquered by Babylon and a puppet king has been installed by the wicked Morakeet. Every year, Neffer must gather 30 young virgins to be sent to Babylon, never to be seen again. This year, a group of men led by the hunky young Xandros and the hunky slightly older Alceas are supposedly in gladiator training but they're using that as a front to make plans to get their virgins back by force. Regia, daughter of the previous king, should be the ruler but cannot take her place until she marries, and because of some arcane rule, she can only marry the man who beats her in a chariot race—and no man has, yet. The hunky Goliath, strolling through town on a bright sunny day, helps one of the virgins escape and is recruited to help with the full-scale rescue. 

Peplum films are the sword-and-sandal movies cranked out in Italy in the 60s, usually featuring an American actor (or an Italian actor with an American-sounding name) as a musclebound hero such as Hercules or Samson, though often the characters and situations are far divorced from their historical or folkloric contexts. In most of them, including this one, the main hero was actually named Machiste, a popular character going all the way back to Italian silent movies, but they were renamed for the American market—as well as, of course, being awkwardly dubbed into English. These films were generally marketed here as the stuff of kiddie matinees, but there were generous amounts of skin shown by males in loincloths and females in sheer gowns for adults who wandered into the theaters. Most of these movies have only been available lately in faded, full-screen, pan-and-scan versions, but seeing this one as it should be seen, in colorful widescreen gives one a whole new appreciation for the genre.  Mark Forest, our main hero here, has muscles, good looks, and some intelligence glinting in his eyes. Giuliano Gemma looks like an underwear model but is effective as the romantic lead Xandros, who tries to win Regia's hand. Mimmo Palmara is more serious (and more rugged) as Alceas. There’s also a dwarf thrown in mostly for comic relief—I kept thinking of Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones and expected him to start cursing and sleeping around. The skimpily-dressed women are in short supply here, but there’s plenty of beefcake for enthusiasts of such. The action scenes, including a battle between two ships and a finale which involves a city being trashed and set on fire, are good, and even better is a torture scene in which Goliath is tied down and spread-eagled on a table as spears shoot down from the ceiling, one of which is supposed to kill him. If you’ve never appreciated this genre, find the widescreen DVD from Retromedia and give it a shot. [DVD]

Thursday, November 22, 2012

7 FACES OF DR. LAO (1964)

In the dying old West town of Abelone, Ed, the newspaper editor, has a thing for the young, lovely and repressed widow Angela, though she resists his come-ons. Ed and his sidekick Tim are fighting a two-man battle against businessman Clint Stark and his cronies who tell the townspeople they have two choices:  spend an inordinate amount of money fixing the water system or sell him their land and move on to greener pastures. What the town doesn't know but Stark does is that the railroad is coming to town and he will wind up making lots of money. Enter Dr. Lao, a mysterious old Chinese sage who brings his circus to town. Within the tents, pitched in the desert just outside of town, are strange folks claiming to be Merlin the magician, the ancient Greek blind seer Apollonius, Pan, and Medusa, and more. The townspeople turn out in droves and the circus performers do seem to be able to work magic:  Medusa turns a cranky old lady to stone, Apollonius becomes a truthteller when he tells the fortune of a gossipy old woman, and Pan appears to Angela, taking the form of a bearded, shirtless Ed, and suddenly she's in heat. Lao's agenda seems to be to get the townsfolk to face up to unpleasant facts about themselves, and also to stop Stark from grabbing their land. If a talking serpent can't straighten out Stark, maybe a tiny fish that Lao claims can transform into the Loch Ness Monster can.

This is a charming fantasy with an adult storyline that has been pitched to kids. When I first saw it at the age of 8, I liked the special effects but was confused by the various plot strands. As an adult, I can appreciate the narrative more, but the special effects scenes feel a bit like intruding gimmicks. Tony Randall plays seven roles, as Lao and all the circus denizens, and he's OK, though I imagine that Peter Sellers, for whom the role was intended, would have been much more interesting. John Ericson (Honey West's hunky sidekick on TV) and Barbara Eden are fine as Ed and Angela, Minerva Urecal (a twin for Marjorie Main) and Lee Patrick are fun as two of the town's women, and Arthur O'Connell is very good as the bad guy Stark, who ultimately isn't so bad after all. There’s a Ray Harryhausen feel to the movie, as some of the best effects (the serpent, the monster) are the results of stop-motion animation. This is a gentle Twilight Zone-ish fantasy that plays out almost as a mood piece, best seen perhaps on a quiet summer evening, though it could also work as a chaser after Thanksgiving dinner. [DVD]

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


A remake of the influential 1940 special-effects epic of two warring tribes of cave people (existing simultaneously with dinosaurs) and the Romeo & Juliet romance that develops. This later version, naturally, has the edge over the older one as far as the effects, done by the master of stop-motion, Ray Harryhausen. And this one has the gorgeous Raquel Welch and the only somewhat less gorgeous John Richardson in the lead human roles. We're told at the beginning that we are in "a young world—a world early in the morning of time." We see the stark and unforgiving way of life that the Rock People, led by Akhoba (Robert Brown), lead, fighting over dead pigs for food and leaving the weak and elderly to die. Akhoba fights with the younger Tumak (Richardson), who tumbles off a cliff and is presumed dead. But the next morning, Tumak awakens, is chased by a giant lizard, and heads off to the shore where the Shell People live. Women out fish-hunting with spears find him and he helps them fight off a giant tortoise and a rampaging dinosaur. Tumak hits it off with Loana (Welch) and they head back to the land of the Rock People, but there's been some intrigue there: Akhoba, stuck on a ledge while hunting goats, is sent plummeting to this death by his rival Sakana. However, after Nupondi (Martine Beswick) does a sexy dance in honor of Sakana, Akhoba shows up very much alive and pissed off. There are more fights (including one between Welch and Beswick), dinosaurs, and finally a volcano before the end. This remake is more entertaining than the original due mostly the effects and the eye-candy stars. A poster from the movie of Welch in her fur bikini was ubiquitous in the 60s, and for that reason alone, movie buffs should see this. BTW, the version TCM aired includes Beswick's dance which apparently is not included in the current DVD release. [TCM]

Monday, November 19, 2012


Every year, I review at least one made-for-cable Christmas movie, and after a couple of years of slim pickings, there seem, thanks to the Hallmark Channel, Lifetime, and ABC Family, to be more holiday movies than ever. As usual they fall into one of two categories: fluffy romance or heart-tugging melodrama. This one, a fluffy romance, is a little different—instead of a Christmas romance, it’s a Thanksgiving romance, a variation on MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET—and there’s even a direct reference to the earlier movie, though there are enough Christmas trimmings here to make this appropriate viewing right up through December 25th. Emily (Autumn Reeser) is in charge of Chicago’s traditional Thanksgiving parade—think Macy’s but on State Street in downtown Chicago. This year, she’s worried when Henry, a rather aloof consultant (Antonio Cupo), arrives to potentially overhaul the parade and, in her eyes, ruin it or even halt it completely. Both are having relationship troubles: Emily has been with Brian, a slightly nerdy marine biologist (Ben Cotton; think Richard Dreyfuss in JAWS but less cute and funny) for years and assumes that when he returns from his latest trip that he will propose to her; Henry has drifted apart from his girlfriend Gretchen, accused of not understanding how to work at keeping a relationship alive. Of course, after a rough few days, Emily and Henry hit it off and smooth out each other’s rough spots—but what about Brian and Gretchen?

The movie looks colorful and shiny, and it helps that there is a fair amount of footage shot on location on the streets of Chicago, though I suspect that, with the number of Canadian actors here, most of the interiors were shot in Canada. The two leads are attractive, and after all, that’s what really counts in these cable TV romances, and I was pleased that Cupo’s “bad guy” personality was a bit more rounded than usual. Cotton was fine as the clueless biologist though his character could have used a bit more fleshing out (poor Gretchen gets almost no characterization at all, only present near the end to provide one more speed bump on the way to the happy ending), and Ali Liebert is quite likeable as Reeser’s best friend—more of her would have been welcome. The script could have used another draft; once it gets to the last 15 minutes, things are rushed and plotholes are exposed—I’m still not sure how on earth Cupo wind up in a Santa suit??—but given the genre, it’s fairly satisfying. [Hallmark Channel]

Friday, November 16, 2012


At a recording session for a popular big band (played by Glenn Miller and his band), singer Lynn Bari breaks the news to the guys that Miller is about to start another tour. The married guys aren't happy about the disruption to their lives, even though their wives accompany them. Swinging single trumpeter George Montgomery and his buddy, swinging single piano player Cesar Romero, don't mind life on the road, until Montgomery gets all gooey for young fan Ann Rutherford who follows him to his next gig. They impulsively get married at midnight (so she can stay overnight with him) and next thing she knows, she's an orchestra wife, traveling on the train with the other wives. Rutherford is unprepared for the bitchiness and backstabbing that goes on among the womenfolk, and she’s also taken aback when she learns that Montgomery and Bari were an item in the past. Jealousy + gossip lead to major misunderstandings, and not only does Rutherford end up packing her bags and heading back home to her small town, but the band breaks up as well. Can things be set right for all concerned?

This rather routine comedy-drama has a couple of things going for it. It's one of the few times Glenn Miller appeared in a movie, playing someone other than himself—though it's clear that he and his band are playing only slightly fictionalized versions of themselves: aside from the GM monogram (his character's name is Gene Morrison), they play snatches of real-life Glenn Miller hits ("Moonlight Serenade" and "Chattanooga Choo Choo"), and band members such as Tex Beneke and Ray Eberle would have been recognized by the movie audiences of the day. Miller's not much of an actor, but the band members seem to be having fun, and the music, including "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" which became a #1 hit for Miller in real life, is wonderful. Another plus: The wild Nicholas Brothers get a dance number near the end. The acting is par for the course: Montgomery, Bari (both pictured above) and Romero fare the best; Rutherford's OK but on the bland side. There is a mildly naughty vibe throughout, with lots of emphasis on straying husbands and promiscuous boyfriends. Enjoyable, and a must for big band fans, even though I doubt it presents a realistic picture of life on the road. [DVD]

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Clark Gable makes a good living as a gambling con man, swindling rich men with his accomplice (Grant Mitchell) and his girl (Dorothy Mackaill), but when a vice squad cop gets on his tail and won't let go, Gable decides to lay low for a while and takes off for parts unknown. Mackaill wants to go along, but Gable says he's a "hit-and-run" guy and takes a train for the small town of Glendale, chosen at random as a getaway location. In Glendale, lovely young librarian Carole Lombard is chomping at the bit for something to happen, but nothing ever does. That changes when Gable crosses her path; he takes a shine to her, flirting outrageously with her at the library, arriving unannounced to sit with her family at church, and following her to a lakeside cabin. That night, on a coin toss, he agrees to marry her. He does, then takes her back to New York and tries to hide his no-good ways from her, even going so far as to get a stockbroker friend of his to loan him a phone and a desk so she thinks he's gainfully employed. But soon the cop is after him and he has to make a decision: leave Lombard and go on the run again, or stay and try to go straight.  There's also the little problem of Mackaill, who still holds a grudge.

Gable and Lombard eventually got married in real life, but during the making of this film, they remained strictly professional co-stars. However, the onscreen chemistry between them is hot indeed. The library scene, in which he gets her to climb a ladder to grab a book and then takes advantage of the view, so to speak, is great fun. We get to see Lombard in her scanties at the cabin, and later naked in a shower (obscured by fog and a wavy glass door). Gable remains clothed, but is just as sexy as she is, and most of their scenes together are delightful. The ending is a little too pat, but otherwise this pre-Code romantic drama, with a decidedly light touch, is well worth seeing. Also with Elizabeth Patterson and George Barbier as Lombard's folks. [DVD]

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Charles Laughton is a submarine commander stationed at a North African base.  His considerably younger wife (Tallulah Bankhead) has a reputation as a flirt, and the violently jealous Laughton has decided that she's having an affair with his young, handsome first officer (Cary Grant), though we know that he's just a friend. Laughton arranges to eavesdrop on the two, is disappointed in the results, but still arranges for Grant to be re-assigned. After she and her husband fight—and he threatens to kill her—Bankhead goes out into the night city streets alone, is caught up in a large crowd of whirling dervish dancers and becomes disoriented. A handsome stranger (Gary Cooper) comes to her aid; the two wind up at a desert oasis and (we assume based on the fadeout after their kiss) make love. She assumes this is a one-night stand, but come to find out, Cooper is Grant's replacement on Laughton's crew. Laughton, catching on to their intimacy, becomes unhinged when he finds out that Bankhead has gone to his submarine to warn Cooper about Laughton's jealousy.  With his wife on board, Laughton orders the sub to set sail and dive, then plots to send everyone, perhaps to their doom, to the ocean floor.

This movie was Laughton's first Hollywood role and, like he did as Dr. Moreau on ISLAND OF LOST SOULS the same year, he overdoes it a bit, acting like an overfed, mischievous child. This surface exaggeration does hide the depths of his perversity, but it also leads, in both movies, to scenes which make me giggle when I don’t think I should. Bankhead is exotic looking, but too often has a glum, hangdog expression, even when she's being romanced by Cooper. Grant is fine but only has a couple of scenes, leaving Cooper, still in his lush "male ingĂ©nue" years, to be the saving grace of the movie. The climax plays out nicely, but two other scenes are even better, stylistically: Bankhead's walk through the dervishes, and the phony-looking but still lovely and romantic nighttime desert scene with Bankhead and Cooper (pictured above). [DVD]

Thursday, November 08, 2012


In the village of Luxor, Chief Gad, who is growing old and has gone blind, thinks it's time to modernize, so he talks the village elders into contributing money to a fund to buy a barge to replace their boat.  He entrusts his son Muhasab, on the edge of manhood, with the money, and sends him off with a crew led by Gad's right-hand man Mujahad to Cairo to sell the boat and return with the barge.  Muhasab is sad to leave his girlfriend Ward, but excited to be sent out in the world on an important errand.  Indeed, things get exciting quickly when, on their first night out, they stop and visit a rowdy carnival at which an exotic belly dancer named Nargis pays a lot of attention to Muhasab.  Unbeknownst to the men, Nargis is in cahoots with a wicked man from Luxor to steal their money.  Muhasab is robbed of his purse, but Mujahad goes back to the carnival and robs the robbers, so Nargis is sent to finagle her way onto the boat and eventually regain the money. She gets Muhasab to fall for her, but Mujahad has taken custody of the money, so eventually she goes after him as well. Even though Mujahad is more worldly and experienced and knows what she’s up to, he also falls for her charms, and the love triangle leads to near-tragedy.

I've never been exposed to Egyptian cinema before, and I suspect the only reason this film has surfaced on DVD is the presence of the young Omar Sharif as Muhasab. Stunningly handsome and charismatic, Sharif (pictured) is reason enough to watch this film, even though his character is a dunce, both in terms of common sense and morality; at practically every step, he does the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. I have to say that as a movie buff, I was pleased by the unpredictable turns of the traditional quest story; if this were a more conventional coming-of-age plot, we would see him learn from his mistakes, but he doesn’t really seem to, and even the wiser Mujahad gets unhinged by lust for Nargis. In fact, some reviewers liken this to film noir; I wouldn't go that far, but Nargis is certainly a femme fatale, and the scenes at the carnival wouldn't be out of place in an American noir of the 40s. Roshdi Abaza as good and maybe better than Sharif as Mujahad; Hind Rostom, called the Arab Marilyn Monore, is fine as Nargis. There's even a comic-relief sidekick character, a semi-mute who is sad to leave his little white donkey behind to go on the trip—his reunion with the donkey is actually the fade-out shot. At two hours, the film feels awfully long, especially in the last half-hour, but if you're up for something a little different, it makes for interesting viewing.  [DVD]

Monday, November 05, 2012


As other reviewers have noted, this movie zips through several different genres, with horror, the one genre Universal pushed it as, being the least of them. The film opens on dark streets, like a film noir: Lionel Atwill is a doctor who is experimenting with suspended animation in his office in San Francisco (on Market Street, hence the title). He pays a man who is dire financial straits to be his guinea pig, but when the man dies, the cops come after him. Atwill, in disguise, escapes on an ocean liner headed for New Zealand (genre shift to shipboard mystery) where he kills a detective who was on his trail. When a fire breaks out, the film becomes a shipwreck story as Atwill and a handful of passengers wind up on an island inhabited by natives who don't much like visitors. However, Atwill manages to bring an island matriarch back from the brink of death, so the tribe lets the group live. Atwill is determined to continue his experiments, and the natives revere him, but the rest of the group wants to go back to civilization. Tensions mount, deaths occur, and a happy ending is in store for most everyone but the title character.

This is a movie I have long wanted to see; it used to air quite frequently on our local Chiller Theater, but usually as the second feature at 1 a.m., by which time I would be sound asleep. It's available now as part of the Universal Cult Horror Collection, though as I've noted, it's not really horror--only the "mad doctor" element allows it in, just barely. Atwill plays the part with relish, but the film is hampered by lumbering comic relief (Nat Pendleton and the usually reliable Una Merkel) and dull romance (Richard Davies and the usually reliable Claire Dodd). Ultimately it best belongs in the jungle melodrama category, and as such it has its moments, though the film is most atmospheric before the shipwreck. Also with Hardie Albright and John Eldredge. Mostly for fans of Atwill.  [DVD]

Friday, November 02, 2012


In 1349, a troupe of entertainers pick up a wandering pilgrim who sells religious relics guaranteed to keep away the plague, and a piper (Donovan), a man of few words who occasionally sings and strums a vaguely psychedelic-looking guitar. The troupe is planning to put on a show at the wedding of a baron's son (John Hurt) and a burgomeister's adolescent daughter (Cathryn Harrison) in the town of Hamelin, but when they arrive, they are told the town is under quarantine because of the plague and they're not allowed in. However, Donovan's piping outside the city gates causes the feverishly ill Harrison to get better, so the troupe is allowed in. This situation in the town is dire: the Baron (Donald Pleasance) is hoping for a big dowry from Harrison so he can use the funds to finish building a huge cathedral, but the burgomeister (Roy Kinnear) is in debt himself and has run out of ways to tax the people of Hamelin. Both men hope that a visiting papal nuncio will commit money from the Pope, but the nuncio first wants the village to send troops to Italy to join in a crusade. Kinnear, who can't pay his current soldiers, thinks it would be a good idea to send the town's children into battle. Harrison is friendly with a crippled boy (Jack Wild) who is an apprentice to a Jewish doctor and alchemist (Michael Hordern) who is working on a cure for the plague. However, his belief that the plague is carried by rats and therefore of natural causes clashes with the church's belief that the illness is divine punishment and that rats are merely heaven-sent messengers. Oh, and Wild has a crush on Harrison, who isn't really in love with Hurt. When a horde of rats appears in town, Donovan offers to send them away for a relatively small sum; he pipes a tune and the rats march behind him into the river to drown, but the town refuses to pay him, so as we all know from our childhood fairy tales, the piper takes his own reward: the town's children.

I had assumed from the title, the era, and the participation of Donovan that this would be a hippy-dippy, flower child telling of the folktale, but in fact it's a rather dark movie, with a strong anti-corruption, anti-church stance. Anticipating the look of Monty Python & The Holy Grail, the movie, though in color, is grimy and muddy looking, the only real standout colors being the blood red robes and hats worn by the church officials. Donovan has what amounts to a cameo role here; many critics complain about his weak acting, but he isn't called upon to do much--he only has a handful of dialogue scenes, and mostly he sings and pipes and strums, all of which he does well, adding a needed touch of whimsy to the gloomy proceedings. Hordern and Pleasance are two old pros who are in fine shape here. The only real weak link in the cast is Harrison, who is passive, petulant, and unlikable throughout--we never see what the poor crippled boy sees in her except a vaguely pretty face. Lesser names who stand out are Peter Vaughan as an odious bishop, Diana Dors as Harrison's slutty mother, and Keith Buckley as the head of the acting troupe. The most memorable scene involves a wedding cake, in the shape of the cathedral, which has been infested with rats. Not wholly successful, but interesting.  [DVD]