I recently watched the British horror movie House of Darkness (Oswald Mitchell; 1948), which features Laurence Harvey in his very first film role. Harvey’s one of my favorite actors but I haven’t had the opportunity to write about him much so I decided to rectify that this week by including a lot of background information about Harvey in a review of House of Darkness for TCM. If you like classic horror films or happen to be a Laurence Harvey fan like myself, you might find House of Darkness worth a look. It’s a lumbering and rather dull film but Harvey manages to make it watchable. Or maybe I just find Harvey incredibly watchable? Whatever the case may be, you can read Introducing Laurence Harvey at the Movie Morlocks Blog.
One of my many weaknesses is a good spy film and Anthony Mann’s 1967 film A Dandy in Aspic is one of my favorites. Mainly because I adore Laurence Harvey and I think it’s one the actors best films but the movie also features some fabulous mod fashions designed by the legendary Pierre Cardin that are worn by a very young Mia Farrow. The film boasts a great score by Quincy Brown and British actors Tom Courtenay and Peter Cook even show up in a small but extremely memorable roles. Calvin Lockhart is in the movie too but his performance is awful so I tend to forget about it. But with a cast that good, how could anyone not get some kind of enjoyment from A Dandy in Aspic?
Mia Farrow modeling Pierre Cardin fashions
in A Dandy in Aspic (1967)
I’m in the minority but I think it’s one of Anthony Mann’s best films and easily his most interesting film of the ’60s. Mann spent most of the decade making big bloated spectacles like El Cid (1961) and The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964). I like both films thanks to Sophia Loren’s performances but I’d rather watch A Dandy in Aspic. You can read more about why I like Anthony Mann’s last film over at the Movie Morlocks.
During the recent Dirk Bogarde movie marathon on TCM I ended up watching John Schlesinger’s Darling (1965) again which stars Dirk Bogarde along with the wonderful Julie Christie and jaw-droppingly gorgeous Laurence Harvey. I’ve seen the film many times before but I love all three of the film’s stars so I never get tired of watching it. Besides the actors and Schlesinger’s impressive direction, another reason that I find Darling incredibly watchable is the film’s great score by British composer John (aka Johnny) Dankworth. Dankworth was an amazing talent and he’s responsible for composing the soundtracks for some of my favorite British films of the ’60s. He also created music for terrific television shows like the original Avengers.
After watching Darling again I decided to try and hunt down a copy of the film’s soundtrack online. Unfortunately I had no luck, but I did discover that a new John Dankworth compliation CD has just been released called Let’s Slip Away – Film and TV 1960-1973.
Let’s Slip Away is the first CD compilation of John Danworth’s scores so if you’re a fan of his music you’ll definitely want to get yourself a copy. This impressive 2 CD set from Eclipse in the UK features over 40 music tracks and includes theme music from Darling as well as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Karel Reisz; 1960), The Servant (Joseph Losey; 1963), Morgan: A Suitable Case For Treatment (Karel Reisz; 1966), Modesty Blaise (Joseph Losey; 1966) and Accident (Jospeh Losey; 1967). The collection also includes extensive notes by Workers Playtime DJ Martin Green.
The official Eclipse site calls Let’s Slip Away “Beautifully cool jazz-pop from the days before Johnny started calling himself John and getting all serious on your ass.”
Sounds good to me!
The CD collection was released earlier this month and you can currently find new copies at Amazon selling for about $18.75, but there seems to be a glaring error on the website that also lists the CD for $170. Ignore that ridiculous price! If you can’t get new copies of the CD at Amazon I highly recommend picking up a copy at my favorite online soundtrack shop Movie Grooves.
By 1973 Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s nine year marriage was coming to an end and both actors wanted to focus on their individual careers. Night Watch (1973) features one of Elizabeth Taylor’s few solo performances as an actress while she was married to Burton and it’s one of my favorite Taylor films from the 70s’ for multiple reasons. First and foremost, it’s a thriller and I love a good creepy thriller with an unexpected twist ending. The film also stars the gorgeous Laurence Harvey who had previously appeared with Taylor in the Oscar winning melodrama Butterfield 8 (1960) and I enjoy watching Taylor and Harvey together. Not only do they provide some incredible eye-candy, but they also have an interesting chemistry on screen. Taylor delivers one of her most unusual and unexpected performances in Night Watch that clearly mocks some of her previous roles, while playing smartly with audience expectations. And lastly, Night Watch evokes many of my favorite Alfred Hitchcock films.
The film was based on a play by Lucille Fletcher who made a name for herself writing suspenseful radio plays in the early forties such as The Hitch-Hiker (1941), which was originally performed by Orson Welles and The Campbell Playhouse and later turned into an episode of The Twilight Zone, as well as Sorry, Wrong Number (1946), which became an Oscar nominated film in 1947 directed by Anatole Litvak. Lucille Fletcher was married to the great film composer Bernard Herrmann, who also got his start working with Welles on classic films like Citizen Kane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) before he made an even bigger name for himself composing scores for popular Alfred Hitchcock thrillers like Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960). Although Lucille Fletcher and Bernard Herrmann divorced in 1948, it’s impossible to watch Night Watch and not be reminded of many of Hitchcock’s best films. The script seems to borrow a bit from Suspicion (1941), Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954) and Psycho (1960), while combing elements of Fletcher’s earlier plays.
Top: Elizabeth Taylor watches a murder take place
Middle: Taylor dreams of hospital morgues
Bottom: The corpse of Linda Hayden gets her kill face on*
In Night Watch Elizabeth Taylor stars as a wealthy but reclusive woman called Ellen Wheller who suspects that her current husband John (Laurence Harvey) and her best friend Sarah (Billie Whitelaw) are having an affair behind her back. Things take an odd turn one dark and stormy night when Taylor peers through a window and much like James Stewart in Rear Window, she thinks she’s seen a murder take place in an old abandoned house next door. Since she’s prone to hysteria Ellen ‘s husband doesn’t believe her, but he reluctantly calls the police anyway. When the police finally arrive and search the old house they find no evidence that a murder has taken place there. Ellen suspects that her neighbor (Robert Lang) might be involved and remains convinced that she’s seen a horrendous crime occur. Taylor’s character is also plagued by terrible nightmares involving her first husband (Kevin Colson) who was killed in a car crash that happened while he was fooling around in his car with a pretty young woman (Linda Hayden). Ellen’s nightmares and paranoia about her husband’s infidelity cause her a lot of anxiety. And as the film progresses she tries to numb her emotional pain and strange visions with alcohol and pills that are often administrated by her husband and good friend. Are horrible crimes taking place in the old abandoned house next door or are they just a figment of Elizabeth Taylor’s disturbed mind? Is Laurence Harvey trying to kill Taylor or drive her mad and take control of her fortune? The surprising answers to these questions are unveiled in the film’s shocking climax!
Warning – before you keep reading I suggest stopping here unless you’re familiar with the film because there are spoilers ahead and being aware of the film’s important plot twists before you have the opportunity to see Night Watch can definitely ruin the effectiveness of the film!
On the surface, the plot of Night Watch appears to be similar to many “women-in-peril” thrillers, but just when you assume you know the direction the film is taking, Night Watch explodes in a bloody finale that’s sure to leave a few viewers shocked. Instead of playing the typical female victim prone to hysteria, Elizabeth Taylor’s charactor turns out to be a cold and calculating murderess who brutally kills her philandering husband and best friend before gracefully exiting the film in grand style.
Top: Elizabeth Taylor and Laurence Harvey
Bottom: Robert Lang and Billie Whitelaw
Night Watch was directed by the American director Brian G. Hutton whose other films include Where Eagles Dare (1968) with Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood, as well as Zee and Co. (1972) which also featured Elizabeth Taylor along with Michael Caine, Susannah York and Margaret Leighton (who was once married to Lawrence Harvey). In Night Watch, the director was able to create a suspenseful atmosphere and maintain it throughout the course of the film. Since the story takes place in London with a mostly British cast, the film is reminiscent of other great British thrillers released during the same period. The film also contains closeup shots of gloved hands and large kitchen knives that were commonly seen in numerous giallo films at the time. Hutton’s directing skills are really on display during Taylor’s extremely eerie and effective nightmare sequences, which are creatively shot with the help of the Oscar winning British cinematographer Billy Williams. The director manages to include some interesting visual clues that suggest that Elizabeth Taylor is controlling the events unfolding in the film. Taylor’s constantly seen playing with a puzzle and trying to fit the pieces together while the audience is left in the dark tripping over multiple red-herrings.
The Italian designer Valentino made all of Taylor’s outfits for the film and frankly I just get a big kick out seeing Taylor playing a crazy, hard-drinking, pill-popping woman wearing fabulous purple robes designed by Valentino. She also gets to wear some low-key Valentino tailored fashions in the film as well. Elizabeth Taylor was no longer the slender young woman seen in her earlier roles, but she still looks terrific in Night Watch and manages to make the most of her role. Her performance is surprisingly nuanced and probably somewhat inspired by Anthony Perkins turn as Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s Psycho. Even the murders she commits in the film are slightly reminiscent of the way Bates killed his victims, but I’ve rarely seen an actor have so much fun pretending to slit throats. During the frantic murder scene at the end of the film Taylor looks utterly maniacal and plain frightening as she slashes her way through her costars.
None of the other actors in the film besides Laurence Harvey, Billie Whitelaw and Robert Lang get more than a few minutes of screen time, which is a shame. I really like the British actress Linda Hayden who’s appeared in some great British horror films and she’s wonderfully creepy in Night Watch, but she has no dialogue in the film and if you blink you just might miss her.
Elizabeth Taylor and Laurence Harvey become friends on the set of Butterfield 8 and remained close until his untimely death. Both actors were heavy drinkers and their careers were in decline when they decided to team up again and make Night Watch in late 1972. Taylor and Harvey ended up having such a terrific time on the set of the film together that they started making plans to co-star in another thriller in the near future, but unfortunately it never happened. Harvey was diagnosed with cancer during the making of Night Watch and it’s assumed that he was in considerable pain during filming. His performance here is rather low-key and seems to suggest that he wasn’t feeling his best, but he’s still very believable as Taylor’s neglectful husband. Sadly, Laurence Harvey died just three months after Night Watch was released.
Top: Taylor channeling the spirit of Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates
Middle: Billie Whitelaw suffers the same fate as Janet Leigh in Psycho
Bottom: Comparison shot of Janet Leigh from Psycho
Night Watch is currently only available as a poor quality pan and scan video at the moment and I’d really like to see Brian G. Hutton’s film get restored and released on DVD since it should definitely hold appeal for Elizabeth Taylor fans and anyone who enjoys unusual Hitchcock inspired thrillers. I’ve heard rumors that a PAL Region 2 DVD of Night Watch might be released later this year, but I haven’t been able to confirm it anywhere. If anyone else happens to know anything about the rumored PAL Region 2 DVD release of Night Watch, please let me know!
If you’d like to see more images from the film please see my Night Watch Flickr Gallery.
* Note: The term “kill face” was borrowed from Arbogast on Film.
Happy Birthday Ann-Margret!
My favorite redhead Ann-Margret was born on April 28 in 1941 and yesterday she celebrated her 66th birthday. To celebrate I thought I’d post an overview of some of the best films she made during the sixties and seventies, as well as share some of my thoughts about her life and her work.
Ann-Margret got her start in showbiz when she was 19 years old after being discovered by the legendary George Burns while auditioning for his annual holiday show in Las Vegas. Following her success in Vegas, Ann-Margret’s career took off and within a few months she had signed a record deal with RCA and a movie contract with 20th Century Fox.
Ann-Margret was a real triple threat when she began her career in the sixties. She could sing, she could dance and she could act. She was also incredibly beautiful, sassy, funny and smart. Unfortunately I’ve always thought that movie studios in the sixties and seventies never really knew what to do with Ann-Margret. She ended up in a lot of lackluster films and had a hard time being taken seriously as an actress. If she had been born 20 years earlier she would have probably had an amazing career in musicals, but musicals where becoming unpopular with film audiences and critics just as Ann-Margret was starting her movie career.
Ann-Margaret’s first movie role was in the Oscar nominated Frank Capra film Pocketful of Miracles (1961), where she played the daughter of Bette Davis. Following that she made State Fair (1962) with Pat Boone and Bobby Darin. She then got her real breakthrough role as the beautiful and spunky Kim McAfee in George Sidney’s great musical comedy Bye Bye Birdie (1963).
Following her terrific performance in Bye Bye Birdie Ann-Margret made a memorable appearance as an animated character named Ann-Margrock in the fourth season of The Flintstones (1963) cartoon series before starring alongside Elvis Presley in Viva Las Vegas (1964).
Viva Las Vegas is one of Elvis’ best movies from the sixties and Ann-Margret was easily his best co-star. The two have obvious on screen chemistry together that’s really electric and fun to watch. The musical numbers are great and the movie gave both of them the chance to really show off their comedic skills along with their dance moves.
The meeting between Ann-Margret and Elvis on the set of Viva Las Vegas was the start of a great friendship between the two talented stars. It would also mark the beginning of what might be one of Hollywood’s most tragic and unfulfilled love stories. When Elvis met Ann-Margret in 1963 they embarked on a passionate affair. At the time that Elvis met her he was already in a relationship with Priscilla Beaulieu (a.k.a. Priscilla Presley) and was committed to marrying her. After information about their affair made the celebrity gossip magazines many people think Elvis was encouraged to end his relationship with Ann-Margret by his manager Colonel Tom Parker, as well as Priscilla’s parents who threatened to expose Elvis as a pedophile because he started his relationship with their daughter when she was only fourteen years old. Elvis’ career was having trouble trying to recover from his time spent away from the public when he was in the army. This sort of scandal could have easily put an end to his career altogether.
Elvis and Ann-Margret’s romantic affair came to an end, but the two remained close until Elvis’ untimely death. Elvis’ lifelong nickname for Ann-Margret was “Rusty”, which was the name of her character in Viva Las Vegas and up until the day he died he would send a bouquet of flowers to her every time she performed live. Lots of people who were close to Elvis and knew about his complicated relationship with Ann-Margret have said that she was the real “love of his life” and she has called Elvis her “soulmate.” It’s hard not to wonder how Elvis’ life may have been different if he and Ann-Margret had followed their hearts in 1964. In Ann-Margret’s own words she had this to say about their relationship:
“His wish was that we could stay together. But of course, we both knew that was impossible., and that’s what was so very difficult about our relationship. Elvis and I knew he had commitments, promises to keep, and he vowed to keep his word. Both of us knew that no matter how much we loved each other, no matter how strong our bond, we weren’t going to last.” – From her book Ann Margret: My Story.
After Viva Las Vegas Ann-Margret played a sassy bad girl in the entertaining thriller Kitten with a Whip (1964). Kitten with a Whip is one of my favorite exploitation movies about rebellious teens made in the early sixties and Ann-Margret is terrific as a naughty juvenile delinquent named Jody. The role solidified her reputation as a cinema sex kitten but like most of Ann-Margret’s movies, critics were not very impressed with it.
Jean Negulesco’s The Pleasure Seekers (1964) was Ann-Margret’s next movie and it’s an enjoyable film. Ann-Margret plays Fran Hobson in this updated remake of the director’s earlier picture Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), which itself was a remake of his film How to Marry a Millionaire (1953). The musical numbers and fashions are the best part of this cute comedy, which has a somewhat outdated approach to romance for its time, but Ann-Margret and André Lawrence (who plays her love interest in the film) seem to have worked well together and it’s fun watching them drive around Spain on a scooter.
In 1965 Ann-Margret made Once a Thief with the talented French actor Alain Delon. She arguably does her first really good dramatic acting in Once a Thief but she’s predictably over the top as Delon’s troubled wife and her emotional performance stands out in stark contrast to Delon’s understated style of acting. Even though the two seem like an odd pair, they’re both incredibly beautiful and generate a lot of heat when they’re on screen together. Once a Thief is an interesting crime thriller with a great cast that fans of film noir should appreciate.
After starring with Alain Delon in Once a Thief, Ann-Margret got the opportunity to work with another sixties icon in Norman Jewison’s film The Cincinnati Kid (1965). The Cincinnati Kid stars Steve McQueen as a young poker player and Ann-Margret plays the sexually vivacious and unhappy wife of Karl Malden. She wrestles with Tuesday Weld for McQueen’s affection and does some of her best acting in the film. Ann-Margret and Steve McQueen clearly have on-screen chemistry together so you can’t help but wonder why his character in the film ends up with the cute, sensitive and thoughtful, but much less interesting character Tuesday Weld is playing. According to Ann-Margret she developed a close friendship with Steve McQueen on the set of the film since they both shared a similar interest in fast cars and motorcycles.
In 1966 Ann-Margret teamed up with director George Sidney again for the campy sex comedy The Swinger. In The Swinger she plays a journalist named Kelly who poses as a “swinger” to impress the editor of a men’s magazine. The editor is played by Tony Franciosa who she also worked with in The Pleasure Seekers. The Swinger is a entertaining comedy that takes a humorous look at the swinging sixties and Ann-Margret gets to perform some great songs in the film. She also gets to ride a Triumph motorcycle and after making the movie she was featured in Triumph Motorcycle’s official advertisements.
Following The Swinger she made the entertaining Matt Helm spy spoof Murderers Row (1966) with her pal Dean Martin. The Matt Helm films featured Dean Martin as a hard-drinking, womanizing and often bumbling spy. As usual, Ann-Margret’s performance and numerous colorful costume changes are one of the most entertaining things about the film and Murderer’s Row is definitely one of the best movies in the Matt Helm series. Ann-Margret seems to be having a good time in the film with her fellow Vegas star and the Matt Helm films are well worth a look if you enjoy sixties spy movies.
Ann-Margret spent the next few years making movies in Italy including Dino Risi’s Il Tigre (a.k.a. The Tiger & The Pussycat, 1967) and Il Profeta (a.k.a. Prophet, 1968). These sexy comedies with co-star Vittorio Gassman were popular in Europe but they didn’t have much success in the US. In the late sixties film critics were unfortunately starting to dismiss Ann-Margaret and her talents, which is a shame. She worked well with Vittorio Gassman and I think the two movies they made together are enjoyable films.
During this period Ann-Margret married the handsome actor Roger Smith who’s most known for his role as Jeff Spencer in the popular television series 77 Sunset Strip. Coincidentally, they were married exactly a week after Elvis Presley married Priscilla. Roger Smith had been trying to convince her to marry him for awhile but she finally accepted his proposal on May 8, 1967 and they were married in a quick ceremony in Vegas. It’s worth noting that Elvis Presley married Priscilla on May 1st just a few days earlier. It’s impossible to know if these events were in any way connected but Ann-Margret’s marriage fell apart right after she exchanged vows with Roger Smith. She left him after their first night together and went home to her parents but they eventually managed to work things out. Both Ann-Margret & Roger Smith been through a lot of rough times and never had any children, but they’ve been married for 40 years and seem very happy together.
In 1969 she teamed up with Laurence Harvey to make the interesting crime thriller Rebus. Unfortunately the film was not warmly welcomed by the critics but I think it’s an entertaining movie and Ann-Margret performs some nice musical numbers in it that were written for her by the great composer Luis Enríquez Bacalov. Laurence Harvey and Ann-Margret are both over the top performers with a similar acting style who often “play to the back row” so I thought they worked well together in Rebus. They also both look amazing and manage to keep the film watchable even if the script is somewhat lacking.
Following Rebus Ann-Margret made the “so bad it’s good” biker movie C.C. and Company (1970), which was written and produced by her husband Roger Smith. The movie is mainly worth watching for Ann-Margret’s campy performance and she looks terrific on a motorcycle. Unfortunately her co-star and love interest in the movie is the dreadfully dull and unappealing football player, Joe Namath. The rest of the cast is pretty good and biker movie regular William Smith just about steals the show. With another actor in Namath’s role I think the film could have been much better.
Much to everyone’s surprise (particularly film critics) Ann-Margret managed to land a role in Mike Nichols’ critically acclaimed adult drama Carnal Knowledge (1971) next. The film offered her the best dramatic role of her career as the beautiful and troubled Bobbie, who becomes the target of Jack Nicholson’s rage. The emotional scenes between the two in Carnal Knowledge feature some of the decade’s most powerful and raw acting. For the first time in a long time, Ann-Margret got rave reviews for her performance and received her first Oscar nomination for her role as Bobbie.
Following Carnal Knowledge she began shooting The Train Robbers with John Wayne. Ann-Margret has said that she enjoyed working with Wayne and I think you can see that in their on screen exchanges. The Train Robbers was not released until 1973 and received mixed reviews. At a time when directors like Sergio Leone and Sam Pekinpah were exploring new directions with western films, The Train Robbers seems rather outdated and old fashioned but the movie does have it’s charm and I think it’s one of the more interesting and unique films that Wayne made late in his life.
Unfortunately just as Ann-Margret’s film career seemed to be blossoming a horrible accident in 1972 almost killed her. While performing live at the Sahara Hotel in Lake Tahoe she suffered a terrible fall from the stage, which literally destroyed her face and sent her into a coma. The accident was so severe that her face collapsed due to massive bone breakage. Her arm was also broken in the fall and one of her knees was seriously damaged. She lingered between life and death for days and her family and friends wondered if she would ever be able to perform again. With the help of a team of doctors that included a neurosurgeon, a plastic surgeon and an orthopedic surgeon, Ann-Margret managed to fully recover and after just ten weeks she was back performing live again in Vegas.
After her near-death experience, Ann-Margret returned to acting in Ken Russell’s ambitious rock opera Tommy (1975). Russell’s frenzied directing style meshes perfectly with Ann-Margret’s over the top acting in the film and the combination makes Tommy one of the most entertaining musicals of the seventies. Ann-Margret was only a few years older than The Who’s Roger Daltry at the time that Tommy was made but the accident had aged her a little and she does a wonderful job as Tommy’s glamourous mom. Ann-Margret’s frantic performance in Tommy, which peaks with her infamous “nervous breakdown” scene involving lots of gooey foods, is slightly reminiscent of her paint scene from the 1966 film The Swinger. Her performance in the film managed to snag her a second Oscar nomination.
Ann-Margret made a few more films in the seventies including Richard Attenborough’s excellent creepy thriller Magic (1978) where she starred opposite Anthony Hopkins, which is well worth seeking out if you’re a horror fan. But much to my surprise, many of the films Ann-Margret made during the sixties and seventies are not easily available on VHS or DVD. Thankfully Ann-Margret fans can look forward to a new DVD release of her one and only western, The Train Robbers, on May 22.
Ann-Margret has had an impressive career in cinema that was often met with a mixed critical reaction but I think she’s one of Hollywood’s most interesting and beautiful actresses. Her filmography features some of the best musicals made in the past 40 years. She’s a stunning woman and her vivacious personality seems to ignite when shes on screen.
Living in the California Bay Area and working as a music journalist for a brief time has given me the opportunity to meet a lot of celebrities. It’s not uncommon to bump into George Lucas or Sean Penn when I’m out shopping, so I’ve become rather jaded but meeting Ann-Margret was one of the few times in my life where I was truly starstruck. I got the chance to pay my respects to the actress in 1994 after her biography Ann Margret: My Story was released. The actress & singer was on a book signing tour and she kindly signed a copy of her book for me. She was very nice and easy to talk to, but I became totally tongue-tied around her. She was still incredibly beautiful at age 53 and while I was shaking her hand I couldn’t help thinking to myself that I was touching a hand that had touched so many of my favorite performers including Alain Delon, Steve McQueen, Laurence Harvey, Oliver Reed and Elvis. Needless to say, I was a little overwhelmed and could barely get out a word in her presence. Thankfully I managed to pull myself together enough to tell her how much I had enjoyed her movies and she seemed genuinely touched by my nervous compliments. I still own my copy of her book and its’ one of my most treasured items simply because it reminds me of the time I got to meet one of my favorite actresses and on screen personalities. Happy birthday Ann-Margret!