Tag Archives: Roddy McDowall

Evil Under the Sun (1982, Guy Hamilton)

As innocuous as Evil Under the Sun can get–and expecting anything else from it seems unintended–the film does have a slightly discomforting feel about it. Perhaps it’s the extraordinary level of benignity, but at times, it really does seem like Peter Ustinov (as Hercule Poirot) is going to be murdered by each and every person in the film. Murder on the Orient Express, not to ruin it for anyone, along with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, makes Agatha Christie suspect. If there’s no good way out, she’ll just push on through… M. Night Shyamalan owes more to her than anyone else, in terms of wasting people’s engagement with a story and characters, anyway.

The difference between an Agatha Christie novel and an Agatha Christie filmic adaptation, as I just got done telling my fiancée, is simple. It’s about the actors, the location, and the running time. Evil Under the Sun runs around two hours and was filmed on a beautiful island in the Mediterranean. Ustinov’s amusing–though not as funny as when Ustinov’s really being funny, Maggie Smith and Denis Quilley have some good scenes, and James Mason has fun. No one’s particularly bad–Diana Rigg’s supposed to be incredibly annoying–though Nicholas Clay’s accent appears and intensifies after a certain point. It’s harmless, even if it isn’t particularly interesting.

Evil Under the Sun has an interesting structure–there’s no murder for the first hour. Then there’s a half hour of questioning, maybe a little less, then there’s a ten minute reveal and the end. While the scenery is pretty and the cast is okay, there’s nothing particularly dynamic about it. The film keeps the audience with the promise of the murder, as I imagine the book does, and offers them little else to do with their time. Guy Hamilton’s direction does very little with interiors–outside it’s pretty, inside it’s boring, but there are two days inside before anything happens and it could use some oomph. After a certain point, deep in the monotony of the supporting cast’s dramatics, I’d forgotten Ustinov was in the movie.

The end payoff, as delivered by Ustinov, makes the experience moderately worthwhile. Certainly nothing to watch again, but not a complete waste. Screenwriter Anthony Shaffer wrote The Wicker Man, so he’s obviously capable of a good twist and a good end, but the adherence to the novel really handicaps him….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Guy Hamilton; screenplay by Anthony Shaffer, based on a novel by Agatha Christie; director of photography, Christopher Challis; edited by Richard Marden; music by Cole Porter; production designer, Elliot Scott; produced by John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Peter Ustinov (Hercule Poirot), Colin Blakely (Sir Horace Blatt), Jane Birkin (Christine Redfern), Nicholas Clay (Patrick Redfern), Maggie Smith (Daphne Castle), Roddy McDowall (Rex Brewster), Sylvia Miles (Myra Gardener), James Mason (Odell Gardener), Denis Quilley (Kenneth Marshall), Diana Rigg (Arlena Marshall) and Emily Hone (Linda Marshall).


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Behind the Planet of the Apes (1998, Kevin Burns and David Comtois)

I thought the Planet of the Apes festival could use a capstone, since it’s certainly not for sure I’ll make it through enough of Tim Burton’s remake to post about it. And the fiancée has no interest in that one, so it’ll be a while before I get around to it. There are good films to watch before it. I rented Behind the Planet of the Apes a little bit confused about its origins. I remember it (it aired on AMC and I watched some of it), but it’s not in the new Apes box set from Fox, so I figured it was an independent documentary. As it turns out, it is from Fox, which gives it great access to lovely conceptual art (something I can’t ever get enough of), interview subjects, and clips. There are lots of clips. Behind the Planet of the Apes summarizes every one of the movies, spending the most time on the first and then gradually less and less on the other films.

As an actual documentary, Behind is a joke. My review posts of the films make it clear I was never an Apes fan so I really wanted Behind to explain the “phenomenon” to me. It did (the Apes films were intended for kids), but it never went further. Obviously there were audience and critical reactions to these films, but Behind only makes off-hand references. The main force is the summarizing, along with a lengthy look at the production of the first film (but, sadly, nothing on post-production). Had Behind just covered the first film, I imagine it would have been more interesting and a more cohesive experience. The film ends with a brief discussion of Fox’s marketing campaign to tie in with the TV series, but nothing about the producer’s 150 page production idea guide he had for the first film. Because there’s never any substantial reference to the actual impact of these films (the film historian simply advertises the films for Fox), it feels like no one ever saw them before this documentary presented them, twenty-five years later. The producers talk about the cultural impact, but it’s not evident. I don’t expect a lot from a promotional documentary, but it really plays like an infomercial.

All complaints aside, the film does present some diverting information about the making of the films and filmmaking in general. The art director, William Creber has a lot of interesting stuff to talk about and some of the directors have things to say, but they hardly get any screen time. I think the first time I watched it, I hadn’t seen Planet of the Apes in recallable memory, which made it mildly compelling (seeing a bunch of films in summary) and I did remember that factoid about Conquest filming at Century City. However, having just watched all the films, this promotional documentary has brought me no closer to understanding why Apes has such a following. It does nothing to explain what I’m “missing,” which leads me to wonder if I’m not missing anything….

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Burns and David Comtois; written by Brian Anthony, Burns and Comtois; director of photography, Cory Geryak; edited by Dustin Ebsen, Steve Rasch and Comtois; produced by Shelley Lyons; released by 20th Century Fox.

Hosted by Roddy McDowall.


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Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973, J. Lee Thompson), the extended version

I actually had some hopes for the Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the last film in the series, mostly because J. Lee Thompson did such a good job directing the previous entry. Except for not knowing when he’s getting boring, it doesn’t seem like the same J. Lee Thompson directed both films, however. Battle for the Planet of the Apes is not the worst film in the series, since there’s not much worse than Beneath, but it’s still bad. Real bad. On one hand, it’s stupid and poorly written. On the other, there are some visible signs of conceptual failings. The script never provides a believable ape society, nor does Thompson know how to shoot the scenes between the apes. If one were so inclined, he or she could sit and list all of the film’s contradictory items, but I can’t imagine why a person would want to.

Most visibly missing is Paul Dehn, who concocted the story, but two of Roger Corman’s screenwriters (and not John Sayles) wrote the actual script. Gone, therefore, are Dehn’s well-written conflicted human beings. There are no regular human beings anymore since the film takes place immediately following a nuclear holocaust, but the screenwriters (John William and Joyce Hooper Corrington) don’t even manage to get any decent human conflict out of the film. Not even for the apes, who are center-stage, much like Beneath. Austin Stoker shows up as the human and he’s fine. I remember thinking he was doing rather well considering the film’s cheapness and silliness. Roddy McDowell’s in this one again and he’s not even acting anymore, just doing an act. Even his facial mannerisms are sloppy. Paul Williams probably gives the best costumed performance and Claude Akins the worst, though Akins’s gorilla is so poorly written (and unbelievably conceived), it’s not all his fault. The most embarrassing performance award goes to John Huston, who introduces and closes Battle from the future (of the future).

Since Battle is so long and boring (partially due to Thompson’s poorly paced action scenes, but mostly because it’s so uninteresting), the viewer’s mind has some spare time while watching and I spent mine wondering who the film’s makers intended to enjoy it. Obviously, Planet of the Apes has a following, but this film is so different from the other films in style, I just couldn’t figure it out. I mean, that little hope I had disappeared the moment John Huston showed up (the first shot). Had I been seeing this film in the theater in 1973, I would have gotten up and walked out. Maybe laughed a little first.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes is a bad idea, poorly written, poorly directed, filmed. Poorly produced too. If the writing or the directing had been all right, the film might have been somehow interesting (like the previous entry, Conquest). However, without any help, it’s just an oddity. It’s not even bad enough to be a “must see,” like Beneath. It’s just bad and there, like a TV show you’ve never heard of rerun at four o’clock in the morning.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by J. Lee Thompson; screenplay by John William Corrington and Joyce Hooper Corrington, from a story by Paul Dehn; director of photography, Richard H. Kline; edited by Alan Jaggs and John C. Horger; music by Leonard Rosenman; produced by Arthur P. Jacobs and Frank Capra Jr.; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Roddy McDowall (Caesar), Claude Akins (Aldo), Natalie Trundy (Lisa), Severn Darden (Kolp), Lew Ayres (Mandemus), John Huston (The Lawgiver), Paul Williams (Virgil), Andrew Knight (Mutant on Motorcycle), Austin Stoker (MacDonald) and Bob Porter (Cornelius).


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Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972, J. Lee Thompson)

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is about a bunch of ape slaves overpowering their human masters. Any film with a thirty second recap of the previous sequel by Ricardo Montalban has to be at least amusing, but Conquest is actually better than amusing (until the actual revolt begins). Since the film didn’t have any real budget, it shot entirely (I think entirely) at Fox’s then-new Century City complex–because it looked future-like. The film opens with a great fifteen or twenty minute, almost real-time sequence of Ricardo Montalban walking around with Roddy McDowell’s talking ape. Bruce Surtees shot Conquest and it’s a beautiful looking film. Director J. Lee Thompson does well in the confines too, making Century City’s stark impersonality look interesting. Montalban owns those first twenty minutes and sets the film up better than it turns out.

The problem is the eventual slave revolt. The acting is excellent across the board–Hari Rhodes as the sympathetic black guy (since Conquest is from 1972, there’s a lot more racial honesty than I’ve seen in a film in years), Severn Darden as the bad guy, and Don Murray as the sort-of bad guy. Murray’s got a few mouthfuls of exposition to get out and, while he doesn’t get them out as well as Montalban, he still does an admirable job. Paul Dehn wrote Conquest (he also wrote the unspeakably awful Beneath and the superior Escape) and he does layer some complexities into the characters, Murray’s especially. Unfortunately, Dehn doesn’t give McDowell as the ape leader any complexity. Once the revolt starts, the film becomes visually dynamic–to a point–the scenes of the revolt are good, but the dramatic thrust of the film is gone. Since the ending is predetermined for a large part, there’s not much interesting going on.

McDowell’s the film’s second biggest problem. His character makes a huge transition in addition to going from being the protagonist to being the subject of Conquest and he doesn’t pull it off. That failing isn’t really McDowell’s, but the script’s. There’s only so much one could do with a film like Conquest–first, that predetermined outcome, second, the single talking ape (as opposed to… I don’t know, two. Two would have done it), and then the cast of human characters. Conquest doesn’t pull many punches about whose side it’s own either. There are a bunch of white guys in jack-boots and SS outfits giving black people shit and beating defenseless animals. There’s a visual metaphor, but it doesn’t go much further, which is kind of nice. Conquest needed to embrace what it had more, instead of working blindly toward its ending. Still, it’s a great looking film. Thompson’s use of the limited set, along with Surtees’s lighting, is beautiful.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by J. Lee Thompson; screenplay by Paul Dehn; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Marjorie Fowler and Alan Jaggs; music by Tom Scott; produced by Arthur P. Jacobs; released by 20th Century-Fox.

Starring Roddy McDowall (Caesar), Don Murray (Breck), Natalie Trundy (Lisa), Hari Rhodes (MacDonald) and Ricardo Montalban (Armando).


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