The Uncanny (1977)

The Uncanny

Horror author Wilbur Gray (Peter Cushing) tells publisher Frank Richards (Ray Milland) of his fear that cats are preparing to replace humans and regales him with three true stories that prove his point. London 1912. The cat gets everything. wealthy dowager Miss Malkin (Joan Greenwood) is planning to write her only nephew Michael (Simon Williams) out of her will, and bequeath her large fortune entirely to her large multitude of cats. When her maid Janet (Susan Penhaligon), hears the old woman making these changes with her lawyer Wallace (Roland Culver) she alerts Michael and they plan to destroy the last copy of the will locked in Miss Malkin’s bedside safe. Janet waits for the perfect moment to crack the combination but Miss Malkin catches her in the act and attempts to call the police, forcing Janet to kill her. But the cats witness everything and stop her from destroying their inheritance. Quebec Province 1975Why can’t you be more like Angela? She never puts a foot wrong. Young orphan Lucy (Katrina Holden), moves into her aunt Joan’s (Alexandra Stewart) home along with her pet cat Wellington. Her cousin Angela (Chloe Franklin), however, gets extremely jealous when she discovers that Wellington will be living with them, since she’s not allowed any pets herself. When her whining does little to change her parents’ (Alexandra Stewart and Donald Pilon) minds, Angela delights in getting both the cat and Lucy in trouble, prompting her fed-up father to bring Wellington to be put down. Wellington somehow finds his way home, and helps Lucy plot her revenge against the troublemaking Angela by shrinking her cousin down to the size of a toy. Hollywood 1936.  It was the cat that did it. B-movie star Valentine De’ath (Donald Pleasance) does away with his leading lady wife in an artfully arranged accident, persuading his producer Pomeroy (John Vernon) into handing over the role role to the actor’s vapid girlfriend Edina (Samantha Eggar) who calls him ‘VD’. As the two celebrate back at De’ath’s mansion, they are constantly interrupted by his wife’s cat, who is taking care of her newborn litter. De’ath hates the little creatures and drowns them all, but the mother cat escapes and follows him to the studio to take her revenge, eating through ropes to drop a light on his head and then shutting an iron maiden with his girlfriend inside… This British/Canadian Amicus anthology features a great cast but offers fairly slim pickings even if the theme of feline revenge is immensely appealing. It just doesn’t serve it with sufficient variety. There are some nice moments – including a photo of Pleasence in his Bond role, white pussycat on his lap;  but the framing story isn’t sufficiently surprising even with its twist ending. The cats are delightful, if somewhat intimidating. And hungry. Written by Michel Parry and directed by porn stalwart Denis Héroux.

Circle of Danger (1951)

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It doesn’t do to go around sobbing and putting up monuments. American World War 2 veteran Clay Douglas (Ray Milland) arrives in London to find out how his little brother was the only casualty in a British commando operation in occupied France. He follows the trail to Scotland where he meets platoon officer Hamish McArran (Hugh Sinclair) who informs him that most of the men are now dead and he provides him with information to contact the few survivors. Clay encounters children’s novelist Elspeth Graham (Patricia Roc) who meets him again back in London where he starts to track down the remaining commandos and uncover what really happened while the pair begin a very uneasy romance …  If I were you I’d spank the little bastard – hard. Shot by the great British cinematographers Oswald Morris and Gilbert Taylor, this is a handsome production adapted by Philip MacDonald from his own novel. What it lacks in thrills it makes up for in a deceptive charm and there’s a good twist. Along the way we have a cold/hot/cold romance with Roc, whose motives remain a little clouded. Nonetheless it’s an interesting insight into necessary deaths in wartime, with the guy Peter Bogdanovich once called the roadshow Cary Grant acquitting himself well in the lead, working with director Jacques Tourneur to turn a vengeful character into a more understanding one. It doesn’t stand with Tourneur’s best work but there are nice supporting performances by Marius Goring, Naunton Wayne and Dora Bryan.  I think Hank was murdered by one of the other commandos in that raid

 

Gold (1974)

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It’s gold, I hate the lousy stuff.  Following an underground explosion which killed his predecessor, Sonderditch gold mine’s newly appointed general manager Rod Slater (Roger Moore) is used as a stooge in the financiers’ plan to inflate the world’s gold prices by engineering a disaster. He is ordered by Manfred Steyner (Bradford Dillman) to break through underground into a dyke which will reveal a huge seam of gold – but it’s actually a lake that will flood the mine.  Meanwhile he meets Steyner’s wife Terry (Susannah York), granddaughter of the mine’s owner Harry ‘Poppsie’ Hirschfeld (Ray Milland), and they fall in love believing their affair is a secret while a London-based criminal syndicate led by Farrell (John Gielgud!!!) moves with their plan … Wilbur Smith’s source novel was based on a real-life flooding in a Johannesburg mine and this film races towards the inevitable with an exciting conclusion and a satisfying payoff. Adapted by Smith and Stanley Price, it’s a fairly straightforward action entertainment (with some brief explorations of racism) but no less enjoyable especially as a kind of footnote to the James Bond series – it’s directed by Peter Hunt (OHMSS), edited by John Glen (Licence to Kill et al), production design by Syd Cain and the titles are by Maurice Binder. The newest Bond, Moore, and the wonderful York make a very attractive romantic couple and for the sadists there’s an opportunity to watch little Patsy Kensit (who’s uncredited) get blown up at a party.  And you should see what happens to a Rolls Royce! This was shot on location at Buffelfontein and West Rand and apparently York went very public about the black workers’ conditions. Ripley’s: Steven Spielberg was producer Michael Klinger’s first choice for director but was vetoed by Moore!

Dial M for Murder (1954)

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With the release of Gone Girl (Fincher, 2014) one is tempted to remember another marriage plot, with the resplendent Grace Kelly, the suave Ray Milland and the third part of that particular marriage’s triangle, the bland murder mystery writer, Mark (Robert Cummings).  Shot in chronological order, and with just a courtroom scene to differentiate this 3D film from the stage play by Frederick Knott, it is a masterpiece of tension and melodramatic dread, shaded in Kelly’s increasingly complex performance. Ingeniously staging the work from different angles, including overhead, no studio flat ever seemed so small and yet so replete with danger. Kelly’s hair is styled differently to further our understanding of her predicament, her clothes steadily darker and her mood more penumbral. Marriage is murder. For more on the films made by Hitchcock with Kelly, see my article on Offscreen: https://offscreen.com/view/hitchcock-kelly

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