Saturday, November 2, 2013

Bond Camp

Never Say Never Again: written by Lorenzo Semple Jr., based on the story by Ian Fleming, Jack Whittingham, and Kevin McClory; directed by Irvin Kershner; starring Sean Connery (James Bond), Kim Basinger (Domino), Klaus Maria Brandauer (Largo), Barbara Carrera (Fatima Blush), Max von Sydow (Blofeld), Bernie Casey (Felix Leiter) and Rowan Atkinson (Nigel) (1983): Thanks to some bizarre copyright issues, the rights to the James Bond novel Thunderball were never completely held by the traditional Bond production team.

Thus, another movie or movies could be made by another company with a screenplay based on Thunderball. Never Say Never Again was the result in 1983, with Sean Connery returning as James Bond 11 years after he had last played the role in Diamonds are Forever.

Roger Moore's tenure as Bond was winding down in 1983, though that year's official Bond entry, Octopussy, still outgrossed this movie. Connery looks game but a little tired here, and the pacing seems off, and the movie overlong by about 20 minutes and one too many changes of locale. Klaus Maria Brandauer does make for a surprisingly sinister Bond villain, while Barbara Carrera and Kim Basinger do OK work as Bond girls evil and good, respectively.

The tone shifts even more abruptly than usual for a Bond film, from parodic to serious and back again. That may partially be because of the screenwriter, Lorenzo Semple, who helped turn both the Batman tv series of the 1960's and the 1980 Flash Gordon film into smirking parodies of themselves. It's not quite Camp here, but it's close. M and the rest of the Bond hierarchy take the most severe beating, though Rowan Atkinson's first big-screen appearance, as an MI6 operative played solely for laughs, also grates. Bernie Casey is fine as CIA agent Felix Leiter, and actually has something to do other than supply exposition.

The prime oddity of Never Say Never Again is that the first thirty minutes or so play like a dry run for the recent Bond movie Skyfall, as a rundown James Bond faces suspension and the Double-O program itself faces termination in the wake of political changes. An historical oddity, Never Say Never Again also acts as a weird psychological test -- viewing a James Bond movie without the familiar soundtrack never feels entirely comfortable. That the score for this movie, and the title song, are both unremittingly terrible doesn't help things. Lightly recommended.

 

House on Haunted Hill: written by Robb White; directed by William Castle; starring Vincent Price (Frederick Loren), Carol Ohmart (Annabelle Loren), Richard Long (Lance Schroeder), Alan Marshal (David Trent), Carolyn Craig (Nora Manning), Elisha Cook Jr. (Watson Pritchard) and Julie Mitchum (Ruth Bridgers) (1959): Producer-director William Castle famously tried 'gimmicks' with many of his horror movies. This one featured a skeleton model jumping out at the audience at the right moment. Oh, Hollywood!

House on Haunted Hill features Vincent Price as a henpecked, possibly homicidal husband who invites five strangers to a house he's rented to see if they can survive a night in a haunted house. Each survivor's reward will be $10,000. Why is he doing this? And why do he and his wife hate each other so much?

There's a lot of charm here, much of it on the Camp side of the equation. Also, some extraordinary screaming from two of the three female leads. The shock ending left me a bit disappointed -- it really seems as if there should be one further reversal because of the goofiness of what we've witnessed.

The acid-filled pit really didn't help my suspension of disbelief either. Maybe it was different in the 1950's. Maybe the audience members nodded and thought, 'Yeah, I've got one of those in my basement too!' Still, Price is his usual silky presence, and Elisha Cook sweats bullets throughout. Lightly recommended.

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