Saturday, 31 August 2013

HAMMER FILMS 'THE MUMMY' PREMIERE AT BRITISH MUSEUM SCREENS CUSHING AND LEE CLASSIC



Screening as we post! This is the first opportunity to see the new cleaned up print of Hammer Films 'THE MUMMY' happening now at the British Museum's Monster Weekend, part of the BFI 'Gothic' season. THE MUMMY stars Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Yvonne Furneax. Directed by Terence Fisher.

More pics to come...

Friday, 30 August 2013

A MISLAID HAT AND CHRISTMAS GOOSE: PETER CUSHING IN 'THE BLUE CARBUNCLE' REVIEWED WITH GALLERY


A seemingly minor issue involving a mislaid hat and Christmas goose turns fascinating for master detective Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing) when a priceless gem is found in the bird's gullet...


The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle made its debut in January of 1892.  The story offered a tremendous showcase for showing off Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famed sleuth's ability to make precise deductions from the most mundane of materials.  It also shows off the character's rigidly applied personal code, in that he rejects a pushy dowageress' offer of a substantial sum to retrieve her stolen gem because the case (and the client) strikes him as petty at best, while he subsequently throws himself into the mystery for his own personal amusement because it's a riddle which captures his imagination.  In many respects, it's one of the most satisfying and intriguingly plotted of the Holmes stories - and yet, it remains a seldom dramatized tale so far as film and television are concerned.


The first - and as of this writing, last - version for cinemas emerged in 1923.  It was part of the long running Ellie Norwood series of Holmes films - and like the majority of the films in that franchise, it is believed to be lost today.  It would take until 1968 for the next version to emerge, this one as part of the BBC produced Sherlock Holmes series starring Peter Cushing.  It would take over a decade for the story to be filmed again, this time as a TV film produced in the then-Soviet Union. Granada added the story to their stable of Holmes adaptations starring Jeremy Brett in 1984, while an animated version was done for the program Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century (1999).


The BBC version presents a generally faithful adaptation, courtesy of screenwriter Stanley Miller.  Though suffering from some of the same cramped production values that dogged some of the other entries, this is, on the whole, a very satisfying and briskly paced entry in the series.  Cushing gets one of his best showcases as Holmes in this episode - he perfectly captures the character's arrogance and unerring sense of logic, and he also has a marvelous moment of realization wherein the long-suffering Dr. Watson is able to gloat over one of his deductions being inaccurate.


Nigel Stock, for his part, again proves to be a most satisfactory Watson - he has moments of befuddlement worthy of Nigel Bruce in the Basil Rathbone series, but on the whole he is allowed to play the role as Doyle intended, as a sturdy and reliable medical man.  The supporting cast performs quite ably, as well, including Frank Milddlemass in the role of Peterson.  Middlemass was a busy character actor who would go on to play one of the stuffed shirt lodgers that Cushing verbally lacerates in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969).  Intriguingly, he would also go on to play the meatier role of Harold Baker - the gentleman whose loss of his hat and prized Christmas goose sets the mystery in motion - in the 1984 version with Jeremy Brett as Holmes.It has to be said that, overall, the Brett version is the stronger of the two versions - it offers up healthier production values and much more stylish direction (Bill Bain's work in that capacity in the Cushing version is very much of the "efficient" school), but it also tinkers with the finale somewhat, making it less true to the original story than the Cushing version.  Purists may therefore prefer this earlier version - and those who prefer Cushing's more controlled take on the character versus Brett's ultra-neurotic characterization are also bound to find this a much more tolerable viewing experience


Ultimately, it is to be regretted that the majority of the Cushing episodes have been lost to the mists of time.  While the majority of the earlier episodesstarring Douglas Wilmer have survived, many of the Cushing episodes were not so fortunate and fell victim to the BBC's practice of "wiping" old shows to make room for new ones.  Of those believed to be lost, one that seems of particular interest is The Naval Treaty, which featured such outstanding character actors as Dennis Price and Peter Bowles.


Price and Cushing would later go on to appear in Hammer's Twins of Evil (1971), by which point former matinee idol Price was reduced to appearing in small roles in low budget horror films just to keep the tax man away from the door.  Another lost episode, The Greek Interpreter, actually costarred Edward Hardwicke, the son of the distinguished thespian Sir Cedric Hardwicke, who would later go on to play Watson opposite Jeremy Brett's Holmes.  The loss of these episodes is indeed unfortunate, but in the "small miracles" category, at least Cushing's fanbase is not completely deprived of seeing their favorite actor playing Holmes on this series.


Indeed, The Blue Carbuncle would mark his final portrayal of the character for many years - until he was enlisted to play an aged, but still sharp, version of the detective for the Tyburn TV production Masks of Death (1984), costarring John Mills as Watson.  Cushing would later be offered a chance to play a choice supporting role in the Jeremy Brett vehicle The Last Vampyre (1994), but ill health made his participation impossible - and the role would be played instead by Maurice Denham.  Cushing's association with the role nevertheless remains quite strong for many, and he is frequently cited alongside Rathbone and Brett as being the definitive interpreter of the role on screen.


REVIEW: TROY HOWARTH
IMAGES AND FORMAT: MARCUS BROOKS


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AND A GREAT NIGHT WAS HAD BY ALL! 'DRACULA' BFI SCREENING AT THE BRITISH MUSEUM, LONDON


Some snaps from tonight's terrific outdoor screening of Hammer Films uncut 'DRACULA' Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Melissa Stribling, Michael Gough and Valerie Gaunt. All part of the BFI 'Gothic season and their 'Monster Weekend'. Tomorrow night The Mummy at The British Museum! Last few tickets here – Get them before they go. http://bit.ly/16yohTV @BFI

Saturday, 24 August 2013

'THE BRIDES OF DRACULA' BLU RAY COMPETITION


In our second competition today, we have a PAIR of 'The Brides Of Dracula' (1960) Blu Ray / DVD's up for grabs, courtesy of Final Cut Entertainment. To be in with a chance of winning your very own copy, all you have to do is correctly answer the question below and send your answer to theblackboxclub@gmail.com

QUESTION:
The Brides of Dracula Starred Peter Cushing and Yvonne Monlaur. On the final day of shooting Peter Cushing presented Monlaur with a gift. What did he give her?

Choose ONE of the following:
a) A Pair Earrings
b) A Water Colour Painting
c) A Scarf
d) A Necklace

The competition closes SUNDAY 1st SEPTEMBER, 2013 at 12 MID DAY GMT. Winners names will be drawn and announced here two hours later at 2PM GMT.



FIRST TIME ON BLU RAY: HAMMER FILMS 'THE BRIDES OF DRACULA' BLU RAYS COMPETITION


Win yourself a copy of Final Cut Entertainments' The Brides of Dracula'. Competition coming up next her and our UK Peter Cushing Facebook Fan Page


REEL SOLUTIONS: PETER CUSHING CENTENARY TRIBUTE MONOGRAPH PRIZES


Here's you chance to win a copy of Reel Solutions, excellent Limited Edition Peter Cushing Centenary Monograph at the UK Peter Cushing Appreciation Society Facebook Fan Page today! There are FOUR up for grabs. The booklet includes contributions and tributes from among others, directors, Kevin Connor, Peter Duffell, actors Bernard Cribbins, Barbara Shelley and Val Kilmer, with filmography and great photographs throughout.

The competition closes SATURDAY 31ST August, 2013 at 12 MID DAY GMT. Winners names will be drawn and announced 6PM GMT. Special thanks to Tony Earnshaw! Good Luck Everyone.

Copies can be purchased HERE

 

Friday, 23 August 2013

COMING UP THIS WEEKEND: BLU RAYS, MONOGRAPHS AND CANDIDS


Busy weekend coming up! Still time to enter the 'Evil of Frankenstein' blu ray competition, but we'll be announcing the winners this weekend. There's blu ray copies of ' Hammer Films 'The Brides of Dracula' from Final Cut Entertainment to be won. Four copies of Reel Solutions monograph 'Putting The Grand In Guignol' Limited Edition AND some terrific and rare candid photographs of 'someone' relaxing during the production of a Peter Cushing classic. Please join us.


Wednesday, 21 August 2013

PEARLS, POISON DARTS AND MURDER: PETER CUSHING AS SHERLOCK HOLMES IN 'THE SIGN OF FOUR'


A murder and stolen treasure pique the interest of Sherlock Holmes…

The Sign of Four, published in 1890, was the second of four Sherlock Holmes novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Though not quite so popular and oft referenced as, say, The Hound of the Baskervilles or even some of the short stories, it weaves a pleasingly complex, twist filled tale and has been adapted on numerous occasions.  The first known cinematic adaptation emerged in 1913, under the title Sherlock Holmes Solves The Sign of Four; it is now believed to be a lost film.  Another silent adaptation followed in 1923, as part of the Ellie Norwood series filmed in the UK.  The first sound version was released in 1932 and starred Arthur Wotner, who was arguably the preeminent interpreter of the role on screen until Basil Rathbone inherited the deerstalker in 1939.  Rathbone never had a go at The Sign of Four, and indeed it would remain untouched by producers until this 1968 adaptation for the BBC series, Sherlock Holmes. 



Later versions would hail from as far away as the-then USSR (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: The Treasures of Agra), and would even include an animated version (1983’s Sherlock Holmes and The Sign of Four, with Peter O’Toole voicing the great detective).  The best versions would later be done for British TV, however – first with Ian Richardson and David Healy as Holmes and Watson (1983), then with Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke essaying the roles (1987).  The 1968 version falls decidedly short of the excellence of those later versions, but is still worth seeing for Peter Cushing’s customarily accomplished portrayal of Holmes.


Of the six surviving episodes of Cushing’s tenure on the program, The Sign of Four is easily the weakest.  Part of this is down to the rather stiff, uninspired direction of William Sterling.  There is also trouble in the casting, with few of the actors measuring up to the standards of Cushing’s performance.  Even Cushing, it has to be noted, seems a bit off his game in a few scenes, lending credence to his own later complaint that the shooting schedule was too rushed to allow to him to do his best work.  Even so, it’s still a joy seeing him in the role, and Nigel Stock again proves to be a solid and dependable Watson.


On the downside, the use of a middle aged actor to play Watson works against the romantic subplot which was so crucial to the story.  Watson becomes smitten with the character of Mary Morstan, and indeed – as readers of the stories will be aware – he would later marry her.  This works perfectly well in Doyle’s story, as Watson is rather younger in Doyle’s conception – but the sight of avuncular Stock lusting after pretty Ann Bell comes off as awkward at best, creepy at worst.  Bell – who also costarred with Cushing in Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1964) – does a competent job in the role, but she has zero chemistry with Stock, and it’s just as well that his proposal to her at the end of the story was dropped from the screenplay adaptation.  Supporting actor honors go to John Stratton, another familiar face in the Cushing universe (he would go on to play the comically blustering asylum director in Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, 1972), who gives a good account of himself as the clueless and supercilious Inspector Jones.  Howard Goorney, a busy character actor whose credits include The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), Blood on Satan’s Claw (1970) and The Offence (1972), also shows up in a small role.


The Sign of Four is by no means an unmitigated disaster, but it definitely comes up a bit short compared to the other surviving episodes – and it looks very poor indeed compared to the earlier episodes starring Douglas Wilmer as Holmes.  It all comes off as a bit rushed and awkward, lurching in an uneven pace from one talky, prolonged set piece to one all too hurried a bit of action and intrigue.  Cushing gives a game attempt, but there are moments wherein he comes off as a little hammy and theatrical, reminding one of what a delicate balancing act it can be to play Holmes properly on screen.  It’s a difficult role, one which has defeated many fine actors, but happily this particular outing is not indicative of Cushing’s interpretation in general.  But even if he comes off a little poorly in a few scenes, Cushing’s inherent presence and charisma as an actor help to redeem this otherwise disappointing adaptation.


Images: Marcus Brooks
Review: Troy Howarth

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