Who was Ronald Lewis?

Ronald_LewisWatching old movies, it’s like looking through the lens of a time machine, and can become a rather sobering experience at times. I’ve written about this before- watching an old film, being curious about an actor that I’ve just seen, looking them up on the internet, suddenly reading of an entire life and career summed up in a paragraph. How can an entire life be summed up within a few lines? Of course it can’t, it just leaves us with a tantalizing glimpse, and its human nature to just try fill in those gaps, haunted by those images from films, of lives frozen at that moment, actors/actresses unaware of the futures ahead of them that we can read now, looking back. In some ways it offers a horrifying perspective. Not every story ends well.

Last night I watched The Full Treatment (review coming later), another Hammer film from the recent Indicator Hammer boxset, and I was fascinated, somehow, by the performance of Ronald Lewis in the lead role. To a degree it was one of those have I/where have I seen him before? moments, but I must say I was very impressed by him in The Full Treatment, hamstrung slightly by an awkward script, and thought he looked a good leading man for the time. In looks he reminded me a little of the great Jack Lemmon. I suppose I was just curious why I hadn’t seen him in any other Hammer films, as Hammer seemed to have a group of actors that it used in so many films (Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing perhaps the most famous, but many other actors continually resurfaced in minor roles), and it seemed odd that Lewis didn’t  get used by them in other films (as it turned out, I learned that he turned up in another two Hammer films, The Taste of Fear, which I haven’t seen and is apparently superior to The Full Treatment and was much more successful. So Hammer did use him again, Lewis later appearing in 1965’s The Brigand of Kandahar, another Hammer I have not seen).

There was something, though, seeing The Full Treatment, and Ronald Lewis in his presumed prime, frozen in time over fifty years ago. So here again, obituaries offer glimpses of entire lives: Ronald Lewis, born 11 December 1928 in Port Talbot, Glamorgan (which would make him about 31 when he was filming The Full Treatment) died 11th January 1982, aged just 53, having committed suicide-  a drugs overdose, likely connected to having been declared bankrupt the year before. His life summed up as being a Welsh actor most famous for his work in the 1950s and 1960s, his films and television appearances listed. Its inferred he suffered from a drinking problem, with bad press from having allegedly assaulted his wife in 1965, and his career suffered a decline arising either from his bad image or his drinking affecting his work. IMDb alleges that  ‘he was known as an aggressive and perhaps unstable man, with a history of violence towards others, including women’. Two marriages, one child.

So who was Ronald Lewis? Of course, I have no real idea, and after so many years most of those who knew him are likely gone, too. Just the clues left, his life beyond those images from The Full Treatment summed up by a few scant lines. With The Full Treatment his career was still on the rise, a leading man in British film, a career soon to take a bad turn into slow decline, bankruptcy and suicide. But somehow he lives forever in film, frozen in time- in The Full Treatment, it will always be 1960.

In 1962, Lewis appeared in Twice Around the Daffodils, with Kenneth Williams, who in his diary dated 12th January 1982 reflected on the news of Lewis’ passing: “The paper says Ronald Lewis has taken an overdose! He was declared bankrupt last year! Obviously nobody offered him work & he was driven to despair. I remember Ronnie… and that drinking session at the White Horse all those years ago… he was a kind boy & people used him. He was 53.”

Watching old movies, it’s like looking through the lens of a time machine, and yes, it can be a sobering experience, measuring those years, catching glimpses of the lives on that screen.


Listening to: Ben Lukas Boysen

SpellsA few words about a recent discovery of mine- German composer and sound designer Ben Lukas Boysen, whose two albums Gravity and Spells have been on repeat play over the last few weeks, a somewhat fragile and moody soundtrack to my lengthier-than-usual commutes to and from work. I’m not sure exactly what I’d call it- classical ambient, maybe? Its hard to define. Basically he merges programmed piano pieces with delicately-structured soundscapes of real musical instruments and textures of electronic sound to create wonderfully evocative, rather dark and sombre pieces.  Full of echoes, delays and other manipulations of the music/sounds, yes, it is ambient but it also feels rather more than that. What I’m getting at is, if it is indeed ambient, then it is superior ambient (‘ambient’ is a musical genre that gets somewhat abused these days post-chillout etc and its easy to become tired of it and feel its all getting rather redundant, actually good ambient being quite a rarity).

The funny thing is, I couldn’t possibly tell you where I spotted this music or how Boysen came to my attention, it just seemed to fall into my lap whilst surfing the ‘net. Likely its from a recommendation on Amazon, having purchased Johann Johannsson music in the past, as in tone and mood it certainly has some kind of kinship. Maybe it’s just the magic of the internet- I’m always finding stuff like this by accident, lovely discoveries that might otherwise pass me by. In a way, they already have- Spells dates from 2016 and Gravity originally from 2013. Boysen has plenty of other works available, soundtracks etc, that he has created over the past several years, and I expect it will be interesting exploring much of it over the next few months. I love these musical journeys into something new.

gravityOne thing I will just add; the best place to order these two albums from (either on download or the old-fashioned physical cd that I prefer) is from the website of his label, erased tapes. where you’ll get some additional bonus tracks as well as downloads in FLAC etc as opposed to vanilla mp3. Its also a nice place to listen to samples etc. if you’re just curious. I’m certain that anyone who loves the music of Johann Johannsson (still can’t believe he’s gone) or ambient in general will find much to enjoy in Boysen’s music, particularly in these two albums.

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960)

neverThe title tells it all really- indeed,even today, giving a film a title like that feels progressive, audacious, almost subversive. It treads across a line somehow, some kind of moral/social taboo that really the film itself does too. Indeed, I was so very surprised by this film, expecting some kind of exploitation b-movie about child endangerment/molestation (as deplorable an approach as the subject itself) but instead this film turned out to be intelligent and restrained and, sadly, as relevant today as it was over fifty years ago. Indeed, perhaps even more so. When one considers some of the news headlines from the last few decades, all those scandals etc, then this film feels more provocative, more ahead-of-its-time and just plain brave, than it likely did back in 1960. I suppose audiences back in 1960 could fool themselves into thinking child molestation and murder were rare incidents in their modern society and the uncomfortable message of the film somewhat redundant in a modern, sane and responsible world. Unfortunately recent history would suggest otherwise.

Of course you cannot possibly seperate this film from the period in which it was made and it does regrettably feel a little dated in some respects, but in a way I guess that adds a sort of David Lynchian-otherness to the whole thing. Thinking about it, that feels rather fitting, considering that his Twin Peaks series shared some of this films themes regards the dark underbelly of modern society and child abuse etc.  But how odd to consider that Hammer did this film so many decades earlier! I wonder if Mark Frost/David Lynch were familiar with this film back when they started Twin Peaks.

At its heart, Never Take Sweets from a Stranger is a film about small-town politics and abuse of power as much as it is about child sex abuse, and also has a courtroom section as rivetting as any courtroom drama you will remember. Its quite a sophisticated film carefully dealing with the uncomfortable issues it raises, somewhat distancing itself from the more sensationalist Gothic horrors that Hammer is more famous for. Watching this so soon after being amazed by the excellent Cash on Demand (this Indicator Hammer boset is proving quite a revelation), makes me wonder that perhaps the box office successes of those Gothic horrors did Hammer something of a disservice, and lost British film of a voice and channel for important, thought-provoking quality films.

The chilling and quite gruesome denouement of this film is possibly one of the best of any Hammer horror, in fact, and this film has lingered in my head somewhat uncomfortably over the last few days since I saw it. Its quite an important British film, I think, and one terribly overlooked and criminally forgotten. Had Hitchcock, for instance, directed this, then yes in execution it would likely have been a better film, but also I think it might well have been as famous and notorious today as his own Psycho. Instead it seems to have been consigned to an obscure footnote in the history of Hammer, rather lost in the shadow of its glossier and more sensational horrors, but hopefully the wonderful treatment that the film has been given by Indicator here will raise the film’s standing somewhat and give its place in British film history some reconsideration.




Cash on Demand (1961)

codThere are few greater pleasures in film-watching than viewing a film for the first time that features the wonderful Peter Cushing, one of my very favourite actors.  Although Cushing sadly passed away back in 1994, his film career was so long and successful that he featured in over a hundred films, and I doubt I will have opportunity to see them all, but at least it assures that every year some ‘new’ film comes around that is blessed by Cushing’s presence.

Part of the latest Hammer box set from Indicator, Cash on Demand is a particularly special pleasure, in that it is a genuinely great British movie and that it also features one of the very best performances from Cushing that I have ever seen. Not bad considering its a film that I had heard so very, very little of before. Indeed, I suspect many Hammer fans have hardly heard of it, either. In this era in which so few ‘old’ films seem to get airings on British television, this release is a prime example of the importance of these kinds of catalogue releases on disc. Bravo Indicator, then, for this fabulous release.

Cash on Demand is a black and white drama that feels very much like a television play and that’s actually what its based upon- Jacque Gilles’ acclaimed television drama The Gold Inside which aired on British television in September 1960.  Fortunately the makers of the film refrained from ‘opening up’ the dramatic piece when transferring it to the big screen, allowing it to maintain its tense, almost claustrophobic feel and really allow the actors to take centre stage. Its the perfect ‘b’ movie.

A deliberate modern twist on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Cash on Demand centres upon Bank manager Harry Fordyce (Cushing) a fussy and petty man who runs his provincial branch very strictly with little consideration for his staff even in the run -up to Christmas. As the snow falls outside, ‘Colonel’ Hepburn (a devastatingly charming Andre Morell) enters the bank claiming to be an insurance investigator tasked by the Banks owners to test the branches security and the conduct of its staff, but he is actually a smooth bank robber with a ruthless streak. Convincing Fordyce that his wife and child at home are in the hands of Hepburn’s accomplices, who will kill them if Fordyce doesn’t cooperate, Hepburn tests Fordyce to the limit with his cunning plan to rob the entire contents of the bank’s vault during that otherwise very normal morning.

Its a very tense, very dramatic film with a brilliant script full of twists and turns and plenty of opportunity for Morell and Cushing to play off each other in an acting masterclass. I’ve rarely seen Cushing in particular in anything quite as impressive as this -really, that’s saying something in itself- and the way he plays his characters’ Scrooge-like cold offhandedness and allows it to crack and melt away under the intolerable strain of his situation is a real treat to behold. Morell, too, shows his mettle here as he demonstrates he is the equal to Cushing, disarmingly charming one moment and simply terrifying the next.  Its a brilliant, brilliant film and I really can’t wait to watch it again- indeed, I suspect this film will be a Christmas staple for many years to come.


The Netflix Conundrum


The Cloverfield Paradox: clearly pretty bad but it’s got a great Bear McCreary score that I would love to hear in context.

Altered Carbon: if ever a tv show was made for me, this one sounds like it- a great premise, good lead actor and solid production values.

Stranger Things: I still haven’t seen anything of it, which makes me feel like a social outcast in geekdom as everyone tells me its great (and then look at me rather strangely as if I’m one of those ‘Strange Things’ for having not seen it).

The Crown season two: wouldn’t say it was exciting me before, but having seen season one on disc, I’m more than curious to see what happens next. She ditches the corgis and raises some dragons instead, yeah? What, it’s not like GOT afterall?

Mute: Hey, bit of a mess from what I’m told but like the best of misfires, an intriguing one.

Annihilation: Alex Garland’s latest opus won’t be hitting cinemas afterall? What?

I think we’ve just hit Critical Mass folks. It goes against the grain, frankly, paying anything more to watch an increasingly fractured landscape of television programming (I swear, Sky Atlantic will never sully my tv ever…) but I finally may have met my match. I give up, I’m raising the white flag, I’m beat. They’ve even got The Expanse, that great sci-fi show I’ve had to import discs over from America in order to watch. Netflix may finally be coming to Ghost Hall in March…

The Mummy (2017)

mum2Oh dear. There is certainly something supernatural lurking within this movie, but that’s mostly Tom Cruise’s uncanny refusal to show much sign of ever aging. He could easily pass of as -and likely does in this movie too, though it’s never stated- as a guy in his mid/late ‘thirties, rather than someone who is actually 55. On the one hand, it’s a hugely impressive feat that he can carry off such physical roles with apparent grace. On the other, its a little disconcerting that his love interest in this film, English actress Annabelle Wallis, who is 33, could conceivably be young enough to be his daughter. Well, I guess that sort of thing is nothing new in Hollywood movies, but I do wonder how odd it might have looked had his love-interest been played by an actress of the same age as Cruise.

Related to this, here again I was partly distracted by a familiar face, knowing that I’d seen Annabelle Wallis (who is very good here, by the way, in a fairly underwritten role that she is clearly too good for), somewhere before. It was only after watching this film in its entirety though  that I finally discovered that she had been in that operatic brutalizer of historical fact, the tv series The Tudors, in which she damn near stole the show as Jane Seymour. But that ‘where have I seen her before’ mystery was rather distracting.

In all honesty though, it’s easy to get distracted by anything when watching something as fairly dire as this woefully ill judged addition to the list of Mummy films. You have a genuine superstar (whose star, admittedly, may be on the wane) in Tom Cruise in the lead, a great star-in-the-making with Annabelle Wallis, a fairly solid supporting cast that includes Russell Crowe doing his best Nick Fury, with a budget of $125 million to keep the blockbuster spectacle top-notch. You then saddle it with a reprehensible turkey of a script that makes Tobe Hooper’s Life Force look like a genuine classic.

Who writes this stuff? There is this magical dagger with a red stone in its hilt which, if used to kill ‘Chosen One’ Tom Cruise, will bring about the End Of The World by ushering in Egyptian God of Evil Set into the world. Russell Crowe wants to avert this calamity by, er, killing Tom Cruise with this magical dagger with a red stone in its hilt. Tom Cruise ultimately averts this crisis by, er, killing himself with this magical dagger with a red stone in its hilt. And then, er, smashing that red stone so no-one can do this again.  Somehow, instead of dying and his body being immortaly possessed by the Evil God Set, Tom then becomes, well, Tom with the ability to resurrect the dead whilst setting off on a quest to cure himself of said immortality (that’s another movie, and one we aren’t ever going to see, I suspect).

Maybe i missed something. To be honest, Tom was pretty much immortal from the time his military plane was crashed into the English countryside by Egyptian Princess/Mummy in residence Ahmanet. Instead of his body being smashed to pieces and burnt to a crisp he instead wakes up in the morgue perfectly fine without a scratch. Having therefore demonstrated that he has gone all Captain Scarlett he is simply allowed to walk out of the morgue without any consternation from doctors or staff and goes to the nearest pub for a drink.

At this point in the proceedings I realised I was indeed in Life Force territory, not only regards the nonsensical plot but in how Ahmanet sucks the life-force out of her victims and recruits them as zombie stooges. And also in how Ahmanet has gotten ‘into’ Tom’s head in a similar fashion to how the space vampire got into our hero Tom Carlsen’s (hey, another ‘Tom’) head in Life Force with all sorts of head-spinning logic twists ensuing. Infact, the LIfe Force nods just keep on coming, they even manage to put London under threat again. They throw in some American Werewolf In London too, with Tom’s best mate coming back as a ghost to chat with him a few times. Its a real mess of a movie, a spiritual successor to Life Force indeed.

Biggest mystery is what in the world Tom Cruise is doing in this movie. He’s a canny film producer and surely can sniff out turkeys such as this at the script stage. Perhaps he was simply more interested in launching another film franchise rather than, ahem, a decent film. But this is such a bad choice for him, its weird. Its so bad, why wasn’t that obvious from the script? How do films like this get made?

The hell with this rubbish. I’ve already devoted too much time to it writing this post. This film is such a major misfire it actually makes the DC films look good. Its really that bad- I suppose the one good thing is that’s that for the Dark Universe series then, whilst we’ll be inflicted by DC movies for a few years yet.


Ghosts in the corners, and well done, Ridley!

roomThe building where I have worked for the past 25, going on 26, years is being demolished, to be replaced by something newer/cheaper/more impermanent, which has necessitated in being temporarily relocated to a building towards the city centre and trips up and down busy motorway at an ungodly hour. Unfortunately this has impacted on the frequency of my posting here, and I suspect will continue to do so, which is why I’m writing this post. Hopefully things will return to normal in a few months.

I feel a bit like Noodles in Sergio Leone’s masterpiece Once Upon A Time In America; I’m spending my days going to bed early. Five am is a lousy time to be getting up, and cold dark February mornings trying to beat the peak motorway traffic (and usually failing, as like the eponymous city, the motorway never sleeps, and that traffic just keeps on rolling) is a depressing way to start any day. Back end of the week, thirteen to fourteen-hour days have a way of wearing you out. Oh well, as the song goes, a change is gonna come, but I’m sure these long days were rather easier years ago. None of us are getting any younger, and neither are our movies- did someone mention that Blade Runner is 36 years old this year?

Changes. They have a way of sneaking up on you. Where do 25 years go? That last Friday evening, when I walked the empty corridors and rooms of that old building, alone in the shell of what was once a bustling, vibrant building full of people (in truth, it’s been a long slow decline towards this inevitable end, but when I started there back in 1992, it was something else entirely. It was like every corner, every room, was full of ghosts. I could almost hear them in the suddenly echoey, empty rooms; old voices and laugher, lurking like ghosts in the corners.

The majority of the building had been emptied in preparation of the demolition teams and asbestos removal experts (the building dates from the 1950s/1960s and the building practices of unwiser times), so most of it was already a dim shadow of its former self of decades ago. In the early nineties, the canteen/mess room on a Friday evening such as this would be bustling, like a working men’s social club minus the booze- smoke hanging the air, men playing cards, shooting their mouths off, watching the television bolted high in a corner… voices long gone, now. And soon the building with them.

riddersI mentioned that Blade Runner is 36 years old this year. Last night at this years BAFTA, Ridley Scott -sorry, Sir Ridley Scott- was given a BAFTA Fellowship award, marking his 40 years in the film business. Well surely it’s longer than that, when did The Duellists come out, 1977 wasn’t it?  Well, whats a year or two? Nice to see Ridley up there taking an BAFTA award for once -the first time, in fact, according to him, and he was certainly visibly moved by the occasion.  A video segment with clips from many of his films demonstrated two things – one: that they may not all have been brilliant, but it’s one hell of a body of work for any director to have behind him, and two: bloody hell I’m getting old, I’ve seen most of them at cinemas over the years, many of them at cinemas that no longer even exist. Here we go again, demolished buildings.

At least in LA 2019 they had the good sense to retrofit them rather than demolish them.

It was nice, too, to see Blade Runner 2049 pick up two awards at least. Roger Deakins award for cinematography was no great surprise (although the huge injustice if he had failed to win might have broken the internet for a few hours “suddenly a great wail was heard, as if a million film geeks had cried out and were suddenly silenced…”) but the visual effects award was a pleasant surprise. Its fully deserved, but I rather feared the more ‘showy’ spectacles of  films like The Last Jedi might have trumped it. I do feel rather aggrieved that it didn’t win for Best Sound though. I think the sound design in BR2049 is just sublime, its gorgeous, like an aural painting, a sound canvas if you will that’s equal to the rightly-lauded Deakins cinematography.

Well, two awards isn’t bad. Blade Runner won three, mind, back in 1983…(it didn’t win for sound back then, either, which is a similar grand injustice- they gave that one to the team behind the Pink Floyd movie The Wall, go figure…).

Moreover, it didn’t win for Best Visual Effects either- they gave that one to Poltergeist.

I know. Poltergeist. I mean, sure, its a good film and the effects were nice for the time… still are, I guess, but come on, Blade Runner‘s effects are in a whole different league.

Awards never get it right, every film geek knows that, just wait for Oscars to upset everyone. The Oscars REALLY know how to not get it right. They gave the Best Visual Effects that year to E.T. for goodness sake. Bloody E.T. I’ll never make my peace with that film.