The Return of Captain Clegg

inham6Quite how a film like Captain Clegg becomes subject of a double-dip is rather bizarre- its a wonderful little gem of a Hammer film but two copies on Blu-ray seems as financially irresponsible as NHS spending on PPE during the heights (depths?) of a pandemic. But who could have guessed back in 2014 when I bought the disc from Final Cut Entertainment that it would be part of a sixth Hammer boxset in 2021? Crikey, Indicator wasn’t a even a thing back then, and here it is rivalling Criterion in the boutique label arms race (if there was such a thing).

So anyhow, this is the fourth and last film in this sixth Hammer boxset that I’ve watched- last only because its the one that I’d seen before. Have to confess, re-watching the film after several years, I was surprised to realise just how good a film it is: certainly its a ravishing-looking film by Hammer standards, with some fine location photography boasting lovely golden light in some landscape shots that suggests considerable care and attention was made and the sets etc are really good too. Best of all, Peter Cushing is clearly relishing his role here and the result is one of his best performances in any Hammer- and he’s not alone, even Michael Ripper, a frequent Hammer veteran who can irritate sometimes, is possibly never any better than he is in this.

cleggI have often remarked that Peter Cushing would have been the perfect actor to play Robert E Howard’s puritanical anti-hero Solomon Kane, and its never clearer than here, when he was possibly the right age and eminently looks the part with his character’s own puritanical stylings (he plays village priest Reverend Blyss). There are moments that are uncanny; that jawline, those steely eyes… how ironic that Cushing himself probably never even heard of the character during his lifetime, totally ignorant of a role he seems born to have played. A trick of fate and  unfair timing, I guess, and certainly our loss- another one of those movie ‘what-ifs’ to haunt us film fans.

Captain Clegg (‘Night Creatures’ in the US) really is the little Hammer film that surpasses expectations, and clearly deserves the extra attention re: supplements that it gets in this Indicator release (which also ports across the extras from the earlier Final Cut edition). They even fixed the colour-timing issues that plagued the day-for-night shooting that  troubled that earlier release. Its a whole lot of fun and its such a pleasure to witness Peter Cushing in such fine form. I don’t think I’ll be waiting seven years for my next re-watch…

Out of the Fog (1962)

outfogThe fascination of British movies with jails and cons getting out into civilian life is quite a mystery to me, but here we go again, after Turn the Key Softly and The Price of Silence, with a shot of the exterior of a prison and an interior scene of a con being prepared for a return to the streets. Here its George Mallon (David Sumner) a fairly obnoxious and surly young man with a chip on his bitter shoulder. His bad mood and short temper aren’t helped when upon being freed he becomes a chief suspect for a series of murders of young women which occur at every full moon near the lodgings for ex-cons in which he lives.

Out of the Fog features a jazzy, typically crime-movie score from Ken Thorne, something I only mention because I recognised his name in the credits (he later scored the Superman II soundtrack when his friend John Williams dropped out following Richard Donner’s dismissal from that film). That, and the appearance of Michael Ripper, a frequent face in British films of the period, are possibly the only notable things I can raise about the film to be honest. Its a functional crime drama/morality play, and it maintains some minor tension at the end, but really the film suffers for its unlikable protagonist: a brave decision of the film-makers, I suppose, but it doesn’t work. If you don’t care for your lead, it leaves the drama rather lacking. The intention, I assume, was to maintain a “is he/isn’t he?” mystery at the end regards whether Mallon really is the culprit, and to maintain that they had to keep him looking suspicious. I’ll admit, my money was on Michael Ripper’s character, unlikely as that may sound, but it turned out to be someone else entirely. Maybe the film should score some points for steering me wrong.

X: The Unknown

xbOld films, never seen before, but containing familiar shades, faces from some other films or television shows. Dim recollection, sometimes breeding dull irritation, like an itch- I’ve seen this face before, what was it, when was it? Sometimes, a sudden flash of insight- Eureka!

Dean Jagger- an unlikely lead, really, for any film, which is only doubly refreshing, surely, but his appearance in Hammer’s X: The Unknown troubled me for most of the picture; only late on did I place him as the Army major general  in White Christmas, shot just a few years earlier. More a successful character actor than an actual movie star (although I later discovered to my surprise that he’d actually won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1949 for Twelve O’Clock High) I recognised him mostly from his late career appearing in many tv shows in the 1960s and 1970s in guest star roles – Twilight Zone, The Fugitive, Bonanza, Columbo, Kung Fu– as they eventually appeared on UK networks during my childhood.

X: The Unknown, meanwhile, was an early Hammer fantasy, released in 1956, and it proves to be a surprisingly effective sci-fi horror. It has a very modern feel, which shouldn’t be a surprise, really, because most of the appeal of Hammers subsequent, bigger successes -the 1957 Curse of Frankenstein and particularly its 1958 Dracula– was that they treated the subjects with very modern sensibilities, indeed so ‘modern’ that they largely hold up very well today. X: The Unknown is really no exception, and even though in details it may have dated somewhat, on the whole it feels very modern indeed. It dates from the Cold War era when the world was acutely afraid of the Atomic Bomb and all things radioactive (a common staple for 1950’s sci-fi b-movies). Set in the Scottish Highlands near a British Army base, some routine training drills uncover a blob-like creature that has risen out of the Earths crust and feeds on radiation, terrorising locals and growing larger, ultimately threatening the city of Inverness. Its really quite dark and while most of the horror is suggested, leaving stuff to audience imagination proves a major benefit, and indeed the glimpses of graphic horror when revealed prove both something of a surprise and very effective indeed with some gruesome make-up effects. The death count proves something of a shocker, too.

xaThe cast is pretty damn fine, considering Hammer’s limitations, really raising the film. Jagger, playing atomic scientist Dr Adam Royston (a rewritten Prof Bernard Quatermass from when the film was originally an intended sequel to the 1955 Hammer hit The Quatermass Xperiment) is an unlikely hero -middle-aged, bald, and minus any love interest- which proves very welcome, oddly enough (leads these days are much younger and muscle-bound and successful with the ladies). Alongside Jagger we have Leo McKern (most famous here in the UK for his long-running Rumpole of the Bailey television series) who is really fine indeed, and Edward Chapman (Norman Wisdom’s frequent comic foil Mr Grimsdale), a routine appearance of Hammer regular Michael Ripper, and even an early role for Frazer Hines (Dr Who, Emmerdale).

I found the film thoroughly entertaining and another reminder of why Hammer had such success over the years. Its a really well-crafted film, with a taut script, great performances and fine production qualities, and proves quite original, too, predating the similar (albeit more more popular) The Blob by a few years and taking itself much more seriously. Its a great horror-thriller and really impressive, and I’d love to see Indicator give it the treatment it deserves on a Blu-ray release someday.

X: The Unknown is currently streaming on Amazon Prime

 

The Pirates of Blood River

piratesbrA matter of perspective, it turns out, is everything when watching old catalogue titles such as this for the first time. Hammer’s The Pirates of Blood River is, on first viewing, a rather average adventure flick obviously limited by Hammer’s production abilities: part of the charm of Hammer’s films are its stable of familiar faces (here Christopher Lee, Michael Ripper, Oliver Reed) in front of the camera, and the familiar (re-used) sets that also return time and time again in various slightly re-tweaked guises. But films can’t always get by on such charms, and sometimes they come short- The Pirates of Blood River doesn’t have any ocean, or even have a coastline, never mind an actual pirate ship (bar what is evidently stock footage used over the main titles). As one might expect from a landlocked production shot entirely at Bray studios and the nearby Black Park Lake (and a sandpit) the film rather feels like a pirate film in name only and maybe Hammer pushing ambitions too far.

piratesbr2And yet perspective helps: after watching the film and feeling rather nonplussed (I swear Christopher Lee looks so totally bored throughout I felt sorry for him) I watched this Indicator disc’s special features and finally some of the magic of the film was finally unlocked for me. The Pirates of Blood River was released in the summer of 1962, in time for the school holidays and edited (originally) to achieve a ‘U’ rating ensuring schoolboys the country over could go watch it. It proved to be an absolute smash hit with its target audience and would lead to further such adventure films from Hammer. The perspective that this is really a children’s adventure film finally allowed me to understand the film: I think I was expecting one thing and got something else (certainly its more Enid Blyton than Robert E Howard) – I suspect I suffered some misdirection from the title and Hammer’s reputation for horror. Some of the cuts to ensure a ‘U’-cert were later restored and this version is evidently much stronger than the version that thrilled children back in 1962, but it obviously remains fairy tame stuff (one of the special features compares the cuts/alternate versions, and its pretty interesting).

So I’m certain that when I get around to re-watching this film I’ll most likely enjoy it much more than I did this first time around. Perspective really is everything, sometimes, in just the same way as expectations are too: so many times I watch a film expecting little and really enjoy it, and sometimes expect too much and am disappointed. This is a very good example of finely curated special features aiding the viewer to appreciate a film, and is a very good advert for such releases. Its sad how special features and elaborate releases like this fifth Hammer box-set from Indicator are becoming so much rarer these days (certainly becoming increasingly reserved for catalogue titles, with even new ‘blockbuster’ titles relegated to EPK extras that do the films little justice). If I’d just stumbled upon this film on a television airing or streaming channel I wouldn’t have gotten much out of it all. Instead it turns out to be a welcome addition to my Blu-ray collection of Hammer films and one I’m sure I’ll enjoy more next time around.

Captain Clegg (1962)

cleggAnyone who reads this blog will know my appreciation for the great Peter Cushing, and how I will make a point to watch anything that has him in it. Captain Clegg is a pulp thriller/boys own adventure yarn that was likely already out of fashion even when the film was released, but over fifty years later this does give it a certain old-school charm. Based on a series of Doctor Syn books from the 1930s/40s that Cushing himself was a big fan of, it tells the tale of coastal pirates/smugglers who work under the guise of marsh ghosts. Cushing is magnificent playing a village priest with an alter ego, full of wit and charm and a wicked triumphant grin whenever he has the upper hand. You can tell he had an absolute ball playing this character, there is a twinkle in his eye throughout.

Its all fairly tame and predictable compared to today’s standards but its a strong Hammer effort production-wise, with a great cast alongside Cushing (featuring some familiar Hammer faces such as Michael Ripper and Oliver Reed in an early supporting role). Its great fun, even if it will always be destined to (deservedly) sit in the shadow of Hammers more popular Dracula/Frankenstein movies. Its a wonder this ever managed to slip out onto Blu-ray at all, considering some of the ‘bigger’ films yet to get a release.

Some have complained that this is a 1080i release, with a ratio issue. Can’t say I really noticed (but then again I’m due at Specsavers next week so maybe I shouldn’t voice an opinion). The 1080i business no doubt results from a master source problem and while its regrettable, I hardly think a fairly obscure film such as this would get a new remaster. Eyesight withstanding, it looked fine to me. And its Peter Cushing at the top of his game. Come on; it’d be great in VHS on a black and white CRT, and this disc is cheap as chips. I’m just glad we got what we got. Its a fun little movie.