Donald Pleasence

You Only Live Twice (1967, Lewis Gilbert)

My wife walked out on You Only Live Twice. She got up and left about forty minutes in. I finished it because I figured forty minutes was halfway and I could make it. It was tough.

The film’s memorable because of the beginning, where James Bond dies. It’s an interesting scene, even though it’s never explained. The ninjas are sort of memorable, but not specifically, because it’s a lame scene.

What stunned me about the film was how sexist it is. For a James Bond movie to be stunningly sexist, it has to be really sexist. The lack of distinguishable personalities for the two female leads–who, incidentally, were both in King Kong vs. Godzilla. Then there’s the scene where Bond’s Japanese counterpart makes a nasty remark about Moneypenny and Bond doesn’t defend her as a colleague. Also, there’s a lengthy sequence about Bond refusing his mission because he doesn’t think he’s going to get a pretty fake wife.

There are some cool sets at the end. It’s amazing how big Pinewood is–I can’t think of any other film, except maybe Eyes Wide Shut, making the studio seem so big.

Sean Connery’s bored.

Lewis Gilbert’s direction is lousy. I got excited when I saw Gilbert’s name too; he must have learned subtlety later in his career.

The music’s okay.

The action sequence with the helicopter is good.

The plot lacks any movement, with Bond hanging out in Japan the entire runtime.

It’s boring me even to talk about it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lewis Gilbert; screenplay by Roald Dahl and Harold Jack Bloom, based on the novel by Ian Fleming; director of photography, Freddie Young; music by John Barry; production designer, Ken Adam; produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman; released by United Artists.

Starring Sean Connery (James Bond), Wakabayashi Akiko (Aki), Hama Mie (Kissy Suzuki), Tamba Tetsuro (Tiger Tanaka), Shimada Teru (Mr. Osato), Karin Dor (Helga Brandt), Donald Pleasence (Ernst Stavro Blofeld), Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Charles Gray (Dikko Henderson) and Chin Tsai (Ling).


Halloween II (1981, Rick Rosenthal), the television version

Halloween II–if it isn’t the worst film John Carpenter ever worked on in some capacity–certainly features Carpenter’s worst script. There isn’t a single well-written conversation in the entire picture–the closest one is a couple young women talking; presumably co-writer Debra Hill wrote that conversation–and then it’s one of the handful of scenes Carpenter himself directed. It’s a fine scene, maybe the single scene in the entire film similar to the excellent character moments in the first one.

But it’s hard to compare Halloween II to its predecessor. While Hill and Carpenter produced this film, like they did the first one, and wrote the screenplay, like they did the first one, it’s a completely different approach. It feels more like an imitation–an ignorant one–than a sequel to the original film. The pacing is all different, the emphasis is on physical danger as opposed to fear. The dialogue’s atrocious–the television version adds more screen time for Jamie Lee Curtis (whose wig looks awful) and it doesn’t help the film any. Curtis is playing a completely different character than the first time around; her character doesn’t have an arc. The film starts and stops with her, but it’s trading on sentiment from the first one. There’s no reason to care if she makes it, not after the film brutally murders a bunch of other characters.

Even with the crappy script, however, there’s no way the film can survive the direction. It’s unclear how much influence Carpenter had over Rosenthal’s choices–Carpenter’s regular cinematographer, Dean Cundey, shows up for this outing and at least makes it look beautiful–but someone’s responsible for the mess. Rosenthal’s always showing Michael Myers–poorly played here by Dick Warlock, but some of the fault lies with Rosenthal’s handling of the character. There’s no uncanny factor anymore, there’s Michael Myers playing a joke on an old lady. Or something along those lines. It’s just goofy.

Besides wearing the wig, Curtis doesn’t have much to do. She needs to scream occasionally, but nothing else. The script saddles Donald Pleasence with some terrible dialogue–so bad even he can’t deliver it. Neither Curtis nor Pleasence have a character anymore. Halloween II is practically real time–it should have been, thinking about it, and set against Night of the Living Dead–which lets Hill and Carpenter get away with a character development-free ninety minutes.

Charles Cyphers is good in a too small role, as is Jeffrey Kramer (in a minute role). Gloria Gifford’s okay as a hospital administrator and Leo Rossi has a couple good deliveries. Lance Guest is lousy–and his character seems kind of stupid for someone Rossi calls “Mr. College.” The rest of the supporting cast stinks… Actually, there aren’t any good performances in the entire film–except Cyphers and Kramer. Hunter von Leer is particularly terrible.

When the movie starts, with the recap of the original’s ending–followed by some terrible dialogue–and then lengthy opening titles… it almost pauses any judgment. Sure, the dialogue’s crappy, but it’s just in the one scene, there’s no way to know it’s the standard for the rest of the film. During the first third, Rosenthal’s direction–mimicking Carpenter’s–isn’t terrible. Maybe it’s Charles Cyphers’s presence–even though the script’s so stupid, so full of holes, it’s hard not to trip–but it doesn’t seem too terrible. Then it gets to the hospital and gets stupider in every way possible. Even some unimaginable ways.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rick Rosenthal; written and produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Mark Goldblatt and Skip Schoolnik; music by Carpenter and Alan Howarth; production designer, J. Michael Riva; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode), Donald Pleasence (Dr. Sam Loomis), Charles Cyphers (Sheriff Leigh Brackett), Jeffrey Kramer (Graham), Lance Guest (Jimmy Lloyd), Pamela Susan Shoop (Karen Bailey), Hunter von Leer (Deputy Gary Hunt), Leo Rossi (Budd), Gloria Gifford (Mrs. Alves), Tawny Moyer (Nurse Jill Franco), Ana Alicia (Janet Marshall), Ford Rainey (Dr. Frederick Mixter), Cliff Emmich (Mr. Garrett) and Nancy Stephens (Marion Chambers).


Halloween (1978, John Carpenter)

Halloween is a technical masterpiece. It’s absolutely spectacular to watch. Carpenter’s composition is fantastic, but Dean Cundey’s cinematography and the editing–from Tommy Lee Wallace and Charles Bornstein–creates this uneasy, surreal experience. The way Carpenter uses the wind in the film is probably my favorite, since he establishes it early on and keeps it going until the very end. It’s transfixing.

There are some great performances–Jamie Lee Curtis’s character arc is spectacular, Nancy Kyes is excellent. Donald Pleasence is solid and the film’s too good for P.J. Soles and (surprisingly) Charles Cyphers to damage it. Soles is just annoying, but Cyphers just can’t deliver his lines with the gravity Pleasence can–most of their scenes are together–and Cyphers comes off poorly because of it.

If it seems like I’m listing all the positives about Halloween, I am.

I first watched Halloween when I was eleven or twelve and wasn’t at all impressed (first, I was eleven or twelve and, second, I was watching a pan and scan VHS). In fact, I liked the second one more at the time (strangely, the same thing happened–around that time–with Jaws). A few years later, after I’d started to discover Carpenter’s other work, I went back to Halloween and came to appreciate it much like I did on this viewing. It’s a technical marvel.

But it’s got a weak plot.

The script’s strong–Debra Hill writes the female characters extremely well–watching Curtis at the end, it’s hard to think of any Hollywood film with such a strong female character until Aliens. Carpenter shoots every scene perfectly, but there’s something off.

Halloween, intended as a one-time picture, became the first horror franchise. Watching the film, even if one knows Carpenter didn’t intend it, he enabled that franchise. As the film progresses–it’s a perfectly paced ninety minutes–it becomes clearer and clearer the strongest point is Curtis and her reactions. Had the film centered on her experience, never making the bogeyman real until the end, it would have been a far superior film. It would have run only forty-two minutes, but it would be amazing.

The problem is how Carpenter shoots it. He relies entirely on his score to create fear in the viewer and it doesn’t work. The score’s effective and the theme’s good, but it doesn’t compliment the foreboding scenes. These scenes, with Carpenter shooting them matter-of-factly, are somewhat too well-made to be scary. They’re too visually beautiful. Carpenter lets his talent for composition get in the way of the story’s need to creep out the viewer.

He never even gets around to the weight of the film’s content. When characters die on screen, Carpenter doesn’t pause to give the viewer time to reflect. It’s an intentional move, but it’s a wrong one. The lack of emotional connection at that moment removes the viewer from the film and makes the artifice of the experience apparent.

Every time I start Halloween, just before it starts, I think it’s going to be better than I remember it. Every time, it’s about the same. For all the film’s successes, there’s a misguided creative impulse in the mix as well–and those successes can’t overpower it.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; written by Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Tommy Lee Wallace and Charles Bornstein; music by Carpenter; production designer, Wallace; produced by Hill; released by Compass International Pictures.

Starring Donald Pleasence (Dr. Sam Loomis), Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode), Nancy Kyes (Annie Brackett), P.J. Soles (Lynda van der Klok), Charles Cyphers (Sheriff Leigh Brackett), Kyle Richards (Lindsey Wallace), Brian Andrews (Tommy Doyle), John Michael Graham (Bob Simms), Nancy Stephens (Marion Chambers), Arthur Malet (Graveyard Keeper), Mickey Yablans (Richie), Brent Le Page (Lonnie Elamb), Adam Hollander (Keith), Robert Phalen (Dr. Terence Wynn), Tony Moran (Michael Myers, age 23), Will Sandin (Michael Myers, age 6), Sandy Johnson (Judith Margaret Myers), David Kyle (Judith’s Boyfriend), Peter Griffith (Morgan Strode) and Nick Castle (The Shape).


Ground Zero (1987, Michael Pattinson and Bruce Myles)

Ground Zero opens with a title card attesting to the film’s historical relevance. The intended effect is apparently to convince the viewer of the film’s authenticity and plausibility. So, for a film featuring a cameraman who can outfight spies, Ground Zero is completely plausible until the helicopter shows up. Not the first helicopter, but the second one… in a scene straight out of Capricorn One.

The film’s first act gradually–almost in a Hitchcockian vein–introduces the viewer to the cameraman and his present situation. We find out a lot about him through nice disguised exposition (messages left on the answering machine) and because Colin Friels gives such a good leading man performance, even some of the cute stuff is acceptable. It’s probably fifteen or sixteen minutes before the first completely implausible thing happens and, when it does, it’s so well-handled, it didn’t raise my eyebrows until I got to thinking about it.

There’s a lot more preposterous scenes, but the opening text, the first act and Friels make it all seem reasonable. He really can figure it out, he really can sneak into a secure area. Maybe, as an American viewer, I just assume the Australian government doesn’t have much in the way of security measures.

Regardless, until the final third of the film, it’s going rather well.

Besides Friels, there’s Jack Thompson, who gives a nice, conflicted performance. When Donald Pleasence shows up, he’s got some nice scenes too… even if they do culminate in him shooting at a helicopter with a rifle.

The end works on some levels and fails on others. The one it works on is the non-fantastic level Ground Zero doesn’t seem to be going for–the emphasis on Friels and his son, which occasionally feels like hyperbole, comes through at the end rather effectively. So much so, it becomes one of the film’s handful of mini-cliffhangers. A number of threads go unresolved for no sensical reason, other than any explanation would be impossible in the narrative. There’s not really enough mysteriousness to them for me, but I can understand it. In a government conspiracy film–a straightforward one aiming for plausibility–the enigma level has to be kept low.

Where Ground Zero is most effective is the direction. Pattinson and Myles have solid composition throughout, really fetishizing the filmmaking gear. There’s a shot at the beginning with a Panavision camera–the film’s shot in Panavision–and it’s a clear reference. The wide frame works beautifully for the scenes on the outback, but most interesting is not the non-landscape shots. Instead, it’s the ones where Friels is alone. Friels spends a lot of the movie investigating and uncovering–Ground Zero‘s a nice detective movie in its way–and so he’s got the frame to himself a lot of the time. Myles and Pattinson give Friels a fine space to inhabit and he does.

Ground Zero‘s more a thriller than an action movie, but it’s failings are more common to the action movie. But the guy discovering something’s wrong and trying to uncover it is a thriller standard. Maybe that incongruity is the reason it doesn’t work as well as it should.

But there’s also that helicopter. There’s not much to be done with a helicopter.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Pattinson and Bruce Myles; written by Mac Gudgeon and Jan Sardi; director of photography, Steve Dobson; edited by David Pulbrook; music by Tom Bahler; production designer, Brian Thomson; produced by Pattinson; released by Avenue Pictures.

Starring Colin Friels (Harvey Denton), Jack Thompson (Trebilcock), Donald Pleasence (Prosper Gaffney), Natalie Bate (Pat Denton), Burnham Burnham (Charlie), Simon Chilvers (Commission president), Neil Fitzpatrick (Hooking) and Bob Maza (Walemari).


Prince of Darkness (1987, John Carpenter)

I’d forgotten Prince of Darkness‘s more fanciful notions–Jesus the space alien, still sent to Earth to save us from the Devil, but this time, the Devil’s kind of a space alien too (or not)–and its less creative ones (the Devil uses projectile vomit to posses people). It’s Carpenter at his strangest, the late 1980s period, where he made low budget pseudo b-movies. Prince of Darkness isn’t really a b-movie, if only because Carpenter’s intent, the one unaffected by budget constraints, is quite visible. But also visible are the realities of making Prince of Darkness for its budget.

What’s unfortunate about the film is Carpenter’s lack of inventiveness. Compared to what Carpenter did in the late 1970s, Prince of Darkness feels like a TV movie, only a really well-directed one. Instead of relishing in the low budget, Carpenter tries to work around it, tries to draw attention away from some of the obvious giveaways–the movies set in this church with at least three floors, but after a while… we only see one floor, like sets had to be dismantled. Or the exterior shots of the church, with the menacing homeless people. After a while, they’re only in a couple places (the disappearing Alice Cooper is a whole different discussion).

Or just the closed concept of the film. It deals with the end of the world where signs of imminent destruction are plentiful. Except there are no scenes or shots of regular people noticing these signs. Carpenter lays a framework similar to the modern disaster and destruction movie, but can’t fill it in with the fluff those movies rely on. Instead, it’s a creepy feel–which comes together a few times throughout and really well at the end–accentuated with his familiar synthesizer score. And the goofy reasoning behind the movie.

Much of Prince of Darkness‘s philosophizing sounds like Carpenter just copied his notes unedited. His cast are generally believable as physics majors, but smart undergraduate… certainly not doctoral candidates. However, Carpenter’s got some really sharp dialogue in the film, which is a pleasant surprise.

The best performances are Dennis Dun and Victor Wong, as they’ve got most of the film’s best lines. Jameson Parker and Lisa Blount, as the young(ish) lovers, are okay but nothing more. Poor Donald Pleasence has almost nothing to do. The rest of the cast varies. The ones who end up zombies more so then others. But soon-to-be Carpenter regular Peter Jason is good.

Where Prince of Darkness pulls itself together is the end. Carpenter lifts a lot from his other films for this one’s sequences–Assault on Precinct 13 and The Thing–but even that unoriginal approach can’t affect his skill. The last twenty minutes, even accounting for Dun not trying to break through a wall from his side, just letting Parker and company come through the opposite, is great. There are some make-up problems–budget–and some silly script stuff, but Carpenter knows how to make it work and he does.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by John Carpenter; director of photography, Gary B. Kibbe; edited by Steve Mirkovich; music by Carpenter in association with Alan Howarth; production designer, Daniel A. Lomino; produced by Larry J. Franco; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Donald Pleasence (Father Loomis), Jameson Parker (Brian Marsh), Victor Wong (Prof. Howard Birack), Lisa Blount (Catherine Danforth), Dennis Dun (Walter), Susan Blanchard (Kelly), Anne Marie Howard (Susan Cabot), Ann Yen (Lisa), Ken Wright (Lomax), Dirk Blocker (Mullins), Jessie Lawrence Ferguson (Calder) and Peter Jason (Dr. Paul Leahy).


Ground Zero (1987, Michael Pattinson and Bruce Myles)

Until the current administration, I could always take comfort knowing the British probably did more terrible things than the Americans ever could. For instance, they might test atomic bombs in Australia and radiate the aborigines, which is the public service announcement of Ground Zero. It isn’t only a PSA, it’s also a reasonably thrilling thriller and a strange father and son story. But the relevance–the British trying to cover up killing a bunch of innocent people–makes Ground Zero an odd film. By all other elements, it’s an Australian take on the mid-1980s thriller–it was shot in Panavision (though the only releases to date have been pan and scan and it’s obvious there’s often something or someone missing) and it’s got a really annoying, mid-1980s synthesizer score booming throughout… sometimes too loud to hear dialogue.

But it’s a good mystery thriller. It fetishizes filmmaking a little–the camera operators in particular–and its handling of that material is very cool. It actually goes just the right amount into it, which is a pleasant change. The political element takes the film over at a certain point and it’s an immediate change in tone, but there’s a solid foundation, both due to script and Colin Friels.

Friels’s performance–complete with a mid-1980s, Australian semi-mullet–allows Ground Zero to operate on its three levels (suspenseful thriller, politically relevant piece, and son searching for his father). None of the three levels gets quite the attention they need or deserve, but Friels makes them all work together–he convinces he’s a father trying to be better for his son, while still confused about his own father, he convinces he’s a regular guy in the middle of the political intrigue (Hitchcock wisely wrapped his situations in a layer of artiface, something Ground Zero might have benefitted greatly from doing), and also the movie star. Friels is a leading man movie star, but he’s also able to be someone’s father (something American movie stars do not do well–or at all anymore… Clooney hasn’t been a parent since he hit the big time).

The other performances, particularly Jack Thompson, are very good. Donald Pleasence has a small role and, even though the script fails him, he has some excellent moments.

I remember the film being more of a “wow,” but it has been at least seven–maybe nine–years since I last saw it. It’s incredibly solid though and sometimes solid is good enough.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Pattinson and Bruce Myles; written by Mac Gudgeon and Jan Sardi; director of photography, Steve Dobson; edited by David Pulbrook; music by Tom Bahler; production designer, Brian Thomson; produced by Pattinson; released by Avenue Pictures.

Starring Colin Friels (Harvey Denton), Jack Thompson (Trebilcock), Donald Pleasence (Prosper Gaffney), Natalie Bate (Pat Denton), Burnham Burnham (Charlie), Simon Chilvers (Commission president), Neil Fitzpatrick (Hooking) and Bob Maza (Walemari).


The Black Windmill (1974, Don Siegel)

The Black Windmill features Michael Caine and John Vernon shooting it out with Uzis. I’m sorry, I’m wrong. They’re shooting it out with MAC-10s. It’s an absurdity worthy of Siegel’s directorial protege Clint Eastwood–actually, Eastwood might have been paying homage to Siegel’s choice of lunacy here in Blood Work (when the serial killer happened to have an M-16 handy). Without Eastwood the star, however, Siegel is lost. The Black Windmill is excruciatingly boring. Something about the way it’s shot makes it unpleasant to watch. It’s too muddy and Siegel’s out of place shooting in London. He feels like he’s shooting a tourist film, not something natural.

Shockingly, the film does offer one of Michael Caine’s finest performances. Really. The script occasionally fails him, especially when it comes to the story between him and his wife (played by Janet Suzman, who fluctuates). It’s too short on the character relationship and too heavy on the bad intrigue. There are some nice performances in the film–Donald Pleasence is great as Caine’s suspicious, clumsy, neat-nick boss. Joss Ackland shows up for a few minutes and is real good. John Vernon is terrible. I once tried watching this film… ten years ago, probably, and Vernon’s scenes probably made me turn it off. He does accents (poorly) and then he’s just in the film far too long. John Vernon is fine, so long as he’s not around too long. He’s around way too long in The Black Windmill.

Some of Siegel’s work–just the shot construction–is really nice. The action scenes are mostly crap, just because he’s so out of his element, but he takes a sensitivity to the actual relationship between Caine and Suzman–Caine’s a spy whose son is kidnapped (it makes no sense, which is why I didn’t bother bringing it up earlier)–and it’s a sensitively I’m not used to seeing from Siegel. It’s a sparse sensitivity, but I would have loved to have seen more. Instead, there’s three or four chase scenes and a shootout. With John Vernon and Michael Caine and machine pistols….

1/4

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Don Siegel; screenplay by Leigh Vance, based on a novel by Clive Egleton; director of photography, Outsama Rawl; edited by Antony Gibbs; music by Roy Budd; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael Caine (Maj. John Tarrant), Joseph O’Conor (Sir Edward Julyan), Donald Pleasence (Cedric Harper), John Vernon (McKee), Janet Suzman (Alex Tarrant), Delphine Seyrig (Ceil Burrows) and Joss Ackland (Chief Superintendent Wray).


The Eagle Has Landed (1976, John Sturges), the extended version

We all know Winston Churchill wasn’t kidnapped or assassinated during World War II–except maybe President Bush, but he’s still waiting for John Rambo to call with info on Osama–so The Eagle Has Landed‘s ending is a bit of a give-away. The film succeeds–to some degree–since it presents the audience with characters they care so much about, the concern for their futures outweighs the known past.

There’s some good acting in The Eagle Has Landed. Donald Sutherland’s Irish accent is a little much, but he’s fine, so’s Michael Caine. Robert Duvall is so good–so amazingly good–I debated getting a copy for my collection. The beginning, the Nazi politics and the planning of the mission, all good. But once the film gets to England, it all goes sour. Once Larry Hagman shows up as an unexperienced American commander, well, you’re glad when he gets it….

John Sturges is good at making the audience identify with the “enemy.” Making you care about them on a human level. He does it with the Nazis here and in The Great Escape and with Confederates in Escape from Fort Bravo. Sturges doesn’t believe that a country’s ideology makes the man–the soldier. All Quiet on the Western Front presents a similar argument, so does The Thin Red Line and even Saving Private Ryan (or so the reviews said, I always read the lullaby scene differently). Sturges creates awkward emotions inside you during this film. The good guy getting killed feels good because he’s the antagonist. When the double agent dies, you’re sorry for her. It’s a big story told on very human levels (Jenny Agutter almost ruins it, of course).

The Eagle Has Landed was Sturges’ last film. The one before was the unbelievably bad John Wayne-Dirty Harry rip-off McQ. I knew I had negative thoughts about Sturges for some reason other than The Magnificent Seven, which was just mediocre. I have a lot of his films recorded, but haven’t seen that many. Probably five or six. But Sturges is good.

And Robert Duvall. Wow. I’m looking through Netflix right now.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by John Sturges; screenplay by Tom Mankiewicz, based on a novel by Jack Higgins; director of photography, Anthony Richmond; edited by Anne V. Coates; music by Lalo Schifrin; produced by Jack Wiener and David Niven Jr.; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Michael Caine (Col. Kurt Steiner), Donald Sutherland (Liam Devlin), Robert Duvall (Col. Max Radi), Jenny Agutter (Molly Prior), Donald Pleasence (Heinrich Himmler), Anthony Quayle (Adm. Wilhelm Canaris), Jean Marsh (Joanna Grey), Sven-Bertil Taube (Captain von Neustadt), Judy Geeson (Pamela Verecker), Siegfried Rauch (Sergeant Brandt), John Standing (Father Verecker), Treat Williams (Capt. Harry Clark) and Larry Hagman (Colonel Pitts).


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