Robert Baker

The Trollenberg Terror (1958, Quentin Lawrence)

The importance of the director, in cinema, used to be a topic of discussion for me. It hasn’t been lately, because it’s hard to find good examples of well-scripted, well-acted, but terribly directed motion pictures. Thank goodness for The Trollenberg Terror and Quentin Lawrence. Lawrence might be the most boring bad director I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t have a single moment of inventiveness, good or bad, in Trollenberg and it’s astounding the film actually achieves moments of suspense. It only achieves one–in the last fifteen minutes–but still… it’s unexpected.

Trollenberg‘s script–from Hammer hack Jimmy Sangster–isn’t terrible. Sangster was adapting a television serial, so there’s a lot of content and potential (the serial is, unfortunately, unavailable). The film’s setting–a mysteriously terrorized mountain resort–is fantastic, so Sangster (and even Lawrence to a point) don’t have to do much work. The cast is mostly solid, with the principles selling their characters.

I’m not sure if Forrest Tucker is a good actor or gives a good performance, but it’s an authoritative one and that aspect makes it work. Laurence Payne is a likable reporter. Jennifer Jayne and Janet Munro are solid damsels in distress, though the pairing off of them with Tucker and Payne, respectively, is absurd.

Even Warren Mitchell is all right and he’s got an absurd accent to go with his unbelievably knowledgeable scientist (he hypnotizes as well as studies geology and cosmic radiation).

The Trollenberg Terror deserved a far better director (and budget).



Directed by Quentin Lawrence; screenplay by Jimmy Sangster, based on the television serial written by Peter Key; director of photography, Monty Berman; edited by Henry Richardson; music by Stanley Black; produced by Robert S. Baker and Berman; released by Eros Films.

Starring Forrest Tucker (Alan Brooks), Laurence Payne (Philip Truscott), Jennifer Jayne (Sarah Pilgrim), Janet Munro (Anne Pilgrim), Warren Mitchell (Prof. Crevett), Frederick Schiller (Mayor Klein), Andrew Faulds (Brett), Stuart Saunders (Dewhurst), Colin Douglas (Hans) and Derek Sydney (Wilde).

Special (2006, Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore)

Michael Rapaport’s kind of floundered through Hollywood for the last fifteen years. It seems like he would have been a great 1970s character actor–twenty years too late, he ended up on a sitcom. Special‘s probably his best performance; he inhabits the role of a lonely schlub who makes fun of himself for still reading comics, never asks out the girl he likes and never stands up to anyone. Then he gets a magic pill and becomes a superhero.

The viewer, however, understands Rapaport’s having a unique reaction to a trial drug and is hallucinating everything. Special shifts from humor to drama quickly–often so fast, laughing at Rapaport’s more outlandish behaviors immediately causes guilt when reality becomes clear. The film sets up a strange relationship with its audience, one where it’s inviting laughs after it seems like it should have gone full drama.

Rapaport also narrates a lot of the film and that narration, his delivery of it, is fantastic. The narration really compliments the onscreen action, it’s unexpectedly successful (since narration’s usually such a misstep).

But when Special becomes about the human condition, instead of a misfiring brain on a drug trial, things start to fall apart. The film doesn’t have an ending–going through two or three false ones before finally stopping. That lack is intentional, to embrace the filmmaking style–Special‘s a little vérité, I really do think they just had Rapaport walk around in a goofy suit and filmed people’s reactions–but it isn’t honest to the characters.

Special has a great bunch of actors working in it. The entire cast–Paul Blackthorne (who gets a great close), Ian Bohen, Josh Peck, Robert Baker, Jack Kehler and Christopher Darga–is excellent. But the best surprise is Alexandra Holden, who spends most of the film in a cursory role, only to play a crucial part in the conclusion–it’s practically a melodramatic plot development, but it doesn’t quite qualify because it’s just a detail–and Holden pulls it off. She doesn’t just make it work, she makes it wonderful.

The film only runs eighty minutes. It’s subplot free–Rapaport’s character is defined through his voiceover, since there’s barely any time for the viewer to get to know him before he starts going crazy. It just loses itself in the last twenty minutes.

Technically, it’s solid. Directors Haberman and Passmore combine comedy and lyricism–Special‘s not a commentary on the new superhero genre, which isn’t just a pleasant surprise, it’s also essential to the film working. There’s no fetishistic attitude, no references to famous films. The music, from Tom Wolfe and Manish Raval, accounts for a good deal of the film’s success.

Special needed another ten minutes, an ending instead of a stopping, but it’s got a lot of great acting and, even though the concluding sentiment is a tad trite, it’s a fine viewing experience.



Written and directed by Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore; director of photography, Nelson Cragg; edited by Mike Saenz; music by Tom Wolfe and Manish Raval; production designer, Nathan Amondson; produced by Frank Mele and Edward Parks; released by Fabrication Films.

Starring Michael Rapaport (Les), Paul Blackthorne (Jonas Exiler), Josh Peck (Joey), Robert Baker (Everett), Jack Kehler (Dr. Dobson), Alexandra Holden (Maggie), Ian Bohen (Ted Exiler) and Christopher Darga (Steve).

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