Susan Penhaligon

Count Dracula (1977, Philip Saville)

The biggest problems with Count Dracula are completely unrelated. First, the obvious–the source material. Bram Stoker’s novel is, apparently, unadaptable. To date, no film version has been successful. The problem lies with Stoker’s plotting. After the compelling opening with Dracula in Transylvania, his subsequent disappearance leaves the reader or viewer with a bunch of rubes. Many of the characters are unlikable, not because they’re bad people, but because Stoker did such a bad job creating them. For example, in this version, Harker–played to mediocrity (sort of appropriate for the character) by Bosco Hogan–is immediately unsympathetic. He’s a rube. Richard Barnes plays the Texan and is awful. Susan Penhaligon and Judi Bowker play the damsels in distress to some success, but when Penhaligon needs to go nuts, she’s silly looking. On the other hand, for the first two acts, Bowker is unsensational, only to get good at the end.

I’ve left a few characters and actors out because the rest are pretty good. Frank Finlay is a fantastic Abraham van Helsing and the script’s flourishes for his character are nice (Francis Ford Coppola has apparently seen this version). Mark Burns is fine as the other doctor. He and Finlay have a good chemistry. But Jack Shepherd brings some–as far as I can remember, totally unseen before–humanity to crazy Renfield. Shepherd’s really the most exciting one to watch, because his performance isn’t as flashy as Finlay’s and has to work on less pronounced level. As Dracula, Louis Jordan has his good scenes and his bad. A lot of the problems aren’t his fault, but the director’s. The scene with Jordan and Van Helsing is quite good, but the third act scenes are when Dracula is at its best.

The problem–the other problem–with Count Dracula is the production. When he’s shooting on film, Philip Saville creates an atmospheric, haunting film (even if the music is always a little too much). Except most of Count Dracula is shot on video–nearly every indoor scene, on set, is shot on video–and Saville is not a good video director. Well, given he shot the film in 1977, it’s possible no one was a good video director yet. But he’s a bad one. All of the indoor scenes are obvious, all the compositions uninspired. It’s a shame, because otherwise, this version is the finest adaptation of the novel I’ve seen. It just follows too close to the novel and so there’s a boring midsection, one where some plot liberties could have made things a lot more interesting.

Still, even at a long two and a half hours, Count Dracula is worth at least one viewing–both for the acting and the generally competent storytelling.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Philip Saville; screenplay by Gerald Savory, based on the novel by Bram Stoker; director of photography, Peter Hall; edited by Richard Bedford; music by Kenyon Emrys-Roberts; production designer, Michael Young; produced by Morris Barry; released by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Starring Louis Jourdan (Count Dracula), Frank Finlay (Abraham van Helsing), Susan Penhaligon (Lucy), Judi Bowker (Mina), Jack Shepherd (Renfield), Mark Burns (Dr. John Seward), Bosco Hogan (Jonathan Harker), Richard Barnes (Quincey P. Holmwood) and Ann Queensberry (Mrs. Westenra).


The Land That Time Forgot (1975, Kevin Connor)

The Land That Time Forgot never achieved any sort of cult notoriety (though I’m not sure any film with dinosaurs ever has), but as a child, any video box cover promising submarines, aquatic dinosaurs, octopuses, and ape-men was golden. The film does not feature any octopuses. While I did see Land That Time Forgot as a child, it was the 1980s and it was hard to get inundated with relatively obscure 1970s British films, dinosaurs or not. The cheapo EP VHS wasn’t released until at least 1990–and around that time, I first learned of a sequel, which proved even harder to see. Even today, The Land That Time Forgot has never had a real DVD release (there was a two pack DVD, with the sequel The People That Time Forgot, available exclusively at Best Buy, but it’s disappeared with the Sony buyout of MGM).

I last watched Land That Time Forgot in late 2000, just after AMC aired it letterboxed for the first time. I remember being less than impressed and somewhat puzzled by my childhood favorite. I wasn’t even going to pursue the film again, even after I read about a German release on DVD, then I woke one morning and couldn’t remember whether or not the disc was actually available or if it had been some odd detail in a dream. I ordered it soon afterwards. And watching it again, I’m not at all sorry I did (I suppose I was much less willing to be an individual at the ripe old age of twenty-one). The film doesn’t even have traditional problems… some aspects work and others don’t, but the failing ones aren’t problems. It’s a movie about a lost world of dinosaurs. That sentence, save the first three words, is a problem.

The bad part of Land That Time Forgot is the logic. The people kill dinosaurs to identify the species. Dinosaurs not bothering them… in a longish, five minute sequence–and the poor dinosaur suffers. It’s awkward. But the film has quite a few awkward aspects–the pacing, for example, is entirely odd. The first half hour (before the titular Land ever appears) is set over two weeks in a World War I U-Boat. It’s fine enough stuff–one particularly nice scene where the U-Boat goes deeper then everyone (except Doug McClure) says it can and the crew–German and British–silently marvel at the machine and their success. They share the moment. The Land That Time Forgot is a very quiet film. Not just that sequence, but at least three others are totally quiet. Two of these scenes are in a wheat field and in a dense fog and the result is a beautiful experience, one totally unexpected in a dinosaur movie (one with bad logic too).

The special effects are pre-Empire Strikes Back (which really started the otherworldly thing) and the dinosaurs are pretty bad. The triceratops are all right. In a way, the effects have a nice simplicity. You want a flying dinosaur, well, you rig something up and coast it through the sky. The dinosaurs are nowhere near as distracting as the rear-screen projection, for example, and the volcanic chaos at the end of the film is well done. It’s excellent.

But, in addition to being genially inoffensive, The Land That Time Forgot does feature some good acting. The female lead, played by Susan Penhaligon, is useless, but it’s not her fault. Doug McClure plays the lead and, while he reminds a little of a young William Shatner, it’s not in a bad way. Some of the Brits are quite good, Keith Barron (as a Brit) and Anthony Ainley (as a German), in particular. I think John McEnery is good, but his voice was dubbed with a German actor, so it’s always hard to tell whose giving the good performance in that situation. The film’s also interesting because it eschews any sense of real history regarding British and German relations during the Great War, but doesn’t replace the Germans with the insidious variety popular since the Second World War. It’s not as good as it could be, but it’s odd enough to be interesting.

I think Leonard Maltin’s book might recommend The Land That Time Forgot for a rainy Saturday afternoon. That recommendation seems about right.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Connor; screenplay by James Cawthorn and Michael Moorcock, based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by John Ireland; music by Douglas Gamley; production designer, Maurice Carter; produced by John Dark; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Doug McClure (Bowen Tyler), John McEnery (Captain Von Schoenvorts), Susan Penhaligon (Lisa Clayton), Keith Barron (Bradley), Anthony Ainley (Dietz), Godfrey James (Borg) and Bobby Parr (Ahm).


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