Into The Retroscope's founder. RetroRobin enjoys pecking out the forgotten classics and little knowns of yesteryear- specialising in cult Japanese films, 1960s Bollywood cabaret songs, British thrillers and old school adventure games.
Flamboyant singer Kenji Sawada playing a reclusive atom bomb-building, high school teacher? Bunta Sugawara, famous for his tough Yakuza portrayals, playing a hardboiled cop? Kimiko Ikegami (the pretty one in cult horror classic Hausu(1977)) playing a vacuous radio DJ? A big budget Toho ‘action’ film with art-house elements directed by independent Kazuhiko Hasegawa? An original screenplay written by Leonard Schrader, the brother of Taxi Driver’s screenwriter? Just from its components, it is clear that you are in for no ordinary film with Taiyo wo nusunda otoko!
Main character Makoto Kido is a seemingly lazy, gum-chewing sleepy science teacher. Ridiculed by his students- he is somewhat socially awkward and lonely, living in a small apartment with only his ill-fated cat for company. The script and Sawada’s excellent portrayal gradually reveal snapshots of his true nature to the viewer.
Tales of the Unexpected was a series of short story dramatisations, each with an ‘unexpected’ twist in the end. Earlier episodes were introduced by the famous author Roald Dahl- some of which were penned by him.
Running for nine series over almost 10 years, the storylines range from sinister, comedic to downright bizarre. They star many well-known British TV and film actors, such as Joan Collins, John Mills, Peter Cushing and Derek Jacobi. Despite this, the quality varies a lot. Some of the episodes haven’t stood the test of time and others have terribly predictable twists.
There are some gems among the 112 Tales of the Unexpected episodes, however. Into the Retroscope has picked out six that will have you on the edge of your seats.
When you have had a bad day, nothing beats Helen- dressed as a strawberry, dancing energetically and telling you not to worry about life.
Helen Richardson was born in Burma to a Franco-Indian father and a Burmese mother in the late 1930s. She fled the Japanese invasion with her mother and siblings, ending up in India. Helen’s film career began as a chorus girl in the early 50s, before she got her big break in the solo ‘Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu’ in Howrah Bridge (1957).
Known simply as Helen, she became one of the most well-known dancers in Indian Cinema- with an incredible dancing career spanning from the 50s to the 80s.
A predictably plotted Hammer vampire film with a decadent atmosphere, two former Playboy Playmates and a surprising amount to say about the nature of human evil.
Twins of Evil is the third and final Hammer film to be based (loosely) on Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. It is a sequel of sorts to the novella- featuring added witchhunters, satanists and of course, vampires and twins.
Mary and Madeleine Collinson star as the titular twins, Maria and Frieda Gellhorn. They travel to the small, misty ‘Central European’ Karstein village to stay with their aunt (Kathleen Byron) and witch-hunting uncle (Peter Cushing). Although the twins’ characters appear to have grown up together, Frieda speaks in foreign accented English, whereas Maria’s accent is closer to Received Pronunciation (both actresses were dubbed). This was probably done to help viewers to tell them apart. Interestingly, foreign accented Frieda is the more adventurous of the two. She soon gets drawn into the mysterious goings-on in the castle above the village.
The other two main characters are Weil (the aforementioned witch hunter) and Count Karstein (Damien Thomas).
Weil is determined to rid the village of satanic elements. Cushing, as usual, takes the role very seriously and portrays a multifaceted character torn between his obligations to God and the Brotherhood and his growing realisation that burning young women at the stake might not be the most effective way to eradicate evil. Cushing steals each scene that he is in- his increasing fear for the safety of his twin nieces is palpable.
Chijin no Ai (知人の愛) is based on the 1924 novel of the same name by renowned author Junichiro Tanizaki. It is one of several adaptions of Tanizaki stories dealing with unorthodox relationships and sexual obsession that were directed by Yasuzo Masumura in the 1960s and 1970s. Two other notable examples are Manji (卍, 1964) and Irezumi (刺青, 1966).
The film’s story takes place in a contemporary setting, like Masumura’s adaption of Manji. This is clear from the very first frames, which show a power station that is definitely postwar and not from the 1920s. The course of the story in its new time frame spans from 1966 to 1967- with fashions and cars to match. The crisp, warm colour of the print brings out the bold colours of Naomi’s psychedelic wardrobe.
It starts by introducing Joji Kawai (Shoichi Ozawa)-a quiet, serious and bespectacled middle-aged electrical engineer. His boss berates him for never joining the employees’ social activities, nor showing interest in getting married. After some prodding he admits that he did get a pet cat.
When he gets home that evening, he starts looking for his pet. The cat turns out to be a girl called Naomi.
Picnic At Hanging Rock tells the story of a girl’s college in the Australian outback, forever changed by the events of Valentine’s Day 1900. Based on the novel by Joan Lindsay, three girls and a teacher go missing on a picnic to a nearby rock. Efforts to find them and the mysterious nature of their disappearance have a far-reaching effect on the local community.
It is a slow film but one with a thread of tension running through it. The nature is awe-inspiring- especially the sheer scale of the titular Hanging Rock. The panpipe music by Gheorghe Zamfir that accompanies the landscapes is used to emphasise their hypnotic beauty. In contrast, ethereal piano music is used to accompany the girls (in particular Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5). Despite the peaceful soundtrack, it is difficult to relax while watching. Every few minutes, there is another tug at the string. The watch that stops working, the loud ticking clock on the headmistress’s office wall, the trancelike effects of the heat, ants crawling over hands…. All these elements come together to create a tense yet beautiful, painterly film.
Japanese New Wave cinema of the 60s and 70s was a rebellion against established styles of filmmaking. Major Japanese film studios began to promote young assistant directors to helm their own features- about young people and aimed at the youth market. These directors would deliver a kick of creative revitalisation into Japanese cinema. They would tackle challenging themes- sexuality, political radicalism, social inequality- all against the background of Japan’s postwar identity struggle.
“One these days, they’re going to kill 10,000 in one of these fire traps. And I’m gonna keep eating smoke and bringing out bodies. ’Til somebody asks us how to build em.” Chief O’Hallorhan (Steve McQueen), The Towering Inferno.
The Seventies was a decade where disaster movies, such as The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and Earthquake (1974), thrilled audiences with dramatic stories and special effects. Recent events in London, however, remind us that such dreadful disasters do happen in real life. The Towering Inferno (1974), the story of a 138 storey building beleaguered with deadly safety issues, has sadly never been more relevant.
The second film in this analysis of two film adaptions of the gothic vampire novella Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu.
The first part of this article dealt with a little known French adaption of the classic short story (if you haven’t already- read Part 1 here). Next, we will look at the more widely released The Vampire Lovers, British studio Hammer’s take on the story. Although their source material is the same, Et Mourir de Plaisir and The Vampire Lovers are very different films in terms of tone, style and execution.