Dorian Gray (1970)

Dorian Gray (1970)‘My god, Sir Galahad, you’re a landowner! A filthy capitalist!’

Young handsome aristocrat Dorian Gray wishes to remain young forever. He gets his wish and quickly adopts a hedonistic, narcissistic lifestyle. Meanwhile, his portrait takes on the ravages of age and the marks of his debauchery…

Swinging sixties adaptation of the famous Oscar Wilde classic that chooses to focus on Dorian’s descent into depravity; in other words to concentrate on the sex. Yes, this is a borderline exploitation flick from producer Harry Alan Towers that features plenty of skin but, by today’s standards, it’s fairly tame stuff and that allows for a far more balanced assessment of its virtues and shortcomings.

In true tradition, the story begins with Dorian (Helmut Berger) getting a paint job courtesy of Sir Basil (Richard Todd). During the sitting they are visited by old rogue Sir Henry (a strangely miscast Herbert Lom) who is immediately smitten with Berger, and decides to turn him to the dark side using shards of icy wit and his beautiful sister, Margaret Lee, as his weapons of choice. From then on, the story hits all the usual marks. Berger’s early infatuation and storybook romance with poor actress Sybil Vane (Marie Liljedahl) leads to his betrayal of her and a subsequent attempt to reconcile that comes too late. Berger then rededicates himself to the pursuit of pleasure, bedding various eligible beauties, including Lee, Maria Rohm and Beryl Cunningham. He also services elderly Isa Miranda from behind in a stable as return for a lucrative property deal, a scene I don’t recall from the original novel. There’s also a strong indication of a homosexual relationship with Lom. Of course, his eventual comeuppance is an inevitability.

This is all familiar stuff to anyone acquainted with the source material or the other cinematic versions. The main difference is one of emphasis. Although it was probably just an excuse to exaggerate the nudity and sex, the film presents a very strong statement about society’s shallow obsession with youth and beauty. Pretty much the entire cast fawn over Berger simply because of the way he looks and, as events reach the present day, there’s reference to his developing career as that most 21st Century of professions: the media celebrity. We see him doing a photo shoot with a young model, which we’re told will make her name and he seems to be beginning a film career. It’s certainly an interesting angle and one which a modern day remake could explore in some depth.

Dorian Gray (1970)

Dorian had just popped down to the corner shop for a pint of milk…

The film’s main weaknesses is that the time period is never clearly established. Although the final events certainly take place in contemporary times (dig those King’s Road fashions!), earlier scenes have no period feel whatsoever. We gather that many years are supposed to go by as the tale unfolds (the supporting cast do get some grey hairs) but, if so, then the story began in the 1940s and there’s just no indication of it. In fact, there’s no real sense that time has passed at all.

What aids the film immeasurably is the performance of Berger. He is ideal as Dorian, exhibiting the same clinical detachment as Hurd Hatfield in definitive version ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ (1945). That was a better film, mainly because the character’s indulgences were left to the imagination which endowed them with much more twisted possibilities than we see here. Also George Sanders was perfect casting as Sir Henry and delivered an acting tour de force, which Lom simply couldn’t hope to match. In fact, the character’s role as an insidious influence that corrupts everyone he meets is mostly assumed by Dorian, who is more proactive in this version.

Elsewhere, Liljedahl gives a much brighter Sybil than the soppy one provided by Angela Lansbury in the 1940’s film and Todd is reliably solid as painter, Sir Basil. Apparently, he was only aware of the film’s more salacious content when he found out it was showing in a ‘certain kind of West End cinema‘ shortly after it was released. ln a strange non-coincidence, Christopher Lee had the same experience with ‘Eugenie… The Story of Her Journey Into Perversion’ (1970) which starred Liljedahl in the title role, but, far more significantly, was also produced by Harry Alan Towers!

Dorian Gray (1970)

Dorian’s second career as an arm wrestling champion was off to a good start…

Director Massimo Dallamano began as a cinematographer and shot the first two parts of Sergio Leone’s ‘Dollars’ trilogy with Clint Eastwood; before moving into the canvas chair with ‘Banditos’ (1967). A mixture of westerns and giallo thrillers followed, including the well-regarded ‘What Have You Done To Solange?’ (1972), although he’s probably most famous for controversial erotic drama ‘Venus ln Furs’ (1969).

Berger is mostly known for working on a string of projects with famous director Luchino Visconti, although he did appear in ‘The Godfather, Part ll’ (1974) and featured in one season of U.S. mega-soap ‘Dynasty.’ Todd made his breakthrough in war drama ‘The Hasty Heart’ (1949) and went on to lead ‘The Dam Busters’ (1955) and ‘The Long and the Short and the Tall’ (1961). Liljedahl never progressed beyond roles where she had to take her clothes off and retired soon after this; by all accounts regretting the whole thing.

This is a decent, enjoyable adaptation which manages a surprising amount of interesting sub-text for a movie of this kind. As a footnote, it’s interesting that amongst all the female nudity, actress Maria Rohm has her naughty bits covered (in true Austin Powers style!) with a conveniently placed pot plant when she appears naked! Why? Well, she was married to producer Harry Alan Towers!

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Code 7 Victim 5! (1964)

Code 7 Victim 5! (1964)‘He’s gone off to a marauding lion over at Moto.’

A private detective arrives in South Africa after being hired by a wealthy industrialist to look into the murder of his butler. The local police inspector shares the only clue; an old photograph left by the body, which depicts the victim, his employer and two other men.

Looking at the marketing for this film, audience members could be forgiven for expecting to see ex-Tarzan Lex Barker wrestling with guns, gadgets and girls as this week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’. After all, there’s plenty of bikini-clad babes on the poster, Barker with a pistol and a tag line that reads ‘A very special agent with a code that means he can go all the way!’ Unfortunately, this is not another entry in the somewhat over-crowded Eurospy arena, instead being a very pedestrian mystery-thriller, which isn’t all that mysterious and certainly not very thrilling.

Barker arrives in Cape Town at the behest of copper magnate Walter Rilla to investigate the murder in question. Local (and very British) Police Inspector Ronald Fraser is keen to co-operate, as he believes that Rilla knows far more than he’s telling. When another man in the photo is killed, suspicion falls on members of Rilla’s household, including his promiscuous adopted daughter Veronique Vendell. From there it’s a slow trudge through lots of scenes of Barker driving around the countryside, teaming up with pretty blonde Ann Smyrner, and dealing with some cursory action scenes that are thrown his way every now and again.

By the far the most interesting aspect of this dull and soggy enterprise are the locations and the photography. Some of the landscapes are truly gorgeous and it’s no wonder when you realise that the cinematographer was Nicolas Roeg, working on this in the same year that he shot the sumptuous visuals for Vincent Price-Edgar Allan Poe classic ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ (1964). Roeg first took the director’s chair six years later on Mick Jagger’s starring vehicle ‘Performance’ (1970) and followed that with nightmarish horror classic ‘Don’t Look Now’ (1973) and an alien David Bowie as ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ (1975). Sadly, Roeg’s career lost steam in the 1980s, and eventually culminated in shooting feature length editions of ‘The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles’!

Aside from the scenery (the movie was shot in Mozambique), there’s simply not much on offer. There’s only about enough plot for a 50-minute TV episode, which becomes especially noticeable during the long, endlessly drawn-out climax; a sequence weakened all the more by the emotional unravelling of our main villain. This lacks any credibility at all, given the meticulous planning of their scheme over a great many years. However, there is some interesting information on ostrich farming if you’re interested in that.

Code 7 Victim 5! (1964)

‘Don’t worry, it’s only an empty old car being pushed off a cliff…’

The musical soundtrack is also very clumsy, punctuating every ‘big’ moment with a blaring of horns and a crash of instruments. Barker and Smyrner are ok as the leads, but they have little chemistry and the idea of them as lovebirds is very hard to swallow. Acting honours are grabbed by Fraser, who seems to be channelling Claude Rains from ‘Casablanca’ (1943).

Barker had quite the European career due to a facility with languages, particularly in Germany where he appeared in a couple of the 1960’s ‘Dr Mabuse’ pictures (as did Rilla, but not in the same ones!) Smyrner tangled with ‘ReptiIicus’ (1962) in her native Denmark, took a ‘Journey To The Seventh Planet’ (1962) with b-movie legend John Agar and visited with Vincent Price in ‘The House of A Thousand Dolls’ (1967). Vendell was briefly touted as ‘the new Bardot’ but her career fizzled after a featured supporting role in ‘Barbarella’ (1967). Director Robert Lynn did 2nd Unit duty on Christopher Reeve’s first two Superman films, but is best known for UK TV work, including episodes of ‘The Saint’, ‘Space: 1999’ and ‘Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons.’

But the real ‘star’ of the piece is probably producer Harry Alan Towers. This was only his second movie project (albeit uncredited) but he went onto a career of more than 100 features over an incredible 40 years. These included the Fu Manchu series with Christopher Lee, terrible ‘Star Wars’ knock-off ‘H G Wells’ The Shape of Things To Come’ (1979), appalling sword and sorcery flick ‘Gor’ (1987), ‘Howling IV: The Original Nightmare’ (1988), and many, many others.
Perhaps unfortunately, he wrote most of them as well under his pen name of Peter Welbeck. He provides the story here, and it’s hard to imagine anything more generic, uninspired and formulaic.

A nice travelogue spoilt by having a movie attached.

The Face of Eve (1968)

The_Face_of_Eve_(1968)‘Nature is her bag!’

A young explorer travels to the Amazon basin searching for his lost partner whose plane has disappeared. Instead of finding him, he runs across a blonde girl living in the jungle and runs afoul of the machinations of a local businessman who is attempting to swindle a retired old Colonel out of his money.

Chances are that if you saw an independent movie with a slightly outlandish subject coming out of Europe in the 1960s and 1970s then the name of Harry Alan Towers was all over it. He was involved in more than 100 such commercial projects as both producer and often as writer (hiding under the name Peter Welbeck), employing a diverse cast of famous characters including Fu Manchu, Count Dracula, Sumuru and Dorian Gray.

Here, he turns his hand to a fairly generic ‘jungle girl’ adventure, roping in some talent from his Fu Manchu series; namely star Christopher Lee and Jeremy Summers (director of ‘The Vengeance of Fu Manchu’ (1967)). Lee takes only a supporting role here, though, with leading man duties firmly in the hands of fresh faced Robert WalkerJr, perhaps best remembered now as ‘Charlie X’ on the original series of ‘Star Trek’. Another Starship Enterprise graduate is Celeste Yarnall, who takes the film’s title role as our female Tarzan, sporting what looks suspiciously like a long blonde wig, some impressive false eyelashes and perfect cheekbones and dentistry. As per usual in the world of the movies, a girl’s never far from a boutique – even in the Amazon rainforest!

Towers wrote this one under his usual Welbeck pseudonym, and the script is a tepid brew of well-worn elements that develops along such predictable lines that you could be forgiven for thinking that you might have seen the film before! Lee is Colonel Stuart, a retired explorer in shoddy ageing makeup who allegedly lives in seclusion because he lost his family on safari many years before. Seclusion obviously has a different meaning here as he throws a birthday bash for about a hundred people. One of the party guests is slimy Herbert Lom who has foisted a fake granddaughter on him for inheritance purposes, whilst the real article swings through the trees in the nearby jungle. Treasure hunter Walker arrives looking for his missing friend, runs into Jungle Jane when she’s having trouble with the locals, effects a rescue and figures out her true identity. It all resolves into a less than gripping search for some fabled treasure or other that Lee knew was in a cave all the time.

The_Face_of_Eve_(1968)

‘Eve was half savage but all woman.’
Hey, it’s on the poster!

This one was mostly shot in Spain (standing in for the Amazon) and, on a positive note, we are at least spared endless reels of library stock footage, although some hungry crocodiles do make repeated appearances. Dialogue is strictly of the ‘you won’t get away with this’ school of screenwriting and a dreary subplot about a bar owner planning to exhibit the jungle girl is thrown in somewhat haphazardly, presumably to boost the running time. The saloon’s local chanteuse is portrayed by actress Maria Rohm; in reality Mrs Harry Alan Towers (and veteran of two of the ‘Fu Manchu’ series). Actually, she’s very good; singing on through the midst of an unconvincing bar fight even with her mouth closed. Later on, we are treated to one of the lamest catfights ever to stumble across the big screen in the less than pulsating climax.

The film’s title was swiftly shortened to ‘Eve’ in many territories, although whether this was to avoid possible litigation from 20th Century Fox, the studio behind Joanne Woodward hit ‘The Three Faces of Eve’ (1957), is unrecorded. The ending does suggest the possibility of sequels, but it’s hardly a surprise that none emerged. This is formula filmmaking at its most uninspired; the lazy screenplay not even bothering to explain how the infant Eve managed to survive all those years in the jungle. Was she raised by apes? The native tribesmen? Aliens, maybe? Oh, well, nobody cares. She looks great in an animal-skin bikini and that’s all we need to know!

The Girl From Rio (1969)

The Girl From Rio (1969)‘If one of my girls isn’t perfect, she must die.’

Sumuru and her army of beautiful women plan to take over the world. She accumulates vast wealth in Femina, a city she has created near Rio De Janeiro. A handsome crook arrives from the U.S. with a suitcase containing 10 million dollars but she isn’t the only one with an interest in the money.

Sequel to ‘The Million Eyes of Sumuru’ (1967), which again stars former Bond Girl Shirley Eaton in the title role. This time she pits her feminine wiles against an ageing George Sanders and hunky Richard Wyler. Producing again was Harry Alan Towers, who often funded cheap pictures made in exotic locations and wrote a lot of them under the name Peter Welbeck (as he does here). Eurotrash auteur Jess Franco (‘Vampyros Lesbos’ (1971)) is in the director’s chair so the stage is set for some guilty pleasure. At least you would think so. What emerges instead is a relentlessly dull, tepid spy flick, which is terribly underwritten and often displays its obviously limited budget.

The Girl From Rio (1969)

The fashion police were on the way.

Franco and Towers had already adapted novelist Sax Rohmer’s most famous creation for the screen, delivering the distinctly underwhelming ‘Blood of Fu Manchu’ (1968), the fourth movie in the well known series starring Christopher Lee. They also shot the tatty, incoherent bits and pieces that were stapled together by a blind man as ‘The Castle of Fu Manchu’ (1969). Not surprisingly, that effort ended the series.

This film, sometimes titled ‘Rio 70’, ‘Future Women’ or ‘Mothers of America'(?!), has potential but some kind of script would have helped. All we get are some tiresome chases, very badly executed fist fights and an explosive climax rendered by throwing some canisters of yellow smoke about and shaking the camera. Very vigorously. Franco throws in some lesbianism late on but it’s far too little too late as all the promised sexual politics and action is thrown aside in favour of having lots of beautiful women in tame fetish gear who just stand around a lot.

Eaton was actually very good in ‘The Million Eyes of Sumuru’ (1967), a film sunk without trace by the ‘comedy’ stylings of heroes George Nader and Frankie Avalon(!) but her heart really doesn’t seem to be in it here. In fact, she retired after this film and hasn’t acted since. Sanders wears scarlet trousers, fondles gorgeous 33-year old Elisa Montes (he was 62 at the time!) and hangs around for his paycheque. In one scene he reads a Popeye comic whilst a girl is tortured. But the worst performance in the picture goes to leading man Richard Wyler, a man with the screen charisma of wet cardboard.

There’s the inevitable footage of the Rio carnival (actually quite good so probably shot by someone else) and the climax features a helicopter attack on Femina, which was actually a local art museum. This spectacular set piece features lots of extras falling over several times and shaking their prop guns to simulate machine gun fire.

And why couldn’t they get Sumuru’s name right? Sumander? Sunander? Sumitra? What was it again?