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Sunday, 4 October 2015

Vale John Guillermin

Noel Bjorndahl wrote this appreciation on his Facebook Page. Thanks for permission to reproduce. 

RIP John Guillermin. Born in London of French parents. His career began in documentary films after WW2 service. He made a number of competent but inconsequential movies like The Crowded Day (1954). His breakthrough film was I was Monty's Double (1958) based on a true WW2 story. His following film Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (1959) was probably just that. Gordon Scott had become identified with the role following Lex Barker's stint as the ape man. The greatest adventure was shot on some rugged locations and, provided Tarzan with two beautiful women (Sara Shane and Scilla Gabel) as well as some posh support in Anthony Quayle and Niall MacGinnis. A strong crime melodrama, Never Let Go (1960) benefited from the off-beat casting of Peter Sellers as a sadistic rackerteer and car thief terrorising Richard Todd. Waltz of the Toreadors followed in 1962, this time with Sellers on more familiar ground, leering his way through an open sex romp. After more Tarzan, Guillermin made a string of larger budgeted films beginning with Guns at Batasi (1964), an adventure film set in then contemporary Africa with military types Richard Attenborough and Jack Hawkins along with the young Mia Farrow. Rapture (1965) was something of an arthouse film, and followed a difficult relationship between Patricia Gozzi and Dean Stockwell (as a troubled fugitive in hiding). Melvyn Douglas and Gunnel Lindblom brought a measure of class to the strong material. The Blue Max (1966) and The Towering Inferno (1974) found Guillermin right at home on big budgeted material-they were both strong commercial hits Guillermin continued with futher safe blockbusters the best of which were a decent updating of King Kong (1976) with gorgeous Jessica Lange and ever reliable Jeff Bridges; and Death on the Nile, another sumptuous piece of eye candy adapted from Agatha Christie material with Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot and an all star cast headed by then usual suspects Bette Davis, David Niven, and Angela Lansbury, All up, the movie industry has been the richer for reliable commercial craftsmen the likes of Mr Guillermin.

Noel's mention of Never Let Go reminds me that this film was the subject of some controversy in its day and it is believed to have initially been banned by the Australian censor. Back in the 50s and 60s, the censor had no accountability and frequently banned and cut films. Nobody knew. There was no gazetting or other public recording of what censors got up to and the wily one-armed war veteran Richard Prowse (dubbed "One-Armed Dick" by the film trade who ran the show liked it that way). After I finally saw Never Let Go, on the ABC late at night as part of the then endless J Arthur Rank rotation, I wrote this note for the earlier iteration of Film Alert when there were a lot more rarities and classics shown ad and watermark free in obscure times on both the ABC and SBS. Out of sheer nostalgia here's the note.

Never Let Go ((John Guillermin, UK 1960, 90 minutes)
The last time this one came round was late night on the ABC just a few months ago and I confessed then that I hadn’t seen it but had recently had drawn to my attention that it had been banned in Australia when its first release was planned. I’ve now seen it and it is indeed a horrid piece of work. Chief among its mysteries is why Peter Sellers should have chosen to make the film, between two successful comedies Two Way Stretch and The Millionairess. Sellers plays an unctuously revolting spiv, a repulsive character. He runs an operation re-birthing stolen cars. He rules his gang members with a violent hand. He keeps as a mistress a seventeen year old who has fled from a girls’ reformatory and can’t escape his clutches. (She’s played by Carol White who went on to fame in Ken Loach’s Poor Cow.) Sellers happens to steal Richard Todd’s new car and spends most of the film inflicting ever more grievous bodily harm on Todd to dissuade him from pursuing repossession of the vehicle. It’s badly directed without any feel for the nightmare noir characteristics of the plot and it’s badly photographed, or at least so hurriedly photographed that you get little sense that the whole thing isn’t being thrown together in some studio. But by God it is a vicious piece of work and you can see why our fuddy duddy censorship authorities of the day would have blanched at its ‘low moral tone’. 

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