Wednesday, 22 June 2016

THE WICKED LADY (1983)

Directed by Michael Winner, Starring: Faye Dunaway, Denholm Elliot, Alan Bates. Period drama. UK, 1983, 95mins, cert 18.
Released in the UK on DVD on 4th July 2016 by Second Sight Films.

“To your duties, all of you! Sluts! To your duties!”

After delivering commercial success for Cannon Films with DEATH WISH II, director Michael Winner turned his attention to remaking one of his favourite films from his youth. Based on an eighteenth century legend about a noble lady who becomes a highwaywoman by night, the original 1945 version of THE WICKED LADY starred Margaret Lockwood in the title role. Winner cast wild-eyed Faye Dunnaway, as ‘Lady Barbara Skelton’. Dunaway attacks the role with as much camp gusto as she had in her previous Razzie award-winning turn in MOMMIE DEAREST, this time swapping wire coat-hangers for pistols and horse whips with deranged aplomb.

Directing from his own adaption of the 1945 screenplay, Winner stands and delivers copious amounts of heaving bosoms, full-frontal nudity and soft-core bonking campiness in a near breathless romp of ludicrously entertaining proportions. With the breakneck speed of the narrative, it appears as if veteran director of photography Jack Cardiff is pulling out all the stops and frantic zooms just to keep pace with Winner’s don’t-spare-the-horses direction.

In this endeavour he is helped in no small way by an extraordinary cast willing to climb aboard the bawdy kitsch-fest highway to hell and back. Stalwart Denholm Elliot plays the wealthy landowner Sir Ralph Skelton. Sir Ralph is (implausibly) engaged to the gorgeous doe-eyed doormat Caroline (Glynis Barber) who invites her best friend Barbara (Faye Dunaway) to be her maid of honour at her wedding despite the fact that: “She’s more than pretty. Barbara has the most beautiful green eyes - like emeralds.” If only she’d listened to snooty Aunt Agatha (Joan Hickson) who retorts: “Cats have green eyes. I don’t like cats...”

Within about 5 minutes Dunaway’s green eyes (of envy) seduce Sir Ralph and promptly steal him away right from under the (far prettier) nose of his former fiancĂ©e! At the wedding reception, the brand new Lady Skelton has already turned her lustful green eyes in the direction of the smoulderingly handsome Oliver Tobias, who will eventually seduce the dumped Caroline, who in turn, (utterly preposterously), remains in love with Denholm Elliot. (With me so far?) Anyway, Denholm Elliot will in eventually come to see the colossal error of casting aside the unconditional love of Glynis Barber for the maniacally manipulative Dunaway, who by that time has hooked up with another highwayman (Ralph Bates), who in turn makes the fatal mistake of cheating behind Dunaway’s back with a gypsy-like wench described in the credits as: ‘Jackson’s Girl’ (still with me?).

Let’s take a pause for breath here to note that that girl hastily jumping out of Ralph Bates’ bed stark-naked is none other than Marina Sirtis, best known as ‘Counselor Deanna Troi’ from STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, making her feature-film debut in the buff. It’s a minor role, but certainly a memorable one for she then unwittingly goes on to cause censorship problems with the BBFC when her bare-breasts are horse-whipped to bloody effect by Dunaway (more of that in a moment). She also gets the last line in this memorable exchange as Dunaway’s highwaywoman bursts in on Sirtis and Bates:

(Bates) “Barbara! She, she means nothing to me.”
(Sirtis) “What?”
(Dunnaway) “This wench. Cheap though she looks, will cost you dear”.
(Sirtis): “Who the fuck was that?”

Marvellous stuff! As I said above, Sirtis and Dunaway later on get into a bodice-ripping whip fight at a hanging (as you do). The sight of Sirtis’ bristols being bloodily whipped caused censor James Ferman to positively foam (at the mouth). Not taking it lying down (unlike most of the actresses in the film) Winner screened the (allegedly uncut version) of the film to fifty of his fellow film makers and industry insiders, who rallied round in support of the film not being cut at all, and some even suggesting a lower rating than the proposed ’18’! Ferman caved in, but the subsequent home-video release did suffer the originally proposed cuts to this scene. Needless to say Michael Winner wasn’t the greatest fan of James Ferman, describing him in his 2004 autobiography as “a disaster”, and as someone who: “delighted in making ridiculous cuts all over the place that no other civilised country would have considered.” A judgement I for one fully share. But I’m very pleased to report that Marina Sertis’ whipped breasts are now fully restored to their perky original uncut state on DVD for the first time!

I haven’t even mentioned Sir John Gielgud’s pious old butler ‘Hogarth’ sporting a ridiculous wig and muttering pithy pronouncements about the easy virtues of the servants before he’s poisoned and then suffocated to death for good measure! And there’s still plenty more twists and turns before this wicked tale is told...

Miranda Richardson made a fine comedic stab at a similarly styled highwaywoman in the TV series ‘Blackadder’(most notably in her dislike of squirrels). Faye Dunnaway’s ‘Wicked Lady’ doesn’t display a similar aversion to the nutty tree rodents, but she does give a suitably nut-job performance as the bawdy bodice busting, booty looting, booby lashing ‘La Dama Perversa’ in Michael Winner’s pleasingly farcical lust-fest.   
No extras. 
***(out of 5*)

Paul Worts

This review was first published on the FRIGHTFEST website.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

ENEMY MINE



Directed by Wolfgang Petersen, Starring: Dennis Quaid, Louis Gosset Jr, Brion James. Sci-Fi, 1985, Cert 12.

On Blu-ray from 20th June 2016 from Eureka Entertainment.


“Earthman, your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!”

Following on from his magical telling of Michael Ende’s THE NEVERENDING STORY (1984), German director Wolfgang Petersen was then brought on board to take over Twentieth Century Fox’s floundering adaptation of Barry B. Longyear’s sci-fi novella ENEMY MINE. Relocating the production to the Bavaria Studios in Munich, Petersen also swapped the previously problematic Icelandic location shoot for the more temperate climes of Lanzarote. The end result was a beautifully designed, touching sci-fi parable, which failed abysmally at the box-office, but is richly deserving of re-evaluation and invitingly possible thanks to this HD presentation.

The story is a well-trodden one. Two enemies are stranded together in a hostile environment, but in order for them to survive they eventually have to overcome their differences and work together. In ENEMY MINE, we have a 21st century intergalactic human space coloniser Willis Davidge (Dennis Quaid) crash-landing on an inhospitable planet called Fyrine IV after an unsuccessful space-ship dogfight with an alien enemy craft piloted by a ‘Drac’ warrior from the planet Dracon (Louis Gosset Jr.). 
Luckily, the atmosphere is breathable to both races (convenient otherwise it’d be a much shorter film), although there are some terribly inconvenient meteor-storms and some decidedly unfriendly fauna in the shape of Chris Walas’ creature effects. 

The combination of lunar-like location work in the volcanic Canary Island of Lanzarote together with the artwork and Bavaria studio sets are majestically rendered in a lush widescreen canvas. Thankfully these alien vistas can be fully appreciated on this rich HD transfer (I dread to think how anaemic they must’ve appeared back on 80’s pan and scan VHS).
But here also lies the film’s contradiction. Whilst we’ve given this spectacular sci-fi backdrop, and an opening space battle courtesy of Industrial Light and Magic, the tale which then unfolds is an intimate two-hander character piece, largely without grandiose special effects (apart from Louis Gosset Jr.’s intricately pulsing reptilian make-up), and I can see why it proved a hard-sell to the studio at the time of release, and a subsequent box-office flop.


Both Quaid and Gosset Jr. are terrific in their respective roles as their character arcs range from deathly hostility to grudging co-dependency and further... It seems ridiculous to tip-toe around a film made over 30 years ago for fear of dropping a spoiler bomb, but, just as I came to view this film for the first time via this disc, I’m conscious that perhaps at least one person reading this might have somehow managed to avoid a complete plot download prior to viewing, so I’ll just leave it there. I will say however that there’s an actual mining facility revealed in the film’s jarring final third, which seems overly literal and tacked on – rumours suggest studio insistence on adding this element otherwise the audience would’ve felt cheated by the film’s title (what?) If this is the case then director Petersen must surely feel fortunate that the US distributor of his German U-boat drama DAS BOOT didn’t insist on wedging in a sub-plot about a piece of military footwear! 


ENEMY MINE is a film you have to meet half-way in order to get the most out of it. It’s undeniably richly rewarding visually, but also humorous and surprisingly moving (if you give it a chance to be). Swimming against the Regan Era Cold-War current in the mid 80’s, its message ran counter to the overriding political rhetoric of the time, and perhaps that, combined with a botched publicity campaign, contributed to it sinking largely without a trace at the box-office. I missed out on ENEMY MINE when it came out both initially at the cinema and then subsequently on home-video, but thanks to this excellent HD presentation, it’s a lot easier to meet the film half-way, and I’m very glad I (finally) did. 
 
Extras: Deleted scene, Trailer, Collectors Booklet 


**** (out of 5*)

Paul Worts