Skip to main content

I know where you should be.



10 Rillington Place
(1971)

This adaptation of Ludovic Kennedy’s book (yes, the Did You See…? presenter) about notorious serial killer John Christie is a gripping, low-key affair. It retains an air of authenticity by firmly rooting itself in the mundanity of everyday life, and thanks to a transformative performance from Richard Attenborough.

Attenborough makes Christie outwardly normal and at once sinister. There is little to single him out as sociopath; he is soft-spoken (like a creepy Alan Bennett) and only slightly off in demeanour. He’s just a small, balding man with a bad back and a devoted wife. Christie gassed and strangled his victims over a 10-year period between 1943 and 1953, but the case is at least as well known for as the wrongful conviction that contributed towards the repeal of the death penalty in the UK.

American director Richard Fleischer supports Sir Dickie’s fine work with commendable restraint. Fleischer’s journeyman career would not obviously lead him to this kind of material. He was responsible for 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Vikings, Fantastic Voyage and Doctor Doolittle. Most likely it was his account of another serial killer, The Boston Strangler (starring Tony Curtis), three years earlier, that got him the gig. Fleischer’s subdued, brooding direction ensures the picture linger in the mind. It was made during a period when restraint in depicting sex and violence was no longer necessary (just look at the rather distasteful relish Hitchcock takes in the following year’s Frenzy), but Fleischer has no interest in reveling in Christie’s crimes. There’s perhaps one misjudged moment, where Fleischer cuts from Evans’ execution to Christie nursing his bad back; it plays as a bad taste comedy punchline (while there is considerable irony at play in the film, particularly in the depiction of the gullibility of Christie’s victims, at no point is anything else played for laughs and rightly so).

Over the years, the serial killer subgenre has become ever more glossily overcooked and lacking in depth. The crazed cartoonishness of the Michael Myers and Jason Voorhes wave of masked maniacs gave way to cultured masterminds of carnage when Thomas Harris introduced Hannibal Lecter to the world. He allied a larger-than-life psycho with methodical thoroughness in depicting forensic science. But accounts of actual cases have generally been lacking. David Fincher probably did it best with Zodiac, although by necessity an unsolved case must be entirely from the perspective of detective work. Rillington Place comes a decade after Psycho and Peeping Tom, and arrived in a post Moors Murders, post-Manson landscape. It tells of events during the 1940s, but the surrounding urban decay and hardship seem topical to the coming decade.

The feeling of authenticity is no doubt aided by the decision to film at the actual location (along with No.6 on the same street), but it’s arguably above and beyond the call of duty in striving for verisimilitude.

The trio of main supporting players are all impressive. John Hurt’s Timothy Evans, the tenant sentenced and hanged for murdering his wife and child (he was pardoned 12 years later), is a study in the dim and impressionable. Judy Geeson plays his wife Beryl and Pat Heywood is Ethel Christie; her depiction of gradually dawning realisation is subtle and believable.

Fleischer’s film concentrates on the timeline of the Evans’ tenancy, which means that the trial of Christie isn’t covered, and his prior acts only briefly by way of a wartime scene-setter. I’d have liked a more complete account; aside from a scene where Christie boasts of the media coverage of the trial and his involvement, there is little sense of the wider impact of the case (the film doesn’t even clarify how many victims there were). Hurt was rightly nominated for a BAFTA for his performance, but it’s a glaring omission that Sir Dickie went unrecognised. It’s the performance of his career.

****

Popular posts from this blog

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

I’m just the balloon man.

Copshop (2021) (SPOILERS) A consistent problem with Joe Carnahan’s oeuvre is that, no matter how confidently his movies begin, or how strong his premise, or how adept his direction or compelling the performances he extracts, he ends up blowing it. He blows it with Copshop , a ’70s-inspired variant on Assault on Precinct 13 that is pretty damn good during the first hour, before devolving into his standard mode of sado-nihilistic mayhem.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

When we have been subtle, then can I kill him?

The Avengers 6.16. Legacy of Death There’s scarcely any crediting the Terry Nation of Noon-Doomsday as the same Terry Nation that wrote this, let alone the Terry Nation churning out a no-frills Dalek story a season for the latter stages of the Jon Pertwee era. Of course, Nation had started out as a comedy writer (for Hancock), and it may be that the kick Brian Clemens gave him up the pants in reaction to the quality of Noon-Doomsday loosened a whole load of gags. Admittedly, a lot of them are well worn, but they come so thick and fast in Legacy of Death , accompanied by an assuredly giddy pace from director Don Chaffey (of Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts ) and a fine ensemble of supporting players, that it would be churlish to complain.

Tippy-toe! Tippy-toe!

Seinfeld 2.7: The Phone Message The Premise George and Jerry both have dates on the same night. Neither goes quite as planned, and in George’s case it results in him leaving an abusive message on his girlfriend’s answerphone. The only solution is to steal the tape before she plays it. Observational Further evidence of the gaping chasm between George and Jerry’s approaches to the world. George neurotically attacks his problems and makes them worse, while Jerry shrugs and lets them go. It’s nice to see the latter’s anal qualities announcing themselves, however; he’s so bothered that his girlfriend likes a terrible TV advert that he’s mostly relieved when she breaks things off (“ To me the dialogue rings true ”). Neither Gretchen German (as Donna, Jerry’s date) nor Tory Polone (as Carol, George’s) make a huge impression, but German has more screen time and better dialogue. The main attraction is Jerry’s reactions, which include trying to impress her with hi