Saturday, 21 February 2009

Doctor Dolittle: The Film That Almost Bankrupted 20th Century Fox

With the Oscars tomorrow night, it might be a good time to take a look back at one of the worst movies ever nominated for Best Picture. Indeed, that film was also remarkable for nearly bankrupting the studio which produced it and for single handedly ending the career of its star. That film was 1967's Doctor Dolittle.

Dr John Dolittle was created by Hugh Lofting, who wrote and illustrated the first novel while serving in World War I. Initially a physician treating humans, he switched to treating animals after his parrot Polynesia taught him the language of animals. He lived in the fictional village of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh. The first novel to proved to be an instant hit, so that naturally Hollywood would seek the rights to a feature film. As early as 1922 Fox Film Corporation had made Lofting an offer for the film rights. For years Walt Disney sought to get the rights to make a film version of the novels, but was not willing to pay enough money for them.

The Lofting family finally gave producer Helen Winston a short term option on the rights in 1960. A screenplay had been finished by 1962, Winston could find no buyers for the prospective film. Lofting family then decided to accept yet other offers for the movie rights. Arthur P. Jacobs was a former public relations man who had just produced the film What a Way to Go for Twentieth Century Fox. It was very ate in 1963 that Jacobs learned that the Loftings were once more open to offers. Jacobs met with the family's attorney and told him of his plan to produce Dr. Dolittle as a musical, expressing his plans to use lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and actor Rex Harrison (both fresh from success on the musical My Fair Lady). The Loftings gave Jacobs only a six month option to make a deal with a studio. Fortunately, even though neither had committed to the project as of yet, both Lerner and Harrison consented to be a part of Doctor Dolittle.

While Jacobs already had Alan Jay Lerner and Rex Harrison lined up for the movie, he had more difficulty selling the idea to a studio. Much of was due to the sheer price tag of the project. United Artists had already spent a good deal of money on the epic The Greatest Story Ever Told and had no desire to spend yet more money on Doctor Dolittle. Both Paramount and Universal were making smaller movies in the early to mid-Sixties. In fact, most of Universal was largely concentrating on television, with the exception of Doris Day sex comedies. MGM had just sunk a great deal of money into Mutiny on the Bounty starring Marlon Brando, which fared miserably at the box office. Warner Brothers passed on the project. While Jack Warner had actively pursued My Fair Lady, he had perhaps been alarmed by the amount of money spent on the project. And while Disney had long pursued the rights to Doctor Dolittle, Jacobs did not even consider them. Their history with the Lofting family did not bode well.

In the meantime Jacobs managed to get the consent of Vincente Minnelli to direct Doctor Dolittle. He did not manage to get Julie Andrews, fresh from stage success with My Fair Lady and about to rocket to stardom with Mary Poppins, involved in the project. It was after these meetings that Jacobs met with 20th Century Fox. At the time Fox was not doing particularly well. Having gambled on Cleopatra and lost, the studio was experiencing such losses that Darryl F. Zanuck laid off half the studio's employees and temporarily closed the studio. Fortunately, for Jacobs, 20th Century Fox was in the market for a film such as Doctor Dolittle. The studio was already producing The Sound of Music, which would be released in 1965. Planning ahead, Zannuck thought they should have another big budget musical to follow it. A deal was struck with Harrison in place as the star and Lerner as the writer, co-producer, and lyricist.

The search then began for a composer (Lerner's partner, Frederick Loewe, was retired), which resulted in Andre Previn (who had written the scores for Silk Stockings and Elmer Gantry among other films) being signed to the project). With a deal in place with 20th Century Fox, Arthur P. Jacobs was finally able to strike a deal with the Lofting family with only two weeks to go. 20th Century Fox was already creating advertising for Doctor Dolittle,slated for release in December 1966. Unfortunately for Jacobs, the problems that would haunt Doctor Dolittle from preproduction to completion were just beginning.

It was in May 1964 that Alan Jay Lerner was going through what was a very visible divorce. Many months would pass without Lerner handing in the treatment of the screenplay, let alone its first draught. By the deadline assigned to Lerner for turning in the treatment, October 1, 1964, Lerner had still handed in absolutely nothing. The deadline was then extended until January 15, 1965. It was not long before the new deadline that Lerner asked Jacobs for more time. Jacobs only gave him ten more days. After failing to meet this deadline Jacobs was exceedingly angry with Lerner, and inclined to fire him; however, Lerner was able to strike a deal with Darryl Zanuck to do away with writing a treatment entirely and simply hand in a completed screenplay come May 1, 1965.

With such delays in the film, Vincente Minnelli left the project. Rex Harrison had won the Oscar for Best Actor for My Fair Lady. In new demand as a leading man, he seriously considered leaving the film because of the delays in its production. It was not long before Lerner's May deadline that he informed Jacobs that he would not be able to begin work on Doctor Dolittle before October because of his play On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (upon which he had been working for years). Jacobs then fired Lerner. To replace Lerner 20th Century Fox first approached Richard and Robert Sherman, fresh from the success of Mary Poppins. They proved unavailable, committed as they were to Disney. Fox then approached Leslie Bricusse, who had written the play Stop the World--I Want to Get It Off and the lyrics for the theme song to Goldfinger. They decided to give Bricusse a test run, hiring him temporarily with the expectation of the completion of two songs for the film and the first twenty pages of the screenplay. Two weeks after he was brought on to the project, Bricusse presented 20th Century Fox with "Talk to the Animals." He was officially hired.

With a screenwriter in place, Fox then started looking for a director. Zanuck approached John Huston, who actually expressed interest in the film. Jacobs worried that Huston and Harrison could clash, as both were known for their temperaments. It was then that Richard Fleischer, son of legendary animator Max Fleischer, was brought on to the film, the director on such films as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Vikings, and Compulsion. Ultimately, star Rex Harrison would approve of Fleischer, although Bricusse would not be so lucky. In meetings with Fleischer and Bricusse, he would even attack the lyrics of "Talk to the Animals."

Harrison would create other problems as well. Sammy Davis Jr. had been hired to play the role of Bumpo. Harrison strenuously objected to this, maintaining that Davis was an entertainer, not an actor. He proposed Sidney Poitier instead. Both Fleischer and Jacobs tried to talk Harrison out of his objections to Davis, but ultimately found themselves setting up a meeting with Poitier. Poitier agreed, pending a meeting with Leslie Bricusse. When Poitier found out that they wanted him to replace Sammy Davis Jr., whom he considered a friend, he backed out of the agreement.

Even with the problems in preproduction, in late 1965 20th Century Fox must have been optimistic about Doctor Dolittle. My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins, and The Sound of Music had all been smash hits. Other studios had musicals in development--Warner Brothers was turning stage musical Camelot into a film, UA was doing a film adaptation of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and MGM had bought the rights to both Funny Girl and Oliver. It was then that Fox told Jacobs that he would have to expand Doctor Dolittle. Quite simply, it would have to fit the prerequisites for an epic musical.

Still casting the film, Jacobs cast Anthony Newley, Bricusse's partner on Stop the World--I Want to Get Off as Matthew Mugg. This would not sit well with Rex Harrison, who did not particularly trust Leslie Bricusse as a writer as it was. After Fleischer had found the city of Castle Combe, England to stand in for Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, Harrison announced he did not want to film in England, even going so far in forcing Fleischer to scout locations in Ireland. He objected to the screenplay and the songs, maintaining they did not fit the sort of characters his fans expected him to play. Indeed, he seemed to be happy with almost nothing about the movie. As it turned out, Harrison was not the only one unhappy with the screenplay. Studio head Darryl Zanuck sent a memo to his son Richard Zanuck, then president of Fox, outlining the script's short comings. He also expressed concerns over the film's over all costs. It would seem that the older Zanuck's thoughts were prescient.

By this time both Darryl and Richard Zanuck, as well as Arthur P. Jacobs, had grown tired of Rex Harrison's antics. After considering several possible replacements, they finally made a serious offer to Christopher Plummer, who had starred in The Sound of Music. Ultimately, even though a good deal of money had spent to get Plummer, he was only on the production for two weeks, after which they rehired Rex Harrison. After learning of the deal with Christopher Plummer, Harrison had straightened up his act.

By now projections on the cost of the film had grown. Arthur P. Jacobs had originally projected the film at $6 million. By now he was projecting $14.4 million. This naturally alarmed the studio. While The Sound of Music had been a hit, the mounting costs would make it more difficult for Doctor Dolittle to succeed. Jacobs was told to cut $2 million from the budget as soon as possible.

While Harrison had straightened up his act upon the news that Fox was hiring Christopher Plummer, he was not on good behaviour for long. He gave Bricusse some very long notes which if the screenwriter had followed would have made John Dolittle more like Professor Henry Higgins of My Fair Lady. He also sought out songwriters to replace Bricusse. He had suggested Betty Comden and Adolph Green of Singin' in the Rain fame, then comic performers Michael Flanders and Donald Swann. Jacobs ultimately gave in to Harrison and hired Flanders and Swann to write songs for the movie, even while Bricusse continued to write his own songs. When Flanders and Swann finally let Harrison hear their songs, he decided he preferred Bricusse's songs.

Ultimately, Fox had to work hard to cut the film's budget. They hired the lesser known Peter Bull (the Russian ambassador) as General Bellows because both Donald Pleasence and Robert Morley were too expensive. Both the character of Bumpo and a sequence involving a pirate ship were cut. Even the budget for training the animals was cut. Unfortunately, Bricusse was not told of the changes to the film, including the fact that Bumpo had been cut. He had expanded Bumpo's role, as Zanuck had originally planned for him to do. This meant more revisions to the script.

In pre-production since 1964, Doctor Dolittle finally began shooting in 1966. Shooting the film would prove no more pleasant than its preproduction. Fox had not heeded warnings that it rained a good deal in Castle Combe. As a result the first few weeks of shooting were pre-empted by heavy rainfall. Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who was then serving in the 22nd Regiment of the Special Air Service, was angered by the production's desire to enlarge a pond at Castle Combe. Using explosives he had gotten from the Army, he tried to blow up a dam the filmmakers had built to expand the pond. Not only was he arrested, but he was kicked out of the 22nd Regiment and spent the rest of his military career in The Royal Scots Greys.

The animals themselves presented several problems. When Rex Harrison was singing in the pasture with sheep, he found himself being urinated upon and constantly sprayed down because of flies. Squirrels chewed through important bits of scenery, which then had to be replaced. One of the goats got free during a scene and even ate Richard Fleischer's script. A fawn on the set ate a quart of paint and as a result had to have her stomach pumped. Even a simple scene involving ducks swimming in a pond did not prove easily shot. It was moulting season so that the ducks had shed their generally waterproof feathers. As a result, the ducks sank. As if things could not get any worse, Rex Harrison was bitten by the animals rather often. In all around 1500 animals were used in the movie. The shooting of the film ultimately lasted nine months.

With Doctor Dolittle finally finished and slated for a December 1967 release (a full year after its initial release date), 20th Century Fox embarked on one of the largest marketing campaigns for a movie up to the that time. Dell Publishing reprinted Hugh Lofting's original books. Aurora issued model kits of both Doctor Dolittle and the Pushmi-Pullyu (an odd sort of llama type creature). Royal Shake-a-Pudding included "statuettes" (essentially little figures) of characters from Dr. Dolittle. Mattel put out talking dolls of both Dr. Dolittle and the Pushmi-Pullyu, and a Doctor Dolittle giraffe jack in the box, and a Doctor Dolittle Ukelele Music Grinder. With various Purina products one could get an animal figure and when sending in proofs of purchase a Doctor Dolittle adventure set. Naturally, the soundtrack album was released.

Unfortunately for 20th Century Fox, when Doctor Dolittle was released in December 1967 it was met with indifferent or hostile reviews. In The Chicago Tribune Clifford Terry compared it to an iceberg, "...One-ninth of it should be observed, and the rest is better left well enough alone." The review in Time complained "...size and a big budget are no substitutes for originality or charm." Bosley Crowther in The New York Times complained that the pace of the movie was "...slow and without surprise." Perhaps there was no harsher critic of Doctor Dolittle than Leonard Maltin. Besides the photography, he only found one good thing to say about the movie, "If you have unruly children, it may put them to sleep."

Audiences and critics do not always agree, but in the case of Doctor Dolittle they apparently did. Despite the heavy merchandising, Doctor Dolittle saw little action at the box office. This was made all the worse by the fact that it was then the most expensive musical of all time. In the end it lost 20th Century Fox around $11 million.

Of course, all of this begs the question of how Doctor Dolittle was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. The answer is simple, old fashioned bribery. 20th Century Fox launched a huge campaign to get Doctor Dolittle nominated for Best Picture. Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences were actually wined and dined. Doctor Dolittle then has a place in history as a prime example of how, at least at one time, a film could receive a nomination through blatant campaigning.

In the end Doctor Dolittle would have a lasting impact. In losing 20th Century Fox nearly $11 million, it was one of three big budget musicals that almost brought the studio to bankruptcy. It was followed by Hello, Dolly and Star, both of which cost the studio money--more money than hits like Planet of the Apes and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid could make. Fortunately, Richard Zanuck was able to turn the studio around in the Seventies with hits such as M*A*S*H, Patton, and The French Connection. As to its star Rex Harrison, Doctor Dolittle more or less ended his career as a leading man on film. Following the release of Doctor Dolittle he only appeared as the lead in A Flea in Her Ear and Staircase.

Doctor Dolittle was also one of the films responsible for bringing the practice of the roadshow theatrical release to an end. The roadshow theatrical release was a practice in which movies would be released only in large cities such as New York City or Chicago, had reserved seating, an intermission, and the opportunity to purchase souvenir programmes. Over the years, such films as Gone With the Wind, The Ten Commandments, and El Cid had received roadshow releases. By the Seventies the practice would die out, largely due to the failure of big budget movies such as Doctor Dolittle.

Time has often proven both critics and audiences wrong. A film vilified upon its initial release may be more highly regarded later on. A case in point is a musical released the same year as Doctor Dolittle, Camelot. Camelot also received bad reviews and bombed at the box office, but today its reputation is somewhat better. Sadly, Doctor Dolittle is not one of those films which time has blessed. At Rotten Tomatoes Doctor Dolittle received a meagre 28% among critics on the Tomatometer. At IMDB it fares a little better at a user rating of 5.9 out of 10, still hardly a vote of confidence. Current movie critics seem to like it no better than their 1967 counterparts.

Sadly, I must say that I am not surprised. I had the opportunity many years ago to see Doctor Dolittle. I must say that I was impressed by its photography--cinematographer Robert Surtees certainly knew what he was doing. The sets are also lavish and beautiful to look upon. Unfortunately, this is all that I Can recommend about the film. With the exception of "Talk to the Animals," the songs are all rather dreadful. The film moves at a leaden pace, generating very little in the way of interest. Even the special effects fall short, with the many of the creatures (such as the giant sea snail and the giant luna moth) looking patently fake. In the end I can only agree with Leonard Maltin. This film would put children to sleep! Beyond the 1969 musical remake of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, it has to be the worst musical I have ever seen.

Doctor Dolittle has a place in history as a colossal flop that almost brought 20th Century Fox to its knees. It also has a place as one of the films which brought the roadshow theatrical release to an end. And, for me, at least, it has to be one of the worst films ever nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Travis the Chimp Went on a Rampage

Travis the chimpanzee, who starred in commercials for both Old Navy and Coca-Cola, attacked and mauled a neighbour in Stamford, Connecticut on Monday. In the end Travis had to be shot to end his rampage. He was fourteen years old.

The rampage began when Travis took his human companion's keys from the kitchen table, unlocked a door, and let himself out. He started going to different cars and tapping on the window, the signal that he wanted to go to the ride. His human companion tried to get him to come back into the house, and even dosed him with tea laced with Xanax. Even then, however, he would not go back into the house. Travis' human companion then called her 55 year old neighbour, who came over. As soon as she got out of her car, Travis attacked her. The attack was so brutal that his human companion even stabbed him with a butcher knife, after calling 911, in an attempt to end the attack on the neighbour. In the end he had ripped away most of the neighbour's face and broke several bones.

It was when paramedics and police officers arrived that Travis took off. He later returned to attack a police officer within his car. The officer shot Travis several times, after which he fled into the woods. He was later found dead there.

The reasons for Travis's attack upon his neighbour are unclear. He was being treated for Lyme disease, which can cause severe anxiety, delusions, and psychoses in rare cases. Police also theorised that the Xanax could have even played a role in the attack. Here it should also be pointed out that chimpanzees in captivity have been known to display aggression towards humans. It is not unusual for chimpanzees to attack people in many instances. That having been said, Travis had no history of violence.

It is disheartening to know that Travis the chimpanzee attacked a neighbour with such violence that she had to be placed in hospital. It is also disheartening to know that his behaviour ultimately resulted in his death. It is all the sadder because Travis was somewhat familiar to many as the star of commercials. That having been said, it must be kept in mind that Travis as a chimpanzee, a species not known for their docility but somewhat well known for their aggressive tendencies. The Lyme disease from which Travis suffered probably did not help. As cute and funny as chimps might seem on television and in movies, ultimately they are still members of their species who will behave as such.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Swinging London on Film

When most of us hear the term "Swinging London," we think of a specific time and place--London in the early to mid Sixties. It was a period when several different cultural trends, in fields ranging from music to photography to fashion, emerged from London, first to sweep through the United Kingdom and then throughout the world. It is difficult to determine when Swinging London exactly began. Its roots go all the way back to the Fifties, as can be seen in the 1959 novel Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes. At any rate, it was well under way by 1963. As to when Swinging London came to an end, that is easier to pinpoint. In 1967 attention began to shift away from London as a centre of youth culture to San Francisco (the Haight-Ashbury district in particular). Psycedelia would overtake mid-Sixties Britpop as the dominate form of rock music in the world.

While Swinging London would come to an end, it was immortalised on film for posterity. Several movies in the mid-Sixties would attempt to capture the spirit of Swinging London. Some would succeed. Other would fail. What is notable is the sheer variety of films set in Swinging London. Some would approach that time and place from a light hearted point of view, treating it as a gigantic playground. Others would explore the darker aspects of Swinging London, it decadence and emptiness. In the end, all of them would play a role in preserving the legend of Swinging London, a place which probably did not exist as we remember it.

Precisely what was the first Swinging London movie is open to debate. It could quite possibly the 1963 film adaptation of Billy Liar. The movie starred Tom Courtenay and featured Julie Christie in her first major role. Part of the British New Wave, it was not actually shot in London, but on actual locations in Bradford, York. Like the novel, it centred on a lackadaisical clerk in northern England who whiles away his time in fantasy. And while the film does not take place in London, it is that city to where Billy longs to go.

While it might be debatable if Billie Liar was the first Swinging London movie, there can be no doubt that A Hard Day's Night is set in that time and place. A Hard Day's Night follows a day in the life of The Beatles, as they prepare to make their appearance on a television programme. As such, it places The Beatles in the heart of Swinging London. Not only does it feature the pop music that would become identified with Swinging London, but it includes a trip to the Garrison Room of Les Ambassadeurs Club--one of the hotspots of Swinging London. For many A Hard Day's Night would be the Swinging London, capturing the energy and spirit of that time and place.

The success of A Hard Day's Night and the continued popularity of various pop groups guaranteed that it would have imitators, each starring another British invasion band, would appear in its wake. None other than John Boorman directed Catch Us If You Can, starring the Dave Clark Five, from 1965. That same year Gerry and the Pacemakers appeared in the now rarely seen Ferry Cross the Mersey (which was actually set in Liverpool, not London). Even the Spencer Davis Group made a movie, The Ghost Goes Gear, in which the band must try to save a haunted house. It was released in 1966 and has not often been seen since.

The same year that saw the release of A Hard Day's Night also saw the release of The System. The System Oliver Reed as one of a group of youths who go to a seaside village looking for sexual conquests. A drama, The System not only examined the changing sexual mores of the era, but was one of the first films to look at the dark side of the Swinging London phenomenon.

The following year Richard Lester, who directed A Hard Day's Night, would see the release of two of the quintessential Swinging London films. The first was The Knack …and How to Get It. The film essentially centred on the competition between three roommates to win Nancy (Rita Tushingham), a young woman new to the city. Although based on the play of the same name, Lester did the movie in the same style that A Hard Day's Night had been and Help! would be, complete with breaking the fourth wall, comedic subtitles, and other touches. The Knack …and How to Get It is notable for one of the few genuine potrayals of a Mod on film. Tolen, the experienced Mod with a knack for picking up women, not only dresses exquisitely, but even listens to Thelonious Monk!

The second Swinging London film directed by Richard Lester to be released in 1965 was, of course, Help!. Help! finds The Beatles trotting the globe in an effort to save Ringo's life from the cult of Kalili, who want to sacrifice him now that he has their sacrificial ring stuck to one of his fingers. Despite being shot on a variety of locations, Help! must be considered one of the Swinging London films, capturing much of the spirit and the energy (not to mention the music) of the time.

Also released in 1965 was Darling, a film which explored the darker side of the Swinging London phenomenon. Darling starred Julie Christie as an amoral model who uses her sex appeal to its full advantage as she sleeps her way to the top.

Nineteen sixty six saw a mixture of films about Swinging London, some dwelling on its lighter aspects, others dwelling on its darker aspects, and yet others on both. In this final category we may place Alfie, a starring vehicle for Michael Caine. Alfie centres on the title character of that name, a young man who leads an essentially meaningless life as he sleeps with numerous women until he suddenly finds his life turned upside down. The film was neither comedy nor drama, but a little bit of both. And while it ultimately condemns many of Alfie's actions, it also has the ability to find the humour in them at the same time.

Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment was another 1966 comedy, although a bit more light hearted than Alfie. Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment centres on the title character, a young man who married a woman higher than himself on the social scale. When she asks him for a divorce, Morgan tries to win her back, only to find himself in even deeper trouble. Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment essentially blends the old Hollywood screwball comedy with the sensibilities of Swinging London.

Like Alfie, Georgy Girl was also a movie which blended comedy with drama. The film starred Lynn Redgrave as the title character, a talented and charming but slightly plump young woman whose flatmate is a relentless party girl and whose father's employer propositions her. In some respects the film is a condemnation of the Swinging London lifestyle. To wit, in the end it is Georgy, the sweet girl of more traditional sexual mores, who comes out on top.

While many of the Swinging London movies released in 1966 were comedies, there was one notable exception. What is more, along with the first two Beatles movies and The Knack …and How to Get It it is one of the quintessential Swinging London movies. Blowup explores the dark side of Swinging London, portraying 24 hours in the life of a fashion photographer (David Hemmings). He shoots photos in his studio of a French model. He frolics with young girls. And he inadvertently photographs what may be the corpse of a murder victim (visible only after the photos have been blown up). While many films only captured part of the phenomenon known as Swinging London, Blowup embraced several of them. Not only is the lead character a fashion photographer (perhaps based on David Bailey), but includes a scene with The Yardbirds (Michelangelo Antonioni had wanted The Who), drug use, and meaningless sex. While A Hard Day's Night and Help! capture the energy of Swinging London, Blowup concentrates on the downsides of its lifestyle.

By 1967 Swinging London was already fading from view, but it would be preserved in films released that year. In fact, it was that year that one of the quintessential Swinging London films was released. Smashing Time was a comedy starring Rita Tushingham and Lynn Redgrave as two girls from northern England who come to London in the hope of finding fame and fortune. Like Blowup (although much more light hearted), Smashing Time embraces as much of the Swinging London phenomenon as possible: a fashion photographer (played by Michael York), partying, and pop music. In many respects, it was a parody of the whole phenomenon.

Bedazzled is as much a fantasy film as it is a Swinging London film. It starred the comedy team of Cook and Moore, with Dudley Moore playing short order cook Stanley Moon, hopeless in love with the waitress Margaret. To this end, he sells his soul to the Devil (played by Peter Cook) for seven wishes. Sadly, none of the wishes turn out how Moon would like them to, even though he becomes, among other things, a rock star, an intellectual, and so on.

I'll Never Forget What's 'is Name featured Oliver Reed as an advertising executive who longs for his past life as part of Swinging London. Sick of the adventising game, he attempts to rebel against his boss. Both a comedy and a drama,
I'll Never Forget What's 'is Name was very much a Swinging London movie, featuring as it did the morality of the era. It is also historic of being, alongside Ulysses, the first film in which the F-word is actually used.

Oliver Reed also appeared in another Swinging London film from 1967, The Jokers. With Michael Crawford he played two brothers who want to get rich without really having to work for it. To this end, they decide the steal the Crown Jewels. The movie made prime use of many of London's locations.

By 1967 Swinging London was winding down. Naturally this meant that Swinging London would not appear in any more films. As it is, there were many other films than the ones listed here that could be considered as Swinging London movies, even though Swinging London may not be central to their premises: Repulsion, To Sir with Love, and Poor Cow among them. In the end Swinging London was recorded in many films, and they were a varied lot.

Indeed, the Swinging London movies ranged in genres from offbeat comedies to serious dramas, and their views of Swinging London ranged from light hearted to downright dark. In fact, one only need to contrast two of the quintessential Swinging London films to see the variety of films made concerning that time and place. A Hard Day's Night is a light hearted look at the day in a life of The Beatles. Blowup is a dark look at the day in the life of a fashion photographer. The lifestyle of Swinging London, which involved clubbing, drugs, fashion, and sex, was sometimes glorified, sometimes condemned. Regardless, all of the films captured a time and a place, one that may never have existed, for the ages.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Dollhouse

Friday marked Joss Whedon's return to television. Whether that return will be a triumphant one remains to be seen. Regardless, his new series Dollhouse holds possibilities.

Dollhouse centres on a mysterious organisation which employs individuals, called "Actives" or more colloquially "Dolls," who have had their personalities erased so that they can be implanted with a variety of new personalties. The Dolls are up for hire by anyone who can afford the organisation's exorbitant fees, as anything from negotiators in kidnappings to bodyguards. Capable of being implanted with any number of different personalities, the Actives can nearly become anything a client needs. The series takes its name from the headquarters of the mysterious organisation where the Actives live when not out on a mission--an elaborate and beautiful facility known as the "Dollhouse."

On paper the premise of Dollhouse does not sound that interesting. In the hands of Joss Whedon, however, it seems that it could become an interesting show. While the first episode started a bit slow, it was clear that Whedon already intends to use the series to explore such questions as the nature of identity, the morality of that which is done for the greater good, the strength of memories, and so on. While another producer might simply use the premise to do a simple adventure series, Whedon appears willing to explore more philosophical concepts.

Dollhouse does benefit from a good cast. Eliza Dushku (perhaps best known as Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer plays the main character, the Active known as Echo. Her Handler, Boyd Langdon, is played by Harry Lennix, who has appeared in everything from The Matrix movies to House. The part of Topher Brink, the scientist in charge of implanting the Dolls with their personalities, is played by relative newcomer Fran Kranz. For those men who might be inclined to watch Dollhouse for its more, well, visual qualities, I have to point out that Miss Dushku is not the only beautiful woman in the cast. The woman who heads the Dollhouse, Adelle DeWitt, is played by Olivia Williams, who played Mrs. Darling in the 2003 film adaptation of Peter Pan (with her London accent, I must admit that for me even Eliza Dushku disappears when Olivia Williams speaks...). Dr. Claire Saunders is played by Amy Acker, perhaps best known as Fred from the TV series Angel.

As I said earlier, the initial episode started a bit slow, although Whedon already began exploring the philosophical ramifications of an organisation that has wiped clean the personalities of people simply to implant them with new ones over and over again. Provided upcoming episodes move at a better pace, then, Dollhouse could prove to be one of the more engaging action/adventure TV series that has come down the pike in quite some time. There is little reason to doubt it will, as Whedon's track record includes such classic and cult series as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly.

Sadly, I have to wonder if Dollhouse will survive long enough to see its premise fully explored. Fox has had a long history of scheduling genre shows on Friday night, where the audience most likely to watch them (the 18 to 35 demographic) are least likely to be home. Indeed, they did the same thing with Whedon's previous series, the excellent Firefly. While Dollhouse did come in second in its time slot this past Friday, it also had the second lowest ratings for a scripted series this season. Given the history of genre shows on Friday nights, it then seems likely that anyone who wants to watch Dollhouse had best do so now. That is unless Fox finally developed some programming savvy and moves it to another night.