Saturday, June 2, 2018

Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter (1974)

(This post is part of the Hammer-Amicus Blogathon hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews and Cinematic Catharsis)

By the late Sixties and early Seventies, Hammer Films was not nearly as successful as it once had been. In an effort to revitalise their horror films they began experimenting with movies that were decidedly different from the classic Gothic horrors for which they were best known. They released the "Karnstein Trilogy"--The Vampire Lovers (1970), Lust fora Vampire (1971), and Twins of Evil (1971). The "Karnstein Trilogy" differed a good deal from earlier Hammer Films, containing nudity and explicit lesbianism. Hammer Films also released such oddities as Vampire Circus (1971), which features an entire circus filled with vampires, and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), in which Dr. Jekyll transforms into a beautiful, but evil woman upon drinking his potion. Among these oddities that Hammer Films released in its later years was Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter (1974). While it was not a success upon its initial release, Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter has since developed a considerable cut following.

Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter is set in the village of Durward, where young women are dying under mysterious circumstances. Dr. Marcus (played by John Carson) then looks to his friend, Captain Kronos (played by Horst Janson) and his sidekick Professor Grost (played by John Cater), for help. Captain Kronos and Professor Grost happen to be vampire hunters. They soon conclude that a vampire is indeed at work in the village of Durward, but it was one quite unlike those traditionally seen in horror films. 

Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter was the creation of Brian Clemens, who would produce, direct, and write the film. Earlier he and his partner Albert Fennell had produced Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde for Hammer Films, and Brian Clemens wrote the script for the film. If the names Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell sound familiar, it is perhaps because they had served as producers on the cult classic British spy show The Avengers. Not surprisingly, then, quite a few veterans from The Avengers worked on Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter. Ian Hendry had been the star of The Avengers in its first series, playing Dr. David Keel. Actors John Cater, John Carson, John Hollis, Julian Holloway, and Wanda Ventham had all appeared on the show. Individuals in the crew ranging from composer Laurie Johnson (who had composed the theme used by The Avengers from its fourth season onward) to production designer Robert Jones (who had served as the production designer on The Avengers) to assistant director Richard F. Dalton had all worked on The Avengers.

From the beginning Brian Clemens set out to create something different from Hammer's previous releases. As he says on the DVD's audio commentary, he basically stood Hammer's vampire conventions on their heads. The main character, Captain Kronos, is not a vampire, but instead a vampire hunter. What is more, Kronos takes a more dynamic role in killing vampires than Van Helsing ever did. He is a master swordsman capable of killing several men in a matter of minutes. To further set him apart from Van Helsing and earlier vampire slayers, Kronos smokes an "herb from the Orient" and practises meditation. Not only was Kronos different from previous vampire hunters in Hammer Films, but so too were the vampires in Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter. They can venture forth in the daylight. What is more, it is not the blood of their victims for which they thirst, but their youth.  Further setting Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter apart from previous Hammer films is that it combined various genres. It was obviously a vampire movie, although a very different one. That having been said, Brian Clemens also drew upon John Ford's Westerns and classic swashbuckler movies as well. There is much more swordplay than in most Hammer Films!

Brian Clemens had some difficulty casting Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter. Reportedly he had offered the role of Captain Kronos to Simon Oates, who had not only guest starred on such shows as The Avengers and Department S, but played John Steed in the short-lived 1971 stage adaptation of The Avengers. Mr. Oates turned him down. The part then went to Horst Janson. In interviews Ingrid Pitt has said that Brian Clemens had offered her the role of Lady Durward, but she turned him down. The role then went to Wanda Ventham. As it would turn out, Brian Clemens probably would have been better off if Simon Oates had accepted the role of Kronos. Horst Janson's German accent was so noticeable that every bit of his dialogue had to be dubbed by Julian Holloway, best known for his work in the "Carry On" films. While Horst Janson's voice would prove unsuitable for Kronos, he found the ideal actress for the role of the gypsy Carla in the form of Caroline Munro. She was under contract to Hammer Films for two films. The first was Dracula AD 1972 (1972). Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter would be her second. Mr. Clemens would later help Miss Munro get her famous role in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), for which Mr. Clemens co-wrote the script.

Brian Clemens had planned for Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter to be the first in a series of films centred on the vampire hunter. Subsequent films would have seen Captain Kronos battling different species of vampires in different parts of the world. Given Kronos's name (which is often confused with Khronos, the personification of time in Green mythology), it should come as no surprise that time travel may have played a role in Kronos's future adventures, with the vampire hunter travelling to different eras in history.

Unfortunately, Mr. Clemens's idea for an entire series devoted to Captain Kronos would not come to be. As shooting progressed on Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter, Michael Carreras, the head of Hammer Films, became dissatisfied with the way Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter was taking shape. Ultimately, although it was shot in 1972, Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter would not be released in the United Kingdom until April 7 1974. It did poorly at the box office. It was released a few months later in the United States, on June 12 1974, on a double bill with Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. It did a little bit better in the United States than it had in the United Kingdom, although it was still a far cry from a box office hit.

The failure of Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter at the box office meant there would be no series of movies featuring Captain Kronos. It would also be the only film directed by Brian Clemens. I have always found this sad myself, as I think Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter is one of the best of the latter day Hammer Horrors. It is decidedly different from any other Hammer vampire movie,with a plot that could have been used on The Avengers blended with elements of Westerns and swashbucklers. As might be expected of movie written by Brian Clemens, Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter contains the sort of clever and witty dialogue for which he was well known. It also features some impressive fight scenes, particularly the sword fight that marks the climax of the film. As a director Brian Clemens may not have been as impressive as Terence Fisher or Roy Ward Baker, but he did very a good job for it being his first (and only) film.

While it failed at the box office, Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter would develop a cult following. It would also prove to be a bit ahead of its time. In the years since Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter was released, monster hunters have proven extremely popular, from Marvel Comic's Blade to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the Winchester brothers of Supernatural. The continued popularity of Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter would eventually lead to a revival of sorts. Last year Titan launched the comic book Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter as part of its Hammer Comics imprint. This only goes to prove that it is not only vampires who can return from the dead. Vampire hunters can as well. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

The 50th Anniversary of The Prisoner's Debut in the United States

It was fifty years ago today, on July 1 1968, that British cult classic TV show The Prisoner debuted on CBS in the United States. The Prisoner first aired anywhere on CTV in Canada on September 5 1967. It premiered in the United Kingdom on September 29 1967 on ATV Midlands. On both sides of the Pond The Prisoner would become something of a phenomenon, developing a cult following that it maintains to this day.

For those unfamiliar with The Prisoner, it centres on a British secret agent (played by Patrick McGoohan) who, after handing in his resignation, is captured and taken to a mysterious place called the Village. There his captors use various means in an attempt to find out what he knows. The secret agent's name is never given. He is known in the Village simply as "Number Six". In fact, nearly everyone in the Village is identified only by a number. While the show has been called a spy drama, in fact The Prisoner is much more. Through the course of its 17 episodes it utilised allegory and satire to comment on such themes as the individual versus the collective. The Prisoner could be surreal and psychedelic at times, making it often difficult to tell what was real on the series.

The Prisoner originated in the final days of Patrick McGoohan's previous series, Danger Man (the hour long version of which aired on CBS in the United States under the title Secret Agent).  CBS had decided to order no more episodes of Secret Agent (as the show was called in U.S.), while the show's producer and creator Ralph Smart had decided that he would be involved with no further series of Danger Man. As to Patrick McGoohan, he felt that the show had run its course. As it was, it seems likely that Mr. McGoohan was developing the themes of The Prisoner for some time. In an article in October 9-15 1965 issue of The TV Times, he commented, "You know, I fear by A.D. 2000 we'll all have numbers, no names." He also mentioned his idea for a film of life in A.D. 2000, "...of a day when workmen 'will be able to operate their lathes by push-button from their beds..."  Patrick McGoohan may have received some inspiration from the 1964 episode of Danger Man, "Colony Three". It dealt with a recreation of an English village in the Eastern Bloc being used to train Communist spies to appear totally British. It was on April 16 1966 that Patrick McGoohan pitched his idea for The Prisoner to Lew Grade, managing director of ATV. It was at that same meeting that Lew Grade greenlit what would be The Prisoner.

Despite this, there have been claims that it was story editor George Markstein, who had been story editor on Danger Man very late in that show's run, who actually originated the idea for The Prisoner. It was claimed that Mr. Markstein's inspiration came from Inverlair Lodge, an estate near Inverness where individuals who knew too much classified information during World War II , but were not quite suited to being spies, were detained. Aside from the fact that Patrick McGoohan had mentioned ideas that would form the basis of The Prisoner in the aforementioned interview from 1965, well before Geroge Markstein was story editor on Danger Man, there are some other good reasons to doubt that George Markstein played a role in the creation of The Prisoner. First, it is doubtful that very many in the general public in 1965 or 1966 even knew about Inverlair Lodge. Inverlair Lodge was mentioned very briefly in the 1966 book SOE in France. An Account of the Work of the British Special Operations Executive by M.R.D. Foot, but it was not published until April 28 1966, twelve days after the meeting at which Patrick McGoohan pitched The Prisoner to Lew Grade. Second, in interviews individuals who worked on the show, including Bernie Williams (production manager on the show) and David Tomblin (producer on the show), make it fairly clear that The Prisoner was largely a product of Patrick McGoohan's mind. Third, claims that George Markstein was the mind behind The Prisoner did not emerge until the Seventies. Newspapers and magazine articles in the late Sixties treat Patrick McGoohan as the man responsible for The Prisoner.

Regardless, it is quite clear from various sources that it was Patrick McGoohan who pitched The Prisoner to Lew Grade. According to Mr. McGoohan himself, he had initially wanted to make only seven episodes  of The Prisoner as a serial. Lew Grade wanted there to be 26 episodes, as it would make The Prisoner easier to sell to CBS (in the Sixties, 26 or so episodes was the standard run of most American shows). They eventually compromised at 17 episodes. Interestingly enough, according to an August 1967 article by Dorothy Manners published in The Washington Post, CBS requested 36 episodes of The Prisoner.

Of the characters on The Prisoner, only Number Six appears in every single episode. The Butler (played by played by Angelo Muscat) appears in most episodes and served the Number Two of the moment (more on that in a bit). Another recurring character on the show as the Supervisor (also called the Controller), played by Peter Swanwick. The Supervisor is in charge of the Village's control room. Supervisors played by other actors occasionally appear, but given the Village's control room would be run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it makes sense that there would be different supervisors for different shifts.  Announcements would regularly be made over the loud speaker in the Village, and the voice of the loud speaker announcer was provided by Fenella Fielding, best known for her work in the "Carry On..." films. She also provided the voice of the telephone operator in the Village. The loud speaker announcer never appeared on screen.

Of course, every week Number Six would face off with a new Number Two (from the show it was obviously not a permanent position). Number Two was essentially the chief administrator of the Village. Most Number Twos attempted to get information out of Number Six. Others would try to convince Number Six to accept his life in the Village or to get Number Six to take an active role in the Village. The Number Twos varied widely in temperament, from those who were friendly and well mannered to those who were hostile towards Number Six to those who were downright sadistic. In the course of The Prisoner only two actors played Number Two more than once. Colin Gordon played Number Two in "A. B. and C." and "The General", but it seems possible these two Number Twos were different people despite being played by the same actor. Quite simply, Number Two in "A. B. and C." has a noticeable inferiority complex, while Number Two in "The General" has a much more forceful personality. Leo McKern played Number Two in "The Chimes of Big Ben", "Once Upon a Time", and "Fall Out" (the latter two being the final episodes of the show). In the case of Leo McKern, it is made quite clear that his Number Two is the same character every time. While the fates of the various Number Twos may have varied (we are not informed what happened to most of them), it seems clear from Leo McKern's character that one could hold the office more than once.

Regardless of any other characters, in some respects the Village itself was very much a character on the show. As to the unusual setting for The Prisoner, it seems likely that Patrick McGoohan had Portmeirion, a tourist village in Gwynedd, North Wales, in mind from the very beginning. The 1960 episode of Danger Man, "View from the Villa", had been shot there. With its unusual architecture and set on the coast, Portmeirion was ideal to serve as the Village in The Prisoner. Of course, while the Village was beautiful, it was also essentially a prison. There would naturally have to be a means to keep its inmates from escaping. This took shape in the form of Rover, which resembled a large balloon (little wonder, as its appearance was inspired by weather balloons). Originally Rover was to be a more robotic , mechanical device. Unfortunately the original Rover did not behave as it should and ultimately sank in the waters outside Portmeirion very early in the filming of the first episode.

As to the character of Number Six, a popular theory among fans is that he is none other than John Drake, Patrick McGoohan's character from Danger Man. To a degree this would seem reasonable given that both characters are played by the same actor and both were secret agents. That having been said, it does not appear to be the case. In a 1966 interview with The Los Angeles Times, Patrick McGoohan stated, "John Drake ... is gone, but we're not foolish enough to change the image we've established with TV audiences." A 1967 ITC press release also makes it clear that the protagonists of Danger Man and The Prisoner are two different characters, with Patrick McGoohan saying of Number Six, ".. the character is not John Drake."  In interviews since the series Mr. McGoohan consistently denied that Number Six and John Drake were one and the same. Here it must be pointed out that while the two look a good deal alike, John Drake and Number Six have notably different personalities. John Drake was always cool, calm, collected, and generally congenial towards people (even his opponents). Number Six is often emotional, often temperamental, and can be downright hostile when he is provoked.

As mentioned earlier, The Prisoner made its worldwide debut on CTV in Canada on September 5 1967. It debuted on ATV Midlands in the United Kingdom on September 29 1967.  In the United Kingdom, its final episode, "Fall Out", aired on February 1 1968. When it first aired in Britain, "Fall Out" would leave many viewers unhappy. The episode answered no questions about the Village or why Number Six was there. In fact, it seemed to open more questions than it answered. Worse yet, some viewers, apparently expecting a Bondian showdown with Number One (the never seen head of the Village), found "Fall Out" incomprehensible. Legend has it that viewers jammed ITC's switchboards with calls complaining about the episode. Whether true or not, "Fall Out" has mystified viewers of The Prisoner for the past five decades.

The Prisoner would finally reach the United States on June 1 1968 on CBS on Saturday at 7:30 PM Eastern/6:30 PM Central. It would be pre-empted on June 8 1968 due to coverage of the funeral of Robert F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated on June 6 1968. Of the 17 episodes of The Prisoner CBS would ultimately only air 16 in the summer of 1968, leaving out the episode "Living in Harmony". It has been claimed that CBS chose not to air the episode because it involved the use of hallucinogenic drugs (even though several other episodes of the series involve their use as well). Others have claimed that it was not because of the use of hallucinogenic drugs, but instead because CBS saw in the tale of Number Six as a Sheriff in the Old West who refuses to carry a gun a veiled statement against the Vietnam War. In truth, neither of these are likely to be the reasons that CBS did not air "Living in Harmony". As mentioned earlier, on June 8 1968 The Prisoner was pre-empted by coverage of Robert F. Kennedy's funeral. To stay on schedule, this meant that CBS could only air 16 of the 17 episodes of The Prisoner. As to why CBS chose "Living in Harmony" as the episode not to air, it is probably because it is quite unlike any other episode of the series. It opens with an entirely different opening sequence and largely plays out as a Western. It is not until towards the end of the episode that the Village appears at all. Had CBS not planned to air "Living in Harmony" at all, the press at the time would have reported that CBS was airing only 16 of the 17 episodes of the show, and the exclusion of "Living in Harmony" would likely have been publicised. Here it must be pointed out that when ABC aired the fourth series of The Avengers (the first aired in the U.S.), it was announced that they would only be airing 21 episodes while acknowledging that 26 episodes had been produced.

As an intellectual British import airing on Saturday night, The Prisoner was not necessarily a ratings smash, but it earned largely positive reviews when it first aired in the United States. It also developed a cult following even as it initially aired on CBS. The network would show The Prisoner again in the summer of 1969. It would later go into syndication and would even air on PBS stations throughout the country. The Prisoner would even return to CBS, airing on CBS Late Night beginning in 1990. If anything, it is possible that it is more popular now than when it first aired.

Indeed, it would have a huge impact on popular culture. It provided some of the inspiration for several other TV shows over the years, from The X-Files to Nowhere Man to Lost. Several television shows have paid tribute to The Prisoner, including its contemporary The Avengers (in the 1969 episode "Wish You Were Here"), The Simpsons (in multiple episodes, one guest starring Patrick McGoohan as a caricature of Number Six), Coupling, Person of Interest, and several others. Even movies as diverse as The Matrix (1999) and  Shrek (2001) have referenced The Prisoner. The Prisoner has even been paid tribute in song, the most obvious example being the song "The Prisoner" by Iron Maiden. In 2009 a remake of the series aired as a mini-series on ITV in the United Kingdom and AMC in the United States. Unlike the original series, it was poorly received by critics and audiences alike.

While it ran for only 17 episodes, The Prisoner proved to be one of the most popular and influential shows of all time. It developed a cult following even as it first aired and maintains a cult following to this day. Several reams have been written on the show, from articles to entire books to, well, blog posts. I think it is safe to say that 50 years from now people will still be watching, talking about, and writing about The Prisoner.

(Credit Where Credit is Due Department: This post was made with the help of the excellent blog Number Six Was Innocent and sources from the era. By all means check out Number Six is Innocent, a must read for fans of The Prisoner)

Thursday, May 31, 2018

"Once in Love with Amy"

For the past few days the song "Once in Love with Amy" has been stuck in my head. Those of you familiar with the song might know that it originated in the 1948 Broadway musical Where's Charley?. With a book by George Abbott and lyrics and music by Frank Loesser, Where's Charley? was based on the highly successful 1892 British farce Charley's Aunt. Where's Charley? starred popular song and dance man Ray Bolger in the title role. It was Ray Bolger as a smitten Charley who sang "Once in Love with Amy" in the musical's second act. The song proved so popular that audiences would insist Mr. Bolger sing it a second time and they would even sing along.

It was in 1952 that Warner Bros. released a feature film adaptation of Where's Charley?, starring Ray Bolger and Allyn Ann McLerie as Amy. While the movie version of the musical would not prove particularly successful at the box office, it would air regularly on television until the Seventies, disappearing from the small screen afterwards. It has never been released on VHS, DVD, or Blu-Ray. It appears that Jo Sullivan Loesser, the widow of Frank Loesser, consistently blocked the release of Where's Charley? on video for whatever reason. Fortunately, Mrs. Loesser would eventually relent and give her permission for a video release. Sadly, as of yet, none have been forthcoming.

Fortunately, someone uploaded the "Once in Love with Amy" sequence from the movie to Dailymotion. Here it is, so now it can get stuck in your head as well...

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Allyn Ann McLerie Passes On

Allyn Ann McLerie, who played Amy in both the Broadway production of Where's Charley? and its subsequent film adaptation, as well as having regular roles on The Tony Randall Show and The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd and a recurring role as Mr. Carlson's wife on WKRP in Cincinnati, died on May 21 2018 at the age of 91.

Allyn Ann McLerie was born on December 1 1926 in Grand-Mère, Quebec. Her mother was widowed and moved to the United States when Miss McLerie was only one year old. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York. She made her debut on Broadway as part of the dance ensemble in One Touch of Venus in 1943. In 1944 she was part of the dance ensemble in On the Town. On Broadway she appeared in Where's Charley and Miss Liberty. She made her film debut in 1948 as an uncredited singer in Words and Music.

In the Fifties she appeared on Broadway in Time Limit!, Redhead, and West Side Story. She appeared in the films Where's Charley? (1952), The Desert Song (1953), Calamity Jane (1953), Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954), and Battle Cry (1955). In the Sixties she appeared on Broadway in The Beast in Me.

In the Sixties Allyn Ann McLerie appeared in the films 40 Pounds of Trouble (1962), They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969), The Reivers (1969), and Monte Walsh (1970). She made her television debut in a guest appearance on My World and Welcome to It. She also guest starred on Bonanza.

In the Seventies Miss McLerie was a regular on The Tony Randall Show. She appeared as Mr. Carlson's wife Carmen on WKRP in Cincinnati. She guest starred on such shows as Cannon, Nichols, The Waltons, The F.B.I., Baretta, Medical Centre, Lou Grant, and Barney Miller. She appeared in the films The Cowboys (1972), Jeremiah Johnson (1972), The Magnificent Seven Ride! (1972), Howzer (1973), The Way We Were (1973), Cinderella Liberty (1973), France société anonyme (1974), and All the President's Men (1976).

In the Eighties Allyn Ann McLerie was a regular and The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd. She guest starred on such shows as Hart to Hart, Benson, Dynasty, Trapper John M.D., The Love Boat, Knight Rider, St. Elsewhere, The Duck Factory, and Simon & Simon. She appeared in the film Police Academy: Mission to Moscow (1994).  In the Nineties she appeared as Carmen Carlson on The New WKRP in Cincinnati and guest starred on Brooklyn Bridge.

Allyn Ann McLerie was truly a talented actress. In her career she played a wide array of roles, from Amy in Where's Charley? to Mr. Carlson's sweet wife on WKRP in Cincinnati to Molly's somewhat overbearing mother on The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd. She was particularly memorable as a dancer who has a psychotic break during a marathon dance in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. With such talent, it is little wonder that Miss McLerie had such a good career.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Watch TCM--Turner Classic Movies' Mobile App

Unlike many people these days, I do not spend a lot of time on my smart phone. For that reason I do not have a lot of apps on my phone either. One of the apps installed on my phone is Watch TCM, the mobile app produced by Turner Classic Movies. If one is a TCM fan and owns a smart phone or a tablet, it is a must have.

Quite simply, Watch TCM has a lot of features that I suspect most TCM fans would use. Chief among these is the schedule. Away from one's computer, but wondering what is on TCM that night? One can check the schedule on Watch TCM. If there is a particular movie one wants to see, one can even set up a reminder on his or her phone that will notify not long before the movie airs.

Another feature that TCM fans might enjoy is the ability to watch TCM live on their phones. I imagine this could be particularly useful if one is travelling by bus, train, or plane. I have even used it myself, although only under very special circumstance. Twice over the past several months Turner Classic Movies was out on our cable system for whatever reason. Unfortunately, this was right before Noir Alley came on. I simply pulled up Watch TCM and mirrored my phone to my television set. As a result I did not miss Noir Alley. Here I must point out that not everyone might be able to do this. My phone is a Samsung Galaxy and my TV is a Samsung Smart TV. It wouldn't work if I had a different brand of TV or a different brand of phone! I am guessing it might work for other phones and TVs as well (for example, if one has an iPhone and Apple TV).

The TCM app also gives one access to TCM On Demand, so that one can watch whatever selection of movies is available at that time. I haven't used TCM On Demand on Watch TCM as I have access to On Demand through my cable provider, but I can imagine many people would find it useful.

Watch TCM also has a variety of clips and trailers that fans can watch. These range from trailers and clips from various movies to TCM promos. Watch TCM also has an image archive, chock full of posters, lobby cards, production photos, and publicity photos.

Now there is one big disadvantage to Watch TCM. One had to log in through one's cable provider account to access it, meaning it has to be available on his or her cable system. If one is a cord cutter, then, he or she won't be able to use the app. Still, for those of us who do have Turner Classic Movies on our cable systems, Watch TCM is a must-have app. In fact, aside from my email, my camera, and Instagram, it is probably the app I use the most on my phone.