Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Happy Christmas from Ollie's Ghost

In the tradition of such great holiday podcasts as Florida Rocks Again! #33, Rock 'n' Roll Suicide #61, Savage Kick #23, and Killed by Porn #31, it's "A Mal Thursday Christmas" with special guests Yard Trauma, the Fleshtones, the Chesterfield Kings, the Reigning Sound, and the ghost of Oliver Reed. Presented in Living Monophonic Sound.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tommy (1975)

Ken Russell's 1975 film version of the Pete Townshend's rock opera Tommy is a study in excess, providing eye-popping visuals and grotesque tableaux to accompany the music. To label Russell's style of filmmaking "over the top" is putting it mildly. While some deride his work as vulgar and blasphemous, I believe Russell is one of cinema's true visionaries.

Roger Daltrey plays the title character, and having sung the role hundreds of times on stage, acquits himself admirably. Unfortunately, he would not fare as well with his future film roles.

Ann-Margaret plays his mother, and received an Academy Award nomination for her work. She emotes for the ages as she gets covered in baked beans, chocolate sauce, and soap bubbles while riding a massive phallic pillow. That's worth an Oscar nom any time...

Also in the cast are Keith Moon as Uncle Ernie, Elton John as the Pinball Wizard, Tina Turner as the Acid Queen, Jack Nicholson as the Doctor, and best of all, my main man Oliver Reed in full gargoyle mode as Frank, Tommy's stepfather.

When I first s
aw this movie as a 13 year old with a Who fixation, I hated Ollie for not being able to carry a tune in a bucket. Seeing it again 30 years later, I realized that he's the best thing in it, whether he's leering at Ann-Margaret, blowing cigar smoke in Jack Nicholson's face, or stomping on "Sally Simpson's" fingers.

We first meet Frank when Tommy and his mother go to a summer holiday camp, where Frank is a "greencoat." Ollie does some great physical comedy as he hosts a "lovely legs" competition ("Have you ever seen a lovelier pair?" he asks), won by Tommy's mum, of course. Soon, Frank's sleeping with her, and when Tommy's father, presumed dead, unexpectedly returns home, Frank caves in Daddy's skull, killing him for real. Tommy witnesses the crime, and is struck deaf, dumb, and blind by the trauma.

Reed's part got bigger and bigger as Keith Moon's got smaller and smaller, probably due to Ken Russell's familiarity with Oliver, and the fact that he could drink himself into stupor at night and show up on time and line-perfect in the morning, while Moonie remained stuporous. Nonetheless, Reed and Moon became bosom buddies, their carousing continuing after both relocated to Beverly Hills. I recently saw the blazer Reed sported in the holiday camp sequence on Ebay going for $2400 US. If I'd had the cash to spare, it would have been mine...

Tommy is not a total triumph: Townshend's score is heavy on the synthesizers and light on guitar crunch; the story is a bit nonsensical; and some elements of
the film now seem dated in the extreme. However, Ken Russell's audacious direction is never dull, and as I mentioned, Oliver Reed is totally genius in it. No Pavarotti for sure, but unmistakably, undeniably Ollie.

Available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Video. Get it online at The Oliver Reed Store.

A shorter version of this review was first published at, where you can read hundreds more of my write-ups, mostly film-related, as well as my reviews of books, local Austin places, various types of junk food, and some damn fine ales.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Triple Echo a/k/a Soldier in Skirts (1972)

1972's The Triple Echo, also known as Soldier in Skirts, marked the directorial debut of documentarian Michael Apted (7 Up, 14 Up, et al.), as well as Oliver Reed's second of three collaborations with Glenda Jackson. It would have been the third of four, but Jackson allegedly turned down the Mother Superior role in Ken Russell's 1971 epic The Devils, opening the door for Vanessa Redgrave's brilliant portrayal.

Based on a story by H.E. Bates, the plot concerns a cowardly pretty boy named Barton (Brian Deacon), a private in the British army stationed in rural England during World War II. Barton takes a fancy to Alice (Jackson), a tough homesteader who is running a farm by herself while her husband, an RAF officer, is fighting for flag and country in faraway Burma. Eventually, they begin an affair, which leads to Barton deserting to live in sin with Alice. As a cover, Alice makes the deserter dress up as her sister, reasoning that the local villagers won't think twice about a female visitor, but would be suspicious of a healthy young male hanging around.

At first, Barton is repulsed and humiliated by the masquerade, but slowly gets used to it, and ultimately embraces it.

Enter Ollie as a brutish cokney sergeant who is initially attracted to Alice, gets shut down, then transfers his attentions to her "sister" Kate. There are some squirmingly funny scenes as the sergeant puts the moves on Barton, completely unaware that he is pursuing a man.

Things inevitably come to a head when Barton defies Alice and goes to a dance at the army base as the sergeant's date. Tragedy ensues, although not in the way one might expect.

The three leads are excellent, with Oliver putting his military experience to good use. One wonders if he based his character on a real person he may have encountered during his national service in the late '50s. While Apted's direction at times reveals his inexperience in dramatic films, he does capture some breathtakingly beautiful shots of the English countryside. He would later go on to direct such movies as Coal Miner's Daughter, Nell, and the James Bond flick The World is Not Enough.

The Triple Echo is not entirely successful, but lingers in the viewer's mind long after the shocking twist at the end of the film.

At the time of his death, Ollie had just signed on for the title role in My Uncle Silas, another adaptation of the short stories of H.E. Bates. The BBC production was eventually filmed with Albert Finney in the part.

Currently unavailable on DVD, The Triple Echo was released on VHS in the '80s, and can be found relatively cheap on Ebay and elsewhere.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Ransom a/k/a Maniac a/k/a Assault on Paradise a/k/a The Town That Cried Terror (1977)

Released by American International Pictures in 1977, and reissued under several titles over the next few years, this turgid potboiler features ridiculous action sequences, a dopey script, and a cast of veteran actors picking up a quick paycheck. Namely Oliver Reed, sporting an exaggerated American tough guy accent, a sweaty and hungover looking Stuart Whitman, an equally sweaty John Ireland, and the laconic Jim Mitchum, son of Robert. The female lead is played by Deborah Raffin, who followed her early success in The Dove and Once is Not Enough with roles in made-for-television movies and B-flicks. This movie falls into the latter category, even if director Richard Compton gives the film the flat, cheap look of a '70s TV series.

The ludicrous plot concerns a series of murders by crossbow in a corrupt Arizona resort town, with the killer (Paul Koslo, who you may recall from his awful performance in Tomorrow Never Comes) demanding a ransom from the wealthy businessmen who run the town. Trying to keep a lid on things, Whitman hires world-weary mercenary Nick McCormick (Reed) and his faithful bald companion Wolf (Paul Lussier) to terminate the blackmailer with extreme prejudice.

A series of absurd set-pieces ensue, while the wealthy are picked off one by one, and Reed reaches the boiling point after Wolf gets an arrow in the back.

Reed is photographed to emphasize his short stature, while his scenes with Raffin are particularly incredulous. She's a TV reporter, he's a soldier of fortune. He steals her microphone, she confronts him, he pulls a gun on her, she sleeps with him.

It's totally '70s.

Originally entitled The Ransom, the film was rechristened Maniac in the fall of '77, with a lurid ad campaign created to tie it in with the Son of Sam killings. It later showed up at drive-ins and grindhouses, and on TV under the titles Assault on Paradise and The Town That Cried Terror.

Yeah, this movie is a piece of shit, but it has its moments.

Originally published in BLOG! by JM Dobies 16 May 2008.

Though currently unavailable on DVD, the VHS can be found cheap under the titles Maniac and The Ransom.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Assassination Bureau (1969)

Today's entry in The Oliver Reed Film Festival is 1969's The Assassination Bureau, an old-fashioned romp about murder most foul starring two of Britain's finest: Ollie and Mrs. Peel!

Reed, still sporting the epic mutton chops from his role as Bill Sykes in Oliver!, is Ivan Dragamilov, the head of the super-secret organization of the title; Diana Rigg, never more beautiful, and fresh off of her run as Emma Peel on TV's "The Avengers," is Miss Winter, aspiring journalist and proto-feminist. Reed and Rigg's undeniable chemistry and sexual tension give the film an added kick.

The droll screenplay is by Michael Relph (additional dialogue by Peter Sellers's favorite script doctor, Wolf Mankowitz) with old pro Basil Dearden (League of Gentlemen, The Mind Benders) providing solid, if somewhat zoom-happy, direction. The plot concerns Rigg's hiring of the bureau to kill Reed, its chairman, and the episodic farce is then played out in various European locales. It's slapstick comedy, but a very dark form of slapstick comedy, with many of the principles dying violently.

The international cast includes veteran character actors Curt Jergens, Clive Revill, and Phillipe Noiret, all mugging shamelessly as members of the bureau. Telly Savalas plays Lord Bostwick, the vice chariman, with a Brooklynese British accent. Savalas and Dame Diana would appear together again later that year in the James Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service with George Lazenby as 007, who was cast in the role over Oliver Reed, because of Ollie's reputation as a boozer and womanizer. Which is ironic, considering Bond's fondness for booze and women.

God knows Reed would have made a great Bond, a damn sight better than Lazenby or Roger Moore. I'm a fan of the latest Bond, Daniel Craig, whom one might say has a bit of Ollie in him.

The print quality and transfer on the DVD release are not the sharpest by any stretch, but most of the original color is still intact, and it is presented in widescreen.

The Assassination Bureau is a chance to see two of my favorite actors in their prime, showing intense charisma in a sly and dry bit bit of filmed entertainment.

30 year later, Reed and Rigg would both appear in Michael Winner's 1998 comedy dud Parting Shots, but not in the same scene, and the less said about that one, the better.


The DVD from Paramount Home Video is now out of print, so shop around for a decent price.

A shorter version of this review was first published at, where you can read hundreds more of my write-ups, mostly film-related, as well as my reviews of books, local Austin places, various types of junk food, and some damn fine ales.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Oliver Reed Film Festival Video: The Director's Cut!

Here's the director's cut of the little promotional video I made for The Oliver Reed Film Festival blog, with musical accompaniment by British punk band Menace. It's also on You Tube, but this is the definitive edit.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I'll Never Forget What's 'Isname (1967)

My favorite Oliver Reed film is 1967's I'll Never Forget What's 'Isname, directed by Michael Winner. I first saw this movie on Canadian TV on the midnight movie on CJOH and it has stuck in my head ever since. Back then, I enjoyed it for the psychedelic dream sequences, the dolly birds, and the good ol' "frank sexuality." Watching it again on DVD thirty years later, I find it still resonates, but for different reasons.

The films begins with Reed, as hotshot commerical filmmaker Andrew Quint, walking purposefully down the streets of London with an axe over his shoulder. When he reaches his office at the Lute Organisation, a large advertising firm, he proceeds to chop his desk to pieces, then tenders his resignation to his Machiavellian boss, Jonathan Lute, played by the one and only Orson Welles.

QUINT: I'm going to find an honest job.

LUTE: Silly boy. There aren't any.

And so begins Andrew's journey, the rejection of his entire way of life, which includes breaking up with his two mistresses (Marianne Faithfull, Lynn Ashley) and making peace with his estranged wife (Wendy Craig). He takes a job at a failing literary journal where he gets involved with yet another woman, the innocent Georgina (Carol White).

The film deftly juggles drama and comedy, with Welles supplying much of the humor, and was groundbreaking in its portrayal of sexuality. In fact, it was condemned by the Catholic Motion Picture Office upon its US release in 1968, because of a scene that implied that Reed was going down on White, and also because Faithfull screams out the F-word (obscured by traffic noise, but still clear enough to outrage the bluenoses at the time).

The Super-8 commercial Quint makes at the end of the film is still dazzling -- one would think that director Michael Winner would have gone on to greater things, but this film is the best thing he ever did. It is also one of Oliver Reed's finest performances, and one of Orson Welles's better roles in his long period of decline. There's a scene towards the end of the film where Reed kicks Welles out of the editing room, a bitter irony that mirrors Orson's being shut out of the post-production process on The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil.

The supporting performances by White, Craig, and Harry Andrews (in a genuinely creepy role as a dirty-minded poet laureate) are also tip top, as is the script by Peter Draper, an underrated screenwriter who also wrote The System. Francis Lai contributes the eclectic musical score, ranging from the fuzz-guitar-driven main title theme to lush orchestral pieces.

Several other Reed-Winner collaborations, The System (a/k/a The Girl Getters), The Jokers, and Hannibal Brooks, are also well worth a second look.

I'll Never Forget What's 'Isname is definitely worth seeking out, an underappreciated gem from the height of Swinging London, and one of the best British films of the '60s.

Released on DVD by Anchor Bay Home Entertainment, but it has gone out of print, so shop around for a reasonable price.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The System a/k/a The Girl-Getters (1964)

Michael Winnner's 1964 film The System, released in the US as The Girl-Getters in 1966, casts Oliver Reed as Stephen "Tinker" Taylor, part-time beach photographer and leader of a group of rogues who prey on the pretty young girls who come to their seaside town on summer holiday. Peter Draper's screenplay is set in the last days of August, as Reed and his cohorts, practitioners of the "System" of the title, look to make the most of the end of the season.

The film opens with the Searchers providing an appropriately Beatlesque title tune, as the lads meet the train from London, to get first look at all the new birds. They are joined by a new member, played by a young David Hemmings. Reed sets his sights on a bit of upper-crust crumpet from the First Class compartment, a debutante/fashion model named Nicola, played by Jane Merrow (apparently the producer nixed Winner's original choice for the role, Julie Christie, because he didn't think she was sexy enough).

Winner keeps things moving, alternating between drama and sex comedy, contrasting the sunny locations with darker intrusions of reality. When Tinker's friend and longtime girl-getter (John Alderton) gets his girl pregnant, the news is met with icy pragmatism: "Well, she better get rid of it then."

The adult themes in The System set it apart from the usual beach party flick, and ultimately, it's more drama than a comedy. The film captures the wistful, elegiac feel of summer's end, with the inevitable long winter looming ahead. Get it while you can, cause it's a long time until next May.

There's a virtuoso sequence involving Reed's description of the "grocks," code for the square holidaymakers who invade the town every summer. The striking black and white cinematography is the work of Nicolas Roeg, who would go on to direct such cult films as Performance and Walkabout.

Reed, as usual, excels at playing a perfect bastard, but he also manages to show the character's vulnerability. His obsession with the rich girl turns his world upside down, and undoes the foolproof stratagems of the System. One comic set piece that exposes the differences in wealth and privilege between the grocks and the locals involves Reed being challenged to a game of tennis by some of Merrow's rich friends, foolishly accepting, then getting roundly thrashed by the sons of privilege.

The System was Reed's last starring vehicle before getting his face scarred with a broken bottle at the Crazy Elephant nightclub in London, just prior to the film's premiere. He would re-establish himself in 1965 with Ken Russell's The Debussy Film for the BBC, and in the Michael Winner films The Jokers and I'll Never Forget What's 'Isname in 1966 and 1967, before becoming an international star with Oliver! and Women In Love. While Ollie's performance isn't perfect, his charisma is in full effect, and he carries the film on his back. It's easily my favorite of his early "pre-scar" performances, and one of my favorite '60s Britflicks.

The System is available on DVD in the UK from Odeon Home Entertainment, while in the US, you can still get The Girl-Getters (actually the British version, with "a/k/a The Girl-Getters" superimposed over the titles) on VHS from Kino Video.

For further reading, check out "The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game" at Movie Morlocks, the TCM Movie Blog.

For your listening pleasure, tune in to The Mal Thursday Show #6: The Girl-Getters on the GaragePunk Podcast Network, available online or via iTunes.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Brood (1979)

1979's The Brood is a gory, Canadian-made horror flick that has its roots in divorce court.

Following a bitter divorce and custody battle, director David Cronenberg wrote and directed this psychological shocker about a woman (Samantha Eggar) whose rage manifests itself by her giving birth to malevolent dwarves who kill anyone she perceives to be a threat to her happiness. As divorce metaphors go, this one certainly goes for the throat.

Art Hindle plays her estranged husband, who has custody of their young daughter (Cindy Hinds). This is no doubt very upsetting to Eggar's character, who is currently undergoing radical "psychoplasmic" therapy with the shadowy Dr. Hal Raglan, played by Oliver Re
ed. Ollie is excellent in the part, but aging fast, graying and a bit bloated from all the boozing. However, he seems unfazed by having come full circle, having started his career with the early '60s Hammer films, and now starring in another, different kind of horror, involving psychotic female rage and evil midget kids with no genitalia. It ain't exactly Curse of the Werewolf.

The atmosphere of the film is very '70s, and most Canadian. A host of character actors from the Great White North (Henry Beckman and Nuala Fitzgerald as Eggar's parents, Susan Hogan as a sympathetic teacher) die badly at the hands of the title characters before the final showdown at the Raglan Institute. The death of Hogan's character is particularly brutal, as
she gets beaten to death by the mallet-wielding title characters in front of a classroom full of second-graders. Maybe she reminded Cronenberg of his ex.

The third-act reveal of Eggar's exo-womb is still mighty disturbing. I was reminded of the Panasonic color televison ads she was doing at the time: "My hair is auburn, my dress is emerald green, and my malevolent dwarf-children are covered in gore that is vividly scarlet."

There is a remake currently in development, which on the surface seems absurd, but there is a serious lack of originality among the majority of modern Hollywood filmmakers, who have already puked out unnecessary remakes of movies like Last House on the Left, Friday the 13th, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. "The Horror Hacker" at put it this way: "
But really, what talent or originality does it really take to pitch a remake of a thematically rich classic film? In my opinion, that's why Cronenberg films should not be remade. His films are so complex and multi-layered that any remake is likely only to dumb down the story rather than explore the subtle horror behind everyday events. The day someone has the bright idea to remake Videodrome is the day I stop watching movies."

The Brood has gained a cult following over the years, and has aged better than other early Cronenberg works like Rabid and Videodrome. The director's nasty divorce begat
not only a pretty scary creepshow, but also a rock band: there is a British act who call themselves David Cronenberg's Wife.

Available on DVD from MGM Home Video.

A shorter version of this review was first published at, where you can read hundreds more of my write-ups, mostly film-related, as well as my reviews of books, local Austin places, various types of junk food, and some damn fine ales.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Oliver Reed Store

If you enjoy these essays and want to see the films, please visit The Oliver Reed Store for DVDs of Ollie's Greatest Hits.

Most titles are US Region One NTSC releases, but we do have the The System DVD in stock for our friends in the UK, and for our American customers, the VHS edition under the title The Girl-Getters.

Payments accepted via PayPal.

Available on DVD:

* The Devils
* The Three Musketeers
and The Four Musketeers
* Oliver!
* Tommy
* Women in Love
* Ken Russell at the BBC
* Gladiator
* Crossed Swords a/k/a The Prince and the Pauper
* Hammer Horror Series
* Revolver
* Tomorrow Never Comes
* The Brood
* The Shuttered Room
* The Girl-Getters a/k/a The System

...and more to come.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Achado bloguístico do dia: The Oliver Reed Film Festival

Many thanks to the Brazilian classic movie blog Quixotando ( for making The Oliver Reed Film Festival its "Achado bloguístico do dia."

Which, loosely translated from the Portugese, would be "Found Blog of the Day."

We salute you for your excellent taste.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Oliver Reed Film Festival, Pt. 3: the '80s 'Til Death

In Part One and Part Two of "The Oliver Reed Film Festival," Ollie rose to glory as "The Biggest Film Star in Britain." While other contenders for the title fled England as tax exiles, Reed stubbornly stayed behind. By the end of the '70s, Reed had at last come to America, but he was past his prime as a leading man.

DR. HECKYL & MR. HYPE (1980)
In this comic variation on Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Charles B. Griffith, Reed plays a deformed podiatrist who sets out to lose his virginity by ingesting a serum that turns him into a suave ladykiller. Imagine if you will, The Nutty Professor with Ollie instead of Jerry Lewis. Featuring Corman regulars Dick Miller and Mel Welles, former Dallas Cowboys running back Duane Thomas, and Jackie Coogan as "Sergeant Fleacollar."

Mommar Khadafi helped finance this epic story of guerilla leader Omar Muhkta (Anthony Quinn), who fought ferociously against Mussolini's occupation of Libya during the Second World War. Reed plays Italian general Rodolpho Graziani. One of Ollie's favorites. With Rod Steiger, Sir John Gielgud, and Sky Dumont.

This Disney-made stinker reunited Reed with Michael Crawford, his co-star from The Jokers. Ollie preferred to call this movie "Condom Man."

VENOM (1982)
Cool suspense flick about a kidnapping gone awry, with Reed as Dave the chaffeur. Co-starring Klaus Kinski, Sarah Miles, Sterling Hayden, Susan George, and a deadly black mamba snake. Original director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) got fired from the movie, perhaps because he had a more difficult time working with a drunken Reed and the certifiably insane Kinski than he did working with Leatherface.

Having famously turned down the role of Doyle Lonnegan in 1973's The Sting with Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Ollie finally got to play the part in this belated sequel, but instead of Newman and Redford, his co-stars were Jackie Gleason and Mac Davis.

TWO OF A KIND (1983)
John Travolta. Olivia Newton-John. Oliver Reed. Better than Grease 2, not as good as The Sting II. With Charles Durning, Scatman Crothers, and Gene Hackman as the voice of God.

SPASMS (1983)
Ollie returned to Canada to make this godawful gorefest, which makes The Brood look like Citizen Kane in comparison. With Peter Fonda.

Ollie is brilliant in his last great starring performance as Gerald Kingsley, the self-proclaimed "Sex Pest of the South Seas." Based on Lucy Irving's book. Irving (Amanda Donohoe) responds to an ad in the classifieds placed by Kingsley, who seeks a companion to live on a deserted island with him. They spend a turbulent year roughing it, walking around naked, and fighting a lot.

Reed in his final leading role, as Roderick Usher in this undistinguished Poe adaptation, done in by a cheesy '80s synth score. Produced by exploitation vet Harry Alan Towers. With Donald Pleasance.

As his career waned, Ollie's legend grew. He began appearing on British chat shows and making a drunken spectacle of himself, culminating in his 1991 appearance on Channel Four's After Dark in which he sparred verbally with feminist author Kate Millet, telling her "I've had more fights in pubs than you've had hot dinners," and kissing her full on the lips. And though he was brilliant in Castaway, Reed's days as a leading man were over. And so it was that he filled out the remainder of his screen career with supporting roles, such as his brief-but-memorable turn as Vulcan in Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

Direct-to-video sequel to the mid-70s Musketeers movies, reuniting much of the principal cast with director Richard Lester, only to prove how badly most of them had aged. After a fight scene had to be rewritten because of his debilitated physical condition, a dispirited Ollie apologized to the director, saying "Sorry I'm such a fat cunt." Tragically, the wonderful and round character actor Roy Kinnear was killed during the making of the movie, after a fall from a horse, which lent an air of doom to the proceedings. There would be no roadshow theatrical run for Return of the Musketeers, only straight-to-video ignominy. Has its defenders, me among them. But watching the film and knowing the backstory, I couldn't help but feel bad for Kinnear and think back to his performance as Algernon in The Beatles' Help!...Sad.

Superlative made-for-TV adaptation of RL Stevenson's tale, and much more faithful to its source material than, say, a film like Dr. Heckyl & Mr. Hype. Starring Charlton Heston as Long John Silver, Christian Bale as Jim Hawkins, with Ollie third-billed as Billy Bones. Co-starring Reed's Hammer Horror co-hort Christopher Lee as Blind Pew. Directed by Heston's son Fraser.

Israeli schlockmeister Menahem Golan helmed this obscure thriller about a gang of criminals in Berlin who plot the perfect bank job.

In another small part, Reed is nonetheless a memorably menacing presence as the heavy of the piece, gay gangster Dolly Hopkins. But, like they say, there are no small parts, only small actors. With Oliver Platt and Jerry Lewis.

Reed plays an inept professional killer in this alleged comedy, his sixth and final collaboration with director Michael Winner, whose career paralleled Ollie's in many ways. With Diana Rigg, Felicity Kendall, and John Cleese.

"We are but shadows and dust." Triumphant swan song from Mr. England, as the gladiator pimp daddy Prospero. Reed's death in a Maltese pub, mid-production, led to a hastily written death scene using a CGI simulacrum of Ollie, at an additional cost to the production of over three million dollars. A fitting end to a checkered career. With Russell Crowe.
Originally posted 24 August 2007.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Maxim on Oliver Reed: "We'll Drink to That"

From the May 2009 issue of Maxim Magazine (UK):

"A tabloid journalist’s dream, Oliver Reed spent a thirty-year career balancing his considerable talent with an irresistible urge to self-destruct. A fine actor, Reed was often irritated by the emphasis that was placed on his drinking above his career. At the time of Oliver!’s success he was one of the highest paid stars in the country, and was reputedly only a whisker away from bagging the part of James Bond, after Sean Connery vacated the role. Inevitably however, his acting would become increasingly overshadowed by his extracurricular activities, with every film shoot seeming to generate another string of debauched anecdotes. And despite what he might occasionally have claimed, Ollie revelled in his notoriety: ‘I’ve always liked being called a hellraiser. The sad thing is that I’m the last of them. There was O’Toole, Harris and I was the baby. Now I’m the only one carrying the baton.’ A baton that has not been carried in quite the same way since. 10 years after his death, we raise a glass to the life of the last Great British hellraiser."


I spotted a couple of errors, but all in all, an entertaining mini-biography loaded with great quotes from Ollie.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tomorrow Never Comes (1978)

Here's a brutal little item for you all, Peter Collinson's 1978 made-in-Quebec crime drama Tomorrow Never Comes. Oliver Reed trots out his American tough guy accent as Jim Wilson, an embittered, burnt-out cop in a corrupt resort town who, on his last day on the force, must deal with an out-of-control hostage situation.

When Frank (Stephen McHattie) returns to town to find that his girlfriend Janie (a bloated Susan George, near the end of her career as a sexpot) is now the mistress of the richest man in town, all heck breaks loose.

After being on the receiving end of a bad beatdown by some local creeps, Frank's clearly not at his best when he goes to Janie's place to confront her. After woozily menacing a gay bellhop and a black maid, Frank draws the attention of a particularly inept police officer who somehow gets shot with his own gun. And the siege is on.

Director Collinson's greatest claim to fame was his stellar work on 1969's The Italian Job, but most of his filmography consists of such unrelenting nastiness as 1967's The Penthouse, Straight On Till Morning (1972), and Open Season (1974), which are all variations on the same basic plot. Quentin Tarantino has professed a special fondness for Collinson's The Sell Out, from 1976, also with Reed.

The film's Canadian pedigree is obvious by the presence of such canuck character actors as Raymond Burr, John Ireland, and Paul Koslo (particularly bad as Reed's cop rival), cast to satisfy the Government requirement that a certain number of featured roles go to natives of the Great White North. Slumming along with Reed are fellow Brits Donald Pleasance (as a tubercular French Canadian doctor) and John Osbourne, the playwright of Look Back in Anger and The Entertainer. Pity Collinson couldn't convince him to doctor the script.

Still, the movie has its moments. The Laval and Montreal locations evoke a sweet '70s nostalgia (for me, anyway), and the close-up of Ollie hoisting a can of Molson Export Ale is one for the ages. The scene where Reed attempts to bring McHattie to justice by drugging his beer is pretty awesome as well, and the downer ending is well-telegraphed if not well-choreographed.

All in all, a decent time-waster that's worth a rental from Netflix.

Tomorrow Never Comes has recently been reissued on DVD in a bare-bones, full-screen edition by Televista Video.

Originally published 4 December 2007 in BLOG! by JM Dobies, and subsequently at, where you can read hundreds more of my write-ups, mostly film-related, as well as my reviews of books, local Austin places, various types of junk food, and some damn fine ales.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Crossed Swords a/k/a The Prince and the Pauper (1977)

A shorter version of this review was first published at, where you can read hundreds more of my write-ups, mostly film-related, as well as my reviews of books, local Austin places, various types of junk food, and some damn fine ales.

1977's Crossed Swords, a/k/a The Prince and the Pauper, is a stellar adaptation of Mark Twain's novel, originally filmed 40 years earlier with Freddie Bartholomew in the title role, and Errol Flynn as Miles Hendon.This version was produced by Alexander and Ilya Salkind, in the tradition of their Three Musketeers films, reuniting several key cast members from those movies: Oliver Reed (as Hendon), Charlton Heston (as King Henry VIII), and Raquel Welch (as Edith, Hendon's true love). Other key roles are played by George C. Scott, Rex Harrison, David Hemmings, Ernest Borgnine, and Harry Andrews. For the record, that makes four winners of the Academy Award for Best Actor (Heston, Harrison, Scott, and Borgnine).

The dual roles of Tom Canty and the Prince of Wales are portrayed by Mark Lester, best known for playing the title character in 1968's Oliver! While Lester isn't up to performance standards of his more esteemed castmates, he's not as bad as some critics suggested at the time.

In one of his last roles as a "sexy leading man," Reed is in top form as Miles Hendon, offering him an opportunity to play a character that Flynn, his idol, had played, and also do plenty of swashbuckling, brawling, and shouting, several things he at which he was quite adept. His comic timing is also excellent: when a villain attempts to stab him, he grabs the man's wrist, remarking "Your fingernails are filthy!" then head-butts the guy into unconsciousness.

Rex Harrison, in one of his last roles, is amusing as the Duke of Norfolk, who runs afoul of King Henry early in the picture. Ernest Borgnine plays Tom Canty's cruel and abusive father with an uneven cockney accent, but physically fits the role to a T.

Crossed Swords was directed by Richard Fleischer, a filmmaker whose output varied from groundbreaking work like 1959's Compulsion and 1968's The Boston Strangler to genre flicks like Soylent Green (1973), Mandingo (1975), and Amityville 3-D (1983). While someone like Richard Lester (who had worked for the Salkinds on the Musketeer films as well as Superman) might have bought a little more flash to the proceedings, Fleischer's direction is workmanlike, getting the job done with a minimum of artifice. There is a timeless quality to the film, which has aged very well despite not being a money-maker upon its initial release. No idea as to why the film was given a much gayer title for the US release. The Prince and the Pauper is not only a better title, it also describes the story a lot better.

The recent DVD release is a bare-bones affair, with no extras to speak of, but it does restore eight minutes of footage cut from the US release, and features a nice widescreen transfer.

Available on DVD from Lion's Gate Home Entertainment at The Oliver Reed Store.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Oliver Reed Film Festival, Pt. 2: The '70s

In Part One of "The Oliver Reed Film Festival," Ollie rose to fame during the 1960s. By the early '70s, he was considered "The Biggest Star in Britain," as least in his own estimation.

A young schoolteacher (Hayley Mills) comes to a small town in the South of England and before you can say Eric Robinson, a local cad -- Ollie, of course -- tries to get into her knickers. But then competition, in the form of Noel Harrison, rears its ugly head. From the novel by Kingsley Amis.

THE DEVILS (1971):
Reed is mesmerizing as Father Urbain Grandier, a lusty priest who tries to protect his city from an unholy union of church and state fomented by the evil Cardinal Richelieu (see also The Three Muskeeters). Naked nuns, bearing false witness, lead to Ollie being burned at the stake. Ken Russell's masterpiece, unjustly hacked up by the censors. With Vanessa Redgrave as the hunchbacked Mother Superior.

Ultra-violent western about a famous outlaw (Reed) who kidnaps the wife (Candice Bergen) of a wealthy rancher (Gene Hackman), so that she can teach him to read. She discovers that she likes the outlaw better than her husband, while her husband forms the titular hunting party to track down and kill the outlaw, his gang, and the wife, most bloodily. A metaphor for the Viet Nam war, believe it or not.

During World War II, a pretty boy private (Brian Deacon) goes AWOL to live with his lover (Glenda Jackson), who decides that he should pose as her sister to avoid detection. While in drag, he becomes the object of desire of a brutish cockney sergeant, played with suitable menace by Ollie. Tragedy ensues. Directed by Michael Apted.

Brutal crime drama a la Get Carter, with Reed as a prison escapee who deviates from his escape plan so that he may kill his cheating wife, played by Jill St. John. With Ian McShane. Can you say "Mayhem ensues"?

In a totalitarian state of the not-too-distant future, childbearing has been outlawed, but Reed and his wife (Geraldine Chaplin) fight the power by having a baby. Word gets out and Ollie is forced to do violence to the police, his friends and neighbors, in order to protect the child. Inspired 2006's Children of Men.

Italian-made revenge drama directed by Sergio Sollima, with Reed as a cop trying to get his kidnapped wife back from some nasty mobsters. One of his best attempts at an American accent. If you like your Ollie in-your-face, yelling a lot and killing people, this one's for you. With Fabio Testi.

"Oliver Reed is fucking God in this movie" -- Quentin Tarantino
Swashbuckling epic with an all-star cast, including Reed, Richard Chamberlain, Frank Finlay and Michael York as the Musketeers, plus Raquel Welch, Faye Dunaway, Spike Milligan, and Charlton Heston as Cardinal Richelieu. The best sword fights ever captured on film, even if Ollie did nearly kill Christopher Lee, several stuntmen, and himself in the process.

TOMMY (1975):
When I first saw this movie as a 13 year old with a Who fixation, I hated Ollie for not being able to carry a tune in a bucket. Seeing it again 30 years later, I realized that he's the best thing in it, whether he's leering at Ann-Margaret, blowing smoke in Jack Nicholson's face, or kicking Sally Simpson upside the head. Reed's part got bigger and bigger as Keith Moon's got smaller and smaller, probably due to Ken Russell's familiarity with Oliver, and the fact that he could drink himself into stupor at night and show up on time and line-perfect in the morning, while Moonie remained stuporous. Nonetheless, Reed and Moon became bosom buddies, their carousing continuing after both relocated to Beverly Hills. I recently saw the blazer Reed sported in the holiday camp sequence on Ebay going for $2400 US. If I'd had the cash to spare, it would have been mine...

Malcolm McDowell plays Harry Flashman, rogue hero of George McDonald Frasier's novels, but Ollie steals the show as Otto Von Bismark. Directed by Richard Lester.

THE SELL-OUT (1976):
Israeli-made spy flick with Reed again cast as an American. It's a tense little tale full of double-crosses and sudden violence. Which is probably why they cast Ollie. "Sudden violence? Get me Oliver Reed!" With Richard Widmark and Gayle Hunnicut.

After turning down roles in The Sting and Jaws, both of which went to Robert Shaw, Ollie finally went to America for this horror about a house possessed by evil spirits. His character ends up plummeting from the top floor, face first through the windshield of the family car. Co-starring Karen Black and grande dame Bette Davis, who shared with Reed a mutual and thorough dislike.

Reed plays blue-eyed Indian scout Joe Knox, with plenty of bronze make-up and a dialect lifted directly from Jay Silverheels. Worth seeing for the teaming of two legendary booze-hounds -- Olllie and the palimony-era Lee Marvin -- but the film was emblematic of Reed's brief sojourn in Hollywood. He had resisted coming to America because he was the biggest star in Britain, the self-proclaimed "Mr. England," but it was films like this that demonstrated that he had waited a couple of years too long. With Robert Culp and Kay Lenz.

American International Pictures released this dopey action flick under a number of different titles, and a number of hard-drinking character actors, including Ollie, a sweaty and hungover-looking Stuart Whitman, and Jim Mitchum, the Son of Bob, picked up easy paychecks. With Deborah Raffin.

All-star remake of the Mark Twain classic, reuniting Reed with his Museketeers co-star Raquel Welch and Oliver!'s Mark Lester, who plays the title roles. Great swashbuckling action, with Ollie in top form. Co-starring four winners of the Academy Award for Best Actor: Rex Harrison, George C. Scott, Charlton Heston, and Ernest Borgnine. Directed by Richard Fleischer.

Robert Mitchum returns as Phillip Marlowe in the follow-up to Farewell, My Lovely, but thanks to international financing, and plain laziness, the action is transplanted from '40s L.A. to modern-day London. Reed plays gangster Eddie Mars with scowling menace, apparently as a favor to director Michael Winner, with whom he'd worked on three previous (and much better) films. With Richard Boone, Sarah Miles, Candy Clark, and Joan Collins.

Peter Colinson (The Italian Job, The Penthouse) directed this made-in-Quebec crime drama featuring a mix of British (Oliver Reed, Susan George, Donald Pleasance) and Canadian (Stephen McHattie, John Ireland, and Raymong Burr) actors. Reed trots out his American tough guy accent as an embittered, burnt-out cop who, on his last day on the force, must deal with a hostage situation. The shot of Ollie hoisting a can of Molson Export Ale is one for the ages.

THE BROOD (1979):
Ollie went to Canada to make this shocker with director David Cronenberg, who wrote the film following a bitter divorce and custody battle with his ex-wife. It's all about a crazy bitch, played by Samanth Eggar, whose rage manifests itself by giving birth to malevolent dwarves who kill anyone she perceives to be a threat to her happiness. The reveal of her exo-womb is still mighty disturbing. Reed is great, though aging fast, as her psychotherapist, Dr. Raglan, who inevitably dies badly at the hands of the title characters. With Art Hindle.

Originally posted in BLOG! by JM Dobies on 16 August 2007.

Stay tuned for The Oliver Reed Film Festival, Part Three: The '80s 'Til Death.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

The 1961 Hammer Films production of The Curse of the Werewolf, directed by Terence Fisher, marked Oliver Reed's first starring role, even if Clifford Evans got top billing. It is also one of my favorite Hammer horrors, and my favorite werewolf movie of all time.

After Hammer had put its unique stamp on Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Mummy, it was inevitable that the studio would make its own variation on The Wolf Man. When a proposed co-production about the Spanish Civil War fell through, the ever-frugal Hammer executives ordered a script to make use of the sets that had already been built. Producer Anthony Hinds adapted Guy Endore's novel The Werewolf of Paris, writing the script under the pseudonym John Elder, transplanting the action to 18th century Spain. The result is an atmospheric, grim little tale of lycanthropy, good vs. evil, and the horrors of adolescence. Or as the ads for the fim so colorfully put it, ‘He fought the hideous curse of his evil birth, but his ravished victims were proof that the cravings of his beast-blood demanded he kill… Kill… KILL!’

Unlike Universal's Wolf Man films of the '40s, The Curse of the Werewolf does not hold back on the sex and gore, especially in the version released in the US, which contained scenes the British censors had ordered excised from the film (it is this version which is included in the Hammer Horror Series DVD boxed set, available HERE). The werewolf's origin story is particularly twisted, as Leon is the bastard offspring of a feral lunatic rapist and the town jailer's deaf mute daughter, played by the Yvonne Romain. When she dies in childbirth, Leon is adopted by the kindly Don Corledo, and after an uneventful childhood, develops an unnatural bloodlust at the onset of puberty, allong with an overwhelming urge to roam the countryside disemboweling area livestock.

Trapped in a world he never made, Leon inevitably graduates to killing humans as things go horribly wrong with a local prostitute, when in the middle of a "date," Leon turns into a werewolf and rips her throat out.

Only true love, it seems, can cure Leon's full moon fever, and it arrives in the second act in the person of the lovely Catherine Feller as the virginal Christina, who loves Leon despite the occasional lycanthropic mayhem and savagery at the local bordello. But when the bodies start piling up, the local authorities are forced to take action.

From the opening scene, the recurring theme is cruelty: the cruelty of life, the cruelty of fate, and the cruelty of the ruling class, for it is the cruelty of one particularly nasty noble that sets Leon's fate in motion. In his highly insightful essay for Cinemafantastique, Steve Biodrowski writes that The Curse of the Werewolf "plays out like a deliberate piece of Theatre of Cruelty, in which most of the sympathetic characters come to a tragic end. The result is not especially frightening, but undeniably effective, in a depressing sort of way."

Quite true, as Hinds's bleak view of humanity pervades the film, and subsequent Hammer horrors, such as Evil of Frankenstein, for which he provided the screenplays. Terence Fisher gives the film that iconic Hammer feel, with great color cinematography by Arthur Grant.

Oliver Reed, though raw, and a bit over the top at times, is riveting. He manages to capture Leon's torment while still projecting the charisma that would make him an international star. His performance, and the vivid production values, easily make this my favorite werewolf movie -- well ahead of The Wolf Man, even if that film came first. Lon Chaney's Lawrence Talbot is just a mopey lummox with a death wish, while Reed's Leon combines danger and vulnerability to make for a much more compelling character. Talbot is basically suicidal, while Leon wants to live. And therein lies the tragedy.

The Curse of the Werewolf makes a fine double feature with either 1958's Horror of Dracula, starring Christopher Lee, or Paranoiac, from 1963, a sub-Hitchcock psychodrama featuring another early performance from Reed.

For further reading, check out Steve Biodrowski's essay on The Curse of the Werewolf at

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Oliver Reed Film Festival, Pt. 1: the '60s

Ollie stars as a a young Spanish nobleman with a problem: he keeps turning into a wolf and disemboweling people. The film that led indirectly to Ollie getting his face slashed with a broken bottle in a bar fight in 1964. With Clifford Evans and Yvonne Romain.

Sub-Hitchcock hoo-hah with Reed as a creepy rich kid out to make sure he collects on his inheritance -- even if it means murder! My favorite (and most prophetic) line of dialogue: "I've been drinking. Now I'm going to drink some more."

THE DAMNED a/k/a THESE ARE THE DAMNED (1963): Not to be confused with Luchino Visconti's 1970 epic, this is a sort-of sequel to VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED and CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED with Reed playing "King," a nasty ruffian who inevitably meets a bad end. An interesting combo of horror, sci-fi, juvenile delinquent and nuclear holocaust-type flicks from director Joseph Losey. With MacDonald Carey, Viveca Lindfors and Shirley Ann Field as the object of Reed's incestuous jealousy.

Reed plays Stephen "Tinker" Taylor, a womanizing photographer in a seaside resort who gets his comeuppance when he falls for an upper-class fashion model named Nicola. Directed in living black and white by Michael Winner, from a screenplay by Peter Draper. Great theme song by the Searchers. With Jane Merrow, Harry Andrews, and David Hemmings.

Reed plays "Moise," the leader of a pack of layabout no-goodniks called, appropriately enough, "The Pack." A wealthy young American girl falls into their orbit, and tragedy ensues. Ollie is mesmerizing as the charismatic, nihilistic would-be beatnik whose idea of a miracle is a girl who won't go to bed with him. Director Guy Hamilton (Goldfinger) tried to have his name removed from the credits after the British censors made heavy cuts. With Eddie Albert.

THE DEBUSSY FILM (1965): In his first collabration with director Ken Russell, Reed plays two roles, one as a dead ringer for French composer Claude DeBussy, and the other as a brooding young actor not unlike Ollie himself, who is cast as DeBussy. Audacious work foreshadows the brilliance of The Devils (1971). Russell and Reed developed a shorthand for Ollie's acting range: "Moody One," Moody Two," and "Moody Three," ranging from quiet menace to bellowing rage.

THE TRAP (1966):
Surprisingly tender adventure tale about a French-Canadian fur trapper who buys a deaf mute (Rita Tushingham) to be his bride. Ollie's accent varies wildly, at times spot-on, other times sounding more like a brain-damaged Belgian.

THE JOKERS (1966):
Reed's second collaboration with director Michael Winner, from a script by Dick Clement and Ian LaFrenais, fresh off the BBC series "The Likely Lads." Two brothers plot to steal the Crown Jewels, but just for kicks. Co-starring Michael Crawford as Reed's ne'er-do-well younger brother. Hasn't aged particularly well, but proved that Reed could do comedy.

Early Ken Russell effort made for British Television with Oliver as Dante Gabriel Rosetti. Creepy opening scene has him exhuming his wife's buried remains so that he can retrieve a book of his poems from her coffin for his publisher.

Director Michael Winner and writer Peter Draper conceived this as sort of a sequel to The System. Reed plays Andrew Quint, a successful director of TV commercials who rebels by quitting his job, breaking up with his mistresses, and taking a editorial position at a failing literary magazine. Mayhem ensues. With Harry Andrews, Carol White, and Orson Welles as Jonathan Lute, Quint's Machiavellian boss.

QUINT: I'm going to find an honest job.
LUTE: Silly boy. There aren't any.

OLIVER! (1968):
"More? MORE? Never before has a boy asked for more..." Reed sports epic mutton chops as the villainous Bill Sykes, and is great in the role, even if his death scene is eerily similar to the one he did in Curse of the Werewolf. Directed by his uncle, Sir Carol. With Ron Moody, Shani Wallis, Mark Lester, and Jack Wild.

An English soldier in a German P.O.W. camp is used as forced labor at the local zoo, and befriends an elephant named Lucy. It's STALAG 17 meets DUMBO. One of Ollie's most likeable performances. Co-starring Michael J. Pollard.

Reed stars as Ivan Dragamilov, head of the titular organization. Diana Rigg, at her loveliest, plays a crusading journalist who hires said organization to kill Dragamilov. Romance and mayhem ensue. With Telly Savalas.

Ken Russell adapts DH Lawrence, Glenda Jackson emotes for the ages while Alan Bates and Ollie have a nude wrestling match. With Hammer vet Jennie Linden and the imperious Eleanor Bron (Help!).

Stay tuned for The Oliver Reed Film Festival, Part Two: The '70s and The Oliver Reed Film Festival, Part Three: The '80s 'Til Death

Originally posted at BLOG! by Jm Dobies

9 August 2007