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.