Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Forgotten '60s movies: Decline and Fall

DECLINE AND FALL, 1968.  Amusing film version of Evelyn Waugh’s satire which I enjoyed back then and is finally back in circulation (on a no-frills Fox Cinema Archives dvd). It is quite a lavish production from that era when Americans were financing the British film industry, from Ivan Foxwell and directed by John Krish, the interest now is the great cast of English players, some of whom keep re-appearing as their characters’ fortunes wax and wane. I presume they titled it DECLINE AND FALL OF A BIRDWATCHER to make it sound a bit more racy … we only see our lead character Paul Pennyfeather watching birds (the feathered kind) once, before he is slung out of Oxford University as he is blamed for the pranks of others. 

Everything happens to hapless Paul, a passive victim of circumstance. He winds up teaching at Llanabba school in darkest, wettest Wales, a grim place run by Dr Fagan (Donald Wolfit, enjoying himself hugely) and his daughter Flossie (Patience Collier). Other teachers include Grimes (Leo McKern) a bigamist with a wonky leg, Prendergast (Robert Harris) with that ill-fitting wig, and Maybrick (Colin Blakely) the handyman turned thief. It rains of course on sports day but the heavens part to allow the sun to shine on Margot Beste-Chetwynd (Genevieve Page), socialite mother of one of the pupils, and soon Paul is in her thrall, as he is invited to her luxurious pad, Margot it seems has plans for him …. As she gets him to assist her with her Latin American Entertainments company, which is a front for white slavery, an amusing scene has her interviewing prospective dancers.  Paul of course takes the rap and is sent to a very grim prison, where McKern, Harris and Blakely turn up again. Margot marries the Home Secretary and gets a pardon for Paul, who is whisked away to a dubious nursing home, run by Dr Fagan . Poor Prendegast has been murdered by a lunatic and his body substituted for Paul at his funeral, leaving our hero free for further adventures. 

So, it is a comic, episodic ramble through English society, as our innocent hero finds duplicity and greed on all sides. Robin Phillips (who went into threatre direction) plays Paul, slinky vamps don’t come any slinkier than Genevieve Page, and Felix Aylmer as an aged judge, Kenneth Griffith, Patrick Magee, Donald Sinden, Paul Rogers, Roland Curram, Marne Maitland and Victor Maddern are among the host of supporting players. Like Tony Richardson’s Waugh film THE LOVED ONE it crams everybody in! 
Robin Phillips was also DAVID COPPERFIELD in that all-star 1969 version which I liked (with Olivier, Edith Evans etc), and in a very odd one TWO GENTLEMEN SHARING (right) which seems to have vanished competely. He later became Artistic Director of Canada's Stratford Festival.

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