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, 29 May 2016

Laughter in the Dark, 1969

Or: The Burton film that wasn't .... Tony Richardson's LAUGHTER IN THE DARK seems a very rare movie now, there are only 3 comments on it on IMDB - It had a short London run back in 1969, but I caught it on its one screening on BBC2 here, and it then vanished until I got a copy from my pal Jerry - a rare movie hound, always tracking down esoteric items.

This Tony Richardson film caused some publicity at the time, as it was began with Richard Burton who did a few scenes before being sacked for being drunk and causing problems. His replacement was the equally erratic Nicol Williamson, and its an ideal role for him, (he had just done HAMLET at The Roundhouse in 1968, also filmed by Richardson).

Nicol Williamson, Anna Karina and Jean-Claude Drouot star in Tony Richardson's bold adaptation of the Nabokov novel. Updated to 1969 London from pre-Hitler Germany of the early '30s, it's the story of a successful art dealer (Williamson) who becomes so enamored with a degenerate usherette/grifter (Karina) that he literally destroys his life. He loses his wife, his daughter, his job and his eyesight, and finally his life.

Williamson, in a role meant for and started by Richard Burton, gives a great performance, playing an even more obsessive Humbert Humbert. Drouot (from Agnes Varda's LE BONHEUR)  is excellent as the malevolent artist/gigolo who is Karina's real love. The casting of Karina is a bit odd and her French accent is never accounted for. Nevertheless she successfully conveys pure evil. It is one of the international roles she was doing at the time (as in JUSTINE, Visconti's THE STRANGER, MICHAEL KOHLHAAS etc). Si├ón Phillips (before she became a grande dame) is Williamson's no-nonsense wife. Cast also includes Peter Bowles, and it captures that late Sixties London high life perfectly. Like the films of Nabokov's LOLITA and KING, QUEEN, KNAVE (John-Moulder Brown label) it is another mordantly funny heartless tale, and maybe one of Richardson's most effective films.
A nice in-joke here is that the cinema where Karina works is the old NFT (National Film Theatre, now the BFI Southbank in London, where I idled away a lot of the Seventies) - as the cinema did not sell refreshments in the audiorium. (It was also used as the cinema in Winner's I'LL NEVER FORGET WHATS'ISNAME). 
As recorded previously, Richardson had a problematic '60s after the enormous Oscar-winning success of TOM JONES in 1963, bankrolling his and Woodfall's following films, as he indulged himself with Jeanne Moreau in MADEMOISELLE and THE SAILOR FROM GIBRALTAR, and the expensive  THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE in 1968, all of which under-performed, putting it mildly, so big things may have been expected of LAUGHTER IN THE DARK, but as Losey found out, the Burtons were losing their box office cachet by then ...


  1. I really liked this back in the day and had completely forgotten about it. I also never knew Burton was involved. Williamson was superb however. Another one to ask Pat for.

  2. I too did not know that Burton was involved in this film. Fascinating to see the pictures of him and Williamson in the same role. I hope I get to see this film one day. I wonder why it is so unknown.
    I love your film site! You review the films and actors that I like.