Boris Karloff & Roddy McDowall go batshit crazy in this wild 50s TV version of ‘Heart of Darkness’

Mistah Kurtz… he fucking nuts.

Boris Karloff is a bug-eyed Mr. Kurtz in this hip, bongo-fury, sub-beatnik fifties adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s tale Heart of Darkness. Karloff does his best over-the-top batshit crazy thing and is joined in a face-off by a half-naked, scenery-chewing and equally bug-eyed Roddy McDowall as Marlow, who overacts his way through the proceedings with considerable gusto.

This ain’t no run-of-the-mill take on Conrad’s classic story but one written by Stewart Stern the screenwriter of Rebel Without a Cause. And like that famous paean to teenage acne and angst, Stern has introduced a psychological subtext that gives the matter a topically Freudian twist which, to be frank, doesn’t quite work.

But heck, that don’t matter when there’s so much fever onscreen with Karloff and McDowall ably supported in their psycho-drama by Eartha Kitt as the Queen, Oskar Homolka as the Doctor, Inga Swenson as Maria, and Cathleen Nesbitt as the Crone.
Gone Daddio, solid gone…
Heart of Darkness was loosely based on Conrad’s own experiences of his time spent in Africa and was intended as a condemnation of the racist imperialism he had witnessed firsthand. This might get a bit lost in Stern’s script where the Africans are mainly presented as little more than enthusiastic child-like bongo players—but it is what it is and you’re all grown-up enough to make up your own mind about this strange and quite daring television drama.

And if you can’t, well, take a taste of what it’s all about from Gonzo-theorist Erich Kuersten’s long essay “Ride the Snake” over at his blog Acidemic, where he explains just how this “primitive TV broadcast of Heart of Darkness spews forth an admission of evil and in the process exorcises it.” Kuersten is one of those rare original and essential writers who really should have a book of his articles published. ‘Nuff said.

Any-old-how, enjoy the madness of King Boris.

Watch it, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
08:27 am
‘Planet of the Apes’: A behind-the-scenes home movie of the 1968 classic film

Roddy McDowall’s behind-the-scenes look at the making of the classic film Planet of the Apes in 1968. The quality is incredible as we watch McDowall slowly made-up to look like Cornelius, and then join his co-stars, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans and Charlton Heston, on the beach at Malibu for the film’s shock ending. I can still recall the playground buzz over this film, months before its arrival in the U.K. The bubble gum trading cards came first, only one grocery store stocked them, its owner, a thin, waxen-faced man in his late 50s, couldn’t fathom the film’s attraction. “Talking apes? What utter nonsense…tsk..tsk…tsk. Whatever next?” But it was believable to our fertile minds, and revolutionary.

This was the film that inspired my admiration for Roddy McDowall - how could he wear all that make-up? What was it like to act with it on? McDowall later said:

“A year before production, [the producer] Arthur Jacobs talked to me about the project. I was one of the few people he explained the whole thing to, including the ending. He talked with me about playing Cornelius, and I thought it was all intriguing. About a year later, I signed to do the film, and to have my face molded for the makeup. The first film was very difficult because it was made in the summertime, at the Malibu Ranch. In August, with all those quartz lights, it hits like 140*, and it’s just unbearable. Although it was a wonderful experience, because I like [director] Frank Schaffner very much, I thought I would never do one again….”

“The heat made us perspire, which in turn worked on the spirit gum which in turn forces the reapplication of the adhesive - which in its turn works on the skin….”

Planet of the Apes is a very hard film for me to judge because it was such a physical agony doing it. I’d begin to sweat remembering the heat. I think it’s a fabulous movie, up until I come into the film, and then it’s just purely a subjective reaction.”

The difficulties of wearing his make-up didn’t stop McDowall returning to the role of Cornelius in Escape from Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), and a Planet of the Apes TV series, all which I followed through the books, the comics, the cards and the films.


Posted by Paul Gallagher
07:22 pm
Roddy McDowall: Hollywood Home Movies from 1965

Other people’s homes movies, like their holiday snaps, can sometimes be terribly dull. But Roddy McDowall’s silent home movies are different, mainly because they have a cast list to die for - from Simone Signoret to Lauren Bacall, Ben Gazzara to Paul Newman, even Judy Garland and Dominick Dunne.  Also, Mr McDowall was a film fan, and there’s a fine sense of his enjoyment and wonder at the Hollywood stars larking about at his Malibu beach home. These are fun artifacts, a last hurrah for a golden age of Hollywood.

The films were uploaded onto You Tube by soapbox, who was personally given the home movies by Roddy McDowall.

Jane Fonda, Tuesday Weld, Anthony Perkins, Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Natalie Wood, Judy Garland, May 31, 1965.
Plenty more of Roddy McDowall’s Hollywood Home Movies, after the jump….

Posted by Paul Gallagher
06:33 pm