SIR EDWIN FLUFFER REMEMBERS LAURENCE OLIVIER

HOLLYWOOD – In another EXCLUSIVE extract from Sir Edwin Fluffer’s autobiography “In Like Niven!” comes this startlingly honest account of the great English actor and director Sir Laurence Olivier.

Larry Olivier had moved into a new place high in the Hollywood hills. It was every bit as grand and elegant as the great man himself, but the tree outside his bedroom window was home to a large family of rooks, and the dawn chorus would often wake him from his slumber.

 I’ve never been much of a morning person and darling Larry’s early morning phone calls filled me with dread. Following the success of Henry V and Hamlet he’d found another one of Billy Shakespeare’s screenplays to have a go at; but this time he’d decided to turn it into a musical.
 
Banquo! was to be his all singing, all dancing version of Macbeth, and he’d already started work on the score with Larry Adler. I went round for breakfast to hear the fruits of their labour. Adler took out his harmonica and played me a couple of numbers including There Is Nothing Like A Thane and Kiss Me Hecate, I cancelled my plans to go bowling with Keenan Wynn and said “Where do I sign?” 
 
We were all ready to begin filming, sets were up, costumes were made, Donald O’Connor had been booked, then tragedy.  Larry lost a tooth during a heated game of chequers with Bobby Morley and his singing voice went with it. He wouldn’t let the part go to anyone else and the whole thing was cancelled – Three months of work down the drain, and I was furious with him. 
 
Larry Adler gave me one of his harmonicas to say thank you for all my support but I could never learn to play the bloody thing. In the end, I gave it to Charles Bronson who used it to great effect in Sergio Leone’s One Upon A Time In The West. But that’s another story…

HIDDEN GEMS 12. CITY LIGHTS

Hidden Gems brings to light little known film gems which have somehow slipped through the collective cinematic consciousness. You’re welcome.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, films were made in black and white and no one spoke. These were the famous black and white silent movies. No one knows why they were in black and white and without dialogue but I strongly suspect it was something to do with Europe and an innate sense of artistic superiority, but that is just my feeling. A young London man called Charlie Chaplin made a whole series of these films with very little success. His inability to gain an audience was widely seen as due to his tasteless decision to grow a Hitler mustache and later in life he would have the terrible luck to die on Christmas Day while everyone else were opening their presents.

Before that happened though, he made a film called “City Lights”. Nobody has seen it and very few copies exist today, but it is an absolute treasure and should be slapped to the top of your to watch list, if you should have one. It tells the story of ‘the Tramp’, a strange character dressed a bit like Alex from Clockwork Orange. The city has no place for one like he, he has no money and no apparent occupation, but he has a heart of gold and soon falls in love with a blind flower girl. At the same time he is also befriended by a suicidal millionaire whose life he saves. His new friend however is a terrible drunk and forgets who the tramp is whenever he sobers up.

I know what you’re thinking. “Why would I want to see that? It sounds so depressing!” Well, no it’s actually very, very funny. From the drunken rowdy with his pal to a dance like boxing match with a slugger to win the prize money to help cure the flower girl, there’s a laugh every minute. I don’t know why Chaplin never became more famous. Just watch the scene where he surreptitiously eyes a bronze nude in a shop window unaware of the open hole in the street right behind him. It’s genius and I’ll fight anyone who even tries to deny it. Or at least skip around the ring while you try to chase me.

And here’s the thing, the Tramp doesn’t win that fight. His comic heroism is in the fact that he loses repeatedly yet somehow manages to get up again. His rich friend accuses him of thievery and he is eventually carted off to prison – but not before he has given the girl the money for the operation. When he returns, he is even worse off than before. He was always a tramp but now he looks dreadful. The ending is a moment of glorious emotion, a triumph of sorts but also a defeat as the girl realizes her benefactor is not the rich man she presumed him to be and his love for her meets her pity rather than admiration.

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SIR EDWIN FLUFFER REMEMBERS ROBERT ZEMECKIS

HOLLYWOOD – Sir Edwin Fluffer recalls his encounter with Robert Zemeckis and the birth of an American masterpiece.

Being an old hand at all this Hollywood lark I feel almost duty bound to lend the benefit of my experience to the younger generations as they make way their way up through the ranks. Some are kind enough to listen, others just look at me the way Lassie used to look at Jayne Russell, before slowly shaking their heads and turning away. But without my help, and passion for gardening, one of the most successful franchises in this business we still lovingly call show may have never come to pass.

A few years ago I suddenly got a call from a talented young director called Robert Zemeckis. He’d just had a hit with a picture called Romancing The Stone starring Kirk Douglas’s little boy, Michael. Bobby, as I instantly came to know and love him, wanted to talk to me about his next project. It was to be a comedy about time travel. I invited him over for a chat and one of my ex-wives served us drinks in the garden while the smoke from Paul Newman’s barbecue wafted over the fence. The smell was truly awful so we went for a wander ‘round the grounds and I showed Bobby some of my favourite plants, including a fuchsia that Claude Rains left me in his will. We spent an absolute age walking up and down the long borders trying to think of a suitable name for this film of his. Eventually I looked up and noticed we’d returned to the exact same spot we left all those hours earlier, but we were still no nearer a title.
‘Well,’ I said ‘here we are. Back to the fuchsia.’
And the rest as we so often say in Hollywood, is history…
Bobby was kind enough to show his gratitude by offering me the role of Dr Emmett Brown, but an in-growing toenail and some tax problems that forced me to leave for Switzerland under an assumed name meant I had to politely say no. I could tell he was disappointed and I promised to make it up to him by telling him about the time Marlene Dietrich asked me to put up some shelves in her new bungalow. 
But that’s another story…

SIR EDWIN FLUFFER REMEMBERS AVA GARDNER

HOLLYWOOD – Ava Gardner was one of the finest young actresses I ever met who brushed her own teeth.

After the success of Hooray for Henry it seemed the studio felt I should go on to play that same chinless wonder character again and again in whatever movie it was they happened to be shooting at the time. I scraped through the country house murder mystery The Butler Always Rings Thrice with dignity intact, but fell flat on my face in the western Apache Chaps

I was woefully miscast as the chief of an Indian tribe with dreams of making it on Broadway, and my long suffering squaw was played with characteristic aplomb by the young Ava Gardner. We got on like a house on fire until I accidentally set fire to her house while attempting to demonstrate the correct way to remove the lint from wool. Matters were further complicated when I forgot to mention that I’d got her hairdresser pregnant. Darling Ava was furious, and rightly so.
Word of the tensions on set got back to the studio and I ended up on the receiving end of a rather curt memo from Jack Warner’s secretary’s secretary.  I sent a note back saying it wasn’t me, it was Henry Fonda, and that bought me just enough time to make good my escape. The rest of my scenes were cut and I hid in Jimmy Durante’s garage until the heat died down. 
It was there in a cardboard box on top of his washing machine that I discovered Janet Leigh, but that’s another story…

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HIDDEN GEMS 11. VERTIGO

Hidden Gems brings to light little known film gems which have somehow slipped through the collective cinematic consciousness. You’re welcome.

Films about being dizzy were legion in the 1940s and 50s, reflecting a widespread distrust of government and an increasing paranoia about the activities of the Soviet Bloc. Who can forget Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking Whoops-a-Daisy starring Peter Sellers, or Billy Wilder’s hilarious satire I Need to Sit Down, starring Jack Lemmon. In an attempt to bolster his failing reputation – following the little known and underwhelming Read Window – British director Alfred Hitchcock decided to cash in on the trend with Vertigo, a film about a policeman Scottie (played by relative unknown James Stewart) who retires from the force following a dizzy spell during a rooftop chase. Living in San Francisco doesn’t help, nor does a case he takes on as a private investigator involving an old friend’s wife.

Hitchcock’s film is a sun-kissed noir, a convoluted twisting plot taking place in the labyrinthine twists of San Fransisco. Scotty is an empty man filling his empty days with an obsessive pursuit which threatens to consume him entirely. Bernard Hermann’s score is a luscious and hypnotic setting for the story and the acting is superb. Unfortunately, the film was a commercial and critical disaster and is very difficult to get hold of now. Hitchcock went on to make the poorly received Psycho and is now largely forgotten as a film director. If he’s remembered for anything, it’s because he was fat. In this he resembles Orson Welles, a similarly corpulent ghost from the past whose films are unjustly ignored.

The British Film Institute in its recent retrospective of Dizzy Cinema not only neglected Hitchcock’s work but denied that Vertigo even existed and Sight and Sound in its poll of top film critics found the film positioned number one of one hundred films that were considered ‘absolute bullshit’.

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SIR EDWIN FLUFFER RECALLS CECIL B. DEMILLE

HOLLYWOOD – In another extract from his charming whizz through the glory days of Hollywood – In Like Niven Sir Edwin Fluffer recalls an interesting episode in the secret history of dream factory:

When I first arrived in Hollywood all those golden years ago the first thing I noticed was that in LA nobody walked anywhere. This was because the sidewalks, or pavements as I still knew them then, had all been hired by Cecil B. DeMille to appear as extras in his latest epic, All Roads Lead To RomeThose poor downtrodden sidewalks were prepared to do anything for $20 a day with lunch thrown in. I know that many of them believed that at last this was their shot at stardom, but I fear it was to be one of the worst decisions they ever made. There were concerns about the script, the budget was out of control, and DeMille took out all of his frustration on them. Many years later Farley Granger told me he’d seen him actually spit on a sidewalk. Unforgivable behavior and it tells you all you need to know about the man.
The shoot wasn’t a happy one, and visiting dear old Charlie Laughton on set one day, he confided his fears about the once great director. ‘Talk about not being able to see the wood for the trees,’ he chuckled, ‘we can’t see the forest for the flowerpots!’ I don’t understand what he meant either, but it had been a very good lunch. And just in time. The studio pulled the plug the very next day, the crew were sent home, and the sidewalks went back to the day job. Of course some of them weren’t happy about the way they’d been treated, so they were given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in return for their silence. Laughton remained great friends with the sidewalks and would always stop to chat to them. In the end the police got involved. But that’s another story…   

SIR EDWIN FLUFFER REMEMBERS: GRETA GARBO

HOLLYWOOD – In this first extract from his memoirs In Like Niven Sir Edwin Fluffer – actor, raconteur and gentleman – recalls his relationship with Ms. Greta Garbo.

For the life of me I’ll never understand why everyone now thinks of Greta Garbo as a recluse. When I first moved base camp to the Hollywood Hills the self-styled silent Swedish seamstress (she made all her own clothes) was the life and soul of the party, as well as being a dear friend, a good neighbor, and, for a time, my lover. She was my lover for another two times the next morning as well.The first time I saw her she was stood at the end of her drive putting out the rubbish. Jimmy Cagney would put his out the night before which not only attracted vermin but also led me to coin his legendary catchphrase ‘you dirty rat’.

I’ll never forget how on that morning Greta turned and waved to me with those slender but surprisingly strong fingers that had taught a young Elizabeth Taylor how to play the banjolele. Straight away I felt like we’d known each for other years. She was always popping in and out to borrow a cup of sugar or shout at my wife who she suspected of making those prank phone calls that kept her awake at night.  But darling Greta never held a grudge and she was always the first person we’d ask to water the plants when we went away on holiday.

Of course it wasn’t until much later that I discovered the nailbrush in the downstairs bathroom was missing, but that’s another story…

HIDDEN GEMS: 10. ROCKY

HIDDEN GEMS showcases little-known film gems that have somehow slipped through the collective cinematic consciousness. This week—”Rocky”

Long before “Raging Bull” made boxing films fashionable, former soft-core porn actor and muscle man Sylvester Stallone wrote and starred in “Rocky,” a subtle and fascinating character study released in 1976. Rocky Balboa is a simple but honest man—an updated, working-class version of Lenny from Of Mice and Men. Sure, Rocky works as a strong-arm man for the local mobster, but he’s as likely to take pity on you as break your kneecaps. He has a cheerful word for everyone as he roams the neighbourhood, where he is something between a figure of fun and a local legend. Rocky’s also shyly attracted to the quiet girl, Adrian (Talia Shire), at the pet store, and he befriends her oafish, alcoholic, abattoir-working brother Paulie (Burt Young) in order to get close to her. He also boxes, worshipping his hero, Rocky Graziano; but the trainer at the gym, Mick (Burgess Meredith), has moved Rocky’s locker and considers him a washout who once had potential but who blew it with a lack of focus and poor fights. Rocky’s big chance comes, however, when the champion of the world, Apollo Creed—a transparent Muhammad Ali rip-off played by Carl Weathers—has a fight fall through and decides to give a local boy a chance.

Suddenly, the local stumble-bum becomes the hero with everyone wanting a piece of him. Rocky’s dilemma lies not only in facing up to the vastly superior fighter, Creed, but also in maintaining his own integrity and dignity. He accepts Mick’s help, accedes to Paulie’s demands, but remains his own man and doesn’t lose sight of the fact that his goal is no longer to become a great fighter so much as to keep the heart of the woman he loves.

Stallone has never been better, both as a writer and an actor, and it’s a real pity that the film wasn’t a bigger success. It would be nice to see a sequel telling the story of what happens to Rocky Balboa next.

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HIDDEN GEMS: 9. BLADE RUNNER

Hidden Gems brings to light little known film gems which have somehow slipped through the collective cinematic consciousness. This week, Blade Runner.

Following his success as Indiana Jones and Han Solo, Harrison Ford decided to try his hand at the old hard-boiled detective genre, but with a twist – setting it in the future! The oddball result was Blade Runner, a critical and commercial disaster which famously provoked Roger Ebert to do his first review where he stuck both thumbs up his ass to signal his contempt.

Ford plays Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter tasked with finding and killing escaped Replicants who have fled the off-world colonies and have come to Los Angeles to meet their dad. However, the Replicants – led by the enigmatic Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) – are both deadly and disconcertingly human, so much so that Deckard finds himself emotional involved with one, the femme fatale Rachel (Sean Young).

Although it’s difficult to get a copy, do try and hunt out an old VHS if you can. Ridley Scott – famous for White Squall and Someone to Watch Over Me – disowned the cinematic version and then his own director’s cut and then his own final cut, and now refuses to talk about the film, having gone on record saying that it ‘is way worse than Prometheus and Prometheus is a shit sandwich.’  The sci-fi noir is a dark compelling and occasionally violent drama. Ford has never been better, nor has Rutger Hauer, or Sean Young, or Daryl Hannah. Nor Ridley Scott. Scott seems utterly unconcerned with genre as such – this is possibly the least camp Science Fiction film available – giving the world he creates a grubby realism of flickering lights and dirty interiors as well as a grandiose dystopian breadth. With or without unicorns, voice over and happy ending, Blade Runner is a strange new world gone old; the last big budget science fiction film made exclusively for grown ups. At least its obscurity means that no one will be dumb enough to try and make a sequel.

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HIDDEN GEMS: 8. JAWS

Hidden Gems brings to light little known film gems which have somehow slipped through the collective cinematic consciousness. You’re welcome. This week Jaws.

In Jaws, a sleepy seaside community is terrorized by kids karate chopping fences. Fortunately, a shark turns up. This little known revenge of nature drama sunk without trace when it was first released in 1975, partly because of its ponderously simplistic score by classical guitarist John Williams.
Either Rob Schnieder or Roy Scheider or Rod Steiger plays Chief Brody, a water phobic New York cop new to the job of policing on an island. And yet it falls to him to defend a community not only from the shark but its own venal short-sightedness. Shark Fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw) and oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) are the unlikely allies who join him to hunt and kill the Great White. The commercial and critical failure of the film condemned promising TV director Steven Spielberg to a lifetime of obscure historical dramas such as 1941, Amistad and Jurassic Park.
The comedy shark – nicknamed Bruce – however was the only cast member to make a real impact and went on to star in a number of sequels, including an appearance (as himself) in Finding Nemo
 

HIDDEN GEMS: 7. STAR WARS

 Hidden Gems is a series bringing to light little known filmic gems and rarities that have somehow managed to slip hrough the collective cinematic consciousness. You’re welcome. This week: Star Wars.

In 1977, a brilliant directorial talent filmed an action packed adventure film that appealed to young and old alike, winning plaudits from critics and proving a massive success with the wider public. But aside from Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, there was another film released in 1977 called Star Wars.
Star Wars was a small independent art house film, written and directed by an auteur called George Lucas. It told the beguilingly simple tale of two gay robots facilitating a communist rebellion against an evil empire and inadvertently encouraging incest in the process. Mark Hamill played Luke Skywalker, the farm boy who takes off on a wonderful adventure with the gay robots, a Samurai knight of the round table, a cowboy and his dog to rescue Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). As Luke becomes increasingly indoctrinated into the political ideology of resistance, he fails to notice the apparent contradictions of Red rebellion being lead by a member of the royal family and employing terrorist techniques. Only in the finale, and with the Empire apparently defeated, does he realizes in that chilling final shot. The heroes stand with fixed grins as slowly the realization dawns that they are in the middle of a massive Nazi rally.  Although there were talks of possible sequels, George Lucas – arguing that he was a serious artist and not wishing to repeat himself –  went on to make some of the most challenging and beautiful American cinema of the next three decades.

SIR EDWIN FLUFFER REMEMBERS OMAR SHARIF

HOLLYWOOD – Sir Edwin Fluffer remembers fondly Omar Sharif.

Sat what you will about Omar Sharif, but even his harshest critic would be forced to admit that he was a truly world class bridge player.

Yet there was another side to him that remained hidden from all but his closest friends. It was only a select few members of his inner circle who knew that Omar Sharif was also an Academy Award nominated actor with a career spanning well over 50 years.

I first met Omar back in the early ‘90s on the set of Mrs ‘Arris Goes To Paris when we were introduced by a young actress called Angela Lansbury. I’ll never forget his first words to me: ‘Neddy, how are you?’ he roared while shaking me firmly by the hand.

Needless to say I wasn’t the first or the last person in Hollywood to be charmed by that smile! It turned out that we shared the same dentist, and hand on heart I have to say I’ve lost count of the number of times he lent me his dentures. They were a perfect fit, and I was proud to wear them to the Golden Globes on a number of occasions.

When I pop them into that glass of water next to my bed tonight I shall shed more than a few tears for my old pal Omar Sharif.

HIDDEN GEMS: 6. DANSE LASCIVE

Hidden Gems is a series bringing to light little known filmic gems and rarities.
Loosely based on Georges Arnaud‘s novel Le Salaire de la Peur (The Wages of Fear) which told the tale of four truck drivers and their dangerous mission to transport tankers of nitroglycerine through South America. Emile Ardolino‘s Danse lascive (Dirty Dancing) is the story of a naive Jewish teenager and her dangerous mission to transport a watermelon up a flight of stairs.
Lauded by critics upon it’s original release but flopping at the box-office, Danse Lascive slowly developed an underground cult following with VHS copies changing hands for as much as $1000 but on December 1st2013 it will finally be released on DVD and Blu-Ray as part of the Criterion collection.
 
“It’s probably the most allegorical film of the 1980s,” said New York Times Chief film critic A.O. Scott.

Obviously being set in the summer of 1963 a few months before the Kennedy assassination many writers have suggested that the character of Baby represents America, and her loss of innocence parallels the country’s loss of innocence that terrible November day when JFK was murdered by aliens. Personally I think that’s bullsh*t because between the 15thcentury massacres of the native population to the racial motivated Birmingham Bombings of early 63 you’d struggle to find a single occasion that America had any innocence to lose. In my opinion what Danse Lascive is really about is the post-war relationship between Israel and America. Baby (Israel), is young, unsure of herself but ready to jump in bed with the charismatic and cocksure Johnny Castle (America). At first Castle is the dominant figure in the relationship but as Baby gains more confidence the tables are turned and Castle becomes Baby’s thrall.

The Criterion version is rumored to feature 20 minutes of additional footage including the infamous ‘Argentinian Tango’ scene which was cut from the original due to it’s heavy handed representation of the recent Falklands conflict and overt Argentine bias.
 
Danse Lascive is due for release by Criterion on December 1st 2013.

HIDDEN GEMS: 5. CASABLANCA

Hidden Gems is a series bringing to light little known filmic gems and rarities that have somehow managed to slip through the collective cinematic consciousness. You’re welcome. This week Casablanca.

Everyone knows Everybody Comes to Rick’s, the hit off Broadway play about a bunch of refugees looking for a way out of a Moroccan city during World War 2. What you might not know is that it was made into a film – called Casablanca –  and although no patch on the original play – it’s not at all bad.

Comedy Irish actor Humphrey Bogart takes the role of Rick on and Ingrid (not Ingmar) Bergman plays Ilsa, his beautiful long lost love and the woman who broke his heart, but has now turned up in his bar looking for an escape route to America with her fugitive freedom fighting husband, Victor somebody.

Many fans of the play might be shocked by some of the liberties Hollywood took with the material, but still you have to admit making the Nazis into the villains of the piece was a bold move, as was killing off the main hero Ugarte (played here by Peter Lorre) so early on in the story. Ultimately, Casablanca can be no more than a curiosity piece that would have been consigned to oblivion if it wasn’t for the interest that Everybody Comes to Rick’s completists have in it. If you can dig up a VHS, it is well worth a gander though most agree the David Soul TV series of 1983 was far superior.

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