Tuesday, December 20, 2011

R.I.P.: Donald Sharp

19 April 1921 – 18 December 2011

Born in Hobart, Tasmania, Sharp began his career in Australia as an actor. He enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force on 7 April 1941, and after the war and following his discharge as a corporal on 17 March 1944 he moved to England. After a few insignificant film parts in unimportant films like 1950's Ha'penny Breeze (which he also co-wrote) and the forgotten pro-Colonialist Claudette Colbert film Outpost in Malaysia aka The Planter's Wife (1952), he turned to scriptwriting and direction. In the mid-1960s, he gained a reputation as a man who could work well with limited budgets and thus became a popular genre-film director, in particular for Hammer. For most of his career, he specialized in thrillers, horror films and comedies – as well as some TV work for such notable English cult programs as The Avengers and Ghost Squad – but spent the twilight years doing uninteresting mini-series, including a few based on the best selling trash novels of Barbara Taylor Bradford. At the time of his death he had not made a film in 22 years. Here is review of his films of note and lesser note.

The Cruel Sea
(1953, dir. Charles Frend)
Donald Sharp has a miniscule part as a Lt. Commander somewhere in this classic British war film. It was his last job as an actor. Find him if you can.

The Golden Disc
Aka The In-between Age. This is the second film that Sharp directed, and the seventh that he wrote. The Guardian, in their superciliously condescending obituary about the director, says "The Golden Disc [is] packed with forgotten British skiffle and rock'n'roll stars performing mainly in a faddish coffee bar." Wikipedia, on the other hand, prefers to talk about the film's historical aspects: it is the first British rock 'n' roll movie, was released a year before Val Guest's Expresso Bongo (1959 / full film) and two ahead of Beat Girl (1960 / full film), and features Christopher Lee as a strip-joint owner. Britmovie.com says "The acting is wooden and awkward – and Mary Steele is delightfully bad, in a particularly 1950s way."
Scene from the Film:

Two years later, Sharp directed this teen film, which was screened as co-feature with Tony Richardson's "kitchen sink drama" Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (trailer). It's now considered a lost film, and is on the British Film Institute's "75 Most Wanted" list of missing British feature films. The BFI gives the plot as follows: "Bored with life, Phil (Alan Rothwell) joins the Chief's gang, but when he meets Linda (Carol White) tottering on her high heels, his interest re-focuses on her. He takes her to Brighton on his scooter, but on the way back he makes a pass and she puts him in his place. When the gang want to defend 'their' territory, the local café, they need to call on all their number, and the reluctant Phil is tricked into believing Linda is going out with someone else, and agrees to join in. Phil does discover the truth and quits the gang for good, and others follow his lead, urged by the local 'trendy' vicar, leaving the Chief to fight his own battles. Phil and Linda contemplate marriage."
Doesn't sound exciting, but Carol White does look nifty in white.

Theme to the film:

The Dream Maker

Aka It's All Happening. After directing Two Guys Abroad (1962), a movie/TV pilot (starring George Raft) that never got released (another lost film) and a number of episodes for the first year of the highly popular English television series Ghost Squad, Sharp made another teen music film, The Dream Maker. A feel-good film, it tells the tale of Billy Bowles (Tommy Steele), a musician working in a recording studio who arranges a charity concert to raise capital to purchase the building of the orphanage where he grew up. Lots of music.
Tommy Steele singing The Dream Maker:

The Kiss of the Vampire

In need of a director who could handle low budgets well, Hammer pulled in Don Sharp to do this film, which was originally intended to be the third installment of their Dracula franchise as well as the second not to feature Dracula himself (like the film that it follows, The Brides of Dracula [1960 / trailer]); it ended up being a stand-alone vampire film. (The ending of the film was even supposedly originally intended for The Brides of Dracula and was scrapped due to Peter Cushing's objections; it does, however, appear in the paperback novelization of The Brides of Dracula.) In the US, the film was cut and then re-titled Kiss of Evil for TV, resulting in a much less bloody movie that often doesn't make sense and is totally anti-woman empowerment. The plot: Gerald (Edward de Souza) and Marianne Harcourt (Jennifer Daniel) are a honeymooning couple in driving through 20th-century Bavaria when their car breaks down. They become caught up in a cult led by the vampire Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman) and his two blood-sucking children Carl (Barry Warren) and Sabena (Jacquie Wallis). Dr. Ravna has the hots for Marianne and wants her for his own...

Heiss weht der Wind
(1964, dir. Rolf Olsen)

Aka Legend of a Gunfighter. It is open to question just to what extent "Donald Sharp" was truly involved with this Euro-western, an early film from one of Germany's shamefully overlooked B-film, exploitation and Eurotrash directors Rolf Olsen – among his many films of note, Olsen made Playgirls of Frankfurt (1966 / opening credits), Bloody Friday (1972 / trailer), Ekstase (1979 / trailer) and both Shocking Asia I (1972 / trailer) & II (1985) – but imdb and few other sites have Sharp listed as coauthor (along with Paul "This-is-the-only-film-I-ever-wrote" Clydeburn). According to the Spaghetti Western Database, this forgotten and seldom seen German-Austrian production tells of a young man who, "after his parents are killed in a stagecoach holdup [...] learns to be an expert gunman and with his dog Shorty, sets out to avenge their deaths."


Sharp returns to low-budget horror with this generally overlooked but universally praised B&W horror film that features Lon Chaney Jr. in one of his last roles – as Chaney could only slur after noon, his presence is kept to a minimum despite his star credit. At the time of its release, Witchcraft was part of a double feature with Terence Fisher's horror comedy The Horror of It All (1964). Arborgast on Film says: "Witchcraft is a visually stunning little chiller that seems to have taken its cues from John Llewellyn-Moxey's City of the Dead / Horror Hotel (1960 / trailer) and Mario Bava's Black Sunday (1960 / trailer). [...] For all its faults, Witchcraft at least never looks less than grand in all its high contrast black-and-white glory." The plot, edited down from Wikipedia: "In the 17th Century the Lanier family buried a Whitlock woman alive as a witch and took over the Whitlock estate. A bitter hatred of the Lanier family continues into the present. However two descendants, Amy Whitlock (Diane Clare) and Todd Lanier (David Weston), fall in love and plan to marry regardless of the families objections. [When] a bulldozer overturns headstones and churns up graves in the old Whitlock Cemetery [...] an exhumed grave opens and Vanessa Whitlock (Yvette Rees), the witch buried centuries ago, rises from the grave. Together with Morgan Whitlock (Lon Chaney Jr.), they use their witchcraft and one-by-one, the Laniers meet with various fatal accidents...."

The Devil-Ship Pirates

This film is also spoken about in A Wasted Life's career review of Jimmy Sangster, who died on 19 August 2011. To simply crib the paragraph there: Hammer's second pirate film, a smidgen less land-locked than the first one (John Gilling's The Pirates of Blood River [1962 / trailer]), and once again starring Christopher Lee. At imdb, dinky-4 of Minneapolis says: "A pirate ship, fighting in 1588 on the side of the Spanish Armada, suffers damage and must put into a village on the British coast for repairs. The village is small and isolated and the Spanish convince the villagers that the English fleet has been defeated and that they, the Spanish, are now their masters. This results in the villagers' sullen cooperation, but rumors and unrest begin to spread and soon the Spanish pirates find themselves facing a revolt."

Curse of the Fly
For years, this film was best known from stills found in books about horror films, for it was seldom seen on television and wasn't even released on video; it finally made it onto DVD in 2007 as part of a box set with the two original precursing films, The Fly (1958 / trailer) and Return of the Fly (1959 / trailer). By the time Curse of the Fly was made, Vincent Price (the lead in the first two films) was under contract with AIP and thus unavailable; he was replaced by a somewhat over-the-hill and toupee-wearing Brian Donlevy (The Quatermass Xperiment [1955 / trailer] and Quatermass II [1957 / trailer]). The film, scripted by "prolific and spotty" genre-scribe Harry Spalding (The Watcher in the Woods [1980 / trailer], The Earth Dies Screaming [1964 / trailer], The Day Mars Invaded Earth [1963 / trailer] and Witchcraft [1964, see above]), oddly enough does not feature a fly monster; rather, "the curse" refers – one must assume – to either the fly DNA in the family genes since Return of the Fly which cause the son Martin (George Baker) to age at an accelerated pace or the general bad luck the whole family seems to have with teleporters. The film, which does not end happily, features a lot of freaky-looking victims of teleporter accidents and opens with a great slow motion scene (go here) of Carole Gray escaping a funny farm in bra and panties....

The Face of Fu Manchu

Sharp's involvement with the 1964 German western Legend of a Gunfighter / Heiss weht der Wind seems to have paid off career-wise, for when Harry Alan Towers joined the German production company Constantin Film to create a new franchise of thrillers ala the popular Dr Mabuse and Edgar Wallace films, Sharp was pulled in to direct the first of what ended up being five Fu Manchu films. (Sharp only directed this and the first follow up film, The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), but the headlining star Christopher Lee appeared as Fu Manchu in all the films; Fu Manchu is second only to Dracula as the film character he played most often.) For the West German version, the German actors – the ever-popular Joachim Fuchsberger (The Hand of Power [1968 / trailer]) and Karin Dor (The White Spider [1963 / scene]) – received top-billing alongside Lee, though Fu Manchu's constant nemesis Nayland Smith was actually played by Nigel Green (The Masque of the Red Death [1964 / trailer]). The plot, as supplied by Jeremy Perkins at imdb: "Grisly strangulations in London alert Nayland Smith of Scotland Yard to the possibility that fiendish Fu Manchu may not after all be dead, even though Smith witnessed his execution. A killer spray made from Tibetan berries seems to be involved and clues keep leading back to the Thames."

Rasputin: The Mad Monk

Shot back-to-back with Terence Fisher's excellent Dracula: Prince of Darkness (trailer) using the same sets and many of the same actors, Rasputin: The Mad Monk is a typically sumptuous (for Hammer) but less than historically accurate retelling of the final years of the Mad Monk's life. His legendary mesmerizing appeal to women – as Nigel Cawthorne put it in his entertaining sleazy volume Sordid Sex Lives, "Grigory Yefimovich Novykh (that's Rasputin to you and me) was one of Russia's greatest lovers" – and appetite for sex and power receives great attention in this version of his infiltration into the life of the Russian Tsars and resulting influence. For some odd reason, the final assassination scene does not include either his legendary rape by Prince Felix Yussupov or the castration of his legendarily 13-inch member* – but then, neither aspect is included in Yussupov's version of the kill upon which this film is loosely based. Mondo Digital summarizes the plot as: "Rasputin (Christopher Lee), a monk living in Czarist Russia, leads an outward life of religious devotion which masks his true nature: a bestial, murdering lout who uses his mysterious powers of hypnotism and his gift for healing as tools of manipulation. In St. Petersburg, he uses the lovely Sonia (Barbara Shelley) to infiltrate the royal family of Nicholas II and exercise his wicked control over Russia itself. However, political forces begin to brew and conspire to bring an end to the monk's subversive reign."
*Looking like "a blackened, overripe banana, about a foot long," the amputated phallus was last seen in 1968 in Paris.

Our Man in Marrakesh
Retitled Bang! Bang! You're Dead! for its US release. The New York Times says "Films like Bang, Bang, You're Dead helped kill the movie career of Tony Randall in the mid-1960s" – but who ever believes The New York Times? This euro-spy persiflage possesses a must-see relevance best summed up simply with: "Tony Randall versus Klaus Kinski." Web of Mystery calls it "One of the best of the 60s Euro-Spy cycle," pointing out its great cast which, aside from Randall and Kinski, also includes Herbert Lom (99 Women [1969 / trailer]), Wilfrid Hyde-White (The Third Man [1949 / trailer]), Terry-Thomas (The Abominable Dr Phibes [1971 / trailer]), Margaret Lee (Venus in Furs [1969 / trailer]) and a delectable Senta Berger (Sherlock Holmes & the Deadly Necklace [1962]). Bang! Bang! You're Dead! is basically a low budget riff on North by Northwest (1959 / trailer) but set in Marrakesh, with Randall playing an innocent oil company rep (verses Cary Grant's ad executive) who gets caught up in a plot involving 2 million bucks bribe money to fix UN votes.

The Brides of Fu Manchu
A year after The Face of Fu Manchu, Harry Alan Towers rejoined the German production company Constantin Film to bring the second installment of their Fu Manchu franchise, The Brides of Fu Manchu, once again directed by Sharp (who supposedly also did unaccredited script work). Christopher Lee is still there as Sax Rohmer's villain – he played the part in all installments – but this time around Nayland Smith is played by Douglas Wilmer (The Vampire Lovers [1970 / trailer]), who also returned in 1967 for the 3rd installment The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (German trailer), while the German audience had to be satisfied with Heinz Drache (Hypnosis [1962]), Harald Leipnitz (Die blaue Hand [1967 / trailer]) and the eye candy that was French actress Marie Versini. The literal German title of the film is "The 13 Slaves of Dr Fu Man Chu" – revealing a slightly Teutonic obsession with titles and bondage. Plot: Fu Manchu kidnaps the daughters of scientists to force them to help him build a death ray with which to take over the world – can Nayland Smith stop him and save the world? What do you think?
German Trailer:

Rocket to the Moon

Aka Those Fantastic Flying Fools and/or Blast Off; a slap-stick comedy inspired as much by Jules Verne's novel From the Earth to the Moon as by Ken Annakin's 1965 movie Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (trailer), for which Don Sharp had been the second unit director. And, as in Annakin's film, the lead scoundrel, Captain Sir Harry Washington-Smyth, is played by Terry-Thomas and his moustache. Plot: P.T. Barnum (Burl Ives) decides to become the first person to reach the moon, but has problems with spies and saboteurs and other problems. If you liked Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963 / trailer) or The Great Race (1965 / trailer) or Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969) or even The Cannonball Run (1981 / trailer), then you might find this film entertaining. Aside from Ives – playing a part supposedly originally intended for Bing Crosby – the "all star cast" here includes Troy Donahue (The Chilling [1989 / trailer]), Gert Fröbe (The Green Archer [1961 / German trailer]), Dennis Price (Vampyros Lesbos [1971 / German trailer]), Daliah Lavi (The Whip and the Body [1963 / Italian trailer]), Stratford Johns (Salome's Last Dance [1988 / full film]) and Graham Stark (Bloodbath and the House of Death [1983 / trailer]).
Opening credits:

The Violent Enemy

In an odd career choice, Sharp followed the highly commercial comedy Rocket to the Moon with this independent film, an IRA drama based on a book by Jack Higgins; the book, entitled A Candle for the Dead, was originally published under the pseudonym Hugh Marlowe. The film promptly fell into obscurity and presently only seems to be available online as an illegal download. Depending on which online source you believe – no one we know has ever seen it – The Violent Enemy either tells the tale of an IRA bomber (Tom Bell) who escapes from prison and wants nothing more than to live a quiet life in Ireland but is pressured by the IRA to blow up an electronics factory, or it tells of how an IRA bomb expert (Tom Bell) who escapes from prison to stop a plot to blow up a British power station. Online reviews seem to be nonexistent.
First ten minutes:

A Taste of Excitement

Aka (on US TV) Why Would Anyone Want to Kill a Nice Girl Like You? Based on Ben Healey's novel Waiting for a Tiger. In the identical review of the film which appears on both modculture.com (credited to David Walker) and cinedelica.com (uncredited), the writer says "[...] A Taste Of Excitement [is] not a bad film – far from it – but it is a tough one to follow. On the plus side, it plays out like an Italian Giallo, without the blood and the sensationalism [...] (although there is a bit of nudity squeezed in)." Answer.com says: "Americans in 1968 seemed to prefer long, campy film titles. Thus it was that the British A Taste of Excitement was rechristened Why Would Anyone Want to Kill a Nice Girl Like You? The girl in question is Jane Kerrell (Eva Renzi [The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970 / trailer)]), who is somehow involved in an assassination plot. The hero, artist Paul Hedley (David Buck), agrees to help Jane when he's told that the intended victim is a traitor. But who's telling the truth here?"
First eight minutes:

Puppet on a Chain
(1971, dir. Geoffrey Reeve)
Don Sharp didn't direct this movie, but he did do additional (credited) work on Alistair MacLean's screenplay, which was based on Alistair MacLean's book of the same title. The blog BlackHoleReviews thinks the film is grand: "A brutal blond-haired tough guy (Sven-Bertil Taube) using any means necessary to bring down heroin smugglers in Amsterdam. With a pistol, and brute force, he's actually an undercover agent working for the good guys, despite his destructive murderous methods. This is a personal favorite of mine for the spectacular, verging-on-reckless, speedboat chase through the canals of Amsterdam that pre-dates many of the stunts used as the centerpiece of James Bond classic Live And Let Die (1973 / trailer)."

Dark Places

Sharp returns to horror in this film starring Christopher Lee and Joan Collins as Dr and Sarah Mandeville and featuring Jane Birkin (Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye [1973 / trailer]). When the Manderville's catch wind of a hidden stash of money hidden in a house with a nasty past, they decide to get the money for themselves. The problem is, the house is haunted... Sharp adapted the tale from a script written by Ed Brennan and Joseph Van Winkle; the latter went on to write and direct Joan Blondell's last film, The Woman Inside (seven minutes of the film). The Spider Must Eat You To Survive says Dark Places is "English Gothic at its best."
Full film:

Aka (in the US) The Death Wheelers. This cult film has the added distinction of featuring the final film appearance of George Sanders, who killed himself shortly thereafter, leaving behind a suicide note that read: "Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck." The Guardian calls Psychomania "the weirdest of Sharp's pictures." It was written by Arnaud d'Usseau and Julian Zimet, who had previously joined forces to pen the screenplay to the classic Horror Express (1972 / full film). At imdb, Guillaume Robieux offers the following plot description: "A gang of young people call themselves the Living Dead. They terrorize the population from their small town. After an agreement with the devil, if they kill themselves firmly believing in it, they will survive and gain eternal life. Following their leader, they commit suicide one after the other, but things don't necessarily turn out as expected..." Nicky Henson, who plays the lead psychopath of the film, considers it to be one of his worst projects, but the film enjoys great cult popularity.

Don Sharp helms the feature-length film version of a 43-episode English TV series which started in 1967 with the episode A Magnum for Schneider; the film is basically an extended version of that original episode, which was in turn based on James Mitchell's novel A Red File for Callan. Callan (Edward Woodward) is a former assassin for the SIS (M16 for Bond fans) who was retired after he lost his nerve; he's given a second chance and called back into service to kill Schneider (Carl Möhner of Rififi [1955 / trailer]), a German businessman. Taking on the mission, he soon finds that there is more to his job than he has been told...
Full film:

Sharp returns to the IRA – sorta. The BFI gives the plot as follows: "During a street riot in Belfast, the wife and daughter of Hennessy are accidentally killed by a British soldier. Normally opposed to violence, Hennessy decides to destroy the British Parliament during the State Opening the following week." Hennessy – which, by the way, is the feature-film debut of Patrick Stewart – had problems getting shown in England because it was edited in such a way that it looked as if Queen Elizabeth were acting in the movie; even after getting approval by the film board (by adding a disclaimer at the movie's start stating that the Royal Family had not participated in the film and the footage of Queen Elizabeth was all from newsreels), an English distributor was difficult to find. The screenplay, written by John Gay, was based on the original story by Richard Johnson, who appears in the film as Insp. Hollis; we prefer him as Dr. David Menard in the 1979 classic Zombie (trailer). Roger Ebert, in his review of the film on January 1, 1975, says Hennessy is victim of the "idiot plot," or a movie plot "so constructed that everyone in the movie has to be a complete idiot or the story will be resolved in 10 minutes flat." The non-embeddable trailer can be watched here, while the soundtrack can be heard below.
Title melody:

The Thirty-Nine Steps
One must pay the rent. Sharp followed his rather uninteresting 1977 TV movie remake of The Four Feathers (TV commercial) with this equally unnecessary but far superior remake of Hitchcock's 1939 film (full film), which had already been remade in 1959 and would be remade yet again (for TV) in 2008. Britmovie.com says Sharp's version "adheres more faithfully to the source material but fails to reach the suspenseful heights of Alfred Hitchcock's". Plot, as supplied by Anonymous at imdb: "The year is 1914 and Richard Hannay (Robert Powell [Mahler (1974)]), a mining Engineer who is visiting Britain for a short time before returning to South Africa, is shocked when one of his neighbors, Colonel Scudder (John Mills), bursts into his rooms one night and tells him a story that Prussian 'sleeper' agents are planning to pre-start World War I by murdering a visiting foreign minister. However, Scudder is murdered and Hannay is framed for the death by the 'sleepers'. Fleeing to Scotland Hannay attempts to clear his name and to stop the agents with the aid of Alex Mackenzie (Karen Dotrice) but not only is he is chased by Chief Supt Lomas (Eric Porter) for Scudder's death but by the agents who is headed by Appleton (David Warner) who has managed to hide himself in a high-placed position in the British Government..."

Bear Island

A Canadian-British production based on the book of the same name by Alistair MacLean; the Medved book The Hollywood Hall of Shame says that at the time of its release it was the most expensive film ever made in Canada. BritMovie is 100% right when they call Bear Island "dismal." Despite an illustrious cast including Donald Sutherland, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Widmark and Christopher Lee (as well as the less-illustrious Barbara Parkins and Lloyd Bridges), Bear Island is a total snooze – we actually fell asleep watching it, something we seldom do. The film was originally intended to be the first of a series of Alistair MacLean adaptations – the end credits even include the line "Coming Soon - Alistair Maclean's Goodbye California" – but the film bombed, thus scuttling the franchise concept. The basic plot has researcher Frank Lansing (Donald Sutherland) joining a United Nations expedition on a remote, frozen research station on a North Atlantic island (with big mountains to ski on), but then some mysterious accidents and murders occur. Could it all have something to do with that WWII German submarine loaded with Nazi gold? Never trust pure-bred Aryans... in any event, by the end of the movie Lansing discovers that his dead daddy – who was the commander of the submarine – was a Good Nazi, which helps him sleep as soundly as the viewer of the film.
TV Trailer:

What Waits Below
Other than the episode Guardian of the Abyss (1980) for the TV series Hammer House of Horror, Sharp's last feature-film project, What Waits Below, is also his last project worth noting – if for all the wrong reasons. After this film, which is also known as Secrets of the Phantom Caverns and went straight to video in the US, Sharp disappeared into the land of TV miniseries and multi-episode adaptations of best selling women's books. What Waits Below's tagline was "inspired" by that of Alien (1979 / trailer): "Underground, no-one can hear you die." Starring Robert Powell, Timothy Bottoms (Uncle Sam [1997 / trailer]) and Lisa Blount (The Prince of Darkness [1987 / trailer]), What Waits Below is legendary for how Blount's character gets hot to get her twat licked just from watching Powell's character lick his self-rolled cigarettes – needless to say, as any real man would be, Powell does not seem adverse to the idea. The plot, accord to Aunt Violet's Book Museum, is about "an albino race, remnant of Lemuria, [...] discovered deep within subterranean caverns in South America." In the end, What Waits Below is simply another riff on the old story about man-killing underground dwellers; for much better takes on this basic story, watch The Mole People (1956 / trailer) or The Descent (2005 / trailer). Which is not to say that Sharp's film isn't worth watching, for it is: What Waits Below is one of those so bad it's good car-wreck-of-a-movie that we here at A Wasted Life so love, which is why we give it a hearty recommendation....

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...