1960s, Action Adventure, Adventure, Blu Ray, british, Christopher Lee, CLASSIC, Drama, film, Hammer Films, SCARLETTHEFILMMAGAZINE.WORDPRESS.COM, Swashbuckler, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Twilight Time, Twilight Time Blu Ray, Uncategorized



PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (Hammer/Columbia,1962) Twilight Time Blu Ray. 87 min. Color. $29.95. Region Free (A/B/C). https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/pirates-of-blood-river-the-blu-ray/ Limited to 3,000 copies.

Hammer in the late 1950s had found a popular and financially profitable niche with their now classic horror films. The studio, however, also produced a wide variety of titles in other genres. Powerful War films (YESTERDAY’S ENEMY, Hammer/Columbia 1959), Comedies (WATCH IT, SAILOR! Hammer/Columbia ,1961), even crime dramas ( HELL IS A CITY, Hammer/Warner Pathe ,1960).
They even made movies for the popular family market U certificate films. In England, to get the “U” (Universally suitable for all) certificate, a film was thought generally acceptable for ages four and up.

SWORD OF SHERWOOD FOREST (Hammer/Columbia, 1960) was a surprise hit, and so Hammer decided more swashbucklers would do the same. Hammer had done a Robin Hood film back in 1954 (THE MEN OF SHERWOOD FOREST) but each of their Robin Hood tales were standalone stories. *

Oddly, Hammer waited two years to do another swashbuckler, but what they came up with was a winner. PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER was paired with the Ray Harryhausen adaptation of Jules Verne’s MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, and upon its release in July,1962, quickly became the highest grossing double bill in the U.K. that year.

To get that important “U” rating, a gory filmed scene had to be excised. In the film, actress Marie Devereux unfortunately flees into a river filled with piranhas, and as the vicious killers swarm around her, she screams as the water around her turns red with blood. This scene was returned in later versions of the film, including its DVD release in a 2-disc set called ICONS OF ADVENTURE (Sony Home Entertainment,2008. The other titles were Hammer’s THE DEVIL SHIP PIRATES (1964), THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY (1959) and TERROR OF THE TONGS (1961)). In fact, PIRATES at various times was rated ‘U’, ‘A’ (Those aged 5 and older admitted, but not recommended for children under 14 years of age) and even an “X” certificate (Suitable for those aged 16 and older (enforced by all councils) due to what scenes were edited in or out of a release.


The film opens with a stock shot of a 17th Century sailing vessel (anyone recognize from what movie this was lifted,let me know) and then we are told via credit crawl that the island is a refuge for Huguenots fleeing religious persecution and settling upon an island they named Devon. “But in the years to come, the just laws of the Colony began to yield to greed and tyranny. Happiness became an echo of the past. Freedom-just a memory.”

Now Huguenots were mostly Northern French Protestants who fled for their lives after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 24 August – 3 October 1572, wherein Catholics killed over 25,000 Huguenots in the country, only to have the murderers granted amnesty, as well as the edict of Fontainebleau in 1685 wherein the beleaguered religious sect had to convert to Catholicism or risk ruin, imprisonment of worse.

Devon is a British Iron age name derived from Dumnonia, so it is an odd name for French Settlers to choose. Then again, none of the islanders speak French nor even with an accent but sound very British indeed. Maybe they were some Huguenots who fled first from France to England and from there to the New World?

They are an island whose location is never exactly placed, but piranhas mostly reside in the Amazon and certain Brazilian or Venezuelan rivers. We can thus guess that this island is supposedly located in that general region. Not a wise area for the groups to settle, as the Spanish and Portuguese who occupied those countries were Catholics nations.

This, however could explain why they chose to remain so isolated, and established their harsh fundamentalist governing system. Then again, I am perhaps over thinking this fun romp, so back to the story.

Jonathan Standing (American actor Kerwin Mathews ,forever to be remembered for Columbia’s 1957 classic THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD ) is found with Maggie Mason (Marie Devereux in her final appearance in an Hammer film ),the wife of one of the town elders Godfrey Mason (Jack Stewart ,who had appeared in the early Hammer film A CASE FOR P.C. 49,1951), The religious leaders, led by Jonathan’s stern father Jason Standing (Andrew Keir, to me the best Professor Quatermass due to his performance in QUATERMASS & THE PIT for Hammer ,1967).They seek to arrest and punish the lovers but the poor Maggie flees into the river, suffering the fate of the piranhas mentioned earlier. Jason says that it is a judgement of God.

Jonathan is tried by the council, who, led by his father, sentences for him to be sent to a penal colony for 15 years. Jonathan’s sister Bess (Marla Landi, so good in Hammer’s HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES,1959) tells her father that the council is using him. It seems that Henry (American actor Glenn Corbett, who had starred in William Castle’s HOMICIDAL the year prior) says sarcastically says that Jason’s grandfather who helped found the colony and whose carved likeness stands above the courtroom, would be so proud. Jonathan asks that Henry, besides watching over his sister with whom Henry is in love, also watch over Jason’s father until the tyranny is brought down.


We then see the cruelty of the mining operations wherein the prisoners are forced to work and be tortured, including leaving Jonathan punished by having his hands tied to a cross beam and dangling above the ground (a form of crucifixion Hammer also used in 1965’s THE SECRET OF BLOOD RIVER). Thank goodness this is family friendly?

Jonathan escapes with an older prisoner who drops dead from exertion. Jonathan flees into the swamps and is presumed killed by the guards. He however, was shot in the arm, and is found by Mack (the great Michael Ripper, who appeared in more Hammer films than any other actor) Hench (Peter Arne, THE HELLFIRE CLUB, Tempean Films,1961) and Brocaire (Oliver Reed, right after his starring role in Hammer’s CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF) and a group of pirates. They bring him to their boat (a wonderful Les Bowie glass matte) and to Captain LaRoche (Christopher Lee, who does speak with a French accent). LaRoche is a soft-spoken, intelligent character, adorned with an eye patch and withered arm and Lee makes the most of his performance. Eleven years later , he donned and eye patch once again and demonstrated his wonderful swordsman skills , with Oliver Reed now an international star in THE THREE MUSKETEERS (Salkind, 1973 ).


The pirates say that they would travel back to Jonathan’s colony, which has remained hidden for a 100 year, and help Jonathan establish a just rule, in exchange for a haven and a place they can safely refresh their supplies. They trudge through the river (Michael Ripper disappearing briefly below the surface, Lee trudging on, probably inwardly cursing once again being soaked and walking through muck in another film, like his end in THE MUMMY, Hammer ,1959). Brocaire gets into a fight in the water with another pirate, which is stopped by a stare from the Captain. Filmed in brackish water that smelt awful (Black Park), Oliver Reed got inflamed eyes while Lee got a stomach infection.

Of course, the pirates have no intention of a peaceful co-existence, believing that there is a hidden treasure within the colony. Can Jonathan and the settlers rid themselves of their occupiers?

The film is an exciting, thoughtful thriller. The underlying distrust of an oppressive religious leadership is heavy, considering this is again thought of a family film. Hammer would expand on the idea of Religious close mindedness in greater detail in their horror film TWINS OF EVIL (1971). For the most part, though, this is a thrilling and well-made period adventure piece, that once again Hammer’s wonderful technicians make look so much more expensive than their limited budgets should allow. Michael Ripper has a much larger role than many of his films, and you get to see what a truly fine actor he was. When drunk, he foolishly mocks his Captain, satirizing his bad eye and injured arm.

Now TWILIGHT TIME has released a magnificent blu ray of this fun Hammer action adventure.

The previous Sony DVD was fine, and a bargain when released with the other three titles.

This new Blu Ray release, however, is a revelation. A 1080p High Definition / 2.35:1 / Color print really shows off the Megascope cinematography (kudos to Arthur Grant ,who worked brilliantly at Hammer from 1957 to 1972 ). The colors are incredibly rich, and the sharpness makes this look like a new film rather than a 55-year-old movie.

The 1.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio is surprisingly rich, with the dialogue, soundtrack and effects all quite clear and crisp.

As for extras,

the optional English SDH subtitles are clear and easy to read, following the action and dialogue perfectly.

There is an isolated music and effects track, wherein you can really enjoy how much both add to the enjoyment of this film. Composer Gary Hughes seemed to be Hammer’s going to man for their 60s swashbucklers, as he also composed their THE CRIMSON BLADE (1963), THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES (1964), THE VIKING QUEEN (1967) and A CHALLENGE FOR ROBIN HOOD (1967). You also appreciate how much care Hammer put into their sound design, with not only gunshots and screams added in, but so many tiny details that perhaps go unnoticed by most moviegoers that subconsciously make the scene stronger. Kudos to Alfred Cox (sound editor) and Jock May (sound recordist). They also knew when to pull back on sound, as during the wonderfully suspenseful scene between Hench and Brocaire, wherein both men are blindfolded and have a sword fight. It is without music, and the sounds are dropped down to those of clashing blades and items scattered during the conflict.

An informative audio commentary runs the length of the picture (taken from a previous DVD release) with film historian Marcus Hearn (THE HAMMER STORY, co written with Alan Barnes, Titan Books, 1997), who keeps things going by dropping in some wonderful facts, and prodding the memories of writer Jimmy Sangster (who passed away in 2011) and art director Don Mingaye (who is as of this writing, still alive at age 88).


They discuss their experiences with the studio, writing and budgeting, memories of various actors (look for Desmond Llewelyn, later gain fame as Q in the James Bond series) and crew, and having to write a pirate movie without a ship (save for the opening stock shot and glass matte). They also verify that director John Gilling was while a brilliant craftsman was subject to mood swings wherein he could be quite nasty. Christopher Lee even found him difficult to work with.The commentators attribute this to a head wound that Gilling had, which left him with a large scar. Gilling did give us several horror classics, such as FLESH & THE FIENDS (Regal 1959) and the Hammer “Cornish “horrors, THE REPTILE and PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (both 1966). They also talk about how surprised Sammy Davis Jr, a huge Hammer fan, was when he visited the set of this film.

Julie Kirgo as always supplies a nice overview appreciation of the film in the booklet enclosed with the blu ray.

Finally, we get the original theatrical trailer.

Today, to do a pirate film costs over $200 million dollar and is CGI crazy to the point wherein the actors often become ciphers to the visual chaos. However, releases like this show you what talent before and behind the camera could do with a very small budget.

Recommended to fans of Hammer, Christopher Lee, and adventure fans of all ages (just watch out for those piranhas!).

-Kevin G Shinnick


*-the other Hammer Robin Hood film was A CHALLENGE FOR ROBIN HOOD (Hammer/Warner Pathe ,1967). WOLFSHEAD: THE LEGEND OF ROBIN HOOD was a failed tv pilot from 1969 that Hammer acquired but did not produce, and released theatrically as a B feature in 1973.





1930S, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, cult, Film Detective, FILM NOIR, friend, genre, Hammer Films, Hitchcock, Horror, humor, RICHARD VALLEY, Uncategorized



It is hard for me to grasp still but that it has been nine years since writer, playwright, editor, publisher, actor, and friend RICHARD VALLEY passed away.


What I wrote quickly then

kevin g shinnick

Posts: 15257
Oct 12 07 11:37 AM

RICHARD VALLEY, SCARLET STREET EDITOR, has passed away at age 58.

He leaves behind a beloved mother, and his love of over a quarter century,
Tommy Amorosi.


Since then, many other fanzines have ceased publications, many other friends in the genre have gone on to join him in the great beyond, and many of the issues that were important to him have become political fodder once again.

To me, though, it is a personal loss of a man who was a great true and loyal friend who could irritate the hell out of me and then move one with his extreme generosity and kindness.

I have been lucky to have had four truly great friends in my existence, and though now two have departed, I still cherish them all.

I hope that each and every one of you is fortunate enough to know or have known such a shining presence in your life.
-Kevin G Shinnickscarlet-issue-55

Feel free to share any memories that you have of Richard and SCARLET STREET.

I hope you enjoy the https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/    and share it with your friends.


BIG THANKS to JOHN C STOSKOPF for preserving SCARLET STREET and painstakingly scanning them to post them online for people to enjoy the work of Richard and so many contributors.  http://scarletstreetmagazine.blogspot.com/


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TheHoundOfTheBaskervilles_BD_HighRes__42035.1463758810.1280.1280 limited edition 3,000 units- Original release Hammer/ United Artists -1959- Color – 86 minutes $29.95

TWILIGHT TIME has gone all out with their release of Hammer’s classic adaption of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes story  THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. Issued previously on DVD by MGM, the new Blu Ray cleans up both sound and image to make this hound appear as if it was made recently.

Peter Cushing is Sherlock Holmes. Before Jeremy Brett, Cushing was perhaps the closest to the character ever put on film. Rathbone and Bruce had gone further and further from the novels though they had been (and to many still are) the template in many people’s minds of what the Great Detective and his Boswell were like. In strong support was Andre Morell as Watson. Gone was the bumbling but lovable blustery Nigel Bruce and in his place was a man whom you felt had been a soldier, and while not as clever as Holmes, was at least an intelligent sounding board who had been a doctor.

Hammer was riding high from their back to back hits reinventing of Dracula and Frankenstein, and so they looked around for another popular character that might fit into their technicolor blood and thunder stylish thrillers. Their choice fell onto adapting perhaps the most famous mystery of all time877083538.3.l.
First serialized in nine parts from August 1901 until April 1902 in The Strand Magazine, the complete novel was first published as THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES: ANOTHER ADVENTURE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES on March 25,1902 by George Newnes with a print run of 25,000 copies at 6 shillings each. 15,000 more copies were printed for India and the British Colonies on April 2,1902, with the American edition coming out at $1.25 on April 15th (print run of 70,000). Illustrations were done by the man most identified with drawing the Dynamic Detecting Duo, Sidney Paget.hounde by paget



HOUND has proven to be the most enduring of the Holmesian tales, which is interesting because Holmes disappears for about half the middle section of the book and Watson taking the lead. Still it’s Gothic atmosphere with dark moors, castles, curses and hell hounds still stirs the imagination of readers over 114 years later. The tale has been adapted onto radio, comics, stage and of course film adaptations.


To me, the Hammer film leads the pack (see what I did there?). Casting, script, direction, music, set design, every aspect of the film from beginning to end is a treat for any longtime fan of the Great Man as well as a perfect way to introduce new fans to the tales.

The Hammer Hound begins back in the 1700 s as the original Sir Hugo Baskerville (David Oxley ,
 who also appeared as The Doctor in Hammer’s YESTERDAY ENEMY (1959) and it is sad that he was not used in more of their films) has kidnapped a young woman for obviously unsavory pleasures during their debauched hunting party (a reference to the notorious Hellfire Club, perhaps). The poor woman escapes and the Lord glowers over a bannister and in a tight close-up says “The BITCH has escaped!” (a phrase that I am sure gave censors coronaries). They takeoff after the poor unfortunate who struggles through the deadly bog, only to be caught, and on an ancient site of sacrifice, he pulls out a dagger and stabs her to death. Moments later, a low growl is heard, and the man turns to the camera as a look of horror crosses his face.

The Hound of the Baskervilles_1

Jump to Baker Street and we see that we are being told the tale of the Baskerville curse by a friend of the family, Dr. Mortimer (Francis De Woolf, who had been Black Ben in CORRIDORS OF BLOOD (MGM,1958) asks,” What do you think, Mr Holmes?’ A quick cut, and we see Cushing, deep in thought, a hand across his face as he sits splayed out in an armchair, then suddenly cries “’AH!” but not to the case but a chess move he had been puzzling. This is one of the finest introductions that Holmes has ever had on screen and Cushing does not disappoint in his well studied charactization for a moment. His Holmes is intense, so even when not moving, you have a sense that he is a coiled spring, ready to set off at a moments’s notice. Balancing him superbly as Dr Watson is Andre Morell, who played Cushing’s nemesis in the controversial BBC adaptation of NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR (1954) that propelled Cushing to national fame (he would later be Cushing’s antagonist in the superb CASH ON DEMAND (Hammer/Columbia ,1961 ,as well as appearing in 10 RILLINGTON PLACE, also released on Blu Ray previously reviewed here on the Street https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/10-rillington-place-twilight-time-blu-ray/).


Christopher Lee plays an aloof Sir Henry Baskervilles, who softens when he gets to Baskervilles Hall and meets Marla Landi (and who would later meet with pirate Chris Lee in Hammer’s THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (Columbia,1962)). Other superlative actors in the film are scene stealer Miles Malleson (who portraying a befuddled undertaker nearly cracks Peter Cushing up in HORROR OF DRACULA (Hammer/Universal,1958) as a Bishop who is also an amateur Arachnologist, John Le Mesurier (Dr Tranter in JACK THE RIPPER, Embassy 1959) a marvelous proper Barrymore the Butler, and Ewan Salon (also in JACK THE RIPPER as Sir David) is a wonderful Stapleton.High-Def-Digest-www.highdefdigest_.com-Blu-ray-Reivew-Hound-of-the-Baskervilles_3_


I don’t wish to go into too many details, especially if you have seen it there is no need and if you haven’t you will want to enjoy discovering the wonderful story on its own.

Production values are top notch ,with Bernard Robinson wonderfully redressing and adding to prior set pieces from Hammer ( it is often fun to watch Hammer Films just to see how brilliantly sets were dressed and redressed to such great effect from film to film), Jack Asher’s Technicolor photography has never looked so colorful as it does in this new Blu Ray release , and James Bernard’s score once again is quite stirring .The screenplay by Peter Bryan ,while not entirely faithful to the Doyle novel , is quite faithful in tone and spirit (Bryan ,a former camera operator ,would also pen Hammer’s PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES(Hammer /Fox,1966) as well as the original story for TROG (WB,1970))and Hammer’s treasure director Terrence Fisher deftly guides his ensemble through an engrossing and entertaining 86 minutes.13533200_1608127842850264_617244119448671006_n

The sound is in crisp clear 1.0 DTS-HD, with no noticeable pops or hiss, and the hound’s first howl and growl are quite chilling with the proper speakers. Subtitles are in English and follow the dialogue almost exactly.

Extras on this Blu Ray, besides the glorious region free 1080p High Definition / 1.66:1 / Color transfer, include
-An Isolated Music and effects track, you can enjoy Bernard’s score as well as seeing which sound bites are foleyed in.800__hound_baskervilles_06_blu-ray__blu-ray_
-An audio commentary with Film Historians David Del Valle and Writer /Director Steven Peros, who have infectious respect for the film and its place in Hammer History.
-A Second Audio commentary moderated by friend of SCARLET film historian and filmmaker Paul Scrabo, Lee Pfeiffer, and Hanker Reineke, who cover both the film and where it varies from the Holmesian canon.

-A video interview with Margaret Robinson, who discusses her involvement with the film, in particular making the mask used on the Hound. Though warned the dog might bite her, the lovely woman recalls that the dog decided that she was alright and never had a problem with it.
Reversible blu ray artwork
A nice overview booklet on the film written by Julie Kirgo.

Ported over from the previous MGM DVD release are
-Actor’s Notebook: An interview with actor Christopher Lee

Christopher Lee reading excerpts from the original Novel.
-The Theatrical Trailer.

Limited to only 3,000 copies, I would suggest that any fan of Holmes, Hammer, Cushing and company, or just great filmmaking should snap this film up!

Kevin G Shinnick

Note: The U.K. Arrow release of this film has a lot of extras not available here, including historian Marcus Hearn commentary, commentary by Kim Newman and Mark Gatis, a documentary on Andre Morell, and a 1986 documentary called THE MANY FACES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. That it has both the Margaret Robinson interview and Lee reading Hound excerpts, it is a shame that the other wealth of extras from ARROW had not been ported over. Still, with the wealth of extras that TWILIGHT TIME has given us, this is petty nitpicking and most important, they have given us perhaps the finest presentation of this classic that we are likely to see.

arrow cover cover300_hound_of_the_baskervilles_blu-ray_

Blu Ray, BOOK REVIEW, Classic Hollywood, dvd, fantasy, FILM NOIR, Hammer Films, Horror, Karloff, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized, Western

Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion


CULT CINEMA: AN ARROW VIDEO COMPANION – (published by ARROW FILMS,www.arrowfilms.co.uk) 246 pgs. Limited Edition $69.95 Available U.K. at http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/cultcinemabook/ and  in the U.S.   http://mvdshop.com/products/cult-cinema-an-arrow-video-companion-limited-edition-hardback-book-book

An interesting book that has various well respected authors commenting on and
expounding on the virtues of many of the films that were released by UK
Video distributor ARROW VIDEO. As the intro tells us, ARROW FILMS has been the
Leading distributor of Blu Ray and DVD releases of cult movies.

With an introduction by filmmaker Ben Wheatley (the intriguing A FIELD IN ENGLAND (2013), who has also added some thoughtful commentaries on several Arrow Video releases) the book gathers 25 well respected authors covering various topics near and dear to their hearts.

ben wheatley

My personal favorite is David De Valles’s tribute to Vincent Price, Paul Corupe on Canuxploitation (Canadian horror), and Tim Lucas wonderful piece on the 1961 classic THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, though I eagerly devoured the other pieces throughout the book.

Original artwork by The Twins of Evil (artists Luke Insect and Kenn Goodall), Graham Humphreys, and others as well as superb posters and production stills make this a thoughtful collection for the cult cinema. While there is the most emphasis on horror, spaghetti westerns, Italian porn (a la Tinto Brass), Asian Cinema, and the Video Nasties controversy also are covered in an intelligent and interesting fashion.

Ligeia_packshot_599.jpg by the twins of evll

I had for years heard of the quality of Arrow Films, but had not had an opportunity to see any of their releases until their recent wonderful AMERICAN HORROR PROJECT Vol 1 (currently available in a limited edition from MVD in the U. S). That one release showed me that this was a company who went the extra mile and then some in their product. This book continues the high quality and attention to detail that the company gives to projects that major studios have little time for.

I recommend this book as indeed a companion for these films (all released by the studio in the U.K.) or just for some wonderful writing on the cult cinema.


Kevin G Shinnick
Scarlet The Film Mag

Classic Hollywood, Hammer Films, Hitchcock, Joan Fontaine, LION IN WINTER, Theatre, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama


Joan Fontaine                     (photo provided by author Rod Labbe given to him by Joan Fontaine )


  By Rod Labbe
                                                   With Joan Fontaine

INTRODUCTION: A dark and chilly night, January, 2012.

I’d just gotten home from our local supermarket and was lugging multiple sacks, boxes, and slippery soda bottles into the kitchen. That’s when my cell rang. Displaying finely-tuned athletic dexterity–and, might I add, lightning-fast reflexes–I bounced from foot to foot, grabbed for the phone and breathlessly gasped, “Hello?”

“Yes, hello. Is Rod in, please?” A woman…and her mellifluous voice sounded vaguely familiar.

“Speaking.” Two dozen “cage-free” eggs were slowly slipping out of their bag. “Excuse me if I seem distracted. Things are a bit crazy here. I’m balancing several grocery items and trying very hard not to drop them. ”
“Oh? I’ll call back later, if now isn’t convenient.”

‘No, no. Potential disaster averted! How can I help you?”

“This is Joan Fontaine…”


“Joan Fontaine.”

“Um…hi.” The eggs fell, and I suddenly found myself incapable of stringing two coherent syllables together.


Ok, ok, a bit theatrical, but it’s not like I converse with legendary movie stars every day. Who among us wouldn’t be discombobulated? True, I’d written an article about Miss Fontaine (entitled “A Study in Tenacity,” Classic Images, October 2008) and mailed her a complimentary copy. My contact information, ahem, just happened to be enclosed. But did I honestly expect a response? Nooo.

Apparently, Joan Fontaine preferred a pro-active approach. She thanked me for the CI piece (“Delightful!”), discussed salient points and segued smoothly into the big request.

“I have an interesting proposition, Rod,” she said. “Are you accustomed to being propositioned, long-distance?”

“Can’t say that I am,” I chuckled.

“Well, I’m primarily a film actress, but my best role–the one I feel defines me–was Eleanor of Aquitaine in a Viennese stage production of William Goldman’s, The Lion in Winter (1979). That career highpoint has received very little fanfare. You’re a good writer. Why don’t we collaborate on an article and address History’s oversight? Posterity needs us!”

“Certainly! I’m honored to be asked, Ms. Fontaine.”

“Wonderful. And please, it’s Joan. Let me send you what I have, and we’ll chat again.”

Within days, I’d received Joan’s archival material (consisting of newspaper reviews) but needed more. A treasure hunt ensued. I scoured the Internet, checked and rechecked facts at libraries and archives and scratched my head, utterly confused. Joan and I spoke a few more times, and random bits coalesced.

Then, I had a brainstorm: why not contact Vienna’s English Theatre directly?

I did and hit the jackpot! Information poured like honey. Paragraphs were tweaked here and there, and an article chronicling a lost moment in Joan Fontaine’s professional life emerged.

Lost, no longer.



PART ONE: From Film to Theater

Success as a performing artist can mean many things: world fame, better seating at restaurants, an increased bank account, and the very real possibility that failure and obscurity are waiting around the proverbial corner.

How much energy did Michael Jackson expend trying to deliver another Thriller (1982)? Despite cinematic high-points, like Meet me in St. Louis (1944), A Star is Born (1954), and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), is it any great surprise Judy Garland’s ruby slippers remain firmly planted on the yellow brick road?

Creative pinnacles reached in milieus not usually associated with an artist’s publically-accepted persona present new, decidedly unique scenarios. Pundits scratch their heads; scholars ponder ways of dissecting the phenomenon, while (oddly enough) fans/aficionados and followers are oftentimes blissfully unaware.

Take Joan Fontaine, world famous as an Academy Award winning actress from Hollywood’s “golden era,” for example.

Millions have seen Rebecca (Selznick-1940); Suspicion (RKO-1941); This Above All (Fox-1942); Jane Eyre (Fox-1944), and Letter from an Unknown Woman (UI-1948), motion pictures rightly deemed classics and all starring Joan Fontaine as leading lady.


Rebecca, especially, proved a seminal work. Based upon Daphne DuMaurier’s popular novel and directed by Alfred Hitchcock–his first American assignment (courtesy of independent producer, David O. Selznick)–it scored an impressive eleven Oscar nominations and won Selznick his second Best Picture statuette, following Gone With the Wind (MGM-1939).


Ginger Rogers’ dramatic tour de force as Kitty Foyle (RKO) dazzled Academy voters that year, but Joan’s Best Actress nomination generated the most industry buzz. “Olivia de Havilland’s baby sister, you know,” Hollywood gushed, agog. “So gifted, so refreshing, so pretty and unaffected! Where has she been all our lives?”
Gone forever were programmers like Music for Madame (RKO-1937) and The Duke of West Point (UA-1938). At age 23, Joan Fontaine stepped out from the immense shadow of an older, established movie star sibling and blossomed into a bona-fide “A-Lister.”

Her second cinematic foray with Hitch, Suspicion–ostensibly, a dramatic vehicle for light comedian, Cary Grant–pushed Joan to even greater cinematic heights. Once again, there was talk of Oscar.


Said Bosley Crowther (New York Times, November 21, 1941), “This young lady has unquestionably become one of the finest actresses on the screen, and one of the most beautiful, too; and her development in this picture of a fear-tortured character is fluid and compelling all the way.”

Academy voters concurred. February 26, 1942, against powerhouse competition (Bette Davis, Greer Garson, Barbara Stanwyck and, in one of Hollywood’s greatest upsets, Olivia), they named Joan Fontaine 1941’s “Best Actress,” the sole performer to win an Oscar for a Hitchcock film, supporting or leading.


Suspicion established the Fontaine template: shy heroines with backbones of steel. Later, she defied conformity by adding do-gooders, troubled women, schemers, a Victorian-era murderess, arch, globe-trotting sophisticates, and a nuclear submarine saboteur to her resume, demonstrating truly remarkable diversity.

Amazingly, Joan never saw any of her films after Frenchman’s Creek (Paramount-1944)! “That was a deliberate decision,” she said. “I went to the opening of Frenchman’s Creek in NYC (Radio City), against my better judgment, and the audience started laughing uproariously at a scene where Basil Rathbone attacked me. Right then and there, I vowed never to watch another film of mine, and I haven’t.”


Three Oscar nominations (Rebecca, Suspicion, and The Constant Nymph, 1943), an Academy Award, and forty-six movies notwithstanding, Joan’s performance in a theatrical endeavor was her favorite. And done only twice.

To understand how and why this occurred, let’s go back to 1954. That’s the year she replaced Deborah Kerr on Broadway in Tea and Sympathy. Columnists and theatergoers alike were smitten by Joan’s multi-layered interpretation of “older woman,” Laura Reynolds. Elia Kazan directed, and Anthony Perkins (subbing for John Kerr) co-starred.
Wrote Joan, in her best-selling autobiography, No Bed of Roses (William Morrow, 1978):

“During rehearsals, I was feeling my way from just ‘being-and-feeling’ in front of the camera to the projection of voice and personality across the footlights, beyond the proscenium arch. My debut at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre was a most terrifying experience. Brooks Atkinson, of the New York Times, reviewed me very favorably, though I hadn’t been on the stage since 1941. Tony Perkins got excellent reviews as well, starting him on a long and successful career.”


“Through training, an actor learns to move and feel from his toes up. His ear must be quick to detect intonation, emphasis, cadence, stress. It must also be able to twitch! The director guides, bring out, enlarges, controls. But the actor must come to the stage equipped with the technique, the talent, the ambition, the imagination, the patience. The theatre audience is the ultimate teacher, instructing the actor on the degree to which he has executed both the author’s and the director’s intent.”


Joan elaborated later, in one of our marathon phone sessions: “Theatre’s immediacy cannot be discounted. There’s a full-bloodedness to each living word and action. You’re nervous, you’re edgy, and that energy is extremely potent and can actually help an actor.”

“But does the same energy drive a film performance?” I inquired.

“Film is notoriously more difficult because you’re not cohesive. You may start at the end or the middle and be that person, wherever you start, and carry the role in you, hidden, as it were. The cutter puts it all together, hopefully to your advantage,” she laughed.


Tea and Sympathy opened new career doors. From then on, Joan regularly trod the boards between film assignments with Forty Carats (Broadway, 1968-70), Private Lives; Dial M for Murder; Relatively Speaking, and Cactus Flower–well-received and profitable, but none tapped into her core, the center of what defined Joan Fontaine as an actress.

That would come much later, with The Lion in Winter, presented at Vienna’s English Theatre in October of 1979.

vienna foyer vienna(Foyer- Vienna’s English Theatre)

Ironically, this opportunity originated from a film connection: The Devil’s Own (Fox, 1967–aka The Witches), directed by Cyril Frankel, under the aegis of England’s Hammer Studios.


PART TWO: Lightning in a Bottle
A welcomed return to form, The Devil’s Own showcased Joan’s still formidable talents as teacher Gwen Mayfield–fearless heroine battling voodoo, witchcraft, intrigue and treachery in an idyllic English village. Again, the actress proved pro-active; she’d optioned Norah Lofts’ (pseudonym, “Peter Curtis”) best-selling thriller and wooed Michael Carreras, Hammer’s head honcho. He liked the package of book and star and produced with 7-Arts, a happy, mutually satisfying project for everyone concerned.


The New York Times (March 16, 1967) lauded their combined effort: “Say this for Joan Fontaine, who has finally trailed other middle-years movie queens like Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and her own sister, Olivia de Havilland, into the shocker school. Miss Fontaine picked herself the best property, in this beautifully woven yarn of a new teacher in a village school who is suddenly aware that the cheerful place and its people are not all they seem….and Cyril Frankel, the director, does a smashing job of depicting the seemingly placid routine of the rural background, the kind of thing mastered by Agatha Christie. But the light brush strokes and edge of terror are entirely original here.”

The Witches

“She brings a good deal of intelligent preparation to a highly emotional role,” Frankel told The Daily Cinema (April 29, 1966). “Her sense of dramatic imagination is very strong indeed.”





Likewise, Joan spoke highly of her director: “From the very first day we met, Cyril and I had simpatico. We’ve kept in touch all these years, and he wired me about The Lion in Winter. Of course, I agreed to do it. Our rehearsals lasted four weeks in London. It was a thorough production, from start to finish.”


The Lion in Winter is an historical drama that takes place throughout the Christmas holidays, 1183, in Windsor, England. King Henry V has gathered together his three surviving adult sons: Richard, Geoffrey and John, and his banished (and imprisoned for ten years) wife, Queen Eleanor. Their eldest child–Henry’s namesake–died the previous summer, so England’s future crown is up for grabs. Which royal head will wear it?

Eleanor, an expert conniver, favors Richard and bestows upon him her inherited land, the Aquitaine. Henry prefers youngest son, John, a questionable choice–John’s fidgety, immature, and hardly able to assume any significant leadership responsibility. No one takes notice of Geoffrey, the most qualified. Possessing wit, intelligence, and an inherent ability to scheme, he’s ignored in the never-ending tug of war between his parents.
Henry has kept himself a mistress, Alais, sister of France’s King Philip II. When Philip arrives to reinforce a treaty signed between King Louis I (Alais’ and Philip’s father) and Henry, promising Alais to Henry’s rightful heir, drama escalates.


windsor tower(Windsor Castle Tower,rebuilt by Henry II in stone replacing the old wooden tower )

If England’s proper successor cannot be chosen, there’s sure to be civil war. At stake are sundry lands and possessions, not to mention the throne itself. A series of promises broken turns brother against brother, husband against wife, sons against parents, with an ambitious mistress fueling the fires of discontent.
Keenly aware that Eleanor suffers in captivity, Henry extends an olive branch: he’ll grant her freedom for the Aquitaine, thus diffusing Richard’s bargaining position. She agrees but has one caveat: Alais and Richard must marry immediately.

Richard discovers the betrayal and rejects Alais. Unbeknownst to either Eleanor or Henry, he’s carrying on a romantic liaison with Philip, further complicating matters.
Raging, Henry disowns his entire family and imprisons them, declaring that intended bride-to-be Alais will beget him another suitable heir.



(Church of Fontevraud Abbey Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II effigies )

Eleanor is beaten for the moment and has no choice but acquiescence. Alais, in the meantime, convinces Henry that his adult sons pose dire threats. She wants them incarcerated for life; otherwise, neither she nor her progeny are safe.

Machinations escalate. Eleanor smuggles daggers to Richard, John and Geoffrey and encourages their escape. They refuse, intent on killing Henry–a prospect more attractive in the planning. Held back by love and skewered sentiment, they cannot do the deed. Likewise, he cannot kill them.

The Christmas holidays near a dissatisfying end. No son has England’s throne, Eleanor retreats into exile, and Henry and Alais are still unmarried. Nothing’s changed.

At its core, The Lion in Winter revolves around two cosmically-entwined individuals torn apart by human frailties. The drama is underscored by tragedy and deceit and painful disappointment.


Goldman’s play had its Broadway debut March 3, 1966 and ran a total of 92 performances. Robert Preston gave star power to Henry, and Rosemary Harris was an elegant Eleanor (’66 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play).

Nonetheless, Goldman’s use of anachronistic language, historical inaccuracies and attempts at humor were thumped as more Marx Brothers than Shakespearean.

Missteps aside, the play’s message rings clear: nothing is worse than a dysfunctional family at Christmas!

The Lion in Winter roared back as a very successful and sumptuously-mounted film, released by Joseph E. Levine’s Avco-Embassy Pictures, in 1968.


Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn led an expert cast, and TLIW garnered seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (Anthony Harvey), Best Actor (O’Toole), and Hepburn for Best Actress (she took home the Oscar, her third, sharing honors with first-timer, Barbra Streisand).

Goldman also won for his screenplay, and he and director Harvey admirably expanded the play’s scope. Dramatic intimacies, however, are what make The Lion in Winter crackle, and effective use of close-ups caught every nuance.

A second version ran on Showtime, the cable television network, in 2003, starring Glenn Close and Patrick Stewart and utilizing Goldman’s original screenplay. Stewart received kudos for bringing new sensitivity to the dialogue, but Close was crushed by Hepburn’s towering Eleanor.

thelion in winter stewart

The play had a second Broadway go-round in March 1999, with Laurence Fishburne and Stockard Channing as Henry and Eleanor. Like Rosemary Harris, Channing scored a Tony nomination, losing to Judi Dench (Amy’s View).


“Goldman controlled his property,” Joan revealed, “and didn’t want to do it in England. They’d criticized the script, and he absolutely refused to do it there. As for me, Goldman didn’t know who the hell I was! I saw that as an advantage; anonymity meant breathing room and no predetermined estimation of my capabilities.”

Watching Joan Fontaine work live is a distinct pleasure, but Eleanor was so different from anything in her repertoire, it threw theatre-goers for a proverbial loop.

Miss Fontaine’s re-emergence is quite starting,” raved the International Herald Tribune, on Tuesday, October 16, 1979. “She bursts on the scene with a ripe, fiery radiance. Her remembered screen image is one of a demure, soft-spoken damsel. She has matured into an actress of sweeping command…her voice, once the organ of muttered sweet nothings, now has resonance and volume. She had majestic stride and presence, robust humor and a sense of the dramatic, which overcome the play’s obvious shortcomings.”

Reflected Joan, “I saw The Lion in Winter on Broadway and thought it was simply fascinating. Eleanor is an actor’s dream–what possibilities! The characters exude extraordinary vitality, but Eleanor’s the eye of this storm. Calm, unpredictable…and oh-so dangerous.”

fontaine3 (Photo Provided by Vienna’s English Theatre )

Wiener Zeiting, Austria’s 300 year-old newspaper, wrote, “Joan Fontaine is, like the character she plays, a very imposing apparition, with great personality and with many attributes at her disposal. The grand dame, the mother, the politician, the ruler, the strategist, the abandoned, the one full of feeling, the calculating and sharp-tongued–all this she brings together under one common denominator, with her dark, intriguingly deep voice–a woman of the great world.”

In particular, Cyril Frankel’s direction had scribes swooning.

“A sample of his innovation: when for a moment the rude, noisy traffic slows for a spell, and Miss Fontaine’s Eleanor utters a desperate, lonely cry, he blacks out the stage and spotlights her face,” rhapsodized The International Herald Tribune (October 16, 1979). “As she renders her inner lament in an unexpected rush of pathos, the earth-bound lines she speaks deceptively yield the illusion of grandeur.”

fontaine2                         (Photo provided by Vienna’s English Theatre )

I asked Joan if she was surprised by the enthusiastic reviews. Here’s what she had to say:
“Oh, completely. Critics are a testy bunch. Our first show was an artistic triumph. Afterwards, a reporter interviewed me in my dressing room. The stage manager was impatient because we were late for an opening night party. I wanted to cool down, but off we went, directly into the cold Vienna air–and I ended up hospitalized with a nasty case of pneumonia.”

“Alas, we did only two shows in Vienna,” she divulged. “The others were cancelled due to my illness. I really should have taken out an ad in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter to thank all our critics, but illness prevented me. I stayed in a hotel room for two weeks until I could get my strength to come back to the US.”

Strange, isn’t it? Joan Fontaine has contributed to Film, the stage and television, written her life story and brought home an Academy Award. Weighed individually, those accomplishments are remarkable enough, but the one milestone she’s proudest of flared quickly and brightly, like fireworks bursting in a nighttime sky.

“I was pleased with everything, from the production elements, to Cyril’s empathetic direction, Simon Merrick’s Henry, and the unflagging support of those involved. Later, I toured with the play stateside, but nothing compared to Vienna,” sighed Joan, nostalgically. “It was the pinnacle of my acting career–lightning in a bottle. I’ve never been so personally satisfied. Or tested.”

“Looking back, I emulated Eleanor without realizing it. Those situations don’t happen often for an actor, if at all. An enchanting serendipity.”


Joan Fontaine passed away December 15th, 2013, at age 96. I’m fortunate to have met and worked with such a remarkable human being.

She is now immortal.

Joan Fontaine