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When will Hollywood smell the coffee?
I READ with interest recently that Warner Bros were due to start filming a movie called Arthur And Lancelot over here in the new year, but are having second thoughts.
This has reportedly been triggered by a rise in the budget from $90 million to $130m for a film with a virtually unknown cast.
When you consider it would need to take at least twice that amount to generate a decent profit and the American cinemas box office take is at a three-year low, you can understand why Warner is nervous about proceeding.
What puzzles me is why, with the world in an economic depression, Hollywood has not woken up and smelt the coffee in regard to these huge budgets attached to films.
Fortunes are gambled on single films when it is accepted knowledge that six out of ten will die at the box office.
To escape from this madhouse economy, I have just watched two Hammer films made at Elstree Studios when the world was a bit more sane.
They were both based on the best selling novels of Dennis Wheatley, but he had mixed views on the results as he later told me.
The first went before the cameras on stages 8 and 9 at Elstree in August 1967, and was called The Devil Rides Out, starring Christopher Lee.
He plays the good guy, for a change, battling the evil forces of Satan worshipper Charles Gray, who later enjoyed fame as a Bond villain.
The supporting cast included a young Patrick Mower, who nowadays can be found propping up the bar of the Woolpack in Emmerdale.
Part of the story involved a private country house and it was great to see the Edgwarebury Hotel, in Barnet Lane, being used for the exterior shots with a lawn, rather than a car park, outside.
At the time, Christopher complained that Hammer was trying to employ him on the cheap, but he later told me he thought the film was excellent and commented: “It is one of my favourites and I would love to see it remade today, when the special effects could be enhanced.”
The film was made for £285,000 and went on to return a decent profit, with many fans considering it to be one of Hammer’s finer efforts.
The second film was shot eight years later and entitled To The Devil A Daughter, again starring Christopher Lee in his last movie for Hammer and at a time when he was trying to escape the reputation of being a horror star.
It was filmed over eight weeks and cost £360,000, which, by today’s standards would be about the cost of filming a 30-second commercial.
This, however, was not such a happy production as there were problems with the script right up to filming, and some felt it was too little too late, cashing in on the success of Hollywood’s The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby.
To give it appeal in America, they considered casting the likes of Stacy Keach and Richard Chamberlain, but decided on the Hollywood veteran Richard Widmark. I bumped into him when I visited the set, but he was not a happy bunny and wished he had not signed on.
The supporting cast was great and included Anthony Valentine, Honor Blackman, Denholm Elliott and veteran character actor Michael Goodcliffe, who tragically killed himself not long after, while suffering from depression.
One interesting scene — when Anthony Valentine’s character goes up in flames — was shot inside the defunct St Botolph’s church outside Shenley, before it was turned into a private house.
Dennis Wheatley told me he was shocked by the way his book had been adapted for the big screen and considered it a total mess.
And Christopher told me he thought it was spoiled by a weak ending in which his arch satanic villain was dispatched by Widmark throwing a bit of flint at him.
It was the last horror film made by the old Hammer company.
On another subject, may I wish Harry Judd congratulations on winning Strictly Come Dancing, bringing younger viewers to a show that trounced the increasingly boring X Factor in the ratings.
I now look forward to the Elstree-based Dancing On Ice and even Celebrity Big Brother, provided they have found some celebrities we have heard of, unlike last time.
Finally, may I wish all my long suffering readers a happy new year, as we drift into the 35th year of this column and more trips down memory lane.
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