Wednesday 22 August 2012

Black Beauty, Towers' Masterpiece and Tenser's Too

The Tigon/Towers Black Beauty has been shown uncut in a children’s TV slot on RTE. Even the mentions of the word ‘bastard’ are left intact. It is despite its reputation as a children’s film, an exploitation movie. Produced by two titans of the genre of Wardour Street, Harry Alan Towers and Tigon’s Tony Tenser, there’s scenes of a young and slightly OTT Patrick Mower sadistically laughing as he whips horses, and German import (thanks to Towers) Uschi Glas (credited in typical euro-Anglicisation style as Ursula Glass) in bondage, having been taken from the horse by a rope looping around her and hanging her in the air before being kidnapped by rival circus men and horse-nappers, fighting fat ladies who are told to lose weight for the circus and a brief Mondo-like scene where a monkey fights a dog at a circus. Thanks to Towers, there are anachronisms. Bearded hippy-ish men with ponytails which date the film to 1971, a graveyard scene features 20th century graves and one of those stylised Victorian funeral carriages that you only see at funerals of old people and in Eastenders. Some of the outfits seem slightly out of place, especially in an odd interlude where Beauty is abducted by the Muldoons, a band of Irish gypsies in caravans who seem to exist in 1970s’ Ireland, and results in a slapstick horse chase full of jumping over burning logs and gates and name-calling ‘blithering idiots’ to the reuse of cheering scenes of Irish travellers cheering, before the horse suddenly wanders into  what is clearly the dustbowls of Spain, where is he then shipped from Spain doubling as the English countryside to Spain doubling as Spain,  morphing into a bad Spaghetti western with ill-handled dubbing and a circus that too seems modern, before it is sold to John Nettleton from Yes, Prime Minister and Doctor Who: Ghost Light who lives in Ireland/England and has as a bratty daughter, Maria ‘Mad Mrs. Towers’ Rohm herself, who apparently broke her leg while riding, and is I think dubbed (I must ask Maria herself) and then her lover (spurned by the racist frog-hating father) brings the horse into battle, makes it a war hero in a violent but bloodless scene, then sold to one of the soldiers, then taken to a coal yard where it encounters the story’s writer Anna Sewell played by Margaret ‘Mrs. Whistler in Diamonds are Forever’ Lacey.

There seems to be about two different films being made, one by Tenser and one by Towers. Mower comes across as a slightly crazed posh hippie with his long hair and top hat, while Lester is just adequate. He’s little to do than plead to keep his horse and ride horses. I hope that the children who do catch this film will realise the charms of Towers and Tenser. I hope that they will also show other Towers family films such as White Fang, Treasure Island and Call of the Wild. They have already aired the anodyne Towers anti-seal hunting vehicle Sandy the Seal and the slow giallo exploits of And Then There Were None ’74.

Apparently, this film was directed by Born Free/A Study in Terror director James Hill, once in line to do a Doctor Who film, but I wouldn’t be surprised to think that Jess Franco (who with fellow euro-exploitation man Antonio Margheriti did ghost-directing duties on Treasure Island) helped along, with the casting of Blood of Fu Manchu’s Ricardo Palacios as a vicious Russian General.

On the whole, it is an enjoyable and yet flawed film. It seems to go from one segment to another, the only link being the horse. It takes us from the story of a boy in an English farm to a race among gypsies to a circus in Spain to an English mansion and the tale of two doomed lovers, the man who dies in battle in Spain, before the horse is forced to work in a coal yard and found by Anna Sewell. It is segmented and plot strands are forgotten. For example, it is said that Lester will see the horse again yet he never does only in the end titles, where he rides around as the credits roll to his riding. Although not the period Masterpiece it aspires to, it is fun!