MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.
PUBLISHED IN SEPTEMBER 2019 BY PAPER DRAGON PRODUCTIONS.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘Michael Armstrong is creating history by being the first film-maker to publish his entire screenwriting output. With the original uncut screenplays in print for the first time ever and peppered with a mixture of wildly entertaining anecdotes, astounding behind-the-scenes revelations, creative and educational insights and brutal ‘no holds barred’ honesty, these books are guaranteed to provide a completely new kind of reading experience while offering a unique insight into the movie industry. Starting from his first professional screenplay written in 1960 when he was only fifteen and which he subsequently directed in 1968, the books will ultimately encompass a career that has spanned over fifty years. The books will include not only those screenplays which made it onto a cinema screen but, for the first time ever, all those that didn’t- and the reasons why…’
I’m delighted to have a new little stack of Michael Armstrong books to read and review, including this little gem from 1983, FALCONFELL. Michael Armstrong, of course, is the screenwriter responsible for such cinematic treats as HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1982), ESKIMO NELL (1974) and MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970). Don’t just take my word for it, however. Check out the list of films for which he’s penned the screenplays:
THE DARK- 1960.
THE IMAGE- 1964. Starring David Bowie in his first screen appearance.
THE HUNT- 1965.
MARK OF THE DEVIL- 1970.
THE SEX THIEF- 1973.
ESKIMO NELL- 1974. A riotous sex comedy starring beloved English actor Roy Kinnear and a young and handsome Michael Armstrong himself.
IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU- 1975.
THREE FOR ALL- 1975.
ADVENTURES OF A TAXI DRIVER #2- 1975.
ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE EYE- 1976.
THE BLACK PANTHER- 1976. The story of Donald Neilson, the British armed robber, kidnapper and murderer who abducted wealthy British teenager Lesley Whittle in 1975.
HOME BEFORE MIDNIGHT- 1979.
HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS- 1982. The only film in the history of cinema to star horror legends Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and John Carradine all together.
FALCONFELL is a horror story, something that Michael Armstrong does exceedingly well. You might even call it his forte, as the French say. FALCONFELL was written in four weeks; happily it flowed well. Also, it was modelled after the style of Alfred Hitchcock’s Oscar-winning screen version of Daphne Du Maurier’s REBECCA.
REBECCA, of course, is the story of a couple who meet and marry extremely quickly, then the relationship between the two of them begins to unravel as the man’s deceased wife Rebecca casts a very long shadow over the couple and the imposing old mansion in which they live, Manderley.
In FALCONFELL, an attractive single secretary called Joanna Merrick meets and marries a handsome writer of historical books called Adam Holt after a very short courtship. You know how it is. She’s freewheeling towards thirty, drinking alone in the Last Chance Saloon, her biological clock is ticking loud enough to wake the dead and Adam’s offer of marriage is clearly just too good to be passed up. Rich writers don’t come along every day. Speaking for myself, I’ve never met even one, lol.
Joanna’s friend Sally’s words to her on her wedding day mirror those of rich old dragon Edythe Van Hopper to the shy, mousy little companion in REBECCA who’s just done the impossible and snagged Catch of the Century, Maxim de Winter, in holy matrimony.
Sally: ‘Well, I’ve got to hand it to you: still waters really do run deep. For three years? Nothing. Then in three weeks- you do the works!’
She might just as well have added: ‘Tennis lessons, my foot…!’
Anyway, no sooner does Joanna marry Adam than he legs it over to England from New York to bury himself in a country mansion called Falconfell, the Manderley of the script. Here he intends doing some historical research and incorporating it into a new book. A few days later, a worried Joanna follows him over to see exactly what he thinks he’s up to, doing his best impersonation of the Invisible Man just a day or two into their bleedin’ honeymoon.
The house is Manderley-esque, certainly, but it also reminds me fondly of Baldpate Manor, the ‘Old Dark House’ of Michael’s creation that featured in the highly successful horror film, HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS. This was the only film to… you guys know this…!… feature iconic horror movie stars Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and John Carradine all together.
Baldpate Manor is a terrifically spooky old house, and Falconfell is very much cast in its eerie mode. Incidentally, HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS also features a writer, one who holes himself up in the countryside for one weekend to speed-write a novel in order to win a bet with his agent.
I love the way writers are always writing about writers, lol. They just can’t help it, because it’s what they know. Stephen King (who gets a mention in FALCONFELL, by the way) does it, and Michael Armstrong does it too.
It’s the kind of thing that other writers, such as myself, love to read, because we all want a sneak peek into someone else’s ‘process,’ if you get me. Just in case another writer has the secret to fame and fortune that doesn’t involve years and years of hard, unrelenting thankless grind…!
Falconfell, a big tourist draw in the summer months, is nonetheless a creepy old place. Here are some of the evocative descriptive passages that I most enjoyed:
… Joanna explores the ornate and stately rooms…
Long, richly panelled corridors…
A music room…
A wealth of art treasures and antiques everywhere;
Mostly cordoned off from the public by ropes…
Occasional glass display cases…
And stands containing art curios or old documents and books…
And a frequency of signs:
‘PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH’ and ‘NO SMOKING’…
Along with a splattering of staff cleaning this vast museum.
It paints a lovely picture, doesn’t it? But wait, there’s more;
Joanna is exploring the areas not open to the public.
Here, there is a different atmosphere;
These are what were the servants’ quarters:
Enclosed and claustrophobic…
Dark, brooding memories of a candlelit past…
Lingering ghosts in the shadowed recesses and stairways;
Hiding from the occasional shafts of sunlight as if in guilt.
A catacomb-like maze…
Of corridors, alcoves…
And narrow stairways…
Still protecting their gloomy secrets…
I just love the pictures these words paint so skilfully, like actual paint on canvas. Anyway, this gorgeous mausoleum seems to be having an ill effect on both Adam and Joanna, making them behave out of character in ways which are worrying to each other. Joanna struggles daily with an almost overwhelming desire to ride the arse off Reg, the attractive stable boy, and Adam finds himself increasingly drawn to a nightly bit of the old rape. I know, I know, but it’s not a kiddy’s book, is it?
It turns out that Falconfell, like most stately homes worth their salt, has a colourful and bloody history and maybe even a ghost or two. Well, there is a disused gibbet (gallows) just down the road a piece, and in the 1750s, when the house was in its heyday, the lady of the manor cheated on her husband, the dastardly Sir Hugo Glaston, with disastrous consequences.
When Joanna discovers that the house seems to be hell-bent on a bit of, shall we say, historical re-enactment, her biggest problem seems to be convincing Adam of how much trouble the pair of them are in.
The flapping wings of imminent danger are, well, flapping ever nearer. Now, they could belong to the real-live falcon Adam seems suddenly to have acquired out of nowhere, or they could be a metaphor for the shadow of a brutal past, reaching out its slimy tentacles to drag Adam and Joanna down into the mire with it… (The Grimpen Mire, perhaps? That rake Sir Hugo is practically twins with his namesake from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES…!)
What a smashing script. It would have made a terrific movie. This or any other of Michael’s luxurious, glossy script books would make fantastic Christmas presents for the film buff in your life. I’ll leave you with a couple of my favourite quotes:
‘Birds make me nervous.’
‘You’ve heard Megaera in the night… searching for something to sink her claws into… something to tear into with that razor-sharp beak of hers.’
FALCONFELL is available to buy now. You can purchase it at either of these websites:
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
You can contact Sandra at: