THE DEVILS. (1971) KEN RUSSELL’S MOST CONTROVERSIAL FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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THE DEVILS. (1971) PARTLY ADAPTED FROM ALDOUS HUXLEY’S 1952 NON-FICTION BOOK ‘THE DEVILS OF LOUDUN’ AND PARTLY ADAPTED FROM THE 1960 PLAY ‘THE DEVILS’ BY JOHN WHITING.

DIRECTED BY KEN RUSSELL. SETS BY DEREK JARMAN. SCORE BY SIR PETER MAXWELL.

STARRING OLIVER REED, VANESSA REDGRAVE, DUDLEY SUTTON, GEMMA JONES, GEORGINA HALE, MURRAY MELVIN, MICHAEL GOTHARD, CHRISTOPHER LOGUE AND GRAHAM ARMITAGE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is such an incredibly intense film that I generally find I’m holding my breath practically the whole way through it, even though such a feat probably isn’t medically possible. It’s like an assault on the senses, with the fantastic period costumes, the disconcerting (excuse the pun) musical score and the way that, just when you think director Ken Russell surely can’t go any further, he then goes and does exactly that.

The story is set in France in the seventeenth century, and it’s based on actual events, which would kind of blow your mind to think about it. It features Oliver Reed in one of his finest roles. He plays Father Urbain Grandier, chief cleric in the heavily walled town of Loudun. He’s a rogue of a priest who unwittingly becomes the centre of one of the biggest witchcraft cases France has ever known.

He’s a womanising lecher of a priest, who has sex with and even impregnates his prettier female parishioners, then he abdicates all responsibility towards them. ‘And so it ends.’ Then he meets the rather plain, ordinary Madeleine, whose mother has just died horribly from the plague that runs rife through France, and he decides he’s in love, real pure love, for the first time in his whole decadent, dissolute life.

If he were just an ordinary womanising priest, I don’t suppose it would have become much of an issue in seventeenth century France. But Grandier was somewhat of a controversial figure politically as well, even though religion and politics supposedly don’t mix very well. Here’s the deal as I’ve interpreted it.

Cardinal Richelieu at the time wanted to knock down the heavy fortifications of Loudun, and thereby put a stop to its system of independent government and the possibility of a Protestant uprising.

He wanted Loudun and other similarly-governed places to stop ruling themselves independently of the monarchy, and he felt that knocking down their fortifications and leaving them defenseless would accomplish this.

Father Grandier, however, refused to allow this to happen by getting the townspeople to stand firm against any such notion. He maintained that, in Loudun, Catholics and Protestants lived harmoniously side by side, without any pesky uprisings at all, and that they needed their fortifications to protect them from marauders. Moreover, the King himself had said that Loudun could keep her walls. So there, lol.

Therefore, Grandier was a big thorn in the side both of Cardinal Richelieu, and also of Baron de Laubardemont, the official he’s sent to Loudun to knock down the walls. They feel powerless to move against Grandier, who’s so popular in the town. What they need is to get rid of him, but how? Then into their laps lands the gift of a lifetime… a tailor-made excuse to rid themselves of the troublesome priest…

The lead female character, chillingly played by Vanessa Redgrave, is Sister Jeanne of the Angels, head nun of the local convent. Poor Sister Jeanne. Her head is permanently to one side because of a dreadful hump on her back. She constantly shuffles about on her knees in the narrow, claustrophobic confines of the convent and this has the effect of making her personality seem as stunted, deformed and twisted as her physical person. I see her as a figure deserving of pity, yes, but a little creepy too.

Underneath the habit (and the hump), Sister Jeanne is a normal woman with normal, human lusts and sexual appetites. Sometimes these will out, even if you try your hardest to repress them. She has a huge crush on Father Grandier, whom she’s never seen, but the legend of the sexually dynamic and charismatic priest that precedes him wherever he goes is enough for her to hang her hopes on.

A perceived slight from the genuinely unwitting Father Grandier leads the horribly frustrated Sister Jeanne to accuse Grandier of a terrible crime. In comes the church’s leading exorcist, the handsome blonde could-easily-have-been-a-rock-star Father Barre, to get to the truth (let’s not say ‘the bottom,’ please!) of the shocking matter…

What follows is certainly shocking. The scenes of orgy and exorcism, torture and sheer brutality-for-brutality’s-sake are hard to watch. Father Barre believes in putting on a good show, and the farcical spectacle attracts viewers from all over France.

Father Mignon cuts a frightening figure all in black with his pudding bowl haircut, Baron de Laubardemont is in his element, strutting about the place shouting, and King Louis XIII is shown to be a disgustingly decadent and trivial character, with no more real feeling for his subjects than for one of the grapes peeled for him by his lackeys.

Underpinning it all is the magnificent performance of Oliver Reed as the poor tortured Father Grandier, who once played fast and loose with the feelings of all women, but who now believes he really, truly loves a woman, which love has brought him closer to God and shown him the meaning of love and life for the first time in his thirty-something years.

What he undergoes in the name of ‘Christ,’ no man deserves to go through. This film will stay in your mind for a long time after you watch it. And rightly so, because it’s surely Ken Russell’s and one of Britain’s finest.

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:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

YIELD TO THE NIGHT. (1956) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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YIELD TO THE NIGHT. (1956) BASED ON THE BOOK OF THE SAME NAME BY JOAN HENRY. DIRECTED BY J. LEE THOMPSON. STARRING DIANA DORS. MICHAEL CRAIG, HAMMER ACTOR MICHAEL RIPPER AND YVONNE MITCHELL.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a superb film, if you can bear the unrelenting bleakness. I love bleakness in movies, so I happily got stuck in and wallowed in it, lol. And I adore La Dors, the woman they dubbed ‘the English Marilyn Monroe,’ but whom I personally love much more than I ever loved Marilyn. There’s just something so real, so human, about Diana Dors, something that makes her feel like so much more than just a fabulous pin-up girl.

In this film, she gives a career-best performance as Mary Hilton, a shop-girl under sentence of death for murdering her lover’s lover. The story is similar to the real-life Ruth Ellis’s, although it’s not meant to be based on it. In the sweltering heat of July 1955, the year before YIELD TO THE NIGHT premiered, Ruth Ellis became the last ever woman in England to be hanged.

Opinion was divided on whether or not Ruth should have been put to death. There was no doubt that she murdered her lover, David Blakely, as she walked right up to him outside an English pub on Easter Sunday evening and shot him, pretty much point-blank, several times.

There were mitigating circumstances, however, that were not really taken into account when sentence of death was passed: David’s infidelity and extreme physical violence towards Ruth, the miscarriages and abortions she’d had while she was with him, including one miscarriage she’d had a few days before the shooting.

The balance of Ruth’s mind was shot to hell at the time of the murder, yet the judge decided to hang her anyway, as the concept of ‘diminished responsibility’ had not yet become part of British law. It was a sickening end to a tragic story, and a disgusting blot on the copybook of so-called ‘British justice.’

It also looks highly likely that another man in Ruth’s life had given her the newly-oiled and fully loaded gun and urged her, in her altered state of mind, to kill David, but this aspect of the case was not thoroughly enough investigated in time for the verdict.

The whole trial, therefore- and its outcome- was something of a farce. Ruth was raced to the gallows in Holloway Women’s Prison with unseemly haste, and there hanged by Albert Pierrepoint, a ghoulish figure indeed in British criminal history. (He has the necks of murderers John Christie and Neville Heath to his credit in addition to Ruth’s.) What kind of man volunteers to hang people, women as well as men? I don’t care if his father was the hangman before him and it ran in his family.

In YIELD TO THE NIGHT, blonde bombshell Diana Dors is sublime as Mary Hilton, a stunningly beautiful shop-girl who falls in love with an impoverished musician called Jim, who is not at all worthy of the lovely Mary and her overwhelming love. In time, however, Mary grows to realise that Jim has lost interest in her and is seeing an older, presumably wealthy woman called Lucy Carpenter.

The film centres around Mary’s detention in prison in the days and weeks before her execution. Just like in Ruth Ellis’s case, the condemned cell has a locked door in it, a door without a handle, that leads to the execution chamber beyond. Even if Mary were ever inclined to forget about her forthcoming death for a blissful moment or two, how can she with this door literally at the foot of her bed? It’s like a kind of emotional torture, isn’t it, surely?

Mary is treated as well as can be expected in the condemned cell, just like Ruth Ellis was in hers. Both their final days were a rigidly controlled and timetabled round of meals, exercise in the prison yard (separate from the other prisoners), baths, cocoa at bedtime and regular visits from the governor, the prison chaplain and doctor, their lawyer when requested, and any friends and family whom they might wish to come.

Mary is upset by the visits of her younger brother Alan and her mother. It kills her to see Alan, no more than a boy, trying unsuccessfully to cope with the enormity of the situation. Her useless ex-husband Fred, a true nonentity of a figure, only annoys her with his visits and meaningless babble about love. Where was he when Mary was crippled with love for the dysfunctional Jim, and going through the torture that led her to kill Lucy in so-called ‘cold blood?’

The light remains on in the condemned cell around the clock, and there are two female prison officers in the room with Mary at all times. Prisoners under sentence of death must be closely watched in case they feel like committing suicide and cheating the hangman.

The prison guards are all lovely to Mary though, knowing to what she’s been condemned. They invite her to join in their games of chess and cards and they chat and have a nice smoke together, even though the wardens are forbidden from smoking by the prison rules. It becomes a nice little friendly conspiracy between Mary and her wardens, something to smile about.

Mary, like Ruth Ellis, says she’s not sorry for what she’s done. Ruth Ellis was adamant that she wanted to die (‘an eye for an eye, a life for a life’) and go to ‘join David.’ I don’t think Mary wants to die, however, as she nearly jumps out of her skin every time she hears the kindly female governor tap-tapping down the corridor, possibly carrying a reprieve from the Home Office, and possibly not.

A sympathetic prison visitor and activist for prison reform called Miss Bligh meets with a sullen, obviously depressed Mary and tells her that, if she accepts what’s coming, if she in effect ‘yields to the night,’ the sentence of death will become easier to bear.

But Mary is dead-eyed and hopeless; can she take Miss Bligh’s very good advice on board, or will she shuffle resentfully and disbelievingly to the room of execution in her shapeless prison dress and slippers, a plaster on her poor blistered foot caused by wearing ill-fitting shoes?

The film does an excellent job of portraying the boring, tedious soul-destroying days and weeks leading up to an execution. It’s a big strain on the officers too, some of whom really like Mary and might have their own views on capital punishment that don’t happen to coincide with the law’s more stringent ones.

If Mary stays calm, the governor tells her, it will make things easier all round, for Mary herself as well as the prison staff who, after all, are ‘only doing their job.’ Routine is key, too, to keeping things on an even keel. There’s an awful lot to be said for it, and I mean that sincerely.

If things were perpetually in chaos and everyone was rushing around weeping and wailing and tearing their hair out, it wouldn’t be much use to anyone. Keep calm and carry on, as the famous slogan on my tea mug goes.

Poor tortured Mary, plagued by bad dreams, marks off the days on her calendar with a feeling of dread. Maybe she believes that they won’t hang a young woman who has only committed what some folks would refer to now as a ‘crime of passion,’ then not yet recognised by the British justice system, which by the way was made up in those days mostly of rich, highly educated white upper class males. Don’t be so sure, dear Mary. After all, they hung Ruth Ellis, didn’t they…?

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:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor