MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.
‘E.VERY N.IGHT S.OMETHING A.WFUL.’ (1972)
PUBLISHED IN 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…’
You may have heard me mention this up-and-coming young fella before, this Michael Armstrong fella whose career as a film director and screenwriter is currently being immortalised in the form of some of the most beautiful books I’ve ever owned, books of all the screenplays he’s ever written, and he’s written a lot of screenplays. His productivity over the years puts most other writers to shame, and writers hate being put to shame, you can take that from me…! It makes us edgy, and we’re on edge enough of the time as it is.
Whether they were made into films or not, the screenplays are all being transformed into gorgeous books by Michael’s publishers, Paper Dragon Productions, and they really are the perfect present for film buffs of all ages. Well, not exactly all ages, lol. Some of ’em are a little blue…! Here are the 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.
Impressed much…? Thought so, heh-heh-heh. Now to E.VERY N.IGHT S.OMETHING A.WFUL, the title of which you’ll see contains the acronym ENSA. What was ENSA? There’s a definition in the book’s Glossary Of References which will do perfectly nicely for our purposes, and here it is:
ENTERTAINMENTS NATIONAL SERVICE ASSOCIATION: Popularly known as ENSA; it was an organisation set up in 1939 by Basil Dean and Leslie Henson to provide entertainment for British Armed Forces personnel during World War Two. Infamously, quality of the shows varied considerably due to an insufficient number of good professional artistes to accommodate the number of shows required by the troops spread out fighting across Europe. As a consequence, ENSA became inundated by substandard acts and eager untalented amateur performers to such an extent that the troops created the acronym E.N.S.A. as ”Every Night Something Awful…!”
In other words, you’d be praying for a Bob Hope, a Marlene Dietrich, a Vera Lynn or a Glenn Miller, but you’d end up with some bozo playing the spoons. Still, I’m sure every act, no matter how amateur, gave it their very best shot and I’d personally maintain that any entertainment, however dodgy, is better than none at all. There was a bloody war on, after all. What right did anyone have to be picky…?
‘E.VERY N.IGHT S.OMETHING A.WFUL’ (1972) is the hilarious story of one such company of wartime entertainers. Headed by flaming queen Ivor Short, they’re putting on a variety show for the lads called ‘Red, White And Blue,’ whether the troops want them to or not, and it’s bound to be Fab. U. Lous, darling. (Channelled my best Craig Revel Horwood from Strictly there…!) Or is it…? I think you already know the answer to that, readers.
There’s a really funny bit in the beginning where someone’s travelling to a top secret army camp in the New Forest and needs to ask directions from a local farmer and the farmer says: ‘But if it be the secret army camp you’re after?- That’s along there- about half a mile. You can’t miss it. You’ll see their sentries hiding behind the trees.’ So much for army confidentiality, anyway.
French heart-throb and international singing star Pierre Lamorisse, the main attraction of Red, White And Blue, is aghast to find that the English soldiers in this ‘top secret’ army camp don’t even have real weapons. I just have to include here the genuinely funny exchange between Pierre and one of the soldiers:
Soldier: Sorry, sir, I didn’t recognise you. I wouldn’t wander too far away, if I was you- just in case one of us mistakes you for an invasion force in the darkness.
Pierre: Oh yes… thank you. I wouldn’t want to get shot.
Soldier: Oh, no fear of that, sir. We ‘aven’t got real rifles- and even if we had, we ‘aven’t any bullets for ’em. No, all the real stuff’s over with our boys abroad. (He holds up his ‘rifle’ to show Pierre.) Not bad, is it? Looks like the real thing from a distance. Yeah, they’re makin’ ’em at Pinewood Studios; churnin’ ’em out, they are- tanks an’ all.
(Pierre stares at him in complete amazement.)
Soldier: Only the outsides, mind you. Yeah. Make ’em out of hardboard, they do… spot of paint- looks all right from a long way off. Get a few ‘undred of ’em wheelin’ about on the cliffs makes old Jerry think twice about invadin’.
Pierre: But if they do invade, what will you fight them with?
Soldier: Well… we could always bash ’em over the ‘ead with one of these. They’re good and solid. You feel that. (He hands Pierre the ‘rifle’ to feel the weight.)
Pierre: It’s just wood.
Soldier: Yeah, but feel the quality. That’s good quality wood, that is. Jerry gets one of them round his mush, he’ll soon give up, I can tell you. Anyway, best be gettin’ back to my rounds. Can’t be too careful, you know. There’s spies everywhere, so we’re told. Been a right pleasure talking to you, sir. Have a nice night.
(And moves off as Pierre quickly calls after him:)
Pierre: Excuse me-?
(The soldier returns, so that Pierre can hand him back his ‘rifle.’ The soldier gives a rueful grin.)
Soldier: I’m always forgetting where I put it.
Talk about a Carry On…! However did England win this war anyway…?
Anyway, the company of entertainers includes the above-mentioned Pierre; Ginger, an attractive singer and femme fatale with a string of broken relationships behind her who just might be the perfect woman for Pierre, if they both but knew it; Bertie Rich, a jaded comedian who feels more dead than alive; Marilyn, a faded blonde bombshell whom Michael Armstrong envisoned being played by Diana Dors if the script had been made into a film (excellent choice, by the way); Constance, an older married lady with a theatrical repertoire, who never realises when she’s boring people (she also never uses the Horne when she’s performing); and Madam Merlin, aka Priscilla Clipthorpe, a lady magician (or should that be magicienne?) who never travels without her two bunny wabbits. It’s a motley crew but a good one.
Here’s what happens when French Pierre questions why he has to wear an Arabian Nights costume:
Pierre: Ivor, this is stupid. Why do I have to wear this?
Ivor: It’s part of a themed medley, sweetie: an exotic Arabian Nights fantasy… Ginger’s Scheherazade, I’m the cruel Sultan, the girls are my wives, Jack’s the Golden Slave and you’re a singing eunuch.
Pierre: Eunuch? What is that? I don’t get it.
Ivor: Neither did they, petal.
Bah-dum-tish, lol. This company of elite entertainers must travel abroad to a top secret destination (so secret not even the ship’s crew know where they’re going!) to dazzle their fighting boys abroad with their expertise and chutzpah. I love when Ivor says to Sally: Take it from the top again- and Sally dear, do try to make her sound more like an innocent young virgin and less like Gracie Fields? Heh-heh-heh. Lovely woman, Gracie Fields. Immensely talented.
Here’s what Bertie tells Madam Merlin to describe his feelings of jadedness and ennui:
Forgive me, dear girl, but after you’ve died in front of as many audiences as I have, you eventually cease to regard yourself as a living being anymore. Then: Actually, it was on the eve of my fiftieth birthday that I realised I was dead. Had been for some time, in fact. Just never really noticed it before.
Poor Bertie. And they say that showbusiness is glamorous… The main thing is that the show must go on, as the old showbiz motto goes. But can the show really go on when the troupe is in Rome but their band and props have somehow ended up in Norway? And why does everyone burst out laughing when Constance bursts forth with the song, O, for the wings of a dove?
What prompts Ivor the director to say: I know, to most people, I’m just a funny old queen but even funny old queens have feelings? There are some really touching moments amongst the comedy and quickfire one-liners which Michael Armstrong fires off with the ease of someone doing something they find really easy, lol. Good metaphors are not always readily available, even to a quicksilver brain like mine own. Michael Armstrong would probably have found a good one.
The troupe at least have each other, but what about the troops? Note the rather clever play on words there. Here’s the exchange between a sergeant and a young lieutenant when the ENSA party bus hoves into view of a little European village, where a garrison of soldiers is stationed like a sitting duck:
Sergeant: Think it could be some kind of enemy trick, sir?
Young Lieutenant: Worse, Sergeant. I think it’s ENSA…!
Sergeant: Oh, my God! Better warn the men, sir.
Young Lieutenant: Quite. Carry on, Sergeant.
Carry On, indeed…! All joking aside, folks, on page 192, you’ll find a scene that’ll show you the true worth of ENSA (popular as it may be to poke fun at them) to exhausted, demoralised soldiers far from home who just want to see their families again. I cried buckets at this scene, and you will too.
Can Pierre get to the root of Ginger’s commitment phobia and seeming inability to be faithful to one man? On page 236, he finally nails it. Will Marilyn get her man, or will she retreat gracefully from the arena so that the dreamily swoonsome Fabio can be with the woman he really loves? No woman’s that generous and big-hearted, surely? By the way, do you guys know what the words MINAS TERRESTRAS mean, because ENSA sure don’t…! And finally:
‘And here we have it!… A spectacular musical revue called Red, White & Blue… Ivor Short and Company: Jack Adair, Ginger Lawrence, Sally Meadows, Bertie Rich, Marilyn Turner, Constance Blythe with Speciality Madam Merlin and special guest star, Pierre Lamorisse. Acting understudy and ASM, Edith Nightingale. Band: Billy Rainbow & His Big Band. Touring Company- Category B.’
E.VERY N.IGHT S.OMETHING A.WFUL, in addition to THE MAZE and ROBIN HOOD, is available to buy now from Michael Armstrong’s website and his publishers, Paper Dragon Productions. Don’t waste any time. Go get ’em!
By the way, Sherlock Holmes had his Irene Adler and Mr. Spode from Bertie Wooster his ‘Eulalie.’ If you ever want to see a grown man cry like a little girl, you have but to whisper one word into Michael Armstrong’s shell-like… Ryman…
See you guys next time!
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:
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