Saturday, May 18, 2013

Normal Service will resume in two weeks...

I'm off to South America for a couple of weeks which will include my first visit to Brazil.  So it's goodbye to the workbench and this will add more frustration at how fast everyone else is getting on with their In Her Majesty's Name figures compared with me.  Worse than that I will miss the Eurovision Song Contest!

Hopefully I will be able to keep up with everyone else's blog on my new Kindle Fire (the shame, the shame!) which I bought so I don't have to drag two weeks worth of novels around in my bag.  

Friday, May 17, 2013

My wife is for sale on eBay!

 The old bat (centre of the three)

My son was searching for something about my father in law on Google today and found that some site in America is selling two pictures of my wife (and sisters) on eBay !

The old bat (right)

This, I have to say, is one of the odder discoveries I have made on l'autoroute electronique, as (actually rather splendid) Canadian mother in law probably would never express it (she makes the Queen sound working class).

Who'd pay £18 for a picture of my wife?  Weird!

Not got on very well with painting this week.  I am off on travels again tomorrow and not back until June, so probably no updates on the blog until later. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dambuster's raid 70th Anniversary

Others have posted about the anniversary of the Dambusters raid today, on the seventieth anniversary of the event (the post on Trouble At T'Mill blog is very good), so I will confine myself to posting this picture I took of the Battle of Britain Lancaster doing a flypast at an event my father in law organised a few years ago.

I saw it again on Bank Holiday Monday  doing no less than four flypasts at the Royal Yacht Squadron where he had booked it again for a Dunkirk Little Ships lunch in the Castle.  A splendid sight and an even more splendid noise.  My daughter has actually been in the cockpit of this, when she went on a CCF week at RAF Scampton.

My mother bought me a DVD set of four British War films a few years ago and so far the only one I have watched is Ice Cold in Alex but I notice that The Dam Busters is in the set too so I know what I am going to be watching tonight!

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Ray Harryhausen June 29, 1920 – May 7, 2013

Although many other wargamers will no doubt be celebrating his life I really cannot let the passing of Ray Harryhausen pass without comment.

Along with another recent loss, Gerry Anderson, he defined much of my life when I was a child in the sixties. I think the first film I saw of his, on television, was The First Men in the Moon (1964), in black and white of course.  The first of his films I saw in colour was the peerless Jason and the Argonauts (1963) on my uncle's colour TV in the late sixties.  The amazing creatures and the sun-drenched Mediterranean scenery left me with an appreciation of these sorts of films that continues to this day and on a wargaming front is reflected in my Argonauts project.

I loved his three Sinbad films too and the dinosaur work on Hammer's One Million Years BC (1966).  I only saw the latter,  The Valley of Gwangi (1969) and his last film, Clash of the Titans (1981) at the cinema but have all his major film's on DVD.

  So, a review...

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

The template for all that followed.

Best Creature: The cyclops!  I even painted my own version!

Babe: Kathryn Grant in figure hugging crop tops.

Do I own the soundtrack?  Yes! A great score by Bernard Hermann.  Harryhausen didn't want Hermann originally but changed his mind when he heard the score,  They went on to do three more films together. I have an excellent recording of the score played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by John Debney.

Mysterious Island (1961)

Parts of the opening were filmed in Shepperton Church Square about two miles from where I lived when I was young. A giant crab, Herbert Lom as Captain Nemo and the Nautilus!  Excellent!

The gorgeous Beth Rogan gets menaced by a very big chicken

Best Creature:  The Phororhacos.  Great interaction between the live actors and the model in this sequence.

Babe: Beth Rogan (who I have met) in a very un-Victorian doeskin top and shorts. Splendid!

Do I own the soundtrack?  Yes! Another great score by Bernard Hermann.  Minor key brass fanfares!  Crashing percussion! Excellent!

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

What can you say. His finest film!  A real galley, some superb Mediterranean locations and a great supporting cast.

Best creature:  The skeleton fight still holds up well today.  I saw the actual skeletons once at an exhibition at the BFI and they were very small but the sinister character Harryhausen conveyed in them by slightly caricaturing real skulls is impressive.  Talos a close second.

Babe: Nancy Kovacks as a slutty looking Medea; especially in the palace dance.  A pre-Goldfinger Honor Blackman scores highly too.

Do I own the soundtrack?  Yes!  Another excellent rerecording of the whole score by the Sinfonia of London under Bruce Broughton.

First Men in the Moon (1964)

Quite a steampunk one this, with an excellent Victorian spaceship.

Best creature:  Only the Selenites in this but I found them really creepy when I was small.  The first really alien looking aliens I had seen on screen.

Babe:  Martha Hyer was the sole female interest but a very interesting female she was too, especially in the Victorian lingerie shots they took for publicity purposes (the outfit, sadly, never appeared on screen).

Do I own the Soundtrack?  Laurie (The Avengers) Johnson came on board for this when Bernard Hermann wanted twice the fee that he had been paid for Jason and the Argonauts. Johnson's score does sound quite a lot like Bernard Hermann.  Update:  I have now obtained a CD of the soundtrack.

One Million Years BC (1966)

A Hammer, rather than a Harryhausen, production I saw it as a boy because of the dinosaurs.  The other attractions of the film became apparent in due course.

Best Creature:  It had to be the Triceratops; my favourite dinosaur of all time, then as now!

Simply the finest publicity still of any actress in the history of cinema!

Babe:  What can I say?  Utter perfection!

Do I own the soundtrack?  Again, this isn't available but there is a suite of Mario Nascimbene's music from it on one of those City of Prague Philharmonic's compilations which I do have.  Nascimbene's is best known for his stirring score to the Kirk Douglas/Tony Curtis epic The Vikings. 

The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

Dinosaurs in the wild west.  What's not to like?

Best creature:  Gwangi himself, a sort of super Allosaurus, although the Styracosurus and the prehistoric horse were good too.   The scenes where the cowboys rope Gwangi are brilliantly done. 

Babe:  Miss Israel 1960 Gila Golan is never less than gorgeous throughout.

Do I own the soundtrack?  Yes. Again, the City of Prague Philharmonic have recorded extended highlights of Jerome (The Big Country) Moross' score.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

Tom Baker as the baddie, more Arabian high jinks and a host of creatures mark Harryhausen's return to Sinbad after fifteen years.

Best Creature:  The positively balletic Kali trumps even the sinister figurehead which comes to life.

Babe:  The producers originally wanted Raquel Welch or Paula Prentiss but settled for Caroline Munro.  A most acceptable substitute!

Do I own the soundtrack?  Yes.  Miklos Rosza, who was Harryhausen's original choice for The 7th Voyage of Sinbad in 1958, eventually gets to deliver his Sinbad score.  It features some creepy electronic effects.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

Probably the weakest Sinbad film of the three with some dull creatures (A wasp? A walrus?) but some striking images nonetheless.

Best Creature:  The Minoton, although quite often played by a man in a suit rather than using stop motion animation.  Still a Harryhausen design, though.

Babe: Jane Seymour shows more skin than any other Harryhausen heroine to date in a (very modest) bathing sequence.

Do I have the soundtrack?  Yes, although I had to buy the out of production 1999 CD of Roy Budd's score at a ludicrous price.

Clash of the Titans (1981)

An end of an era as the economical Harryhausen style was eclipsed by bigger budgets and more modern techniques in the science fiction and fantasy films of the day: from Star Wars (1977) to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).  Both Spielberg and Lucas (and, indeed, Peter Jackson and Nick Park) have been vocal in acknowledging the influence that Harryhausen had upon their careers.

Best creature:  Harryhausen's Medusa was one of the very best creatures he ever produced and was, as ever, better because it had reptilian skin rather than fur (which he never did get to look convincing).

Babe: Judi Bowker was a pretty but modestly dressed heroine (her famous bath scene was done by a (much bustier) body double, sadly).  Actress Vida Taylor, who played Perseus' mother flashed the only nipple seen in a Harryhausen film, in an early breast feeding sequence and posed nude in Oui magazine in May 1981.

Do I have the soundtrack?   Yes. I bought the 2 disc special edition full soundtrack of Laurence Rosenthal's excellent score last year. 

My signed book

I met Ray Harryhausen a few years ago at a book signing where he took the trouble to speak individually to every person there.  For more than forty years I have been able to submerge myself in his extraordinary worlds and am glad that in the last few years he started to get the general recognition that he deserved.

Now the only thing left to do is decide which of his films I am going to watch tonight.  Although I suspect there is really only one choice!

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Dr Watson and Tart with a heart and a gun for In Her Majesty's Name

Here is Dr Watson to go with last week's Holmes.  He is also depicted in country attire but Nick Eyre at North Star has dropped a hint that they may work on a "town" Watson and Holmes, perhaps based on the look of the characters in the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series.  This is good news as it indicates that there will be more figures in the range.  Watson from the Scotland Yard Company was, like the whole of this new company, sculpted by Mike Owen rather than Steve Saleh who did the first four companies.  There is no discernible difference in style or size however.  Possibly the faces are better on the new figures.

I also wanted to have a go at one of the ladies so here is the "Tart with a heart and a gun" figure which was one of the stretch goal figures for those who signed up for the pre-order.  She does not appear in any of the official companies in the book but rules author Craig Cartmell in a comment on his excellent In Her Majesty's Name blog says he is working on a new list which will include her. 

Actually, I have an idea for my own company in which she will feature as Eva von Tarnhelm, an undercover spy for the Prussian Tarnhelm arms manufacturing company.  Daughter in law of Alberich von Tarnhelm her peculiar appetites have made her a liability even in German society so she was dispatched to London where, under the name of Hattie Eve she runs a superior brothel off Piccadilly.  This is located not too far from the United Service Club at 116 Pall Mall, the senior armed forces members of which are prime targets for the unscrupulous Eva and her talented group of Eastern European and very "professional" young ladies.

An aristocrat in her own right, the six foot tall Eva married the diminutive heir to the Tarnhelm fortune Michael von Tarnhelm (known to his family as Mime).  After just one month, however, after an evening of drinking too much Schanpps with Eva,  Michael fell down  the stone steps of his Bavarian castle; a vegetal folly of recent construction designed by Christian Jank and featuring massive underground laboratories where Michael, uninterested in arms, was trying to build a monumental organ which could replicate all the sounds of the symphony orchestra with just one player. He died instantly according to the second doctor who examined the body.  The first doctor who examined the body seemed to think that he had received several blows to the head as well but, unfortunately, he fell off the rampart of the castle into the gorge below while giving this opinion to Eva.  The question of whether either man fell or was pushed was never asked; not after Eva seduced her father in law Alberich on the evening after her husband's funeral, where he was immolated on a mountain top near the castle.  Eva, dressed in a black tunic, wearing chainmail and a black helmet complete with wings, sang Brünnhilde's "War es so schmählich" from Act III of Die Walküre in her thrilling soprano. She suggested that the laboratories in the castle be used to develop new weapons for the coming conflict, away from the spies which both knew the French and British had placed in their main factory.  Recognising a kindred spirit Alberich made Eva his heir and sent her to London to see if she could discover the extent of the British infiltration into his organisation.

Posing as a high class madam and recruiting as "operatives" a cadre of disaffected women from the minor Baltic regions of Europe her London operation is so successful she plans to open a sister facilty in Paris.

As a widow in Victorian London Eva von Tarnhelm would be expected to be celibate and wear black for the rest of her life.  Her alter ego, Hattie, enables her to satisfy her base desires and act in as scandalous manner as she likes.  She remembers her husband by wearing black underthings (as widows should do) and a cameo likeness of him around her elegant throat.  She is most grateful for everything she has subsequently been able to do without him.

When on less horizontal service she is armed with a Tarnhelm Blitzwerfer arc pistol.

Next up: there's constabulary duty to be done...