David Niven’s super smooth Count Dracula is strapped for cash and renting his Transylvania castle out as an upscale B&B and corporate event facility. But when he uses the blood from four finalists doing a Playboy photo-shoot to resurrect his beloved wife, Vampira (Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In’s Teresa Graves), he gets the shock of his life when Vampira turns black.
Packing his coffin, old Drac, his jocular manservant Maltravers (Peter Bayliss) and Vampira leave the Carpathians behind for swinging London and a haunted Hampstead mansion to track down the right ‘donor’ to restore Vampira…
Known as Old Dracula in the US (to cash in on Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein), this 1974 vampire comedy was written by Jeremy Lloyd (of Are You Being Served? and ’Allo ’Allo fame) as a vehicle for David Niven, who brings a real touch of class to director Clive Donner’s Carry On meets Confessions of a Biteable Playmate farce.
One-liner vampire jokes are the order of the day, with the best of them deservedly going to Bayliss, although Niven does get some nifty ones like: ‘That look of horror when they realise that it’s me is so exciting’. Drac’s castle dinner show, complete with creepy organ-playing and flying bats, effectively spoofs Hammer’s horrors, while his gimmicky haunted London pad with its screaming, laughing ghosts, satanic imagery and rat-infested well is a nod to William Castle and AIP’s 1970s shockers.
Lloyd and Donner also pay homage to blaxpoitation and spy flicks by turning Vampira into jive-talking disco queen after watching Black Gunn, and giving Niven some nifty weapons, including a cane with a deadly blade, which he uses to rescue a damsel in distress; while Anthony Newley’s jaunty theme tune sung by UK soul band, The Majestics is played over Bond-esque silhouetted credits. Mind you, Niven blacking up for the film’s final shot may have been misguided.
Psychomania‘s Nicky Henson plays horror writer Marc, who comes under the Count’s hypnotic control in order to put the bite on the likes of Jennie Linden and Veronica Carlson; while sex kitten Linda Hayden makes an early exit when her just-turned waitress Helga gets staked with a crossbow. Comedy actors Bernard Bresslaw and Frank Thornton make their hilarious cameos count, while the other ‘stars’ are the gritty Soho locations and David Whitaker’s funky music that has an air of Geoff Love’s fake 1970’s exotica group Mandingo about it. Fangs for the laughs, folks!
Wealthy hedonistic widower Raymond (David Niven) and his spoilt daughter Cécile (Jean Seberg) live a carefree summer existence in their villa on the Cote d’Azur until the arrival of Raymond’s old friend Anne (Deborah Kerr), whom he impulsively decides to marry. When the responsible Anne tries to rein in Cécile and her wild ways, the precocious adolescent plots to drive Anne away with tragic results…
This restoration breathes new life into director Otto Preminger’s adaptation of Françoise Sagan’s scandalous 1954 French novel. With its Hollywood pedigree and Riveria postcard setting shot in dazzling CinemaScope, you’d be forgiven in thinking it might be all style over substance, but in putting his faith in his discovery, Jean Seberg (who became the darling of the New Wave and gives a career best performance here), Preminger crafts a masterful father/daughter tragedy.
Seberg’s Cécile may have the face of an angel, but she is as rootless and callous a character as her playboy father (played by an athletic, tanned Niven with caddish perfection), and the terrible damage that she inflicts on his summer romance with Deborah Kerr’s sensible Anne is mesmerising to watch as it plays out to a shocking climax. Meanwhile, the film’s final scenes, set in a monochrome Paris, only highlights the incredible sadness (tristesse) that is rooted in both Cécile and Raymond. This cool and stylish golden-age masterpiece is definitely ripe for rediscovery.
Digitally restored by Sony Columbia’s Grover Crisp (who masterminded last year’s Lawrence of Arabia restoration), Bonjour Tristesse opens in the UK on 30 August at BFI Southbank and at selected cinemas nationwide.
A Must See, of course!