Tag Archives: neil mccarthy

Clash of the Titans (1981)

I remember the summer of 1981 pretty well. That was when I was old enough to go to the movies with a friend without a grownup. That was quite a summer for films. I remember going to see For Your Eyes Only, Dragonslayer, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Clash of the Titans several times. Five bucks would get me a matinee, popcorn, Coke, and a complaint from my mother that movies used to cost a dime.

Grown-up movie critics thought that Clash of the Titans was old hat, but not to this ten year-old. You may recall that Tom Hanks once said that Jason and the Argonauts is the greatest movie ever made. Objectively, Clash isn’t as good, but it had absolutely everything that ten year-old me could ask for. There are monsters, blood, angry Greek gods, a skeletal ferryman, and seven or eight seconds of nudity. This was the best use of five dollars anybody had ever come up with.

Honestly, this really is a little old hat, and perhaps not Ray Harryhausen’s finest film, but it’s still entertaining, and since he was planning to retire after it, it’s a high point, just not his highest. It’s another of his classic quest stories, this time drawn from the myths and legends of ancient Greece, and the visual effects are as good as ever. Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, and Ursula Andress scheme and backstab on Mount Olympus, and on Earth, Harry Hamlin, Burgess Meredith, Siân Phillips, Judy Bowker, and Tim Piggot-Smith get caught up in their machinations.

None of them get caught as badly as Neil McCarthy, whom our son remembers fondly as Sam from the first series of Catweazle. For the crime of slaughtering Zeus’s winged horses, Calibos is turned into a deformed, demonic creature, portrayed by McCarthy in the closeups and by stop-motion animation in longer shots. During their first fight, Perseus slices off one of Calibos’s hands. The villain replaces his lost hand with a small trident, and, proving that he wasn’t paying the strictest attention in the world, when we see Calibos later, our son asked “Why does he have a fork?”!

It did, mercifully, register that Burgess Meredith was playing the role of Perseus’s friend, the poet and playwright Ammon. That might be because I pointed out his name in the credits. “You know who that is, right? He’s been in three Twilight Zones and he was the Penguin in Batman, okay?” I’ll get this kid recognizing character actors, by Zeus.

But overall, he was not quite as wild about this as I was as a kid. Marie suggested that I was a couple of years older during my weeks of seeing this again and again, and it’s probably also true that the ferryman Charon blew my mind because, in 1981, I was a bigger fan of Marvel Comics’ Ghost Rider than any other boy in America. I just liked skeletons a whole lot then. Our son even protested that the Kraken’s four arms were excessive.

But another reason this wasn’t a mammoth success is that this is one of those rare films that actually opens with the scene that he loved the most. The Kraken’s destruction of the city of Argos was the high point, and the rest of the movie, even the amazing battle against Medusa, didn’t compare. He did, however, get all hunched up and worried during that fight. Then he complained afterward that Medusa didn’t use “her eye weapon” as much in the fight as he wanted.

In fairness, though, he has already seen Jason of the Argonauts.

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Catweazle 1.13 – The Trickery Lantern

If the last episode of Catweazle‘s first series had been made today, it might have had a slightly different vibe. This time, Carrot’s aunt is visiting, and she’s convinced that the farm has been haunted for many years. She saw a ghost there four decades before, and this ghost, amazingly, seems to have looked and sounded like Catweazle. When she meets him in Carrot’s room, she describes their earlier encounter, and he doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

It might have been a bit above the heads of the kid audience in 1970 to have Catweazle briefly materialize in 1930 on his way back to his time, just long enough to provide Carrot’s aunt with the memory of seeing him. That’s the problem with looking back at older television: we’re slightly spoiled by all the fun time travel stuff that came later on in media – the Back to the Future movies, the “Future Echoes” episode of Red Dwarf, all of Steven Moffat’s silliness on Doctor Who – that it’s a little unfair to expect a much more straightforward kids’ show in 1970 to go that same route.

Anyway, there really weren’t very many laughs in this last half hour, although Catweazle’s departure scene is actually quite beautifully shot. Our son said that he didn’t really like this episode all that much, but he loves the show overall, and had a good time watching it.

We’ll have a look at the second series of Catweazle in a couple of months, so stay tuned for that!

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Catweazle 1.12 – The Wisdom of Solomon

Here’s another odd little coincidence in our old TV-watchin’. Last night, after our son went to bed, us alleged grown-ups watched a 1964 episode of The Saint. Because I recognize so many actors from the period from their appearances in Doctor Who, I recognized Philip Latham (Borusa in “The Five Doctors”) and Ronald Leigh-Hunt (Radnor in “The Seeds of Death”), but I missed Geoffrey Bayldon completely. He plays the villain and I guess I’m so used to him in that wig and whiskers going “tch-tch-tch-tch!” that he was unrecognizable to me as a normal human!

This morning, my son and I watched the twelfth episode of Catweazle, in which one of his magic potions works incredibly well. Carrot has started school and his father has taken on a housekeeper and her monstrously unpleasant son, who are constantly belittling the Bennets behind their back. Catweazle devises a potion that forces them to speak “from their black hearts,” with massively satisfactory consequences. Would that every politician and lawmaker be forced to drink from the same well!

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Catweazle 1.11 – The Flying Broomsticks

In another weird coincidence here at Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon, we saw John Junkin this morning in Wombling Free and again tonight in the eleventh episode of Catweazle.

This time, I noticed that our son didn’t actually grasp the comedy of misunderstanding that this show does so well, so I paused the action to explain it, and we watched a deliciously funny exchange between Charles Tingwell and Neil McCarthy a second time so he could appreciate it better. The new police sergeant, a city snob played by Junkin who’s convinced all these “country people” are into pagan black magic, is investigating the theft of dozens of brooms, some of which have been returned somewhat burned. By chance, the farmhand has just accidentally burned the end of one himself, making him the sergeant’s prime suspect for running a coven. Sam thinks that he’s actually after him for an expired tag on his car. So he sadly confesses to one minor crime to his boss while giving him the idea that he’s actually a modern witch.

Of course, as soon as Carrot hears that somebody seems to be practicing magic, he knows who’s really stolen the brooms. The sergeant was onto more than he realized! Catweazle was trying some other ridiculous spell to jump through a “time fire.” At least he was good enough to try and return the brooms that he ruined in the attempt, I guess.

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Catweazle 1.10 – The House of the Sorcerer

Much of Catweazle‘s comedy comes from one character completely misunderstanding another. This time, everything starts to fall apart when Catweazle believes that Sam the farmhand has been murdered by a powerful sorcerer and Carrot agrees… only he thinks the killer is a foreign spy. Of course, Sam isn’t dead, and the fellow in the caravan is neither a sorcerer nor a spy, but a folklorist who also collects the sounds of birdsongs and chirping toads. This meant we needed to pause the episode to explain just who this odd man is.

Naturally, the misunderstandings don’t stop there. The folklorist, played by Bernard Hepton, thinks that Catweazle is an old fellow from down the pub sent by Sam to tell him old stories and tales. “You come from an England long past,” he tells the dirty old wizard. “Aye, ’tis true,” he sadly agrees. The whole episode is very funny, but that was my favorite bit.

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Catweazle 1.9 – The Demi Devil

They missed a trick in not giving this episode the name “The Demon Drink,” because that’s what we got to talk with our son about this time. Catweazle gets drunk! Boy, that doesn’t happen on American children’s shows. In point of fact, since I average about one pint of beer maybe every nine months, our son actually had no idea what I was talking about when I told him that Catweazle is going to get drunk. He remembered from a recently-viewed episode of The Avengers that you’re meant to sip wine and not guzzle three glasses of it, but had no idea what might happen if you do. So I had a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.

This is a very funny little episode. The main guest star is Peter Butterworth, who would return to this show in a different role in its second series. He was another semi-regular in the Carry On movies (16 of them!) and also appeared in many popular comedies like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, but he may be best known in the US as the Meddling Monk, the first, and until the debut of Roger Delgado’s Master, only recurring villain in Doctor Who.

Butterworth plays an eccentric retired colonel who is hosting a lecture by an explorer named Nat Wheeler. He mishears Catweazle and thinks the wizard is Wheeler, and Catweazle thinks that the colonel is a great magician who can create thunder from a stick. Between them, they have a riotous misunderstanding about the colonel’s squirrel monkey, and whether the colonel’s thunderstick can put the monkey out of its misery by transforming it back into a human boy.

This was a great episode that our son enjoyed, and also left him curious whether you can see a muzzle flash from the end of a thunderstick. I don’t know much about guns, but I told him that I believe that a bolt-action rifle’s barrel is usually too long for that. Let me know if I told him wrong, won’t you?

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Catweazle 1.8 – The Power of Adamcos

This is another very, very funny episode, centered around Catweazle losing his magic dagger, which is called Adamcos, and worrying himself to near-death over it. He believes that he will literally die without it because of some curse or magical requirement. Who can tell if that’s true?

Anyway, the trail leads them to an antiques dealer in Westbourne. He’s played by Aubrey Morris, who we saw in the most recent episode of The Avengers that we watched, just last month. Morris had lots of small roles in ITC dramas and in movies from the period like A Clockwork Orange and The Wicker Man, but I remember him best as the captain of the pointless bunch in the B-Ark at the end of the TV version of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

I like the way they find new modern horrors to terrify Catweazle, and how Geoffrey Bayldon goes to town with his overreactions. This time, he runs across a music box and a mirror in the antique shop and we howled with laughter, even if I had to ask whether he hadn’t been in the same room as a mirror in a previous episode. This is great stuff.

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Catweazle 1.7 – The Telling Bone

Catweazle is usually amusing and entertaining, but tonight’s episode was downright hilarious. My son and I laughed all the way through it, even if one terrific exchange was over his head.

The problems start when Catweazle attempts to send himself backward in time, but instead he’s sent sideways a few miles, ending up on the spire of a nearby village church. This leads to a delicious bit of comic misunderstanding with the vicar, who’s played by the wonderful Brian Wilde (Mr. Peacock in my favorite surviving Ace of Wands story). Catweazle thinks that he’s a sorcerer and the vicar thinks the disheveled old fellow is a suicidal Christian, and they have a wonderful conversation where they completely misunderstand each other but agree all the same!

Things get even more wonderful at the vicarage. Catweazle mentions the farm that he knows, and so the vicar rings them up on his “telling bone.” Catweazle doesn’t understand the technology, of course, and thinks that his host is talking to him at first, which had me in stitches, and then he hears the strange voice from the bone…

Things get even more ridiculous when Carrot has to rescue his friend without Sam, and Sam’s sleeping mother, finding out what he’s up to. The kid comes up with a pretty terrific plan, I have to say! I just loved this one. Even enjoying the others, it is by far the funniest adventure on the first disk of this set. I hope that they sustained this level of comedy through the rest of the series.

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