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October 03, 2013


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Robert Hartford-Davis - 1968
Grindhouse Releasing BD Regions ABC/DVD Region 0 Combo

I'm glad I chose to see Corruption with the commentary track. David Miller, biographer of Peter Cushing, and Jonathan Rigby, author of several books about horror films, discuss the making of the film, along with anecdotes about the actors. As it turns out, I'm not the only one who thinks of Robert Hartford-Davis' film as something of a blend of Eyes without a Face and Blow-Up. The connection of these two films was also perceived by some critics at the time of the initial release. Franju's film inspired several films about doctors trying to save the face of a beautiful, beloved female, at the expense of sacrificing several other beautiful females. Part of Corruption takes place at the party hosted by a fashion photographer in "Swinging" London, at that time the cultural center of the world, or so it appeared to many of us at that time.

At the behest of his model fiancee, Lynn, the much older surgeon, Sir John Rowan, agrees to come to a party hosted by photographer, Mike Orme. As the surgeon, Peter Cushing tries to be amiable, but looks out of place, and is clearly uncomfortable amid the loud music and louder people. And I could be reading something unintended here but I felt that Cushing was reflecting some of the feelings of Hartford-Davis and his screenwriters, brothers Donald and Derek Ford. The director, 44 years old at the time, and the writers, no more than ten years younger, began their filmmaking careers together just four years previously, making contemporary stories that at the time pushed the envelope regarding depictions of sex and sexuality. What Rigby and Miller don't mention is that Corruption was filmed at the time when The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album was the soundtrack for that summer. The filmmaking team may well have cast a jaundiced eye at a time when film, fashion and music from just a couple of years previously had suddenly become old and out of date.

Certainly, two of the hippie thugs that terrorize Lynn and John look like Sgt. Pepper extras - Phillip Manikum, dandyish with his black cape and white "Nehru" suit, and David Lodge in his all purpose uniform. In his interview, Billy Murray explains that he insisted on wearing his own clothes, so you have one guy who actually dresses like a lot of young men in the late Sixties.

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That the hippies prove to be as venal as everyone else is indicative of this caustic view of the "Summer of Love". Almost everyone in Corruption is revealed to be out for themselves. Even Sir John's initial altruism in saving the face he may have accidentally burned, turns into moral quicksand with murder to satisfy Lynn's vanity. Lynn's demand for more injections of the serum created from women's pituitary glands may temporarily restore the damaged portion of her face, yet she remains oblivious to notion that her time as a top model has passed. The film's original ending, fittingly nihilistic, was an appropriate way to end a story where everyone is out of control.

In his New York Times review, Vincent Canby remarked on how Peter Cushing "brings a certain seedy grandeur " as the doctor. Most of the reviews of Corruption were generally dismissive. And while Corruption might not get the kind of critical reevaluation afforded Michael Powell, the Grindhouse Releasing treatment, with the two different versions of the film, commentary track, and loads of extras, almost made me feel like I was watching the Peeping Tom of 1968. This comparison with Powell is from a critical standpoint, as Hartford-Davis could at least boast of commercial vindication. Certainly no one at that time would have thought that Robert Hartford-Davis would be the subject of an academic paper.

The Blu-ray has both the version of Corruption released in English speaking countries, and the "international" version which contains a different version of the first murder of a prostitute, as well as a brief shot included in another murder scene set on a train. The violence is more explicit, with the scene of the prostitute features her topless before becoming headless. Rowan's tentativeness about what he is about to do as presented in the English version is replaced by a situation where it is kill or be killed. It should be noted that Corruption could well be Hartford-Davis' most personal film, having created the story that the Ford brothers turned into a screenplay, and personally financing the production with producer-cinematographer Peter Newbrook prior to securing a distribution deal. I can only add that as the story and characters became more unhinged, I was laughing my head off.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 3, 2013 07:45 AM