Wednesday, January 15, 2014

R.I.P.: Alexandra Bastedo

Alexandra Bastedo

 (9 March 1946 – 12 January 2014)
The mostly forgotten (outside of the Commonwealth) 60s sex symbol Alexandra Bastedo, a "devoted animal rights activist" and vegetarian, died the other day of cancer. We here at A Wasted Life rather liked her exotic eyes and her prime 60s figure and her filmogaphy, which we take a look at below...

13 Frightened Girls
(1963 / dir. William Castle)

(Aka The Candy Web) Alexandra Bastedo made her film debut in this quaint and dated lesser outing from the great William Castle. In a typical Castle publicity stunt, the famed producer/director searched the world for young female talent — "Teenage Diplomats" — to play the given female schoolgirl character representing real nationality (and, in turn, be the girl driving the bus in a certain scene for the print released in their individual country as well as introduce the trailer meant for their homeland). The England (Bastedo's country), Sweden, France, and German versions of this sequence are presented as bonus material on the 13 Frightened Girls DVD in the William Castle Film Collection box set from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. In the end, not all were really from the country they represented (Judy Pace, for example, also making her film debut here was an American, not a Liberian), but most — like Alexandra Bastedo, as the English "Alex" — used their real names in the movie. The title is a direct play upon Castle's earlier (and better) horror film, 13 Ghosts (1960 / trailer), but is also not fully true: the move features 15 not-so-frightened girls.
TV Guide hates the movie: "This idiotic spy film aimed at juveniles features Kathy Dunn as the daughter of an American diplomat on a holiday in London. She stumbles onto a political murder and informs Murray Hamilton (of Seconds [1966 / trailer] and Hysterical [1983 / trailer]), a CIA man she has a schoolgirl-crush on. Through her father's connections, Dunn has access to many foreign embassies and becomes known in the espionage world as 'Kitten', a hunted agent. Hamilton finds this out and goes to the Swiss boarding school she attends to save her from disaster. [...] His [Castle's] direction is usually bad, and the screaming gaggle of girls he 'discovered' get on one's nerves after a bit."
The Dissolve, however, is kinder: "Forget the horror-movie title, which was changed in some places to the more tonally apt The Candy Web. 13 Frightened Girls is like a Disney version of a spy picture, completely devoid of anything objectionable, aside from some outdated notions of gender roles. It's colorful, with some of the chipper overtones of juvenile fiction, and some of the despondent undertones of the Cold War era. [...] Mostly, it’s sturdy. What gets forgotten in all the reminiscences about Castle's shillery is that the man was a competent, crafty director, not some hapless hack. Without his gimmicks, Castle's films probably would've been mostly forgotten, because they aren't that good. But they're good enough that fans can give thanks that those gimmicks existed, because they've kept his work alive in B-philes' hearts and minds."
Judy Pace, who plays the Libyan student, was actually from the US and grew up to be the "personification of black beauty" in the 60s and 70s and is found in such great films as Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970 / trailer) and Frogs (1972 / trailer)...

The Liquidator
(1965/66, dir. Jack Cardiff)

Alexandra Bastedo's (uncredited) part is so tiny in this spy caper — she appears somewhere as a radio operator — that we include the movie here only because it was directed by Jack Cardiff (who later directed The Freakmakers [1973]) and features both a great credit sequence and groovy title track.
 Title Sequence and Track of The Liquidator (1965):
The Liquidator was based on the first (published in 1964) of a series of eight pulp novels written by the British pulp author John Gardner, whom should not be confused with the serious American author John Gardner who wrote Grendel. MGM hoped to develop a franchise from the espionage spoof, but eventually vetoed the idea. DVD Talk says The Liquidator is "an upscale production that can boast a good leading man in Rod Taylor and a creative director [...]. Saying that The Liquidator has dated isn't enough, as its problem is a tonal friction that gripes many a SuperSpy® contender. The comedy wants to be slapstick-broad and tongue-in-cheek cynical at the same time. It wants to sell sex, yet is too tame to present any real sexual content. Finally, the audience will be way ahead of most of the plot developments, especially the story's main 'twists'. Just the same, Taylor and Cardiff put on a lively show."
An opinion shared, for the most part, by The Mystery File, which says that "Thanks to the cast and a script that closely follows Gardner's novel, this spy spoof works both as a send-up of Bond and as damn good spy film on its own." They explain the plot as follows: "Rod Taylor is well cast as Boysie, a handsome amoral bungler, coward, and general screw-up, who is mistaken by Colonel Mostyn (Trevor Howard of The Third Man [1949 / trailer]) of MI6 for a cold-blooded killer when they meet during the fall of Nazi-held Paris. Twenty years later Mostyn is second in command of MI6, and a series of defections and had headlines [sic] has convinced his boss (Hyde-White of The Cat and the Canary [1979]) that what the service needs is an executioner, a liquidator who will rid them of embarrassment before it gets that far. Mostyn remembers Boysie, whom he finds burying his partner (they owned a pub together) whose wife he has been having an affair with. Mostyn jumps to conclusions, and before he can protest, Boysie finds himself the private executioner for the British Secret Service. And it isn't a bad life. He has a lush apartment, a nice stipend, a sexy sports car, a parade of beautiful girls, and there is always the sardonic Mostyn's secretary Jill St. John (of The Concrete Jungle [1982 / trailer]) — if only there wasn’t that silly rule about inter-service romance. Then the first problem arises. They actually want Boysie to kill someone..."
Lalo Schifrin — Bikini Waltz:

Doctor in Clover
(1966, dir. Ralph Thomas)

Alexandra Bastedo's has another (uncredited) part as "Nurse at Party" in this, the sixth in a series of British comedies that began with Doctor in the House (1954 / clip) and ended with Doctor in Trouble (1970 / trailer) but continued long after as various TV series in Britain. Like the Carry On series, the Doctor series in all its forms is proof positive of England's refined nature and cultural importance.
The year it came out, Doctor in Clover was one of the 15 best British box office draws; in its land of origin, it was shorn a full four minutes to get the then applicable A-rating ("children must be accompanied by adults"). TV Guide kindly describes the movie as "a dreary, depressing, unfunny comedy." The plot? Let's look at Brit Movie Co for that: "More comical situations at Saint Swithins Hospital, Leslie Phillips (of The Gamma People [1956 / trailer]) is on call in place as Dr Gaston Grimsdyke, who is more interested in the nurses than the patients. Grimsdyke loses his job as medical officer at a women's prison, so he enrolls in a refresher course with his old medical tutor Sir Lancelot Spratt (James Robertson Justice) — who is determined to make a successful physician out of him. There are some complications involving a rejuvenation serum, which is accidentally injected into the irascible Sir Lancelot, causing him to wreak havoc at a party." As the trailer informs us, the movie introduces another mostly forgotten 60s sexpot, "a beautiful young sexstacular French star in her first British film, Elisabeth Ercy".
Elizabeth Ercy, seen above from the movie, was born in Dresden, Germany on 20 July, 1944; she went on to star in that great, depressing horror film The Sorcerers (1967), directed by Michael Reeves, the man behind Witchfinder General (1968). Unlike that of Alexandra Bastedo, Ercy's career ended soon thereafter.
 Trailer to The Sorcerers (1967):

That Riviera Touch
(1966, dir. Cliff Owen)

Alexandra Bastedo's career takes a step forward: she receives on-screen credit as the "Girl at roulette table" — but the real cheesecake factor of the movie was the Canadian-born Suzanne Lloyd (born on November 11, 1934 in Toronto) as the deceitful Claudette, who retired at the "young age of 40".
That Riviera Touch was a vehicle for the English comedy due (Eric) Morecambe and (Ernie) Wise, whose partnership lasted from 1941 until Morecambe died in 1984. Primarily a TV phenomena and unknown outside of the land of fish and chips, they made three of movies together in the 60s, of which this is the second; like Doctor in Clover above, it was one of the top 15 British box office hits of 1966. Brit Movie Co calls the movie "a routine comedy" and complains that "despite many colourful shots of the Côte d’Azur and a riotous closing sequence involving a helicopter and water skis the duo are unable to sustain feature length narratives and ultimately the film is lacking in laughs."
Film 4 explains the plot to "this, the second and best of their so-so big-screen outings": "Eric and Ernie star as traffic wardens who, thanks to a muddle up with British royalty, find themselves holidaying in the south of France. There, they become involved with Le Pirate (Paul Stassino of Die Screaming Marianne [1971 / trailer]), a Gallic thief who intends to use the hapless pair to smuggle his goods overseas. Of course, it's not long before pandemonium reigns as our comic heroes cross swords with all sorts of villains and almost come to blows over the comely thiefette Claudette (Lloyd).
Opening Credits — Bastedo's Name Is There:

The Scales of Justice: The Haunted Man
 (1966, dir. Stanley Willis)
As the website Radio Sounds Familiar explains: "The Scales of Justice [was not a TV series but] was a run of thirteen British cinema 'B' films made between 1962 and 1967 at Merton Park Studios in London by Anglo-Amalgamated. They were based on real criminal cases and each film was introduced by the famous crime writer Edgar Lustgarten. The titles [above] feature the symbolic scales held by the statue of Justice, which is located on top of the dome of The Old Bailey. In the opening narration she is described as having ' her right hand, the Sword of Retribution, and in her left — The Scales of Justice'." Only later did they actually end up on TV.
The plot of The Haunted Man: "Actor Bill Kenton (James Ellis, who plays "Psycho Ward Guard No. 1" in Re-Animator [1985]), injured trying to prevent a raid on a shop, returns to his career, to find that he cannot remember his lines. Forced to leave the theatre, he becomes a man obsessed with finding the thief." Alexandra Bastedo, who can be seen cuddling with Keith Barron (of Nothing But The Night [1973]) in the background of the screenshot above, plays "Laura". All thirteen instalment are now available on DVD.
 Trailer to Nothing but the Night:

 Casino Royale
(1967, dir. Val Guest, Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Richard Talmadge and possible others)
Alexandra Bastedo appears somewhere in this, one of the most legendary cinematic fuck-ups in the world, as "Meg". We saw the film many a year ago, long before we even registered that was a "Alexandra Bastedo", and had we even known of her we surely wouldn't have seen her amongst the plethora of much more famous names that flit, explode, crawl, dies, walk, run, whatever across the screen. If we remember correctly, the only thing we really like about the movie was (spoiler) that everyone dies...
The BBC is right when they saw "the film itself may defy description" and "the lurid sets and costumes amount to two hours of Technicolor madness". Is the film good? No. Is it jaw-dropping and entertaining? Yes — in a mostly train wreck sort of way. A flop with the critics, it was a popular hit and made a profit despite the movies explosive budget (which went from 6 to 12 million dollars while filming). It works much better now due to the nostalgia factor than it did when it came out and tried, so desperately, to be (to quote La Cinema Dreams) "like Barbarella (1968 / trailer), Myra Breckinridge (1970 / trailer), and The Magic Christian (1969 / trailer) [...] a 'head film' from the start. A head film being a movie that either courted young, college-age audiences by attempting to cinematically replicate the psychedelic drug experience, or one that was best appreciated in an altered mind state."
As TCM explains the plot: "The original James Bond (007) retired following his star-crossed love affair with Mata Hari [...]. But as the international crime organization known as SMERSH threatens world domination, he agrees to come out of retirement. After his longtime superior McTarry ('M') is killed, Bond goes to Scotland to console McTarry's widow, Lady Fiona, unaware that the woman he encounters is actually a SMERSH agent. Bond's charms are such, however, that Lady Fiona gives up her life of espionage and retires to a convent when Bond declines her offer of love. To outwit his enemy, Bond decides there should be more than one 007 agent. He enlists the services of Vesper Lynd, the world's richest and most seductive spy; Evelyn Tremble, the inventor of a foolproof gambling system; Cooper, a strong-arm agent trained to resist women; and Bond's own daughter, Mata Bond [...]."
 Casino Royale Theme Song:

The Champions
(TV series, 1968-1969)
While this British "cult" TV series "filled with intelligent, intriguing characters, exotic settings and fabulous cars (DVD Verdict)" is not whence we know Alexandra Bastedo, it would seem it is whence most do, as virtually every obit we read was apt to say something along the lines as what Wikipedia does: Alexandra Bastedo is "best known for her role as secret agent Sharron Macready in the 1968 British espionage/science fiction adventure series The Champions." Indeed, Boot Hill quotes the actress as have said: "Apart from becoming a household name in England, Scotland and Wales, I became an international star, particularly in Spain and South America where they called me La Bastedo." We here at A Wasted Life, however, are not familiar with the 30-episode series, which supposedly also ran in the US on NBC in 1968, a time when our tastes were still more oriented towards shows such as Batman (1966-1968) or The Monkees (1966-1968).
Classic Film and TV Café explains the basic set up around which the series was constructed: "Three secret agents, being pursued by bad guys, crash land their plane in the Himalayas. All but dead, they are found by an elderly man who takes them to an ancient city occupied by a secret civilization (shades of Shangri-La). Not only are our heroes healed, but they are 'made better.' They gradually learn that they have been given superhuman powers: they can communicate telepathetically, their senses are heightened, and they possess great strength. They can also 'sense' when danger in imminent or when one of them is in trouble." They fought international threats for 30 episodes before succumbing to the deadliest of all TV enemies: low viewer ratings.
Other than Bastedo as the semi-superwoman Sharron Macready, The Champions also featured the fellow super-people Craig Stirling (Stuart Damon) and Richard Barrett (William Gaunt) and their non-super boss Tremayne (Anthony Nicholls of Night of the Eagle [1962 / trailer] and The Omen [1976 / trailer]).
At one point (2007), Variety announced that Guillermo del Toro would be doing a film version of the movie, but it would seem that nothing ever came of it. 

Go here for Part II
Go here for Part III 

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