Tuesday, April 1, 2014

R.I.P.: Kate O'Mara

10 August 1939 — 30 March 2014

The English actress Kate O'Mara is dead. For us here at A Wasted Life, she was one of our favorite actresses from the Golden Age of English Gothic Cleavage, despite the fact that her horror output was extremely limited. Indeed, though often lumped together with the beautiful Hammer Screamers, she only ever appeared in three Hammer films and turned down a contract when offered in fear of being typecast. We've seen all her three of her straight Horror Films, and she was without a doubt always the most impressive looker in the given movie, despite some hefty competition.
Also active on stage and on TV, "She was perhaps most widely known for her role as Caress Morell, the scheming sister of Alexis Colby (Joan Collins) in the 1980s American primetime soap opera Dynasty." Born to John F. Carroll, an RAF flying instructor and actress Hazel Bainbridge (25 January 1911 — 7 January 1998), she was the older sister to actress Belinda Carroll. Twice married and twice divorced, she had two sons, one of whom, Dickon Young (1964—2012), hanged himself in the garage of the house he shared with his mother, O'Mara, in the village of Long Marston, Warks. O'Mara died on 30 March 2014 in a Sussex nursing home at the age of 74 after a short illness.

Home and Away
(1956, dir. Vernon Sewell)
At the tender age of 17, Kate O'Mara, billed by the name her parents gave her, [Frances] Merrie Carroll, made her film debut playing "Annie Knowles" in this comedy directed by Vernon Sewell, better known for his later sleaze and horror films like the Stanley A Long produced The Blood Beast Terror (1968 / trailer) or such faves as Curse of the Crimson Altar  (1968), with Michael Gough, and Burke & Hare (1972 / trailer). 
The plot of Home and Away, according to the BFI:"Comedy concerning the troubles loosed on an ordinary British home when one of the family finds he has won a half-share in the pools." At imdb, John Howard Reid says the film is only for those who will watch anything: "Writer-director Vernon Sewell's career was mostly limited to British 'B' films or quota quickies. Even by his humble standards, however, this entry is well below average. In fact, it's the sort of movie that you can happily come late for and yet have no trouble picking up the threads of the almost non-existent plot. If you are watching a TV transmission or a DVD, you can even keep the movie running while you visit the kitchen and make yourself a midnight snack. There's absolutely no danger of missing anything of consequence! [...]" 
The next year "Kate O'Mara" would have a bit part as a nurse in the TV series Emergency Ward, but she pretty much never showed her pretty face on the screen again until 1967 when she began doing regular bit parts on British TV series.
Trailer to Vernon Sewell's Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968):

  The Limbo Line
(1968, dir. Samuel Gallu)
O'Mara's second feature-film credit, and she's already headlining on the poster. The Limbo Line is the second to last movie of director Samuel Gallu, whose better-known works would be Theatre of Death (1967 / trailer) and his last project, the rarely screened Arthur! Arthur! (1969). The Limbo Line is based on the 1963 Victor Canning novel of the same name, the cover of which was graced by a photo of O'Mara when republished after the release of the movie. She plays the lead damsel in distress, Irina Tovskia. The plot of the movie seems to follow the book rather closely, and the plot of the book, according to the Mount Benson Report is as follows: "Richard Manston is a retired agent living the life of leisure as a gentleman farmer and golfer. He gets drawn back in to the game by his superiors to break a Russian kidnapping ring that is grabbing low level defectors and whisking them back to the Motherland. The British Secret Service has identified the next victim, a ballerina, Irina Tovskaya, as the next victim. Manston’s job is to dangle her as bait and follow her through the 'Limbo Line' the organization that handles the kidnapping, brainwashing, and smuggling of the kidnapped defectors. Of course, nothing goes as planned and like any good spy novel there are various crosses and double-crosses, escapes and evasions. This was a fully satisfying and fun read."
Richard Manston was played by the husband of actress Alexis Smith (8 June  1921 — 9 June 1993), Craig Stevens, an American B-movie actor best known for The Deadly Mantis (1957) and Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953 / trailer).
Craig Stevens in The Deadly Mantis:
 Great Catherine
(1968, dir. Gordon Flemyng)
Kate O'Mara appears to play "Varinka" in this forgotten comedy based on a George Bernard Shaw play from 1931 which, according to Wikepedia, "is loosely based on the story of Sir Charles Hanbury Williams and his time spent as an envoy at the Russian court." O'Mara is not on the poster.
The NY Times says "Braced immeasurably by the Shavian lines, as arranged by the scenarist, Hugh Leonard, and stylishly piloted by the director, Gordon Flemyng, the picture is also beautiful in its lavish décor, costumes and color photography." A Tank Full of Gas, however, calls the movie "an acquired taste": "Peter O’Toole plays Captain Charles Edstaston, a British officer dispatched to Russia during the reign of Catherine the Great (Jeanne Moreau). Edstaston is betrothed to Claire (Angela Scoular), the daughter of the British Ambassador to Russia (Jack Hawkins) who feels the dashing young officer might be able to win the Empress's confidence. First, however, Edstaston must get past Potemkin (Zero Mostel), the Empress's drunken, boorish chief minister. Fortunately, after an initially difficult encounter, Potemkin eventually comes to believe that Edstaston would make a perfect lover for Catherine and literally carries him to her boudoir. Unfortunately, Edstaston is so deeply mired in the social dictates of his country that he almost immediately blows his chance of learning anything from the Empress, even though she clearly takes a shine to him. [...] The decadence of Catherine's reign — and its inevitable consequence — is symbolized by the movie's high point, an opulent ball that degenerates into a drunken orgy while Catherine pleasures herself by teasingly torturing a prostrate Edstaston in her own private torture chamber." 
Great Catherine is the last film to feature a score composed by Dimitri Tiomkin, whose long career includes films like the original version of The Thing (1951 / trailer) and Mad Love (1935 / trailer). He shared the 1952 Oscar for Best Music, Original Song with Ned Washington (lyrics) for the title track High Noon (1952 / trailer):
Tex Ritter — High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin'):
(1968, dir. Robert Hartford-Davis)
Kate O'Mara is the second lead and best-looking babe in this fabulously trashy piece of English sleaze horror featuring one wigged-out Peter Cushing. Our spoiler-heavy review of the film — hell, we tell everything that happens — can be found here.

The Desperados
(1969, dir. Henry Levin)
A former stage actor and director, Henry Levin, who entered the biz in 1943, had a long and prolific career in films: he had produced well over a movie a year by the time he died in 1980 while shooting the TV movie Scout's Honor (1980). Among his many movies are Cry of the Werewolf (1944 / full movie), the second movie to ever feature a female werewolf; two Matt Helm flicks, Murderers' Row (1966 / trailer) and The Ambushers (1967 / trailer); and the fabulous guilty pleasure Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (1966).
Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die:
Dennis Schwartz of Ozus' World Movie Reviews, which calls the movie "An unpleasant, below-average revenge western about an outlaw rebel family ruled by a fanatical sicko father," gives the plot as follows: "As the Civil War draws to a close, the rabid psychopathic Parson Josiah Galt (Jack Palance) and his three sons, Adam (Christian Roberts), Jacob (George Maharis), and David (Vince Edwards), lead a gang of southern guerilla pillagers and rapists. Josiah is crazed over the death of his visionary Indian wife and ruthlessly raids the Kansas town of St. Thomas. Revolted over the carnage inflicted, David tries to escape from his family but is captured. Dad accuses him of treason and plans to execute him, but David escapes and lives under a new name with his wife Laura (Sylvia Syms) in Texas. Six years later, after the war, the notorious Galt boys are still marauders. The gang catches up with David and the climax has David set a trap with the local sheriff (Neville Brand) to catch the gang in a foiled railroad heist. It leads to a tragic confrontation between father and son, as prophesized by David's soothsayer mom."
David Whittaker's Music to The Desperados:
A Tank Full of Gas is of the opinion that "The Desperados is an ill-advised American/British co-production — which explains the unlikely presence of such quintessentially British actors as Kenneth Cope and Kate O'Mara in the wild, wild west. As such, it suffers from the kind of messiness that is common to many international co-productions. And The Desperados is messy, a very messy movie, with very sloppy editing, gaping holes in the narrative, a leading man who appears to be in the throes of some kind of emotional numbness, and Jack Palance hamming it up for all he's worth."
Aside from the female eye candy of Kate O'Mara as Adah, The Desperados also has the male eye candy of George Maharis as bad guy Jacob, whose bed Adah keeps warm. Maharis was one of the first (and few) Hollywood men to show wurst in Playgirl (example photo, with horse, above), which he did the same year (1974) that he — to quote Gay Influence  — "was arrested [...] and charged with committing a sex act with a male hairdresser in the men's room of a gas station in Los Angeles. 46 years old at the time, Maharis was booked on a sex perversion charge and released on $500 bail. Six years earlier Maharis had been arrested by a vice squad officer for lewd conduct in the restroom of a Hollywood restaurant; the officer said Maharis made a pass at him." 
George Maharis sings You Don't Know What Love Is:
 Cannon for Cordoba
(1970 Directed by Paul Wendkos)
Director Wendkos began his directorial career with the excellent and unjustly forgotten low budget flick The Burglar (1957), starring a young and pneumatic Jane Mansfield. According to Wikipedia and Boot Hill, Kate O'Mara appears in this movie as a whore, but we were unable to find much confirmation in this regard other than in a William Amazzini review at Amazon, which states "Keen Euro-viewers will also spot Aldo Sambrell, beautiful Francine York, Giovanna Ralli who graced many a spaghetti western, and Hammer actress Kate O'Mara." The movie was scripted by Stephen Kandel, who four years earlier wrote the entertaining but rarely screened Chamber of Horrors (1966).
Chamber of Horrors:
The plot, according to 10K Bullets, which calls the movie "average": "The year is 1912 and there is a revolution going on in Mexico. General Hector Cordoba steals six cannons from the forces that have been sent to eliminate him and solidify the Texas-Mexico border. General Pershing gives the job of retrieving the six stolen cannons to Captain Rod Douglas (George Peppard)." TV Guide, which calls the movie "average", adds the following: "[A] subplot concerns Ralli as a woman who helps Peppard because she seeks revenge on [Raf] Vallone for raping her." Filmed in Spain, set in Mexico.
Belly-Dancing in Mexico — A Scene from Cannon for Cordoba:

The Horror of Frankenstein
(1970, dir. Jimmy Sangster)
We already took a look at this flick in our R.I.P. career review of Jimmy Sangster. To simply re-use what we wrote there: "The Horror of Frankenstein, Hammer's 6th Frankenstein film, is a stand-alone film that occurs outside of the Peter Cushing films. Often dissed as the worst in the Hammer series, it is also Sangster's directorial debut, a reworking of the script he supplied for the first film of the series, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957 / trailer), revamped for a younger audience. Contrary to popular opinion, the humor, like all the sex, is intentional. The plot as told at Popcorn Pictures: 'Victor Frankenstein (Ralph Bates) is angry when his father forbids him from going to study at college to continue his anatomical experiments. So kills his father and makes it look like accident, thus leaving Victor with the family fortune and title of Baron. He uses this wealth to finance his college studies but leaves when he gets the dean's daughter pregnant. Returning home, he sets up a laboratory and starts a series of experiments aimed at bringing the dead back to life with the intention of creating a human being from stolen body parts. Unfortunately his creature doesn't behave the way he intended it to.' The film, like all of Sangster's feature film directorial efforts, was less than a commercial success."
Kate O'Mara is there as the supposedly 16-year-old Alys, the housemaid bonking both Frankenstein senior and, later, junior. Hammer fave Veronica Carlson is also on hand to show cleavage. Ralph Bates went on to play Dr. Jekyll in the Hammer film Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971).

The Vampire Lovers
 (1970, dir. Roy Ward Baker)
O'Mara, as the Governess Mme. Perrodot, gets bitten by none other than the great Ingrid Pitt  in this adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu's novella Carmilla. This lezzie vampire flick, the first of the so-called Karnstein Trilogy — the others being Lust for a Vampire (1971 / trailer) and Twins of Evil (1972 / trailer) — wasn't too well accepted at its release, but it has stood the test of time rather well and has long since become a cult fave. Among the many other films directed by Roy Ward Baker (19 December 1916 — 5 October 2010) are the equally entertaining Hammer outings Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974), neither of which are truly as good as this film.
All Movie explains the movie: "This sexy horror story from Britain's Hammer Films finds Ingrid Pitt playing three roles [Marcilla / Carmilla / Mircalla Karnstein], the most notable being a lesbian vampire who will resort to biting a man only when it is absolutely necessary. A doctor and a manservant are victims, but only after she has exhausted all attempts to sink her fangs into the bosoms of young women. The General (Peter Cushing) finds his daughter Laura (Pippa Steel) is victimized by the bite of the vampiress. With the help of Baron Hartog (Douglas Wilmer), they try to end the horror brought by the blood-sucking beauty. Blood, gore and a few decapitations are depicted before the wooden stakes and crosses are brought out."

The Tamarind Seed
(1974, dir. Blake Edwards)
Director Blake Edwards began his career as an actor (in such fine stuff as Strangler in the Swamp[1946]) before moving onto directing and marrying Mary Poppins. And though he is remembered today primarily for comedies, he used to do all sorts of flicks, including stuff like this Cold War thriller based on a novel by Evelyn Anthony starring Dr. Zhivago and Mary Poppins.
Strangler in the Swamp — Full Movie:
We've never seen The Tamarind Seed, but Kate O'Mara is in there somewhere as "Anna Skriabina", a part not big enough to get her on the poster or into the trailer. TCM explains the plot as "Rival Cold War diplomats (Zhivago & Poppins) fall in love in the Caribbean," a plot (like the stars) that hardly promises a good film; but if one is to believe Parallax View, the film is indeed of quality: "Between the shopworn genre, then, and Andrews and Sharif, I wasn't clamoring to be the first in line when The Tamarind Seed opened. I should have been. For The Tamarind Seed, like Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974 / trailer), turns a Good Will genre into the genuine article, shifts and reshapes our thinking and feeling and seeing. And that new perception of reality is not just four-walled within a theater or the confines of a frame of film, but makes its way — or should — into the larger, less defined, and thus less understandable, territory of our lives."

(1976, dir. Gerry O'Hara [as Laurence Britten])
"Hand-made babies...Was it the hand of God...Or the hand of the devil?"
Gerry O'Hara's directorial debut was the 1963 you-fuck-you-get-VD tale That Kind of Girl aka Teenage Tramp (1963); aside from working with Babe O'Mara, he also made films with Babe Olivia Hussey (All the Right Noises [1971 / song to film]), Babe Fiona Lewis (The Chairman's Wife [1971]); Babe Lisa Foster (Fanny Hill [1983 / trailer]); Babe-in-Decline Joan Collins (The Bitch [1979 / trailer]); and Babe Sarah Douglas in Brute [1973]) — "serious" dramas one and all.
Trailer to That Kind of Girl aka Teenage Tramp:
Feelings is the feature-film debut of Paul Freeman, one of those great actors everyone always recognizes but never knows from where. (Hint: His face melts in Raiders of the Lost Ark [1981 / trailer].) He plays the blank-shooting "Paul Martin" to Kate O'Mara's baby-hungry "Barbara Martin". Like any good "serious" (exploitation) drama, the main topic of Feelings — "test-tube children" — was very timely, if not anticipatory: the world's first official, real "test-tube child", Ms. Louise Brown, wasn't even born for another couple of years, on 25 July 1978. (In truth, the film seems to be more about artificial insemination than test-tube babies, but who's gonna draw fine lines like that in an exploitation film?)
Feelings is yet another O'Mara film we've never seen, and with its original title, Feelings, we probably never would have wanted to — as far as we're concerned, Kate O'Mara never really made another good film after The Vampire Lovers (1970) — but then we read a blurb at imdb written by Blood The Telepathic Dog from North Dakota, who states: "Kate O'Mara teased horror film viewers all throughout such films like Horror of Frankenstein and Vampire Lovers, but there is no teasing whatsoever here. In fact, the first 45 minutes of the film, Kate is completely naked half the time. Bare skin is also supplied by the ill-fated lab tech. Her nightmare scene may be the film's highlight."
This "serious" (exploitation) drama — re-issue/aka titles include Test-Tube Baby and Whose Child Am I? — has suddenly jumped high on our "We Want to See It" list.
Another Gerry O'Hara film — The Pleasure Girls (1965),
w/ Klaus Kinski:
Temple of Schlock, which supplied the newspaper clips, offers another aka: "The British fertility clinic exploitation pic Whose Child Am I? — shot in 1974 as Who's Harriet? [...] — was submitted to the MPAA in February 1975 and began a regional roll-out from Brian Distribution later that year. With newspaper ads that made it look like a horror film, and co-billed with a real horror film (The Devil's Wedding Night [1973]), it opened at the Marbro Drive-In in Kingsport, TN on September 29, 1977. Over a year later — and no longer aimed at the horror crowd — it opened in the New York City area on a double bill with Embryo (trailer / full film) December 15, 1978."
The Devil's Wedding Night:
Films de France says Feelings is "very poor, a hideous monstrosity of a film with absolutely no redeeming features — a seriously bad film to be avoided like the plague." A view shared by the 1995 publication of Video Movie Guide, which tersely says "Artificial insemination is this pitiful excuse for this ridiculously sordid film."
Blood The Telepathic Dog is of the opinion that "The main problem with this film is that it tries to do too much. The central couple are Kate O'Mara and Paul Freeman who can't have a child of their own [...]. But since there apparently wasn't enough meat on that bone, the script introduces other couples with ties to the fertility clinic. There is a lesbian couple, a kooky hippy broad accidentally planted with 'African seed,' and the most interesting sub-couple is the young clinic lab tech who is in love with an older man, who might be the sperm donor her mother used many years ago. This is an interesting film that presents the viewer with many socially taboo questions. Lesbianism is scratched at but nothing profound is said and even less is said about racism since the hippy lady's screen time was limited [...]. The spotlight really rests on O'Mara and Freeman and how they cope with not having a child conventionally. Kate takes drastic measures to get impregnated when the AI doesn't take either and the film gains speed when Freeman learns of Kate's adulterous methods."
Has nothing to do with the film — 
Morris Albert lip syncs Feelings (1975):

Click here for Part II

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