4/23/09

B.L.O.G Presents The Wicker Man (1973)

In the past few weeks we’ve looked at quite a few films which feature religious themes, and after the Ladies of the Lair took some time out last week to give some love to the pagans out there, I thought it was high time I did the same. So with May Day just around the corner how could I resist a bewitching tale of a pagan cult that includes the equally bewitching….


Rising to fame after a whirlwind romance with Peter Sellers, the Swedish Ekland soon became quite the sex symbol. Over the years she has appeared in many fine cult films such as 1970’s I Cannibali, and the incomparable Michael Caine gangster flick Get Carter. In 1974, she appeared opposite Christopher Lee as Bond girl Mary Goodnight in The Man with the Golden Gun, but the year before she appeared in a more fruitful role alone with Lee when she appeared in….


The Wicker Man (1973) starring Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Edward Woodward, and Ingrid Pitt. Directed by Robin Hardy. 

After receiving an anonymous letter, Sgt. Howie arrives at the remote Scottish island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl, but he soon finds the locals have no use for his inquiries. He begins to delve deeper into life on the island he finds that the locals are practicing pagans, and Howie begins to suspect the young girl is being kept for use in a sacrifice. As layer upon layer of mystery opens up to him, the Christian policeman is blinded by his own resolve, but soon he will get all the answers he wants and learn the secrets of the Wicker Man. 



The Bugg Speaks

Cultspoitation? Well, perhaps Celt-spoitation would be more apt. The Wicker Man is, in my humble opinion, one of the best examples of what makes a film a cult classic. Its singular surrealist vision and epic strangeness are practically unparalleled, and the film begs for repeated viewings to truly get and enjoy all its subtle nuances. Thought provoking, hilarious, and baffling are just a few of the words I would choose to describe this film in a Cliff Notes version, but thankfully, this is The Lair and I can go on for as long as I’d like. 

Having no idea where to start with this most excellent film, I suppose one could not go wrong by starting at the beginning. The script by writer Anthony Schaffer, who also wrote the script to Sleuth (1972), was based primarily on a novel by British actor/writer David Pinner, but he received no screen credit as such although the rights to his novel were purchased by the film’s producers. Schaffer’s script strikes chords that are both lighthearted and menacing, and his characters feel like fully realized people. 

This could not have happened without a wonderful cast. Christopher Lee is at the height of his powers as Lord Summerisle, the leader of the island and its pagan people. His imposing presence, always a boon to his roles as Dracula, again serves him well as he towers above his co-star Edward Woodward. For his own part, Woodward is pitch perfect as Sgt. Howie, and he went to great lengths to develop the role. He intentionally wore a police uniform which was too small in order to better portray how constricted his character was. As a viewer, each time I see this film, I still get thrown to fits as Sgt. Howie ineptly investigates the girl’s disappearance. Howie is a man who walks the world with blinders on due to his religious fervor, and it is a credit to Woodward that he could embody his character without just seeming dumber than a box of apples. 

Today we’re here to talk about Britt Ekland though, and while her part in the film is fairly small, she is part of one of the more memorable scenes in the film. As the pious copper tries to bed down for the night, Ekland’s Willow sings a haunting, seductive song as she tries to lure Howie to her room. It comes to nothing, but Howie didn’t have our view as Ekland dances around her bedroom in the buff. Unfortunately, while the scenes showing Ekland nude from the waist up are the real deal, she refused to show her derriere for the camera. So for the cutaway shots of Willow dancing in her room, Lorraine Peters , who also has a small part as a crying naked girl in a graveyard, lent her bum to the proceedings. This footage was shot after Ms. Ekland had left the set, and she was none too pleased that it was in the final film. 

Yet it seems that Ekland was pretty hard to please anyhow. During the filming she called Dumfries and Galloway, the locations in Scotland which doubled for Summerisle, “the bleakest place on Earth”. The producers of the film were quick to provide an apology to the locals. Speaking of providing, I should note that Britt didn’t provide the voice for her Scottish character (although I would love to hear what a Swedish Scot sounded like), and her lines were overdubbed by British singer/actress Annie Ross, who would go on to play the villainous principal Ms. Crestwood in Pump Up The Volume

The glue that holds this film together is the direction of Robin Harvey. How the first time director (who to this day only has 3 other credits to his name) managed not only to land in the big chair for this film, but also to direct it so well. Working with veteran lensman Harry Waxman (and I mean veteran his first credit is 1939’s Sam Goes Shopping), the film embraces the beauty and mystery of the Scottish isles. The shots slide elegantly from perfection to being slightly off, and this gives The Wicker Man a great sense of tension. One of my favorite things is the quick cuts we get when Sgt. Howie is on the edge of figuring something out. It’s like a visual cue that Howie is nearly making the connections, but they don’t last long enough for him to really figure anything out. 

The Wicker Man is a movie that has everything I love in a film, good direction, great performances, and enjoyable songs. Did I forget to mention songs? Oh, yes, from the opening strains of Paul Giovanni’s “Corn Rigs” over the opening credits to the bawdy barroom song about the landlord’s daughter, music plays an important role in the film throughout. It becomes another piece of the puzzle as to why people have so long lauded this film with admiration. Unlike its 2006 remake (Why’d it get burned? Why’d it get burned?), The Wicker Man is a very interesting film which will work for cult movie fans of all stripes. So if this is one you haven’t checked out, I thoroughly encourage you to seek this one out, and join the cult already in progress.



Bugg Rating



6 comments:

  1. Excellent review. The Wicker Man is one of my all time favorite films.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The Lasting Tribute website has updated its memorial pages to include Jack Cardiff.

    http://www.lastingtribute.co.uk/tribute/cardiff/3066170

    It's a respectful memorial to Jack and somewhere to pay tribute to the family's fortitude at this difficult time.

    EVERY comment is monitored so that nothing offensive or inappropriate is published.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Steve, thanks for the comment. The Wicker Man is one I can watch again and again.

    Partick, I am saddened to learn of legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff's passing. He loaned his talents to many great genre films such as Conan the Destroyer, Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Steven King's Cat's Eye, and he will be missed.

    However he did not have anything to do with The Wicker Man, so i find your last line about inappropriate comments kind of ironic.

    ReplyDelete
  4. the sneering (homo-phobic) snobApril 23, 2009 at 4:49 PM

    For me this movie just revolves around the gorgeous bird showing her arse, whenever i put it on i just jump to that scene and put it on an A-B loop and just look at that birds breathtaking arse for a couple of hours. The rest of the film is ludicrously over-rated, granted there are a few cultish scenes and moments and the song "corn rigs" at the beginning is superb but the main problem with the film is of course the fact that it is a british production and as such is subject to all the inherent laughable, pathetic, amateaurish, ineptitude that unfortunately plagues all british made films. But that birds arse was so incredible, in fact i remember on an old VHS tape that i had of the film that section of the tape was almost worn out because of how often i`d freeze framed on it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Snob, would those be the same inherent laughable, pathetic, amateurish ineptitude that plagues all US made films?

    ReplyDelete
  6. masterpiece. there has never been anything this weird.

    ReplyDelete

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