Thursday, August 13, 2009

“Classic Fantasists on Film”: William Hope Hodgson


There are three filmed adaptations of fiction by William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918), two of them being based on his most-anthologized short story “The Voice in the Night” (1907), and the third is from one of his short stories of the occult detective, Thomas Carnacki.

The first, chronologically, was a straightforward version of “A Voice in the Night” done in the U.S. as the twenty-fourth episode of the hour-long NBC television series Suspicion (1957-59), a rival to the more famous CBS series Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-62). In fact the rivalry perhaps instigated this production of Hodgson’s story, for after “A Voice in the Night” was reprinted in the July 1954 issue of Playboy magazine, it re-appeared soon afterwards in the anthology Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories They Wouldn't Let Me Do on TV (1957). Broadcast on 24 March 1958, this episode had a small but distinguished cast and crew, most of whom became well-known in the industry. The cast of four included James Coburn and Patrick Macnee as the two sailors on the ship who hear the tale, and James Donald and Barbara Rush as the couple who are the victims of the fungus. The director was Arthur Hiller. The script is well-written and well-acted, and, though a black-and-white production, the program stands up well to the passage of time. This is the best and most effective of the three film productions made from Hodgson’s tales.

A further adaptation—indeed, a re-conceptualization—of “A Voice in the Night” is to be found in the Japanese film Matango (89 minutes, color, 1963). Hodgson’s story is reframed around a yacht trip taken by five Japanese men and two women. They become lost in a storm, land on a deserted island, and find a derelict ship filled with mold and fungus. As they starve, some begin to eat the mushrooms (matango), with results as found in Hodgson’s tale. It makes for a better-than-average B-movie, with decent special effects for its time, though it suffers from limited characterization and a barely adequate script. Nonetheless, a good deal of the creepiness of Hodgson’s story comes through effectively.

The final production is of “The Horse of the Invisible” (1910), one of the Carnacki stories. It was the fifth episode of season one of the U.K. television series The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1971-73), first broadcast on 17 October 1971. A color production filling an hour time-slot, it starred Donald Pleasance as Carnacki, and Tony Steedman as Captain Hisgins. Both are dreadful, and the script itself isn’t very good either. The whole production has an over-earnestness that elicits sneers (or even laughter) rather than suspense.

11 comments:

  1. Was Arthur Machen ever a member of the magical order of the Golden Dawn? I've read conflicting accounts as to whether he was or not. I know Algernon Blackwood was, with William Butler Yeats and Aleister Crowley.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, he certainly was. Several books about the Order provide the evidence, and in any case he refers to it (lightly disguised as the Order of the Twilight Star) in his memoir Things Near and Far.

    Mark V

    ReplyDelete
  3. Long ago I saw a clip, or stills, from a British film, said to be based on The Boats of the "Glen Carrig". Seamen were struggling with a motley crowd of sea-monsters.

    Unfortunately I can't remember when and where I saw this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can't help you here. I have learned of one other Hodgson adaptation since I wrote the above post: another Carnacki story, "The Whistling Room", was as 30 minute episode of The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse, broadcast on 18 July 1954. I've not seen it so can't comment further. If you dig-up anything more about the Glen Carrig film, please let us know.

      Delete
    2. I did some research, and I think it may have been THE LOST CONTINENT (1968). I seem to remember those images. But it is not officially based on Hodgson, but on a Dennis Wheatley novel.

      I think I must have formed my own connection to Glen Carrig, based on the fact that they get stuck in the Sargasso Sea, and sea-monsters come up onto the boats.

      I have never read Dennis Wheatley, maybe there are similarities to Hodgson. If Wheatley was inspired by Hodgson, then there may be an indirect connection between Glen Carrig and the film.

      Delete
    3. It makes sense that THE LOST CONTINENT is likely to be the film you remember. Wheatley was a big fan of Hodgson in the 1930s, and included three stories by Hodgson in his anthology _A Century of Horror_ (1935), and wrote in the Introduction: "Of William Hope Hodgson's right to appear in such as volume as this I have no doubt at all. He was a master both of horror stories and tales of the sea. On his own ground he has few, if any, equals." Wheatley also assisted H.C. Koenig, the American collector who circulated his rare Hodgson volumes to Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, etc., in the 30s, which brought about the 1945 Arkham House omnibus, which Koenig introduced. Wheatley's novel _Uncharted Seas_ (1938) is clearly derived from Hodgson, and the bizarre film THE LOST CONTINENT is in turn based on this Wheatley novel. Wheatley also published some Carnacki pastiches in his short story collection, _Gunmen, Gallants and Ghosts_ (1943).

      Delete
    4. That was a crazy film. No one seeing all this could possibly connect it to "Glen Carrig". But on it's own terms, still worthwhile - nice scenery, and good actors (the engine chief looks like L. P. Hartley!), lovely ladies. The Spanish conquestador stuff was a bit much, completely out of tune. The balloons and shoe-pads, amusing though.

      My dreamlike memory was much more satisfying. . . . Real seamen fighting for their lives, terror shining from their eyes (not like rehearsed actors), and colorful bloated but real monsters thrashing up out of the sea weed (no foam rubber, papier-macheʹ, or disjointed mechanics). I am still not a 100% convinced, or wish not, that the clip I saw was from this movie. I like to think it was a movie so rare, and made by an unknown twilight zone film-studio, that it has fallen into complete oblivion, and can't be traced.

      Delete
    5. I've just watched THE LOST CONTINENT for the first time. The whole ship-caught-in-the-weeds part is right out of Hodgson---while this element gets its biggest role in his novel THE BOATS OF THE 'GLEN CARRIG', there are a handful of other Sargasso Sea stories by Hodgson, including "From the Tideless Sea" (plus a direct sequel), "The Mystery of the Derelict", and "The Finding of the Graiken". I haven't read Wheatley's novel to see how much it follows anything of Hodgson's but enough of Hodgson survives in the movie to be recognizable. The balloons and shoe-pads were a Hodgsonian touch, and the eeriness in the film when they were first observed was well-done. In all it's an interesting B-movie, but nothing more. I imagine the same could be said for Wheatley's novel!

      Delete
  4. A agree that the individual scenes, stuck in the sea-weed, were really good and Hodgsonian.



    "The balloons and shoe-pads were a Hodgsonian touch,..."

    I may have missed that in his stories. Although, the range of inventiveness in The Night Land is remarkable.

    Yes, the eerieness when they first were observed, felt very alien and weird. For sheer mood, perhaps the best scene in the film.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I should have phrased that a bit differently. I didn't mean that there are precedents in the stories for the balloons and shoe-pads, just that the derived technology and their eeriness are a Hodgsonian touch.

      Delete
  5. I've now seen the 1954 Pepsi-Cola Playhouse adaptation of "The Whistling Room". It's more silly than creepy: a real disappointment. Alan Napier plays "Dr." Carnacki as a befuddled bumbler, and Howard J. Green, who adapted the Hodgson story into the teleplay, deserves several demerit points and a hard smack across the knuckles with a ruler.

    ReplyDelete