So John Hughes died the other day. What does that have to do with this column’s mandate, as flexibly defined as it might be, you might well ask. As it turns out, not much, at least not directly. But Hughes’ passing did wind up overshadowing two other deaths in the film industry. Screenwriter Budd Schulberg also died, and he wrote such fare as A Face in the Crowd (1957) and a little thing called On the Waterfront (1954), which, I dunno, might wind up standing the test of time better than Pretty in Pink, but what do I know? More to the point, as far as this space is concerned, Harry Alan Towers also passed on.
Towers was not exactly an auteur. He didn’t direct, though he wrote and produced, and what he backed suggests a certain focus in the same way that Hughes wrote and produced many films that he did not direct, but that nevertheless carried his stamp. (And that’s about as far as I can push any comparison between the two men.) Hop over to the IMDB and take a glance at Towers’ filmography. It features just about every exploitation category under the sun. There is a raft of Fu Manchu pictures, no end of dubious adaptations of various literary works, and quite a few memorable collaborations with Jess Franco (Eugenie and Count Dracula to name but two). But let’s take a couple of late period productions of his for a bit more of the flavour of his work.
The Phantom of the Opera (1989) is a film I’ve written about on this site before. In no way is it faithful to Gaston Leroux’s novel, but then, it’s not further away than Andrew Lloyd Webber’s bowdlerization. Cheap though the film is, it still looks quite handsome, and in many ways looks like a Hammer film that wandered into a time warp. It features a bankable cult star in the person of Robert England – had film been made twenty years earlier, it would no doubt have boasted the presence of Christopher Lee. It’s loaded with all sorts of crowd-pleasing violence. All in all, it’s disposable, give-the-punters-what-they-want entertainment, and I’d still take it over The English Patient any day.
Then there’s The Mangler (1995). Now, there isn’t too much to say in the defense of this flick. Sure, it makes the most of its budget, looking much more expensive than it was thanks to shooting in South Africa. But it also has the unmitigated gall of having a sign read “WORK WILL SET YOU FREE” in a Victorian-looking laundry. Robert Englund is back again, this time as the owner of the laundry, which makes him, of course, the richest man in town. His Mr. Burns-like character suffers some well-deserved setbacks when one of his machines becomes possessed and starts killing people. The words “stupid” and “silly” are far too weak to do this movie justice, but it is, in its very inanity, supremely entertaining, very much in the so-bad-it’s-great category. So I’d take this over The English Patient too.
These are but two examples of Towers’ legacy: plenty of gobblers in his list of productions, and very few outright classics, but lots and lots of highly entertaining cheese, some varieties being more potent in their taste and aroma than others. Cult film fans owe this man a fair deal, and so he deserves a heartfelt thanks, and a moment of silent respect.