This week on TCM Underground: Some Call It Loving (aka Sleeping Beauty, 1973)

81J-2Hi8n-L._SX425_

Spectators who like to keep their fairy tales innocent, their pornography sordid, their allegories obvious and their dreams intact,” wrote critic Jonathan Rosenbaum in the pages of Film Comment in 1975, “are bound to be disconcerted by James B. Harris’ haunting SOME CALL IT LOVING… which pursues the improbabilities of dream logic to clarify rather than mystify, and tough-mindedly concerns itself with the processes and consequences of dreaming.” At that point, Rosenbaum was championing a movie that had screened to considerable favor at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival and had received high marks from the French critics only to tank dismally upon the occasion of its American premiere.  Buried by its distributor, SOME KIND OF LOVING nosedived into celluloid limbo, resurfacing eventually on VHS tape in a big box eyesore that seemed to occupy every dusty bottom shelf of every video store in the land; about the only attention paid to the film in retrospect came from Mr. Skin’s Skincyclopedia: The A to Z Guide to Finding Your Favorite Actresses Naked.

250full-some-call-it-loving-artworkThough the negligible box office of SOME CALL IT LOVING did not kill the career of producer-director James B. Harris, it did him no favors. Harris had enjoyed considerable acclaim and no small degree of success between 1956 and 1963 as Stanley Kubrick’s producer, helping Kubrick to secure funding, material, and talent for such films as THE KILLING (1956), PATHS OF GLORY (1957), and LOLITA (1962). The partners had parted company with DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964) when Kubrick elected to take the sober-sided source material (British author Peter George’s 1958 atomic panic novel Two Hours to Doom, aka Red Alert) in a satiric direction. Convinced that Kubrick had lost his artistic mooring, Harris made his own nuclear disaster film, THE BEDFORD INCIDENT (1965), which marked his directorial debut. As subsequent projects went into turnaround and the years began to tick by, Harris remembered a short story collection he had thumbed through during production of LOLITA.

1289306107_1c79ad380bBritish writer John Collier’s Fancies and Goodnights had been published in 1951 and his elegantly ironic stories had drawn from literary critics favorable comparisons to Charles Dickens and Roald Dahl. Numbered among the tales collected in that volume was “Sleeping Beauty,” the story of a dissolute Englishman with more pedigree than liquid assets who nonetheless makes the capital acquisition of a sideshow somnambulist, a beautiful young woman seemingly straight out of the eponymous fairytale. Harris saw in the story a parable about desire and denial and began crafting what would be his sophomore directorial effort, relocating the action from a Regency house in southern England to a castle poised above the craggy coast Southern California. To play his conflicted protagonist, Harris cast TV actor Zalman King, then best known as the star of the short-lived THE YOUNG LAWYERS, a weekly legal drama that had run for a single season on CBS.  As the object of King’s affection, Harris took a gamble on Tisa Farrow, kid sister to ROSEMARY’S BABY star Mia Farrow, who had had an ornamental role in René Clément’s 1972 heist film AND HOPE TO DIE (1972). Supporting roles were doled out to comic Richard Pryor (who had not yet established himself as an actor), British actress Carol White, and former THE MUNSTERS trouper Pat Priest.

Principal photography got underway late in 1972 under the working title SLEEPING BEAUTY, until the threat of legal action from Walt Disney Productions prompted Harris to go with the interim title DREAM GIRL before settling on SOME CALL IT LOVING. Shot at various compass points along the Pacific Coast Highway by Italian cinematographer Mario Tosi (whose picaresque career runs the gamut from the softcore 1964 “nudie cutie” SINDERELLA AND THE GOLDEN BRA and American International Pictures’ 1972 revenge-of-nature thriller FROGS to Brian DePalma’s CARRIE [1976] and Richard Rush’s THE STUNT MAN [1977]), SOME CALL IT LOVING plays like an American spin on the erotic works of such cult impresarios as Jess Franco and Jean Rollin or the sensual excesses of Bronx expatriate Radley Metzger, albeit channeled through the unmistakable aesthetic of James B. Harris. Very much the wild card in the deck of Harris’ brief but impressive directing CV, SOME CALL IT LOVING nonetheless reflects Harris’ abiding interest in the power of fantasy to by turns empower and destroy the dreamer.

tumblr_mlq3m2GZRC1rovfcgo1_500

Several of Harris’ subsequent projects would fall victim to executive caprice or studio regime changes; his only other credit through the 70s is as a producer of Don Siegel’s so-so 1977 Charles Bronson programmer TELEFON – interestingly, about Soviet “sleeper” agents embedded in American society. He returned to the public eye with FAST WALKING (1982), a flinty prison drama/crime caper starring James Woods. Harris and Woods would reteam for COP (1988) – the first feature film based on a book by James Ellroy – and Harris’ final directing credit to date is the French-financed BOILING POINT (1993), starring a post-comeback Dennis Hopper and a pre-stardom Viggo Mortensen. Despite the relative brevity of his directing résumé (and the barracking he received from man-and-wife movie critics Andrew Sarris and Molly Haskell over SOME CALL IT LOVING), Harris enjoys to this day remarkable critical currency. “Harris’ films are inglorious, pipe-dream-beleaguered gutterdives, with the cheap integrity of bygone pulp fiction,” wrote Michael Atkinson in 1999. “Harris has kept faith with the basic principles of genre without succumbing to neo-anything, homage, or pretension.”

Sources:

James B. Harris interview by Nick Pinkerton, FilmComment.com, 2015

Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him by David and Joe Henry (Algonquin Books, 2013)

Ghosts in the Machine: Speculating on the Dark Heart of Pop Cinema by Michael Atkinson (Hal Leonard Corp., 1999)

8 Responses This week on TCM Underground: Some Call It Loving (aka Sleeping Beauty, 1973)
Posted By Steve Burrus : January 27, 2016 3:16 am

I kimnda get James Harris confused with Bob Harris who did the restoration of such movie cl assics as “My Fair Lady” and Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”.

Posted By swac44 : January 27, 2016 3:32 pm

I look forward to finally seeing this James B-movie!

Posted By Ben Martin : January 27, 2016 10:34 pm

This is ALL new to me. I know I say this a lot but wow – showing this kind of obscurity is exactly what I mean when I say, when asked, “Yes please show movies that I haven’t even heard of which have some level of psychotronic appeal. ” Well this AND the recent POSSESSION fit that category to a T. And the background in this blog is so helpful. To Steve Burrus: Bob Harris? Didnt he play the make-up man/hypnotist bad-guy in HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER?

Posted By Steve Burrus : January 27, 2016 11:30 pm

Ben all I knmow of Bob Harris, as I said, is that he digitally restored “My Fair Lady”, “Vertigo” and other movies. I don’t know what he did in HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER., a movie I have never seen myself.

Posted By Ubiquitous : January 30, 2016 12:59 pm

So, this is not about Bill Cosby?

Posted By Mike Doran : February 10, 2016 8:52 am

Just to straighten it out:

The guy in HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER was Robert H. Harris, a short, bald, round character actor who was all over movies and TV from the ’50s through the early ’70s.

HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER would be a prime candidate for use on TCM UNDERGROUND; see if you can find its trailer on YouTube or somewhere …

Posted By Steve Burrus : February 10, 2016 5:14 pm

NBut it WAS James Harris who did the spectacular restoration work on “Vertigo” and “My Fair Lady”?

Posted By swac44 : February 10, 2016 6:20 pm

Nope, Robert A. Harris. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_A._Harris

Better than YouTube, the How to Make a Monster trailer can be found at Trailers From Hell with or without commentary by the great makeup genius Rick Baker:

http://trailersfromhell.com/how-to-make-a-monster/

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

As of November 1, 2017 FilmStruck’s blog, StreamLine, has moved to Tumblr.

Please visit us there!

http://filmstruck.tumblr.com/tagged/streamline-blog

 Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.