31 DECEMBER 1994, Page 39


Screen tests

Frank Keating

I FULFILLED a lifelong ambition over the holiday and recorded Monsieur Hulot's Hol- iday. The tennis sequence is one of the all- time classics for sport on the silver screen. Aiming to impress his girl, Hulot goes into a tiny shop with no room to swing a cat let alone a catgut racket, and the crone behind the counter illustrates in the restricted space an arthriticly jabbing service action — which Hulot takes onto court and pro- ceeds to serve ace after ace. Superb. Tati also displays his genius with a minute or two on cycle racing and ping-pong. A few years ago Hollywood had a crack at a tennis film, called Players. It was a ritzy, multi-million job, but was pretty dire. They shot most of it at Wimbledon. One day the casting director came up to the press bar Iv, here Fleet Street's heavy mob hang out. Looking for authenticity, he chose a mate of mine, John Jackson, then at the Daily Mirror, to ask a question in full wide-screen Technicolor close-up. He did it brilliantly, forgot to ask for any fee, but next day when the beautiful Ali McGraw passed him she whispered huskily, `Hiya, star!' and one-take Jacko blushed for the only time in his life. Tennis is an international sport, but I often wonder what the Americans think of cneketing references in British films, when we used to make them. I daresay they re-ran The Lady Vanishes for the umpteenth time over Christmas, and Charters still didn't manage to tell Caldicott precisely what field Grimmett had set for Hammond at Old Trafford before dotty old Miss Froy bor- rowed back the sugar-lumps again. Or what about this in The Four Feathers during a dusty blood-curdling skirmish in the Sudan?

General Burrows: Remember Wilmington? Father killed at Inkerman, grandfather blown up with Nelson, uncle scalped by Indians. Splendid record, what?

General Faversham: What happened to the fellow?

General Burrows: Blighter ordered to gallop through front line to deliver message. Fellow paralysed with funk, dammit. Sent his adjutant. Killed before he'd got thirty yards. Sent his ADC. Head blown off at once. Finally went himself. Lost an arm. Alas, quite ruined his cricket . . .

Harold Pinter's devotion to the great game had him including cricketing sequences in his screenplays for Accident and The Go-Between. The only trouble was that the actors, Michael York in the first, and Alan Bates in the second, didn't seem very good at batting or catching.

Still, it is even worse when real sports- men try to be actors. The only film devoted entirely to cricket, I suppose, was Anthony Asquith's disastrous. The Final Test in which a veteran England b4sman, played by Jack Warner, goes out for his last innings at the Oval. A real-life Len Hutton was hired to pat Warner on the back and say, 'You've done it before — do it again.' Hutton, a shy man, was nervous and couldn't get it right.

There is a nice story in the grand new biog- raphy of the late John Arlott by David Rayvern Allen, which has Asquith 'wrapping' the studio after Hutton had botched take after take on the Friday and telling him to spend the weekend rehearsing the line over and over again. Hutton did so, to the extent of repeating it in his sleep — and on the Sat- urday morning he was awakened by a nudge in the ribs and his wife exclaiming, 'That's all very well, Len, but you have to co-operate!'