Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Merry Monk

They say there are few things that lighten the heart so much as the laughter of Christopher Lee. Well, I'm sure someone says that. I say that, at least as far as 1966's Rasputin the Mad Monk is concerned. After seeing him in other Hammer horror films as a dour edifice playing Dracula or the Mummy it's refreshing seeing him in this hairy, gregarious role, booming with mirth and dancing with a barmaid. The movie someone resembles the real story of the historical Rasputin but in an effort to avoid political awkwardness, and to make a villain of a man best known for having been murdered, Hammer made Rasputin into an evil wizard, something that never quite ties in sensibly with the rest of his personality. But Lee sells the character and the usual Hammer atmosphere works well.

We learn that Rasputin (Lee) makes regular appearances in a rural village where no-one knows his name or where he comes from. He just shows up at a tavern, drinks an impossible amount of alcohol, makes merry, and vanishes--there are several scenes where the man effortlessly drinks other men under the table.

This is how he gains his key ally, Boris (Richard Pasco), when he comes to St. Petersburg. He's forced to flee the monastery after he heals the wife of an innkeeper but then kills a man for attacking him while he makes out with the innkeeper's daughter. The makeout session was consensual but it's implied it might not have been after the attacker was killed. Still, it's a little unclear why the rural innkeeper is suddenly angry at the man who brought his wife back from certain death.

In St. Petersburg, Rasputin seduces a noblewoman, Sonia (Barbara Shelley), a lady in waiting to the Tsarina (Renee Asheroson), then uses hypnosis so that she'll "accidentally" injure the prince. He can then step in and use his miraculous healing powers to win the favour of the Tsarina who gives him a mansion in thanks.

Apart from the hypnosis and magic healing powers, the story's vaguely close to the real Rasputin who gained popularity as a mystic in the Zsar's court, particularly among women. Instead of the political intrigue that was the real cause of Rasputin's protracted demise, here he's once again beset by the jealous lover of the woman he seduced.

It's never really clear why a man before contented with drinking and love making suddenly became so ambitious. Lee makes it seem like Rasputin is totally amoral and considers the world and its people but trivial playthings. In this, he's effectively frightening, but it would've been kind of nice just to have a big hairy Christopher Lee who liked having a boisterous but perfectly innocent good time.

Twitter Sonnet #1045

In bulky webs the garment fell to rocks.
In craggy cuts, horizons pale the sky.
The healthy play with iron keys and locks.
A careful plan remakes a frozen pie.
In raisin clothes the chic's beneath the sun.
To stitch appointed tonsils tin's supplied.
Connected towels abridge what tans've done.
The autumn beach with fire now implied.
Triangle eyes assess potential burns.
In dancing lights a vision took the hills.
Conveyed in stone and twig the lizard learns.
The corn is ground beneath the scratching wheels.
A minty gasp precedes the ice and rain.
A portrait stared along the watching main.

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