Shanks - 1974
Starring Marcel Marceau, Cindy Eilbacher
Written by Ranald Graham
Directed by William Castle
Released by Paramount Pictures
"Come .... let us shut up the box and the puppets = for our play is played out."-Thackeray quote as it appears at the end of 'Shanks'
I've given you a history of my futile attempts to uncover information about 'Shanks' in Part One, and in Part Two I broke the movie's plot down for you. Now I have to dissect this little oddity and pull it apart for you.
And yes, beware of SPOILERS.
As a whole I thought it was an interesting little movie. Not quite a horror/comedy as the poster would lead you to believe, the film is hard to define and categorize. Which explains it's bad box office and near extinction in the minds of movie fans today.
Castle, although known best for his 1950's horror films, was a well rounded director who made westerns, crime dramas and comedies. So it didn't surprise me that he took on this strange little story. He gave his film a surreal fairy tale like feel (the first title card even says "William Castle Presents A Grim Fairy Tale"), with strange dissolves and sepia tone frame freezes that removes it from the real world. This was Castle's last directorial effort, and he gives himself a nice cameo as a grocer.
I thought Marcel Marceau's silent performance through out the film would be detriment, but it's not. There are whole sections of the film where not one word is uttered, but Marceau's performance transcends dialogue. I loved the parts where he's learning to use the corpse of Old Walker (also played by Marceau) as a puppet, you get the sense that Old Walker's body really is a limp corpse being manipulated by outside forces. The film plays to Marceau's strengths, and it helps that Marceau choreographed the pantomime sequences.
The film makers had a great premise, mute man is able to use the dead like puppets, but they didn't know where to go with it in the end. The biker gang comes out of left field in the third act and feels tact on. Yes, Old Walker rising from the grave to exact revenge on the gang for what they did to Celia was cool, but the rest of the ending doesn't fit with the movie. .
I need to digress for a moment and bring up the relationship between Shanks and Celia. To me it was a little off putting to have a man in his (I'm assuming to be) late forties hanging out with a girl who couldn't be more that sixteen. I'm assuming they were trying to show Shanks' innocent nature, but today it comes off as a little perverted today. Especially when they go to an isolated mansion to play dress up and have a private little birthday party.
Ending the movie back at the puppet show with Celia alive and helping to put away the puppets enforces the surreal quality of the the story, as does Thackeray's quote before the credits. The problem is all fairy tales need to have a moral which I think got lost here. The closest I came up with is "Don't use dead people as puppets", but if that's a lesson you have to teach your child I'd give up on reading them fairy tales and invest in a good psychiatric help.
But did I like it? Yes, I have to say I did. I'm glad after all these years I finally got a chance to see it. In preparing for these blog posts I re watched it two more times and I find it grows on me more and more. I know it won't be everyone's taste, but give it a chance if you can see it. Now that it aired on TCM I don't know when it will be ever showed again. No DVD release is on the horizon, which is a shame. It's the sort of film for a niche audience of movie lovers. If it was more readily available on TV or DVD I'm sure it would garner a small cult following.
Until Next Time,