It'S Never Too Late To Mend (1937): We All Go A Little Nutty Sometimes
0 comment Tuesday, April 22, 2014 |
Directed by David MacDonald
Written by H. F. Maltby, Based on the novel by Charles Reade
Starring Tod Slaughter, Jack Livesey, Marjorie Taylor, Ian Colin, D. J. Williams, Roy Russell, and Laurence Hanray
"No time like the present!"
A book is opened, revealing a brief biography of its author, Charles Reade, a man who had suffered the cruelties and dehumanization of the British insane asylums and lived to tell the tale. Already we can tell we�re in for some quality family viewing and dive into our story belly-first. A slow organ dirge echoes throughout the courtyard of the local church as the parishioners exit their Sunday sermon. Stepping into the warm morning glow is the dark-spirited John Meadows (Tod Slaughter playing yet another squire!).
Although Meadows� mustache is of a truly holy character, his advances on Susan Merton (Marjorie Taylor) are spurned, as she is in love with the handsome but penniless farmer George Fielding (Ian Colin). But of course there�s one thing standing in the couple�s way, and that�s Susan mutton-chopped, rock-faced father Farmer Merton (D. J. Williams, who it appears was never given the privilege of a first name for any of his roles). Daddy wants the boy to have money and status before he weds his daughter, and to this end the rich Meadows seeks to ruin George by any possible means.
Once upon a time there lived a man who no one really cared about.
Running into his adventurous friend and town ruffian Tom Robinson (Jack Livesey), George reveals that he is journeying to the hot continent of Australia to seek his fortune and finally claim Susan as his own. The local deputy later arrives at Squire Meadows� home to report a case of poaching on his grounds, perpetrated by that rascal Robinson. But Meadows comes up with a better idea, namely erasing Robinson�s name on the warrant of arrest and replacing it with Fielding�s, helped all the better by the wad of bank notes that Meadows eagerly presses into the hands of the deputies.
Not just satisfied with dragging George�s name through the gutter, Meadows consults with his shady and vulture-like lawyer Crawley (Laurence Hanray) and plans to play the hero with the Merton family. When Crawley arrives at the farm and tells Merton that he must pay his rent money early or hit the road, Meadows proudly steps in and pays the five hundred pounds, thus indebting Merton to the swine.
Meadows pulls on the charm once more when the greased deputies arrive to arrest George, just as he�s saying goodbye to his lady love. Good thing Robinson is there to take the rightful blame from his friend for the poaching charge, thus resulting in him being sentenced to two years in the dark and dank walls of Meadows� dismal asylum for the criminal and the insane. A few months later two visiting justices arrive at the establishment for an inspection, and it is here Meadows� true twisted and depraved nature is finally revealed in its full glory. He tends over the haunted faces of the inmates, snickering at the misery of who he calls "his children." Each inmate is pretty much bullied by guards and Meadows alike to give satisfactory reports to the justices, although these two cads could really care less about the filthy specimens they�re presented with.
Our once cock-sure hero Robinson enters, and he�s just as broken as everyone else: he shakes uncontrollably, sweats feverishly, and probably has a full load of bowel evacuation in his pants. Robinson desperately tries to explain the countless tortures the inmates suffer through in the asylum to the apathetic justices, some highlights including the Dreaded Black Hole of No Return, the Fiery Lashes of the Cat O�Nine Tails, the Dismal Diet of Bread and Water, the Muscle-Snapping Machinations of the Cranky Crank, and the Putrid Programming of Jersey Shore in the Waiting Room of Terror!
The justices aren�t impressed with Robinson�s colorful descriptions and call in the next patient, which is the young Matthew Josephs (Johnny Singer, the put-upon Toby from Sweeney Todd!). The boy says all he did was steal some bread for his starving mother, but who wants to hear that crap? He�s duly dragged away squeaking and screaming for 1800 rotations at the Crank and Meadows goes to relax with a kinky session with the Cat.
Well, that ends geography for today. Now let me give you a little lesson on chemistry...
The town reverend Mr. Eden (Roy Russell) takes a tour of the asylum and gets to hear of the delights that take place at the swinging country club, including the guards shooting down escapees, a lunch menu that contains the dubiously-named dish of "skilly," and a horrid hospital where the patients typically prefer to be back in their cells than on a stretcher. Eden gets more enthused reports from Meadows himself, who delightfully recounts all the broken souls who have left the eternal, dark horrors of the Black Hole. But he can�t spend his whole day chatting about cheery matters, he�s got damsels to steal. Heading to the postmaster�s office, Meadows gently requests (re: threatens with death) that the man intercept all of George�s letters from Australia so that young Susan can think that her lover has forgotten her. Oh Toddy, you have such a way with the ladies!
Back at the asylum, Meadows delights in watching little Matthew pass out from his trials at the Crank and immediately orders that the boy be taken to the spa for a little R & R. But Meadows� idea of relaxation includes tying the boy up in a wall-mounted straitjacket and leaving him screaming for mercy in his cell. Robinson manages to break out of his prison with a stolen key and releases Matthew from his constricting confines. Meadows and his posse of sadists soon intervene and Robinson is placed into the Black Hole for his rebellion. Eden is disgusted with Meadows� acts but the good squire huffs and puffs and blows the reverend�s house down, reminding the holy man that he is the God in charge of this world. Eden is then left with the dying Matthew, whom he gently prays over before the boy exits the mortal realm.
Robinson is going cuckoo for Coco Puffs in his obsidian hell, but the pure-hearted Eden is there to give him the warm fuzzies in his time of need. It�s a pretty cool moment, technically speaking, as a beam of light creates the shape of a crucifix over Robinson�s head in the darkness as Eden kneels, head bowed, on the other side of the split screen. Meadows is gloating over his success in intercepting George�s letters, but begins sweating when he reads in the latest message that George has acquired the equivalent of seven thousand pounds in gold dust and is determined to make Susan his bride upon his return to England. Jiminy Crickets! And just when everything was going so great for everyone too!
So what�s a nefarious squire to do but tempt his equally slimy partner in crime Crawley to head into the heart of town and start spreading some dirty rumors about Georgie Boy? All�s fair in love and war! Meadows of course acts completely innocent and shocked by the "news" from Farmer Merton that George has indeed collected big bucks, but has decided to run off with some hot young thang instead of asking for Susan�s hand. So now with that dope out of the way, Merton prompts the debonair, caterpillar-faced Meadows to hit that. And hit that he shall. Bwahahaha!
Starring Tod Slaughter as the Monopoly Man.
Robinson is finally released from prison and goes out to celebrate by calling up on his favorite tavern in town. Unfortunately no one, from the barkeep to the town drunks, want anything to do with him because of his prison sentence. For POACHING. These people have insanely high standards for a place that probably sees the likes of chicken-raping, baby-eating, seal murderers, but that poaching Robinson takes the top spot on the list of the human race�s social abortions. Just before he�s kicked out on his hindquarters before he can even take one sip of ale, Robinson overhears the vicious stories of George�s betrayal and knows something dirty is up, especially when he gets the news that Meadows will now be making Susan his lady in white.
Crawley relays the message to Meadows that George has arrived at South Hampton and will be riding into town in a few days, so the squire resolves to snare the fool in a trap before he can make good on his plan. Robinson meets his pal at a tavern out in the country (where the staff is significantly less hostile) and the two celebrate George�s success with some much deserved frothy glasses of beer. Just as the barkeep is giving the two a tour around the place, Meadows quietly slinks in, looking like a more robust version of Lamont Cranston, and pours a sleeping tonic in the bar glasses! Oh, the villainy!
Not wanting to miss out on the show, Meadows hides in a nearby closet to watch his plan unfold. Robinson is wary of the situation, possibly noticing how the door at the other end of the room is open with Meadows� gleaming smile beaming back at him from inside. So the wily rogue feigns sleep as George genuinely hugs the table top face-first. Meadows then comes guffawing out and snatches up George�s money. Robinson wakes George up and the two are soon speeding along after the thieving fiend. Back in the city, Meadows is determined to burn the stash of cash in the fire so there�s no trace of evidence, but the greedy Crawley pleads the squire to give him the money, which he does. And Robinson sees the entire thing from a window. Dammit, Toddy! You never listen to the sniveling accomplice! That�s in Flat Foots 101.
Right as the wedding ceremony is about to begin, George rides in heroically, but alas, his purse only contains moths and two tickets to a Justin Bieber concert. Meadows tut-tuts the little moron and accuses him of being a scoundrel for leaving Susan for Miss New Booty. But here comes Robinson, holding the squealing Crawley by the knickers, who then sells Meadows out on relaying the stolen money to him.
Just about pissed beyond belief over the mess things have become, Meadows pulls out his trusty pistol and prepares to give everyone at the ceremony new plumbing. But wait! The good Reverend Eden arrives just in time and powerfully asks "Will you add murder to your list of crimes?" Flashing a crucifix, Eden causes Meadows to drop his heat and subsequently descend into a fit of mad giggles as his mind unhinges. The squire is then sentenced to his own asylum and his exercise in reformation begins with a rousing session at the Crank. After all, it�s never too late to mend�
Oh, Mr. Slaughter. Candles, promises of vicious torture? I have chills!
As interesting as the parts of this film are as examined by themselves, the whole that is It�s Never Too Late To Mend was a slight disappointment during the marathon of Slaughter films. I�d hate to use the word boring to describe it, but I honestly did find myself a tad underwhelmed by the whole thing and I think I might have checked the time on more than one occasion. It seems to lack the fire and power (blood and thunder, if you will) of Tod�s other films. The recurrent plot themes seems especially stagnant here for some reason, and in general Tod didn�t seem to get as much meaty material here.
The best moment where his villainy shined was his caped lurking in the tavern, along with the delightful scene of Meadows taunting his inmates and sinisterly cuing them to be on their behavior during the interrogation scene. Other than that, the greatest redeeming factor that Slaughter has going for him is the gargantuan facial hair that dresses his upper lip. It�s a really jaw-dropping mustache and one wonders how strong Meadows� jaw must be to be keep that thing lifted. It gives Slaughter a gentle, almost grandfatherly appearance, which nicely downplays his true sadistic nature.
Speaking of sadism, I was also a little let down by the tortures that were at play in the asylum. Perhaps it was just a case of extreme expectations, but the entire time I felt myself wringing my hands in anticipation for a scene where Meadows would whip a hapless soul strung up on a rack, screams intermingled with Slaughter�s throaty chuckles. Alas, that beautiful moment never came to pass and the sooner all of you forget my admittance of wanting to see a flogging, the better. There are some nice nasty touches to be sure, such as Meadows grandly dusting off his leg after little Josephs passes out on him, but what was actually manifested on screen didn�t quite match the horrors that I was hoping to be fulfilled. That may not be fair to the film, but I�d be a liar if I said that the low boiling brutality didn�t quite thrill me.
Most of the players are rather stiff, with the exception of Jack Livesey as daredevil Robinson and Laurence Hanray as the dirty ying to Slaughter�s diabolical yang. The character of Robinson in particular is kind of a nice revelation, as most of the male heroes in Slaughter films are brave, for sure, but none of them are as full of themselves as Tom Robinson. Livesey gives his character a great swagger to his walk and keeps a nearly-perpetual smug smile on his face. It�s nice for a change to see a charming lead with enough cajones to stand up to Tod Slaughter and utterly convince you that he�d be willing to tussle with the fiend on any given day of the week. One badass against another. I like it.
The climax especially was quite anemic. Slaughter pulled his usual trick of busting out the big guns, but other than that this scene moved about as fast as molasses in an igloo. The characters are just holed up in that single room, talking to each other and staring intently at one another. Not one fist flies and the place is unfortunately never consumed in flames. And who is the dude that breaks the whole thing up? The reverend! Are you kidding me? I felt like I had just watched the equivalent of a fight in gym class starting and ending just as quickly once the elderly coach showed up to intervene.
There was also a rather heavy-handed Catholic tone to the whole thing, with Meadows bowing down under the might of Eden�s cross. It seemed like the filmmakers were attempting to promote this idea of evil submitting to the power of Good (re: the church) and the whole thing just left a sour taste in my mouth. If Meadows had been as truly evil as he was portrayed, he would�ve shot Eden�s entire hand off and then stabbed him in the throat with his own crucifix. You know, just to give it a good sacrilegious kick.
Don�t let this criticism get you blue though. In all honesty, It�s Never Too Late To Mend isn�t the worst film you will ever see, but there�s a reason why this title doesn�t come up too often when one discusses Slaughter cinema. My instinct would be to say that this one is for Slaughter and melodrama completists only, but maybe it�s the Christmas season that makes me want to concede and say that it has enough positive qualities going for it to warrant at least one watch from the casual viewer. Go for the brutal torture, stay for the mustache.
Laugh and the world laughs with you!

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