The Cult of Laurence Harvey Forever a Dandy in Aspic (Part Two)

*contains spoilers

In 1969, Larry had a bit part in the Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr vehicle The Magic Christian. A film which poses the question that people will do anything for money, it is extremely over the top and quite funny. Set in England, Larry plays a Shakespearian actor doing Hamlet, who is bribed to strip naked during the soliloquy. With his “bare bodkin” on display from behind after the strip tease, Larry is playing himself and having a wonderful time sending up his image and serious theatre. He is, however, looking painfully thin and his eating disorder, that included serious abuse of laxatives, is obvious. Larry spent so much time on the toilet to keep thin that he had a telephone installed there!

Hamlet strips. Larry moved with the times in The Magic Christian (1969)

That Larry was a serious drinker of white wine – there never seemed to be an unopened bottle around – I wouldn’t be surprised if he had indulged in a few before he threw off his garb in front on the entire theatre audience in The Magic Christian. I know I would have had a few.

Another interesting movie Larry made towards the end of his career was the United States-lensed WUSA starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. WUSA is a tragic tale of Right-wing politics and fragile love and Larry bookends the film as a phony evangelist. The ending meanwhile is reminiscent of The Manchurian Candidate (1962).

Larry deserved another Oscar nomination for The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Lest we forget The Manchurian Candidate! I thought I would only discuss a few of Larry’s later movies, but his performance as the brainwashed assassin Raymond Shaw in this John Frankenheimer (1930-2002 stroke, complications of spinal surgery) directed movie is one of his best. The film went missing in action for a number of years as it was rumoured after the assassination of JFK that Frank Sinatra used all his muscle to have the film disappear. He had even sought JFK’s permission it is said to make the movie. It re-emerged in the late 1980s and proves itself to be a classic. The Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the US because it is so culturally significant. In it Larry plays the son of a “smother” who has trouble with his relationships with women and as if that is not enough trouble, he is a sleeper agent for the Chinese – brainwashed along with his army unit, which was captured during the Korean War. Half of the film’s budget was blown on Sinatra’s salary and the film was remade fairly ordinarily in 2004. Even if you don’t like black and white movies, this one is worth seeking out. It really is a classic. Of that peak period of Larry’s career, this is the film that should have garnered him another Oscar nomination.

A Dandy in Aspic stars Mia and Larry meet Princess Margaret

Back to Larry’s late career and it was during the production of Night Watch (1973) that Larry had an operation on his colon in August 1972.

The film is about a woman played by Elizabeth Taylor, who is so rich and bored that all she can do at night is play with her hellish jigsaw puzzles and smoke cigarettes as she looks out of her window at the vacant building next door. She has apparently had a nervous breakdown following the death of her first husband after he crashed his car one wet evening with one of his hand’s on his mistress’s breast. Larry plays her latest husband, while Billie Whitelaw (1932-2014 in a nursing home), who was the demonic nanny in The Omen a few years later, plays her best friend. The two of them might be having an affair and in fact may be trying to drive Liz insane as Liz apparently sees a body of a man with his throat cut in the house next door one stormy night. They call the police and find nothing.

Whitelaw as the nanny in The Omen (1976)

Did Larry and Billie set it up? What is seen as the classic “Gaslight” plot of driving a person who is slightly loopy into totally insane, actually has more to it, if you watch closely. Liz may not be insane. She may well suspect her friend and husband are having an affair. When she sees a dead woman again on another evening and calls the police – they find nothing again. As it turns out, its all a set up by Liz to kill off the cheating pair, which she does, slashing Larry’s throat and placing him in the chair in the vacant building. Perhaps she is totally mad, or its just revenge. Anyway there is a nosey neighbour whose plants get dug up by the police and he features in the denouement rather poetically.

Larry’s penultimate film was Night Watch (1973) trailer

The screenplay was based on a novel by Lucille Fletcher (1912-2000 complications of stroke), who wrote the original story for the very good Barbara Stanwyck movie Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) about a woman confined to her bed who overhears a murder plan on her phone. Night Watch appears to have been published for the first time around the time the movie was made. Larry flashes his butt again in a shower scene but the movie’s strength is its final sequence in the abandoned house as well as its slow burning atmosphere throughout. We really don’t know if Liz is insane or not as we don’t see what she sees in the window…

Liz and Larry in Night Watch

During the production of Night Watch, Paulene and Larry had a brawl that ended with Larry waking up with a black eye. Panicked about how to continue with production that day, they received a phone call which told them Liz had broken her wrist and there would be delays of at least a couple of weeks. The couple laughed it off. There was no more mention of Larry’s “twisted colon” operation.

After filming Night Watch in London, Harvey returned to his mansion in Los Angeles where work began in earnest on his last movie both as director and star, Welcome to Arrow Beach.

Is Liz truly imagining things? Is she really mad? Or was it just revenge?

The film had immense pre-production pressures with union difficulties, casting problems, script changes and constant money worries. Produced by Brut Productions, producer and creator of the Brut aftershave George Barrie, headed it. He was also head of Faberge. Larry found Barrie to be a surrogate Jimmy Woolf. In fact Barrie had already produced Night Watch.

Welcome to Arrow Beach had another title and cut

Arrow Beach was shot on a very low budget in just nineteen days. The movie is a gory horror in places as it tells the story of Jason Henry, played by Larry, who was shot down during the war and had to survive on an island with his fellow crew by eating human flesh. And you know the old story – once you’ve got the taste for human flesh it never goes away. So years later and living in Arrow Beach with his sister, Jason every now and then picks up a stranger and takes them home to his beachside mansion where, under the pretence of photographing them, he chops them up with a meat cleaver, hanging them in his downstairs freezer, where he later carves pieces to chow down.

When people heard Larry was making this movie, they thought he had lost his sense of taste. To say the least! But having done nudity, and the mild horror of Night Watch, he had moved on to helming something that was almost pure exploitation.

If only Larry could stay vegetarian!

In the first days of shooting behind the camera, Larry held his abdomen as if to soothe some ache. For Paulene, his obsession with the movie was a little intimidating. He didn’t show the rushes to any of the actors saying: “There is a time to ignore them, to praise them and to punish them”. However one night, he showed Joanna Pettet, who plays his sister in the movie, some of them. The next day she quit the picture, accusing Larry of photographing her bad side so he could get good close-ups.  With a third of the picture in the can, disaster beckoned and Larry had to talk with her for a couple of hours to change her mind. While he was doing this, he made small circular motions on his stomach where the scar from his operation the previous August hadn’t healed. Once Pettet agreed to return Larry said: “Making movies is like writing a very long suicide note. One must simply resist the temptation to sign it”.

Arrow Beach finished its less than three week schedule on 2 March 1973 after what were sixteen to eighteen hour days.

By this time, Paulene and Larry were married. They married, in fact, on New Year’s Eve 1972. His marriage to Joan Cohn was long over following Larry getting served papers for adultery. By that time they had already been blessed with the birth of their daughter Domino on 7 August 1969. It had been a thoroughly modern relationship.

Larry with John Wayne in a tender moment on set of The Alamo (1960)

Shortly after shooting wrapped, Larry flew back to London, then Paris around mid-April, lunching in Rome, then back to Paris for dinner at Maxim’s and Tour d’Argent. As you do! It was that night at the Tour d’Argent – setting of Dumas’ The Three Musketeers – that Paulene discovered Larry was taking the painkiller Pethidine. She had been searching for aspirin in his toiletries when she came across the vial. He said it was for the pain but he hadn’t needed it for ages.

It wasn’t until they caught a private jet back to London that a friend said to Paulene: “That man of yours is very sick. I’m really worried about him”.

It was 20 April when she found him at the back of the plane with a full glass of white untouched in his hand, saying: “It hurts a lot now”.

Another cannibal movie worth checking out by the creators of South Park

Back in New York shortly afterwards and any talk of a nervous stomach were gone. But there was no immediate visit to the doctor. Instead they visited producer Barrie at his Connecticut home. The man who Larry said had taste and understood him, rudely told Paulene she wasn’t welcome as she was intruding on men’s business. Barrie, incidentally wrote the song used in Arrow Beach and his Brut productions would go on to produce a number of movies in the 1970s including a few with Glenda Jackson such as A Touch of Class (1973).

“No wives,” said Barrie at the door and his continued boorish attitude led to Paulene throwing a shoe with great accuracy at his head. Larry saw red and lifted a stool as if to bring it down on her. Paulene fled and locked herself in the bathroom. Like they always did they made up about this “near thing” but despite her insistence he get a full check up, Larry ignored the danger signals.

Paulene insisted and finally on 27 April, Larry went to UCLA for full testing.

The doctor spoke to her seriously as he wondered what the operation Larry had in London the previous year was for…

Larry impersonates a South Australian sheep farmer a still of which is used in A Dandy in Aspic in the rather good The Running Man (1963) with Lee Remick

“Larry is seriously ill,” they told her – she was on the other side of the country – and an operation was imminent. She should return to California immediately. Paulene turned up at the hospital after the operation had been completed. Peeved they hadn’t waited until she arrived, she was told: “Mr Harvey has cancer of the stomach. It has spread so far there is nothing more I can do. I’m afraid he won’t live very long.” There was only cobalt radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Told that he had terminal cancer, Larry said: “ It scares the shit out of me”.

By mid-May, he was back in his Beverly Hills home and told to take it easy. He read scripts while people came to visit to discuss projects and ideas. He was also editing Arrow Beach and putting in a sixteen-hour day again. Apparently the days were so long in the editing room that he had cases of white wine delivered there.

By June, Larry was calling his cancer his “tiger” and saying “I’m going to lick you in the end, tiger!”

The rather unconvincing Of Human Bondage (1964) trailer

Intensely private as he had always been, he didn’t know the word was out and Paulene tried to shield off reporters who wanted the full story of his suffering.

One evening Larry burst out in anger telling her to leave and that he was sick of the sight of her. She felt that if she did leave that he would be left totally alone and a victim of his own personality, which was one never to say sorry. Doctors, however, told her to take a break and on 4 July, Paulene packed up and flew to London. Larry was always the last to back down in an argument. He didn’t ring her. Instead he skipped Beverly Hills for a round the world trip on George Barrie’s jet. They were promoting Night Watch.

Larry with one of his least favourite “actresses” the depressive Capucine

It would be mid-July when Paulene caught up with Larry next in London at Grosvenor House where he kept rooms. He and James Woolf had adjoining rooms there once. Larry had dark rings round his eyes and he was underweight. The pair of them went on the town, Larry with a freshly lit Lark cigarette in his ebony holder, and in full misogynist rant. His drinking never made him boring or dull and as he threw back the white wine, he reminisced about his least favourite leading ladies including Jane Fonda and Capucine. His indifference of women was, not surprisingly, legendary at times and this night he ignored Paulene til she was almost in tears. But she didn’t yield that night and they ended up spooning together in their London four-poster bed.

On 28 July he returned to the United States and by this time he was undergoing more radiotherapy. There was still plenty of post-production to do on Arrow Beach and California was losing its lustre for Larry. He was exposed and anxious and longed for London. He finished work on the movie and returned there in early September. He had twelve weeks to live.

Welcome to Arrow Beach (1974) trailer which was released posthumously

On 20 September, he showed a couple of dozen friends Arrow Beach. There had been talk during production of Pettet possibly getting an Oscar nomination for her performance in the movie, but anyone who has seen it would know that Oscar wouldn’t touch such a movie with a ten foot pole – especially at that time.

A quick look at Arrow Beach. Two versions of the movie exist. There is the first version called Welcome to Arrow Beach as well as an edited version entitled Tender Flesh. Now, I have seen the second version countless times as it is readily available. The original, which is Larry’s cut I think, is hard to catch. I saw it on television back when I was a teenager and was most impressed by it. That is why I sought out a copy but ended up with Tender Flesh which was undercover with artist Robert Tanenbaum’s original poster artwork on the DVD cover. It would appear the original cut has more backstory of the soldiers and their introduction to cannibalism. This has been trimmed from the version I have seen many times. The main gore sequence in the film is intact though and that is the murder of the ageing model played by Gloria LeRoy (1925-2018 no info). Here we have slow motion thrusts of a meat cleaver and blood splashing across the screen and pieces of butchered flesh. Harvey has created a murder that ranks well with the shower scene in Psycho. The editing and choice of shots is first rate even though it will never win awards.

Rob Zombie’s 31 (2016) features Arrow Beach actress Meg Foster in a role

The story features a very young Meg Foster (1948-) – she with the brightest of blue eyes who was recently in Rob Zombie’s 31 (2016) – as well as Larry’s friend John Ireland, Stuart Whitman and of course Joanna Pettet. Foster is a hitchhiker who gets taken in by Larry. They chat in his lounge-room where it would appear all of the artifacts belong to previous victims of his taste for human flesh. Will Meg survive or will she be put on Larry’s menu? The police are investigating disappearances and, well, watch the movie, it’s a good one, even if the best cut, with an extra ten minutes has gone missing in action. Larry looks old in the movie, especially in the extreme close-ups of his eyes. The years of partying with his cigarette holder and white wine as well as the cancer have taken their toll. But he is still handsome and in a way, boyish. One would wonder what he would have achieved had he lived to see Arrow Beach through to release and what other horrors he might have had in store for us. Once again, he was a star who was ahead of his time… certainly one who was moving with the times.

So at dinner at Mayfair that night after the sneak preview of Arrow Beach, Larry gave one of the best performances of his career, even though he was thin and pale.

Larry and Frank Sinatra relax on the set of The Manchuruian Candidate. Sinatra would have Larry at his parties so women would have someone to talk to

He was embarrassed by the illness, in pain, and only getting a couple of hours sleep each night. There was hope of some miracle cure though some Indian clinic, which was short-lived after a nurse spilt his blood while taking a sample, something which gave Larry cold feet and he fled.

Bills were coming in and he hadn’t worked since March. The couple looked to cut back expenses. He said his life of collecting priceless art, which he once adored, meant nothing.

“Sometimes maybe a man claims to love beautiful thing simply to evade love itself,” he told Paulene.

A clip of a young Larry in Storm over the Nile (1955)

Another miracle cure raised its ugly head in the form of a medium who held séances at his “clinic” where a disease curing spirit would emerge. This spirit would then perform spiritual operations on the patient’s body. This spirit doctor said Larry should give up any chemo as it was destroying his liver. Larry was shaken by the incident and a few days later developed jaundice.

By this time the pain didn’t leave him a single moment and on 25 September he had dinner at Fulham Road with friends. It was the last time he left home.

His world, the Hollywood life, full of actors and artists, both sides of the Atlantic and continents was reduced to one house and, soon, one room.

Old friend Peter Lawford dropped by for a few days, spending much of it on the telephone. Dinner on the last night in Larry’s bedroom ended with Lawford stoned on Acapulco Gold hooch and Larry almost passed out on the morphine combination.

Larry was smothered from the start and turned to acting. Here with Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate

By this time Larry was barely able to walk to the bathroom unaided. His friends in the US – John Ireland and Liz Taylor – were angered at Lawford’s reports of Larry spending his last days in a marriage that had broken down. They planned to fly him back to L.A. for proper treatment. But they didn’t know how bad it was.

On his 45th birthday on 1 October, Larry spent an hour with Domino, who had a nanny, and a party with a dozen friends was thrown in the evening. But there was no way he could get downstairs, let alone back up. He wouldn’t be out of the four-poster bed for very long as much of the rest of the time was spent in a drugged stupor. But he still had his good days and made plans to buy a house in the country and continued to complete renovations on his Beverly Hills home which apparently been a gift from Joan Cohn.

Tony Scott’s highly fictional Domino (2005) trailer

It was mid-October 1973 and Larry was painfully thin as Domino would come in every evening before bedtime to tell her four-year-old jokes.

Domino Harvey is an interesting character herself as anyone who has seen Tony Scott’s film Domino would agree. Like her father, she would die at the relatively young age of 35 herself of a drug overdose just before the release of the movie about her life. The movie, which stars Keira Knightley as Domino, is directed in typically frenetic Tony Scott style as it tells her story as a real life American bounty hunter.

Domino Harvey shortly before her death

Paulene Stone’s character is portrayed as a serial fortune hunter who found another rich husband after Larry’s death. It is not surprising she had her name removed from the movie. The movie itself about tomboyish Domino is pure fiction otherwise and it makes that clear from the beginning. But Scott, who knew Domino well, tells a good tale and it is one of Mickey Rourke’s (1952-) best latter day career movies.

Domino was probably too young to remember much about her father, in the film Domino mentions him in passing and there is a clip from The Manchurian Candidate. If you like Tony Scott by all means check out Domino. Her death of a drug overdose came shortly after she said she was framed for major drug possession…

Liz plays a high class call girl and Larry gives good support in Butterfield 8 (1960). She would be a downer on the phone to Larry when he was dying

By this time a television was delivered to Larry’s room, which he resisted at first saying watching television was “atrophying”. However, he became a late convert, marking shows such as It Aint Half Hot Mum, which must have reminded him of his time in the entertainment corps during World War II, as ones to watch. He even watched himself in Butterfield 8 remarking that it wasn’t too bad.

The murder scene in Arrow Beach is well edited

Downer Liz Taylor kept phoning and in the end the doctor forbade her calls, which only ended up with her flying to London and turning up at the front door – demanding a bourbon on entry! Despite being told not to enter his bedroom, Liz lay beside Larry and had him in tears with her consolations. He preferred John Wayne’s telegram, which read: “Keep punching, kid”. Liz never returned.

Chemo was finally discontinued and Larry refused to be heavily sedated as time ran out. He still had his hair despite the treatments. Fans sent holy scriptures and prayers which he kept by his bed. The histrionic voice was gone and he talked quietly through the pain.

Larry on set with Orson Welles of the unfinished The Deep (1966-69)

One of the last anecdotes Paulene remembers talking about involved Orson Welles. He and Larry did the unfinished movie The Deep in the 1960s together, based on Charles Williams’ novel Dead Calm. Finally filmed with Nicole Kidman in 1989. Anyway, Larry said that Orson was broke and that Larry told him he would do his next film for him for free. Orson said he would take a few days to think about it! Such was Welles’ pulse on the bullshit of Hollywood!!

Then for Larry came the unsleeping sleep, the narcosis, the squeezing of hands once the voice had failed… The couple still dreamed of returning to California and Paulene still for some reason thought he would live…

A family for the shortest of times: Larry, Domino and Paulene

On 25 November he suffered a stroke and the doctor looked after him as Paulene and Domino went for a walk on the heath wearing newly minted Welcome to Arrow Beach promotional t-shirts. At 4.30 in the afternoon, the doctor called Paulene to the bedroom as the end was near. She squeezed his hand but there was no response. He died around six in the evening. Paulene said she could almost hear his voice saying: “Time for a drink…”

For those touched by cancer among family and friends, it is a familiar tale.

Quintessential Larry with Dunhill and ever so slightly pissed off with the world

Laurence Harvey was known for his flamboyant and colourful personality, forever with a drink and a cigarette in his hands at some of the world’s fancier restaurants. Whether he bored you, or fascinated you on screen is all personal taste. Some of his performances had real bite, laced with acid, and each had some essence of charm. It was Larry. He had presence on the screen despite critic’s complaints of “inadequacy”. His sexuality has been questioned and yet bisexuality has become more the norm of late albeit more so among female performers. He did, however, love Paulene and she said he would have made a wonderful father to Domino… His choice of films moved with the times and should he have lived, what interesting movies, perhaps in the field of horror, may have emerged, especially as a director.

Yes, time for a drink… Nobody’s perfect!

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  3. The Cult of Laurence Harvey Forever a Dandy in Aspic (Part One) | Cult Film Alley
    Permalink

    […] With its great use of location, not all of it pretty, intriguing story of hope despite there being none, Larry gives what would be called a typical performance with his cigarette holder intact in some scenes. That Mia says to him in the movie, she had heard gossip that he was a “dreadful snob” and “sexless” – something that may have been Paulene’s view in real life, given his original virgin-like status with her – is further proof that the film is sincere. A friend who lived in London in the swinging sixties says Larry was a “poof” but Larry had finally found a woman who really listened and loved him in Paulene. But Joan pounced on him when the couple returned to London after the shoot and took him away to marry… Paulene had to wait. And so will you as we take a break in this epic for PART TWO […]

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