Seeing as it was made in 1973, this adaptation of Michael Moorcock’s very first Jerry Cornelius novel lands us in a pre-punk dystopian future. This no doubt explains why Jerry (Jon Finch) is trying to buy napalm from Shades (Ronald Lacey) in a pinball themed bar where the house band is space-rockers Hawkwind. Only don’t blink or you will miss them. This early sequence also features a brief cameo by Norwegian sex bomb Julie Ege (Creatures the World Forgot, Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires) and one of the best gags in the film. When Jerry asks Shades why he can’t have the napalm tomorrow the reply is; “Tomorrow’s Sunday, all the shops are shut”.
Jerry had wanted the napalm to destroy the old family home now that Pop has died, but the mysterious Miss Brunner (Jenny Runacre), who has a disturbing habit of absorbing her lovers, persuades him to help her burgle the pad and recover Pop’s secret formula; a formula that she needs to create the Final Programme, one which will create the ultimate self replicating human being. Little does Jerry suspect that he will end up as one of the Final Programme’s component parts.
Yes this is no ordinary movie, it really couldn’t be when you take Moorcock’s Nobel Prize winning dandy physicist and run him through the mind of designer, writer and director Robert Fuest. Fuest, whose best known films were the very stylish The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971) and Dr Phibes Rises Again (1972), started out as a production designer before cutting his directorial fangs on The Avengers for ITV during the 1960s. This is very apparent in The Final Programme where I think Fuest saw the potential of making Cornelius, with his frilly shirt and black nail varnish, into a kind of super hip Sci-Fi James Bond franchise. As it happens, Bond movies in the 70s with their blockbusting budgets and evil villains become Sci-Fi epics anyway, but I can see that part of the genesis of Austin Powers clearly owes a lot to Finch’s performance as Jerry.
While the plot is a bit creaky at times, cantering mostly on tracking down Jerry’s drug addled brother Frank who has the microfilm, the film certainly looks very pretty. As you would expect from Fuest, many of the big set designs like the interiors of Jerry’s paternal home and the secret lair in Lapland built on top of a Nazi U-Boat pen would not have looked out of place in a Bond or Matt Helm movie. There is some freaky mucking about with the colour contrast, but Hell it was the early 70s and there was a lot of acid about. OK the DUEL computer did look a lot like an industrial office shredder, but the scientist’s brains in the tanks linked up to it looked pretty cool.
The 70s costumes are a dream; Jerry’s suit was by Tommy Nutter of Savile Row (whose clients included Mick Jagger and Elton John), while his Cuban heeled boots came from the Chelsea Cobbler. Miss Brunner’s outfits were by Ossie Clark and one of those dresses contributed to what for me was the film’s absolute knockout shot. In the U-Boat pen as Dimitri threatens Jerry with a grapnel, at that top of the steps Miss Brunner assumes the classic legs splayed, arms braced double handed pistol shooting position. In floaty Clark dress and knee boots, her head obscures the swastika below the Nazi Eagle behind her as if it were some kind of halo or bizarre headdress.
I interviewed Michael Moorcock a couple of years after the film’s release. As I remember he wasn’t that enamoured with the movie at all. As a director Fuest was very strong on visuals, but I felt that it was at the expense of the narrative and much more could have been done with the characters, especially given the quality of a supporting cast that included: Patrick Magee, Graham Crowden, Hugh Griffith, Harry Andrews and the totally gonzoid Sterling Hayden as Major Wrongway Lindberg.
Strong on visual imagery, excellent cast and some good jokes, but not nearly enough Hawkwind and weak on plot I give it a 444/666.
The Final Programme was released by Network as part of ‘The British Film’ Collection on 7 October.
DVD extras include: Full screen version, English and Italian trailers, Italian title sequence (with Moorcock spelt wrong) and an image gallery of stills and posters.
Other films to look out for by Robert Fuest:
The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971) – Disfigured in a car crash, the crazed Dr Anton Phibes (Vincent Price) tracks down the surgeons who failed to save his wife and kills them according to the Biblical Plagues of Egypt. Price totally owns this stylish Art Deco themed black comedy chiller. Terry Thomas and Caroline Munro come along for the ride.
Dr Phibes Rises Again (1972) – Phibes is back and tracking down the thieves who stole the ancient scroll that will bring his beloved wife back from the dead. Cue more very creative Egyptian themed deaths. Also stars Peter Cushing and Terry Thomas.
Look out for Jenny Runacre as a time travelling Queen Elizabeth I and Bod in Derek Jarman’s punk classic Jubilee (1978).
Feature by Simon Ball
Connect with Simon: @RealShipsCook or here.