Reproduced by kind permisson of the author from The Cult Films of Christopher Lee by Jonathan Sothcott, Eaton Books, September 2000;

chapter 12; pp 119-125

Text copyright © 2000 Jonathan Sothcott


chapter 12

Those Modern Musketeers

The Devil Rides Out

Cast and Credits

Christopher Lee – The Duke de Richleau, Charles Gray – Mocatta, Nike Arrighi – Tanith, Leon Greene – Rex Van Ryn, Patrick Mower – Simon Aaron, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies – The Countess, Sarah Lawson – Marie Eaton, Paul Eddington – Richard Eaton, Rosalyn Landor – Peggy Eaton, Russell Walters – Malin.

Director – Terence Fisher, Producer – Anthony Nelson Keys, Screenplay – Richard Matheson, Based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley, Director of Photography – Arthur Grant, Music – James Bernard, Music Supervisor – Philip Martell, Art Director – Bernard Robinson, Editor – Spencer Reeve, Camera Operator – Moray Grant, Special Effects – Michael Stainer-Hutchins, Choreographer – David Togure.

THE STORY

The Duke de Richleau and Rex Van Ryn are worried. Their best friend Simon Aaron has failed to appear at their annual reunion, and so they go to his house in search of him. Upon arriving, they find that Simon has taken up with a coven of Satanists lead by the odious Mocatta. The Duke knocks Simon out and they kidnap him, but he returns to Mocatta via long-distance hypnosis.

Rex remembers that he has seen one of the coven – the beautiful Tanith – before and he meets her and takes her down to his friend Richard Eaton’s house. Tanith escapes and makes her way to a satanic orgy, presided over by Mocatta. Both Tanith and Simon are rescued from this black mass by Rex and the Duke, and they return to the Eatons’ house. While the Duke is in London, Mocatta arrives and tries to hypnotise Marie Eaton. When this fails he sends the angel of death to claim Simon and Tanith. During the night, Tanith is killed and the Eatons’ daughter – Peggy – kidnapped by Mocatta.

The Duke and his friends confront Mocatta in a satanic chapel and Marie – possessed by Tanith – utters the second line of a mystic ritual which destroys the Satanists and turns back time, restoring Tanith to life.

***

Between the thirties and the seventies, Dennis Wheatley was probably Britain’s most successful and prolific author. In 1933, Wheatley’s first novel, The Forbidden Territory was published. After a massive publicity campaign, primarily orchestrated by Wheatley himself, the book went into seven reprints in as many weeks. The story concerned four friends - a nervous Jewish banker named Simon Aaron, a hulking American playboy called Rex Van Ryn, jolly English chap Richard Eaton and their leader The Duke de Richleau. Wheatley always included a character sketch of de Richleau near the start of his novels: “He was a slim, delicate-looking man, somewhat above middle height, with slender fragile hands and greying hair: but there was no trace of weakness in his fine, distinguished face. His aquiline nose, broad forehead and grey devil’s eyebrows might well have replaced those of the cavalier in the Van Dyck that gazed down from the opposite wall.” The Duke is a French exile, and an eccentric one at that: he is rarely without a foot-long cigar, dresses like a 19th century nobleman and rides around London in a huge open top car, cursing the fact that he is not permitted outriders. In The Forbidden Territory, Van Ryn is held prisoner in Siberia and Simon, The Duke and Richard set out to rescue him. Along the way they meet the Princess Marie-Lou, who Richard ultimately marries. Such was the success of this novel that Wheatley had turned out another - Such Power is Dangerous - within a fortnight. He wrote three further books before public demand forced his hand to returning The Duke and his friends - ‘Those modern musketeers’ as Wheatley called them - in another novel. The result was The Devil Rides Out, published in 1934. It was a huge best-seller and is not only the third biggest-selling horror novel in Britain (after Frankenstein and Dracula), but the only one of Wheatley’s books never to have been out of print. In the next thirty years, Wheatley had 63 books published and revelled in his reputation as Britain’s premiere exponent of fictional derring-do.

Christopher Lee first met Dennis Wheatley in 1959, when Wheatley gave a lecture about black magic in Harrods to promote his novel The Satanist. Lee and Wheatley became friends and - later - neighbours, and often discussed the possibility of adapting Wheatley’s black magic thrillers for the screen. The Forbidden Territory had actually been filmed in 1934. The Forbidden Territory was directed by Phil Rosen and written by Alma Reville (Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock), but Wheatley was not happy with the results: “I had very bad luck with this film of my first book because Alfred Hitchcock, a very old friend of mine, when I had sent him a copy of the book immediately decided he wanted to make the film. But unfortunately he was about to change companies, so asked me to hold it for some months, which I did. He then asked me to lunch at the Carlton with Richard Wainwright and his father, who had been the head of UFA films... Wainwright agreed to buy the film rights and then went straight down to my agent and signed the contract, but... one thing was left out, that Hitchcock should make the film. Later, when Wainwright had engaged floor space and stars, the company to which Hitchcock had gone would not release him to direct the film.” A second film based on one of Wheatley’s novel (The Eunuch of Stamboul) - The Secret of Stamboul - was filmed in 1936, again produced by Richard Wainwright. Directed by Andrew Marton, it starred James Mason and Valerie Hobson, and was released in America as, The Spy in White.

Both of these Wheatley films are now all but forgotten, primarily because they were not based on his phenomenally popular black magic stories. However, three of these stories - The Devil Rides Out, The Satanist and To The Devil A Daughter - were optioned by the production services company Michael Stainer-Hutchins and Peter Daw Ltd in September 1963. Two months later, Hammer acquired the options on all three properties, acting on the advice of Christopher Lee. Hammer first pitched The Devil Rides Out to Universal in 1964, but it was rejected as being too outrageous for public consumption - dealing as it did with Astral Projection, Child abuse, Vampirism, Orgies and a mummified penis which is a Satanic talisman. Undeterred, Hammer commissioned John Hunter to jettison such things in an adaptation of the script. Hunter delivered his script in the Spring, but Anthony Hinds rejected it as being far too English. Anxious to please American distributors, Hinds commissioned Richard Matheson to follow up his script for Fanatic with a more Transatlantic adaptation later in the year.

Richard Matheson’s script was readily accepted by 20th Century Fox in 1966 and Hammer commenced pre-production. Terence Fisher was brought in to direct, and set about casting early in 1967. As a thank you for his part in seeing the production realised, Wheatley petitioned Hammer to cast Christopher Lee as de Richleau. It has long been suggested that Peter Cushing was offered the part, but demurred, feeling that his religious beliefs were not compatible with the script. Lee, on the other hand, jumped at the opportunity, and reread all of Wheatley’s de Richleau books in preparation.

As Rex, Hinds cast Leon Greene, a bit part player who had just finished a stint as Little John in Hammer’s A Challenge for Robin Hood. Charles Gray had recently appeared as the mysterious Henderson in You Only Live Twice and was a favourite of both Hinds and Fisher. The role of Mocatta had originally been ear-marked for Gert Frobe, but after his success in Goldfinger, he was no longer in Hammer’s price range. The exotically named Nike Arrighi was imported from France, and was one of a string of actresses from whom Hammer expected big things. It was not to be: after a few minor roles in British films (such as Don’t Raise The Bridge, Lower The River and Hammer’s Countess Dracula, in which she went topless) she faded from sight. Sarah Lawson, Patrick Mower and Paul Eddington were all fresh television faces who would ultimately become seasoned television stars.

Principal Photography commenced at Elstree on the 7th of August 1967, and a little over a month later, the production was visited by a grinning Dennis Wheatley and his wife. By this stage, Hammer had already acquired Wheatley’s The Haunting of Toby Jugg (which Terence Fisher later named as the one film he’d have liked to direct above all others), seeing the author’s work as replacements for their ailing Frankenstein franchise. Concurrently with The Devil Rides Out, Hammer were actually filming another Wheatley adaptation: The Lost Continent, which was based on Uncharted Seas. In a letter to his Fan Club, Christopher Lee suggested that he would put in a week’s filming - incognito and unbilled - on The Lost Continent, but gruelling location work on The Devil Rides Out saw him bow out, and his long-term stand in Eddie Powell (fresh from playing The Goat of Mendes) took over.

Michael Stainer-Hutchins, a talented cameraman, remained involved with The Devil Rides Out throughout production, and designed and supervised the decidedly ropy Special Effects. Screenwriter Richard Matheson was dismayed that Stainer-Hutchins resorted to the old stand-by of ‘the Goddam giant spider’ and felt that weak effects considerably lessened the film’s impact.

Anthony Hinds had not been present throughout filming and did not see any rushes until production wrapped on the 29th of September. A rough cut was assembled for his assessment and his critique resembled Matheson’s: “It was terrible!” Hinds, however, was nothing if not a master of damage limitation: “However, with a bit of revoicing, some minor editing and a good meaty score, it really turned out to be quite good.” Hinds interventions included having Patrick Allen (the husband of actress Sarah Lawson) dub Leon Green’s lines to at least give Rex some hint of Americanism. Green’s voice can still be heard in the film’s American trailer, and lends credence to Hinds’ decision. A less impressive move was the “minor editing” which lead to a confused ending, lacking a coherent explanation of how the Satanists are destroyed.

Despite these problems, both Christopher Lee and Dennis Wheatley were delighted with the end result. Wheatley publically praised Lee’s performance and noted that Gray was also impressive, and the two began planning further joint ventures. Meanwhile, trouble was brewing across the Atlantic. Joseph Sugar, the Executive Vice President of Warner Bros-7 Arts was deeply unimpressed by the film and had his feelings cabled to London: “Joe... seems to think that The Devil Rides Out is a Western and he thinks the budget of 285,000 is too much for a Western.” As such, the film was released in America with the catchpenny title The Devil’s Bride and promptly bombed.

In Britain, however, the film was a tremendous success upon it’s release in the Summer of 1968. Even the critics were impressed, lead by The Daily Cinema which enthused, “Gripping excitement sustained at fever pitch... the film contains all the eerie logic of the original.” Kine Weekly noted the “points of appeal” as, “Black magic, thrills, Christopher Lee,” while the Evening Citizen noted that, “Christopher Lee, as usual, turns in an immaculate performance.” Even Christopher Lee declared it a, “Super picture.”

Today, The Devil Rides Out is regarded by the public as one of Hammer’s very best films, which it most certainly is not. It takes it’s line from a superb novel - one of the very best horror stories ever written - and gives it a more cavalier treatment than any of the more exotic variations on Dracula. There are two basic problems with the film - first, and foremost, the script, second; the cast. Richard Matheson’s screenplay completely does away with Wheatley’s broad visual sweep and unforgivably makes all of his characters bar the Duke, flat and uninteresting. The performers seem to be in auto pilot en masse and the film has only one excellent performance. Sarah Lawson at least retains her dignity, but Paul Eddington, Patrick Mower and - particularly - Leon Green give dreadful, wooden performances. Like Sarah Lawson, Nike Arrighi tries hard, but is hampered by obtuse dialogue and minimal character development. Charles Gray’s Mocatta is hopelessly overrated and comes across as a bloated but rather jolly Toad of Toad hall type: not for one moment a match for Christopher Lee’s steely Duke de Richleau. Indeed, Lee makes The Devil Rides Out entirely his own, giving one of his best and most detailed performances. As de Richleau he gets to joke, show affection and even knock someone out: the sort of things no Hammer films before or after gave him the opportunity to do. There is a wonderful scene in the early stages of the film where Rex asks to borrow a car. “Yes, take any of them,” replies Lee with an efette wave of his hand. With de Richleau, Lee had found a character which might have rivalled Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes in popularity, had it been given further outings. Alas, this was not to be: Hammer decided that Wheatley’s modern musketeers could not challenge the demon offspring of Rosemary or the foul-mouthed teen in need of an Exorcist. Christopher Lee, however, disagrees, and remains eager to see a definitive version of The Devil Rides Out produced, utilising today’s Special Effects technology. Lee is still keen to reprise his role as the Duke (he correctly points out that he is now the right age to play the character faithfully), noting that the film remains an “ongoing project” in his mind.

Text copyright © 2000 Jonathan Sothcott.  Web-page copyright © 2006 Bob Rothwell