Friday, 30 August 2013

Obituary: Rampton Caine (1933-2013)

Legend of stage and screen Rampton Caine quietly passed away in a Sierra Leone field hospital this morning. The Ex-Rent Hell National Affairs Desk looks back over his turbulent life and extraordinary career...

Rampton Caine (1933-2013)
Legend of stage and screen Rampton Caine quietly passed away in a Sierra Leone field hospital this morning. The Ex-Rent Hell National Affairs Desk looks back over his turbulent life and extraordinary career...

To sum up the life of any man is no simple thing, but when it comes to a man as complex and private as actor Rampton Caine then the threads of truth, legend and vicious innuendo become harder to disentangle than a blind fisherman’s tackle-box. Often described as a self-hating racist, devious and manipulative, a liar, braggart and - according to director and friend Roger Ipswich – “the sort of man who would call out his own name during sex”, Caine has always remained an enigma, the key to whom his many biographies have consistently failed to conjure.

Born the son of a Bolshevik sous-chef in 1933, Caine’s early life was spent in almost comical poverty above a fishmonger’s on the Goldhawk Road in West London. His only escape from a home-life of tedious left-wing rhetoric and fishy updraft was visiting his uncle Barty who worked as a clapper loader at nearby Ealing Studios. It was here that he took his first steps toward acting, pestering producers into indulging him with parts in such post-war boosters as The Wooden Walls of England (‘47), and the incomparably mawkish East End wrestling fable The Kid Who Couldn’t (‘48), helmed by future business partner Grafton Wilde.
Guns by Suppertime
By 1950 he was beating out other fresh-faced hopefuls Dirk Parsons and Nicholas Bogard for junior romantic leads in such winsome comedies as jam-based cleric-com Saints Preserve Us! (‘50) and the self-explanatory Pardon My Pigeons! (‘52). But it was the one-two of doomed bomber-pilot ‘Wonky’ Wilkins in lavish WWII folly Operation: Cummerbund (‘56) and the lead in pointlessly grim kitchen-sink drama The Lonesome Ballad of Newton Heath (‘57) which brought him back to the attentions of Grafton Wilde, then prepping his seminal Canadian Western Guns By Suppertime (‘58).

Caine’s Atlantic crossing began a love affair with Canada, a place to which he would frequently return - often of his own volition – and somewhere he credited with gifting him “a renewed sense of wonder, many lifelong friends and a much needed dual passport”. Ironically, the role of grizzled trapper Chip Manners had originally been offered to old rival Dirk Parsons, but after he was killed in a brutal - and apparently motiveless - street attack, the part came to Caine. It was an opportunity he took with both hands, pricking the ears of Hollywood and ultimately marrying co-star Verna Palermo.
Twelve Minutes to Zurich!
The relationship would not last. Her fiery temperament and many infidelities dismayed Caine less than “her bloody cooking” and they were divorced months later. By this time he was in Hollywood starring in TV series ‘The Magpie’. As suave English sleuth Simon Magwitch, whose catchphrase “I’ve got the negatives!” would soon enter the national lexicon, Caine’s mediocre thespian chops were abetted by a series of co-stars ranging from old pros like Bettina Kermode to such rising talent as Hunter Boyd. These were the salad days, with Caine slipping in the co-financed spy-caper hit Twelve Minutes to Zurich! (‘61) and ensemble disaster behemoth Timeclock! (‘63) between palling it up with the Rat Pack and campaigning for presidential hopeful Richard Nixon. It was also around this time that he began his own long, bitter and wholly unsuccessful lobbying for the role of James Bond. It would later become an obsession.

The remainder of the Sixties saw him split between the UK and US for a variety of TV shows, films and hotly disputed tax-related issues. Few will now recall the nasty period colonial carry-on of A Town Called Hitler (‘66) or swinging zombie flick Chelsea Babylon (‘68), but his fondly remembered ATV series ‘Mine’s a Large One!’ and sweaty, vaguely existential Tex-Mex double-crosser The Eye of the Duck – which grazed the top ten earners of 1969 - kept him near - if not at - the top. However, some injudicious remarks about Sean Connery, an open letter to the Washington Post claiming the moon landings were filmed in a seed barn in Vancouver and divorce from his second wife - Peruvian art dealer Llama Paz - meant that the close of the decade couldn’t come quickly enough. Although he had scored a few notable hits, he spoke in his frankly unpublishable diaries of being “consumed by doubt and riddled with syphilis. What now for Rampers..?”
A Town Called Hitler
The answer was to come from the most unexpected source. While Caine was paying the bills with fluff like The Styrofoam Incident (‘70) and Sino-Italian costume picture The Contessa and the Cobbler (‘73) a young Californian filmmaker was casting his merchandise-friendly sci-fi saga Battle Beyond Space (‘77). Its massive success would introduce Caine to a whole new audience and open many doors. Unfortunately, just as he was enjoying this new-found position, his friend - and co-chair of their Ginger Palomino production company - Grafton Wilde was killed when a the brake cables of his vintage glider failed. A stoic Caine, who learned the news on the first day of filming on Euro car chase picture TR-7: The Movie (‘79), said that he was “stirred” by the tragic accident. By day’s end he had sold the company to Thorn-EMI for a sum infamously reported by the Financial Times to have been “well naughty”.

Security, however, was not without its price. Wilde had always advised his partner on career choices, but without his guidance Caine embarked on bizarre series of projects. With the distasteful mercenary romp The Carrion Crows (‘80) already in the can, he went on to make sleazy drug-peddling thriller The Union Square Shuffle (‘81), bawdy modern-day pirate guff The Treasure Chest (‘83) and an ongoing series of threatening phonecalls to Roger Moore before withdrawing from the limelight.
The Treasure Chest
It was around this time that myths started to circulate pertaining to both his state of mind and whereabouts… Had he holed up in a dojo in the foothills of Mount Fuji, or become a mountain man in the wilds of his beloved Canada? Had he undergone experimental reconstructive surgery in Panama or lost his mind on bad acid in a tee-pee in Wiltshire? Rumours also abounded that he had in fact appeared under numerous guises and aliases in art-house navel gazer The Oceanographer’s Niece (‘86), DTV schlocker Deathbarge! (‘87) and as the Reagan-masked killer in Something About the Way You… Die! (‘88). Upon his shock return to the public eye in 1990 he refused to confirm or deny any of these stories, but looked every inch the elder statesman in an eye-catching cameo role as a retired astronaut in Loudon A. Schmelling’s Oscar-baiting autumnal romance The Ineffable Wind (‘92).

A return to TV in primetime PI applesauce ‘The Sayonara Boys’ opposite old mate Nicholas Bogard kept him busy through much of the Nineties, though he did find time to camp it up in student comedy Bakersfield Rocks! (‘96) and serial killer hokum Johnny Serious (‘99). But a mixture of what, in an interview with the Radio Times in 2001, he called “swathes of Shakespearean guilt and debilitating jealousy” caused him to turn his back on the film world and retreat to his first love of crossbreeding waterfowl on his tumbledown Norfolk estate.
Johnny Serious
He surfaced now and again in the odd BBC adaptation – most memorably as the Duke of Croydon in 2005’s ‘A Catered Affair’ – and in dictionary corner on Channel Four’s teatime workhorse ‘Countdown’, but his most well-known and lucrative later appearance was as the Green Arrow’s sagacious valet in Colin Sawyer’s comic book adaptation Arrow Arrow (‘07). He took the role, he said, mainly to please his grandchildren, to whom, at the time, he owed a great deal of money, but it also served to remind millions of cinemagoers of his precise comic timing, considerable physical presence and freakishly high-pitched voice.

In an untransmitted television interview with Tony Milton in 1974, Caine was asked how he would describe himself, “Oh, balls to all that! I’ll leave it to the obituary writers if I may, old stick.” It is the reply of a man who never looked back, who esteemed his brittle muse above all else and who point-blank refused to answer a simple bloody question. So, with your permission, Mr Caine, might we say that there’s a new star in celluloid heaven tonight, and everything it touches… is its kingdom.

Rampton Caine, 1933-2013
A Catered Affair
Do please feel free to sign the remembrance book below.

Selected Filmography

The Kid Who Couldn’t (1948)
Director: Skip Wepner
Starring: Jack Carpenter, Rampton Caine, Kym Kipling, Otto Strang
Hideous confection of sentimentality, boneheadedness and flat-out tedium, this East End wrestling rigmarole takes in homeless orphans, cockney pluck and a curious turn from German weightlifter Otto Strang as a one-armed circus strongman. Avoid.

Saints Preserve Us! (1950)
Director: Clive Potterton
Starring: Hugh Massingbird-Massingbird, Jenny Pipkin, Reuben McKenzie, Rampton Caine.
Saucy Ealing effort about a family-owned Northern pickle factory threatened with closure by rapacious property developers. Little do the prospective new owners know that the factory stands on the site of an ancient battleground and is haunted by the family’s fearsome forebears. It tiffs along jauntily enough but is ultimately little more than Ealing’s own I’m All Right Jack recast as a ghostly lark – to little effect.

Pardon My Pigeons! (1952)
Director: Jack Steadman
Starring: Ian Middleman, Chance Hapley, Henderson Lime, Rampton Caine, Lorna Clitheroe
Standard clerical comedy in which the newly appointed vicar of a small rural parish must mediate between two rival factions vying for control of the village fete. When a band of crooks, led with effortless charm by the oily Henderson Lime, use the confusion as cover for a ludicrous jewelry heist, the lightness of touch with which director Steadman has imbued the first half of the film simply vanishes.

Operation: Cummerbund (1956)
Director: Gibson McKniff
Starring: Lawrence Kelp, Frank Wattle, Rampton Caine, Walter Kincade, Joan Threadnought
Spectacularly dull and stagebound WWII tale which seems to suggest that the entire war was fought in Westminster boardrooms by a moustachioed network of chipper Etonians. The operation they are all endlessly blathering about details a mission to target the clothing factories of Germany to sap enemy morale. We see little of it other than some patently obvious stock footage and some Whitehall martinets patting themselves on the back.

The Lonesome Ballad of Newton Heath (1957)
Director: Clem Waterhouse
Starring: Rampton Caine, Cyril Fanshaw, Cecily Duckworth, Philo Beehan
Yet another glum Northern kitchen-sinker that puts its protagonist through the ringer with merciless glee. Caine plays the titular Heath, a cinema usher and full-time dreamer diagnosed with an incurable – and very sketchily outlined – disease. His one remaining desire is to have his ashes scattered over the pitch of Old Trafford football ground, but fate, heartbreak and rigidly observed zoning laws stand in his way...

Guns by Suppertime (1958)
Director: Grafton Wilde
Starring: Rampton Caine, Verna Palermo, Wendell Wayne, ‘Arapaho’ Joe Thunderhead
Offbeat range Western filmed and set in Canada with Rampton Caine looking surprisingly lean and capable as a trapper framed for the murder of a local sheriff. Shot with no little brio by journeyman director-producer Wilde, this effective and well-crafted gem is well worth a look.

Twelve Minutes to Zurich! (1961)
Director: Kasper Menschmeier
Starring: Rampton Caine, Dolores Clayshoot, Tinto Agnelli, Sergio Aragones
Set in Switzerland, filmed in Colorado, dubbed in a hurry and released without a care, this co-production has tax-loss written all over it. Rampton Caine heads up a flabby cast of Euro jet-trash has-beens in a purported thriller about the assassination of a top soccer player. Political overtones are hammered home and the overall feel is one of confusion and carelessness.

Timeclock! (1963)
Director: George P. Hazzard
Starring: Cal Bracewell, Thelma Kellog, Rampton Caine, F. Campbell Muirhead
Very much the least of the top-heavy disaster potboilers that came in the wake of 1963’s Cuban Missile Crisis, Hazzard’s wordy nuclear parable stars the great, the good and Rampton Caine. When the fictional island of Santa Dominguez declares its atomic capabilities the race is on to prepare the US for imminent attack. But when a device is set off that disables all mainland chronometers, the military has to rely on more old-fashioned methods of timekeeping to coordinate its defences…

A Town Called Hitler (1966)
Director Roger Ipswich
Starring: Rampton Caine, Denholm Platt, Concordia Valentine, Jack Swann
A truly unpleasant colonial drama that centres on the battle for supremacy on the fictional island of Gran Bastado in the weeks and months following WWII. Delighting in scenes of graphic torture and merciless cruelty, Ipswich’s film is hard to take in one sitting.

Chelsea Babylon (1968)
Director: Lindsay Harcourt
Starring: Carrie-Ann Hampshire, Louise Spruce, Cresswell Hewitt, Rampton Caine, Peter Osgood
Zombies; the Swinging Sixties; dolly birds; the West London art-rock scene – fill in the blanks yourself. Features The Animals as house band.

The Eye of the Duck (1969)
Director: Denis Manley
Starring: L.Q. McKidney, Sally Pfister, Rampton Cain, Tonto Rodriguez
Very much in the vein of Peckinpah and prefiguring the druggy motorcycle emptiness of the early Seventies catwalk hippie scene, Manley’s film centres on a groovy motorbike gang running afoul of a local drug-lord on the Tex-Mex border. Veering between the supercharged and the dippily reflective, this was one of the first signs that the cinematic times were a-changin’.

The Styrofoam Incident (1970)
Director: Dr. Phillp Lavender
Starring: Rampton Caine, Lenny Crampton-Pugh, Marigold Pennycock, Tony Rudder
Caine applies his patented brand of world-weary misogyny to the role of Archie Croft, a washed up Fleet Street hack who gets wind of a once-in-a-lifetime story brewing in the backwaters of Haiti. Trading his jumbo expense account for a chartered Hercules to Port-au-Prince, he is soon embroiled in some ecological derring-do, plentiful bouts of world-class racism and a short-sleeved safari suit that would overwhelm a lesser man. When he discovers that a rapacious American company is dumping industrial by-product into the island’s rivers, Croft has his exclusive, but will he live long enough to file it…

The Contessa and the Cobbler (1973)
Director: Tezuka Yoshimura
Starring: Ramton Caine, Gina Villalobos, Omar Khalif, Dinsdale O’Rourke
Doing for costume epics what the Welsh did for cooking, this ludicrous mish-mash of histrionics, continuity howlers and overbearing music has little to recommend it. Rampton Caine as the cobbler’s Gepetto-like grandfather is the worst of the bunch and at one point can clearly be seen sporting a wristwatch throughout an entire scene.

Battle Beyond Space (1976)
Director: Bruce Hooper
Starring: Steve Stamper, Hope Thursby, Thoro'good Moore, Rampton Caine, Tiny Hamlets
Full-bodied space-opera with lashings of bold symbolism, flashy effects and a fine cast of unknowns aided by wily space general Rampton Caine. A wonderful fantasy adventure from the young director of Bad Zip-Code and American Car.

The Carrion Crows (1980)
Director: Roger Ipswich
Starring: Robert Stockton, Rampton Caine, Denby Spiggot, Carole Weymouth, Gunter Hartmann
Director Ipswich outdoes himself with this grubby and despicable tale of a group of heartless mercenaries rigging the election of the fictional West African country of Sierra Gabon. That Caine and co. so obviously appear to be enjoying themselves renders the whole enterprise even more unseemly.

The Union Square Shuffle (1981)
Director: Swede Larsson
Starring: Jim Madsen, Herman Blessed, Rampton Caine, René van Der Kirkoff
Seedy gem set in and around Manhattan’s Union Square, where we are introduced to the dopers, no-hopers, grifters, drifters and cops that make up the grim fandango of pre-Giuliani New York. Rampton Caine turns in a bonkers performance as a crossdressing street preacher while director Larsson insists on closing each scene with one of his trademark ‘up-skirt’ shots.

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