Saturday, March 17, 2018

Dreams of My Peter Van Eyck Room

"Was zur Hölle ist das?"
I don't need to be rich, but I would like very much to live in a house large and comfortable enough to permit me the luxury of a Peter Van Eyck room. 

While I can't claim that Peter Van Eyck (1911-1969) was my favorite actor - therefore, it goes without saying that any house permitting me a Peter Van Eyck room would also have to allow me a number of other shrines - there is something about him and his screen persona that I find curious, compelling and fascinating. He doesn't have what you would call a warm vibe, but if you're looking for someone with cool reserve and urbane efficiency, he's your guy.

He first stood out for me when I discovered Henri-Georges Clouzot's THE WAGES OF FEAR, when he shaves on the morning of driving a treacherous stretch of road with his explosive cargo because, should he happen to meet God that day, he intends to look "presentable." Unfortunately I have never found him featured in any of the advertising art for this classic film, so I am not sure how I would go about representing it or many of his other important early films (HITLER'S CHILDREN, HITLER'S MADMAN) on the walls of my private temple. I've seen many of his films since but his shaving speech in THE WAGES OF FEAR continues to stand out for me as his great screen moment. It gave him a claim to a special compartment in my brain and such a compartment should also exist in my very large house, the one I own outright in my dreams.

The items I would include would have to adhere to a very strict and particular criteria, much as I expect things would have had to pass muster before Peter Van Eyck's aptly discriminating eye would have led him to adopt them for his own home. This magazine cover from BRAVO would require understated yet distinctive placement as it is the only Van Eyck magazine cover I have seen. Had VIDEO WATCHDOG continued, I could guarantee you a Peter Van Eyck cover. So this much is a certainty, perhaps in a humble but sturdy frame above the light switch.

Another essential accent piece would be a nearly wall-sized poster enlargement of this still from the 1958 film Das Mädchen Rosemarie, depicting a debonair Van Eyck in the divine company of Nadja Tiller. The magic of this still would be reflected in the great care with which I would furnish my Peter Van Eyck room with items as close to those seen in the photograph as possible.

The mainstay of the room's decorations, of course, would be Peter Van Eyck film posters, posters from every country around the world, each demonstrating in its own way how Peter Van Eyck is perceived and celebrated in different places and cultures. For instance, this British quad poster for the Hammer thriller THE SNORKEL (also 1958) which, incidentally, is newly released on Blu-ray in the UK from Indicator. This is a spectacular Van Eyck image because his accoutrements demand an expression which he is simply too cool to yield.

Somewhat more forthcoming is this Spanish poster for the British-German co-production known in English as either THE BRAIN or as VENGEANCE, starring Peter Van Eyck under the direction of Freddie Francis. The poster's tagline translates as "A Dead Man Discovers His Killer," which gains resonance in the light of Van Eyck's perplexed expression as it hovers with thwarted purpose over this aquarium with all manner of tubes and wires affixed to a submerged human brain. This would be ideal for framing above a comfortable reading chair, where one might tackle crossword puzzles and crypto-quips.

For sheer provocation, this Italian fotobusta for 1963's SEDUCTION BY THE SEA would also be a must, though Peter Van Eyck can barely be seen in it. But that is one of the challenges proposed by this fantasy; very often, Van Eyck is aggravatingly secondary to the artwork.

When it comes to the most desirable Peter Van Eyck items, the criteria of these pieces is dependent upon those items that would best capture - and, to some degree, even fetishize - his particular expressions, expressions found on no other face in cinema. I am also very fond of this Belgian poster for BLIND JUSTICE (1961), enticingly retitled "Black Nylons, Hot Nights." I like the way the artist has captured his expression here; you could almost believe that someone had tapped him on the shoulder unexpectedly. He's like "Huh? What?"

One of Peter Van Eyck's great latter-day claims to fame is that he starred in several of CCC's "Dr. Mabuse" films, including Fritz Lang's THE THOUSAND EYES OF DR. MABUSE (1960), a series that ran parallel to Rialto's long-running series of Edgar Wallace krimis. My Peter Van Eyck room would need something special to hang above its fireplace, and I don't think there is any reason to overthink which poster that might be - not when this superb example  exists. Somehow, in this French poster for SCOTLAND YARD VS. DR. MABUSE (1964), the artist succeeded in perfectly capturing the suavity, furtiveness, the exoticism, and the capability of this most acerbic Mensch of Action and Mystery. 

One could ponder that expression for hours and never satisfy yourself that you knew what set of situations might have produced it. Fortunately, a still exists that answers this question, while at the same time doing nothing to damage the persistent allure of the artwork.  

I would also want to include this picture and find a place for it near where I or my guests felt most comfortable as we made our devotions.


But the pièce du résistánce of my Peter Van Eyck room would, of course, be my life-sized Mike Hill sculpture based on his pose in this photograph. From a special corner of the room, he could survey all that I had done to honor his memory - and his expression would deem it... presentable.

I don't know how many people remember Peter Van Eyck today, but this photo shows him signing a great many autographs for his fans, so they must be out there somewhere. Someday, I will spring for one and it will likewise be shown the appropriate respect. Sadly, his memory holds a certain obstacle in that he did die so young, at the age of only 57 - from sepsis, Wikipedia tells us, "due to an untreated, relatively small injury." Had he lived, I feel certain that he would have opposed Roger Moore's James Bond at the very least, and given him a tough time with his mad dreams of world domination. 

Admittedly, some of what I have said here is silly, but it is meant with sincere affection. I do admit to a strange reverence for Peter Van Eyck, that something about him causes my imagination to race. If I had endless room in which to externalize my dreams, I can guarantee that his shrine would be one of the more interesting and amusing to visit. 

(c) 2018 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

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