A Book Review by Tony Williams.
Upon reviewing Ingrid Pitt, Queen of Horror: The Complete Career (McFarland, 2018, revised from a 2010 edition), I recalled my one and only meeting with Ingrid Pitt (1937-2001) was for an interview at a theatre in a location more aptly qualifies for the Apocalypse Now description “the asshole of the world” than Viet Nam ever did. It began frostily and I suspect influenced by the theatre manager who also had claims to hold the above description. When I tried to ask her about her early undocumented career in Italian Westerns she often looked at me in a Germanic version of that Hammer “Medusa” gaze stonily replying, “I don’t want to talk about it.” Then half way through the interview she lightened up and asked me about my interests. Although the interview was never published we parted cordially and she even gave me a ticket for the next evening performance of a comedy play she was touring in. Apart from one brief friendly email message in which she recalled her memories of being in that local theatre for a week, we had no further contact. Thus it was sad, as it was for many who met her, to learn later about her untimely passing probably the result of the ill-health she documents in her 2004 autobiography Ingrid Pitt: Darkness before Dawn which was a revised and expanded version of an earlier book Life’s A Scream.
Although familiar with her roles in Where Eagles Dare (1968) and Hammer Horror, I was surprised to see her expert comedy acting in that play. At the time I knew nothing about her theatrical background let alone work in the Berliner Ensemble before she fled to the West. To this day I remember her vivacious performance but cannot recall the play nor her leading man who may have been a TV comedian. It may have been “The Man Most Likely To” (17) but the leading man was definitely not Peter Adamson, the former Len Fairclough from Coronation Street. I looked in vain for further information concerning touring venues and cast changes in the book.
This gap typifies my feelings towards this book. Ingrid Pitt definitely needs a whole study devoted to her but whether this particular example can be called “The Complete Career” is as doubtful as Barry K. Grant’s logo to his edition of The Complete Film Criticism of Andrew Britton. In both cases, it is not. In certain ways, it is useful. But, as a flawed reference book, it is far below the standard of key bibliographic texts and filmographies published by McFarland & Co., to say nothing about recently published director studies on neglected figures such as Riccardo Freda.
Following a posthumous forward by Ingrid who naturally is sadly (or perhaps otherwise?) not with us to read this study, the book is divided into five separate parts dealing with her Stage work; Films; “The Naughty Bits’ Hammer’s Karnstein Trilogy; Television Work; Documentary, Guest Appearances, Archive Footage, Website and Fan Club, Magazines; and her own published books. Yet this particular book resembles more of a first draft and notes for future study than a complete finished work in its own right. Since the author first met her in 1993 and obviously planned such a study from the very beginning, maybe he should have begun seriously when she was still with us to furnish more detailed information – though he is not to blame for anticipating her sudden demise.
In producing an initial step towards a more complete study, Cotter, a Pittsburgh resident, can be forgiven for not seeing any of her British stage work but what is problematic is his inability to track Ingrid’s presence in Falstaff (1965) despite the fact that she may have occupied the screen for a split second. Rather than devoting a lengthy plot synopsis of a very different film in which she is uncredited, he could have followed the practice of Peter J. Hanley in his study of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1967) to use the advantages of recent technology and Blu-Ray to freeze the film and identify Ingrid in the same detective manner employed in that 2016 study. I think I see Ingrid in one brief scene but am not certain. Capturing her presence via freezing a Blu-ray copy of the film would have been an added bonus to this section. The same goes for her “brief encounters” in Dr. Zhivago (1965) and A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to the Forum (1966) where she is supposedly “visually indistinguishable” (60). Rather than supplying detailed synopses for films in which she appears for only an instant, surely some greater effort could have been made to find the scenes where she does appear, capture them via still frames, and use them in the book? Although films such as Un Beso en el Puerto (1966) may be unavailable, some correspondence with the production company to seek stills featuring Ingrid may have been more valuable than one of Cotter’s frequent recourse to Ingrid’s autobiographical references (37). The Spanish TV 1965 series Tiempo y hora is missing as are the Italian Westerns she may have worked on. Admittedly, I’m looking at sources such as Imdb but Cotter is obligated either to search for this material or assure his readers that the citations are inaccurate. Naturally, he supplies relevant information on the more accessible and familiar works, but do we need entries on all of the Hammer Karnstein trilogy films when Ingrid only appeared in the first (134-139)?
Also did Edd Byrnes play “Kookie” in Hawaiian Eye (157) as a regular rather than the two guest appearances Imdb lists him as doing? Cotter needs to be much more precise here. A very detailed synopsis appears of the BBC TV 1981 production Artemis 81 but more analysis is needed of Ingrid’s role as the “Hitchcock Blonde,” despite the fact that she supposedly plays the role silent (162). Does this indicate her abilities with mime that may derive from her early theatrical training? Again, we are left mystified.
Did Cotter make any research trips to UK television archives to search for her performances that may not have been available in the USA rather than rely on synopses that often cover scenes where she did not appear? The documentary section is woefully undocumented, as far as Ingrid’s appearances go. Much more interesting than the fact that she appeared in several documentaries is what she said and how she performed. Many frustrating gaps in information appear in this section (180-183) and Associated British Television must have archive material for Ingrid’s appearance in The Eamonn Andrews Show of March 3, 1968. Was she a guest or was an entire show devoted to her? Again, we do not know. Key details are lacking elsewhere (see, 186, 188, and 189). Cotter includes The Vampire Lovers (1970) extract from Count Yorga, Vampire (1971) in his filmography but omits the fact that Yorga is watching a Spanish language TV station that has Ingrid dubbed into Spanish redundantly pronouncing “Stupido! Stupido!” to her victim Ferdy Mayne while her lips do not move. Was this dubbed extract a way of avoiding too much copyright payment for the film’s producers? (190) He also mentions the title of a documentary by Citrus Cinema – Celebrity Nude Review: The Saucy 70s, Volume 2 (2010) but has no other reference as to how Ingrid features in it nor whether she is interviewed.
This book could have been much better. It resembles a throwback to the “bad old days” when direct-to-library publishers such as McFarland and Scarecrow never employed peer reviewers, a practice that they are now following due to the fact that many of their outstanding books were unjustly vilified due to their non-outstanding peers that accompanied them. Today archive work is much easier than it was in the past and correspondence often receives a polite answer, whatever the result. This was needed with a star having an international reputation such as Ingrid Pitt. I do not know what happened in this instance but better peer reviewing could have prevented this version from appearing at a time when it is definitely not a definitive work. Perhaps, in future, a much more extensively revised and rewritten edition could appear?
Tony Williams has published two books with McFarland – Vietnam War Films, co-edited with Jean Jacques Malo (1994, 2014), and Larry Cohen: The Radical Allegories of an American Filmmaker (1997, 2014). He is a Contributing Editor to Film International.