Billy The Kid And The Green Baize Vampire
Review by Emma Shane
© 17 May 2002
This is perhaps the least well known, and the least available film that Louise Gold has appeared in, which is a great shame, since she has a rather good part in it.
The film opens with up-and-coming young snooker player Billy Kid, brilliantly played by Phil Daniels, and his manager known as The One, or more-often-than-not T.O. portrayed effectively by Bruce Payne, in a car together. Arriving at their destination, Billy goes to practice at a snooker table in one room, while T.O. goes into a business meeting in another room, with The Wednesday Man, cunningly played by Don Henderson. He is eight minutes late, and it is now Thursday, which means he has to pay four times as much money to The Wednesday Man. Whatever deal they are transacted is done using playing cards. At last the meeting is over, and T.O. collects Billy, who then sings a song about Green Stamps, in other words money. Phil Daniels has a good singing voice, and one which seems to be well suited to this film’s score by George Fenton. A score which reminds me a little of Stephen Warbeck’s score for The Villains Opera, musically it seems to be of a similar genre. This is followed by Billy, T.O and Billy’s apparent minder, having a mild quarrel about who employs who, with Billy saying that without him they’d all be nowhere.
The next scene depicts a coffin, the lid lifts and a hand appears over the side, presently the lid lifts right off, and Maxwell Randall (I hope I’ve spelt his name right), the vampire, played by Alun Armstrong, emerges from it. Smiling at the camera we can see the vampire fangs of his teeth. He reaches into his pocket and produces a red spray, which he proceeds to spray round his mouth. The an out-of-shot voice, that of Daniel Webb yells “Cut” and we realise that what we have actually been watching is Maxwell Randall shooting a commercial, for deodorant.
We come to a scene in the Randall home. Mrs Randall, a late-middleaged/early-elderly woman, given a more than satisfactory performance by Eve Ferret, is singing to herself, actually it is a bit weird, in that we can’t really see her lips moving. She stops singing and calls up the stairs to Maxwell, hadn’t he better come down, she (a press reporter) has been waiting a while. The camera pans across the room to where she is patiently waiting. There is no mistaking the loose curly chestnut hair, and interesting face, of Louise Gold, playing the press reporter Miss Sullivan (I don’t recall the character ever actually being mentioned by name). Miss Sullivan is wearing a black leather jacket and a high-necked mainly white blouse (which looks quite manly), a black leather skirt, which is quite short (and so shows off her shapely legs), and semi-transparent black tights. Randall appears, seemingly out of nowhere, scaring the living daylights out of Miss Sullivan. Louise does not speak, but her eyes communicate the character’s fright and apprehension to the audience far more than mere words could. Louise Gold is one of those actors who really can speak with their eyes remarkably well. Randall advances towards her, eyeing her menacingly, and baring his teeth, for a moment or two I thought he might be about to sink them into her, but he did not. Randall remarks that she has gone very white, and, is very silent. Louise’s curiously shaped eyes are outlined with black eyeliner, which contrasts so with her face, it would make her look pale (regardless of whatever other make-up she is wearing). Randall reaches out his arm and tries to feel her body, squeezing her right arm (which is closest to the camera); this finally gets a vocal response from Miss Sullivan “Do you know any one-armed vampires?” He lets her go, and they sit down. Miss Sullivan gets out her notebook and pen, she is, as one would expect with this actress, left-handed. Randall asks her why she has come, given that she has already been sent his CV. She replies something about wanting a more personal perspective. Having more or less recovered from Randall scaring the living daylights out of her, she proceeds to ask him some quite pertinent questions about where he thinks snooker is going, and in particular his views in the up-and-coming-player Billy Kid, whom it is reckoned could be the next big thing. Randall certainly does not share that view on Billy Kid, and says some fairly derogatory things about him. Miss Sullivan begins to look shifty and nervous; oh how well Louise Gold’s manner and characterful face conveys that. Finally a clock begins to strike, and with that she snaps her notebook shut and departs, hastily.
From Randall’s territory to Billy’s turf. We see T.O. driving a car. Beside him is a woman, Miss Sullivan. She looks a little different, for her thick curly chestnut hair is now tied back in a bunch. Meanwhile in Billy’s hangout we see Billy enjoying himself, with his followers who are clearly also having a good time. T.O. a walks swiftly down the passage, with tall Miss Sullivan, swinging easily along beside him (looking, perhaps, like a puppeteer who’s just stepped out of a studio). She is now dressed in a more casual loose shirt, and trousers, rather in keeping with Billy’s sort of crowd. In his hang out, Billy is singing, still on the subject of money (this may have been a reprise of Green Stamps - although I don’t remember exactly), backed up by his followers. In the middle of this Miss Sullivan remarks that she should’ve brought a photographer along, whereupon T.O. hastily points out that she’s lucky to get invited at all, Billy doesn’t usually invite the press to his hang out.
Song over, from left to right, T.O., Billy, and Miss Sullivan walk quickly back along the passageway, with Miss Sullivan interviewing Billy as they go along, asking him about himself, and in particular his attitude to Randall, she tells him what Maxwell Randall said about him, which prompts Billy to make some very derogatory remarks about Randall. It is also results in Miss Sullivan being asked whether she asked Maxwell Randall how to spell his name, a question she dismisses (to her cost). Visually one of the most notable things about the scene is this actress’s ability to do several things at once: walk quickly along a passage, while speaking, holding her notebook open and miming writing in it, all at the same time, and make that look so easy!
The next scene finds Randall, in his living room, yelling for his wife, he has been reading Miss Sullivan’s article, and is livid about the way she has slandered him, and she didn’t even spell his name right! He makes a comment about how if she went anywhere nearer the truth her teeth would go black. With some of his supporters as a backdrop Randall then sings about how livid he is. I have to say that Alun Armstrong sings really well. He has a fine voice, and I think he would be much more at home singing operetta, such as Gilbert and Sullivan. The song is intercut twice with shots of TO ballroom dancing, his partner, though wearing a headdress, and, a mask over her eyes, that is unmistakably Miss Sullivan, this time she is wearing an evening dress, and has her hair more or less loose (apart from the mask and headdress). As they dance they speak, with Louise using a very sultry voice that quite unlike any of her usual more distinctive voices. It is also apparent that Miss Sullivan’s interest in Billy and TO may be a little more than just her job, or whatever financial arrangement T.O. has used to get her to write favourably about this young snooker player.
T.O. tells Billy that Randall is going to sue over the article. Billy insists he wants to settle the argument with a snooker match, so T.O goes to see Randall. He cannot locate Randall in the living room, and goes upstairs, where he comes upon a snooker table, on tope of a clear case containing an evidently embalmed body. Suddenly Randall appears, and explains it is the body of his father, who was a great snooker player, and taught him to put the game first. T.O. suggests the match, and Randall agrees to all the terms T.O. had in mind (17 frames, to take place in 13 days time). However Randall also wants a pre-match agreement (signed by both players) that whoever looses never plays professional snooker again. T.O. does not accept, and during a scene, at a gun-range, where Billy and T.O. are practicing shooting targets, tells Billy so. T.O. also tells The Wednesday Man, who insists the match should go ahead, because he can make a lot of money if he bets on Billy winning (most people with money will bet on Randall winning), he promises that Randall won’t be on top form. And so the match will go ahead, as the title song says It’s Billy The Kid And The Green Baize Vampire, as the music for this song starts up we hear the distinctive sound of Gold singing it. Miss Sullivan, with her hair loose, is now wearing a manly high-necked blouse, and she looks delightfully young. The song is by no means bad, and it is very well sung, Louise Gold invests sufficient feeling into it, as to make one wish to hear it again. It is also the only song in the film where I felt the tune was actually something like catchy (although that may have been due to Louise Gold’s rendition of it as much as anything else).
It is nearly time for the big match, both Randall and Billy’s supporters are assembled, and there is a great contrast. Randall’s supporters are mostly middle-aged and smartly dressed, while Billy’s supporters are mainly youngsters in more casual attire. They take their seats in the gallery of the snooker-hall on opposite sides of it. At one end of the gallery are sitting Randall’s management, including The Wednesday Man and his cronies. At the opposite end are T.O and his assistant, and, to their left, alone, a woman in a striking white and black ball-gown-like dress, with long black gloves, and, loose red hair. When the camera alights on her for a moment, we instantly recognise (if we had not already guessed) the ubiquitous Miss Sullivan.
pre-match entertainment, is provided by Big Jack Jay singing a song. Although
not particularly catchy, it is very well sung by Neil McCaul, and both
he and the song could easily suite
The first four frames of the match are started and won by Randall, but in the fifth frame, Billy gets a chance, the only trouble is, as he sings, he cannot go on, because there do not appear to be any balls on the table, the frame falls to Randall, and needless to say the balls are back. This scenario is repeated, until by the time of the interval Randall has won eight frames. He only has to win one more frame and he will have won the match. During the interval T.O. confesses to Billy that he shouldn’t even be there, and the only reason the match has gone ahead is because The Wednesday Man promised that Randall would not be on very good form. Meanwhile Randall’s supporters and Billy’s supporters are jeering at each other, about the kind of people they are, Quack, Quack Quack. Back in his dressing room, Billy although surprised, fortunately has a sense of humour and sees a funny side to his manager trying to fix a match. Then a visitor enters, it is The Wednesday Man, when T.O. queries him about what is going on, he reveals he has always hated Billy, and has been waiting for a chance to have him humiliated. T.O. and Billy are no longer laughing.
Interval over it comes to the ninth frame, where Randall misses a pot, Billy takes the frame and, perhaps, spurred by his anger, can see the balls clearly, and, with some nail biting moments, wins the frame. The tenseness of the situation was well illustrated by the reactions of the crowed, especially Billy’s supporters, and in particular, it has to be said, by Miss Sullivan, most of the time she sits very straight in her seat, black clad arms out in front of her, but at tense moments, she leans forward and grips the rail tightly.
Billy goes on to win the next seven frames, The Frame Game. This song is mostly sung by Phil Daniels. However, Bruce Payne sings a part of it, very nicely, and he is followed immediately by a strong distinctive voice, Louise Gold. It is well worth the camera focusing on her while she sings, for she stands up in her place in the gallery, and expresses the song with her whole body, using many of her own distinctive mannerisms, (some of which, for example, she certainly incorporated many years later into her performance of Dancing Queen in Mamma Mia) a smile here, a twitch of the shoulder there. The whole song is effective, but her performance is the high spot of it.
In the final frame, we come to a state where Randall and Kid each have 61 points, there is just one ball left to pot, the black. Billy was playing, and missed. Randall goes to pot it, hits it, but it does not go in. Billy takes up his cue again, and hits it so hard, it roles back and forth several times before finally rolling towards a pocket, it is just about to drop in, when the vampire fixes it with his evil eyes, and the ball freezes in their air, glowing in some kind of light. The whole crowd it tense, then Billy whips out a gun and shoots the ball, so that is drops from Randall’s spell into the pocket. Billy has won the match, and his supporters go energetically wild. All in all an exhilarating climax. The film’s credits roll with T.O. singing a song, he sings well enough too.
Perhaps in the end, one thing that really came through in this film (perhaps partly because of my own experience of finally getting to see it), is that if people treat you unfairly (such as using you to pay their debts, fixing a snooker match, or other more supernatural ploys), then keep trying to rise above it if you have right and fairness on your side, and don’t let them win.
Although this film was never exactly going to be a big smash, I for one thoroughly enjoyed it and am delighted to have finally had the chance to see it. The story is gripping especially towards the climatic end, and the film is extremely well acted (especially by Louise Gold, Bruce Payne, Phil Daniels, Alun Armstrong, and, Don Henderson), and while none of the songs were ever likely to be hit parade material, they are enjoyable and very well sung, especially by: Louise Gold, Phil Daniels, Alun Armstrong, and, Neil McCaul; So much so, that there are some people who would appreciate a film-soundtrack album.
Many of the actors stand out for one reason or another. Eve Ferret certainly gets a good little look in, in keeping with her character’s place in the script. Bruce Payne does well in a slightly difficult character. Alun Armstrong also makes a pretty good job of playing the vampire. However, he is outshone, by Phil Daniels’s performance as The Kid. I actually quite liked Phil Daniels’s singing, while it may not be astounding, it is more than passable for the role he was playing. I think it might be interesting to see him sing a shadier cockney in a musical, though, perhaps Macheath (Beggers, Threepenny & Villains Opera) or some such role. However, it is Louise Gold’s presence among the cast that really makes this film something special, and so well worth seeing. For example, at the snooker match she radiates such an enthusiastic energy, that, although Billy’s supporters would have been enthusiastic anyway, they may have been just that bit more widely enthusiastic than would otherwise have been the case.
Of the parts I have so far seen Louise Gold play as a film actress this one is by far the best. Although The Pirates Of Penzance and Topsy Turvy may be overall better films, Louise’s parts in those films are not as good: In Labyrinth she is practically impossible to spot, in The Pirates Of Penzance the chorus was dubbed - which was a bit of a waste of a fine singer, while as for Topsy Turvy, what there was of her was excellent, but one spent a not insignificant proportion that film wondering when she would actually put in an appearance! In Billy The Kid And The Green Baize Vampire her talents are not so wasted; she does her own singing, and although she only sings one solo and part of another song, she has proportionately about as much singing as the other principals, and she alone does get to sing the title song! In addition she makes her first appearance in the film reasonably early on in the action. Furthermore she plays a part that is no mere cameo part, but a real character in the plot, and she has the opportunity, to some extent, to develop that role into a living breathing character. It is in the development of her character that as an actress Louise Gold scores a hit of her own. Some critics have dismissingly described the character of Miss Sullivan as “a scheming hackette”, yet that does not really convey what Louise has brought to her character. As an actress Louise Gold has a somewhat rare gift for being able to play a bitchy scheming social-climbing type of character with some genuine warmth and humanity, so that they are not that unbearable a person, and indeed the audience is quite likely to have some sympathy for the character. It is a gift she probably employed when she played Gussie in Merrily We Role Along (if her cast album recording is anything to go by), and she certainly used it to great effect portraying Tanya in Mamma Mia (a character who just doesn’t seem to fit the plot of that show unless she is played with a bit of humanity). In this particular instance, although Miss Sullivan is a journalist out to get a story, and although T.O. may have paid her to be nice about Billy, she appears to have some genuine fondness for him. She also seems to be genuinely scared by Maxwell Randall’s behaviour towards her when she first meets him. Furthermore Louise Gold had plenty of opportunities to use her skill of acting with her whole body, especially using her expressive eyes to convey her character’s feelings.
But it wasn’t just Louise Gold’s performance that made Miss Sullivan an interesting character to pay attention to. I found it amusing to note the way Miss Sullivan was dressed quite differently for each scene. Whereas most of the characters at least wore much the same sort of clothes in each of their scenes, Miss Sullivan’s outfits seemed to vary according to the scene, thus: black leather for interviewing a vampire, casuals (like The Kid and his hangers on) for interviewing The Kid, and a Ballgown (like the older-generation of snooker-audiences) for the big match. This variation of costume both contrasted the scenes nicely, and brought into play another of Louise’s assets, she looks good in a variety of different sorts of outfit. This was enhanced by Stephen Singleton’s editing, and Clive Tickner’s cinematography, he seemed to focus on Miss Sullivan whenever she was actually doing something worth watching, allowing her to make her presence felt in any scene she is in. Above all, director Alan Clarke really used Louise Gold wisely, so that this is one film where her talents as an actress are put to adequate use. If you like Louise Gold, then this film is certainly well worth seeing. For once, she has been given a part (in a film) that is actually worthy of her.
My grateful thanks to Kathleen Dickon and Steve-the-technician, at the British Film Institute for allowing me to view this film (enabling me to review it on this website).