TO THE DEVIL-A DAUGHTER

Garry Holmes
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TO THE DEVIL-A DAUGHTER

Post by Garry Holmes » Sun 28 Aug, 2011 12:35:46

Strictly speaking, this should be in a section of its own, but I'm not certain how to introduce a new TTDAD section, so this will have to do for now.

Given that it is a title known even to those who have never read DW, it's a little strange that I've not read this until now. I'm rather glad I did wait, as this book has been both a surprise and a genuine pleasure. Starting off in sunny Riviera, we are introduced to Molly Fountain; an ex-member of the WWII security services, she writes popular (but not best-selling) thrillers, is a widower, has a grown-up son, and is generally one of DW's oddest heroes . Well into middle age, she is of course terribly attractive because of her fine bone structure. However, she is also rather eccentric, with a fine collection of lethal weapons such as guns, hand grenades and knuckle dusters which are apparently kept for research purposes.

Although she is trying desperately to finish writing her current thriller, she is distracted by glimpses of her neighbour, a rather reclusive young woman who doesn't go out or have any visitors. She soon manages to meet her, and discovers that the girl is one Ellen Beddows, the fairly posh daughter of a self-made industrialist. Attractive, but rather refreshingly not a raving beauty, she has been sent to the South of France by her father to protect her from some unspecified danger. Sensing trouble, Molly asks her visiting son John to help look after Ellen. John, who is perhaps the only Interior Decorator ever to become the hero of a thriller, is a rather lovably hapless good guy, and only makes the reader want to hit him whenever he refers to his mother as 'Mumsie'. Rather against his wishes, he finds himself falling for the mystery girl, who turns into a rather wild sort after dark. The young girl is drinking too heavily, gambling recklessly and is generally a bit of a goer, and Molly realises that in the hours of darkness Ellen is possessed by the Devil (or else is a 21st century teenager; it's hard to tell the difference). Clearly it's time to call the professionals in, and she contacts William Verney aka Conky Bill, an intelligence officer who has made a special study of Satanists (as you do). At this point the novel really moves up a gear, and our heroes find themselves trying to protect Ellen from being kidnapped by the baddies for transportation back to England in time for her 21st birthday. More than half of the book is taken up by this, and apart from the clever little satanic split personality idea the novel comes across a pretty straight thriller.

The satanic shenanigans only begin once the John and CB head for England to try to stem the evil at its source. CB meets the vile ex-Canon Copley Syle, who in one of the best scenes in the book shows the horrified secret agent his fine collection of homunculi whilst explaining why Ellen must be sacrified on a satanic altar. He also starts talking about his poor old friend Mocata, telling us the official verdict on his death and only incidentally tying up this book, the Sallusts and the Duc de Richleau together. The rest of the story is no let down, and in a breathless 130 odd pages we find our heroes investigating a spooky deserted house, coming up against dark forces in Syle's underground altar room, and gathering back in France for a showdown with the satanists. This showdown will please all of those who don't like deux ex machina endings, with lords of light muscling in to end the fray. This is a no holds barred affair, with guns, knives, brass knuckles, explosives and monsters.Why they didn't do this for the Hammer film is beyond understanding.

The character work is rather well done in this book. None of the heroes are supermen (or women), and John in particular spends a lot of the book absolutely terrified and only able to go on because of his love for Ellen and his fear of losing face in front of CB. Even the seeming villains are not all thorough black hats, with Ellen's father coming across as a believably three dimensional character. Although he only appears twice, Syle is a memorable villain. Nothing at all like Christopher Lee, he is small and plump, with a pot belly, long silver hair and a baby face. He calmly talks about sacrificing children, but gets into a fine old tantrum when things go against him, and is a fascinating mixture of the comical and the disgustingly depraved.

DW is not always noted for his humour, but this has some genuinely witty lines; for instance, when describing Molly's servants "They had their faults, but would allow no-one to cheat her except themselves, and that only in moderation". The book is also refreshingly clear of any info dumps, and even the occasional pops at Communism and the Atlee government are kept in their place. And on top of all this, it even has the obligatory bit of embarassing dialogue after John has clonked Syle's Egyptian servant on the head with a piece of metal: From CB "Don't worry. These Arab types have heads like cannon balls".

And if you are planning to go against the forces of darkness, always remember CB's advice, and put on clean underwear!

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Post by Cibator » Tue 30 Aug, 2011 23:39:49

Thanks for the review, Garry. If I can add a few comments of my own ....

I'd rate this one higher than The Satanist (for remarks on which see my piece under that heading) but not quite in the league of The Devil Rides Out or Strange Conflict. Like TS, it features a brother of the Left Hand Path who's a bit too ready to take a total stranger (CB) into his confidence without making any attempt to check on his bona (mala?) fides. That CB does get unmasked - and nearly perishes as a result - is entirely down to chance.

TTDAD is notable as the first airing of that story about Aleister Crowley and how he was supposed to have temporarily lost his reason after a bungled occult operation in Paris in 1929. I've several comments to make on this alone, but I think a new thread would be a more appropriate place for them.

Canon Copely-Syle is closely based on a real personage, the "Reverend" Montague Summers, whom DW encountered a time or two and clearly didn't like (he was safely dead by the time TTDAD came out). From what I've read elsewhere about Summers he evidently was or had been a rather unsavoury character. Certainly, no-one who believed that witches deserved all the gruesome things that happened to them down the years - as Summers did - could ever have my support.

Like Garry, my flesh crawls when I read of a grown man (even a fictitious one) calling his female parent "Mumsie".

I've always had a particular interest in this book, because of the geographical location of Copely-Syle's lair. My family relocated to this area from London in 1969, and my mother lives there still. Its official designation is the Tendring Hundred, which must be about as English as you can get. The villages of Tendring and Weeley, mentioned in the text, are real, as is the Red Lion hotel in Colchester where CB and John book in (but, if I remember rightly, never actually get to sleep!). The name of the fictional Little Bentford is clearly inspired by the actual Little Bentley, which I haven't visited, so I can't say how closely it corresponds.

DW's comment that the area remains little changed since Oliver Cromwell's time alas no longer applies. Nearly every one of its "scattered hamlets" has now been augmented by the "rows of jerry-built bungalows" that he so deplored in The Ka of Gifford Hillary, and creeping semi-urbanisation of other kinds can be seen in almost every corner.

But with a bit of imagination it is still possible to picture "my" own village of Alresford minus its 20th-century additions, and envisage one of its older houses occupied by Copely-Syle going about his nefarious business.
Last edited by Cibator on Wed 7 Sep, 2011 11:25:54, edited 1 time in total.
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ken68
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Post by ken68 » Thu 1 Sep, 2011 19:18:44

good review gary.
i have also just finished this, although not for the first time!
i am always surprised how good this book is, very under rated in my opinion. not as good as TDRO but very good.

another edit as i am sure CB doesn't say Egyptian in the earlier editions but uses one of DWs famous un-pc names.

also interesting is cibators comment about the changes of place name. i still think cardinals folly could have been changed in a similar manner.

ken

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Post by Charles » Sun 4 Sep, 2011 20:26:48

Many thanks for the review, Garry !

Picking up on Cibator's remarks,

"But with a bit of imagination it is still possible to picture my own village of Alresford minus its 20th-century additions, and envisage one of its older houses occupied by Copely-Syle going about his nefarious business".

I had no idea you lived in Alresford, but as you do, perhaps if you ever have a spare moment, you might like to do a little bit of research ?

Montague Summers's address was Wykeham House, Alresford, and he described it in a letter to DW as "in parts pre-Elizabethan, with Charles II and early 18th century additions - we burn logs on a wide open hearth ..."

I once tried to find it, and found a house of the same name just off the A31, but it didn't look right.

If you were able to locate it (maybe its location is known to Summers enthusiasts, but I don't move in those circles), it would be fun to drive past and visualise DW's stay there, and his squashing of giant spiders as described in Drink and Ink ....

All best to all as always !
Charles

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Post by Cibator » Mon 5 Sep, 2011 11:47:10

Charles: sorry to have confused you (and anyone else). There are in fact two places called Alresford!

The larger of them (population about 5,000) is in Hampshire, and this is where Montague Summers lived. The other, little more than half the size of its namesake, is in NE Essex, about half-way between Colchester and Clacton, and has been my family's home for over 40 years. As I've remarked earlier, DW had Canon Copely-Syle living somewhere a few miles away. I have been to the Hampshire Alresford, but it's a bit off my usual track when in the UK.

There's a property called Wykeham House on Petersfield Road, as I found here. Hard to make out any detail from that photo, though, so who knows whether it's old Monty's place or not.
Last edited by Cibator on Wed 7 Sep, 2011 11:35:08, edited 1 time in total.
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Charles
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Post by Charles » Mon 5 Sep, 2011 17:43:41

Thanks for that !

I'll add it to the list of places where further research is called for ...

Best as always !
Charles

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Post by oldjiver » Tue 25 Mar, 2014 00:28:06

Regarding To The Devil A Daughter, I once went on a visit to St Osyth Priory in Essex with my wifes architecture group. Wonderful place!. I remember one of the guides mentioning that they had filmed TTDAD at the priory? I havent been able to find any confirmation of this anywhere. If anyone else knows any details I would like to know. I will be doing an article on the Tendring locations very soon.

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Post by Darren » Tue 25 Mar, 2014 16:13:45

I know they filmed the ending in the Dashwood Mausoleum, in West Wycombe. I was living in Wycombe in my younger days when I first got into the DW books and used to visit the Mausoleum. It was years later that I saw the film and recognized it.

I am looking forward to your contributions, Steve, on the literary (and film) locations related to DW. I like to visit film and literary related sites when on holiday (though I get strange looks from my wife) and I read sections of the source novel "on location". That's why the DW Convention location is so special.

Last year I had a grand time visiting the Straw Dogs locations when I visited St Ives.

Is anyone aware of any North Devon DW connections? I'm there later this year.
Regards,

Darren.

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To the Devil a Daughter

Post by Richard Webster » Wed 3 Sep, 2014 17:15:35

As a new member, I'd like to offer some thoughts of my own to this thread on "To the Devil a Daughter", which I have just read for the third time, and which is, beyond question, my favourite Dennis Wheatley novel.

Where to start? There is so much about this book that I like. Its premise is, I believe, the best that DW ever conceived - an ambitious businessman makes a pact with the Devil, offering him the soul of his daughter in exchange for worldly riches, and then, twenty-one years later, in a fit of remorse, tries to renege on the deal. The story, plotting and pacing are all excellent, and the author has assembled a fine cast of characters, most notably the deeply sinister Canon Copely-Syle, albeit I do have a slight reservation here, which I shall touch upon further down the post.

But I think it's the settings and locales in this book, and the way they are so vividly described, that makes me like it so much. The action shifts from the French Riviera in early spring, a veritable riot of colours and scents, to the bleak but beautiful wetlands of East Anglia, before returning to Provence for the finale. Although myself a long term resident of Hampshire, and before that Wiltshire, both sides of my family hail from Essex, so I very much felt an affinity with these parts of the book, as I did with those in the south of France, where I have travelled a fair bit, albeit in the western portion of Languedoc, rather than the eastern one of Provence. The author truly brings these regions to life, and very skilfully paints a picture with words.

The places within these settings are also very well described, from Molly Fountain's delightful, sun-kissed villa, to the de Grasse chateau, and the two creepy East Anglian settings where Copely-Syle and Beddows reside. It's all hugely atmospheric.

If I have a mild criticism of the book, aside from the slightly cloying relationship between Molly and John Fountain, which another poster has already alluded to, it's that Copely-Syle only appears in the book twice, and his second appearance, in the finale, is highly truncated. Of course, the scene between him and Verney in Essex is a fantastic one, but I just feel that having created such a memorable villain, DW should have got a bit more mileage out of him.

But that minor quibble aside, this is a wonderful book. I'd also add that I'm lucky enough to own a first hardback edition, complete with dust-jacket, in very good condition, and the inside covers have a great map of the Provencal coast where so much of the action takes place.

Whilst I understand and respect the opinions of those who think that "The Devil Rides Out", say, or "Strange Conflict", are better novels, I just feel that DW was so much more skilled at his craft by the 1950s, than he had been in the 1930s or 1940s, and that this shows through in his writing, making this a better book.

To those who are not acquainted with DW's work - admittedly, not a very likely demographic on this particular forum - then I would say that this would be a very good place to start from.

I'd like to add some further thoughts at a later date on the film version - so to speak - of this book, but I'll leave it there for a while, with pleasant daydreams in my head of sitting on Molly Fountain's terrace, beneath a sheet blue sky, sipping an aperitif .........

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Post by Darren » Thu 4 Sep, 2014 21:23:03

Welcome, Richard, to the DW Library. TTDAD is also one of my favourites, and I believe it to be one of DW's most accomplished works.

I look forward to your views on the film version. I think I am in a minority on this forum regarding the film - in my opinion it's a great film, and I am ready for a healthy discussion on the topic.
Regards,

Darren.

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Post by shanedwyer » Fri 5 Sep, 2014 10:53:42

I absolutely love TTDAD too. As Richard points out, the juxtaposition of the sun dappled Riviera with the bleakness of the Essex marshes makes the novel a particularly well-executed one.

The one thing that jars with me is Molly Fountain’s sociopathic sang-froid after having eviscerated the (reformed and redeemed) Beddows père with a hand grenade. As alluring as she is, if I were Conky Bill lying beside her of a night, I’d make sure I slept with one eye open.

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Post by ken68 » Fri 5 Sep, 2014 14:50:26

i always loved the end of this book, for me if the black magic stories have a weakness then its the endings, but this one is a cracker.

we've just finished watching the movie on the horror channel and if you ignore the fact that its not really ttdad its not a bad film. ironically its a terrible ending.

ken

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Post by Darren » Sun 7 Sep, 2014 22:08:24

The film of TTDAD is as relevant to the book as The Shining film is to Stephen King’s novel. And I love the film of The Shining and the novel equally (please note – I am not comparing the film of TTDAD with The Shining).

It is a shame about the ending of the film TTDAD. Director, Peter Sykes, originally filmed an exciting ending in which Christopher Lee ends up crucified - the producers deemed it too similar to the end of Scars of Dracula and insisted on a different ending. The problem, though, was that he had spent his budget and wasn’t provided with any more so the ending was cobbled together by Roy Skeggs using unused footage. I am hoping a future release will include the original ending. It is the ending that ruins the film for most viewers and their opinion is largely based on that disappointment.

It is an intriguing retelling of the story that was relevant to the early 1970s. I don’t mind that they changed it from DW’s book, the basic storyline is still there.
Surprisingly it was Hammer’s biggest financial success.

One of my favourite moments is Richard Widmark talking about Satanists: “98 percent of so-called Satanists are nothing but pathetic freaks who get their kicks out of dancing naked in freezing churchyards, and use the Devil as an excuse for getting some sex. But then there’s that other two percent. I’m not so sure about them.â€￾ When I first saw the film in my teens I remember turning cold when he delivered those last words. I’ve read some poor reviews of Richard Widmark in this film, but that scene nails it for me. And then later in the film: “I have a feeling I'm dealing with that other two per cent...â€￾

Christopher Lee is great, the supporting cast is strong (Natassja Kinski, Anthony Valentine, Denholm Elliot, and Honor Blackman), the music by Paul Glass is magnificent, and the plot is near enough to the book for me to accept it as a DW film. I don’t like the red baby/foetus scene, but I do like the satanic ritual imagery and the promotional posters.

There is a very good documentary on the DVD release (To the Devil... the Death of Hammer) with extensive interviews with Christopher Lee (who reads extracts from DW’s book), the director Peter Sykes, Anthony Valentine, producer Roy Skeggs and film historians who recite numerous amusing stories, especially about Richard Widmark who caused lots of problems. They also refer to DW many times throughout.
Regards,

Darren.

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Post by Richard Webster » Mon 8 Sep, 2014 12:45:21

Darren wrote:The film of TTDAD is as relevant to the book as The Shining film is to Stephen King’s novel. And I love the film of The Shining and the novel equally (please note – I am not comparing the film of TTDAD with The Shining).
Darren, I think that analogy is spot on - the film version of TTDAD takes the premise and the essential ingredients of the book, but tells a very different story. I also broadly agree with your other comments, particularly about the ending, which greatly undermines the hour or so that precedes it, and about the documentary which accompanies the DVD, which is excellent.

This is not a great film, by a long shot, and it's not a patch on the superlative Hammer production of Wheatley's "The Devil Rides Out" that preceded it, but it does have a number of redeeming features.

Sadly, however, this was a highly troubled production, made at a time when the fortunes of Hammer Films were very much in decline, and they soon afterwards stopped making films altogether, although they have fortunately enjoyed a revival of late, including the rather good adaptation of "The Woman in Black".

I'm a big fan of this studio, own a lot of their titles, and think they made some very good films in the 1950s and 1960s - the first three Dracula films they did, "The Curse of Frankenstein", "The Mummy", "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and, of course, the aforementioned "Devil Rides Out". But the film world had moved on by the 1970s, and the sort of costume drama gothic horror made by Hammer, once so innovative and ahead of its time, with their colourful sets and clever renderings of classic tales, had become tired and out-dated, and much of the studio's output during this period was very poor.

The nadir was perhaps reached a few years before TTDAD with "Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires", which even the wonderful Peter Cushing can't save - a laughably misguided attempt to breath life into the Dracula franchise by melding it with the then popular Kung Fu genre. Seriously!

And in a sense, TTDAD can be seen in a similar sort of context. Which is to say, it is, in part, an attempt to appropriate a genre of the time which, like Kung Fu, was a popular staple of 1970s cinema - in this case, devilry and devil worship. This isn't entirely fair, or accurate, in as much as Hammer, and in particular Christopher Lee, had a connection with Dennis Wheatley that started with "The Devil Rides Out", and was supposed to culminate with a never-made film version of "The Satanist". Hammer had also made other films on a similar theme, including the woeful "Dracula AD 1972", which is even worse than "The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires", and the just-about-watchable, if not terribly good, "Satanic Rites of Dracula". But TTDAD still feels a little like a studio clinging to the coat tails of a previously successful sub-genre that was already starting to run out of steam. The late 1960s and the 1970s produced a whole slew of these kind of films, from "Rosemary's Baby", to "The Omen", to "The Exorcist", to "Race with the Devil" (a personal favourite), and these are just the good ones; an awful lot of inferior films got made as well, now consigned to the less well travelled by-ways of Youtube and late night satellite TV. Even television got in on the act. Who remembers the Starskey and Hutch episode in which the eponymous heroes confronted a group of devil worshippers in the woods? So this was a massively popular genre for a while, but one which had already had its day by the mid-1970s, and which was soon to be eclipsed by the "stalk and slash" type movies of the 1980s, themselves a product of the immense success of John Carpenter's "Halloween". So there is a slight sense here of Hammer being a bit late to the party with this 1976 foray into satanic cinema.

And they were in a weak position as a company by then, which also didn't help. In desperate need of American finance, the production hired Richard Widmark as "John Verney" for the lead; a deeply unhappy experience for both parties, by all accounts; and the casting of Natassja Kinski was driven by German investment in the film. Widmark was a decent actor, of course, but he ain't no Conky Bill, that's for sure; and Kinski, although perfectly fine in her role, is cast as a nun, and a highly passive character, quite unlike the much more interesting Christina / Ellen from the book, who is shy and reserved by day, but who becomes a wanton seductress when darkness falls.

So there seems to have been a strong element of compromise in the casting, but it's the writing that really lets the film down, with the work of the credited writer being largely superceded by that of an uncredited one, and with the script being constantly revised on a day-by-day basis, and given to the actors moments before shooting started. No wonder, then, that the film's plot becomes ever more incoherent as it nears its climax. And I very much agree with Darren about the ending, the revised version of which is atrocious, whereas that originally conceived sounded quite promising. And the stated reason for changing this ending seems completely bizarre and unnecessary. As if anyone would even remember, or care about, the climax of "Scars of Dracula", hardly a Hammer classic.

Anyway, in spite of all that, and for all of its myriad flaws, I think I said at the beginning that I quite like this film, so here are a few of the reasons why.

1. Denholm Elliot gives a terrific performance, and this is the only part in the film which you could say faithfully replicates that in the book. He's perfect as the terrified, tortured soul that is Beddows.

2. I'm a huge fan of Christopher Lee, the man as well as the actor, and I'd watch him in anything. Which is probably just as well, given the extraordinary number of films that he's appeared in. Although somewhat different in character to the literary Copely-Syle, he is still very, very good.

3. The rest of the cast is also good - Widmark, Valentine, Blackman et al.

4. The Bavarian locations are nicely realised, with an atmospherically misty lake, and there is a real sense of intrigue and impending menace in the film's early scenes.

5. Until everything goes haywire in the final reel, the plot conceived by the producers and writers is actually pretty good, and there is some interesting commentary on the practice of satanism.

6. The various rituals appear quite well done (not that I have any first-hand experience, I hasten to add), and the film scores quite highly in terms of what one might refer to as "satanic ceremonial".

7. There are a few good, creepy scenes, particularly the telephone cable in Beddow's hand turning into a viper.

In conclusion, therefore, this is a real curate's egg of a film, good in parts, but with a whole that doesn't quite work, and let down by a dreadful ending. Dennis Wheatley apparently hated the film, and one can understand why. He passed away a year later, and the mooted version of "The Satanist" was never made. The film performed well at the box office, but Hammer never saw any of the money, since it went to the various investors, and within a few years they had stopped making films. But there are certainly things to like about the film. I'd describe it as one of those films I wouldn't get on a bus on a wet night to go and see at the cinema, but I will periodically fetch it from my DVD collection and watch it again, and at such times, it seems, oddly, to be neither as good nor as bad as I remembered it.

But worth watching, and a film of some historic and cultural value, in terms of its treatment of the subject matter, and its attempt to revive a British horror film industry in its death throes at the time. It would certainly benefit from a re-make, I think, since its central theme is so timeless, and it would be good to see a contemporary film-maker, working with a decent production budget, seek to create some of the vivid settings in DW's book, and do quite a bit more with Christina's character. Something of a curiosity, then, but well worth ninety minutes of of any horror film fan's life.

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Post by Darren » Mon 8 Sep, 2014 21:32:07

At last there seems to be growing respect for this film. Has this film ever been shown at a DW convention?

If not, could it happen this year? I can bring a copy.

We need to spend more effort in persuading Charles and Stevie P. whom are probably yet to be convinced. The opening paragraph of Stevie P's review of the book on this wonderful site always makes me smile. And every time I watch the film I always look at Michael Goodliffe's character with Steve's observation in mind.
Regards,

Darren.

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