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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 100 - Cacti take over from shrinking violets

O WITHERED is the garland of the movies. Hollywoodís curtain has fallen. Young boys and girls may not have heard of her but Fay Wray is dead, and with her, King Kong. The odds is gone. And there is nothing left remarkable beneath the visiting moon.

In adapting Cleopatraís Shakespearean lines on the death of Mark Antony, I admit over-reacting to the demise, aged 96, of the actress, who, when held in the hand of the super-sized simian in the 1933 film, delivered ululating cries of almost-melodious terror that drew millions to cinemas, especially in Depression-stricken America, happy to see someone in a worse situation than themselves.

I am unrepentant because the object of the amorous apeís attention had a face that, at times, had strong hints of my cub-mistressís features on seeing a badly-tied running bowline or hearing the pack getting its dib-dib-dobbing ritual out of sync.

Auburn-haired, firm of chin, neat of neckerchief and with a well-placed woggle, she had the eyes of a suffering saint. I felt she needed protection and sometimes I followed her spoor to her bus stop, ready, should the need arise, to run at the rate of knots and shout in piping treble for help.

Fay Wray appeared eminently vulnerable and, therefore, protectable and was in the long line of females in fiction and film, from dragon-distressed damsels awaiting a rescuing knight to those seeking help from some seedy private detective in a testosterone-fuelled drama of murder and sexual intrigue where, for determined viewers, the newsreel would save the day.

IN early Hollywood thrillers, it was womenís perilous place to be rescued by those with the XY chromosome. Threatened with bisection from crocodiles, menaced by sexual predators, dangled over a cliff from a broken rope bridge, tied to railway tracks, enmeshed in the tentacles of octopuses, at the mercy of mad scientists who attempted to change them into giant lobsters, women were invariably the ones who would walk into forbidden rooms in the vampireís castle, throw the wrong switch on the moon-bound rocket that would send it to the sand seas of Mars, or otherwise hold up the action by introducing a saccharinal romantic note.

They were also dispensable victim material. Typical lines spoken by or to females about to be bumped off included: "Why did you bring me all the way up here?" "Hello operator, Iíve been cut off. Hello operator," "Oh, itís only you. Come in," "Why are you looking at me like that?" "Donít worry, youíre safe now," "Of course Iíll marry you 007."

That type of filmic female whose main characteristic was a screaming helplessness in the face of shock and horror has vanished, almost without trace.

In her place has come the tough, self-reliant heroine with a punch like the back of a shovel, a kick like a rocket-propelled grenade, eyes like twin gun barrels and a voice that can sound like echoing corrugated iron. Kong, encountering such alien-and-monster-fighting, mother-earth figures, would probably have shinned up the Empire State Building to escape.

THE archetypal new, indestructible female is Sigourney Weaver in the Alien films whose efforts to eliminate thuggish, salivating, perpetually-hungry predators from a coarse planet with a disturbing climatic resemblance to present meteorological conditions in Scotland, is the equivalent, in tactical deployment, weapon use and battle motivation, of a batch of US marines storming a beach at Iwo Jima.

You would never see such women at the kitchen sink, ironing board, loo-cleaning or shopping at Tesco; lonely huntress-gatherers seeking to ensnare the whitest-sliciest bread, combating facial wrinkles and cellulite and struggling to be the scourge of 99 per cent of all known household germs.

The latest emanation of the politically-correct fighting woman is Guinevere, played by Keira Knightley in the recently-released film King Arthur.

A figure of Arthurian high romance whose name, wrote Francis Brett Young in a poem, "blends the rapture and the pain linked in the lovely nightingaleís lament", Guinevere appears - woad you believe it? - face-painted, in skimpy costume, bow-and-arrow-battling with the boys with all the energy of a bottle-throwing binge boozer.

We are a long way from Fay Wray. Cacti have replaced shrinking violets. If there are still wolf cubs trying to follow their cub scout leaderís spoor, I say, "Forget it."

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