Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Like a slow sledge hammer!

"You are a terrible woman; but I love your pulse!"

I recently watched — and loved — The Millionairess, a play by George Bernard Shaw, in a 1972 BBC production starring Maggie Smith as a monstrous English woman in the title role. Tom Baker hilariously plays an Egyptian Muslim doctor, who is her polar opposite.

She is stinking rich; he gives every penny he earns away to the poor. Shaw uses the play as a vehicle for his Socialist ideals, ramming home point after point about the evils of the wealthy accumulating their money/power while the poor starve, fall sick, suffer and die. He is acute on every point, and though almost too didactic, he is far more subtle than say, Arthur Miller, whose plays are blunderbusses to Shaw's scalpel (and with none of Shaw's humor).

Tom Baker (yes, Doctor Who!) is seen above after discovering that stinking rich Epifania, the Millionairess of the title (Maggie Smith), has kicked someone down a hotel staircase, then pretends it is she who is in need of medical attention. He checks her pulse, and gasps. For she has a pulse "like a slow sledge hammer..."

I love Baker's voice when he delivers this beautifully alliterative line. Of course, the doctor falls in love with her:

THE DOCTOR [coming to her and feeling her pulse]: Something wrong with your blood pressure, eh? [Amazed] Ooooh!! I have never felt such a pulse. It is like a slow sledge hammer.

EPIFANIA: Well, is my pulse my fault?

THE DOCTOR: No. It is the will of Allah. All our pulses are part of the will of Allah.

ALASTAIR: Look here, you know, Doc: that wont go down in this country. We dont believe in Allah.

THE DOCTOR: That does not disconcert Allah in the least, my friend. The pulse beats still, slow, strong. [To Epifania] You are a terrible woman; but I love your pulse. I have never felt anything like it before.

PATRICIA: Well, just fancy that! He loves her pulse.

THE DOCTOR: I am a doctor. Women as you fancy them are nothing to me but bundles of ailments. But the life! the pulse! is the heartbeat of Allah, save in Whom there is no majesty and no might... One, two, three: it is irresistible: it is a pulse in a hundred thousand. I love it: I cannot give it up.

BLENDERBLAND (whom she had kicked downstairs): You will regret it to the last day of your life!