(It's intended to be capable of being read in 3 different orders, this version follows Cliff Archer's timeline, and will need to read in conjuction with either of the other two versions.)
Prince Tutmoses (1939)
The throne was huge. From it, the tips of his toes barely reached the floor, and the leather strapped sandals were cutting into his feet; but he knew that he must not let his mother down by squirming. This was an important moment; the climax of the battle of wills that he could see being played out before his young eyes.
He could no more look away than he could remove the heavy two-tiered crown that signified - so his mother had told him - the kingship of the upper and lower Niles. It would be over soon now, he hoped; the heat of the brilliant lights that flooded the throne room was burning him.
The bearded prophet was shouting his demands for the slaves, again and again. He was a giant of a man. Idly the boy wondered if he'd grow so straight and strong. Maybe if he ate all his greens as his mother insisted. He kept his eyes on the prophet as he cast his staff upon the floor. There was a flash of powdery smoke and a snake writhed on the ground. The boy stifled a smile - he had seen this trick before. It was time for the next trick.
He knew he should not look up. It wasn't right that he take his eyes off the prophet; but even so he could not resist a glance towards the roof. It was a glance of admiration. There crawling along a ledge seemingly faced with stone slabs was the ancient sorcerer Ammon-Ra. His long bones cast a gruesome shadow. In his hand he carried an iron staff. It was shiversome to watch him; he had the moves so well, so spider-like, so evil. He would bang his staff on the stones and send them crashing down on the Prophet. His intent was clear from his very stance.
It was, Alfie thought, the best acting he'd ever seen. He hoped he'd do as well when he grew up. Until then the part of the boy-King Tutmoses was the best role his mother had ever got him. It was the sensational children's character role of 1939! His name was going to be in lights - well his stage name anyway, his mother said Alfie Trousdale wasn't a good name for an actor. He let his bored King's gaze drop to the Prophet, and so he did not see the other man crawling just behind the Sorcerer reach out toward him.
He did however see the flash of light, and he heard the make-up girl scream from behind the cameras, and he saw the body of Ammon-Ra fall to the floor of the set, burning as it fell.
Cliff Archer strode out of make-up with, he was aware, a cheesy grin on his face, the image of the beautiful girl who'd put the finishings on lingering in his mind. Nice girl, gorgeous blonde hair. Posh woman to be doing such a menial job, might be worth asking out once the picture was in the can. She'd obviously been starstruck too.
A man in a tall hat, a tatty jacket and and frankly Chaplinesque trousers bounded onto the set, framing the empty air at the back between his hands. "Ah Cliff Archer," he cried, "I'm so pleased to meet you."
"You are?" Cliff edged away hoping he could get away with a simple autograph.
"You again, Doctor!" An older voice cut through the question as a figure robed in green, his face hidden within a carven mummy mask, stepped onto the dais that formed the central feature of the set.
Cliff recognised the costume from the 1939 production. It was a classy replica - the new film's designers had opted to pick up on the original designs. Cliff suspected it was to let them drop in background scenes from the original painted out of black and white with a single tone for mood. Art they called it: he called it cheapness. The mask was an art nouveau horror the faked winkles of the plastic bandages stretching the face into a distorted scream. He wondered for a moment what idiot would wear it replica or not, knowing the gruesome fate of the actor in the previous production. The mask had been burned right onto his face. As if by lightening.
He felt a momentary pang of guilt to realise he'd never bothered to learn the name of the actor who was electrocuted in 1939, still he could rectify that now by learning the name of this chap and giving him some encouragement. "So you are?" he asked getting as much heartiness into his tone as he could manage faced with that evil, near reptile face.
"Bloody Ammon Bloody Ra, who do you bloody think I am, the jolly green giant?" - the voice was old, cultured, and bitter. Cliff felt himself blushing at such language. Well damn the man, if that was his attitude he could just stay a nameless figure in a mask, for all Cliff cared.
The man in the hat rested his hand on Cliff's arm. "Do try to forgive him. It must be very hot in there and I'm not sure he can see out very well." He tapped a finger on the mask's glassy eyes.
"Do you mind" The Mask jerked away on Ammon-Ra's scrawny neck and his voice came out angry as a hornet. "I'm only in this iron-maiden of a thing for one scene. I don't need the sons of hasbeen technical advisors getting me trapped in it."
Cliff turned to the man in the hat. "Your father worked on the last film? I don't remember..."
"Oh, no reason you should," the man said quickly, "spent his whole time getting painted into a corner. I mean painting the corners".
The masked mummy, groaned, and Cliff realised the bitter old fool was laughing. "Vain git more like. Going on about how the film would end in tragedy. I wouldn't have been surprised if it turned out to have been his electrical work that fried my predecessor. Still he was proved right I suppose which was a bloody strange co-incidence what with it happening just like..."
"He predicted," the man in the hat finished, capping Ammon-Ra's sentence. The Mummy seemed to take that as the last straw. "Listen I have to do this, don't think you can get me off set by hanging about with poor quality look-a-likes either! I'm going through with it. And he stalked off.
Cliff whistled. "Bit of a chip on his shoulder! Did you father work on the 1939 film then? I played Prince Tutmoses you know - something of a break for me, not a normal child role you see. Had some meat to it. When the magician got struck by lightening and the film got shelved, I'm afraid my mum and me went to the dogs. Alcohol. Mother's ruin."
"Listen," the technical fellow said suddenly, "You could do much better than this film you know. You're a genius. You could get a better role at MGM tomorrow. Today probably if you told them to go hang."
Cliff choked back a laugh. "A genius? Hmm, you know what MGM offered me: a role with Bingo their best selling chimp. I almost took it too then this came along. My chance to put things right - make up for lost opportunities."
"It's very important not to live in the past Mr. Archer - human's aren't designed for it!"
Cliff looked at the little technical advisor with the big hat and snorted with laughter. "I'm sorry," he said,
"no offence man but look at us, this whole set looks like something out of the 1930s, and you look like the 1890s and your telling me not to live in the past?"
"Well appearances aren't everything," the Doctor frowned wrinkles pushing up his brows and mussing his Beatle-cut hair. He stopped as if clearing his throat before delivering a scripted line:
"I must warn you this film will end in tragedy".
Cliff chortled, "You are a card Doctor, just like your dad eh?"
"You just remember I said it. Now can you tell me where I can find your Director?"
Ishmael (1969) later
The boy perched on the throne was tiny, holding his legs stiff as a board so as not to swing them.
Naked enthusiasm in his darting eyes. The tyke. Cliff wished he'd had time to talk to him, swap memories, offer him some savlon or zambuc for his feet if those sandals hurt as much as his had thirty years before.
But everything was rush rush on this shoot; no rehearsals, just single run throughs with multiple cameras.
"Editing, my boy" the Director had said, "it's all in the editing. All in how you put the pieces together."
He banged his staff on the floor.
"Let my people go!"
Up above Mr Bloody Ammon Bloody Ra would be getting into position.
Just a little bit longer and the past wouldn't be closing in so much.
He cast down his staff and watched as the flash powder hide the substitution of the fake snake.
"Behold the power of the One True God!" His voice was still steady. Surely the cue would come anytime now.
And there was a clap like thunder.
And there was a familiar lightening.
And then he heard the make-up girl, the nervy one, scream from behind the cameras, and he saw the body of Ammon-Ra burning as it fell to the floor.
The aging, the reclusive, the down-at-heel Clifford Archer was already rehearsing his self mockery as he opened the door of the squalid digs he shared with half the students in London, expecting to blink in the lens of a videocam.
Instead he found himself staring down into two quizzical brown eyes under a ridiculous out of date and over-tall hat. The hat immediately struck a chord; thirty odd years ago he'd known someone who wore a hat like that.
Odd, the tricks memory played, things from his childhood were coming into sharp focus these days, his middle years were a blur with the occasional close-up, and where he'd put the cat food last night he certainly didn't know. The bane of being seventy.
The man took off his hat, revealing a mop of hair that to Clifford's practised eyes looked very like a wig. The thought made Cliff wonder if his own was straight.
"The washing machine," the man said, "can I come in?".
"Did the landlord send you?" Cliff asked. He hadn't noticed that the shared communal washing machine that served his and the student's one-room 'flats' was broken. "Only it's not very convenient. I've got some people coming." He found himself embarrassed enough to try to explain even though it was none of the man's business. It was the hat mainly - he couldn't for the life of him remember where he'd seen it before, but he was sure he had.
"A film crew, actually," he said. "They're doing a documentary with reconstructions. On the Curse of The Days Of Our Lives - the film, you know."
The man looked at him as if he was mad. "Ah, no I'm afraid you misunderstood me. I don't know your landlord, but the cat food is in the washing machine and you must not make that documentary."
As it turned out the cat food was in the washing machine. Clifford shrugged: that explained the socks in the larder then. He was getting vaguer. His doctor's hadn't given him long: all the more reason to keep working - screw one last tenner out of this unforgiving wretched business - leave enough to get his daughter out of debt and pay the funeral expenses.
"How did you know?" he asked the stranger.
"Obvious place," the man remarked giving the household tabby a tentative pat. It hissed at him.
"I can't take your advice I'm afraid."
"I thought not. If you did it would have complicated things but Polly wanted me to try."
"Hang on!" Polly. There had been a make-up girl called that on the remake back in 1969 when he'd been playing the Hebrew rebel, thingummy-bob, the one based on Moses they couldn't call Moses for some legal reason. A makeup girl called Polly and a man with a great big hat. The same man? Impossible, the chap didn't look a day over...actually Clifford couldn't get to within a decade of the man's age. He had one of those born old faces that worked you over for leading parts but gave you the pick of character roles.
"Surely, we've met?" - Clifford found himself saying oh well he could only look stupid (and poor, and old, and undervalued). "Weren't you technical advisor on the remake?"
The man looked startled. "Oh now, not really possible is it? My er father, yes my father did some work on British films: old school technical work, painting backdrops on glass, all very specialised -always known as the Doctor."
Clifford's memory clicked into place. "Yes that was what he liked to be called. Bit of a poser really if you don't mind my saying so." He gave the man an appraising look. "He really stamped on your face didn't he. You could be his double." He set his face into his best scowl. "It must really have been a family thing. Wasn't his father in on the 1939 shoot?"
A look of panic passed over the stranger's face. Clifford felt a pang of compassion.
"Listen if their reputation is on the line I can't help that. Everyone on the set was absolved of blame at the time by the police. I'm not about to point any fingers. This is an artistic recreation for the South Bank Show, not bloody Watchdog.
"A precise recreation?"
Clifford sniffed, "well look at me! I'm hardly set up to play the romantic lead am I. I'll be taking the role of the elderly magician Ammon-Ra: the sorceror that Moses, well whatsisname, defeats in the turning staffs into snakes contest. So it'll be my second role."
"You third surely?"
"If you're referring to my performance as Prince Tutmoses in the 1939 original - I regard that as a mere cameo."
"It doesn't worry you then?"
"I'm not superstitious. Not every actor wets himself when someone says Macbeth you know."
"Even so wouldn't you call it odd. Two deaths in two attempts to film the same story, both of the same character, the one you're due to play now?"
"In a re-enactment of a scene not the whole film."
"Ah forgive me, but which scene exactly have the asked you to re-enact?"
Clifford bit his lip. "Get out".
He slammed the door behind the man - his heart pounding.
They both knew which scene he was being paid to re-enact.
Ammon-Ra's most important moment. The biggy. The death scene.
Ammon-Ra (1999) later
"You again, Doctor!" Clifford interrupted the little man on the dais, as he was talking to the youngster the documentary makers thought looked like him thirty years ago. (Cliff couldn't see it himself - although that might be the view through the carven mummy mask). Ishmael looked like any washed up forty year old dressed as an ancient Egyptian.
The middle aged actor smiled heartily: "So you are?" he asked.
Typical, they hadn't even told him who he'd be working with: no-one cared. "Bloody Ammon Bloody Ra, who do you bloody think I am, the jolly green giant?" - Cliff snapped.
The man in the hat rested his hand on Ishmael's arm. "Do try to forgive him. It must be very hot in there and I'm not sure he can see out very well." He tapped a finger on the glassy eyes of Cliff's mask.
"Do you mind" Cliff jerked his head away. Somehow the tech ignoring him and playing up to the younger man infuriated him more than ever. "I'm only in this iron-maiden of a thing for one scene. I don't need the sons of hasbeen technical advisors getting me trapped in it."
Ishmael turned to the man in the hat. "Your father worked on the last film? I don't remember..."
"Oh, no reason you should," the man said quickly, "spent his whole time getting painted into a corner. I mean painting the corners".
Clifford groaned, the oddball was going to spin his father's doom prophesies out unto the next generation.
Cliff laughed. "Vain git more like. Going on about how the film would end in tragedy. I wouldn't have been surprised if it turned out to have been his electrical work that fried my predecessor. Still he was proved right I suppose which was a bloody strange co-incidence what with it happening just like..."
"He predicted," the man in the hat finished, capping Cliff's sentence.
That was the last straw. Cliff boiled behind his mask. "Listen I have to do this, don't think you can get me off set by hanging about with poor quality look-a-likes either! I'm going through with it. He stalked off.
"That's it, shows over, get down from the gantry. We won't be needing you after all Ammon."
Clifford tensed in the mask: Not need him? After all these years? Not bloody need him? His old muscles ached but he was buzzing with adrenaline. He'd show them a performance!
He edged foward casting his shadow over the scene below. The bloody look-a-like playing Ishmael, his fatuous face a parody of Cliff's own at that age looked up at him. The man was shouting something: couldn't he stick to his bloody lines?
Clifford's hand shock as he raised the iron staff. He just had to strike it on the fake stones supported by the gantry: the FX boys would handle the flash as the accident was recreated.
Then he saw the other face looking up at him. The boy - Pharoah Tutmoses. It was like looking into a mirror at the far end of a dusty hall way, but reflecting the sun. The admiration in those eyes. The brighter memories of his childhood froze him, and Ben inching along the gantry behind, tackled him before he was within a yard of the exposed cable.