Posts Tagged ‘cult classic’

Twisted Nerve (1968)

Dir: Roy Boulting | Cast: Hayley Mills, Hywel Bennett, Billie Whitelaw, Phyllis Calvert | UK Thriller 118′

When the writer of Peeping Tom got together with the Boulting Brothers the result was predictably a film with something to offend everyone, even without the questionable subject matter and insensitive language (even the pathologist is addressed as ‘Taffy’).

Thanks to Tarantino the music by Bernard Herrmann is a familiar ringtone to people who’ve never heard of this film let alone seen it, while slivers of the cynical wit of the writer and producers can be seen both in the casting and frequently amusing dialogue and details like Hywell Bennett’s eclectic reading, ranging as does from The Beano to Krafft-Ebbing. @RichardChatten

NOW ON AMAZON | TALKING PICTURES

The Men (1950) Blu-ray release

Dir: Fred Zinnerman | Cast: Marlon Brando, Teresa Wright, Everett Sloane, Jack Webb | US Action drama 85′

Even in his first film Marlon Brando dominates the screen with his feral physicality, a sullen, tempestuous and charismatic presence that burns through this black and white anti-war action drama. Made on a low budget but none the worse for it, The Men opens with the worthy message that for paraplegic veterans battle is a two way process: the first fought with the sword, the second with determination in the face of frustration.

After being injured in active service, Ken Wilocek (Brando) finds himself bedridden in hospital, his spinal cord shattered. Under the care of the dour Dr Brock (Sloane) the ward is full of strapping young men struck down in their prime, yet Brock pussy-foots around the subject of impotence, clearly uppermost in their minds as they reintegrate into female society. To their wives and girlfriends Brock is unhelpful, making it clear that he is ‘not the marrying kind’.

Wilocek’s prissy fiancee (Wright) professes undying love, but Wilocek gives her short shrift, refusing pity and avoiding sentimentality. To Dimitri Tiomkin’s jaunty score, he then embarks on a fierce regime of rehabilitation along with his chipper ward fellows, amongst them Jack Webb and Arthur Jurado are notable. No mention is made of the world outside, nor is any political context given. This is Marlon’s film and his brooding luminosity shines out, a star if ever there was one. MT

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF THE Bfi | 16 May 2022

Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

Dir: John M Stahl | Cast: Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jean Crain, Vincent Price | US Noir 110′

I was once asked what the most glamorous film I could think of was; and this sumptuous adaptation of Ben Ames Williams’ best-seller was the title from my video collection I came up with.

Only in the movies could a man find himself being interrogated in court by a district attorney who had previously been the discarded suitor of the woman he married; played, moreover, by Vincent Price with all the vengeful malice he could muster.

Long after his death in 1950 director John Stahl was described by Andrew Sarris as “a neglected pre-Sirkian figure”, and with Natalie Kalmus making sure the images were clean and bright Leon Shamroy’s Oscar-winning Technicolor photography was not then permitted the dramatic high-contrast look Russell Metty created ten years later for Douglas Sirk at Universal (the lens flare at one critical moment probably made it into the final print only because it was in a scene shot on location and Technicolor therefore couldn’t insist upon it being re-shot). But the rich images and Alfred Newman’s magnificent score make it a glorious experience to savour. @RichardChatten

NOW ON TALKING PICTURES | PRIME VIDEO

On Dangerous Ground (1951)

Dir: Nicholas Ray | Cast: Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan | US Thriller 82′

Robert Ryan commences in full psycho mode in this further step up in the ascending career of Nicholas Ray. Filmed under the title Mad with Much Heart, it begins as a very noir noir before relocating to Colorado to become a snowswept rural drama, the two halves held together by George Diskant’s photography and by a superlative score by Bernard Herrmann (his personal favourite) which anticipates his later work for North by Northwest.

The presence in the early scenes on the mean streets of Charles Kemper, already dead eighteen months when it finally hit screens in February 1952, shows that like many other RKO productions of the time it spent months on the shelf at RKO while the studio’s new owner Howard Hughes dithered over when finally to release it. @RichardChatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Outside the Law ( 1920)

Dir: Tod Browning | Cast: Priscilla Dean, Wheeler Oakman, Lon Chaney, Ralph Lewis | US Horror 75′

While under contract at Universal Studies Tod Browning crafted a series of melodramas featuring powerful female protagonists who stood defiantly against the men who tried to control them on the wrong side of the law. Here the leading lady is Priscilla Dean.

Although recalled today as an early Chaney collaboration with Browning – Chaney playing both a gangster and a Chinaman! – both Chaneys are actually offscreen for much of the film’s tedious mid-section where lady Priscilla Dean and boyfriend Wheeler Oakman agonise over whether or not to go straight while holed up in their Knob (sic) Hill hideout. 

Fortunately “Black Mike” Chaney finally tracks them down and actually calls Oakman “you dirty rat”! (did the line make it into Browning’s own remake ten years later in which Chaney’s role was played by Edward G. Robinson?) before a remarkably violent climax in which ferocious punches are thrown that draw blood, the aggro heightened by incredibly fast cutting that surpasses Griffith. @RichardChatten. 

NOW ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

Swamp Woman (1956)

Dir: Roger Corman | Cast: Marie Windsor, Carole Mathews, Beverly Garland, Mike Connors | US Crime Drama, 84’

Financed by the owners of a chain of New Orleans drive-ins and ravishingly shot in glorious Pathecolor by Fred West, this early Roger Corman exploitation quickie cries out for the same cult status now enjoyed by ‘Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!’. (So far it has already been singled out for attention of sorts by being included in the book ‘The Fifty Worst Movies of All Time’; a mixed blessing since that book also includes Last Year at Marienbad and Ivan the Terrible. And most really bad films are dull, which this certainly isn’t.)

Shot in ten days on location in New Orleans and Louisiana with a jazz score by Willis Holman and a dream cast of typically tough Corman females doing their own stunts in spotless colour-coordinated blouses and tight fifties jeans which they soon cut down with unlikely professionalism into very short shorts (which would have provided far less protection against the mosquitoes) of which two of them naturally later divest themselves completely for a quick skinny dip.

Led by Marie Windsor and with Beverley Garland as psycho redhead Vera, vengeful harpy Susan Cummings (later in Sam Fuller’s Verboten!) and of course undercover policewoman Carole Matthews. Interestingly, masquerading as the prison from which they escape is the same stock shot of Stateville Penitentiary, near Joliet in Illionois that stood in for Gotham State Penitentiary in Batman. With them gone fellow inmate Selina Kyle was probably able finally to crown herself Queen Bee of the women’s section.

They unwisely allow captive ‘Touch’ Connors (his girlfriend soon devoured by alligators) – as he then was – to live. And if these desperado dames had concentrated more on making good their escape with the half a million dollars’ worth of stolen diamonds their boyfriends (who’d already gone to the electric chair) secreted in the swamp than in squabbling over him and fighting among themselves a sequel would have been on the cards. And most welcome! @RichardChatten

Buster (1988) Prime Video

Dir: David Green | Cast: Phil Collins, Julie Waters, Larry Lamb, Stephanie Lawrence | UK Crime drama, 102′

Like the Krays the Great Train Robbers have benefited from nostalgia for the early sixties and their dastardly deeds are here portrayed as a bit of a lark (it doesn’t dwell on the little bit of unpleasantness in the driver’s cab, for example).

An inadvertent irony is the culture shock by Edwards during his South American exile at the streets of Acapulco being full of beggars and the shoddy medical treatment his daughter receives when she swallows a coin during Christmas dinner (a difference that was rapidly becoming less marked as after nearly a quarter of a century Maggie Thatcher was well into her assault upon the welfare state).

Considering the producers spent all that money on flash suits and Austin Westminsters, you’d have thought that someone would have told Phil Collins to trim those anachronistic sideburns; it also has a very eighties rock by Anne Dudley. @RichardChatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Seven Days to Noon (1950)

Dir: John & Roy Boulting | Cast: Barry Jones, André Morell, Olive Sloane, Sheila Manahan | UK Drama 94′

Just how long ago this was made is evident from the opening shot of the postman marching up to 10 Downing Street and what looks like less than half a dozen letters hitting the mat. That it’s set in a London of barrel-organs, when tickets on the Underground cost tuppence and memories of the Blitz made the evacuation of London seem far less far-fetched then than now makes you realise just how long this particular Sword of Damocles has hung over all our heads.

Before we know the contents to Willingdon’s letter the response of Follard’s assistant to reading it is all the more disturbing for being an amused “Another one for the loony bin I suppose” (the second we see reading it bursts into tears).

Although the authorities automatically declare Willingdon mad and what he attempts is monstrous, the film itself is deliberately ambiguous on the matter. The Boultings in later films sent up the clergy mercilessly but Willingdon’s vicar is portrayed sympathetically. But while the first thing we learn about the Professor is that he’s the son of a bishop but finds no comfort in prayer. @RichardChatten

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) Bfi Player

Dir: Val Guest | Cast: Brian Donlevy, Jack Warner, Richard Wordsworth, Margia Dean, Thora Hird, Gordon Jackson | UK, Sci-fi, Horror, 82′

Hammer’s sci-fi movies still tend to be overlooked, despite Losey’s The Damned being probably the best film they ever made.

Still bearing the banner of Hammer’s earlier incarnation Exclusive, and set – unlike their brightly coloured Gothic horrors – in a contemporary London vividly shot night-for-night, that now feels even more distant than nineteenth century Transylvania (in which TV announcers still wore black tie and drunks used the term ‘gin goblin’), this fantasy sci-fi horror outing is sprinkled with occasional wry remarks like the locals are “all in church or at the local”.

Nigel Kneale strongly disapproved of the casting of Brian Donlevy as Quatermass, but he works for me; and the rest of the film is consistently well acted by the usual wonderful cast of familiar faces from Jack Warner, an eight year-old Jane Asher (who has a poignant moment cradling her broken doll), Sam Kydd (of course), to my favourite London landmark, Battersea power station. But surpassing them all is cadaverous Richard Wordsworth giving what is probably the best performance ever given in a horror film as the unfortunate astronaut. @RichardChatten

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

Hostile Witness (1969)

Dir: Ray Milland | Cast: Ray Milland, Sylvia Sims, Felix Aylmer, Raymond Huntley | US Drama 101′

Ray Milland’s final film as a director was also one of the last in which he wore a toupee. But for the glossy colour it rather resembles a thirties quota quickie (complete with the presence of Felix Aylmer) or early sixties Edgar Wallace complete with opening and ending shots of the statue atop the Old Bailey, albeit at twice the length and with far more histrionics; but it provides the same undemanding entertainment and has a sublime final last line.

Milland stars as hot shot barrister Simon Crawford who finds himself on the wrong side of the law when his daughter is killed in a ‘hit and run’. When his neighbour is also killed, evidence points to his being involved in the murder.

The radiant Sylvia Syms represents the sixties, veteran silent star Percy Marmont the twenties; while fifties regulars Ballard Berkeley and John Horsley are also present, although by now no longer wearing trenchcoats.@RichardChatten

 

Ingeborg Holm (1913)

Dir: Victor Sjostrom | Cast: Hilda Borgestrom, Aron Lindgren, Erik Lindholm, Georg Gronroos, Richard Lund | Sweden, Silent Drama 96′

To anyone with a nodding acquaintance with silent cinema the idyllic opening scene depicting the happy Holm family will seem ominous rather than heartwarming; and when Ingeborg Holm’s husband starts placing his hand on his chest in discomfort, you know that trouble and strife lies ahead.

Based on a 1906 play by Nils Krok, it’s realistic and unmelodramatic depiction of hardship generated much discussion and led to changes in the poorhouse laws. A hundred years ago it would have seemed to the socially concerned that the current pace of technological process would ensure that poverty exacerbated by the harsh unyielding poorhouse regime endured by Ingeborg Holm would have become just a distant memory by the end of the 20th Century. More than 50 years later, however, Cathy Come Home (1966) showed that little had changed; and another 50 years has now passed since then. Ingeborg probably ends up costing the state infinitely more than the debts that forced her into the workhouse in the first place, where the irascible officials who have a budget to balance won’t pay for her to visit her sick daughter; but then end up having to foot the bill for the police investigation that tracks her down (just as the taxpayer presumably ended up paying for her later years in a mental institution).

The smattering of Danish films from this period that I’ve seen show that technically Ingeborg Holm is not really the trail-blazer it tends to be claimed. The naturalistic acting is less unusual for the period than those unfamiliar with silent cinema are usually pleasantly surprised to discover, the sets are convincing and lighting is skilfully employed by cameraman Henrik Jaenzon for dramatic impact; but Victor Sjostrom actually frames the action for the most part rather stiffly in the middle distance. It is the content rather than the form that really impresses.

There are no moustache-twirling villains. Even seemingly unsympathetic characters will show unexpected little flashes of humanity (such as the bullying old harridan at the poorhouse who then offers Ingeborg a sip from her hip flask; and the two coppers sent to recapture her). The nearest thing to a villain the film supplies is the jerk manning the counter discouraging customers and ripping off the Holms while Ingeborg’s husband is too sick to keep an eye on him. Having Ingeborg go mad is probably a surrender to the need for some sort of dramatic conclusion to the story. The rest of the film having been such a relentless downer, having her eventually reunited with her long-lost son (played by the same actor who had played her late husband) represents some sort of a happy ending. In reality she would look much, much worse after 15 years in the psychiatric ward than she does here; but the scene is played touchingly and without histrionics. (Although it raises again the question posed by other films with epilogues set several years later: was the main action set in 1898 or the epilogue in 1928?).

The atmospheric photography and period costumes and settings makes ‘Ingeborg Holm’ seem a lot quainter to a modern audience than it would have done at the time. In modern London she would probably end her days less picturesquely sleeping rough in a shop doorway somewhere.@RichardChatten

Space Probe Taurus (1965)

Dir: Leonard Katzman | Cast: Francine York, James Brown, Baynes Barron, Russ Bene | US Sci-fi 81′

Watching Space Probe – Taurus is a salutary reminder of how lucky American International Pictures were to have been associated with the gifted Roger Corman. Without Corman, what we get is perfectly competent but thoroughly routine and uninspired, without the budget to create convincing spaceships or even to plunder a Soviet sci-fi picture for its effects. And it’s not even in colour. The crew is the usual combination of three middle-aged looking men to one hot chick; the hot chick in this case being the late Francine York as Dr. Lisa Wayne, who wears the same unisex coverall as the men, but unlike them accessorises it with silver go-go boots instead of the lace-up army boots the others wear (presumably the quartermasters back on Earth didn’t have them in her size). The name of the ship is apt, as she resembles a piece of porcelain in this bullpen. Dr. Wayne is initially charmlessly cold-shouldered by skipper Hank Stevens (James Brown) because he hadn’t wanted a woman on board, before he eventually mellows and charmlessly falls in love with her instead. (Ho Hum…) 

The early scenes resemble Season One of ‘Lost in Space’ when it was in black & white. It then becomes ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’ when – forced to make an emergency landing on an alien planet – they end up on the bottom of one of its oceans, to be attacked by crab monsters and a cousin of the gill-man from ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’.

Considering how excited scientists get at the slightest suggestion of moisture in outer space, they take the presence of oceans on this new planet in their stride. Dr. Wayne’s supposed to be a scientist, but when they encounter what are obviously enormous crabs her first question is to ask “What are they?” We’re told early on that the equipment the ship can carry is severely circumscribed by weight, yet it fortunately turns out to include scuba gear. Naturally the new planet has a breathable atmosphere, but I wouldn’t relish sharing my new home with crabs the size of elephants; presumably any other gill-men would be dealt with the way the settlers saw off the American Indians.

Bearing in mind that this was made the year that Malcolm X was assassinated, the most striking observation made by anyone in the film is by Dr.Andros after they’ve just killed a hostile alien whose ship they’d been trespassing on. He makes a number of comments about the unlikelihood of different species being able to peacefully co-exist that are remarkably near the knuckle (“We’ve got enough troubles on Earth now. I mean we’re barely keeping from killing each other off…pretty soon someone on Earth decides that we don’t like the way they look…after all, one of us is going to be a minority group. And the next thing you know, Whammo, we’re trying to blast each other out of existence.”), and remain as scarily pertinent as ever over half a century later. @RichardChatten

Batman: The Movie (1966)

Dir: Leslie H. Martinson | Cast: Adam West, Burt Ward, Lee Merlwether, Cesar Romero | US, 105′

Incredible as it may seem, it was just over fifty years ago today that this movie originally premiered at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas. It’s a substantially different entity from the TV original, to which it doesn’t do justice. The series looks better each passing year with its clean lines and pristine, saturated colours which more resemble the dynamism and visual clarity of an actual comic strip than the murky recent big screen offerings. Despite the supposedly juvenile demographic of this ‘Batman’, it has more literate dialogue than any modern superhero movie: could you imagine Christian Bale’s Batman possessing the vocabulary to employ a phrase like “human jetsam”?

But at 105 minutes the movie feels overstretched and rambling, and I miss the narration by producer William Dozier that was so much part of the TV series. The bigger budget meant the producers could splash out on The Penguin’s submarine along with the Batboat, Batcopter, and Batcycle; which came in handy as embellishments to seasons Two & Three, but which for me slow the action down (I find The Penguin’s sub very confining during the latter half of the movie, and staging the final punch-up on it’s narrow deck feels more cramped than similar showdowns in the TV series; especially as it’s obviously shot on the studio tank in front of a painted backdrop of the sky). On the plus side there are none of those endless back stories for each villain that take up so much of more recent Batman movies; although the fact that The Catwoman is already a “known supercriminal” with a long career in larceny already behind her, yet Batman doesn’t immediately recognise her at a press conference masquerading as Kitanya Irenya Tatanya Karenska Alisoff of the ‘Moscow Bugle’ really does strain credibility, even by the standards of an unabashed piece of hokum like this.

An incidental advantage the 1966 movie has over both the TV series and the later movies is in the characterisations. In one of the Tim Burton movies Batman casually turns a flamethrower on a few goons; which is really not acceptable conduct for the guy who’s supposed to be the Good Guy. This Batman risks his own life to spare a family of ducks; which is as it should be. Adam West spends much more time as Bruce Wayne in the movie than he usually does in the TV series, and as Wayne is permitted a more fiery temperament than Batman ever displays; as when he loses his temper and attempts to head-butt The Riddler. All those narcissistic egos cooped up together on Penguin’s submarine also generate friction: I particularly liked The Joker’s admonition when it falls to The Riddler to post a ransom demand: “And none of your stupid riddles, do you understand? Make those messages plain!”, and the droll nautical exchange between Penguin and two of his goons (probably ad libbed by Meredith), “Yo Ho!” – “Yo Ho What?” – “SIR!”.

And then there’s Lee Meriwether’s Catwoman.

Julie Newmar being unavailable, Ms Meriwether stepped into Newmar’s ankle boots (minus the gold chain and medallion around her neck that Newmar always wore) at the very last minute, and director Leslie Martinson initially had to shoot around her; yet another reason why she actually has so disappointingly little screen time uniformed as The Catwoman compared to the interminable Kitka footage. But from this liability a special strength inadvertently derives, and the film’s take on The Catwoman is both unique and closer to the comic strip; never to be repeated.

When the movie was made Julie Newmar had so far made only one isolated appearance in Season One; so this represents only The Catwoman’s second appearance among the premier league baddies (whereas Gorshin’s appearance as The Riddler is almost a swansong; after being nominated for an Emmy he fell out with the producers over money and made only one more appearance in the series in Season Three). Because all the usual lovey-dovey stuff between Batman and The Catwoman that Julie Newmar found so boring is reserved for the scenes with “Miss Kitka”, for the first and last time The Catwoman herself is portrayed purely as a ruthless career criminal bent on the defeat of the Dynamic Duo, her mind solely on her work with a single-mindedness far removed from the flirtatiousness and playful good humour of Newmar and Kitt. (More like an actual cat in fact.)

To this day most people still don’t get it that the Bruce/Kitka ‘romance’ was purely a calculated ruse on the part of The Catwoman to lure The Caped Crusader into a trap. Furthermore, while Newmar deliciously played The Catwoman with the light of madness forever dancing in her eyes (and alone of all the actresses to have played her seemed genuinely weird enough to have chosen to adopt a clinging wet-look catsuit as her regular working clothes), Meriwether by contrast remains uncomplicatedly mean & sociopathic. Both Newmar and Kitt seem authentically to have clawed their way from the wrong side of the tracks; but Meriwether has the insolent air of entitlement of a prom queen gone bad, thus cutting a much more incongruous figure as a grown woman in the fetish gear Newmar and Kitt seemed born to wear (as worn by them, wet-look black stretch lamé wasn’t merely a fabric it was a weapon!), in which Meriwether marches about rather than slinks. (SPOILER COMING: Any healthy, red-blooded male, by the way, would ultimately be far more likely to be thrilled than heart-broken to find the woman he’s been stepping out with attired as The Catwoman.) Of the three, Meriwether also most resembles those coldly handsome, high-cheekboned harpies that regularly populate comic books.

Gorshin’s Riddler is plainly headed for a padded cell rather than jail when this is all over, with Meriwether’s Catwoman the least flamboyantly crazy of the four: just another criminal to be caged. When Bruce Wayne warns the assembled baddies that “I swear by heaven. If you’ve harmed that girl. I’ll kill you all!”, unusually for a female adversary The Catwoman is obviously included in this threat. And when finally unmasked and batcuffed, Meriwether’s Catwoman reveals herself in her true colours by showing not the faintest flicker of remorse as she is led away pouting to the slammer; unrepentantly heartless and irredeemably evil to the end. Way to Go, Lee!! @RIchardChatten

ON PRIME VIDEO

Who Killed Teddy Bear (1965)

Dir: Joseph Cates | Cast: Sal Mineo, Juliet Prowse, Jan Murray, Elaine Stritch | US Thriller 84′

Although the Italian giallo officially dates from Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (1964), the genre didn’t bloom until the early seventies; with the unfortunate result that they are indelibly associated for this viewer with ugly colour and even uglier clothes and haircuts.

This Neo-noir thriller gives an interesting glimpse of what gialli would have looked like had they been made just a few years earlier when a modicum of taste still prevailed, and male dress sense (an oxymoron if ever there was one after the late sixties) hadn’t yet been wrecked by the bizarre notion that flares and sideburns looked cool, and sharp suits, thin ties and short back and sides were still standard male apparel (it’s nice to see Dan Travanty (sic) and Bruce Glover, for example, looking so young and clean-cut; the former playing a deaf mute, the latter an unnerving security adviser). That goes for the women too: I’ve never seen Elaine Stritch look more chic and glamorous than she does as the elegant lipstick lesbian she plays here.

Most of the conventions of the giallo are present and correct in this movie: including voyeurism, transvestism, flashbacks depicting childhood sexual traumas, the stalking of women, weird camera angles making us complicit with the killer, obtrusive musical accompaniment and cops who make the Keystone Kops look like Maigret (the unprofessional way the detective behaves at the end has to be seen to be believed!). But Who Killed Teddy Bear could only have been made at that fault-line in the mid-sixties when censorship was being rapidly eroded and subjects that would have been absolutely taboo just a couple of years earlier could even be hinted at; but before the descent into full-frontal crudity that makes so much modern cinema almost unwatchable.

Leon Tokatyan’s script is liberally sprinkled with words like “pervert” and “hooker”, for example; but there’s no swearing. And of course – although no one had any inkling of this at the time – it was made just at the moment that the black-&-white feature film as the cinema’s default setting was on the verge of disappearing forever. Six years earlier cameraman Joseph Brun had shot one of the most breathtaking black-&-white features ever made, Robert Wise’s Odds Against Tomorrow (1959); so when I saw his name on the (extremely stylishly designed) credits I knew I was in for something special. @RichardChatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Without Warning (1952)

Dir: Arnold Laven | US Thriller

I became aware of this film years ago from a passing reference to it in Carlos Clarens’ ‘Horror Movies’, which had led me to assume that it was better known than it actually is.

The maiden production of the company Levy-Gardner-Laven (later to become very active in TV), and the directorial debut of Arnold Laven, Without Warning! isn’t particularly original – following as it does in the well-worn footsteps of flavourful location-shot police procedurals like The Naked City; and the ending wraps things up a little too abruptly. But as photographed by the veteran Joseph Biroc it treats us to a magnificent tour of some of the seamier parts of Los Angeles as they looked in 1951 (no crime film set in Los Angeles at this time, for example, became complete without a visit to its storm drains, which duly put in an appearance). One of many memorable images the film provides is the all-blonde police decoy squad who resemble something out of The Man from UNCLE; and despite the ultra-noirish title sequence and the occasional night scene, much of the action actually takes place bathed in glorious Californian sunlight for a change.

There are hints that the grip of the Breen Office was beginning to weaken (the wedding ring visibly worn by the blonde that Martin picks up in a bar, for example, would have been vetoed a few years earlier for depicting adultery), and the killer in this film is obviously motivated by sex; although the fact that we later learn that he’s bearing a grudge at the blonde wife who left him makes him more of a sore loser than the all-out sadistic sex fiend the film initially promises (and doesn’t really square with the glee he takes in reading about the case in the papers).

Edward Binns, who plays the police lieutenant, will be most familiar to viewers as Juror 6 in 12 Angry Men, and both he and killer Adam Williams were in North by Northwest; the former again playing a detective and the latter again playing a gardener. @RichardChatten

The Great Wall (2016)

Dir: Zhang Zimou | Cast: Matt damon, Tian Jing, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau | 103’ Action Drama

I actually find the idea that the Great Wall of China was built to keep out alien invaders rather fun; and if you can buy that, the story that follows isn’t too hard to take. The basic narrative of ‘The Great Wall’ has seen service before in classics like ‘Zulu’ and ‘Assault on Precinct 13’, while the monsters (collectively called the Tao Tei) are the usual slavering CGI nightmares with rows of ferocious teeth; the later emphasis on the strategic role of their queen recalling ‘Starship Troopers’.

English director Clio Bernard had a hand in the script set in the 11th Century where the action is fast, furious and very noisy; with predictable pauses for the occasional bit of hushed Eastern-style philosophising. Ironically it’s when the action transfers from the Great Wall itself to the capital that it becomes much more interesting to look at, the capital providing a far better backdrop for veteran director Zhang Yimou to display the bold use of colour for which he is renowned (most notably in a climactic scene set in a tower inevitably lined with stained glass windows).

The return to the capital by balloon of Commander Lin Mae of the Crane Troop (Jing Tian) with her female comrades-in-arms is another visual highlight, and throughout the film it’s good to see women serving on the front line (in blue, for a change, with matching capes), albeit usually in the background; and Lin Mae’s armour as Commander doesn’t seem to have been designed to immediately distinguish her from her subordinates. @RichardChatten

 

Outrage (1950)

Dir: Ida Lupino | Cast: Mala Powers, Tod Andrews, Robert Clarke, Raymond Bond | US Film Noir, 75′

Behind the sensationalistic title lies an earnest social drama of the sort one would already expect of director Ida Lupino. It follows a similar plot arc to the same year’s On Dangerous Ground, in which a human being damaged by the Big Bad City finds peace of a sort out in the country. (Although was it really possible in 1950 for a stranger to walk straight into a job – especially one involving handling money – without any sort of references or proof of identity?).

The assault on Mala Powers is never described more explicitly than as a “vicious criminal attack”, and it COULD simply have been a violent mugging – which would have been bad enough; but the morbid obsession with her on the part of her attacker makes it clear what the full nature of the assault was.

A religious component in the script – caring hunk Tod Andrews who provides Powers with a strong shoulder to lean on is revealed to be a clergyman – is one of many potentially provocative issues left unexplored; and there are various other loose ends. Her attacker is revealed to be not just an average guy who turned nasty, but a messed-up serial offender who progresses from sexual assault to armed robbery. The would-be suitor whose brusque advances prove she’s still not safe from such unwanted attentions even in the Garden of Eden she seems to have found is introduced very abruptly – and despatched even more abruptly with a blow from a monkey wrench. The ending is emotional but highly equivocal; although we have been explicitly told that it will probably take years of therapy and guidance to grant her eventual peace of mind.@RichardChatten

 

Funeral in Berlin (1966) Prime video

Dir: Guy Hamilton | Cast: Michael Caine, Oskar Homolka, Eva Renzi, Paul Hubschmid | UK Thriller 102′

Probably the least familiar these days of the original Harry Palmer trio, brought to us by Len Deighton, it shows just what a difference a director makes.

Michael Caine returns as “that shrewd little cockney” from the original, transplanted from Blighty to Berlin, the presence of Oscar Homolka anticipates Billion Dollar Brain, and this time we get to see Major Ross doing the garden with his missus (“How can you work for that dreadful man?”).

The directors of the other two Deighton’s were show-offs; the helmsman on this old pro Guy Hamilton (earlier an assistant on The Third Man – and it shows – and recently in charge of Goldfinger), which ensures a film less flashy than the two that bookend it, but is still good fun nevertheless; and Palmer’s objection to his alias bears a suspicious resemblance to the gang quibbling over their colours in Reservoir Dogs.@RichardChatten

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

Dir: Stanley Kramer | Cast: Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katherine Hepburn | US Drama, 108’

A curious mass of anomalies. The daring subject matter is cocooned in a very old-fashioned production in which well-heeled professionals do little but talk in a glossily photographed, lavishly appointed set looking out on a diorama of San Francisco in which the trees never move.

The late Sidney Poitier has charisma to spare and it has old-fashioned star power in the final screen teaming of Tracy & Hepburn. The latter deservedly won an Oscar; and the former (whose final speech – which took longer to edit than shoot – in which he swears onscreen for the first and last time when he says “screw all those people”) should at least have been posthumously nominated. @RichardChatten

Now on prime video

Whity (1971)

Dir: Werner Reiner Fassbinder | Cast: Ron Randell, Hanna Schygulla, Katrin Schaake, Harry Baer | 85′ Germany, Drama

Never released commercially, Whity remains one of Fassbinder’s least seen films, and when spoken of it is usually with mild incredulity since the thing is reportedly a western. Naturally it’s a western the like of which English-speaking audiences have never seen before (or at any rate since Red Garters), but one that would look less eccentric to a German audience used to the popular Karl May adaptations of the sixties in which men are men and women are German. Although there are nods towards Sergio Leone – notably with Peer Raben’s score – it plainly owes more to Gillo Pontecorvo’s Queimada! (1969) and to the ‘slavery’ genre of the seventies that began with Herbert Biberman’s ‘Slaves’ in 1969 and reached its apotheosis with Mandingo.

Sumptuously designed by Kurt Raab and fluidly shot in widescreen and Eastmancolor by the late Michael Ballhaus, visually it anticipates the saturated colours of Fassbinder’s final extravaganzas like Lili Marleen and Querelle, with the cast resembling waxworks. It effectively does for westerns what Der Amerikanische Soldat did for gangster movies, but is far less fun; although Fassbinder’s own appearance as a macho, whip-wielding cowboy is as funny as anything to be found in Carry On Cowboy. @Richard Chatten

5 Branded Women (1960)

Dir: Martin Ritt | Cast: Van Heflin, Silvana Mangano, Jeanne Moreau, Vera Miles, Barbara Bel Geddes | US War Drama 94′

Martin Ritt’s only war movie is a strange hybrid which has the thumb prints all over it of producer Dino De Laurentiis – whose bright idea the inevitable communal nude bathing scene doubtless was, and saw to it that his wife Silvana Mangano gets most of the close ups. That said, the film comes a very poor second to the same year’s La Ciociara; also a gritty Italian war movie, which won Carlo Ponti’s wife Sophia Loren the Oscar for best actress.

While all given Yugoslav names, the five women of the title are plainly cast with the international box office in mind; although neither of the American contingent – Vera Miles and Barbara Bel Geddes – get sufficient screen time to make much of an impression. With the exception of Richard Basehart’s Good German, the male lead characters all come across as creeps. Van Heflin’s partisan leader is a sanctimonious bore, while Harry Guardino’s overactive loins (spoiler coming) directly lead to Miles’ death. (He plainly made no attempt to enlighten the court martial that it was entirely him who was responsible, and that it was he who left his post to get his paws on Miles; instead he just brags about all the Germans he’s killed. The other partisans meanwhile are far too quick to stick her in front of the firing squad by his side.

Despite the interesting cast, the whole thing leaves a pretty bad taste in the mouth, and you certainly come away feeling soiled at the waste and squalor depicted, although not necessarily in the ways that the film’s makers intended. @RichardChatten

 

Went the Day Well? (1942)

Dir: Alberto Cavalcanti | Cast: Leslie Banks, C V France, Valerie Taylor, Marie Lohr | UK Thriller 82′

A pretty little English village at Whitsun provides an incongruous backdrop to this remarkably ruthless piece of wartime propaganda in which the Germans behave like utter swine, striking children, shooting old men in the back and bayoneting a woman; in return for which they pay dearly in a variety of eye-watering ways.

Based on the short story by Graham Greene entitled The Lieutenant Died Last, and adapted for the screen by a trio of writers, the part the women play in all this is particularly interesting. One of the land girls looks as if she’s going to be sick after shooting a German while the other is obviously having the time of her life, the lady of the manor shows she’s not as daft as she first seems, and performs an incredible act of self sacrifice (during which she initially collides with the door frame, which director Cavalcanti wisely kept in); while a woman realising the man she loves is a traitor gets her revenge for his double betrayal by continuing to shoot him two more times after she’s already felled him. @RichardChatten

NOW ON THE BBC

The Tattered Dress (1957)

Dir: Jack Arnold | Cast: Jeff Chandler, Jack Carson, Jeanne Crain, Gail Russell | US Noir, 93′

The Tattered Dress is the second of four programmers released by Universal in 1957 directed by Jack Arnold, who had started the year extremely auspiciously with The Incredible Shrinking Man.

The 1949 outing was the first of two he made set in the deep south: the latter being Man in the Shadow, in which Jeff Chandler played the honest sheriff of a fictitious cow town called Spurline who crosses swords with a ruthless local ranch owner played by Orson Welles. In The Tattered Dress it’s the sheriff (played by Jack Carson) who’s the heavy; and Chandler is a lawyer from New York who has come to defend a wealthy spiv for the murder of a popular local sports hero to whom his trashy wife had lately taken a shine.

After a glorious opening sequence resembling a series of dime novel covers of the period, Chandler arrives in Desert View, Nevada; and the moment he steps off the train the unfriendly looks he gets tell us we’re in Mississippi Burning territory. Like most Hollywood films since time immemorial it takes a remarkably cynical view of lawyers and the law (“I could spend hours telling you of innocent men imprisoned and executed because of clumsy and uninspired defences”), but treats its often lurid subject matter in a rather lacklustre and talky fashion. Jeffrey Chandler isn’t the most convincing of casting as a cynical and ruthless lawyer whose motto is “If you’re guilty get James Gordon Blane” (it would have been perfect for Carson, actually); and most of the excellent supporting cast aren’t really at their best, with the notable exception of Edward Andrews in a very small part and Gail Russell (whose vulnerable appearance is enhanced by the regrettable fact that she was in reality drinking herself to death at the time) as a pawn in a dastardly plot by crooked sheriff Jack Carson to cook Chandler’s goose.

Two nice uses by Arnold of the Cinemascope screen were the way Chandler’s until now estranged wife Jeanne Crain signals that their conjugal relations are about to resume by firmly pulling shut the curtains in his hotel suite; and the slight but perceptible little sigh of relief visible on the part of the court stenographer (played by Robert Haines) when Chandler’s passionate summary to the jury finally ends. @Richard Chatten

NOW ON YOUTUBE

Kosciuszko pod Raclawicami (1938)

Dir: Joseph Lejtes | Cast: Tadeusz Bialoszczyn, Witold Zacharewicz, Jerzy Pichelski | Poland, Drama 92’

The victory of the Polish military leader Tadeusz Kościuszko (1746-1817) over Poland’s Russian occupiers at the Battle of Racławice on 4 April 1794 had already been the subject of a film in 1913. In the context of European geopolitics a quarter of a century later, such truculent sabre-rattling at their old adversary in the East seems an extraordinary exercise in wishful thinking, considering the imminent threat posed in the West by their other neighbour Germany.

Much of the film consists of actors in wigs beating their chests (sometimes literally) and loudly declaiming their intentions to stick it to the enemy; with comparisons drawn between Kościuszko’s uprising against the Russians in 1791 and that by George Washington in America fifteen years earlier. Although top-billed as Kościuszko, Tadeusz Białoszczyński actually gets far less screen time than Witold Zacharewicz (who died in Auschwitz in 1943) as a dashing young lieutenant whose interest in a comely young local lass played by Elżbieta Barszczewska results in them forming two corners of an extremely uninteresting romantic triangle that eats up footage throughout much of the first two thirds of the film, until finally the last twenty minutes of the film make way for a galumphing bargain basement recreation of Racławice. The rest – as they say – is history. @RichardChatten

NOW ON YOUTUBE

I Passed for White (1960)

Dir: Fred M Wilcox | Cast: Sonya Wilde, James Franciscus, Patricia Mahon, Elizabeth Council | Drama 63’

Far from being the trashy exploitation movie signalled by the title, the rather bland groupings by veteran director Fred Wilcox actually heighten the drama that grows and grows and grows, with the final resolution only coming right at the very end.

Based on Mary Hastings Bradley’s novel, James Franciscus’ aryan good looks are perfect for the leading man who you never know which way he’ll jump. But but as usual it’s the women who are the most interesting characters: Sonya Wilde in her screen debut after making her mark on Broadway taking over the role of Maria in ‘West Side Story. Pat Michan as the friend who’s the only one in on the heroine’s (literally) dark secret, Elizabeth Council as the menacing mother-in-law who you are never sure how much and what exactly she suspects; and especially Isabelle Cooley as the ever-present but quiet and inscrutable maid who is yet another element in the film that keeps you guessing. @RichardChatten

NOWN ON YOUTUBE

La Revue des Revues (1927)

Dir/Wri: Joe Francis | Cast: Josephine Baker, Andre Luguet, Helene Hallier, Pepa Bonafe | France, Silent 103′

St Louis-born and Harlem-raised Paris music hall star Josephine Baker was the highest paid entertainer of her day and has now made history as the first Black woman to enter France’s hallowed Pantheon, courtesy of President Macron. In Cannes she also has a special marine walkway dedicated to her memory.

The grotesquely inappropriate musical accompaniment by Taranta-Bubu, the emphasis of the plot on foot fetishism and Baker’s contributions to this silent drama have been discussed at length by many critics, but here are a few brief words on the other production numbers which comprise about three quarters of the film.

They nearly all suffer from being extremely unimaginatively photographed from the point of view of a theatre audience, the choreography generally seems to consist of the performers simply marching laterally back and forth across a rather crowded stage displaying a variety of almost comically elaborate (and generally disappointingly unscanty) costumes and even more comically elaborate hats – the rather Edwardian nature of the costumes emphasised by the number of production numbers staged in period costume (usually 18th Century).

Aside from the two Josephine Baker numbers, the three other routines with a contemporary ambiance appropriate to the 1920s were: ‘Les Poissons d’Avril’ with Erna Carise briefly displaying herself slinkily attired as a snake; ‘Le Temple Egyptien’, its Ancient Egyptian setting ironically inspiring a faintly avant garde sequence that would have gone well with Stravinsky rather than the caterwauling by Taranta-Bubu that all the other reviewers have complained about; and finally Lila Nikolska, performing in an understated little tassled tutu flanked by a much smaller chorus in less fussy costumes and on a far less fussily decorated stage than anything that has preceded it, and all the more effective for it. @Richard Chatten

AVAILABLE ON THE CRITERION CHANNEL |

 

Tomorrow is Forever (1946)

Dir: Irving Pitchel | Cast: Orson Welles, Claudette Colbert, George Brent, Lucile Watson | US Drama 104″

A fascinating memento of Orson Welles’ extremely brief mid-forties spell as a bankable star in ‘A’ features, with Max Steiner crashing about on the soundtrack, a glamorous, expensively suited Claudette Colbert as his ‘widow’ and a cute little Natalie Wood as his adopted daughter. (Welles presumably hit it off with Richard Long, who plays his grown-up son, since he cast him in his next film, The Stranger).

Playing yet another role greatly in a advance of his real years, Welles wears the first of many false beards he would adopt in the years to come, along with a rather theatrical limp. Director Irving Pichel like all the other Hollywood hacks Welles worked with during this period produced work suspiciously far in advance of his usual accustomed mediocrity; such as a couple of nice uses of a mirror and a finale depicting a burning letter that recalls a certain sledge. The film competed at Venice in 1947 but went home empty-handed. @Richard Chatten

 

Masquerade (1965) Prime video

Dir: Basil Dearden | Cast: Cliff Robertson, Jack Hawkins, Marisa Mell, Michel Piccoli, Charles Grey, Bill Fraser, Felix Aylmer, John Le Mesurier | UK Drama 102′

Like Graham Greene, the writing-producing team of Michael Relph and Basil Dearden interspersed ‘novels’ like Sapphire and Victim with ‘entertainments’ like The League of Gentlemen; and they never made an entertainment more entertaining than this, attractively shot in Technicolor on picturesque Spanish locations with a once-a-lifetime cast (the witty animated titles sequence contains the extraordinary credit ‘Also Starring Michel Piccoli, Bill Fraser’; while Jack Hawkins ironically shares scenes with Charles Gray, soon to become his regular screen voice when Hawkins tragically had his voice box removed).

Dearden and Relph had for ten years planned to film Victor Canning’s 1954 novel ‘Castle Minerva’, originally with Rex Harrison in the lead; but fortunately Cliff Robertson starred when the film finally got made.

William Goldman earned his first screen credit making the hero more American, and it abounds in cynical one-liners like “In my country torture is still legal” and “I’ve – got – scruples?” and a priceless breach of the fourth wall when a sequence both suspenseful and hilarious ends with Robertson staring into the camera and saying “Somebody up there hates me!”

It’s full of surprises – some scenes resemble North by Northwest directed by Fellini – and in a scene worthy of Hitchcock an abduction is carried out in full view of a circus audience laughing uproariously. @Richard Chatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Eve of Destruction (1991)

Dir: Duncan Gibbins | Cast: Gregory Hines, Renée Soutendijk, Michael Greene, Kurt Fuller | US Thriller 91′

The Dutch actress Renée Soutendijk – who had made her name ten years earlier as The Girl with the Red Hair – is magnificent here in her only American film as Dr. Eve Simmons and her robot double Eve VIII in this fascinating cross between The Colossus of New York and Marnie. It sounded like fun when it briefly hit cinemas 30 years ago; and after waiting a quarter of a century for it to turn up on TV or on the DVD rack, YouTube once again has finally come to the rescue…

An exercise in which robot Eve is allowed out in San Francisco dressed (like Dr.Simmons herself) in the style of Hillary Clinton, inevitably goes wrong; and after being accidentally reprogrammed in Battlefield Mode she’s transformed into a seriously hot Ms Hyde who rather than heading for an army surplus store and purchasing a set of combat fatigues, instead opts for the hooker look: spending the rest of the film in blood red lipstick, a black mini skirt, high heels and red leather bomber jacket accessorised with a red Mustang (which she later swaps for a red jeep). Thus equipped, she starts making life hard for sleazeballs on the pull, a yuppie roadhog and her abusive father (played in a brief cameo by an unbilled Kevin McCarthy). Then her maternal instinct kicks in…

Obviously the people who designed Eve VIII never go to the movies, otherwise they wouldn’t  have been careless enough to make their latest secret weapon a foxy blonde who can already kill a man with her bare hands even when not carrying an Uzi. She also happens to be a tactical nuclear weapon with a 24-hour trigger (I’m sure we’ve all met women like that; and the mind boggles at what the Taliban would have made of her had she ever been deployed against them). But scariest of all she’s also carrying a lot of emotional baggage inherited from Dr. Simmons, whose memories and fantasies have been programmed into her. She reacts to the word ‘bitch’ the way Marnie Edgar used to react to thunderstorms and the colour red. The film’s writers plainly felt this made the movie ‘deeper’; but personally I would have been happier with her just sticking to being an unstoppable killing machine…@Richard Chatten

 

Out of the Blue (1980) Blu-ray

Dir: Dennis Hopper | Cast: Linda Manz, Dennis Hopper, Sharon Farell, Doń Gordon | US Drama 94′

Initially signed on as an actor, Dennis Hopper took over the direction of this, his third feature film, from writer Leonard Yakir (whose script Hopper re-wrote eight days into the six-week shoot in Vancouver). The result is Hopper’s most professional looking film (not necessarily something he would have taken as a compliment), well-acted, good looking and engrossing, particularly when the unique Linda Manz (billed over Hopper) is onscreen; confirming here that her unforgettable performance in Days of Heaven was no flash in the pan.

Obviously intended not to be an easy ride, towards the end a spectacularly ugly skeleton comes crashing out of the family closet, and it all ends very badly for all. Does Cebe’s poor junkie mother Kathy (a characteristically attractive performance from Sharon Farell; an actress like Miss Manz grievously underused in films) really deserve what her daughter does to her? Richard Chatten

AVAILABLE from 29 NOVEMBER ON DIGITAL and BFI BLU-RAY 

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Dir: George A Romero | Cast: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman | US Horror, 96′

A cult film (actually similar in mood to Daphne du Maurier’s original short story ‘The Birds’) that still packs a punch over half a century later and richly deserves its cult reputation; despite having a lot to answer for, since it spawned so many gorier, inferior sequels. Needless to say, Night is one of the most successful independent movies ever made, grossing USD 30 million – over 263 times its budget, although none of the money – as usual – went to the people who actually made the film, due to a poor distribution deal and a copyright technicality waiving their rights to the proceeds.

It starts quietly, with the dialogue between two bickering siblings establishing from the outset the grimly black humour (like the rednecks who find an opportunity for sport in hunting ‘ghouls’; the word ‘zombie’ is never used).

 

Night of the Living Dead is actually extremely realistic for a horror film as every attempt made by the cast to escape fails. The handsome, level-headed hero is black (a fact never mentioned); a mixed blessing as every decision he makes is the wrong one and they’d actually have been better advised to have taken the advice of unattractive loudmouth Mr Cooper (played by co.producer Karl Hardman).

If one wanted to be really pretentious the film also contains it’s own Shakespearean ‘double time’ scheme, as it’s supposed to be charting the events of just one night yet the news bulletin from Washington – in which director Romero appears as a reporter – takes place in broad daylight.@Richard Chatten

 

The Boy with Green Hair (1948)

Dir: Joseph Losey | Wri: Baz Barzman | Cast: Pat O’Brian, Robert Ryan, Barbara Hale, Dean Stockwell | US Fantasy Drama 82’

This unique film begins with a scene set in a police station at night worthy of Edward Hopper, immediately followed by the surprise of seeing a smiling young Robert Ryan in Technicolor in a brown suit in the prologue and epilogue.

Wedded to a very specific moment both in the history of the world and of Hollywood, the film that emerged represents the competing input of several specific individuals; of whom one of the most decisive is probably the least mentioned: Betsy Beaton (1914-1977), author of the original short story published in the 29 December 1946 edition of ‘This Week’ magazine; who got $10,000 less for the film rights than Eden Ahbez for his twee hit song ‘Nature Boy’. (What the film is really about is summed up in a throwaway remark made by one of the kids, “How’d you like to have your sister marry somebody with green hair?”.)

Director Joseph Losey had made only one more feature film in colour before he and fellow blacklistee Ben Barzman worked again on another pacifist fantasy (this time in very stark black & white) about child victims of war, ‘The Damned’ (1961) – Barzman’s draft of which Losey discarded – which remains one of Losey’s most underrated films.

The fate of both films at the hands of the studios that originally produced them provide a fascinating footnote to the Cold War they eloquently bookend. @Richard Chatten

 

The Severed Arm (1973) Plex TV

Wri/Dir: Tom Alderman | Cast: Deborah Walley, Paul Carr, Marvin Kaplan, John Crawford | US Horror, 89′

Thomas S Alderman’s exploitation movie sees five trapped miners on the bring of starvation resort to butchering one of their mates, before rescue brings retribution for all concerned. The Severed Arm follows that old chestnut about a group of men haunted by a guilty shared secret, who receive a nasty surprise in the mail followed by scary nightly visits.

Dated by the seventies haircuts and moustaches, constant zooms and a synthesised score, and seemingly edited with the same axe their nemesis employs; it’s all played straight (including by veteran comedy actor Marvin Kaplan as nighttime D. J. ‘Wild Man Herman’) and reasonably effective on what was plainly half a shoestring.

Although top billed, early sixties teenage actress Deborah Walley is largely absent for most of the duration; although she certainly makes up for lost time at the conclusion. Richard Chatten

NOW ON PLEX TV AND YOUTUBE

Eagles of the Fleet (1952)

Dir: Lesley Selander | Cast: Sterling Hayden, Richard Carlson, William Phipps, Keith Larsen, Phyllis Coates | US Doc 83′

The opening credits and martial music seem rather grand to be bearing the infamous name of poverty row purveyors Monogram Pictures – now moving (for them) upmarket and soon to rebrand themselves Allied Artists – by whose standards this production by Walter Mirisch (who later gave us The Great Escape) obviously represented a prestige project.

Those with a knowledge of US military aircraft will as usual have a great time pointing out all the mismatched aircraft footage (just as trainspotters never tire of pointing out that the rolling stock is all wrong in any film with a railway setting); but the 16mm Kodachrome film shot by enterprising wartime cameramen was already proving a gift that keeps on giving, of which this early production was an early beneficiary, aided by Cinecolor photography by Harry Neumann and art direction and editing by David Milton and William Austin that reasonably unobtrusively blends the original footage with studio work and scenes actually shot on the USS Princeton.

The names of Sterling Hayden and Richard Carlson gave a strong hint as to what to expect, and sure enough we get the usual conflict between granite-faced by-the-book disciplinarian Hayden and nice guy Carlson who comes to appreciate the wisdom of Hayden’s anti-charm offensive on the new boys (who include a youthful-looking William Schallart in a surprisingly substantial early role as ‘Longfellow’).

The film holds your attention for the most part, although Marlin Skiles’ music increasingly emphasises exhilaration rather than grim determination on the part of the flyers; and I did find my attention starting to wander during the final twenty minutes when the excitement was supposed to be at its height.@Richard Chatten

 

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Dir.: John Huston; Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Lee Patrick, Gladys George, Jerome Cowan, Elisha Cook Jr; USA 1941, 101 min.

The second film adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel ‘The Maltese Falcon’, which was serialised in the ‘Black Mask’ before being published by Knopf in 1930, became a corner-stone of a new sub-genre: the Film Noir. Directed by debutant John Huston, who makes good use of Hammett’s dialogue in his analytical script, the star of the show is Humphrey Bogart who plays Private Eye, Sam Spade. With Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet – the latter another newcomer at the rip of age of 61 – it made film history. John Huston would direct his most famous film The Asphalt Jungle nearly a decade later.

Partners Sam Spade (Bogart) and Miles Archer (Cowan) run a sleazy detective agency. One of their clients, the enigmatic Bridget O’Shaughness (Astor), using a false name, wants to track down a relative. The same night Archer is shot dead. The finger points at Spade due to his affair with Archer’s wife Iva (George). Spade and the widow are seen in a passionate embrace by ‘Girl Friday’ Effie Parine (Patrick). But it soon turns out that Bridget is one of four of crooks on the hunt for the titular Maltese Falcon, a bird emblazoned with priceless jewels. Bridget had shot Archer to get rid of a fifth bounty hunter, Thursby, who is the number one suspect in the Archer murder case. Kaspar Gutman (Greenstreet) leads the hunt for the bird, aided and abetted by his minions Joel Cairo (Lorre) and Wilmer Cook (Elisha Cook Jr) who are subjected to Spade’s robustness on more than one occasion. In the end, the Falcon turns out to be a fake, and the three men land in prison. But the worst fate awaits Bridget, Spade following head before heart in giving her up to the police: “You might get away with twenty years, I’ll wait for you. If they hang you, I will never forget you”.

Warner Brothers had first asked George Raft to play Spade, but the big star was not keen to put his reputation on the line with a newcomer like Huston. Greenstreet and Lorre would act together in nine more features, Bogart occasionally joining them. The highlight for DoP Arthur Edeson, who shot Casablanca, is a seven-minute take in a hotel room the highlight, shot over two days. But the feature belongs to Bogart: a violent detective, cynical womaniser, and crass opportunist in a nest of vipers. AS

ON RELEASE from Friday 17th September | IN UK CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

Better Davis season | August at the BFI, Southbank

Throughout August BFI Southbank will celebrate the legendary BETTE DAVIS, one of the most powerful and confident women in the Hollywood studio system. Rather like Olivia de Havilland, Davis was a contract player for Warner Brothers, where she fought long and hard for actors’ rights at the studio. Although she lost the court case against her employers, better roles soon started to come her way in the shape of Julie Marsden in JEZEBEL (William Wyler, 1938) which won her an Oscar (she would go on to become the first person to secure 10 Academy Award nominations for acting) and Wyler’s THE LITTLE FOXES in which she played the malevolent Southern aristocrat Regina Giddens.

Bette Davis once said: In this business, until you’re known as a monster your’e not star” and she certainly proved it re-inventing herself in her fifties with unlikeable roles in films like HUSH… HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (Robert Aldrich, 1964) and WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (Robert Aldrich, 1962), that focused on the legendary feud between Davis and her co-star Joan Crawford. The BFI season will include a BFI re-release of NOW, VOYAGER (Irving Rapper, 1942), back in selected cinemas UK-wide from 6 August.  There will also be the chance to see lesser known titles such as DARK VICTORY, THE WHALES OF AUGUST, DEAD RINGER, THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER. OLD ACQUAINTANCE, THE NANNY, THE STAR and Mr SKEFFINGTON

BETTE DAVIS SEASON | BFI Southbank LONDON 

 

West 11 (1963) Blu-ray

Dir: Michael Winner | Cast: Diana Dors, Eric Portman, Alfred Lynch, Kathleen Breck | UK Crime Drama 93′

Michael Winner’s social realist crime caper is not his best by long chalk, lacking the heft to transport into the realms of a gritty thriller or an involving drama. Captured by Otto Heller’s inventive camera it certainly evokes the seedy squalor of 1960s Kensington well before gentrification made it trendy ‘Notting Hill’. The cast was intended to include Oliver Reed for the lead role of Joe Beckett. Instead Alfred Lynch stepped in as an aimless office worker recruited into crime by Eric Portman’s lowlife gangster. Beckett’s two complementary love interests are a smouldering Diana Dors and coquettish Kathleen Breck but the feature the lacks the verve of so many other outings of the era despite a decent script from Keith Waterhouse, based on Laura del Rivo’s ‘The Furnished Room’. MT

NOW ON STUDIO CANAL DVD, BLURAY and DIGITAL DOWNLOAD FROM 5 JULY 2021

 

Joan of Arc (1948)

Dir: Victor Fleming | Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Jose Ferrer, Selena Royle, Robert Barrat, Jimmy Lydon, Rand Brooks | US Drama 145′

As befits a film based on a play, this independent production is a slow, talky, studio-bound affair, shot in the rather cramped confines of the Hal Roach Studios in Culver City (with most of the exteriors and even the very perfunctory battle scenes obviously shot on sound stages under immobile clouds); rendered slower still by the number of close-ups (ravishing as they are) shot by director Victor Fleming of his beautiful (and expensive) old flame Ingrid Bergman.

Although naturally nominated for several Academy Awards – receiving Oscars for its costume design and Technicolor photography – the latter accolade immediately lost its lustre when Natalie Kalmus of Technicolor went over the heads of the Academy by presenting a special award to The Red Shoes.

Joan’s army is populated by bruisers like Ward Bond and Ray Teal in pudding bowl haircuts; while as the “poor, mad maid from Lorraine”, big, strapping Scandinavian Ingrid Bergman makes (as her own father observes after she has her hair bobbed) “a handsome lad”. She looks fitter still in armour. But the film, alas, isn’t even halfway through before (SPOILER COMING:) she receives a crossbow bolt to the shoulder. @Richard Chatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Vier um der Frau (2021)

Dir: Fritz Lang | Cast: Hermann Bottcher, Carola Toelle, Lilli Lohrer, Ludwig Hartau | Germany, Silent, 52′

Now a hundred years old! Despite resurfacing in Brazil in 1987 and now available on YouTube, this dynamic, good-looking little gem by Fritz Lang remains stubbornly overlooked by most film historians, yet is probably as lively as anything Lang ever made, based on a play by Rolf E, Vanloo, and a script by Thea von Harbou.

Like his earlier serial Die Spinnen, Lang’s template at the time was Louis Feuillade’s melodramatic tales of arch criminals transposed to what is presumably contemporary Berlin (although the time it was made is now far closer to Dickens than us), in which morals were loose, most of the characters wear large overcoats and hats signalling their social status (and one of the employees at the local restaurant is a little black kid). The production company plugs itself by making the local cinema prominently on view the Decla-Bioscop; while Teutonic thespians like Rudolf Klein-Rogge play characters with Anglo-Saxon names like ‘Upton’. @Richard Chatten

NOW ON YOUTUBE

Graft (1931)

Dir: Christy Cabanne | Cast: Regis Toomey, Sue Carol, Dorothy Revier, Boris Karloff | US Drama 54′

At the time this unambitious quickie with a distinctively terse title came and went unnoticed. It’s title today remains more familiar to connoisseurs of old horror movies than of pre-Code cinema, as it occasionally crops up in histories of the horror genre as the film Boris Karloff was making when in June 1931 he was spotted in the Universal commissary by James Whale and offered the role of Frankenstein’s monster. For the remainder of its brief production, Karloff would stay at the studio after finishing his day job on ‘Graft’ for nighttime make-up tests with Jack Pierce.

Few people have seen this movie, and horror authority Carlos Clarens erroneously refers to it as a gangster movie rather than yet another newspaper picture about a rookie reporter going after a big story. The jaunty music over the credits sounds more like something from a Laurel & Hardy picture, and sets the tone for the inconsequentiality of the piece; a point thuddingly underlined by the presence of its dim-witted though ultimately triumphant hero, Dustin Hotchkiss.

Although the film is well directed by Griffith alumnus Christy Cabanne, with superb photography by Jerome Ash, Hotchkiss is so annoying you can’t wait for the thing to end. Regis Toomey was fine in later classics like ‘The Big Sleep’, so the blame lies with the character rather than him. Of the two female leads, bad girl Dorothy Revier easily outshines good girl Sue Carol; but the most striking female presence in the film is Carmelita Geraghty – a leading lady in silent films remembered today for Hitchcock’s debut feature ‘The Pleasure Garden’ (1925) – but here demoted to the uncredited but eye-catching role of the villain’s slinky secretary.

And then there’s Karloff as his henchman “Terry”. Immaculately turned out in what Karloff himself later said was “my best suit”, his unique appearance and diction, allied to an expressed dislike of women, suggests that he bats for the other side. It further attests to Hotchkiss’s uselessness as a reporter that immediately after a murder he runs slap into BORIS KARLOFF – for chrissakes! – yet all he can recall of his appearance was that he wore a hat and a dark coat. @Richard Chatten

The Penthouse (1967)

Dir: Peter Collinson | Wri: Scott Forbes | Cast: Terence Morgan, Suzy Kendall, Tony Beckley, Norman Rodway | UK Thriller

British director Peter Collinson was probably best known for his comedy caper The Italian Job with its unlikely casting of Michael Caine, Noel Coward and Benny Hill. But before that he made TV outing The Penthouse which belongs to the extremely nasty genre of the home invasion film.

Two earlier examples, Leslie Stevens’ Private Property (1960) and Walter Grauman’s Lady in a Cage (1964) had already been denied circuit releases in Britain, and in 1967 The Penthouse was following close on the heels of Dutchman and The Incident, both located the same situation, this time in railway carriages.

Far and away the most frightening of these films was The Incident, starring Martin Sheen and Beau Bridges, a powerfully vicious thriller never to released in Britain, with the emotive tagline “hits like a switchblade knife”. Later films that have been structured around similar situations include A Clockwork Orange, Straw Dogs and Funny Games, while real life – alas – got in on the act during 1968-69 with the hideous murders of Ramon Novarro and Sharon Tate.

Pretty obviously based on a play (‘The Meter Man’ by C.Scott Forbes), and directed, for all it’s worth, by first-timer Peter Collinson with Gothic lighting by Arthur Lavis (and occasional strident intrusions by John Hawksworth’s score), The Penthouse draws strongly for its content on Private Property and for its ambiance and dialogue on Harold Pinter.

In reality, Tom (Tony Beckley) and Dick (Norman Rodway), the pair of gurning cretins who invade the adulterous couple’s luxury penthouse suite (£15,000 at 1967 prices we’re told!) would never talk so much or be so articulate; and both their bizarre behaviour and that of the girlfriend (Suzy Kendall) who loses her fear and then her inhibitions remarkably quickly after being plied with booze and marijuana, suggests that gritty realism is not exactly what the film’s makers were striving for.

The film becomes more unbelievable still when less that twenty minutes from the end the couple actually let Harry in, who proceeds to bring the two goons back into the apartment to continue their mind games. But since Harry is played by Martine Beswick at her most fabulous (which is saying something!) I can forgive the film a lot. Well, a bit. @Richard Chatten

 

 

Eternal Love (1929) Prime Video

Dir: Ernst Lubitsch | Cast: John Barrymore, Camilla Horn | German, 61′

Eternal Love was the final silent film made by Ernst Lubitsch and John Barrymore. Based on a 1900 novel by J.C.Heer called ‘Der Koenig der Bernina’, the feature is fairly typical of the cross-pollination then common between Europe and Hollywood, with a German director and scriptwriter and female leading actress, sets and costumes by Caligari veteran Walter Reimann and Banff National Park in Canada standing in for the Swiss Alps in 1806.

Despite the high-powered talent brought to bear on it, Eternal Love for the most part lacks Lubitsch’s customary saucy wit promised in the earlier scenes featuring the saucy Mona Rico, and seems rather perfunctory compared to G.W.Pabst’s similar but far superior Weiße Hölle vom Piz Palü released later the same year. Oliver Marsh’s photography would plainly be far more impressive in its pristine nitrate form than the rather blurry version available today, while the drab Vitaphone score by Hugo Riesenfeld also rather holds it back.

The luminescent final shot of the moon emerging as the clouds part strikingly anticipates Crack in the World (1965), directed 35 years later by Eternal Love’s editor Andrew Marton, which ends with a shot almost identical to that of Eternal Love, except that at the end of Marton’s later film there are two moons…@Richard Chatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Lifeboat (1944) TPTV

Dir: Alfred Hitchcock | Cast: Tallulah Bankhead, John Hodiak, Walter Slezak, William Bendix, Mary Anderson, Henry Hull | US Drama  97′

That the celebrity of Hitchcock’s films bears no relation to their actual achievement is attested to by the obscurity in which this little beauty continues to languish.

Having already set The Lady Vanishes largely on a train, although Hitchcock never got to make a film entirely set in a phone booth (as he once longingly speculated), he comes close with this bold and stylish exercise that anticipates his own Rope and 12 Angry Men by making a film consisting entirely of people talking within a confined space. (And also contains a ferocious murder unaccompanied by music like that in Torn Curtain.)

Although obviously shot entirely in the studio tank, it’s still a thoroughly cinematic experience thanks to a script as raw as the strictures of the Hays Office would then permit, gothic photography by Glenn MacWilliams capable of virtuoso effects like sweat breaking on a man’s brow and consistently superb performances (one of them from Hume Cronyn, who latter collaborated on the screenplay of Rope), including a typically ambivalent Hitchcock ambivalent villain, as ruthless and resourceful as Eric Portman had been in 49th Parallel.

(Also as in Rope, Hitchcock himself got round the problem of making his appearance by featuring in an advertisement for Reduco – the “Obesity Slayer”. @Richard Chatten

NOW ON TALKING PICTURES TV | PRIME VIDEO

Peril for the Guy (1956)

Dir: James Hill | Cast: Frazer Hines, Mandy Harper, Christopher Warbey, Ali Allen | UK Drama, 55′

A delightful CFF lark that starts well with a jaunty title sequence, after which it’s elegantly directed by James Hill against the atmospheric backdrop of a freezing fifties London fog.

Blandishments that would satisfy the most politically correct modern audience include a little black kid called ‘Ali’, with an oil company the guys in black hats rather than the usual gormless spivs (although Ian Whittaker is gormless enough for an entire gang), Paul Daneman suitably dashing as the young inventor whose invention they’re after, Katherine Kath a glacial, buttoned-down dragon lady and today’s cameo appearance provided by an unbilled Arthur Mullard.

The makers actually managed to commandeer a helicopter for the finale, while as befits a film set around Guy Fawkes night the climax involves fireworks rather than water. Without being too preachy about it the audience is discretely reminded to be careful around fireworks and the final display is conducted under the stewardship of (reasonably) responsible adults. ©Richard Chatten

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

Karloff at Columbia 1935-42

 

Boris Karloff was born in London as William Henry Pratt on 23 November 1887. His parents shared Indian ancestry and his mother’s maternal aunt was Anna Leonowens whose writings inspired The King and I musical. Pratt was tall and well built but suffered from a lisp which adds a rasp to his deep, melodious voice. The youngest of nine children, he was privately educated at Uppingham and went up to King’s College, London with a view to joining the Foreign Office, but eventually ended up travelling to Canada where he fell into acting adopting his stage name of Boris Karloff. He would marry six times, clearly his big break in Frankenstein in 1931 at the age of 45 didn’t put women off.

As one of the legends horror cinema he made six horror films during his time at Columbia, three with Nick Grinde, one with Robert Dymtryk and a final comedy spoof, joining forces with Peter Lorre: The Boogie Man Will Get You directed by Lew Landers.

The Black Room (1935)

Writing for The Spectator in 1935, Graham Greene described Roy William Neil’s thriller as “absurd and exciting”, and “wildly artificial.” praising both the acting of Karloff and the direction of Neill, and noting that Karloff had been given a long speaking part and “allowed to act at last”, and that Neill had “caught the genuine Gothic note” in a manner that displayed more historical sense than any of Alexander Korda’s films.

In the early 19th century twins are born to the DeBerghman family who rule a Czech province from their majestic medieval castle, bizarrely located in the Tyrol and designed by Stephen Goosson (Columbia art director who won an Oscar for Lost Horizon). A curse on the family states that the birth of twin boys will destroy the dynasty forever, the younger will murder the elder one in the infamous Black Room, betrayed by the family dog.

Made for Columbia Pictures at the height of his career, an eloquent Karloff has  fun here fleshing out the characters of the gallantly endearing gentleman Anton and his arrantly fiendish older brother Baron Gregor (who women both fear and detest). Magically captured in Allen G Siegler’s luminous black and white camerawork, it’s fascinating to see Karloff getting his teeth into a fully formed, non horror role. The pet mastiff Tor is terrific in support.

The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)

Columbia’s prescient sci-fi themed riff on the Old Dark House theme sees Karloff directed by Nick Grinde in the first (and arguably most intelligent) of his ‘mad scientist’ roles as Dr. Henryk Savaard a kindly and convincing psychopath bringing the dead back to life through the use of an artificial heart, twenty five years before reality. But when his healthy patient dies in a ‘failsafe’ experiment Savaard is tried in a pithy courtroom procedural (“I offered you Life, but you gave me Death”) and condemned to swing. Using the doc’s same methods his assistant, Lang (Byron Foulger), revives him, but Savaard is bitter for revenge.

The Devil Commands (1941)

Karloff really brings out the humanity of a bereaved husband mourning his beloved wife in Edward Dmytryk’s Gothic horror outing based on William Sloane’s novel The Edge of Running Water. It’s a convincing beast from the ‘mad doctor’ stable that explores the afterlife where science meets the surreal in a sorrowful romantic love story stylishly captured by Allen G Siegler’s spooky shadowplay making Karloff look raffishly sexy.

Nick Grinde collaborated with Karloff in two other ‘mad scientist’ films: The Man with Nine Lives (1940) and Before I Hang (1940). MT

NOW ON BLU-RAY EUREKA CLASSICS | 3 May 2021

Studio One in Hollywood: 1984

Dir: Paul Nickell | Creator/Wri: Fletcher Markle | US Drama

As a huge admirer of Orwell’s original novel I was pleasantly surprised that although inevitably not in the same league as Nigel Kneale’s BBC adaptation broadcast the following year, how much of the basic storyline – and more importantly the mood – adaptor William Templeton’s distillation managed to get into just 50 minutes (minus commercials) broadcast live on a TV budget.

A modern viewer will approach this version with scepticism, knowing that it was made at the height of anti-Red hysteria in the United States and of the blacklist. An opening narration underlined by Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony has been added to Orwell’s story to convey Soviet-style totalitarianism and stresses that “What happens to the people in this story might happen to us. Might happen to you. If we should ever relax in our fight for freedom, if we should allow any individuals or any group of individuals to reduce our freedom of thought, our freedom of speech, our freedom of religion, then what happens to the people in this story will happen to us.” However, the irony implicit in this exhortation forcefully delivered by CBS newscaster Don Hollenbeck in the context of the McCarthyite America of 1953 is probably deliberate; and Hollenbeck himself was hounded into committing suicide by gassing himself the following year by a relentless campaign of press harassment headed by a Hearst columnist named – I kid you not! – O’Brian. (Hollenbeck is played by Ray Wise in the 2005 film ‘Good Night, and Good Luck’).

The production looks suitably expressionistic (the bizarre, vaguely abstract portrait of Big Brother somewhat resembling Dr. Mabuse), and although big, strapping Eddie Albert is as miscast as the undernourished, downtrodden Winston Smith as Edmond O’Brien was in the film version three years later, like O’Brien he gives his usual excellent performance. Fans of ‘Bonzana’ will be surprised to see Lorne Greene as an incisive O’Brien. Norma Crane (little known to film viewers, but memorable as Ellie Martin in ‘Tea and Sympathy’ and Golde in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’) is a sassy Julia who I personally found far sexier in her regulation-issue dungarees & blouse and leather greatcoat than the fifties party frock she changes into during her trysts with Winston (in this version of the future it’s mainly the women rather than the men who wear ties), and the moment when she undoes and discards her Anti-Sex League sash carries quite an erotic charge. @Richard Chatten

NOW ON AMAZON

White Heat (1949) Prime Video

Dir: Raoul Walsh | Cast: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brian, Margaret Wycherly | US Crime Drama 116′

Jimmy Cagney was in his fiftieth year when he made this return to the gangster genre, and looks it. But age has neither mellowed him nor slowed him down in this consummate star vehicle with all the trimmings (including a haunting score by Max Steiner – who gets a separate title card all to himself).

White Heat is inconceivable without Cagney, but he’s surrounded by a top supporting cast, most of whom aren’t even named in the credits (I particularly liked G.Pat Collins as the old lag with the hearing aid), with Margaret Wycherley unforgettable as the meanest mama since Ma Barker.

White Heat begins by showing it means business with an incredibly violent train hold-up; after which Cagney continues to display a wanton lack of respect for human life right up to the end. But being Cagney you can’t help rooting for him, and he and Edmond O’Brien (usually unfairly overlooked in discussions of this movie) are both such charismatic presences that it’s almost heartbreaking to see them bond while knowing all along that O’Brien is simply a police plant. Although we’re told well before the end that Cagney is by now hopelessly insane with only brief periods of lucidity, he still seems perfectly functional until the very, very end. (His retelling of the story of the Trojan Horse is particularly cherishable.)

For a late 1940s thriller much of the film actually takes place in the Southern California sun; and the use of locations throughout is exemplary, culminating in the oil refinery on 198th Street and Figueroa, near Torrance, which provides Cagney with a suitably imposing backdrop for his big scene at the end. @Richard Chatten.

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Zee and Co. (1972)

Dir: Brian G Hutton | Wri: Edna O’Brian | Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Caine, Susannah York, Margaret Leighton | US Drama 110′

For anyone who ever hankered to see what a collaboration between the novelist Edna O’Brien and the director of Where Eagles Dare would have looked like, look no further! After two war movies in a row, Brian G. Hutton obviously felt the need to try his hand at something a bit more dangerous; and Elizabeth Taylor in all her big-haired, loud-mouthed and even more loudly dressed glory dominates this delirious spectacle in a way rarely seen since the heyday of Bette Davis.

Taylor and Caine give their all as a self-absorbed pair who make George & Martha from ‘Virginia Woolf’ look like The Brady Bunch. In reality Caine would probably have abandoned or murdered Taylor long ago; but she’s entertaining to watch and listen to – at least for the duration of the movie – and shows a delightful flair for mimicry mocking some of her co-stars. (spoiler coming up: I thought she jumped the shark, however, with her suicide attempt.)

Susannah York understandably seems more than a little overwhelmed by the madhouse she’s wandered into. A few spoilsports have already revealed the twist at the end of this tale. As a bloke I was as surprised and delighted as I was relieved that a woman wrote it; so it absolved me of feeling guilty at being served up with one of my favourite male fantasies about two women.

Whatever happened to these three after the closing credits is anybody’s guess; but the audience I watched it with at the Barbican tonight laughed appreciatively all the way through and gave it an enthusiastic round of applause as the lights went up. @Richard Chatten.

AVAILABLE ON AMAZON

Call Northside 777 (1948)

Dir: Henry Hathaway Wri: Jerome Cady | | Cast: James Stewart, Richard Conte, Lee J Cobb, Helen Walker, Betty Garde | US, Noir thriller 112′

The postwar Jimmy Stewart demonstrates his new, hard-won gravitas in this engrossing drama in which background music and narration are largely absent as he investigates a conviction he becomes increasingly convinced is unsafe; while Richard Conte plays a downtrodden Pole rather than a downtrodden Italian as the innocent man sentenced to 99 years.

Most viewers already know (even before Truman Bradley informs us in the opening narration) that Conte is released, so it’s HOW rather than WHETHER he’s cleared that holds the attention; and it all gets rather involved. That those in authority found it convenient to leave Conte in jail is touched upon, while high-tech gadgets like polygraphs and microfilm cameras further the narrative, and such a gadget makes for satisfyingly cinematic climax that anticipates ‘Blowup’ by twenty years. But (MASSIVE SPOILERS COMING:) was it really possible in 1944 to blow up the date on a newspaper as sharply as is done here, and (as my predecessor observed) why did they ignore the pictures on the front page, which we never see sharpened up and would in themselves have confirmed which edition the newsboy was holding?

Real life as usual inevitably denies us such a tidy conclusion as ends the film; since the real Joseph Majcek, actually led a troubled life following his eventual release from prison in 1945 and ultimately ended his days in a mental institution in 1983. ©Richard Chatten

NOW ON TALKING PICTURES TV | AMAZON

Love and the Art of Seduction series | Bfi Player

LOVE and THE ART OF SEDUCTION 

This well-chosen selection explores love in all its forms and offers tempting alternative viewing this lockdown Valentine Weekend.

Love and the Art of Seduction highlights the range of cinematic romance from sweeping love affairs to quirky rom-coms and tales of obsessive desire. It offers classic love stories from arthouse archives all over the world.

THE LUNCHBOX (2014) directed by Ritesh Batra

https://player.bfi.org.uk/subscription/film/watch-the-lunchbox-2013-online

An exquisite comedy-drama featuring from the director of Photograph features some of the most mouth-watering scenes of cooking and eating ever committed to film. It stars the late Irrfan Khan), an ill-tempered Mumbai office worker nearing retirement who who lunchbox mix-up leads to love.

LOVE & FRIENDSHIP (2016) directed by Whit Stillman

https://player.bfi.org.uk/rentals/film/watch-love-friendship-2016-online

An adaptation of Jane Austen’s early novella ‘Lady Susan’, this exquisite comedy of matchmaking and heart-breaking concerns the machiavellian Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) and her artful attempts at finding a husband for herself and for her eligible but reluctant school-girl daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark). Cast members include Xavier Samuel, Tom Bennett, Chloe Sevigny and Stephen Fry.

THEORUM (1968)

Terence Stamp plays a mysterious young man who seduces each member of the family of rich Italian industrialist, with a particular focus on Silvana Magnani’s soignée lady of the household in the well-appointed villa in Milan. Set against the background of economic unrest Pasolini’s social satire won the Coppa Volpi at Venice in 1968

IMMORAL TALES (1974)

Much less salacious than you may have hoped for, this anthology of erotic short films are of value due to their eclectic settings in an exploration of the psychological side of human desire. The segments depicting the 16th century Hungarian ‘vampire’ countess Erzsebet Bathory, and the incestuous 15th century family of Lucrezia Borgia and her father, the pope, are particularly intriguing.

UNRELATED (2007)

Fans of English director Joanna Hogg will welcome the chance to revisit this pithy social drama that sees middle Londoners at play and at odds in a fraught villa party in sun-drenched Tuscany during the summer hols.

THE ART OF SEDUCTION collection | ON BFI player 

BFI PLAYER 

Cup Fever (1965) Talking Pictures

Dir: David Bracknell | Cast: Bernard Cribbins, Sonia Graham, David Lodge, Dermot Kelly, Bobby Charlton | UK Drama 61’

Five years before Sam Peckinpah brought ultra-violence to Cornwall in ‘Straw Dogs’, cameraman John Coquillon and female lead Susan George had already taken to the mean streets of a wintry-looking Manchester to make this historically fascinating time capsule in which Matt Busby is charmingly stiff playing himself and one catches fleeting glimpses of the young and fresh-faced likes of Bobby Charlton, George Best, Denis Law and Nobby Stiles practising on the turf at Old Trafford.

1965 was far too early for the girls to be playing football themselves (their contribution being confined to making the strips and cheering the boys on), but the fact that they’re bothered about football in the first place was at that time in itself unusual. (Ironically the kids in this film initially pursue their passion for football in the face of constant hostility and obstruction from grown-ups whereas I grew up in a house were football took precedence over old movies and I subsequently spent decades catching up with cinema classics I missed in the seventies because they were scheduled opposite ‘Match of the Day’). Richard Chatten

TALKING PICTURES TV | 17 & 20 February 2021

 

Fade-In (1973) Talking Pictures

Dir:  Jud Taylor (as Alan Smithee) Wri: Jerrold L Ludwig | Cast: Burt Reynolds, Barbara Loden, Noam Pitlik, Patricia Casey, George Savalas| US Western 93′

In 1967, Silvio Narizzano was in Moab Utah making a western called Blue with Terence Stamp, Joanna Pettet and Ricardo Montalban

However, the stars also found themselves appearing in Fade-In, with Silvio Narizzano getting a producer credit and Barbara Loden playing a sophisticated movie editor who heads for Mexico to work on a film shoot.

It might be an in-joke that Terence Stamp (starring in the parent production) doesn’t speak for the first forty minutes, yet is the first to say something in this film. Barbara Loden’s eyes, first seen staring intently into a car mirror, are unmistakable, despite this being her only conventional film lead, romanced by local ranch hand Burt Reynolds who has been hired to work as a driver.

The presence over the brow of the hill of the bigger production enabled first time director Alan Smithee to avail himself of the Monument Valley locations and a helicopter suggesting a bigger budget than was actually at his disposal.

The film looks like an imitation of Un Homme et Une Femme and the unique teaming of the star of Deliverance and Smokey and the Bandit with the director and star of Wanda suggest a more estimable achievement than the stubbornly conventional production it insists on being. Richard Chatten

ON TALKING PICTURES 6 FEBRUARY 2021

Bloomfield (1970)

Dir: Richard Harris, Uri Zohar | Cast: Richard Harris, Romy Schneider, Kim Burfield, Maurice Kaufmann | UK Drama 97′

Richard Harris made one foray into directing with this  sports drama that drew boos at the Berlin Festival and came home empty-handed at the Golden Globes.

Harris stars alongside Romy Schneider in Bloomfield, also known as The Hero (and the less promising Fallen Idol in Spain) filmed during a drink and drug induced long weekend that lasted over thirty years before he became beloved of a whole generation of youngsters as the original Dumbledore. Suffice to say, his co-director Uri Zohar left the entertainment world shortly afterwards to become a rabbi.

If the words ‘A Richard Harris Film’ didn’t already instil a sense of dread, the credits then declare that it contains ‘Additional Material by Richard Harris’, since the stoned actor took the film over just a few days into production.

It’s not actually too bad, but it’s not very good either, with Romy Schneider completely wasted as Harris’s whiny high-maintenance wife. On paper an Israeli remake of This Sporting Life, it’s actually more like The Champ, with Harris furiously bonding with cute little tyke Kim Burfield, who’d rather be in Brazil since Israel is “a lousy country for football!!” The film, however, is smothered in local colour, along with all the temptations that befall a first-time director: zooms, slow motion, freeze-frames, shots of sunsets and so on. It even has songs; but mercifully not sung by Harris himself but the wonderful Maurice Gibb ! Richard Chatten.

 

 

 

 

The Letter (1940) **** Prime Video

Dir: William Wyler | Wri: Howard Koch | Cast: Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, James Stephenson, Frieda Inescor, Gale Sondergaard, Bruce Lester | US Drama, 95’

Geoffrey Hammond learns the hard way in this mesmerising classic Hollywood melodrama that you end a relationship with Bette Davis at your peril. Although Bette Davis and Herbert Marshall get top billing, the film is really held together by the late James Stephenson in an Oscar-nominated performance, while Gale Sondergaard is unforgettable as the vengeful “Mrs.Hammond” (who with her arched eyebrows and in her skin-tight qipao bears an eerie resemblance to the Martian Girl in Mars Attacks!).

Davis is the wife of a rubber plantation administrator who shoots a man to death claiming it was self-defence. But a letter in her own hand may prove her undoing.

William Wyler not surprisingly had wanted Gregg Toland, but veteran cameraman Tony Gaudio provides a more gothic look (aided by the immaculate production design of Jules Carl Weyl), and creates some vivid moonlit scenes, while Wyler occasionally achieves an interesting effect, akin to Toland’s depth of field, emphasising the intensity of the images by occasionally putting Stephensen in some of his scenes with Davis exaggeratedly out of focus either in the foreground or background.

It all goes a bit over the top towards the end in order to appease the Hays Office, and Max Steiner’s score is a bit – well – Steinerish at times, but his eerie main theme is yet another aspect of the film that will stay with you long afterwards. Richard Chatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

The Steel Trap (1952) ****

Dir: Andrew L Stone | Cast: Joseph Cotton, Teresa Wright | US Film Noir, 82′

The thrillers of Andrew L. Stone have still yet to receive their due; those who have seen them are rightly crazy about them, but they remain stubbornly little known to the general public, and very little – although invariably positive – is ever written about them.

The Steel Trap is one of his best; Planes, Trains and Automobiles played straight, with characters you care about and well acted down to the bit players, moments of dry black humour that can make you laugh out loud at the tensest moments, terrific location photography by Ernest Laszlo (this picture really cries out for Blu-ray), and a noisy Dimitri Tiomkin score that adds to the fun (I particularly liked the Brazilian lilt he adopted every time Cotton’s destination in Rio was mentioned).

Partly filmed in New Orleans, Louisiana, it centres on Cotton’s long term Los Angeles banker who can’t resist robbing his own employer and absconding to Brazil with the cash when he discovers there’s no extradition with the US. He clears it all with his wife Laurie (Teresa Wright) and they hatch a plan, leaving his daughter with the mother in law. But it’s not all plain sailing, far from it. A nail-biting ride that sees Cotten and Wright reunited after Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. Richard Chatten .

 

Becky Sharp (1935) Blu-ray release

Dir Rouben Mamoulian | Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Frances Dee, Cedric Hardwicke, Billie Burke | US Drama 84’

The first feature film shot entirely in the newly perfected Technicolor process, Becky Sharp – which had cost an estimated $950,000 – was dismissed at the time by Otis Ferguson as “As pleasing to the eye as a fresh fruit sundae, but not much more”. Unlike The Jazz Singer – which had blazed an equivalent technological trail eight years earlier – Becky Sharp was not a box office hit, and colour was to take another thirty years to become the cinema’s default setting the way sound did; more associated with historical rather than contemporary subjects.

Becky Sharp was in fact the third film version to be made of Thackeray’s sprawling 1847-48 novel (which had originally appeared in serial form) set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. This version was based upon the hit 1899 Broadway dramatisation by Langdon Mitchell, and as meticulously designed by acclaimed theatre designer Robert Edmond Jones. The rigours of early Technicolor filmmaking resulted in an extremely stagy and studio-bound experience which whizzes in just 84 minutes through an originally very long and convoluted narrative under the punishingly hot lights that made early Technicolor films such a trial to act in. (Mira Nair’s 2004 remake with Reece Witherspoon, by comparison, clocks in at 141 minutes!)

The men at whom Miss Sharp sets her cap are all inclined to be pompous middle-aged caricatures (with the honourable exception of Alan Mowbray as Rawdon Crawley), since she is after financial security rather than romance. Opinion continues to remain divided over Miriam Hopkins in the title role, whose stature as an actress has dimmed considerably since she received an Oscar nomination for this film; but she does bring sparkling blue eyes to the part, seldom apparent in her other movies. Although the most eye-catching moments involve red British army uniforms, much of the rest of the film actually employs blue (a hue hitherto absent from the Technicolor palette) to attractive effect. The credits, for example, are in blue, and the first shot of the film itself is of a blue stage curtain being pushed aside.

For over forty years the film languished in the public domain in a cheap 67 minute 16mm Cinecolor travesty until finally restored in 1984. It subsequently received only one British TV screening ten years later; but now be enjoyed on BluRay as the “triumph for colour” Graham Greene declared it on its first appearance. Richard Chatten

BECKY SHARP (1935) NOW AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY

The Go-Between (1971) ***** Home Entertainment

Dir: Joseph Losey | Wri: Harold Pinter | Cast: Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Edward Fox, Michael Redgrave, Dominic Guard, Margaret Leighton | UK Drama 113′
Losey’s adaptation of LP Hartley’s novel is arguably his masterpiece. Pinter’s script adds a darkly amusing twist to the torrid love and coming of age story set in the lush summer landscapes of Norfolk to Michel Legrand’s iconic score.
Harold Pinter playfully shows the bitter irony of the English class system: true love between a rugged farmer and the daughter of a gentleman cannot run its course due to the strictures of convention and duty, so she is forced to marry someone from her own background (the rather dapper Edward Fox).  All this is experienced through the eyes of an innocent boy who inadvertently becomes the conduit for a sophisticated affair between them as he desperately tries to learn about life and love from his own perspective. What is outwardly intended to be his glorious summer holiday in a Norfolk estate enjoying the pleasures of cricket and afternoon tea as a guest of this civilised family, becomes fraught with misunderstanding, manipulation and misery. Although the adults have learnt to play this civilised game, it is nonetheless devastating for this naive boy (played by Dominic Guard) and the lovers whose passion is genuine and unbridled: Julie Christie and Alan Bates (Far From the Madding Crowd) are once again united with their palpable onscreen chemistry. Winning both audience and critical acclaim as well as a raft of awards (including 4 BAFTAs and the prestigious Palme d’Or), the visceral story of an Edwardian romance set during one seemingly endless Norfolk Summer (shot sumptuously by Gerry Fisher) continues to endure with a contemporary audience. The film was acknowledged by Ian McEwan as a strong inspiration for his modern classic, Atonement. Poignant, witty and devastating this is a film that will stay with you forever. M
RESTORED by STUDIOCANAL VINTAGE CLASSICS and available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital Download from September 16 2019 .

Korean Film Nights | Love Without Boundaries

Korean Film Nights continue with a second season for 2019 ‘Love Without Boundaries’ – a programme of titles exploring Korean cinema’s bold exploration of romantic relationships existing on society’s margins.

Love, in its many guises, has always been a central concern in cinema. From the long-established vision presented in Hollywood studio pictures to the local dialect of any national cinema, romance has always had a place on film. Outside of cinema’s mainstream however, many exemplary filmmakers have long strove to represent a range of transgressive love stories in their work, bucking the idealised view codified in typical cinema fare. Delving deep into the key works from Korean cinema that have pushed against socially-accepted views of love and relationships, our season seeks to offer a snapshot into a diverse range of people and attitudes not typically seen on screens.

Comprised of six unique works from some of Korean cinema’s boldest voices from the past two decades (plus one remarkable early feature from 1956), our season explores representations of love located on the fringes of the cinematic landscape of their time. Challenging preconceived notions of what love should be, these films push up against societal views of what’s considered ‘normal’ to depict a variety of romantic relationships and the powerful human emotions they elicit. Encompassing taboo-busting depictions of same-sex romances and other marginalised individuals, the season offers a range of perspectives on bold, challenging subjects, offering a rare fully-realised and compassionate vision of people struggling for acceptance.

In our current social climate, past norms concerning gender, sexual orientation, and race, are increasingly being questioned and we’re seeing a sustained fight for diversity and inclusion in the film industry, both behind the camera and in front of it. ‘Love Without Boundaries’ aims to show how Korean filmmakers have pushed against societal norms by giving voice to characters who are not out to change the world, but are trying to live their lives and embrace their passions as best they can.

A Girl at my Door 도희야 / Thursday 4th July, 7pm / KCCUK

Screened in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes in 2014, July Jung’s directorial debut follows lesbian police officer Young-nam (Bae Doona, The Host) after she is stationed to a quiet provincial town following a personal scandal.

No Regret 후회하지 않아 / Thursday 11th July, 7pm / KCCUK

Regarded as the first South Korean feature from an openly gay filmmaker, No Regret follows the complicated love and working life of a young man after he heads to Seoul and finds work at a factory and as a ‘taeri’- a designated driver for wealthy patrons after a night of drinking.

The Hand of Fate 운명의 손 / Thursday 18th July, 7pm / KCCUK

This melodramatic spy-thriller utilises a visually striking, film-noir style, and acts not only as anti-communist propaganda, but also as a commentary on the shifting roles and expectations of Korean women.

Love Without Boundaries: Shorts Night / Thursday 25th July, 6:30pm / Birkbeck Cinema

Love Without Boundaries presents Queer Love: Loving Outside the Mainstream, a night of short films, revolving around a strong central theme of LGBTQ+ struggles within South Korea.

Wanee & Junah 와니와 준하 / Thursday 1st August, 7pm / KCCUK

Wanee is a disenchanted animator living in the city with her scriptwriter boyfriend Junah, but cracks begin to show in their outwardly peaceful relationship when childhood friend So-yang visits in this taboo-breaking forbidden love drama.

Oasis 오아시스 / Thursday 8th August, 7pm / KCCUK

Burning director Lee Chang-dong won Venice’s Silver Lion for his challenging portrayal of the relationship between a woman with cerebral palsy (Moon So-ri, Little Forest) and a man (Sul Kyung-gu, Memoir of a Murderer) fresh out of jail for manslaughter.

Information supplied by the Korean Cultural Centre | Screenings take place at the Korean Cultural Centre UK and Birkbeck Cinema and are free to attend. More info here

 

La Ronde (1950) **** Blu-ray release

 

Dir: Max Ophüls | Arthur Schnitzler | Cast: Anton Walbrook, Simone Signoret, Serge Reggiani, Simone Simon, Daniel Gelin, Danielle Darieux, Fernand Gravey | France, Drama 93′

Max Ophüls (1902-1957) creates a delightful avant-garde merry-go-round full of subtle sexual vignettes based on Arthur Schnitzler’s play from 1920. Using the same technique and narrative structure as he would in Lola Montez (1955), this delicately dreamlike pot pourri of romantic rendezvous takes place in Vienna in the last decade of the 19th century and is set to a melodious score by Oscar Strauss.

Led on by the Master of Ceremonies (Anton Walbrook), talking directly into the camera, he changes the proceedings symbolically, altering the outcome of the encounters – not unlike the ringmaster of the circus in Lola Montez.

Leocadie (Signoret) and the soldier Franz (Reggiani) enjoy a romantic interlude under a bridge. This sets off a carousel of rather casual affairs in which the lovers treat the person they come across like a runner in a relay race. First of all, Simone Simon (Marie) is seduced by her employer (Daniel Gelin), and so the affairs continue, until the Count (Philipe) closes the circle, falling for Marie.

There are echoes of von Sternbergs’s romantic comedies, particularly Shanghai Gesture, that played out like a roulette wheel. Both directors make use of irony and wit, as well as well as farcical moments. The female characters are often victims of male society, they are courtesans or bourgeois women who have failed to fit in with the hypocritical standards of their class. The male characters strut around like peacocks in their dandy-like attire, and soldiers in highly decorative uniforms. Songs and music are key elements in the work of both directors, driving the narrative forward, as here with Strauss, the “Waltz King”.

The highly fluid camerawork of Christian Matras (Lola Montez, Grand Illusion) is crucial in maintaining the flirty lightness of touch in compositions which roll along in an elliptical scroll, the camera reflecting the changing thoughts of the characters.

La Ronde is a nostalgic look back to a world which had been destroyed by the social changes of the First World War. Ophüls’ films yearn to re-create this lost world of gentility, reflecting moral codes and social mores that no longer apply. AS

NOW ON BLURAY from 27 May 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) ***

Dir.: Michael Dougherty; Cast: Kyle Chandler, Vera Famiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Ken Watanabe; USA 2019, 132 min.

Godzilla goes out for walkies for the 35th outing for Godzilla since Japanese director Ishiro Honda created the dinosaur’s debut feature in 1954. Nowadays, Godzilla doesn’t only trample all over global cities, but has morphed into humankind’s helper – luckily still destroying everything in sight.

Michael Dougherty (Krampus) works hard with his co-writers Shields and Borenstein to find a storyline that joins up the intervals between Godzilla’s fights with less human-friendly titans, like the three-headed King Gidorah, but his family-friendly plot is dwarfed by the mammoth action set pieces.

Doctors Mark (Chandler) and Emma Russell (Famiga) have co-invented the Orca sonar device, which enables them (and their employer Monarch, a worldwide technology giant), to synthesize the cries of various titans, so that they can communicate with them. Their teenage daughter Madison (Brown), complains about their parents, still hankering after her older brother, who died in some titan related accident. Her parents are divorced and Madison lives with her mother, a firm believer that the titans should “clean up the world”, so that the planet can heal itself – never mind its denizens, who are after all responsible for the mess!.

This sounds like Thanos from the Avenger, but eco-terrorist Alan Jonah (Dance), wants the same, and it is not quite clear why he has to kidnap mother and daughter. Anyhow, the latter escapes, and via the sound-system of Fenway Park Baseball Stadium in Boston, communicates on her own with the titans, Dad leading a team of international scientists to help Godzilla in his fight against his enemies like Rodan, the dragon and Morah, a larvae, who turns into a luminous super moth.

With Godzilla down and out on the bottom of the ocean, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Watanabe) takes it on himself, to save humankind, getting Godzilla back to life with a shot of nuclear radiation. Well you might guess where all this is leading…

The family saga not withstanding, this is a great action feature, which has to be seen on a very big screen. The production values are as stunning as the logic of the scientific troupe. And to make everyone happy, we overhear the scientists whispering to another,  “thank heavens, Godzilla is on our side – but for how long?” Might this lead to the return of the bad monster of old in the next instalment?  For everyone reliving their childhood an absolute must! AS

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

How I Won the War (1967) *** Blu-ray release

Dir: Richard Lester | Writer: Charles Wood | Cast: John Lennon, Roy Kinnear, Michael Crawford, Michael Hordern, Jack MacGowran | UK Comedy 109′

In 1967 John Lennon took a break from the band and travelled down to Almeria in Southern Spain where he still managed to write the lyrics for Strawberry Fields Forever while starring in Richard Lester’s surreal comedy. Aside from its merits, the film was always going to be a talking point and would ultimately become a cult classic and one of the most appealing anti-war satires. Based on Patrick Ryan’s book, Charles Wood’s script sends up the British Army in a way that is both harmless and enjoyable.

John Lennon exudes an easy charisma as the bespectacled Private Gripweed, eclipsing Michael Crawford in his role as the incompetent Lieutenant Goodbody leading his troupe of hapless soldiers into active service in Europe and North Africa during the Second World War. Roy Kinnear, Michael Hordern and Jack MacGowran complete the wonderfully witty and watchable cast. MacGowran also polished off another dark comedy role that year starring in Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers. Lester’s direction often misfires but in a way that is retrospectively endearing given the nostalgic nature of the subject matter – cricket. A lovely, amusing walk down memory lane. MT

AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY from 20 May 2019 COURTESY OF THE BFI

 

Night of the Generals (1967) ****

Dir.: Anatole Litvak; Cast: Peter O’Toole, Oma Sharif, Tom Courtenay, Donald Pleasence, Philip Noiret, Charles Gray, Joanna Pettet, Christopher Plummer; France/UK 1967, 148 Min.

Based on the novel by popular West German author Hans Hellmuth Kirst and adapted by resistance authors Joseph Kessel and Paul Dehn, Anatole Litvak’s penultimate feature is a monumental historical portrait of WWII and the aftermath, stretching from 1942 to the mid 1950s. Litvak poured his own experiences into the action thriller, having left the Soviet Union for Berlin in the 1920s, before escaping from the Nazis via France to Hollywood in the following decade.

Paris under German occupation in 1942: A sex-worker is brutally murdered, and a frightened witness tells German MP Major Grau (Sharif) that he has seen a man wearing the uniform of a German General leaving the house of the crime. Grau is keen to know the alibis of three suspects: General Tanz (O’Toole), a vicious SS commander, General Kahlenberg (Pleasance), who will be one of the supporters of the 20th July 1944 plot against Hitler, and the careerist Von Seydlitz-Gabler (Charles Gray), who hedges his bets when it comes to resisting Hitler. Whilst his investigation in Paris is unsuccessful, Grau meets all suspects in Warsaw, finally being able to interview them. Tanz is destroying parts of Warsaw single-handed with his tanks, but the other two are not too keen to help Grau. The action returns to Paris in July 1944, just before the plot. Grau works with the French inspector Morand (Noiret), who is also a member of the resistance. He warns Grau to be aware of Tanz, but Grau corners the SS General, who shoots him in cold blood on the 20th of July, claiming that Grau is one of the conspirators.

More than a decade later, Morand visits Germany to take up the case. Tanz has just been released from prison for war crimes. Meanwhile the other two generals are making a good living as civilians, particularly Von Seydltz-Gabler, who is writing his memoirs. But his daughter Ulrike (Pettet) and her husband, ex-corporal Hartmann (Courtnenay) (who started their affair in Paris when Hartmann was an adjutant of Tanz) are the key witnesses for Morand.

Litvak (1902-1974), worked in Soviet cinema before becoming assistant to GW Pabst for Freudlose Gasse (1925) in Berlin. He directed popular features such as Dolly Macht Karriere (1930) for the Ufa, and fled the III. Reich to direct his first French feature Maylering, before settling in Hollywood where he shot, among others, All this And Heaven Too and Snake Pit (1948), a feature about outdated psychiatric methods. In 1949 he returned to France, where he directed Aimez-vous Brahms, based on Françoise Sagan’s novel.

The Night of the Generals is innovatively photographed by Henri Decaë, midwife to the French Nouvelle Vague with features like Les Cousins (Chabrol), Ascenseur pour l’echafaud (Malle), Bob Le Flambeur (Melville) and Les Quatre cents coups (Truffaut). The film is carried by Peter O’Toole’s manic psychopath Tanz, who is in love with violence and “entartete Kunst”; nearly fainting in Paris in front of Van Gogh’s self-portrait, whilst visiting an exhibition of paintings destined to be shipped to Germany for leading Nazis. O’Toole portrays Tanz as a member of the master race and is only able to express himself through violence, torn apart by the fascination of murder and suicide. AS

Eureka Entertainment to release THE NIGHT OF THE GENERALS, a suspenseful WWII thriller starring Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, and a star-studded cast, presented for the first time ever on Blu-ray in the UK, taken from a stunning 4K restoration, as part of the Eureka Classics range from 13 May 2019, featuring a Limited Edition Collector’s booklet [2000 copies ONLY].

https://youtu.be/7uZsJHFmNlk

British Transport Films | Blu-ray release 2019

What could be more romantic than a train journey? Even if it feels more like a boys own adventure, as many of these British Transport films do. Escaping into the unknown with a promise of excitement and discovery – or just a trip back in time to revisit childhood holidays in the 1960s and 1970s, where the English landscape stretched far and wide from the window of the pullman out of Waterloo, or even Paddington, and not an anorak in sight! 

This year celebrates the 70th anniversary of the British Transport Films with twenty one films representing the cream of the celebrated BTF collection.

Classics including John Schlesinger’s Terminus (1961)and Railways forever! (1970) John Betjeman’s eulogy to his favourite form of transport, have been newly digitally remastered on 2k, while Geoffrey Jones’s legendary homage to progress, Rail (1967), has been restored in 4K by the BFI National Archive.

British Transport Films was established in 1949 to focus a spotlight on transport as a nationalised undertaking. Over a period of more than 35 years, BTF produced an unrivalled documentary film legacy for generations of film and transport enthusiasts.

The Films (disc 1)

Farmer Moving South (1952)

Train Time (1952)

This is York  (1953)

Elizabethan Express (1954)

Snowdrift at Bleath Gill (1955)

Any Man’s Kingdom (1956)

Fully Fitted Freight (1957)

Every Valley (1957)

A Future on the Rail (1957)

Between the Tides (1958)

Disc 2

A Letter for Wales (1960)

They Take the High Road (1960)

Blue Pullman (1960)

Terminus (1961)

The Third Sam (1962)

Rail (1967)

Railways For Ever! (1970)

The Scene from Melbury House (1972)

Wires Over the Border (1974)

Locomotion (1975)

Overture: One-Two-Five (1978)

This collection will be launched with a special screening at BFI Southbank. Moving Millions: British Transport Films Blu-ray Launch + Q&A takes place on Tuesday 14 May at 18:00 in NFT1. It will be introduced by BFI Curator of Non-Fiction, Steve Foxon and followed by a Q&A with special guests. This event is also part of the Department for Transport’s Centenary.

https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/Online/movingmillionsbritishtransportplusqanda

 

 

Cannes Classics 2019

The 25 years of La Cité de la peur, a Midnight Screening of The Shining presented by Alfonso Cuarón, the 50 years of the mythical Easy Rider in the company of Peter Fonda, Luis Buñuel in the spotlight with three films, the attendance of Lina Wertmüller, the Grand Prix of 1951 Vittorio De Sica’s Miracle in Milan, a final salute to Milos Forman, the first Japanese animated film in color, the World Cinema Project and the Film Foundation of Martin Scorsese, documentaries about cinema and History, masterpieces known and rare films in restored version from countries rarely honored, this is the new edition of Cannes Classics—the first section dedicated to heritage cinema ever created in a major festival.  

 The majority of the films will be screened at Buñuel Theater, Salle du 60e or at the Cinéma de la Plage, all presented by major players in the film heritage: directors, artists or restoration managers.

The 50 years of the mythical Easy Rider

Presented half a century ago on the Croisette, in Competition at the Festival de Cannes, the film won the Prize for a first work. Co-writer, co-producer and lead actor, Peter Fonda will be in Cannes at the invitation of the Festival to celebrate this anniversary.
Easy Rider (1969, 1h35, USA) by Dennis Hopper

Restored in 4K by Sony Pictures Entertainment in collaboration with Cineteca di Bologna. Restored from the 35mm Original Picture Negative and 35mm Black and White Separation Masters. 4K scanning and digital image restoration by Immagine Ritrovata. Audio restoration from the 35mm Original 3-track Magnetic Master by Chace Audio and Deluxe Audio. Color grading, picture conform, additional image restoration and DCP by Roundabout Entertainment. Colorist: Sheri Eisenberg. Restoration supervised by Grover Crisp.

Midnight Screening of The Shining 

The ultimate horror film for an event screening presented by Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón.
The Shining by Stanley Kubrick (1980, 2h26, UK / USA)

A Presentation of Warner Bros. The 4K remastering was done using a new 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative. The mastering was done at Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging, and the color grading was done by Janet Wilson, with supervision from Stanley Kubrick’s former personal assistant Leon Vitali.

The 50 years ofLa Cité de la peur

The cult comedy of comic group Les Nuls will be screened at Cannes Classics au Cinéma de la Plage upon the occasion of the 4K restoration of the film for its 25th anniversary with Alain Chabat, Chantal Lauby and Dominique Farrugia in attendance.
La Cité de la peur, une comédie familiale (1994, 1h39, France) by Alain Berbérian

Presented by Studiocanal. A restoration by Studiocanal and TF1 Studio . 4K scanning 16bits from the original negative 35mm on Lasergraphics director. The pre-calibration was done in a projection room equipped by a 4k projector 4k Christie Laser by Pascal Bousquet and additional work of filtering, dusting was done to compensate the imperfection due to the age of the film. Optical illusion composited on DI on Flame to remain close to the quality of the original negative. Calibration validated by Laurent Dailland, director of photography. Original digital sound was used without modification. Work of remastering done by VDM Laboratory.

Luis Buñuel in the spotlight with three films

Three films by Mexican director and screenwriter, with Spanish origin, will be shown this year.
Los Olvidados (The Young and the Damned) (1950, 1h20, Mexico) by Luis Buñuel

Presented by the World Cinema Project. Restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project at L’Immagine Ritrovata in collaboration with Fundación Televisa, Cineteca Nacional Mexico, and Filmoteca de la UNAM. Restoration funding provided by The Material World Foundation.

Nazarín (1958, 1h34, Mexico) by Luis Buñuel

Presented by Cineteca Nacional Mexico. 3K Scan and 3K Digital Restoration from the original 35mm image negative (preserved by Televisa) and prints positive materials from Cineteca Nacional. Restoration made and financed by Cineteca Nacional Mexico. Mastered in 2K for Digital Projection.

L’Âge d’or (The Golden Age) (1930, 1h, France) by Luis Buñuel

Presented by La Cinemathèque française. A 4K restoration of The Golden Age was done by la Cinemathèque française and le Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI/Experimental cinema’s department, at Hiventy Laboratory for the image and at L.E. Diapason’s studio for the sound, using the original nitrate negative, original sound and safety elements.

Tribute to Lina Wertmüller

The first woman director ever nominated as a director at the Academy Awards in 1977 for Pasqualino Settebellezze, Lina Wertmüller will introduce the film with lead actor Giancarlo Giannini in attendance.
Pasqualino Settebellezze (Seven Beauties) (1975, 1h56, Italy) by Lina Wertmüller

Presented by Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia – Cineteca Nazionale. Restored by Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia – Cineteca Nazionale with the support of Genoma Films and Deisa Ebano from the original 35mm picture and optical soundtrack negative made available by RTI S.p.A. Digital scanning and restoration work carried out by Cinema Communications in Rome.

The 1951 “Palme d’or”

The Palme d’or was created in 1955 but the Grand Prix awarded to Miracle in Milan by Vittorio De Sica was the equivalent.
Miracolo a Milano (Miracle in Milan) (1951, 1h40, Italy) by Vittorio De Sica

Presented by Cineteca di Bologna. Restored by Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna and Compass Film, in collaboration with Mediaset, Infinity TV, Artur Cohn, Films sans frontières and Variety Communications at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory. 4K Scan and Digital Restoration from the original 35mm camera negative and a vintage dupe positive. Colour grading supervised by DoP Luca Bigazzi.

Milos Forman

A devotee of the Festival de Cannes, a former President of the Jury, a director with several lives, Milos Forman passed away one year ago. The restoration of his second film and a documentary will give us the opportunity to pay our tribute and remember him.
Lásky jedné plavovlásky (Loves of a Blonde) (1965, 1h21, Czech Republic) by Milos Forman

A presentation of the Národní filmový archiv, Prague. 4K digital restoration based on the original camera done by the Universal Production Partners and Soundsquare in Prague, 2019. The donors of this project were Mrs. Milada Kučerová and Mr. Eduard Kučera. Restored in partnership with the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and the Czech Film Fund. French distribution: Carlotta Films.

Forman vs. Forman (Czech Republic / France, 1h17) by Helena Trestikova and Jakub Hejna

Presented by  Negativ Film Productions, Alegria Productions, Czech Television, ARTE. A powerful documentary that recounts with emotion the career of director Milos Forman, from the Czech New Wave to Hollywood. Oscars, politics and political upheavals for a life in the service of cinema.

All the restored films of Cannes Classics 2019

Toniby Jean Renoir (1934, 1h22, France)

Presented by Gaumont. First digital restoration in 4K presented by Gaumont with the support of the CNC. Restoration done by L’image retrouvée in Bologna and Paris.

Le Ciel est à vous (1943, 1h45, France) by Jean Grémillon

Presented by TF1 Studio. Restaured version in 4K using two intermediate and a duplicate done by TF1 studio, with the support of the CNC and Coin de Mire cinéma. Digital and photochimical work done by L21 laboratory.

Moulin Rouge (1952, 1h59, UK) by John Huston 

Presented and restored by The Film Foundation in collaboration with Park Circus, Romulus Films and MGM with additional funding provided by the Franco-American Cultural Fund, a unique partnership between the Directors Guild of America (DGA), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Société des Auteurs, Compositeurs et Editeurs de Musique (SACEM), and the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW).   Restored from the 35mm Original Nitrate 3-Strip Technicolor Negative. 4K scanning, color grading, digital image restoration and film recording by Cineric, Inc., New York. Colorist: Daniel DeVincent. Audio restoration by Chace Audio. Restoration Consultant: Grover Crisp.

Kanal (They Loved Life) (1957, 1h34, Poland) by Andrzej Wajda

Presented by Malavida, in association with Kdr. Scanned, calibrated and restored in 4K under the artistic supervision of Andrzej Wajda and Jerzy Wójcik, second DOP, and regular collaborator of Wajda (Ashes and Diamonds) and one of the greatest Polish DOP. Technical supervision: Waldermar Makula. 4k Scan from the original negative, image and sound. Producted by Studio Filmowe Kadr with the participation of  Filmoteka Narodowa. French distribution: Malavida. International Sales: Studio Filmowe Kadr.

Hu shi ri ji (Diary of a Nurse) (1957, 1h37, China) by Tao Jin

Presented by IQIYI et New Ipicture Media co., ltd (NIPM). 4K Scan and 3K Digital Restoration from the original 35mm print positive materials mastered in 2K. Restoration financed by IQIYI & NIPM, and made by L’Immagine Ritrovata (Italy) and Laser Digital Film SRL (Italy).

Hakujaden (The White Snake Enchantress) (1958, 1h18, Japan) by Taiji Yabushita

Presented by  Toei Animation Company, ltd., Toei company, ltd. et and National Archive of Japan. The project celebrates the 100th year anniversary for the birth of Japan animation and 60th anniversary for the original theatrical release in 1958.
4K scan and restoration from the original negative, 35mm print, tape materials, and animation cels by Toei lab tech co., ltd. et Toei digital center are carried out. The restored data is stored in 2K.

125 Rue Montmartre (1959, 1h25, France) by Gilles Grangier

Presented by Pathé. 4K Scan and 2k restoration, using the original safety negative (negative image, intermediate and negative optique sound) Work done by Eclair laboratory for the image and L.E Diapason (Léon Rousseau) for the sound part. Restored with the support of the Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée (CNC).

A tanú (The Witness) (1969, 1h52, Hongrie) by Péter Bacsó

The original uncensored  version presented by the Hungarian National Film Fund – Film Archive. The film was restored in 4K using the original camera negative and outtakes, the only existing uncensored positive print and the original magnetic sound. The restoration was carried out at the Hungarian Filmlab. The digital colour grading was supervised by Tamás Andor (HSC, Hungarian Society of Cinematographers).

Tetri karavani (The White Caravan) (1964, 1h37, Georgia) by Eldar Shengelaia and Tamaz Meliava

Presented by Georgian National Film Center. 4K Scan from 35mm, digital restoration (color, grading, stabilization). Restoration financed by the Georgian National Film Center, the restoration made by National Archives of Georgia.

Director Eldar Shengelaia in attendance.

Plogoff, des pierres contre des fusilsby Nicole Le Garrec (1980, 1h48, France)

Presented by Ciaofilm. Restored in 2k from the original negative 16mm image. Sound restoration from the 16mm magnetic. Work done by Hiventy laboratory  under the supervision of Ciaofilm and Pascale Le Garrec, with the help of the CNC, Région Bretagne and the Cinemathèque de Bretagne. Distributed by Next Film Distribution.

Director Nicole Le Garrec in attendance.

Caméra d’Afrique  (20 Years of African Cinema) by Férid Boughedir (1983, 1h38, Tunisia / France)

Presented by the CNC. Restoration: Laboratory of the CNC. 2K scan from the original 16mm image negative. Sound restoration : Hiventy. This movie fits into the restoration scheme initiated by L’Institut français and the CNC, supervised by the commitee for the African cinematographic heritage. Right-holders: Marsa film. French Distribution: Les Films du Losange.

Director Férid Boughedir in attendance. 

Dao ma zei (The Horse Thief ) (1986, 1h28, China) by Tian Zhuangzhuang and Peicheng Pan

Presented by Xi’An Film Studio. 4K Scan and 4K 48 fps digital restoration from the 35mm original camera negative. Restoration financed and made by China Film Archive.

Director Tian Zhuangzhuang  and Cinematographer Hou Yong in attendance. 

The Doors (1991, 2h20, USA) by Oliver Stone

Presented by Studiocanal, in partnership with Paramount, Lionsgate and Imagine Ritrovatta. Restored in 4k, initiated and supervised by Oliver Stone from the original negative, scanned in 4k 16 bits on ARRISCAN at Fotokem US. Restoration managed by Imagine Ritrovatta in Italy. Calibrated work supervised by Oliver Stone. Immersive soundtrack thanks to the Atmos mix created by Formosa Group, Hollywood, under the supervision of Dolby and original mixers of the film Wylie Stateman and Lon Bender. The movie can be seen in 7.1 and 5.1. Remastered 4K now available in 4K Cinema, UHD Dolby Vision and Atmos.

Documentaries

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (USA, 1h34) by Midge Costin

Presented by Dogwoof and Cinetic Media.

The biggest directors and artists make us immerse in the history and impact of sound in cinema: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Barbra Streisand, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Patty Jenkins, Robert Redford, Ryan Coogler, David Lynch, Sofia Coppola, Christopher Nolan, Ang Lee, Walter Murch. A rich, fascinating and essential documentary.

Les Silences de Johnny (55mn, France) by Pierre-William Glenn

Presented by les films du Phœnix  in coproduction with Ciné+.

A personal and moving portrait of actor Johnny Hallyday by great cinematographer, director and friend of Johnny’s Pierre-William Glenn.

La Passione di Anna Magnani(1h, Italy / France) by Enrico Cerasuolo

Presented by les Films du Poisson and Zenit Arti Audiovisive.

The destiny of legendary actress Anna Magnani through archive footage, often unpublished. To dive into the history of Italian cinema.

Cinecittà – I mestieri del cinema Bernardo Bertolucci (Italy, 55mn) by Mario Sesti

Presented by Erma Pictures in collaboration with Cinecittà Luce.

A presentation of Erma Pictures in collaboration with Cinecittà Luce.

The last interview of the Master Bertolucci who recalls his work with precision, delicacy and philosophy. A movie lesson.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 15-25 May 2019

 

Cujo (1983) *** Bluray release

Dir: Lewis Teague | US Horror 88′

A loveable family pet becomes a ferocious killer in this terrifying cult horror outing from Lewis Teague. Atmospherically adapted for the big screen from Stephen King’s novel, the film sees parallel’s between wounded male pride and a rabid St Bernard who turns on its family after being bitten near their pleasant suburban home in California. In the meantime, the dog’s owner has gone off to lick his own wounds having discovered his wife’s affair. Who knows why dogs get such a bag time in small independent films. Whenever a dog appears, it is almost certain to have a tragic ending, and this is certainly the case for the titular St Bernard Cujo who is all friendly and bushy-tailed in the opening scenes and gradually descends into a raving monster after sticking his head into a bat cave. Ironically, a we feel pity for the dog rather than the family – had Teague picked a pit-bull or a Rottweiler things may have worked out entirely differently, and perhaps this was the reason for the film’s poor box office. That said, Teague pulls out all the stops on the terror front, keeping the bloodied mother and child trapped in a car being menaced by the angry dog for most of the film’s mileage. MT

Making its UK debut on Blu-ray on 15 April 2019 , with over 7 hours of extra content, Eureka Classics on a special Limited Two-Disc Blu-ray Edition, featuring a Limited Edition Hardbound Slipcase, with artwork designed by Graham Humphreys, a Limited Edition Collector’s Booklet and Bonus Blu-ray disc [4000 units ONLY].

Amazon  https://amzn.to/2GxdRvj

 

Hitler’s Hollywood: German Cinema in the Age of Propaganda **** (2017)

Dir.: Rüdiger Suchsland, Documentary, Germany 2017, 105 min. 

Rüdiger Suchsland follows his brilliant From Caligari to Hitler with a chronicle of  cinema during the Nazi regime, 1933-1945. The Nazis may not have achieved their thousand year reign, but they produced roughly this number of feature films. Hitler’s Hollywood is narrated by the softly sinister voice Udo Kier, with quotes from from Hannah Arendt and Susan Sontag, Suchsland searches the souls and minds of ordinary German citizens who went the cinema in record numbers, the like of which would never be seen again.

Of these features, roughly 500 were comedies, over three hundred belonged to the popular genre of “Revue” films, the rest was made up by detective and adventure films. There were no Horror movies (enough in real life), and just one SF movie: GOLD by Karl Hartl, a shameless Metropolis rip-off, with its star Brigitte Helm now able to talk. The huge majority of features were produced by the UFA, founded in 1917; its owner, Von Hugenberg, had helped Hitler to achieve power. In 1937 the company was nationalised, and in 1942 monopolised every film production. There were no auteurs in Nazi cinema (they had mostly emigrated like Fritz Lang), the stars had much more power, given to them by Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Reach’s Propaganda Minister, who was THE auteur: controlling everything from script, auditioning to censorship. 

Not that Goebbels had to change that much: On the last day of January 1933, after being installed as Chancellor, Hitler visited the Berlin premiere of Gustav Ucicky’s MORGENROT. This U-boat feature showed what was in store for Germany: the love of death. The commander declares “that Germans might not be good at living, but are pretty well prepared to die in style”. More about this later. MORGENROT was one of about 40 hard-core propaganda films. But the Nazi ideology was very much present in all productions. Jews were the most popular target of these agitation films (DER EWIGE JUDE, JUD SUSS, DIE ROTHSCHILDS). The British did featured in OHM KRUGER, but the majority of these outings were either glorifications of dead Nazi heroes, or of their fictional characters. There was HANS WESTMAR, HITLER JUNGE QUEX, SA MANN BRANDT as well as war features. These largely fell into two categories: the ‘victory’ celebrations depicted in SIEG IM WESTEN, STUKAS, U-BOOTE WESTWARTS or the ‘Durchhaltefilme’ (perseverance films) which came towards the end of the Second World War. One of the most prominent of these was Veit Harlan’s 1945 action drama KOLBERG. This was one of the most expensive German productions to date, a mammoth undertaking that saw 100, 000 soldiers taking part in the bellicose spectacle. There was even a Pro-Euthanasia feature ICH KLAGE AN, directed by Wolfgang Liebeneiner. It came as no accident that Goebbels chose Harlan to helm this extravaganza. “Fascist ideology was part part of his whole work” – and he was by far the most talented filmmaker of the Nazi period – and the most prolific – with twenty films in just ten years. Harlan cast his wife Kristina Söderbaum to star in nearly all his films: she usually committed suicide by drowning, as in THE GOLDEN CITY DIE GOLDENE STADT (1942), and THE GREAT SACRIFICE (1944)). And it goes without saying that both continued their careers well past 1945 in West Germany. Ferdinand Marian, the most gifted actor of the period, who played the wicked Jew in Jud Süss, was killed while drunk driving in August 1946 – some days before a tribunal would decide his professional fate. 

Kristina Söderbaum was Swedish along with several of her compatriots such as Zarah Leander (LA HABANERA) and Ingrid Bergman who appeared in Carl Froelich’s 1938 romantic drama DIE VIER GESELLEN.  Then there was the Czech actor Lida Baarova  – Goebbels nearly left his wife for her – and star of DIE FLEDERMAUS (1937); the Dutch stars Johannes Heesters in FRAU IM BESTEN MANNESALTER (1959) and Ilse Werner in WIR MACHEN MUSIK (1942) . They were required to visit a police station every week to renew visas. But the brightest star in this firmament was the Hungarian actor Marika Rökk (KORA TERRY, IT WAS A GAY BALL NIGHT 1940), who sang and pirouetted her way through 19 features of the Nazi period, and nearly as many in post-war West Germany.

A special mention should go to the Gustaf Gründgens as the leading turn in Hans Steinhoff’s TANZ AUF DEM VULKAN 1938, and Helmut Käutner romantic drama AUF WIEDERSEHEN, FRANZISKA! (1941).  Gründgens esteemed by Göring, but hated by Goebbels. With his androgynous looks (and muddled sexual orientation), he sang “the night is not only there for sleeping” in the 1938 drama. It was an open invitation to revolt, and Goebbels reacted by letting the film pass, but the recording of the film’s score was never released. There is some irony in this feature where city dwellers throw resistance flyers from their balconies – and in real life, the Scholl siblings were beheaded a few years later for doing exactly that in their High School. Suchsland lets Käutner get away lightly, calling him “a man with an anti-fascist soul”. After the war, Käutner directed less ironic mainstream features, now too timid to upset anybody.

Hitler and Goebbels both were film fans even before coming to power. The Leader preferred Micky Mouse cartoons and Frank Capra films, Goebbels was an admirer of early Eisenstein features. Both had it in mind to create a German Hollywood, dominated by dramatic gestures and crowd scenes. An early example of this was Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 chronicle of the Nazi Party’s Nuremberg meeting: THE TRIUMPH OF THE WILL (TRIUMPH DES WILLENS). It is like a religious service, an ornament of masses, constantly synchronised movements. In contrast to these epics, her Olympia films were a search for the perfect body. But what is lacking in most films of this era is irony, even the screw-ball comedies, modelled on Hollywood, lacked this essential ingredience. 

Later reality and feature films moved even closer: DER GROSSE KÖNIG (Veit Harlan 1942) was premiered in parallel with USSR invasion. Male leader figures like Frederick the Great and Frederick I often featured, such as the hero portraits of Schiller, Schlüter and PARACELSUS (GW Pabst, 1943). During the war years, the newsreels lasted on average forty minutes. 

The other side of these strict political agitprops were the comedies with their regressive characters; and Suchsland starts with a clip from THE MAN WHO WAS SHERLOCK HOLMES (Karl Hartl 1937). It shows the two best known male stars, Hans Albers and Rühmann (the latter a German Everyman, who was extremely popular during the 3rd Reich and in West Germany) playing around like little boys, enjoying their bath and using the foam to have fun in their separate bath rooms. Whilst Albers was usually the hero (THE BLUE ANGEL, PEER GYNT, GOLD) Rühmann (MODEL HUSBAND, HEINZ IM MOND) was the scatter-brained dreamer, who just got along, but usually came out on top. 

And while the Nazis seemed to love their nighttime marches armed with torchlights in the dark, creating a sinister atmosphere of necrophilia, they loved death even more. There is a great montage in Suchsland’s documentary that shows the mountain of deaths that accumulated during these twelve years: nearly everyone seems happy to die, including the victims of Euthanasia.

Last, but not least, we should mention WUNSCHKONZERT (Eduard von Borsody, 1940) an impressive amalgamation of feature and newsreel. Kicking off with the Olympics of 1936 and ending with the Fascist victory in the Spanish war, this relationship drama starring Ilse Werner and Carl Raddatz is best described by the couple listening to the chorus, who sing: “I know there will be a miracle, and a thousand dreams will come true”.  Meanwhile, the cinema audience was increasingly inured to endless sacrifice (turning a blind eye to murder), they were asked not to trust what they saw, but to “believe in their intuition that all will turn out well”. Germans, so Suchsland, did not want to leave the cinema, because the reality was too cruel.

We can look forward to Suchsland’s next project, an analysis of post-war West German cinema, which will showcase the era of the Weimar Republic and the 3rd Reich. AS       

AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT FROM EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA | 5 NOVEMBER 2018

The Grifters (1999) **** Bluray release

Dir: Stephen Frears | Anjelica Huston, John Cusack, Annette Bening | Thriller |

Directed by British auteur Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons) and producer Martin Scorsese, The Grifters, is a taut thriller that explores themes of seduction and betrayal. When small-time cheat Roy Dillon (Cusack) winds up in hospital following an unsuccessful scam, it sets up a confrontation between his estranged mother Lilly (Huston) and alluring girlfriend Myra (Benning). Both Lilly and Myra are con artists playing the game in a league far above Roy, and are always looking for their next victim. As Roy finds himself caught in a complicated web of passion and mistrust, the question is who’s conning whom? Frears elicits memorable performances from this talented cast in one of the 20th century’s most edgy and memorable cult classics. 
 
Special Features
Brand New Extras
• Seduction. Betrayal. Murder: The Making of The Grifters: A brand new feature length documentary on the film’s production, including new interviews with director Stephen Frears, cinematographer Oliver Stapleton, editor Mick Audsley, executive producer Barbara De Fina and co-producer Peggy Rajski.
• Limited edition booklet includes: ‘Jim Thompson, Noir, and the Popular Front’, an essay by David Cochran, and ‘Elmer Bernstein: Grit not Grift’, a review of the legendary composer’s career by Charlie Brigden
101 Films launch their new Black Label with The Grifters and eXistenZ both on dual format on 21 May 2018
 
Pre-order both for £25 direct from 101 Films: http://bit.ly/101BlackLabel  

Sleeping Dogs (1977) | Bluray release

Dir: Roger Donaldson | Sam Neill, Warren Oates | 107′ | NZ Thriller

Tightly scripted and tense, SLEEPING DOGS is the gritty political action thriller that revolutionised New Zealand filmmaking, kicking off its New Wave movement at a time when the country was not well known for its cinema, at the end of the 1970s. Resonating with audiences at home and abroad with its themes of politics and personal struggle, it also launched the Hollywood careers of Sam Neill (Possession) and director Roger Donaldson (No Way Out). Neill, in his first lead role, plays a mercurial young man escaping his failed marriage and two kids by taking temporary refuge in an island off the Coromandel Peninsula Meanwhile at home, political turmoil and an oil embargo leading to civil war is drawing him slowly but surely back into its claws. Warren Oates is also brought into the conflict as the commander of a US army unit. Together, they fight against the country’s dictatorship, in a narrative based on C K Stead’s novel Smith’s Dream. Amazingly, Donaldson enlists the cooperation of the NZ Air Force in this entertainingly subversive and occasionally surreal action thriller. MT.

ON BLURAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS FROM 16 APRIL 2018

Zabriskie Point (1969/70) |IMAGE © WARNER BROS

Dir.: Michelangelo Antonioni; Cast: Mark Frechette, Daria Halprin, Rod Taylor: USA 1969/70, 111 min (IMAGE © WARNER BROS)

Zabriskie Point was an unmitigated commercial failure at the box office but has since become somewhat of a cult classic largely due to its atmospheric, otherworldly score by Pink Floyd complimenting ravishing widescreen visuals of Death Valley. Along with Blowup (1966) and The Passenger (1975) it completes a trilogy of English-language films made by Michelangelo Antonioni. Critics were not very kind at the time of the premiere: Pauline Kael wrote: “Antonioni has always been a clumsy director and has never had much luck at solving the mechanical problems of how to get his characters in and out of places”. But when you realise the Americans, as a nation, didn’t like themselves at the time, why should they like foreigners holding up a mirror?

ZABRISKIE POINT is not a masterpiece, but a rather misunderstood film poem that became at important signpost in US counter-culture of the time. Since everyone wanted to see action and revolution, nobody was happy: neither the European art house audience nor the American counter-culture brigade. Strange to think that anybody could expect ‘action’ from Antonioni; and his sort of revolution was mainly an internal process, slow burning and with a lot of self destruction. The only point worth making is that Antonioni himself tried too hard to please the audience – just leave out the fireworks and shoot in black and white and all what would have worked out much better. But then, he could have stayed in Italy. This way, he fell between two stools, but there is still a lot to admire about ZABRISKIE POINT.

The narrative is sparse: Mark (Frechette) is at a student’s meeting in LA “willing to die, but not of boredom”. Later he nearly shoots a police officer during a violent demonstration, steals a small plane, circles in the desert over a Buick, driven by young, naive pot-smoking Daria (Halprin). Later the two meet, make love in the desert, “Zabriskie Point” being the lowest one in the whole of the USA, before Mark paints the plane full of political slogans and psychedelic colours, and on landing is shot dead by the police in LA.
ZABRISKIE POINT is predominantly a road movie, with some Western thrown in. But is not political, let alone revolutionary. Yes, what we see about America is rather ugly and violent, not much change there, but Mark’s actions come from the heart: he wants fun, sex and travel. Sure, the police are in way way, but not as a collective political force.

In the end, ZABRISKIE POINT is just about a man lost in the vastness of LA, needing another point of view (like most of Antonioni’s heroes), finding Daria in a sort of no-mans-land, where happiness can exist, before choosing to go back to the city and death, spurning his second chance. Alfio Contini’s camera paints both the vast city and the valley in the desert as a melancholic death dance. AS/MT

RE-RELEASED FROM 24 OCTOBER AND AVAILABLE ON DCP FOR THE FIRST TIME – IMAGE SUBJECT TO COPYRIGHT OF WARNER BROS ENTERTAINMENT INC.

Room 237 (2012) MUBI

Dir: Rodney Ascher | Cast: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner | US Doc, 103mins    

A documentary about conspiracy theories surrounding THE SHINING (1981)

In the grand firmament of filmmakers, there’s no one director that inspires more awe, more frowning or hushed tones than the legendary Stanley Kubrick. The man. The myth. There is also nothing quite like a Kubrick standard to bring the geeks, the nerds, the conspiracists and the plain unhinged out from under their desks, their rocks and their bunkers to superimpose their own interpretation of what this film is about, confident in the knowledge that Kubrick has indeed put layers in there, and is happy to play around with an audience, giving them licence to postulate and reinterpret, ad infinitum.

Kubrick was a great director for a good many reasons: from his sheer invention with the camera; to production design; shot composition; edge of frame detail; colour; costume;  editing; and with the strength of his ideas and concepts, he still allowed the actor the freedom to improvise. That is genius.

But it’s highly unlikely that he meant for The Shining to be watched literally frame by agonising frame in an attempt to uncover hidden meanings. Or, for it to be run backwards, superimposed simultaneously over itself running forwards. If you’re going to look hard enough for long enough and with any sort of allegorical agenda, you probably could find the deeply sinister in a daytime TV weather report.

Room 237 is one such endeavour, (it’s a film about genocide); it lurches from the considered through to the improbable and the downright risible, with a certain panache. Too often, the talking heads of the five various Shining experts leave Rodney Ascher with precious little to go on, so we are left perusing images from any number of, not only Kubrick’s films, but a big clutch of others.

The diverse theories begin to stream thick and fast, some start on the basis of illustratable plausibility, only to lose their way. Others starting from a point of implausibility, never even to attempt to find something resembling sanity; undoubtedly a genius then, but quite how Kubrick ‘photoshopped’ his own image into the clouds a clear ten years before Photoshop was even invented, beggars belief.

All in all, Room 237 is a befuddling and for the most part interminable exercise, albeit sprinkled with a few interesting moments. It may leave you frustrated, and looking forward to substantive insight.  It will certainly make you revisit The Shining again and gain.

Room 237 is like going out for a promising evening, only to end up trapped in the corner with the comb-over, who simply won’t shut up. And therein lies the point. The Shining itself is endlessly entertaining, haunting, emotive, disturbing, unquantifiable…  a true classic and should be enjoyed as such. By dissecting anything, all one does, by definition, is reduce it. Ask any frog. AT

NOW ON MUBI

 

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