Posts Tagged ‘Cult classics’

Paramount on Parade (1930)

Dir: Dorothy Arzner, Otto Brower, Edmund Goulding || Cast: Jean Arthur, Clara Bow, Gary Cooper, Fredric March, Maurice Chevalier | US Musical 102’

Paramount on Parade displays little of the imagination of Universal’s The King of Jazz and certainly lacks the star quality of Metro’s The Show of Shows and is amateurishly staged as if on a proscenium and played to the camera throughout; but the masters of ceremonies Jack Oakie and Skeets Gallagher sauntering through the proceedings cheerfully breeching the fourth wall seem to be having as much fun as the audience.

The sets are pretty basic with the idiosyncratic exception of the tinted spoof murder mystery and the various Technicolor sequences which ironically lack a soundtrack (although perhaps that’s a blessing in the case of Harry Green as a Jewish matador). Jean Arthur and Gary Cooper are rather wasted – particularly as the points when they get to sing are both now silent – and you have to look hard to spot Frederic March.

With the fleeting exception of Kay Francis in Technicolor as Carmen Maurice Chevalier is easily seen to the best effect (in sequences evidently the work of Ernst Lubitsch), especially performing an Apache Dance with Evelyn Brent; but Mitzi Green, Nancy Carroll and Clara Bow also get to make their mark.

Apart from the scenes with Chevalier it’s hard to know who actually directed what, but the presence of Ludwig Berger – addressed as ‘Dr. Berger’ – in the Technicolor episode The Gallows Song identifies him as the man responsible for the colour composition that so impressed Alexander Korda that he later invited him to work for him at Denham on The Thief of Baghdad. @RichardChatten

The Green Cockatoo (1937)

Dir: William Cameron Menzies | Cast: John Mills, Rene Ray, Robert Newton, Charles Oliver | UK Crime Drama 70′

Although John Mills is technically the star, The Green Cockatoo is principally told through the big blue eyes of Miss Rene Ray as a country mouse who gets a crash course in what “a vile and wicked city London is”; while, as directed by visionary production designer William Cameron Menzies, it anticipates the feel of a forties film noir (complete with a score by Miklos Rozsa).

Old movies often provide incidental details of interest to later social historians: in this case that the phrase “a bit of a goer” was in use back in the 1930s. The film further charmingly shows its age by depicting John Mills as a song & dance man – first seen singing in a night club before briefly launching into an incredible swivel-hipped tap dance. We’re expected to believe he and Robert Newton are brothers (presumably only their mother could tell them apart) further showing just how long it was made when Mills describes him as “a good kid”. @RichardChatten

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Night of the Generals (1967)

Dir: Anatole Litvak | Cast: Peter O’Toole, Albert Finney, Tom Courtney | US Action Drama

When Sam Spiegel engaged Peter O’Toole for the title role in Lawrence of Arabia it came with strings attached in the form of a long-term contract (which is the reason first choice Albert Finney had declined the part).

Thus is the presence herein of O’Toole explained (not that his choice of films ever displayed much discernment and in The Night of the Generals he gives a performance that’s eccentric even for him), while from Spiegel’s point of view the appeal of a film reuniting both stars of Lawrence of Arabia was only too apparent.

The money was always up there on the screen on a Spiegel production, it has a score by Maurice Jarre that lingers pleasantly in the memory and a particularly good performance in a supporting role by Tom Courtney (who has a memorable scene discussing the merits of modern art with O’Toole).

While for students of the period it contains possibly the only screen representation of the incident when Rommel’s car was strafed by a Spitfire (which provides the opportunity for Spiegel to include Christopher Plummer in a guest role). @RichardChatten

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Panic in Year Zero (1962)

Dir: Ray Milland Cast: Ray Milland, Jean Hagen, Mary Mitchel, Frank Avalon US thriller

A remarkably unflattering depiction of the ruthlessness that Americans prided themselves on being capable of during the Cold War (described by Denis Gifford as “Ray Milland’s illustrated handbook on What to Do When the Bomb Falls”) which makes ‘The Turner Diaries’ look like a Fabian Society publication.

In this tale of survival against the odds, a family leaves Los Angeles for a camping trip in the nick of time before a bomb destroys the city. Ray Milland, inspired by a short story from Ward Moore and directing a script from John Morton and Jay Simms, vouchsafes the inconvenient truth that, in the event of an attack by The Enemy, the first people patriotic Americans would turn the guns they’ve been hoarding so lovingly on would be other Americans – and ammunition would be of greater value than money.

The film one again proves the ‘holocaust theory’ in saluting an average working stiff who when his back’s to the wall gets his way by showing a total disregard for no one but himself and his wife and kids, which earns the final admiring tribute of a pair of state troopers as “five more good ones”. @RichardChatten.

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The Story of Mankind (1957)

Wri/Dir: Irwin Allen | Cast: Ronald Colman, Hedy Lamarr, Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Agnes Moorehead, Virginia Mayo, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Cedric Hardwicke, Dennis Hopper, Jon Carradine | US drama 100’

One of the many jokers to be found in that pack of twaddle ‘The Fifty Worst Movie of All Time’, this isn’t really as much fun as that makes it sound, but it has its moments; the touching scene with Cathy O’Donnell as a Christian girl hiding from the Romans, in particular, belonging in a much better film.

The Devil and the Spirit of Man debate the everlasting question: is  humanity ultimately good or evil?.

Some of it sounds pretty ludicrous – it’s true, but for the most part The Story of Mankind is played pretty straight, and the scene with Dennis Hopper and Marie Windsor as Napoleon & Josephine is watchable; while Ronald Colman, Vincent Price and Cedric Hardwicke bring a rare class to the heavenly tribunal.

That Irving Allen was a better producer than a director is evident from the fact that he managed to include all three Marx Brothers in the thing, but not as a team; while Groucho as Paul Minuet buying Manhattan from the indians shows how unfunny he can be if hasn’t got a decent script. @RichardChatten

Sleeping Car to Trieste (1948)

Dir: John Paddy Corsairs | Cast: Jean Kent, Albert Lieven, Derrick De Marney, Paul Dupuis | UK Crime drama 95′

A reminder of the days when travelling by rail actually seemed incredibly glamorous especially on the Orient Express that provides the exotic setting for this 1948 thriller that sees spies pursuing a stolen diary.

Director John Paddy Carstairs is no Walter Forde but this serviceable remake of Forde’s 1932 film based on Clifford Grey’s story looks good through the lens of cameraman Jack Hildyard.

Albert Lieven is likewise no Conrad Veidt but looks good in black tie. On the distaff side Rona Anderson receives an introducing credit while Jean Kent shows poise as his partner in crime. The only member of the original cast is Finlay Currie who originally played an American but is now an irascible Englishman; while Bonar Colleano and Michael Balfour supply the real thing. @RichardChatten

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Twice upon a Time (1953) Powell + Pressburger Season

Dir: Emeric Pressburger | Cast: Hugh Williams, Elizabeth Allan, Jack Hawkins, Yolande Larthe | Drama 85′

After filming wrapped in 1953 Emeric Pressburger never wanted to think about Twice Upon A Time again, so onerous was the task of making it. The same fate had befallen such cinematic Cinderellas as Hitchcock’s Waltzes from Vienna and Bergman’s It Can’t Happen Here.

Based on the novel by Erich Kastner – originally filmed in 1950 and remade by Disney eight years later as The Parent Trap – it’s a far more succinct drama that avoids the initial enmity that wasted so much time in the later film.

Michael Powell never bothered to watch Twice Upon a Time, Pressburger never mentioned it again, and it was not included in the National Film Theatre’s Powell & Pressburger retrospective of 1978. Kevin Macdonald (in his 1994 biography) declared that “Today no print of Twice Upon a Time is available” and there isn’t a single review on the IMDb. This means that the  screening at BFI Southbank on 6th November 2023 was the first in seventy years.

As for the film itself it comes as a charming surprise: Beautifully shot on location by Christopher Challis with characteristically whimsical narration by Jack Hawkins who also stars as Dr Mathews. @RichardChattten

BFI’S POWELL + PRESSBURGER SEASON | NOVEMBER 2023

The Idea (1932)

Wri/Dir: Berthold Bartosch, Frans Masereel Music: Arthur Honegger. Silent, 25’

I’ve long been aware and intrigued by this film and have finally just availed myself of the opportunity to see it on YouTube.

An adaptation of the 1920 graphic novel by Franz Masereel, it remains one of the tiny handful of attempts at a serious animated film which although technically a fantasy paints a vivid picture of the social unrest of the period and strongly evokes an urban environment; the hazy visuals possibly intended to suggest smog and capturing the same haunting atmosphere as – no, don’t laugh – Noggin the Nog (who’s avant garde score it resembles).

As for the Idea herself she resembles a corporeal version of Botticelli’s Venus whose fluctuations in size throughout are presumably intentional. @RichardChatten

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Julius Caesar (1953)

Marlon Brando, James Mason, John Gielgud. Louis Calhern, Edmond O’Brian, Greer Garson, Deborah Kerr | US drama 121’

Joe Mankiewicz had contributed enough black ink to the ledgers of Hollywood to be entrusted with this ambitious version of one of Shakespeare’s most celebrated plays.

Metro were prepared to make it in Technicolor but Mankiewicz predictably declined, especially as it would probably have created problems with the censor depicting (SPOILER COMING:) Caesar’s bloodied corpse.

Miklos Rozsa’s score owes much more his earlier film noirs than his subsequent work on historical epics. While winning Academy Awards for the art direction the forum at Rome has simply been recycled from ‘Quo Vadis’ and Philippi dashed off in a day at Bronson Canyons, the very plainness of the settings enabling Mankiewicz to subordinate the spectacle to the dialogue; although the presence of John Gielgud (then young enough to be described as ‘young Cassius’), James Mason, Greer Garson and Deborah Kerr amply attest to the fact that it’s a prestige production.

Among the smaller parts the appearance early on of George Macready bodes well, while John Hoyt – who was in the original Mercury production – certainly looks the part as Decius Brutus and rejoined Mankiewicz ten years later on the set of ‘Cleopatra’ on which Mankiewicz attempted to avoid the discrepancy of accents that jars so much in this version; although the gamble in casting Marlon Brando as Mark Anthony paid off handsomely. Edmond O’Brien may seem rather rather out of place as Casca but as ever is always worth watching. @RichardChatten 

Animal Farm (1954)

Dir: Joy Bachelor, John Halas | Animation 72’’

Animal Farm suffered a fate similar to Gulliver’s Travels‘ fifteen years earlier in reaching the screen as a Technicolor treat for kiddies in a fashion that would surely have shocked their creators.

Poor George Orwell went his grave being patted on the back by Tories congratulating him for his demolition of socialism in ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘1984’ despite it being obvious to anyone with half a brain that the subject of his ire was Stalinism rather than socialism.

Viewed purely as a film it succeeds extremely well with its attractive and fluid photography and, until the final couple of minutes, is remarkably faithful to the original with capitalism getting pretty short shrift in the portrayal of the hateful Mr Jones and his cronies. @RichardChatten

 

Tomorrow I’ll Get Up and Scald Myself with Tea (1977)

Dir: Jindrich Polák | Cast: Petr Koska, Jiri Sovak, Vladimir Mensik, Vlastimil Brodsky | Czechoslovakia 1977, 93′

Jindrich Polak (1925-2003) was a director little known in the west but he made two memorable contributions to the science fiction genre. (The first being a 1963 production called Ikarie XB1.)

From a long study of the matter I have come to the conclusion that the Czech cinema possesses a singular quirkiness that is manifest in this strangely titled confection finally returning to the South Bank nearly half a century after it was included in a November 1978 season of recent Czech productions.

I had the good fortune to catch it’s sole BBC screening in January 1982 and for decades after used to enthuse to my friends about this terrific film that only I seemed to have seen (not quite the only one since Peter Nicholls in his 1984 book ‘Fantastic Cinema: An Illustrated Survey’ urged his readers to “See this if you ever have the chance”). @RichardChatten.

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Time Without Pity (1957)

Dir: Joseph Losey | Cast: Michael Redgrave, Ann Todd, Peter Cushing, Leo McKern, Paul Daneman | Drama

Joseph Losey had recently arrived in Britain with first hand experience of persecution from his experience of being the sharp end of the the activities of the HUAC and with scores to settle he sank his teeth into that fine old American tradition of capital punishment in this tense drama.

Michael Redgrave plays a desperate father engaged in a desperate race against time to save his sons life but finds that no one will help him (There’s a searing attack on public complacency when George Devine declares Redgrave as guilty as the rest of the general public of total indifference).

The general stridency of technique is reflected in Leo McKern’s wild overacting. @RichardChatten

Brighton Rock (1948)

Dir: John Boulting | Cast: Richard Attenborough, Hermione Baddeley, William Hartnell, Harcourt Williams

You know you’re in Greeneland when Harcourt Williams appears as a down-at-heel lawyer who quotes ‘Macbeth’.

Directing duo The Boultings were fast ascending in critical status when they turned their attention to Greene’s novel and their facility with locations is demonstrated from the outset by the first twenty minutes following Alan Whitely as the il-fated Kolley Kibber through the streets of Brighton.

Despite the disclaimer blaming the activities of Pinky and his gang on the thirties it perfectly captures the shabby feel of the postwar austerity era, complete with Nigel Stock in a zoot suit and a spivvy moustache.

The ending caused controversary at the time but it seemed me a pretty neat trick because although it concentrates on Carol Marsh’s rapturous smile somebody would have promptly (SLIGHT SPOILER COMING:) given that record player a good swift kick.

One final thought: was it just by coincidence that Pinky’s previous victim was called Fred Kite? @RichardChatten

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The Naked Road (1959)

Dir: William Martin | Cast: Jeanne Renner, Ronald Long, Art Koulias, Eileen Letchworth | UK drama 74’

Talking Pictures unearthes another offering for students of the archeology of the cinema with an exploitation quickie so obscure it didn’t even it make into ‘The Psychotronic Encyclopaedia of Film’.

Presumably meant for drive-ins, it would probably have got down a treat in church halls and – for it’s picture of capitalism at its most predatory – would probably also gone down a treat in the Soviet Union (although the line about the redemptive power of religion would have had to go).

Made back in the days when nice girls didn’t neck, but for the fifties music you’d think it was made in the early thirties. Every man the heroine encounters is a total jerk; while the district judge who preys on speeders in cahoots with the local highway patrolman is portrayed as so casually venal that when his victim asks how he’s expected to pay simply shrugs and declares “I don’t care who pays the fine”.

As it that weren’t all he promptly hands them over to a pair of white slavers who pump her full of dope in pursuit of their nefarious scheme. The judge we never see again but rest assured (SLIGHT SPOILER COMING:) his partners in crime are finally rounded up and sent up the river for the next five years. @RichardChatten

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Paris When it Sizzles (1964)

Dir: Richard Quine | Cast: William Holden, Audrey Hepburn, Grégoire Aslan | Drama 110’

When he decided to remake Julien Duvivier’s La Fete a Henriette (1952), was it screenwriter George Axelrod’s intention all along that the lead in this repost to the auteur theory be played by William Holden?

Holden had already served as Billy Wilder’s narrator and spokesman for disaffected scriptwriters everywhere in Sunset Boulevard; in which he complained that audiences don’t realise anybody writes a movie, they just think the actors make it up as they go along. (Which if this weren’t a remake of an earlier film one might have thought Axelrod had himself just done.)

Audiences contemplating this extravagant shambles, however, know exactly where the blame lies since Alexrod constantly draws attention to his culpability in writing this script; while denigrating all the ‘little people’ involved in making the film itself. His arguments would have carried more weight had he marshalled them more coherently himself and he’d cast a lead actor who could play comedy.

An overwritten and overacted soufflé that fails to rise (which desperately overuses zooms, pans and wipes as if it were a Bollywood movie), with an appropriately overemphatic score by Nelson Riddle. It’s its production values and star power (notably a rather sweet extended cameo by Tony Curtis) that make it watchable. But it goes on for far too long.

Mind you, Resnais made just as much of a pig’s ear of similar subject matter with Providence. @RichardChatten

Heavens Above (1963)

Dir: The Boulting Brothers | Comedy Drama | with Peter Selllars, Ian Carmichael, Irene Handl, Cecil Parker, Isabel Jeans | Comedy Drama 118’

Having already socked it to the army and the trade unions the Boulting brothers now turned their attention to that other Great British institution, the Church of England.

The boys were getting very cynical in their old age and the sunny optimism of Peter Sellers’ brummie prison chaplain comes a very poor third to the corruption and venality of his flock in the fictional parish of Orbiston Parma.

A newspaper headline referring to Salan serves as a reminder of unpleasant realities abroad. There are plenty of nasty digs at travellers and welfare claimants and the coarsening of their humour is demonstrated by the use of a laxative (“Builds you up, cleans you out!”) as a major plot point and it really jumps the shark when Sellers goes up in a rocket at the conclusion.

The brothers’ perennial disrespect for institutionalised religion is tempered here as it was in their company’s 1940 production ‘Pastor Hall’ by their sympathetic depiction of an individual clergyman. @RichardChatten

The One that Got Away (1957)

Dir: Roy Ward Baker | UK Action thriller, 111’

The British have always prided themselves on being good losers and magnanimous in victory; with the previous war long past the opportunity came to show we were also good winners. By the mid-fifties Kurt Jurgens had already carved himself a niche in Good Germans, this time it was Hardy Kruger’s turn.

Although depicted as an abrasive character described as “a mixture of bombast and sheer nerve” – the fact he’s occasionally heard talking German gives him a sinister edge – the film is careful to assure us Kruger was never a party member, while the relationship between him and his captors is rather intimate. @RichardChatten

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The Passionate Stranger (1957) Cinema Rediscovered

Dir: Muriel Box | Cast: Margaret Leighton, Ralph Richardson, Carlo Justino | UK Drama

The Passionate Stranger (1957) centres around happily married house-wife Judith Wynter (Margaret Leighton) who keeps the fact she is a best-selling author of steamy romance novels a closely guarded secret. As her husband Roger (Ralph Richardson), recovers from a serious illness, the couple’s new driver Carlo (Carlo Justini) discovers the manuscript of Judith’s latest novel and jumps to a rather unfortunate conclusion, making life in the Wynter household very complicated indeed!

Similar in conception – and, alas, execution – to Preston Sturges’ ‘Unfaithfully Yours’. I guess it was an early attempt by future ‘Carry On’ producer Peter Rogers at a saucy comedy, but what – or who? – exactly are we supposed to be laughing at?

The middle section in pretty fifties Eastmancolor – in which Margaret Leighton, inauspiciously reunited with ‘Holly and the Ivy’ patriarch Ralph Richardson, plays Chopin in Norman Hartnell – goes on for far too long and is too broadly played, and none of it is remotely as witty as it evidently thinks it is. While Humphrey Searle’s score sledgehammers home situations that cry out for a more tongue-in-cheek treatment.

The most remarkable transformation is Patricia Dainton’s from mouse to hussy (with painted red lips to complement her emerald green dress), and is probably the single most enjoyably daft component in the film. @RichardChatten

On CINEMA REDISCOVERED BRISTOL until 30 July 2023 | BLURAY & DIGITAL for the first time in August 2023 along with RATTLE OF A SIMPLE MAN (1964) and THE TRUTH ABOUT WOMEN (1957) directed by Muriel Box 

Tokyo Joe (1949)

Dir: Stuart Heisler | US Drama

It is a truth rarely acknowledged that for every timeless classic Humphrey Bogart made during the forties there was a mediocre clunker now languishing in richly deserved obscurity.

The late David Shipman went so far as to describe ‘Tokyo Joe’ as “one of his worst films” (which seems a bit harsh if you’ve ever seen ‘The Two Mrs Carrolls’); the felony compounded by the fact that Bogart actually it for his own company, Santana.

The film is probably more interesting to contemplate that to actually watch, but it has a certain morbid fascination. But it’s not every day you hear Bogie speak Japanese, Alexander Knox brings his usual quiet dignity to the thankless part of Bogart’s rival in love; while it provides a rare chance see Florence Marley – who now enjoys cult status for the title role of Curtis Harrington’s ‘Queen of Blood’ – bringing her glacial blue eyes to the role of Bogie’s ex-wife during her very short-lived Hollywood career. @RichardChatten

He Walked by Night (1948)

Dir: Alfred L Werker | Cast: Richard Basehart, Scott Brady, Roy Roberts, Whit Bissell | US Film Noir 79′

A obvious precursor to Dragnet – complete with an appearance by future star Jack Webb – and a fine example of the routine excellence of the Hollywood thriller of the forties. He Walked by Noir unfolds in a semi-documentary style and follows police on the hunt for a resourceful criminal who shot and killed a cop.

Alfred Werker has long been difficult to fathom since amid the detritus of a journeyman career there’s been a handful of remarkably accomplished examples of filmmaking.

Applying the declamatory style then fashionable in urban thrillers, a nerdy young Richard Basehart plays a killer with absolutely no redeeming features cornered in the Los Angeles storm drains as Harry Lime was the sewers of Vienna in The Third Man.

While it’s widely known that Anthony Mann contributed several sequences; the overall success of the film probably owes as much to the unifying contribution of the magnificent black & white photography of John Alton. @RichardChatten

The Brothers (1947)

Dir: David MacDonald | Uk Drama

Where do you start with this one? It certainly doesn’t look as if it was meant to promote tourism north of the border.

Patricia Roc (looking even less convincing as a sweet young thing in pigtails than Joan Fontaine in ‘Letter from an Unknown Woman’) arrives on the Isle of Skye where the ratio of men to women seems five to one and the attracts the attention of all the young bruiser. Foolishly she soon goes skinny dipping with predicable effects on the local lads who promptly start fighting over her.

You start wondering if you’re seeing double when John Laurie appears in two roles, and are we seriously expected to believe Finlay Currie produced two sons who look like Duncan Macrae and Maxwell Reed; maybe they were adopted? @RichardChatten

Knock on Any Door (1949)

Dir: Nicholas Ray | Cast: John Derek, Humphrey Bogart, Allene Roberts. | US, 1949, 100’

The first of two features Ray made for Santana, Humphrey Bogart’s short-lived independent production company, Knock on Any Door unfolds against the poverty and crime of 1930s Chicago, a setting that drew upon Ray’s Midwestern youth and Depression-era political activism.

John Derek, here in his debut, later became so notorious as a middle-aged man whose leading ladies got conspicuously younger with each succeeding film, it comes as quite a shock to see him here, in his debut, as a genuinely young kid (complete with an “Introducing” credit) from the slums Pretty Boy Romano who lives by Al Capone’s creed: “Live fast, die young, and have a good looking corpse!”.

Photographed by Burnett Guffey who later won an Oscar for ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ and anticipating the same director’s Rebel Without a Cause by six years. Humphrey Bogart is at his most personable playing the lawyer who cares, with an absorbing slug-fest in a boiling hot courtroom between him and district attorney George Macready. @RichardChatten

 

 

 

The Wayward Bus (1957)

Dir: Victor Vicas | US Drama 87’

Neo-realism comes to Hollywood in this remarkable onscreen teaming of fifties icons Joan Collins (as a tippling, money-hungry little drab with a husband inevitably named ‘Johnny’) and Jayne Mansfield as a blonde movie star travelling incognito proving that not every film they made was glossy Technicolor nonsense (the full title actually being ‘John Steinbeck’s The Wayward Bus’); the old guard being represented by Dan Dailey, Larry Keating and Will Wright.

Produced by Billy Wilder’s former partner Brackett and directed by continental import Victor Vicas, it vividly evokes in widescreen an era when cops rode in helicopters but roadside cafes were still equipped with candlestick phones and aspiring actors looked up to Robert Wagner and MarlonBrando.@RichardChatten

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Q Planes (1939)

Dir: Tim Whelan | Cast: Laurence Olivier, Valerie Hobson, Ralph Richardson, George Curzon | UK Drama

Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson make a dashing pair back in the days when Olivier was still cast as a handsome hunk.

Although the use of biplanes locates the action in the frivolous thirties (as exemplified by Olivier calling Valerie Hobson as “Miss Fleet Street of 1938”), the storyline about disappearing high-speed bombers looks ahead to the coming war in Europe.

Olivier is officially the star but Richardson has the showier part as a deceptively vague, bowler-hatred, brolly-wielding moustached secret agent – who insouciantly breaches the fourth wall at the film’s conclusion – cheerfully acknowledged by Patrick MacNee as the inspiration for John Steed. @RichardChatten

The Intruder (1962)

Dir: Roger Corman

A labour of love for Roger Corman (who turns 97 next month) who ruefully admitted that it was one of only two films he’d made that had ever lost money; but after years of coining it in he could afford just for once to make a film that he really cared about.

Even today liberal use of a certain word can still shock; while bringing it in took plenty of courage, since the crew constantly had to move on when the locals turned ugly when they discovered the man they were cheering wasn’t the hero but the villain (if you look closely you’ll see the conclusion takes place on three different locations).

Modern viewers will be surprised to see William Shatner as the satanic snake oil salesman Adam Cramer, to which his declamatory style is well suited. Leo Gordon is cast spectacularly against type in a sympathetic role, while to further keep costs down writer Charles Beaumont (author of the original novel) makes his sole film appearance as an actor.@RichardChatten

The Monster Club (1981)

Dir: Roy Ward Baker | Cast: Vincent Price, John Carradine, Anthony Steele |  Uk Horror

Milton Subotsky’s swan-song as a producer of horror films was also the last of a series of collections of episodes that began fifteen years earlier with ‘Dr Terror’s House of Horrors’.

Being the eighties the music’s pretty dire (the shot of B. A. Robertson performing being as ghoulish as anything else in the film). It’s not really very good but has a certain charm (how could it fail to with Vincent Price presiding?). Subotsky himself is parodied as the famous film producer ‘Lintom Busotsky’ who introduces probably the best episode in which Britt Ekland plays his mother, Richard Johnson a vampire as a good father, menaced by Donald Pleasence and three henchman in bowler hats and carrying violin cases. @RichardChatten

The Damned (1961)

Dir: Joseph Losey | Cast: Macdonald Carey, Shirley Anne Field, Oliver Reed, James Villiers | Thriller, 82′

The film that concluded the journeyman phase of Joseph Losey’s career. Based on H. L. Lawrence’s novel ‘The Children of Light’, and called ‘The Damned’ because ‘Village of the Damned’ had recently scored a big hit. I would have loved to have been present when this film was first screened for the top brass at Hammer Films, who must have seen the film out in stunned silence.

Unable to know what to do with it, they pushed it out as a second feature, when it rescued by an admiring review from Philip French just months before Losey made his critical breakthrough with ‘The Servant’. Writer Evan Jones said they could have made half a dozen different films from what they’d shot and that one cast member so exceeded expectations they built his part up; he didn’t name names but I suspect he meant Kenneth Colpe.

Despite Losey’s admission that he’d never read the novel, it’s actually a very faithful adaptation of the original. The opening chapters depicting the hero fleeing the accidental killing of his wife have been discarded, the children in the book are hot to the touch rather than cold, the villain in both is called Bernard and and one point he instructs his minions to send a helicopter (so much for Losey’s claim that that was an original idea!) While Oliver Reed and his marauding gang obviously inspired the Droogs in ‘A Clockwork Orange’. @RichardChatten

Damn the Defiant (1962)

Dir: Lewis Gilbert | cast: Dirk Bogarde, Alex Guinness, Anthony Quayle, Murray Melvin , Victor Madden | UK Drama

Following hard on the heels of his brave performance in ‘Victim’ Dirk Bogarde’s determination to trash his pretty boy image continued apace taking second billing to Alec Guinness in what the late David Shipman described as “another subtle study in nastiness” as a head card-carrying swine who personally takes part in press gangs, carries a rope and smirks with quiet satisfaction when watching floggings.

Scripted by Nigel Kneale and Edmund North, filmed in CinemaScope and Eastmancolor in Spain by Christopher Challis and commencing at Spithead in 1797 in the days when two dozen lashes denoted a soft captain and edited by Peter Hunt (soon to make his name on the James Bond franchise) with a cast that spans the generations from Walter Fitzgerald to James Bolam. @RichardChatten

 

A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

Dir: Richard Lester | UK Musical Biopic

I was big a fan of The Beatles almost as soon as I could walk, so in the summer of 1964 my father treated me to a visit to see ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ at the Colosseum in Gorleston (now the local branch of Boots).

Even at the tender age of five I was struck by the clarity with which the big screen showed up the irises of the cast. When six years later I saw it on TV it already looked like a period piece, and after nearly sixty years Lennon & Harrison are long gone, Ringo and Paul are in their eighties and Dick Lester is 91.

Seeing the young Lennon is a chastening sight since he become such a sour old cuss. Ringo makes up for being Ringo since his scenes easily rank among the film’s best and it was him who came with the title in the first place.

PEDANTS PLEASE NOTE: that the presence of Victor Spinetti was a favour to George Harrison’s mum. @RichardChatten

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Dir: F. W. Murnau | Cast: George O’Brian, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston | US Silent, 87′

Lured to Hollywood by producer William Fox, German Expressionist F.W. Murnau created one of the silent cinema’s last and most luminous masterpieces. Having already made a name for himself on the continent, Sunrise – a tale of two country mice overwhelmed by the temptations of the city after the husband is seduced by a sophisticated urbanite – represented an auspicious Hollywood debut that promised much, but tragically produced little. The recipient at the very first Academy Awards, in 1928, of a special award as the “most unique and artistic production” of the year, Murnau failed to build on its great success and after two more ill-fated Hollywood silents the German director went to Tahiti to recharge his batteries on Tabu.

Posterity alas will never see what impact Murnau would have on the classic era of the thirties because he tragically died in a car accident at the shockingly early age of 42. Richard  Chatten

SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS (1927) directed by F.W. Murnau. now screening courtesy of the BFI player subscription from 6 March 2023

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Bank Holiday (1938) mubi

Dir: Carol Reed | Cast: Margaret Lockwood, John Lodge, Rene Ray, Kathleen Harrison, Merle Tottenham | Drama

The film that conclusively showed Carol Reed was a director to watch starts with a wry shot of adjacent newsstands grimly warning of the storm clouds over Europe, and the rain clouds over Britain.

Kathleen Harrison was such a hit she later got her own series (here she’s married not to Jack Warner, but Wally Patch who even wears his bowler on holiday); also supplying comedy is Rene Ray and Merle Tottenham knocking back Martinis by the tumbler).

That taken care of, gravitas is supplied by John Lodge pining after his wife who died in childbirth (all too common in those days) and Hugh Williams and Margaret Lockwood slipping away for what we’d now call a ‘dirty weekend’. When Miss Lockwood (SLIGHT SPOILER COMING:) flees in panic she falls straight from the pot into the fire by accepting a lift from absconding manager Garry Marsh. @RichardChatten

The Wrong Box (1966)

Dir: Bryan Forbes | Cast: Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Ralph Richardson, Michael Caine, Peter Sellers, John Mills, Tony Hancock, Nanette Newman | UK Comedy

Having made his mark with four consecutive realist black & white dramas, Bryan Forbes made this none-too-successful attempt to lighten up and turned to Robert Louis Stevenson for his first film in colour with a cast that includes both the old and the new, ranging from John Mills, through Peter Sellers to Peter Cook & Dudley Moore (the former sporting a very dashing moustache) and Tony Hancock.

No matter how many times I see it, I always wonder if Wilfrid Lawson will make it to the end this time, Ralph Richardson is hilarious as a garrulous old bore who drives the Bournemouth Strangler to distraction with his endless talk, while Mrs Forbes demonstrates an unexpected facility with comedy in a role of wide-eyed innocence.@RichardChatten

High Noon (1952)

Dir: Fred Zimmerman | US Western

Although it received widespread acclaim and four Academy Awards John Wayne was so affronted by the attack on American values this film constituted he made ‘Rio Bravo’ with Howard Hawks to rebut it.

The film has been cited by those on both the left and the right to support their own specific political agendas (the film itself has it’s own internal contradictions embodied in the fact that the writer was blacklisted and that it stars Gary Cooper – a very friendly witness).

A once in a lifetime supporting cast ranges from Lon Chaney Jr. To Thomas Mitchell; while the presence of Lee Van Cleef bridges the gap between the classic Hollywood western and Sergio Leone. @RichardChatten

Java Head (1934)

Dir: J Walter Ruben | Cast Anna Mae Wong, Elizabeth Allen, John Loder, Ralph Richardson |

In the 1880s the port city of Bristol is home Java Head a sailing ship line company. The owner has two sons . One, a handsome seaman is in love with a local girl but unable to marry her due to their feuding fathers. Eventually he returns home with an exotic and upmarket Chinese wife.

Anna Mae Wong gets one of the final roles worthy of her in this adaptation of Joseph Hergesheimer’s novel which manages to sail the high seas without ever leaving Ealing and constitutes the fifth and final of five films she made in Britain.

Although Miss Mae Wong as “a heathen Chinese” married to an Englishman introduced to a horrified Nineteenth century Britain doesn’t even appear until nearly halfway through the film she gets top billing, making an unlikely team with English rose Elizabeth Allan, their names appear before Edmond Gwenn and John Loder who come in at third and fourth with Ralph Richardson coming up at the rear at fifth in the cast list.

Battle of the Sexes (1960)

Dir: Charles Crichton | Cast: Peter Sellers, Robert Morley, Constance Cummings, Jameson Clark, Donald Pleasence | UK Comedy 90′

Despite the vaguely saucy title and brash opening narration by Sam Wanamaker this is actually a very gentle comedy made by veterans of Ealing Studios such as director Charles Crichton.

Made in the days when Peter Sellars was still a character actor rather than a personality he thoroughly immerses himself in the surprisingly self-effacing role of a mild mannered wage slave who rather recalls his drunken projectionist in The Smallest Show on Earth.

Shot in Edinburgh – the remotest location Constance Cummings’ superiors could think of to send her – the sombre mood is well served by Freddie Francis’ low-key photography allied to skilful use of sound plausibly evoking a clothing company so traditional that use of the word ‘synthetic’ makes grown men faint and even a pen with a squeaky nib seems intrusive. @RichardChatten

 

Treasure of the Golden Condor (1953)

Dir: Delmer Davies | Cast: Cornel Wilde, Constance Smith, Anne Bancroft, Finlay Currie, Walter Hampden | US Drama 93’

Delmer Daves couldn’t make a dull film if his life depended on it but he had a jolly good try with this glossy Technicolor remake of Son of Fury with Cornel Wilde in Tyrone Power’s role of an illiterate stable lad who goes out into the big wide world to make his fortune in Guatemala with the aid of a treasure map.

George Macready memorably plays his usual sanctimonious villain, and this is the only film I recall where he personally engages in fisticuffs himself. Finlay Currie in a tam-o-shanter does his usual Scotts thing, while the women include Fay Wray and Anne Bancroft (the latter in the role played in the original by Frances Farmer).

Officially Alfred Newman wrote the music, but the resemblance of a couple of musical cues to ‘North by Northwest’ serves as a reminder that Bernard Herrmann was then under contract to Fox. @RichardChatten

The Flying Scotsman (1929)

Dir: Castleton Knight | Cast: Ray Milland, Gordon Harker, Moore Marriott, Pauline Johnson | Uk Drama 50’

Castleton Knight anticipated his work in documentaries with the climax on location in this rollicking thriller which marks the unique interaction of Moore Marriott and Ray Milland.

Marriott was only 44 but already looks much older, while Milland (here already exhibiting the superciliousness that later became his trademark) already looks like he did in his Hollywood heyday. Even then Marriott looks more like the heroine’s grandfather than her father.

This marked the lovely Pauline Johnson’s penultimate film. She actually survived the scene where she (SPOILER COMING:) clings to the outside of the train in high heels – which rather resembles the climax of ‘Oh! Mr Porter’ – giving up films to marry and move to Australia. @RichardChatten

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1968)

Dir: Clive Donner | Cast: Barry Evans, Judy Geeson, Angela Scoular, Adrienne Poster, Vanessa Howard | UK Drama

On the way to school back in the seventies I used every morning to go through Sheffield Botanical Gardens and pass a genuine Mulberry Bush planted in 1968 by Judy Geeson to promote this film (it now resembles a small tree rather than a bush).

Four years earlier Clive Donner had depicted in ‘Nothing But the Best’ the upwardly mobile career of a Jack the Lad played by Alan Bates. This time it’s the turn of Barry Evans (later best known on TV for ‘Doctor in the House’ and ‘Mind Your Language’), who like the delightful Angela Scoular met an untimely and tragic end.

Both films have in common the wonderful Denholm Elliot representing the establishment, while it’s a measure of the film’s dubious sexual politics that the great height of Sally Avery as Cathy is bizarrely assumed to denote plainness, even down to perceptibly dubbing her voice to make her seem even coarser. @RichardChatten

Five Fingers (1952)

Dir: Joseph L Mankiewicz | Cast: James Mason, Danielle Darrieux, Michael Rennie, Walter Hampden | US Thriller

James Mason actually quotes the famous observation that “no man is a hero to his valet”. At the time Mason was treading water in Hollywood and probably looked down with the same urbane contempt as Cicero himself obviously felt for the men her was currently working (witness the ease with which he opens his original contact’s safe when he’s briefly out of the room and the smug way he explains how he did it).

Based on a true story, and a novel ‘Operation Cicero’, Five Fingers is a wartime spy thriller that sees the valet to the British Ambassador in Ankara trying to make a fortune by selling secrets to the Germans while trying to romance a refugee Polish countess.

Mason was patrician enough to pass for “an Oxford-bred aristocrat if ever I saw one” (he actually admits to being Albanian) and was just the man to do justice to Joseph Mankiewicz’s witty dialogue, and the film boasts a score by Bernard Herrmann.

Daniele Darrieux brings a little Continental sophistication to the part of a Polish countess, John Wengraf is a reasonable facsimile of Von Papen (although Alfred Zeisler doesn’t look a bit as his co-defendant at Nuremberg Ernst Kaltenbrunner). @RichardChatten

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Dir: Robert Wise | US Sci-fi 92′

A key work of fifties science fiction recently awarded the accolade of yet another unnecessary remake, The Day the Earth Stood Still remains one the sadly few contributions to the genre made with grown-ups in mind.

Robert Wise’s classic hits the ground running with a terrific title sequence and a tingling theramin score by Bernard Herrmann (one of the few genuinely original scores ever written for a sci-fi movie) dovetailing into a still unsurpassed depiction of a flying saucer sweeping across the Washington skyline before gracefully settling in the centre of the Washington Mall.

Michael Rennie had the role of his career as the tall, personable, well-spoken Klaatu (writer Edmond North later admitted to Klaatu’s use of ‘Carpenter’ as an alias and his resurrection as conscious references to Christ). His nine-foot robot Gort was played by Lock Martin, the doorman at Grauman’s Chinese Restaurant, the tallest man in Hollywood.

Klaatu in the words of Peter Biskind is “not one of those diffident aliens who land on a farm somewhere in Iowa and takes years to make their way to Washington or Los Angeles. Klaatu means business and goes right to the top.” At the height of the Cold War Rennie’s testy remark “I’m not concerned with your petty squabbles!” is an extraordinary thing to hear in a mainstream Hollywood movie; while Albert Einstein – obviously the model for the wise Professor Barnhardt –  was also at that time a controversial figure. @RichardChatten

NOW ON TALKING PICTURES

Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972)

Dir: Bob Clark | US Horror

A bunch of hippies learn the hard way to sow some respect for the dead in this cross between an episode of ‘Scooby Doo’ and The Blair Witch Project played for laughs with the production values of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

This no-budget lark shot in Florida directed by ‘Benjamin’ (as he was then billed) Clark sure delivers the goods. The atonal score by Carl Zittrer frequently sounds more like sound effects than music and art director David Trimble (not that one, I hope) adds to the levity by putting his surname on a tombstone.

The usual bunch of hippies are an engaging bunch, particularly feisty Valerie Mamches and wide-eyed Anya Ormsby. The climax when it finally comes doesn’t disappoint you when it erupts (SPOILER COMING:) into a wondrous pastiche of Night of the Living Dead.

NOW ON YOUTUBE AND PLEX

Retreat, Hell! (1952)

Dir: Joseph H. Lewis | US War drama

In his first film after exploring the dark side of America in Gun Crazy, Joseph H. Lewis turned his talents to this ultra-patriotic movie beginning and ending with To the Shores of Tripoli over the credits culminating with a finale set in the snowy wastes of Inchon which was one of the very few Korean War films actually made during the war.

Retreat, Hell! sees Frank Lovejoy, the commanding officer with a heart of gold beneath his gruff exterior; veteran captain Richard Carlson, the thoughtful family man and war veteran recalled to action; and teenage private Russ Tamblyn all fighting their way out of a frozen mountain pass while under overwhelming attack by some Chinese soldiers. Also appearing in the film is Tamblyn’s older brother, also a Marine, and Nedrick Young (credited as Ned Young).  A sure sign of official endorsement is the abundant use of actuality footage.

The most interesting feature however is the eighteen year-old ‘Rusty’ (as he was then billed) Tamblyn who provides an early demonstration both of his ability to act along with the physical dexterity to convincingly take part in a session of jujitsu. There’s not a lot of humour but the admonition of Tamblyn’s drill sergeant Nedrick Young (ironically himself soon to be blacklisted) to go easy on the target he is bayoneting since it belongs to the US government is fairly amusing. @RichardChatten.

Paris Blues (1961)

Dir: Martin Ritt | Joanne Woodward, Sydney Poitier, Paul Newman | US Drama 98’

The cinematic legacy of the Beat Generation has always been far more interesting than that of the hippies. Graced by the black & photography of Christian Matras this film creates a Paris far removed from the early work of Godard then being made.

A testament to the days when cool dudes wore suits and ties, of whom none were cooler than Paul Newman and Sydney Poitier in their pristine youth (the former playing a bad boy in a role originally meant for Brando is seen perusing a copy of the New York Herald Tribune carrying a picture of Kennedy’s inauguration on the front page).

Like most films about jazz it’s far too in awe of itself and everyone talks too much (it’s at it’s most self-satisfied in the musical duel between Newman and Satchmo); and Duke Ellington’s noisy score makes no attempt to complement the action.

The performance that gives the film real soul is that of Joanne Woodward, who when she herself gets to tickle the ivory ironically plays a few bars of the ‘Blue Danube’. @RichardChatten

Sabotage (1936)

Dir: Alfred Hitchcock | Cast: Sylvia Sidney, Oskar Homolka, Desmond Tester, John Loder, Joyce Barbour | Drama 76′

Joseph Conrad’s original novel was published in 1907 at the height of anarchist activity. Hitchcock’s version updates it to the 1930s, complete with a Disney cartoon on the programme of the cinema in which it’s set.

The baddie’s provenance isn’t specified here, but after Hitchcock arrived in Hollywood the exhortation in Foreign Correspondent not to let the lights go out over Europe the message could be far more overt.

It contains four classic Hitchcock set-pieces involving knives, and a scene with a bomb second only to the death of Gromek in Torn Curtain for sheer ruthlessness.

As usual with Hitchcock obvious models compete with actual locations. His anarchist cell sure are a sinister looking lot, particularly William Dewhurst as their unctuous little quartermaster. @RicharChatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Brussels (1975)

Dir.: Chantal Akerman; Cast: Delphine Seyrig, Jan Decorte, Henri Storck, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Yves Bicat; Belgium/France 1975, 202 min.

Ironic that Chantal Akerman’s epic of female loneliness has replaced Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo as the “Greatest Film of all Time” according to the “Sight and Sound Magazine’s 2022 Critics’ poll”. Hitchcock, the leading perpetrator of the male gaze, has finally been ousted by Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman: a rigorous chronical of visual storytelling.

On the other hand it is no co-incidence that the iconic British director has found countless imitators over the years: ‘Hitchcockian’ is now a commonplace adjective in film parlance. Meanwhile Akerman’s disciples – Kelly Reinhardt and Gus van Sant – are still grafting away at the coalface of arthouse film; celebrated by cineastes, but certainly not the mainstream.

Chantal Anne Akerman was born Brussels in 1950 to the holocaust survivor Natalia (Nelly) Akerman, whose family perished in a concentration camp. Chantal had a sister, Sylvaine, but Nelly would be her guiding light, encouraging Chantal to forge her own career rather than marrying young, as her mother had done. But Chantal still saw life from her mother’s perspective, despite a radical relationship with Sonja Wieder-Atherton, and a job as a university lecturer in New York. Akerman’s final feature No Home Movie (2015) captures Nelly’s final months. Akerman would take her own life the same year, in Paris.

Jean Dielman was shot in five weeks with a modest grant from the Belgium government of around 20,000 euros (in today’s money). Anchored by a luminous performance from Delphine Seyrig, one of the day’s foremost film stars in France and Belgium, Seyrig was also one of the first feminist filmmakers whose Be Pretty and Shut Up (Sois belle et tais toi) 1981 ruffled quite a few feathers in the male-dominated French-speaking cinema world at the time. Seyrig carries the feature, haunting every frame with her elegant obduracy. She is fragile – yet always capable and in charge – until blind-sided by an event she had never anticipated.

Jeanne Dielman lives a modest existence with her teenage son Sylvain (Decorte) in a tiny flat in Brussels. A widow trying to keep up appearances on reduced circumstances, she leaves nothing to chance. Daily-life plays out in a repetitive timetable over the course of three days. The relationship with her son could best be described as detached, the closest they ever get to closeness is when competing for the most accurate pronunciation of a word from his Flemish-speaking school. Even a letter from her sister in Canada is viewed with formality rather than sibling affection, and this style sets the tone for the rest of the film.

Incessant washing, cleaning and cooking form the basis for the meticulous monotony of Jeanne’s daily life. And there’s a comfort in the quotidian, punctuated by brief errands, or to replenish the larder. Whenever Jeanne leaves a room, she switches off the light. Relief comes as a poisoned chalice when her neighbour’s baby arrives in a portable cot, driving her to distraction with its endless mewling, all beyond her control. The afternoon sees Jeanne receiving clients (Storck, Doniol-Valcroze, Bical), who pay for her bedroom services, and keep the wolf from the door.

The first signs of mental disorder erupt in highly controlled emotional meltdown over an incident involving potatoes. Jeanne then forgets to put the lid on the tureen, a hiding place for her hard-earned cash, and is afterwards seen frantically going round the shops in search of a button missing from a coat. The following day will see Jeanne pushed to the limits, the formal minimalism morphing into a melodrama that is implied but never shown. Under a mantle of discrete ecstasy Jeanne’s world spins out of control when a client dares to threaten her stability, challenging her control and exposing feelings that can be never be realised or properly acknowledged in her life of emotional asceticism.

DoP Babette Mangolte shoots in colour but her images owe much more to black and white. Jeanne is always in charge, and always busily involved in a world of repetitive housekeeping. Her casual outings take us into a world of stasis – the roads and pavements bereft of movement, make Jeanne happy, because they submit to her orderly sense of self. At the end she is almost catatonic, and somehow purged of her inner angst, for a while at least. Akerman’s triumphant study of displacement activity is almost a horror story, a psychological thriller that sees Jeanne forced to keep herself engaged in a mindless, male-enforced rigorous ritual to avoid a loss of control and its contingent breakdown that would expose the gaping emotional void in her life.

BFI will screen JEANNE DIELMAN as part of the full 100 Greatest Films of All Times in JANUARY, FEBRUARY and MARCH 2023.

It was a Sunday evening in November (2022) Turin International Film Festival 2022

Dir: Lina Wertmüller | Doc, TV 120′

It went almost unnoticed outside Italy that earthquake that struck the southern Irpinia region on a Sunday evening in November 1981.

But filmmaker Lina Wertmüller, who blazed a trail through Italian cinema during the Seventies with hits like Swept Away, was there with her camera recording human tragedy in a nation continually rocked by seismic disaster. And this was just another incident that would go down in history. More lives lost. A government repeating that lessons would be learnt. But they never were.

Just a year after her death Italian Television pays tribute to the pioneering director with a restoration of the made for TV documentary: È una domenica sera di novembre which aired a year later on RAI TV2 and during Turin International Film Festival 2022

The Roman-born filmmaker said at the time: “This poor South captivates me, stimulates me, land of wolves and kings, where I feel planted perhaps because of an Irpinian grandmother. This deep South, the part with the least, left behind. Alone, that always feels at disadvantage from the others. This unknown South that everybody think they know, and therefore feel entitled to define, judge, maybe condemn and when a catastrophe like the earthquake brings it up again, you realise that you know nothing at all about that South, that it is a continent as distant as the Third World, but with the space and nature of other third worlds”.

As the cameras roll over the scene of total devastation during that tragic Sunday night, a woman’s voice echoes from deep in a crater, another pitiful old lady talks of five such earthquakes in her lifetime alone. Mangled bodies are pulled from the wreckage and wrapped in white shrouds amid tangled debris, broken glass and exposed masonry. A helicopter glides over the region giving us a bird’s eye view of the area involved: churches and buildings lie in ruins most look almost beyond repair.

The South has always been forgotten and marginalised in the scheme of things. The regions of Campania, Apulia, Abruzzo, Basilicata, Molise, Calabria and Sicilia seem like a different country from the industrial powerhouse of the wealthier northern regions. There are clearly parallels here with the recent floods in the southern states of America – the voyeuristic TV cameras are there to offer an armchair view of human misery, but the government seems largely to have turned its back, although prime minister of the time Amintore Fanfani makes a sheepish appearance in dark glasses, and is then driven away in his limousine. Public support from the richer industrial north of the country was certainly offered, but coordination was clearly lacking and politicians’ empty words fell on deaf ears.

What starts as a reportage of the unfolding catastrophe and the subsequent proposals for reparations soon broadens out into an in-depth ethnographical portrait of local traditions, folklore, religious devotion and time-honoured customs. All this is interwoven with Wertmüller and Piera degli Esposti’s readings of the comments on the South made by literary luminaries Alberto Moravia, Carlo Levi, Furio Colombo, Alberto Ronchey, Giampaolo Pansa and enriched with passages taken from the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Pliny the Younger, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Giacomo Leopardi. The documentary ends with a final interview with Martin Scorsese who is still very active in promoting the wider cinema world beyond his own focus on Italian American features.

With this glowing digital restoration, Lina Wertmüller’s documentary does what it set out to do: bear witness to an ongoing Italian tragedy: “It is my dream that everyone should be made aware of what’s happening in Italy. No just today, when the events are unfolding, but for posterity. In short, let us remember that the future is ancient”.

TURIN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | 25 November – 3 December 2022

Lina Wertmuller courtesy of Torino International Film Festival

 

 

The Werewolf (1956)

Dir: Sam Latzman, Fred Sears | US Horror

This quickie by Sam Katzman & Fred Sears brings the legend up to date by setting it in a very contemporary world of bars and juke boxes. As usual the werewolf is treated sympathetically as a tortured soul doctors are desperate to help (his first human victim being a mugger whose throat he rips out – and the local police don’t display the usual bloodlust in pursuit of their quarry (the sheriff with admirable understatement asks “How do you explain a thing like this to his wife and his kid?”)

Steve Ritch portrays the title character as a pitiful soul and you really feel for the poor fellow when he shrieks in pain when he steps into a beartrap. He’s actually far more effective as a human being than a wolf (because Columbia owned the copyright they were able to reuse the makeup that Andreas wore in ‘The Return of the Vampire’ along with a couple of uses of that film’s theme).

The subplot concerning the activities to two renegade scientists makes the film feel unneccessarily cluttered, but the climax on a bridge in the Bear Lake Valley is at least worth waiting for (SPOILER COMING:) when they finish him off not with silver bullets but good old fashioned rifles.@RichardChatten

The Golden City (1942)

Dir: Veit Harlan | Germany, Drama

Hans Steinhoff was a much better director but Veit Harlan (1899-1964) – on the strength of ‘Jud Suss’ and ‘Kolberg’ (which very few people have probably actually seen) – tends be the name most often cited when people discuss the Nazi cinema. In all fairness their appalling reputation tends to be attributable to the context in which they were made rather than the films themselves. ‘Die Golden Stadt’ like all Harlan’s films was banned outright when Germany lost the war; although it also merited it for its unflattering depiction of the Czechs. (Presumably it’s set in the present day but there’s never any suggestion that Czechoslovakia was currently under German occupation.)

As Goebbels’ blue-eyed boy Harlan was able to lavish upon it opulent decor and beautiful Prague locations ravishingly shot by by colour specialist Bruno Mondi, and Goebbels liked the result so much he predicted that “It will have to become one of the great masterpieces of German cinematic art and film direction”.

As usual it starred Harlan’s wife Kristina Soderbaum, a strapping, bun-faced, blue-eyed blonde in puffed sleeves at one point shown energetically riding a horse. I won’t reveal her eventual fate, but anybody familiar with Harlan’s films will probably already be familiar with her nickname ‘Reichswasserleiche’ @RichardChatten

The Sleeping Tiger (1954) Blu-ray

Dir: Victory Handbury | Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Alexis Lewis, Alexander Knox, Hugh Griffiths, Maxine Audrey | UK, Noir thriller, 89′

Stylish and unmistakably Losey with its sinister vibe, striking camerawork by Harry Waxman and schmoozy avantgarde score by Northampton-born Malcolm Arnold. Of course Losey was directing under a pseudonym of Victor Hanbury having fallen foul of the US authorities.

In his first collaboration with the director, Dirk Bogarde and Alexis Smith make for a subversive couple in the jagged 1950s London-set psychological noir thriller. She is the bored housewife married to Alexander Knox’s kindly cardiganed psychiatrist, when Bogarde comes along – a suave thug in faintly ridiculous jodhpurs — and is caught red-handed during a smash and grab. Knox offers Dirk therapy rather than exacting damages, and becomes a father figure to the troubled tousled-haired drifter. A dazzling dance floor number with Alexis and Bogarde really sizzles but she ends up scorned and forced to admit “I wish I was a man”. And it all predictably ends in tears but not without a fight. Losey at his best. MT

NEWLY RESTORED and NOW ON BLURAY, DVD and DIGITAL from 7 November 2022

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Dir: Alfred Hitchcock | US Noir Thriller 90’

Charlotte is ecstatic to have her dear Uncle Charlie over at her place. But upon his arrival, she learns that he is a serial killer and must now stop him from killing more people.

Directors’ attitudes to their films is sometimes based not on the quality of the end result but the memories of it’s making. Hitchcock himself denied that this was as reputed his favourite of his films but simply that he’d enjoyed working with Thornton Wilder on the script so much it had a special place in his memories.

Although relatively little-known today it surely ranks with his best, awash with similarities to his more celebrated productions. Joseph Cotten is once one of Hitchcock’s most charming psychopaths, like Bruno Anthony in ‘Strangers on a Trains’ hiding his pathological hatred of women behind an apparent flippancy.

Like ‘Psycho’ it begins with the camera stealing through a window into a hotel room; when the action transfers to the sleepy little town of Santa Rosa the horror lurking behind the deceptively bland surface is classic Hitchcock. But the presence of an innocent brunette instead of a guilty blonde is refreshingly unusual for Hitchcock.@RichardChatten

 

Frames of Mind | Peter Greenaway Retrospective 2022

The BFI celebrates Peter Greenaway‘s 80th birthday with a retrospective and the premiere of his new feature Walking in Paris. And here Andre Simonoveisz reflects on his career to date

The Welsh born director, writer, artist and painter Peter Greenaway is certainly one of the most controversial contemporary filmmakers, and to this day his films are an acquired taste. The jury is still out on whether Greenaway wants to be an arthouse filmmaker, or merely a trained artist who uses the big screen as a canvas for his painterly creations, and the fact that his films lack any formal narrative structure seems to point to the latter: Greenaway’s features often have a stilted feel, unfolding in a series of formal set pieces rather than in flowing storytelling.

 

Composition, lighting and costumes are always the most significant elements in a Greenaway film. And yes, the aesthetics are wonderful to look at, but they are only as alive as Greenaway allows them to be. The artist/painter Greenaway is always in control of the filmmaking process: and rather like Robert Bresson before him, the actors are merely pawns in the process, with the camera as a paintbrush. The rest is amateur philosophy and a total reliance on art history, Renaissance, Baroque and Flemish predominating. On his way to visual perfection, second-hand or otherwise, Greenaway chanced upon film as his medium, and has used it as an intermediate step.

This is perhaps too critical of his work, but let’s go back to the beginning of his feature film career with The Falls (1980) an avantgarde sci-fi mockumentary that looks at the 92 victims of a phenomenon known as VUE (Violent unknown events) and whose names begin with the word ‘Fall’. Just over three hours long, this an etude, a whimsical compendium of surreal and bizarre circumstances explores just how far away from his creation the filmmaker was – or pretended to be. Can we ever be an objective observer of death? Or was the result proof, that the highbrow ‘intellectual’ Greenaway was above all the parochial issues of real life – and death.

The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982) was a bracingly beautiful piece of work scored by Michael Nyman’s minimalist soundscape which carried the narrative forward and is more memorable than its contrived murder story. The dapper draughtsman, Mr. Neville (Higgins) is foisted by his own elegant petard and falsely accused of murder after a series of sexual dalliances with the aristocratic ladies Mrs. Herbert (Suzman) and her daughter Mrs. Talman (Lambert). But the ‘story’ pales into insignificance in comparison with its magnificent surroundings, and what we remember is the bucolic backdrop, the feudal mansion, the immaculate costumes and the way Mr. Neville plays the director whilst he re-arranges life to suit his drawings. Many Greenaway films are about sexual obsession and The Draughtsman is no exception, it is a remote object of desire rather than an involving comedy of manners; sex, after all, is just another construct for the filmmaker to exploit.

The Cook, the Thief his Wife and her Lover (1989) is considered Greenaway’s most mature feature. From here he could have taken another route: instead of being obsessed by numbers or esoteric subjects, he could have really embraced the meaning of life, but instead his feature once again mirrors art, quite literally, recreating the 1616 painting by Flemish baroque artist Frans Hals. Michael Gambon is the churlish and sadistic thief Albert Spica, who owns a French restaurant in London where he entertains his cronies, amongst them is a young Tim Roth. His wife Georgina (Mirren) is appalled, and soon finds herself a suitable lover, Michael (Howard), a bookseller. They have to be careful, and conduct their romance in all sorts of seedy settings. Albert wises up and tortures Michael by force-feeding him. Georgina exacts her revenge in an equally disgusting way before she shoots him. This sounds ghastlier than it actually is – but crucially the takeaway is once again the aesthetic rather than the storyline – which is entirely unreliable. Jean-Paul Gaulthier designed the 17th century costumes and camerawork by DoP Sacha Vierny reflects the airless grandeur. Dutch producer Kes Kasander would stay with Greenaway for more tilts at artistic perfection. Premiering at the Venice Film Festival in 1989, The Cook was shown “Out of Competition”. When asked why he decided not to enter Greenaway’s film “In Competition” festival director Guglielmo Biraghi explained that loved the work of Greenaway, but “it his films are not really like others.”

What followed were highs like Prospero, The Baby of Macon and total flops including the soulless series of The Tulse Luper Suitcases. Somehow, the world decided to move on. AS

THE BFI CELEBRATES PETER GREENAWAY IN HIS 80TH YEAR. 

Incubus (1966)

Dir; Leslie Stevens | Cast: William Shatner, Allyson Amers Kia, Eloise Hardt | US Fantasy thriller 78’

Leslie Stevens blew the considerable capital he’d made from ‘The Outer Limits’ on this almost wilfully uncommercial folly. Aided by a tingling score by Dominic Frontiere, fellow ‘Outer Limits’ veteran cameraman Conrad Hall (who does a lovely job) later recalled it as ‘ten days shooting, great fun’, ruefully admitting “I don’t what it means but I love it”.

The decision to shoot it in Esperanto – deliberately intended to make the film hard to follow – Leonard Maltin laconically observed “sort of limits its appeal”, which is one of the reasons so few people have heard of it, let alone seen it.

If the thing wasn’t already weird enough there’s even the sight of William Shatner speaking his dialogue with English subtitles.@RichardChatten

The Big Job (1965)

Dir: Gerald Thomas | Cast: Sid James, Dick Emery, Joan Sims, Lance Percival, Derek Guyler | UK comedy

Although neglected by film historians it’s remarkable just how many people turn out to have seen this. Based on ‘A Fire Has Been Arranged’ made thirty years earlier with Flanagan & Allen, the script had been kicking around for several years, but when it finally hit screens producer Peter Rogers was highly satisfied with the results.

The humour’s much less coarse than in the ‘Carry On’ series proper and it lives up to the loving period recreation of the prologue evoking ‘The Blue Lamp’ with the police in hot pursuit in Bentleys; while the wonderfully surreal moment when a dumbfounded copper finds a pair of harpoons sticking out of the tree in his yard is worthy of Bunuel.

When the action proper starts fifteen years later, it still paints a nostalgic picture of an era when black & white was the cinema’s default setting, new towns were springing up, people drove Ford Cortinas and there were red telephone boxes on every corner.

Sid James takes a break from being the usual lecherous old goat, refreshingly it’s the women who are both more amorous and show far more initiative than the men and the ending will make feminists want to cheer. @RichardChatten

Never Let Go (1960)

Dir: John Guillermin | Cast: Richard Todd, Peter Sellers, Elizabeth Sellars, Adam Faith, Carol White, Mervyn Johns | UK Drama 90’

This meaner, uglier British version of Bicycle Thieves was a key film both in Peter Sellers’ development as an actor and as a human being, it being his first attempt at a heavy and also because he took the role home with him each night, which placed a terrible strain on his marriage for reasons only too obvious if you watch it.

Modern audiences probably don’t even know what a Ford Anglia was, but the moment when Sellars’ boot comes crashing down on a terrapin it still elicits gasps from people who’ve unflinchingly sat through Peckinpah.

Henchman David Lodge seems suspiciously loyal to Sellers’ character (always addressing him as ‘Lionel’). Kubrick at the time was a huge fan of Sellars so he almost certainly saw this film; is it merely coincidence that both this and ‘Dr Strangelove’ employ ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’ on the soundtrack? @RichardChatten

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Live Now Pay Later (1962)

Dir: Jay Lewis | UK Drama 104’

One of the most grievous tragedies of British film preservation was the wiping by the BBC of the original TV version of David Mercer’s ‘A Suitable Case for Treatment’, but a good idea of what Ian Hendry’s performance was like can be gained from this long-forgotten gem described by Raymond Durgnat as “a key film, a worthy harbinger of Joan Littlewood’s ‘Sparrows Can’t Sing’.

Hendry was nominated for a BAFTA for most promising newcomer in a leading role, but soon after swiftly declined into alcoholism before the sixties seriously got under way. Knowing this adds further poignancy to this reminder of the era when Harold MacMillan was telling the public that “most of you have never had it so good” and £14.09d was a sun large enough to be worth sending bailiffs in to recover.

The script by Jack Trevor Story contains cynical lines like Hendry’s admission that he preys upon people “I con into buying things they don’t need and can’t afford”; notably Liz Fraser as one of his victims whose misfortunes culminate in a truly harrowing scene when men come to repossess her furniture while her husband is in the middle of impressing the chairman of the local golf club. @RichardChatten

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Desert Legion (1953)

Dir: Joseph Pevney | Cast: Alan Ladd, Richard Conte, Arlene Dahl, Akim Tamiroff | US Action drama | 86;

Hollywood must have absolutely throbbed with fascinating stories in its heyday, and a glance at the credits of even a Universal-International potboiler like this (actually directed with some flair by Joseph Pevney, who later worked on Star Trek) reveals it certainly lived up to both the ‘Universal’ and the ‘International’ parts of its banner in those days.

At a superficial glance this appears just another yarn about the foreign legion, based on a 1927 novel by Georges Arthur Surdez and adapted for the screen by Irving Wallace and Lewis Meltzer; but on closer inspection it turns out to have elements of Lost Horizon thrown into the mix, with ravishing redhead Arlene Dahl photographed in Technicolor in a succession of glitzy, diaphanous outfits by Bill Thomas by veteran cameraman John Seitz (whose CV included The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Sunset Boulevard).

At fourth and fifth place in the cast list we find Akim Tamiroff without his rug but sporting enormous side-whiskers, who a dozen years later would turn up in Alphaville; and as Dahl’s father 77 year-old Oscar Beregi, twenty years after playing the role of asylum director Dr Baum in The Testament of Dr Mabuse! @RichardChatten

 

The Harder they Come (1972)

Dir.: Perry Hanzell; Cast: Jimmy Cliff, Janet Bartley, Carl Bradshaw, Ras Daniel Hartman Bobby Charlton, Basil Keene, Winston Stona; Jamaica 1972, 104 min.

When Jamaican director/co-writer Perry Hanzell (1946-2006) came to Venice Film Festival fifty years ago, not many people watched his debut, the first Jamaican feature The Harder they Come. Only select screenings, away from the Lido, led press to the discovery of a US distributor in shape of Roger Corman’s New World Film. And while time has not always best served this singular movie, it is still a monumental achievement. There is a raw quality which can only be appreciated by Jamaica’s post-colonial status, just ten years after Independence.

Ivan (Cliff) arrives in Kingston from the countryside hoping to make a career as a singer and songwriter. Taking a job with the local preacher (Keene), he soon falls out with him after talking his ward Elsa (Bartley) into letting him use the church for a recording session. When Ivan tries to claim a bicycle from his successor, as the preacher’s handyman, the man denies his claim, and the two end up in a brall. Instead of prison, Ivan is sentenced to eight lashes – a public humiliation he will never forget. Ivan is finally manages to record a single, but his promoter only pays him twenty dollars. Desperate for cash, Ivan calls on his friend Jose (Bradshaw) who lntroduces him to a police protected drug ring involved in moving hash from the countryside to the city.

Although the law usually gives Ivan a wide berth on his drug-running tours, one day he panics and kills a police officer who flags him down on his motor cycle. Ivan is now a wanted man, and what’s worse, he shoots three more policemen. Pedro (Hartman) helps Ivan to hide, but detective Jones (Stona), the ringleader, shuts the operation down, until such time as Ivan is killed or handed over to him. In a wild last reel, Ivan tries to escape to Cuba but is too weak to swim to the rescue vessel. On the beach, imagining he is the hero of an Italo-Western he watched soon after arriving in Kingston, Ivan is attacked by the whole police force, But his record is great hit, making a fortune for the record producer.

The second line of the title reads “They harder they fall” and this is very much true for Ivan. His one-man assault of everyone in power has to end badly. But he takes it like a man: mixing cinema and life, and is only to grateful to get some  when applause, even at the end. Ivan is the archetypal loner, a ‘Django’ without the skills to survive. Furious and uncontrolled in the style of this iconic feature, Ivan loves his life on the fast lane – whatever the cost. The Harder they Come is a sledgehammer, its blows still rain down today. AS

BACK IN CINEMAS ON 5 AUGUST 2022

Paris, Texas (1984)

Dir.: Wim Wenders; Cast: Harry Dean Stanton, Nasstassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell, Aurore Clement, Hunter Carson, Bernhard Wicki; West Germany/France 1984, 147 min.

German director Wim Wenders follows his earlier road movies with a real cult classic. Paris, Texas is perhaps most memorable for Harry Dean Stanton, Ry Cooder’s moody score and the burning images of the Wenders regular, Austrian DoP Robby Müller. Written by the Sam Shephard, and adapted for the screen by L.M. Kit Carson, this enigmatic character drama won the “Palme d’Or” in Cannes 1984.

Wim Wenders in Cannes | Debussy Cinema @Meredith Taylor copyright

 

Stanton is Travis Henderson, an aimless drifter who stumbles into a bar in the Texan desert, and promptly passes out. A German doctor (Wicki) revives him and finds a piece of paper with a phone number, in the man’s pocket. It belongs to Travis’ brother Walt (the charismatic Dean Stockwell), who collect him and endures his brother’s stony silence on the long drive back to LA where Walt lives with his gentle wife Anne (Clement) and Travis’ 7 year old son Hunter (H Carson, son of Karen Black and Kit Carson) who they have raised for the past four years.

Hunter and Travis hit it off – against all odds – and Anne tells Travis that Hunter’s birth mother is paying a monthly deposit money into an account for her son. Travis and Hunter track Jane (Kinski) down to San Antonio, Texas where it transpires she is working as a sex worker in a Peep-Show. Pretending to be a client, Travis, who can not be seen by Jane because of one-way glass window, talks to her via an intercom, sharing their love story until she cottons on. Confused by his emotions but wanting the best for Hunter, Travis finally hatches a very unlikely plan.

Guilt is the watchword in Wenders’ movies. Overtaken by the emotion from an early age, he considered taking the priesthood to fulfil his strong feelings about Catholicism. Nearly all his anti-heroes live their lives in the past, and fear the future. Travis’ unfounded jealousy and alcoholism led to the break-up of the torrid relationship with the much younger Jane (a luminous Kinski). He had even bought a plot of land to prepare for their future together. Only a crumpled photo of a ramshackle hut in the desert remains. But Travis clings to it like a totem. Along with the titular hero in The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty (1972), who kills out of boredom, Travis is always running away, not to find anything, just to lose himself.

The German photographer in Alice in the Cities (1974) escapes to another continent to ‘forget’ a relationship, only to be trumped by a mother who leaves her daughter in his care, expecting him to trace the girl’s relatives in Germany. Kings of the Road (1976) sees two lorry drivers dreaming of a future which will never be realised because they can only talk about women, and how much they miss them. Finally, in The American Friend (1977) Zimmermann, a painter and frame-maker, is unable to communicate his physical and emotional turmoil to his wife; instead he goes on murdering spree, for money.

Paris, Texas raises the timely theme of belonging: As nurturing fill-in parents to Hunter for most of his life, Walt and Anne are the losers of the piece. But Wenders hardly touches on their emotional arc – or their pain – in the aftermath to Hunter’s departure. His focus is the birth mother and son who must be united at all costs. And their final scene together brings to mind the emblematic coupling of Christ with the Virgin Mary.

Leading men are generally loners in Wenders’ features, their isolating fear of women gradually diminishes their persona as the narrative unfolds. Violence is never far away, and Travis suppresses his anger into a brooding silence. Harry Dean Stanton channels a palpable intensity of feelings into a performance that is subtle and exquisitely felt, but barely shown. His brother Walt is likeable and articulate along with his delicate wife Anne, a touching turn from Aurore Clement. There’s an almost whimsical quality to the early domestic scenes with the four of them together. Where there could have been emotional trauma and harsh words, Wenders instead brings a tender, almost comedic lightness of touch.

Wenders’ love for America and its culture is explainable: violence is simmering under the surface, ready to explode at any time. Paris, Texas is never violent, but the emotional pain is only too visible. A cult classic that needs to be explored again and again.

ON RE-RELEASE AT Picturehouses | Curzon Cinemas | from 29th July 2022

The Quiet Woman (1951) TPTVEncore

Dir/Wri: John Gilling | Cast: Derek Bond, Jane Hylton, Dora Bryan, Michael Balfour | UK Drama 71′

Older viewers probably remember Jane Hylton (who died aged just 51) as Frank Spencer’s highly strung mother-in-law in ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em’ rather than for her films; but here she plays the title role and models a variety of eye-catching outfits ranging from a swimsuit to a man’s suit (watch the film if you want to find out how that came about) in this breezy piece of escapism enhanced by excellent photography by co-producer Monty Berman including attractive location work shot on Romney Marshes in the summer of 1950.

As Britain continued to suffer rationing and austerity, smuggling rapidly came to seem rather romantic and featured in quite a few films at that time; now so long ago that Derek Bond, John Horsely, Harry Towb and even Michael Balfour all then looked relatively young and dashing. @RichardChatten

NOW ON TPTVENCORE.CO.UK

Richard’s Things (1980)

Dir: Anthony Harvey | Cast: Liv Ullmann, Amanda Redman, Tim Pigott-Smith | UK Drama, 108’

Despite the fact that Liv Ullmann is the older woman in this psychodrama about a recently widowed woman’s relationship with her late husband’s mistress, she looks pretty much as one is used to seeing her in her films with Bergman. Amanda Redman as the mistress, however, is so much younger than we are used to seeing her (complete with an “introducing” credit) – as well as being a brunette – it’s like watching a different actress in this virtual two-hander between the two of them. The other reminder throughout of the age of this film is the distinctively touching sound of the late Georges Delerue on the soundtrack.

Adapted for the screen by Frederic Raphael from his book, the story pans out in so many unexpected ways I’ll avoid discussing what follows other than to say that despite the handsome photography by Freddie Young in and around parts of London that would probably now be prohibitively expensive for the people living there (as usual the women are all elegantly dressed and nobody seems to have any money worries) the number of scenes simply depicting two characters earnestly chattering immediately marks it out as a TV production. @RichardChatten

 

Donovan’s Brain (1953)

Dir: Felix E. Feist | US drama 1953, 83min

Adapted earlier by Republic as a low-budget Von Stroheim vehicle, Curt Siodmak’s cult novel was transformed again with streamline efficiency by Felix E. Feist into a classic of Fifties sci-fi, and an off-beat climax of the long line of mad scientist fantasies that stretch across the Golden Age of the B-film.

The star of ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ is teamed with the future First Lady (who shared her future husband’s and the industrialist W. H. Donovan’s hostility towards taxation) in this lively version which offered the sci-fi genre one its most enduring images, that of a brain in a fish tank.

The most unlikely scene in an already tall tale is actually where they’re lounging about in their living room reading up on Donovan since they’re doing so from actual back numbers of of old magazines when in reality it would probably just be photocopies.

Veteran actor Lew Ayres gives Dr. Kildare dignity to his portrait of a scientist whose zeal for extending life leads him far down the dark path to perdition when he reanimates the powerful brain of a ruthless billionaire killed in a crash only to be made victim to the pulsing organ’s uncanny powers of mind-body control. Ayers’ turn into a hardened billionaire remains remarkably contemporary, with his strange lust for ludicrously expensive and ill-fitting suits predicting Paul Manaford, among other power hungry tycoons. Almost subversively, the supporting actors also seem to be rendered wooden and possessed by unnamed forces, with Gene Evans entirely unconvincing as either an alcoholic or a scientist and Nancy Davis locked into a stunned expression, giving equal affection to the latest test monkey as her traumatized husband. (Haden Guest) @RichardChatten

Man Hunt (1941)

Dir: Fritz Lang | Cast: Walter Pigeon, Joan Bennett, George Sanders, John Carradine, Roddy McDowell | By 1941 the unnamed quarry in Geoffrey Household’s 1939 could finally be explicitly identified as Hitler, but since America still hadn’t yet entered the war this was still a bold film to make.

Treated by director Fritz Lang as a bit of a lark Man Hunt sees British big game hunter Thorndike (Pigeon) chancing upon Adolph Hitler’s retreat while vacationing in Bavaria, and taking aim at the dictator with a high- powered rifle. It succeeds beautifully simply as entertainment; set in a fog-shrowded London of pearly kings and wing collars with a creepy pair of villains played by George Sanders and John Carradine (the former in a monocle, the latter – described by young Roddy McDowall as a “walking corpse” – in a wing collar), and a newly brunette Joan Bennett as a tart with a heart with a cockney accent that would have made Dick Van Dyke blush in the first of a quartet of roles for the director. @RichardChatten

NOW ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY

Elephant Walk (1954)

Dir: William Dieterle | Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Dana Andrews, Peter Finch, Abraham Sofaer | Drama

One of several films Elizabeth Taylor made where as much drama went on behind the camera as it did on the screen; a sort of ‘Rebecca’ written by Maugham, complete with a hostile Miss Danvers in the form of Abraham Sofaer. Taylor replaced a stricken Vivian Leigh only after Jean Simmons, Olivia de Havilland and Katherine Hepburn had politely said ‘no’.

It follows a similar plot arc to The Naked Jungle, with the radiant young Liz mistreated by a boorish Peter Finch until all their problems are rendered irrelevant by the double whammy of cholera and marauding heffalumps, and ironically concludes with Sofaer declaring “The time will come when the people will not fear inoculation. They will learn”. @RichardChatten.

Dual Alibi (1947)

Dir: Alfred Travers | Cast: Herbert Lom, Phyllis Dixey, Terence de Marney, Ronald Frankau | UK Drama

A typically offbeat British National production produced by the ill-fated Louis H. Jackson (the company went bankrupt the following year) and directed by the mysterious Alfred Travers with a plot that feels like a silent continental melodrama. James Wilson’s low keyed photography suits the drab, sordid nature of the story as well as enhancing the believable interaction throughout the film of twin brothers both played by Herbert Lom; achieved with the aid of nimble use of a stand-in, skillful editing and the occasional unostentatious use of trick photography.

Lom’s compelling portrayal of two identical but distinct twin brothers made him a star. Terence de Marney is such a skunk as he gets away with shameless daylight robbery (which the law predictably proves complacently powerless to redress) that I felt even the drastic reprisal taken against him let him off lightly. Holes can doubtless be picked in the plot, but it delivers powerful drama right up to the (very) bitter end.@RichardChatten

The Locked Door (1929)

Dir: George Fitzmaurice | Cast; Rod La Roque, Barbara Stanwyck, William ‘Stage’ Boyd, Betty Bronson | US Thriller

Don’t be taken in by the rollicking opening sequence full of sweeping pans and tracks and hard-boiled dialogue set in an offshore speakeasy; the remaining hour (with one exception, which I shall come to) is strictly canned theatre.

Based on Channing Pollock’s 1919 Broadway play ‘The Sign on the Door’, already filmed with Norma Talmadge under its original title in 1921 (a print of which happily survives in the Library of Congress), there are actually two locked doors in this production, both of them central to the plot.

Locked door number one is on board the boat when slimy lounge lizard Frank Devereaux (Rod la Rocque) pockets the key to the door of the cabin he has taken Ann Carter (Barbara Stanwyck in her first credited screen role) downstairs to for lunch all the better to force his attentions upon her when it’s time for desert. Locked door number two prevents Ann from making a discreet exit from the hotel room where she sees Devereaux deservedly shot 18 months later; and it’s at this point that the need on her part to improvise a plausible explanation for her presence there alone with Devereaux’s body brings the film briefly to life.

The settings are handsomely designed by William Cameron Menzies, but after the opening sequence cameraman Ray June’s only other opportunity to add a little atmosphere to the proceedings comes with the noirish lighting of the darkened apartment after Devereaux’s shooting. And when the lights go back on and the talk resumes, the interest dissipates again.

This film is only remembered today as the talkie debut of the great Barbara Stanwyck; but for devotees of silent cinema there is also the bonus of Mack Swain and Zazu Pitts as the manager and telephonist of the hotel where the final leg of the film takes place. Harry Stubbs’ amusing turn as the obtrusive waiter on the boat, however, has been surprisingly little remarked upon by previous reviewers, particularly considering the revelation about his character that comes late in the film, which probably worked better on stage than here under director George Fitzmaurice’s pedestrian guidance. @RichardChatten

 

Too Late for Tears (1949)

Byron Haskin | Cast: Lisabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy | US Noir 99’

Don’t expect the tear-jerker the title might lead you to anticipate. To paraphrase Godard, all you need for a film noir is Lizabeth Scott with a gun in her handbag, and that’s what you get here.

Visually the film isn’t actually terribly noirish, since much of the action takes place in the modest but well-lit little apartment occupied by honest working stiff Arthur Kennedy and his wannabe Queen Bee wife Lizabeth Scott. However, since Ms. Scott’s extraordinary face framed by a sleek blonde bob is a prominent visual motif throughout the film, there are enough images of her framed by cameraman William Mellor in a succession of chic high-collared suits to inspire plenty of paintings by Richard Hamilton.

In a narrative that anticipates Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan, Kennedy and Scott have predictably differing ideas about what to do with a suitcase containing $60,000 in untraceable notes that unexpectedly lands on their car seat. Not long afterwards Dan Duryea at his scariest wearing an obnoxious little bow-tie comes calling wanting his money back, before learning too late – like Tony Perkins in ‘Pretty Poison’ – that he’s in way out of his depth with a true criminal sociopath like Ms. Scott.

There’s a lot of talk; but as scripted by Roy Huggins (who later created ‘The Fugitive’ and ‘The Rockford Files’) it’s good talk, and the interaction and development of the characters builds to a most satisfyingly conclusion to which little clues have been discreetly sown along the way. The characters of the man introducing himself as Kennedy’s former war buddy, and Kennedy’s sister herself who lives across the landing – played by Don Defore and Kristine Miller – don’t at first seem terribly interesting but grow to confound expectations.

All the acting is good, with the possible exception of Ms. Scott herself, who’s a bit one-note, but isn’t really required to do much except look like Lizabeth Scott, which she does to perfection. Aged only 26, she already looks as if she’s had her face lifted about half a dozen times; but on her it looks good @RichardChatten

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

Cry of the Werewolf (1944)

Dir: Henry Levin | Cast: Nina Foch, Stephen Crane, Barton MacClane, Osa Massen, Blanche Yurka | US thriller 63’

The rather unlikely directoral debut of Henry Levin, Cry of the Werewolf (a title not echoed by anything that actually happens in the film) is a quickie detective/horror hybrid from Columbia that owes more to Val Lewton’s films at RKO than Universal’s Wolf Man.

Borrowings abound from The Cat People, such as the click of high heels pursuing the hero below stairs at the funeral parlour. Lewton, however, would shrewdly have avoided showing us as much as the animal as we see here, which obviously isn’t a genuine wolf; and John Abbott’s vivid description on the soundtrack of the “master’s mangled body, over him stood a terrible animal, with flaming dripping jaws” is completely undercut by the inoffensive-looking doggie woggie we see nonchalantly padding off in the accompanying flashback.

The luxurious main set, lit with his usual aplomb by L.W.O’Connell, was probably recycled from an earlier production, along with the main theme from Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s score for The Return of the Vampire. As a pair of matriarchal lycanthropes, Nina Foch and the enjoyably malevolent-looking Blanche Yurka wouldn’t have looked out of place as members of the Palladists in The Seventh Victim, while – probably intentionally – far more electricity is generated between the remarkably youthful looking Miss Foch (who gets preposterously little screen time) and Osa Massen than between either of them and the incredibly boring hero Stephen Crane. Barton MacLane as a tough, no-nonsense detective conducts himself as if marauding werewolves are all in a day’s work for cops on the New Orleans beat. @RichardChatten

 

Cloak and Dagger (1946)

Dir: Fritz Lang | Cast: Gary Cooper, Robert Alda, Lilli Palmer, Vladimir Sokolof, US 106’ Thriller

Made during that brief period just after the war before commies took over from nazis as Hollywood’s enemies of choice; when leftish sentiments penned by scriptwriters Albert Maltz and Ring Lardner (both soon blacklisted) could still be expressed onscreen by Gary Cooper (schooled in Dunstable and soon to be a ‘friendly witness’ before the HUAAC).

Anticipating Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain by twenty years, Coop plays a scientist sent into enemy territory to pick the brains of a top physicist (presumably based on Lise Meitner); aided on the ground by Robert Alda (father of Alan) and Lili Palmer (the latter making her Hollywood debut and receiving “and introducing” billing despite having been busy in British films since 1935).

It lags a bit during the second half but picks up with another sequence anticipating ‘Torn Curtain’ when he and a fascist fight dirty to the death. @RichardChatten

NOW DOING THE ROUNDS ON TALKING PICTURES TV

This is My Love (1954)

Dir: Stuart Heisler | Cast: Linda Darnell, Dan Duryea, Rick Jason, Faith Domergue | US Drama 91

Just as birds descended from dinosaurs, so the film noir of the forties morphed by the mid-fifties into the women’s picture; the histrionics of the Technicolor ‘Leave Her to Heaven’ (1945) evolving into Douglas Sirk’s throbbing fifties melodramas.

Occasional additional forays into Technicolor along the way in crime dramas like ‘Desert Fury’ (1947) and ‘Rope’ (1948) gave hints as to the way colour could embellish thriller material; and the fuzzy Pathécolor employed on ‘This Is My Love’ – along with the incredibly stagy sets – draws us gradually into what initially seems to promise to be a rather bland romantic drama, but proves anything but.

The presence of Dan Duryea warns us that peril lies ahead – and the fact that he’s in a wheelchair, in which he proves a pretty nifty mover – simply heightens the pent-up menace he brings to his part. (And wouldn’t you know it, he depends on medication administered by his long-suffering wife and sister-in-law to keep him alive?)

Practically everybody in the film turns to be nursing bottled up emotions threatening destructively to burst their banks in true 50’s style, and… but I won’t spoil it for you. @RichardChatten

Within our Gates (1920)

Dir/Wri: Oscar Micheaux | US Drama 79′

In his provocative 1980 article in ‘Film Comment’, ‘Bad Films’, James Hoberman concentrated almost exclusively on Oscar Micheaux’s thirties sound films in painting Micheaux as a sort of black Edward D.Wood Jr. When Hoberman wrote that “the longer Micheaux made films, the badder they got,” the 1993 Library of Congress restoration of Within Our Gates was still several years away, but – possibly because Micheaux was free of the later encumbrances of dialogue and sound film technology – manages accurately to bear out his statement, since it stands up extremely well.

The fact that nearly a hundred years ago this film was made at all is remarkable enough; that it’s actually survived (in Spain, of all places) is miraculous, particularly as Micheaux’s final film, the three hour-long ‘The Betrayal’ (1948) – made over a quarter of a century later – is ironically lost. In addition to its indictment of institutionalised racism in the United States – where in the South any available negro could be lynched just for the hell of it – Within Our Gates is also remarkable for criticising bible-thumping snake oil salesmen like the black preacher Old Ned, who exhorts his congregation not to bother themselves with the injustices of this world as their reward will come in the next.

Micheaux not surprisingly gives short shrift to the American South, where the poor white trash are depicted as being treated as contemptuously by the land-owning classes as their black brethren (the identical appearance and beards worn by a trio of yokels suggesting in-breeding), and titles are written in dialect to lampoon the Southern drawl, rather than just black speech as tended to be the custom in silent films. The cross-cutting between a lynching and a rape attempt by a white man near the film’s conclusion serves as a well-aimed raspberry at the equivalent sequence in D.W.Griffith’s ‘Birth of a Nation’; although the abrupt uplifting speech about America by the handsome Dr. Vivian at the film’s very end feels extremely tacked on. But Within Our Gates has already hit home with enough ugly home truths by then.

American women, incredibly, still didn’t have the vote when Within Our Gates was made; and Micheaux equates women’s suffrage with black civil rights, in the process marshalling a cast of formidable female characters, both black & white. In one of several elaborate narrative strands that the film packs into less than eighty minutes, black heroine Sylvia Landry (Evelyn Preer) is taken under the wing of wealthy white philanthropist Elena Warwick, whose friend Geraldine Stratton is a rich Southerner and “a bitter enemy of woman’s suffrage, because it appalls her to think that Negro women might vote.”@RichardChatten

 

Zenobia (1939)

Dir: Gordon Douglas | US Drama 99’

This unusual title – aka Elephants Never Forget – is familiar to most cinephiles as Oliver Hardy’s one starring vehicle of the sound era without Stan Laurel; and aided by an excellent supporting cast he carries the film extremely well. Playing the beloved local doctor of the fictitious town of Carterville, Mississippi in 1870, the Southern setting well suits him, and provides him with a context in which to exhibit the same Southern courtliness without being the pompous buffoon he usually was when teamed with Stan Laurel. He gives a performance of grace and charm, even dancing a few steps with spouse Billie Burke, and shows a concern for the underdog that extends to the little black kid played by Philip Hurlic that is reasonably lacking in condescension for 1939, let alone 1870. While it doesn’t even attempt to be as funny as Hardy’s work with Laurel, the film is however characterised by the charm and lack of sentimentality which remain one the principal reasons that Laurel & Hardy’s work has worn so well to this day compared to that of Chaplin.

When you see Step’in Fetchit billed with his name ‘humorously’ spelled thus in the credits you fear the worst, although in the film that follows his mistress Billie Burke is actually dafter than he is. Hardy’s comments about Southern segregation are later underlined without labouring the point by a fleeting shot of Hurlic, Fetchit & Hattie McDaniel watching the trial through the courthouse window rather than from the public gallery. This film is often spoken of as an ersatz Laurel & Hardy film with Harry Langdon filling in for Laurel, but Langdon’s is really only a supporting role, although he acquits himself well, the old gestures from his silent films are still there, and it’s interesting to both see and hear Langdon for once. Both he and Hardy look remarkably comfortable around Miss Zenobia, who plays the title role. @RichardChatten

The Last War (1961)

Dir: Shue Matsubayashi | Japan Sci-fi, 110’

Made the year before the Cuban Missile Crisis; even in the dubbed and abbreviated version I’ve just watched on YouTube (the original was half an hour longer, and has been reedited so that the story is now told in flashback) this remains a mighty powerful piece of filmmaking. With America and North Korea currently rattling sabres at each other it has still, alas, not yet lost its relevance to a 21st Century audience. An elaborate production by Toho in Eastmancolor and TohoScope with special effects by ‘Godzilla’ regular Eiji Tsuburaya, it was Toho’s second highest grossing film of its year, but never released theatrically in America.

Much of this film (whose Japanese title ‘Sekai Daisensō’ translates literally as ‘Great World War’) is taken up with domestic scenes which would not have been out of place in the contemporaneous domestic dramas of Yasujirō Ozu, from which a number of cast members like Chishū Ryū and Yumi Shirakawa would have been familiar to Japanese audiences at the time; while Nobuko Otowa – who plays the mother – had nine years earlier featured in her husband Kaneto Shindo’s anti-nuke drama ‘Children of Hiroshima’.

As these people continue to plan for the future, back at the silos we twice see catastrophe narrowly averted until eventually the Sword of Damocles falls for real and Tokyo is shown convincingly raised to the ground, followed in short order by shots of the Kremlin, New York, Tower Bridge and the Arc de Triomphe going up in smithereens which more than atone for the unconvincing model work elsewhere in the film. Almost as an aside we are at one point informed that in one of the earlier engagements one side has resorted to “a low level napalm and strafing attack”; a disturbing harbinger of the tactics used by the United States in the proxy war that actually took place in Asia during the coming years. @RichardChatten

 

Absolution (1978)

Dir: Anthony Page | Cast: Richard Burton, Dominic Guard, David Bradley, Billy Connelly | UK Drama 95′

You never knew during his later years whether Richard Burton was going to just walk through his part with a faraway look in his eyes and simply collect his cheque, or pull his finger out and actually give a performance worthy of his reputation; and this is one of those occasions when he’s actually rather good as a flint-hearted Catholic priest who has plainly spent his entire life studying the scriptures without ever absorbing one iota of their meaning.

A sort of cross between Hitchcock’s I Confess and Sidney Lumet’s Child’s Play, in which the unlovely central character is mischievously manipulated as in scriptwriter Anthony Shaffer’s earlier classics Sleuth and The Wicker Man (Burton’s face when he first takes young Benjie Stanfield’s confession is truly a picture!), it’s basically a two-hander between Burton and Dominic Guard for much of its duration, with fine actors like Andrew Keir and John Nettleton given remarkably little to do in brief supporting roles, indicating quite a bit of paring back in the cutting room.

The presence, however, of Dai Bradley and Brian Glover further evokes the harrowing picture of school life painted a decade earlier in Kes @RichardChatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO | PLEX TV

Crisis (1946) Bfi player

Dir/Wri: Ingmar Bergman | Cast: Inga Landgre, Stig Olin, Marianne Lofgren, Dagny Lind | Drama, 63′

Ingmar Bergman’s directorial debut was according to him “a bona fide fiasco” on which everything that could go wrong did, but none of this is apparent in the finished product. It just seems rather average.

Since few English-speaking viewers have ever seen a forties Swedish potboiler, it’s difficult to know how Crisis compare with its contemporaries, but it looks good (as I imagine most of the rest do), aided by Arne Åkermark’s art direction and Gösta Roosling’s photography. The over-emphatic music by Erland von Koch ironically demonstrates how discreet Bergman’s use of music would be in his heyday.

Considering that it was purely an assignment, its interesting how woman-centred it is, like some of Bergman’s more auspicious later projects. The most involving of various plot strands is that concerning Dagny Lind as the young heroine’s adoptive mother. @RichardChatten

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

Canyon Passage (1946) Venice Classics 2022

Dir: Jacques Tourneur | US Western

Jacques Tourneur’s first film in Technicolor won praise from Martin Scorsese for its use of colour. Set in Oregon in 1856, the obvious studio sets contrast badly with the majestic location work; but are mitigated by Tourneur’s Germanic lighting, mise en scene and elegantly mobile camera.

In the lead Dana Andrews is (constantly) addressed as and referred to just as ‘Logan’ (his full name is actually ‘Logan Stuart’). Most of the interesting supporting cast are given little to do, with the notable exception of Ward Bond as a particularly brutish heavy, and Hoagy Carmichael dressed as Mr Macawber, who gets to drawl ‘Ole’ Buttermilk Sky’. Richard Chatten

PLAYING IN THE VENICE FILM FESTIVAL CLASSICS RETROSPECTIVE 2022

The 400 Blows | Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959)

Dir.: Francois Truffaut; Cast: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Rémy, Guy Decomble, Patrick Auffay, Georges Flamant; France 1959, 100 min.

Francois Truffaut was banned from attending the Cannes Film Festival in 1959 but that didn’t prevent him from winning Best Director for Les Quatre Cents Coup, paving the way for other “Cahiers du Cinema” critics like Godard, Rivette and Chabrol to follow in his wake – et voilá La Nouvelle Vague was born.

Dedicated to the eminent French critic André Bazin, who had “adopted” Truffaut and died just before shooting began, the over-literary translation ‘Raising Hell’ would have certainly been appropriate given the startling nature of this bitter coming-of-age story fraught with poverty, institutional repression and parental neglect and centring on Jean-Pierre Léaud’s pre-teen Antoine Doinel.

Victimised at school, Antoine’s home life is no better, his mother Gilberte (Maurier) and stepfather Julien  (Rémy) neglect him emotionally in their cramped Parisian apartment where he is forced to sleep in the hallway. Escaping this nightmare environment is the only answer: Antoine will play truant at school with his friend René (Auffay), sneaking into cinemas and a fairground, and hiding in René’s flat where his parents make it nearly impossible for the two to meet. A huge, stuffed horse dominates the bedroom, a metaphor for the absurdity of their marital life.

At school Antoine is the scapegoat of an obnoxious French teacher (Decomble) who regularly picks on him. When a photo of a pin-up girl is passed round under the boys’ desks naturally Antoine is caught in the act, painting a moustache on the woman’s face. Later, Antoine paraphrases a Balzac text for an essay and is accused of plagiarism – the writer is his hero, he even has an altar with a candle for him, almost burning down his parent’s flat.

Worse is to come: Antoine gets caught out lying about his mother’s ‘death’ until both parents turn up at the school, alarmed by the boy’s behaviour. Antoine sleeps rough, steals a typewriter from his step-father’s office, and ends up behind bars with robbers and sex-workers. Later Antoine is transferred to a juvenile detention centre, where he absconds during a football match – eventually ending up on the beach  – his dream of freedom comes true.

The humour is always harsh, even Antoine’s close friendship with Rene is turbulent – but at least he has a decent home. Truffaut explores the emotional affects of Antoine’s homelife through a psychologist at the detention centre, who asks him: “how do you feel, not knowing who your biological father is”. Antoine’s answer is cutting: “I always thought my mother was not my real mother”.

Truffaut and Jean-Pierre Leaud’s collaboration on the film led to a close friendship that would continue until Truffaut’s early death. DoP Henri Decaë sums up the cultural wasteland of the 1950s with this dispiriting picture of a Paris of grey facades. Black-and-white images are for once not poetic nor illuminating, just simply bland – ugly even. There is no compromise possible: family and institutions are the enemy of liberty and creativity in Truffaut’s mind. His debut would be his masterpiece. AS

Opening at BFI Southbank, HOME Manchester, Ciné Lumière, Broadway Nottingham and selected cinemas UK-wide on 7 January 2022

 

Opium (1919)

Dir: Robert Reinert | Silent film

Siegfried Kracauer – who hit thirty the year this feature came out – was able personally to recall the  film’s first release which ran in an expensive Berlin movie theater with the house sold out for three weeks. Of course, one avoided being seen on such occasions”!

With prescription of addictive opiates currently causing a panic in Britain it’s timely to see again this dire warning against the perils of opium a hundred years on; restored to its former glory with magnificent tinting, handsome exteriors and an involved plot starting in China and concluding in Europe.

With so much going on the plot thread involving opium is easy to lose track of, and director Robert Reinert is for the most part content to let his cast mug to the camera (Werner Krauss both looks and acts like Moore Marriott as the leering Chinese villain Nung-Tschang, who keeps magically popping up whenever the action relocates) and let the plushness of the production take care of itself. There are a couple of interesting camera tricks that anticipate Vertigo but Reinert more often favours scenes of Satan cavorting with nymphs to create the atmosphere he’s after!

Although he (eventually) makes an impressive entrance, Conrad Veidt isn’t actually in the film for very long, and the cast member who makes the most sympathetic impression is probably doe-eyed Sybill Morel in a double role as mother and daughter. Richard Chatten

The Love of Jeanne Ney (1927) Blu-ray

Dir.: G.W. Pabst; Cast: Edith Jéhanne, Udo Henning, Fritz Rasp, Brigitte Helm, Adolph Edgar Licho, Eugen Jensen; Germany 1927, 100 min.

Austrian director G.W. Pabst (1885-1967) was the leading proponent of interwar German cinema, along with his countrymen Lang and Murnau. But Pabst did not settle abroad, returning to Germany in 1939 where he became a pawn in Dr Goebbels’ empire. The move discredited his oeuvre, even though he tried to make amends after the war.

The Love of Jeanne Ney is based on the novel by Ilya Ehrenburg (1891-1967), a Soviet journalist and author who spent time in Paris before leaving for the USSR. Written by Vadislav Vadja and Rudolf Leonhardt, Pabst’ UFA feature is a lighter version of Ehrenburg’s tonally rather grim novel; Pabst having been told by the UFA to make a feature in the ‘American style’. He certainly obliged.

In the Crimea, the Civil War is about to be decided in favour of the Red Army. We watch the libertine Khalibiev (Rasp) getting drunk while the White Russians stage a debauched party. Pabst having encouraged his cast of real soldiers from the White Army, to imbibe freely for the endeavour.

The film centres on Jeanne Ney (Jéhanne), daughter of French diplomat Andre Ney (Jensen) and in love with Red Army soldier Andreas Labov (Hennig), a spy for the Bolsheviks. In the novel, he shoots Jeanne’s father – she forgives him immediately – but in the film, the murderer is a friend of Andreas’. Jeanne then flees to Paris where she works for her uncle Raymond (Licho) in his shady detective agency. When the two lovers meet Andreas is in the midst of organising a strike on behalf of the communists. But Khalibiev is also in Paris, and has his eye on Jeanne while making do with Gabrielle (Helm). But he is persistent in pursuing Jeanne, one scene sees him caressing Gabrielle, while at the same time trying forcefully to kiss Jeanne. He steals a valuable diamond, making Andreas look like the thief. Jeanne lets him have his evil way in the novel, but in Pabst’s feature she resists and we get a happy-ending in a train scuppering the torrid ending of Ehrenburg’s novel.

DoPs Frit Arno Wagner and Robert Lach work with natural light, the camera roving around freely and catching the protagonists in perpetual motion, along with an editing style that described “their very order re-enforcing the realistic illusion”. Film critic Iris Barry remarked: “In the scene where Khalibiev sells the list of Bolshevik agents to Jeanne’s father, it lasts about three minute, though one is scarcely aware of a single shot, there are forty in this short scene – needless to say, the director cut and edited the film himself.”

As Kracauer put it: “Pabst permanently discredits his daring attitude as in Joyless Street. The imaginative way he satisfies UFA’s craving for melodrama, confirms the strength of his own tendencies in this direction”. In the final three films that Kracauer called the “Stabilised Period”, Pabst retreated from reality and the social scene to indulge in “the secrets of the soul”. But he would return to the social whirly again with West Front 1918, Comradeship and The 3 Penny Opera, three of the most important features of the period before Hitler came to power in 1933. This makes the director’s later alignment with the Third Reich even more surprising. AS

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA | DECEMBER 2021

 

Maytime in Mayfair (1949)

Dir: Herbert Wilcox | Anna Neagle, Michael Wilding, Peter Graves, Nicholas Phipps, Thora Hird, Desmond Walter-Ellis | UK Drama 94′

The reference to Sir Stafford Cripps in the opening foreword passes for satire in so light a confection; but also reminds us why there was a need for this sort of escapist fantasy seventy two years ago, with ‘Mr. Austerity’ in No.11 Downing Street.

Ravishingly shot in Technicolor and with clothes (designed by Hardy Amies, Norman Hartnell, Creed and Worth) probably consuming much of the film’s budget ; it’s otherwise played out in sets by William C.Andrews that look as if they’d fall over if you blew on them (it relocates to Paris for a few minutes courtesy of one hotel room and an incredibly phony-looking ‘outdoor’ restaurant), and the wind never disturbs the branches of any of any of the trees that adorn the very occasional studio exteriors.

Never mind, material this slight doesn’t offend the way that Wilcox’s flat-footed direction of more ‘serious’ subject matter does. Michael Wilding is fun overacting like crazy as a conceited jerk, Thora Hird is permitted to look incredibly glamorous as Neagle’s secretary; and it provides a unique opportunity to see “our old friend” Tom Walls in Technicolor playing an Irish police inspector presiding over a station so minimal it could have been designed for ‘Dr Mabuse’. @Richard Chatten

House of Secrets (1956)

Dir: Guy Green | Cast: Michael Craig, Julia Arnall, Brenda de Banzie, David Kosoff, Barbara Bates | UK Drama 97′

The words “A British Film” ironically appear at the start over a shot of the Arc de Triomphe; and it’s Harry Waxman’s atmospheric fifties Technicolor photography and the Parisian locations that keeps you watching through the rather garrulous film that follows, based on Sterling Noel’s novel Storm over Paris, and enlivened by some violent deaths for the period and with a memorable finale on board an airplane.

The other perk is the novelty of seeing British ‘B’ movie stalwarts like Anton Diffring and Eric Pohlmann (all immaculately dressed, of course) in colour along with Gallic thespians Jacques Brunius and Gerard Oury. And Brenda de Banzie – who was then enjoying plum roles following her success in Hobson’s Choice and turns out to be the most glamorous of the three females that share star billing in the credits with the young Michael Craig. Richard Chatten

Circle of Danger (1951)

Dir: Jacques Tourneur | Cast: Ray Milland, Patricia Roc, Marius Goring, Hugh Sinclair | UK Drama, 86′

A drama rather than a thriller, with a plot anticipating Bad Day at Black Rock and Get Carter. The action encompasses both Wales and Scotland, but only the second unit under Gilbert Taylor seem actually to have gone to those outposts without Milland; the conclusion itself being an interior moment of revelation worthy of Chabrol.

Unusually produced by a woman, Joan Harrison, who later produced Hitchcock’s TV series, as much drama is generated by the two principal male characters’ relationship with Patricia Roc than with the search for the truth about the death of Milland’s bother. Red herrings abound and characters flit in and out of the narrative (including Hitchcock veteran Edward Rigby in his final fleeting film appearance as a Welsh miner. There’s also a charismatic appearance from Marius Goring) with the result you never know until the conclusion who the prime movers are going to turn out to be.

The biggest mystery of all is probably the story’s original provenance. Printed sources (but not the film itself) claim it was adapted by Phillip McDonald from his own novel, ‘White Heather’, yet he never published a book with that title. If it WAS adapted from his own book, it was an unpublished one. @Richard Chatten

NEW 4K RESTORATION: blu-ray,DVD and Digital 5 February 2024 

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Dir.: Ernst Lubitsch; Cast: Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Frank Morgan, Joseph Schildkraut, Felix Bressart, William Tray; USA 1940, 99 min.

“The American movie-going public has the mind of a 12-year old child; it must have life as it isn’t. (Ernst Lubitsch)”

Of all Hollywood’s immigrant filmmakers, German born Ernst Lubitsch (1892-1947) was the most successful in serving his new audience, adapting well to the change-over from silent to sound. The “Lubitsch touch” became a trademark, success was guaranteed, he reeled off classic Hollywood comedies like Trouble in Paradise, Ninotchka or To Be or Not To Be. He would have churned out even more, but for a heart condition which slowed him down in final years of his life, succumbing to it whilst shooting That Lady in Ermine.

The Shop Around the Corner is based on the play ‘Parfumerie’ by Miklos Laszlo, adapted for the screen by Lubitsch regular Samson Raphaelson (Heaven Can Wait), with some uncredited work by Ben Hecht. Whereas most of his comedies played out in world of the idle rich, The Shop is set in a working environment, taking him back to his father’s tailoring business where he did the accounts as he took his first steps as a stage actor.

The setting is a leather-goods and novelty shop in Budapest (via Hollywood), run by the imperious Hugo Matuschek (Morgan), whose bark is worse than his bite. His deputy is Alfred Kralik (Stewart), a likeable but air-headed man and the day unfolds amid bickering with new shop assistant Klara Novak (Sullavan). Little do they know that after office hours they are falling in love through the post as each other’s anonymous pen pal.

When the great day arrives for the ‘lovers’ first meeting in a local cafe, Mr. Matuschek orders his staff to stay late for an inventory, and then later fires Kralik suspecting him of having an affair with his wife. The real culprit will be soon be revealed. Off to his meeting Kralik looks through the window and, to his horror, sees Klara reading Tolstoi at the cafe table. He enters, talks to her, but does not reveal his true identity. Meanwhile, Mr. Matuschek is saved from suicide by the apprentice Pepi (Tray) who is promoted, as is Kralik who then becomes the manager.

The film positively glows in fluffy fairy-tale black-and white by William Daniels (Cat On A Hot Tin Roof), Lubitsch again ducks the censors by talking sex, but only showing a perfunctionary final kiss. The director might have been inspired by the relationship of Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette McDonald who played love birds in numerous features, despite oathing each other off screen. Lubitsch directed McDonald’s debut (and also his first sound feature) alongside Chevalier in The Love Parade (1929). Often remade with disappointing results – with Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail (1998) the latest offering, Lubitsch’s The Shop is from another universe: A true classic.AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 3 DECEMBER 2021

The Astonished Heart (1950)

Dir: Anthony Darnborough Terence Fisher | Cast: Celia Johnson, Noel Coward, Margaret Leighton, Joyce Carey  UK Drama 85′

Like Brief Encounter based on one of the theatrical pieces that comprised ‘Tonight at 8.30’, this reunion of that classic’s writer and star is an equally garrulous but far more grandiose affair that failed as spectacularly as their previous collaboration had succeeded (although the scenes depicting the neuroses exhibited by Noel Coward’s patients are still haunting after the film is over; particularly the scene where John Salew is challenged to read a certain word Coward claims to have written down for him to look at.

All involved were as genuinely unhappy making this epic folly as they looked acting in it; Coward having taken on the lead only after Michael Redgrave took one look at the rushes and walked.

After lumbering through the wreckage like Frankenstein’s monster (Alan Strachan later observed that “Coward’s performance of ravaged heterosexual ardour is riotous”) the star subsequently found himself a far more congenial niche making guest appearances in other people’s films. @Richard Chatten

The World Ten Times Over (1964)

Dir: Wolf Rilla | Cast: Sylvia Syms, June Ritchie, William Hartnell | UK Drama 93’

After over fifty years this film has been rescued from near oblivion because the lesbian subtext has led to it being dusted off by the BFI in celebration of sexual diversity. Shot towards the end of the famous winter of ’63 (the snow was gone by then but the Serpentine and The Long Water in Kensington Gardens are visibly still both frozen over), the record it provides of London in those far-off pre-Profumo days gives the film the usual lustre possessed by films from that era.

Despite much emphasis on the sex-crazed mood of its time, the film is really about money rather than passion. Billa (Sylvia Sims) and Ginnie (June Ritchie) are a pair of nightclub ‘hostesses’ wholly dependent for their livelihood on men; and the men in this film are a pretty unlovely bunch. The nearest thing to a conventional romantic relationship depicted is that between Ginnie and Bob Shelbourne (Edward Judd); but he’s portrayed as a weakling whose most attractive quality in Ginnie’s eyes is the enormous fortune owned by his controlling tycoon father.

It becomes pretty clear as the film progresses which side Billa actually bats for from her butch leather overcoat and boots and the high necked pullover she wears when not uniformed for work in cocktail dresses. Her infatuation with Ginnie becomes more and more evident as the film progresses, but ironically she’s the one who gets pregnant. The future doesn’t really seem to hold much chance of Billa settling down for good with a self-absorbed drama queen like Ginnie, whose rejection of men may owe more to her only being interested in those with the money to shower her with gifts than authentic sapphist inclinations. The final scene resolves nothing, although it would be interesting to speculate where they would have been ten years later, or (for that matter, Sims and Ritchie both still being alive and well as I write this) now. @RichardChatten

Ilsa She Wolf of the SS (1975) Amazon

Dir: Don Edmonds | US Drama

The commonly made observation that a particular old film today looks tame by modern standards always depresses me, representing as it does, a reflection on how debased modern tastes have become: and becoming more debased by the minute. For that reason it comes as something of a relief that ‘Ilsa’ still looks pretty revolting today, even if it doesn’t begin to compare with the sheer relentless nastiness of nihilistic shockers like Kōji Wakamatsu’s Violated Angels (1967) and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo (1975), and is partially rescued by the childish sense of glee that makes the films of the late Herschell Gordon Lewis bearable.

Two distinguished Polish feature films have depicted the experience of women held in Nazi concentration camps, Wanda Jakubowska’s The Last Stage (1948) and ‘Andrzej Munk’s Passenger (1963). Over the years there has been occasional trash with pretensions set against the backdrop of The Holocaust, such as Roger Vadim’s soporific Le Vice et la Vertu (1963) and Liliana Cavani’s sleazy The Night Porter (1974). And then there is simple trash like ‘Ilsa She Wolf of the SS’.

Less cheesy looking than anticipated, and with professional-looking photography, generally good acting and unpleasantly convincing special effects by Joe Blaso, the film is shot on the sets left over from the production of the TV series ‘Hogan’s Heroes’. ‘Camp Nine’ only seems to be holding about a dozen prisoners, and George ‘Buck’ Flower as Dr.Binz could easily have wandered in from an episode of the original series.

The character of Ilsa herself is loosely based upon the genuine antics of Ilse Koch (1906-1967), the wife of the commandant of Buchenwald best remembered for her taste in lampshades. She makes love to male inmates like a praying mantis until the unprecedented staying power of – guess what! – an American, sends her to hitherto undreamt of heights of ecstasy and exposes her Achilles heel. Ilsa has a theory that women are capable of enduring more pain than men; a theory that if proved will result in better use of the so far underused resource of German womanhood on behalf of the war effort. Nobody who has read the relevant section in William Shirer’s ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’ will, alas, be surprised at anything they come across in this film (such as the decompression chamber, immersion in water and deliberate infection of prisoners in order to test medical treatments). The sequence when Ilsa is alone with The General (as she refers to him throughout) also indicates that someone involved in the film was aware of the gossip concerning the Führer’s own personal sexual predilections.

Set in the very last days the Third Reich in 1945, it goes without saying that no serious attempt has been made to get the period right, but even so Ilse’s rather ugly seventies hairstyle is distractingly anachronistic, especially worn loose as it is when she’s in uniform (all her other female staff have their hair more plausibly tied back in buns) and if she’d just let it down occasionally during her more – er – unrestrained moments the contrast could have had more visual impact. The late Anne Ridler looked more authentic to the period – and was far hotter – in her brief role as an SS torturer in 633 Squadron (1964).

Many will find simply discussing such a disreputable trivialisation of Nazi atrocities so nonchalantly grossly offensive. But as an earlier user has pointed out, Nazi-porn pulp novels known as ‘Stalags’ were popular in 60s Israel; and this movie’s portrayal of the Nazis as sadistic perverts would probably offend most Holocaust deniers too. (Although an American-German production, the film was of course banned in Germany.)

NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON

The Bamboo Saucer (1968)

Dir: Frank Telford | Cast: Dan Duryea, Lois Nettleton | US  Fantasy Sci-fi 100’

The Bamboo Saucer attempts far more than its obviously tiny budget can manage, and at 100 minutes takes much too long to deliver too little. Writer-director Frank Telford’s garrulous script feels like one written in the fifties that took ten years to get made – so was then brought up to date by making Red China rather than the Russkies the heavies. A competent cast led by the late Dan Duryea does their best, and Lois Nettleton as a hot Russian scientist with lovely blue eyes gamely spouts some particularly atrocious dialogue. (There’s a lot of Russian dialogue in the script; and it would be interesting to learn what a native Russian speaker makes of her accent and how convincing the dialogue spoken by her and the other actors playing Russians actually sounds.)

Competently lit in an overlit TV movie sort of way by twice Oscar-winning Hollywood veteran Hal Mohr, the ‘Chinese’ locations resemble an episode of Star Trek and the Chinese church where much of the action is played out is presumably a standing set from something made earlier. But where the corner-cutting really shows is in the dreadful music score and the perfunctory special effects. The score is obviously carelessly selected odds and sods taken from a library when a halfway decent score would have generated a bit of much-needed atmosphere to make up for the slack pacing. And the special effects are spectacularly inadequate.

The budget evidently didn’t exist for the design and construction of a full-sized flying saucer exterior for the studio scenes, so we instead get a flatly lit superimposition that looks even worse than Edward D. Wood Jr’s notorious hub-caps of ten years earlier. When the thing finally takes off, the flight to Saturn and back (aided by shots of outer space, the Moon, Mars and so on presumably lifted from other films) certainly makes for a final ten minutes that is fascinating for what it attempts with so little. @Richard Chatten

Don’t Take it to Heart (1944)

Dir: Jeffrey Dell | Cast: Richard Bird, Edward Rigby, Esma Cannon, Ivor Barnard | UK Drama 90′

Jeffrey Dell’s best remembered credit as a director is probably Carlton-Browne of the F. O., which he co-directed fifteen years later with Roy Boulting; and which looks like Ken Loach compared to this frenzied exercise in garrulous lunacy set in Chaunduyt (pronounced ‘Condit’), a fictitious rural community with an inbred population whose surnames tend to be either ‘Bucket’ or ‘Pail’.

Richard Greene is just a hole in the screen as the supposed ‘hero’ (compensated for by a very young Patricia Medina as a button-eyed socialist in jodhpurs). However, it looks good and has a typically wondrous supporting cast of the period. But it’s never actually as funny as it should be (despite the exclamation mark in the title and the soundtrack’s strenuous efforts to convince us how hilarious this all is), and the interminable courtroom section that takes up much of the second half of the film is a pale (or should that be ‘Pail’?) echo of the equivalent sequence in Passport to Pimlico.@Richard Chatten

 

Rendezvous in July (1949)

Dir/Wri: Jacques Becker | Cast: Daniel Gelin, Brigitte Auber, Nicole Courcel, Pierre Trabaud, Maurice Ronet | France, Drama 102′

One of Jacques Becker’s most financially successful films, this exhilarating slice of postwar Parisian life isn’t quite the first ‘slacker’ film (that distinction probably belongs to Val Guest’s Give Us the Moon five years earlier) – but its freewheeling portrait of the young at play around Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter, aided by tremendous photography by Claude Renoir, vibrantly captures the look and feel of a Paris only recently freed from the dead weight of the Occupation and discovering jazz (and amphicars!).

Strongly anticipating later ‘youth’ subjects like Fellini’s I Vitelloni (1953) and Marcel Carné’s ‘beat’ film Les Tricheurs (1958), a full ten years before the Nouvelle Vague Becker’s film also discreetly employs the whimsical archaism of irises in and out that later became one of the hallmarks of the new kids on the arrondissement during the early sixties. Among the attractive cast of newcomers, watch out for veteran Gaston Modot playing a professor. @Richard Chatten

NOW ON AMAZON

The Brothers (1947)

Dir: David MacDonald | Cast: Patricia Roc, Will Fyffe, Maxwell Reed, Finely Currie | UK Drama 98′

It’s hard to tell if this barnstorming adaptation of L. A. G. Strong’s novel is ‘serious’ melodrama or a spoof until John Laurie (already rolling his eyes like he was on something) turns up in another even more eccentric additional role in whiskers and pebble lens glasses looking like Corporal Jones’ elderly father as ‘Alistair McDonald’, when you realise the humour must be intentional (although the late Will Fyfe, who compares the heroine to “a daffodil growing on a dung heap” seems the only cast member actually in on the joke).

Maybe the authorities thought it would reconcile audiences mired in drab postwar austerity by showing the Isle of Skye nearly fifty years earlier more visually majestic but less fun to actually experience. (Stephen Dade’s camera – noisily pursued by Cedric Thorpe Davie’s’ music – creates majestic exteriors and interiors worthy of a German silent film).

Arriving at this sty of “crossbred pigs” (where the ratio of males to females already seems unhealthily high) young Patricia Roc finds Scotland even more of a trial than Nova Pilbeam did Wales a year later in The Three Weird Sisters. @ Richard Chatten

 

 

Picture Mommy Dead (1966)

Dir: Bert I Gordon | Wri: Robert Sherman | Cast: Don Ameche, Martha Hyer, Susan Gordon, Zsa Zsa Gabor | Fantasy horror, 82

“The Past is Like a Tiger, and No Matter How You Pet It or Pretend That It’s Tame One Day It Will Turn…”

If I’d missed the start and hadn’t caught the director credit, I would have taken this for the work of William Castle rather than sci-fi and horror specialist Bert I. Gordon briefly venturing into Psycho/Baby Jane territory. The production values are in fact rather more impressive than one would have got with Castle. Greystone, the Beverly Hills mansion in which most of the action takes place is well served by Ellsworth Fredericks’s elegant photography, which gives the film the feeling of an Italian ‘giallo’ (complete with spooky close-ups of dolls, portraits and various childhood relics) produced as a glossy sixties TV movie. Unfortunately, shorn of Castle’s gimmicks Gordon’s direction manages to be even more pedestrian than Castle’s would have been; and fails utterly to energise a talky script in which things are constantly spelled out through dialogue rather than conveyed visually.

In an interesting cast of has-beens, Ameche is wasted as the heroine’s weak and corrupt father; but as the ghastly stepmom – who having already maxed out hubby’s nest egg is now making absolutely no secret of her desire to have her stepdaughter committed so she can gets her mitts on HER inheritance too – Martha Hyer rises to the challenge of convincingly playing a wife even more high maintenance than her predecessor Zsa Zsa Gabor must doubtless have been. (If she hadn’t been busy at the time making ‘Green Acres’, it would have been interesting to see Zsa Zsa and her sister Eva in the role played by the not dissimilar Hyer squaring up against each other in the same movie.) Signe Hasso pops up ominously in a nun’s habit, Wendell Corey is obviously drunk (he died from cirrhosis of the liver two years later) but enjoyably intimidating as the family lawyer; as is Maxwell Reed, who does justice to some wonderfully fruity dialogue as a male Miss Danvers. Anna Lee’s role as a family friend promises to be nicely bitchy too, but she unfortunately disappears almost as soon as she appears. @Richard Chatten

 

 

The Naked Kiss (1964)

Dir/Wri: Sam Fuller | Cast: Constance Thomas, Anthony Eisley, Michael Dante, Virginia Grey | US Drama 90′

It was always hard to tell if Sam Fuller was pulling your leg or in earnest in his 1964 follow up to Shock Corridor another potent psychodrama. Female lead Constance Towers (who had recently featured in two productions for John Ford) is yet another otherwise little-known actress only fleetingly given the opportunity to show on screen just what she was capable of. As late as 1994 she still brought a glacial elegance to the role of a sophisticated older woman in an episode of ‘Frazier’, and as photographed by Stanley Cortez in Fuller’s last film in black & white, thirty years years earlier, she is amazing; entirely worthy of Cortez’s previous collaborations with Orson Welles & Charles Laughton. The Naked Kiss resembles a silent film, and parts of it an underground film of the 1970s; (and like them the supporting cast includes a former silent star, in this case in the form of Betty Bronson, who forty years earlier had played Peter Pan).

The Naked Kiss continues to divide the relatively small number of those who have actually seen it. Some consider it a masterpiece, others an utter bore. That said, it remains ahead of its time while exuding retro glamour (especially when Virginia Grey turns up in a beehive and business suit playing a madam). Rejected by the British Board of Film Censors in 1964 it would probably continue to encounter censorship problems today. @RichardChatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Catch Us if You Can (1965)

Dir: John Boorman | Wri: Peter Nichols | Cast: Dave Clark, Barbara Ferris, David Lodge, Robin Bailey, Clive Swift, Marianne Stone, Ronald Lacey, Yootha Joyce, David de Keyser,

John Boorman’s calling card for Point Blank wasn’t a straight-up musical biopic of the famous early 1960s band (whose 1964 hit ‘Glad All Over’ knocked the Beatles off the top of the UK Singles Chart) but something altogether more interesting, the DC5s music providing the score for a ‘Youth Culture’ escapade. Taking its title from another band hit Catch Us if You Can starts in London then broadens out into an eventful auteurish travelogue of the West Country in an E-type Jag, captured by Manny Wynn’s evocative black and white camerawork. There are some memorable turns – particularly from Barbara Ferris as a model running away with a stuntman (played by Clark) while filming a promo for an ad agency – who then capitalise on the caper. The Five boys don’t have the chops, but they certainly held the tunes – and add a certain cocky verve as ‘Beatle competitors’, and Ferris is amusingly perky as Dinah. Watch out for Yootha Joyce, Clive Swift, Michael Gwynn, Peter Nichols (who wrote the script) and a mellow David de Keyser (who is still with us) as the quintessential Sixties adman adding a touch of edgy class. MT

NOW OUT ON BLURAY, DVD, DIGITAL PLATFORMS – 5th April 2021

Night Games (1966)

Dir: Mai Zetterling | Cast: Ingrid Thulin, Keve Hjelm, Lena Brundin, Jorgen Lindstrom | Sweden, Drama 105′

Even in her days working in the Hollywood mainstream as Danny Kaye’s leading lady Mai Zetterling always had an air of menace about her; which she more than amply confirmed when she finally got behind the camera herself. Night Games was in its day considered the last word in shocking, but is today largely forgotten; and it’s hard to figure out just how seriously we’re supposed to be taking it all until the Hal Roach-style slapstick and music behind the end credits finally clinches it: we’re not.

Zetterling’s second feature film as a director evokes Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957) both through its elegant shifts back and forth between the hero’s childhood and adulthood; and by the presence of Ingrid Thulin as the hero’s long-dead mother whose hedonistic lifestyle has left him marked for life, and of Naima Wifstrand (who had played Isak Borg’s terrifying mother in Wild Strawberries) as Jan’s dotty old aunt (while Jörgen Lindström, who plays the young Jan, had been Thulin’s nephew in Bergman’s The Silence).

Most of the mother’s entourage disport themselves more like characters out of TV commercials than recognisable human beings; recalling the orgiasts of late Fellini and the decadent weirdos who invade Tony’s home at the conclusion of Joseph Losey’s The Servant. For good measure, the final sordid scramble for expensive goodies resembles the conclusion of The Magic Christian; before Jan finally purges himself once and for all of a lifetime of Oedipal baggage by dynamiting the palatial family home to kingdom come. ©Richard Chatten

 

Chinese Cinema Season | February to May 2021

The first wave of titles have been announced for the first edition of the Chinese Cinema Season. spooling out over the next three months and kicking off on 12 February (Chinese New Year) all over Europe.

The longterm festival will showcase UK Chinese language premieres and highlight overlooked gems and classics to cinema-lovers in the UK and Ireland. New films will be added to the party, along with the usual Q&As and panel discussions with industry professionals, filmmakers and actors, and academics.

Over 50 films will be on offer over the course of the season all available on VOD, along with themed mini retrospectives. Along with Coronavirus this is ‘a love letter’ from China.

Popular films such as festival favourite Youth are available along with a Shanghai Animation strand featuring 10 films from 1950s to the present day. Studio Ghibli is possibly more widely known for Anime titles, but Ghibli’s Hayao Miyaki visited the Shanghai studio back in 1984 setting up his own studio a year later. Features include the delightful Lotus Lantern (1999) a UK premiere.

Documentary wise there will be a chance to see DOUBLE HAPPINESS (2018), A YANGTZE LANDSCAPE (2017) and DAUGHTER OF SHANGHAI (2019). 

Double Happiness Limited

Taiwanese director Shen spent seven years detailing eight couples’ lives from falling in love, getting married and having children, getting them to ask each other questions that they would not touch on in their daily lives, and leading the audience to reflect on their own definition of marriage and happiness.

A Yangtze Landscape

Setting off from the Yangtze’s marine port, passing Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, the huge Three Gorges Dam, and Chongqing, all the way to the Yangtze River’s source in Qinghai/Tibet over thousands of kilometres, this unique work of sound and vision utilizes the “Yangtze”, in the director’s words, as a metaphor of the current chaos in China.

Bazzar Jumpers

Three Uyghur friends in love with parkour fight prejudice and family opposition to train for China’s most popular and dangerous parkour event in Beijing.

Daughter of Shanghai

A waltz through the life of Chinese English actress Tsai Chin: the daughter of the Peking Opera master Zhou Xinfang, the first Chinese student at RADA, and the first Chinese Bond Girl. The director Michelle Chen is confirmed to do a Q&A with other contributors TBC to celebrate the premiere of this film.
.
FIRST FILM SPOTLIGHT

12 February to 12 May

This section introduces contemporary Chinese directors and their striking debuts. Three films will be shown in the opening month: A First Farewell (2018) by Lina Wang, The Crossing (2018) by Bai Xue, and The Silent Holy Stone (2006) by Pema Tseden. Encompassing Mandarin, Cantonese (The Crossing), Tibetan (The Silent Holy Stone ) and Uyghur (A First Farewell )dialects and cultures, these films reflect how diverse life can be in the different regions of China.

A First Farewell * UK PREMIERE *

Isa Yassan, a young Muslim boy in Xinjiang Province, balances caring for his ailing mother, schoolwork, and farm duties, soon experiences “the first farewell” in his life – as his father decides to send his mother to a nursing home and they leave the village. Lina Wang, from Xinjiang, wrote and directed this film, which won the Crystal Bear and Special Prize of the Generation Kplus International Jury at Berlin International Film Festival, as well as several other awards at Tokyo, Shanghai and Hong Kong film festivals

The Crossing (above)

Sixteen-year-old Peipei crosses the border between mainland China and Hong Kong every day, customs officials waving her through with just a glimpse of her high school uniform and innocent face. She joins a gang to earn quick money by smuggling iPhones across the border, but soon finds herself in way over her head. The debut from BAFTA Leading Light writer-director Bai Xue, was nominated for Best First Feature Award and Crystal Bear at Berlin International Festival, won the NETPAC Award at Toronto International Film Festival, and best first film awards at Pingyao, Hong Kong, and Dublin Film Festivals.

The Silent Holy Stone

A young Tibetan monk returns home for the New Year and discovers a television which he intends to bring to the monastery and show to his master. Tibetan director Pema Tsedan’s debut, immediately preceding his recent feature Balloon (2019), shows how the director established his personal style from the very beginning.

DOMESTIC HITS
12 February to 12 May

In recent years, the world has witnessed the rise of the Chinese mega-blockbuster and the seemingly unstoppable rise of the film industry in China. this section features commercial films that triumphed at the domestic box-office with relatively high production value. For the opening month the following are showing: Sheep Without a Shepherd (2019), Youth (2017), and The Captain (2019).

Sheep Without a Shepherd

Lee (Xiao Yang) and his wife Jade (Tan Zhuo) run a small
video business in Thailand. They have two lovely daughters and live a happy life. However, when his eldest daughter kills a schoolmate in self-defence during a sexual assault, Lee has to bury the body and cover the truth, to protect his daughter and families, Lawan (an impeccably steely Joan Chen, The Last Emperor, Lust, Caution) is the feared head of the regional police, and she is dying to find her missing son. The contest between Lee and Lawan is beginning. The battle of wills between Lee and Lawan begins. The film’s box office reached more than 1.2 billion RMB in China ($185m), even as the start of the pandemic cut short the film’s release. The film is based on the 2015 Indian box office hit, Drishyam.

Youth

Directed by China’s most famous commercial director Feng Xiaogang, Youth takes a look at the lives of the members of a Military Cultural Troupe back in the 1970s Cultural Revolution, exploring their friendship, love, dreams, and devotion to their beloved collective and career. The storyline, to a large extent comprised of the director’s personal memories and nostalgia, also resonates with a generation in China who sacrificed their youth to the country and the ideology.

The Captain

One of so-called “main melody” films, stemming from a true story, The Captain demonstrates a breath-taking moment: a commercial pilot and his crew try to save passengers and land their plane safely while the plane shatters at 30,000 feet in the air. Its box office reached more than 2 billion RMB in China (over $300m).

Upcoming Sections

Lou Ye Mini Retrospective

As one of the “Sixth Generation” directors, Lou Ye has been regarded as a “true artist”, an “authentic filmmaker” and a “constant fighter” of censorship. Despite the controversies, he achieved great success both in China and worldwide. He was nominated and won numerous awards owing to his unique editing style and camera movement, as well as his sharp observations and narratives about marginalised people and typical, but often undocumented, social phenomena in China. In this section, we will premiere Lou Ye’s penultimate film, Shadow Play, which took two years of editing to get the greenlight from authorities.

The platform is powered by Shift 72 (Cannes Marché du Film, SXSW, Macao IFFAM, Tallinn Black Nights) and tickets can be purchased here 

Girl on Approval (1962)

 

Dir: Charles Frend, Wri: Kathleen White | Rachel Roberts, James Maxwell, Annette Whiteley, Ellen McIntosh | John Dare | UK Drama 75′

Sandwiched between Rachel Roberts’ roles in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and This Sporting Life. This sensitive little drama in a minor key reminiscent of Ealing Studios’ Mandy would make the first half of an interesting double bill of films with Annette Whiteley; the second being The Yellow Teddybears (1963) marking her graduation from problem 14 year-old foster child who can’t be left alone with sharp objects, to fully fledged sex delinquent.

Backed by a melancholy score by veteran composer Clifton Parker and atmospheric location photography by up-and-coming cameraman John Coquillon, director Charles Frend’s own plight reflected that of most of Ealing’s other talents released like his young heroine into the harshness of the big wide world to fend for himself. Richard Chatten.

NOW ON TALKING PICTURES | PRIME VIDEO 

Strange Holiday (1945)

Dir: Arch Oboler | Cast: Claude Rains, Bob Stebbins, Barbara Bate Gloria Holden | US War Thriller 61′

Despite starring Claude Rains this dream-life dystopia about the Land of the Free coming under the jackboot remains so obscure Andrew Sarris doesn’t even include it in his Arch Oboler filmography in ‘American Cinema’ (despite him italicising Oboler’s semi-remake ‘Five’).

Arch Oboler (1909-87) hailed from Chicago and was particularly noted for his radio dramas, scripts and the suspense-horror series Lights Out. He directed, along with Robert Clampett, the first 3D movie in colour Bwana Devil (1952) that went on to won the Guinness World Record in that year.

Strange Holiday is based on his radio play This Precious Freedom in a storyline that became almost commonplace during the Cold War; most notably Ray Milland’s Panic in the Year Zero (1962), which also depicts a foreign attack on the United States while a family guy is vacationing out of town.

One potentially fascinating scene finds examiner Martin Kosleck – who had already played Dr Goebbels in Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939) – now in charge. The potentially provocative idea that he was just an opportunist newly emerged from the woodwork to do the New Order’s bidding raised the intriguing question of where he had been before Rains’ vacation is unfortunately promptly undermined by the speech he then launches into in which he declares “We who believed in our destiny hid and waited”. So he becomes a fifth columnist rather than a collaborator. Richard Chatten

Arch Oboler (1909-87)

The Interrupted Journey (1949) ***

Dir: Daniel Birt | UK Thriller, 80′

A title that the producers once thought for The Interrupted Journey is The Cord. And in some ways it better describes this compelling nightmarish noir directed by Daniel Birt. A writer eloping with his lover pulls the alarm cord on a late night train throwing his future into doubt and implicating himself in a murder. But did the man really pull the cord, or was it just a dream?

Richard Todd stars alongside Valerie Hobson in this British crime thriller a follow up to No Room at the Inn (1948). Todd is budding author John North in love with his publisher’s wife Susan (Norden) while still married to Carol (Hobson). At a certain point in their train getaway the communication cord is pulled twice. But mystery surrounds who actually pulled the cord that stopped the train, resulting in a crash, or perhaps only a temporary standstill? And did such a thing really happen after all?

The pulling of that emergency cord is nevertheless pivotal to the storyline and its conclusion. The Interrupted Journey’s dramatic twists or contrived let-downs (depending on your point of view) reveal an intriguing dilemma between the depiction of dreams in cinema, and the consequences for realising a plausible thriller. But does this really matter – if you successfully create your own invented world you’ll carry the audience with you? Hitchcock did this time and time again.

At this point if you don’t want to hear spoilers, then stop reading and head straight to the conclusion. In the meantime, let’s examine the plot. John North leaves his wife and runs away with Susan Wilding. On the train he gets cold feet, pulls the communication cord and leaves the carriage. The emergency stop causes a major collision with another train causing considerable casualties. North confesses to Carol that he planned to leave her for another woman. The police discover that Susan was shot dead before the crash. The authorities try to arrest North. He tracks down Susan’s husband Clayton (Tom Walls) who didn’t die in the collision and is  the real murderer, who then goes on to shoot North. At this point North wakes up on the train to discover it’s all been a very bad dream. Susan realises that John isn’t prepared to leave his wife. She pulls the cord, the train stops, and John returns home to his wife and a potentially happy ending.

Looking through the reactions of reviewers in IMDB there is a clear divide between those who go with the dream theory and those who don’t. So is the film’s finale insipid or intriguing? I’m on the side of an intriguing dream narrative because the film’s sense of reality is constantly being subverted by a nightmarish apprehension. John Pertwee, in a supposed real sequence of events, seeds his script with self-conscious references to dreaming: all these dream pointers become more apparent on revisiting The Interrupted Journey.

“Now I know it’s a nightmare.’ says Carol to John when she realises the police are on his tail. At this point we cut to a strong reaction shot of Carol that conveys a sense of displacement from her surroundings – we leave her home to go to an insert of an ill-defined studio space where she might in fact be dreaming. She then says angrily, “You shouldn’t talk in your sleep”. This refers back to John’s sleep-talking while in bed with his wife. But he’s talking about Susan, having returned from the train crash.

So we have North’s guilt creating a dream within dream. And Carol’s anxiety about the reality she is experiencing. Such ambiguity is subtly drawn and paced by Michael Pertwee’s deft script, Daniel Birt’s fluid direction and Irwin Hillier’s expressive photography.

There are other small details in The Interrupted Journey that make for a dreamlike atmosphere. Just before the runaway couple board their train they order coffee and cakes in the station cafe. Susan notices that the coffee tastes more like tea, and they leave with their rock cakes uneaten. Later at North’s home, the railway official who has come to investigate the crash is offered the rock cakes, with a cup of tea, as Carol remarks– “Well you can’t just throw rock cakes at detectives!” (A memorable line!)  – leftover food and coffee masquerading as tea help to create an uneasy dream-sense of surreal repetition.

Another small detail is the North’s grandfather clock that runs ten minutes slow. This features at the beginning of the film and John casually reminds himself to get it fixed one day. Yet near the climax Carol corrects the time from nine fifty to ten o’clock: a routine reality, hence normality is restored for Carol and John’s relationship. He has arrived home and there wasn’t a crash. But, for a moment, Todd is disturbed by the hooting of the passing train  (a lovely edgy twist here). Was it really a dream? Will reality kick in? It does kick in but not for a crash to happen again but only to create a short halt on the track. John’s relieved and embraces his wife. But there is the small matter of him having (in reality?) mailed Carol a letter explaining his affair with Susan. And that letter will arrive in the morning post – now only in the thoughts of the audience: requiring an explanation, long after the credits have rolled up. But will Richard Todd be able to destroy the letter before Valerie Hobson sees it, as he did, once before, in the bad reality or bad dream he suffered earlier?

Two films, both made in 1945, immediately come to mind as having possibly influenced The Interrupted Journey and they are Dead of Night (1945) and Lang’s The Woman in the Window. (1944). A further link with Lang is photographer Irwin Hillier who worked with the director on M (1931) at the UFA studios and later with Michael Powell supplying luminous photography for Powell and Pressburger’s A Canterbury Tale (1944), and I know where I’m going. Hillier contributes strongly to the sweaty, expressionist fear experienced here by North, through often beautiful lighting and a palpable subjective camera positioning.

More than likely then that Daniel Birt and Michael Pertwee watched those earlier films – a supernatural chiller and a noir of sexual obsession. In The Woman in the Window a murder, committed by Edward G.Robinson, proves to be a nightmare after his waking up to the chiming of a clock in his gentleman’s club (Fritz Lang has convincingly defended his film’s happy ending, for like The Interrupted Journey, I feel there is a wish-fulfilment fantasy at play here). And in Dead of Night we are left with the cyclic horror of repetition on discovering we will never wake up from the architect’s nightmare – but we will, sooner or later, awake from our train reverie..

The Interrupted Journey may hints at no way out yet never descends into morbid psychological horror. And like Woman in the Window, Birt’s melodrama combines thrills with romantic desire and emotional fulfilment. Underneath the trappings of a brilliantly shot and excellently acted noir, marital longing and rejection flourish in Valerie Hobson’s wonderful performance. She was often criticised for portraying the decent, domesticated wife in British Cinema. Yet here she touchingly plays that role with a warmth and unsentimental honesty that convinces us of her sincere love for the Richard Todd character. The railway official repeatedly says to John North, “Don’t you know you have woman in a million?” And this reminder of Carol’s affection and concern voiced by a stranger who soon turns into a prosecutor intent on extracting not only a murder confession from North, but also an acknowledge of his love for a devoted wife. The Interrupted Journey is never a case of surreal ‘amour fou’, more an intense request for fidelity of an English and very late-forties kind. Think of David Lean’s Brief Encounter rather than Luis Bunuel.

The Interrupted Journey is by no means a masterpiece. Its dream content is never as coherently realised as The Woman in the Window nor does it ever suggest a satisfying Freudian sub-text. It can best be described as a modest, technically astute and enjoyably intuitive but finally not as psychologically complex as the Lang feature. Yet as with Lang the film exudes a confident sense of the working out of fate, alternative outcomes and, unlike Lang, the power and responsibility of love.

Coming straight after Birt’s 1948 films No Room at the Inn and Three Weird Sisters then The Interrupted Journey strongly completes a strange threesome, and is by any standards a remarkable directorial achievement for British Cinema in the post war era. And you can currently join the journey and pull, in disappointment or pleasure, its regulation cord, on Talking Pictures TV or Youtube. © ALAN PRICE

Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1983) Mubi

Dir.: Nagisa Ôshima; Cast: David Bowie, Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Takeshi Kitano, Jack Thompson, Johnny Okura; Japan/UK/New Zealand 1983, 123 min.

David Bowie is the star of this emotional rollercoaster from Japanese New Wave director Nagisa Ôshima (1932-2013) also known for Empire of Passion.

Mr. Lawrence has aged very well and has lost nothing of its impact as an analysis of male short-comings. Adapted from Laurens van Der Post’s The Seed and the Sower, the film takes place in a Japanese POW camp during the Second World War and is centred on four men: British POWs Major Jack ‘Strafer’ Celliers (Bowie) and Lt. Col. John Lawrence (Conti), and two Japanese soldiers, camp commander Capt. Yonoi (Sakamoto, who also composed the score) and sergeant Gengo Hara, a brute with a softer side.

Group Captain Hicksley (Thompson), the camp’s highest ranking officer and the spokesmen for the prisoners plays a minor, but catalysing role. Celliers’ stubbornness sees him locked in a battle of wills with the camp’s new commandant, a man obsessed with discipline and the glory of Imperial Japan. Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence (Tom Conti) is the only inmate with a degree of sympathy for Japanese culture and an understanding of the language, and attempts to bridge the divide through his friendship with Yonoi’s second-in-command, Sergeant Hara (Takeshi Kitano), a man possessing a surprising degree of compassion beneath his cruel façade. Celliers is also living with a guilty secret: he has betrayed his younger brother at boarding school. Captain Yonoi is also secretly ashamed of himself for being part of a military uprising in 1936, but unlike his comrades-in-arms, he escaped execution. Yonei develops a homo-erotic crush on Celliers, provoking him into a duel with the salve: “if you kill me, you will be free”. Celliers declines.

When a secret radio is discovered at the base, Yonoi makes Celliers and Lawrence take responsibility, sentencing them to death. But on Christmas Day, Hara frees the two prisoners, wishing Lawrence a titular “Merry Christmas”. Hara gets a light ticking off for showing mercy. But when Group Captain Hicksley learns about Yonoi’s plan to replace him, a fracas develops with the Japanese camp commander ordering Hicksley to have all men stand up on the parade ground, including the sick. When Hicksley refuses, Yonoi wants to kill him, but Celliers kisses him on the cheek. With his honour in tatters, Yonoi retreats and is replaced as camp commandant who doesn’t give Celliers such a wide birth, “unlike my predecessor, I am not a romantic” and buries Celliers up to his neck in sand as a punishment.

At an epilogue set in 1946, Lawrence makes a trip to visit Hara who has been sentenced to death. Yonoi has already been executed, and Hara tells Lawrence that Yonoi gave him the lock from Celliers hair to place in a shrine in Yonoi’s home village.

David Bowie commented later that during the shooting he had been surprised Ôshima only showed the perimeters of the prison camp – yet when he saw the film afterwards he was able to appreciate how much more terrifying the threat of the compound was in contrast to the detail of the camp itself. DoP Toichiro Naushima (Double Suicide) shows how the mens’ emotions reflect the harshness of their surroundings (filming took place on the Polynesian island of Rarotonga) by continuously changing the angles of close-ups and the long tracking shots. Merry Christmas avoids the moral judgements made by David Lean on Bridge on the River Kwai.  In his valedictory chat to Hara, Lawrence makes a shrewd observation: “there are times when victory is very hard to take“. Ôshima always keeps the balance, avoiding sentimentality, without shrinking from this very emotional conflict. AS  

NOW ON MUBI 

                                        

   

 

 

Curse of the Cat People (1944) **** BBC iPlayer

Dir.: Robert Wise, Gunther von Fritsch; Cast: Ann Carter, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, Simone Simon, Julia Dean, Elizabeth Russell, Eve March); USA 1944, 68 min.

The Curse of the Cat People launched Robert Wise and Austro-Hungarian Gunter von Fritsch as directors. Wise would make a further 38 features in a career which went on until 1989, winning two Oscars for Sound of Music and West Side Story. Von Fritsch, would be less prolific: he managed to complete half the film in the allotted 18 days of the schedule, but would only occupy the director’s chair on three more occasions before a TV career beckoned, and retirement in 1970.

Most people agree that not calling the feature The Curse of the Cat People and selling it as a sequel to the classic Cat People (1942), would have enhanced the fantasy thriller’s reputation. But it was an opportunity for Val Lewton to re-unite writer de Witt Bodeen, cameraman Nicolas Musuraca, as well the actors Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph and Elizabeth Russell from Cat People so the outcome was a done deal:  Hollywood’s way of selling sequels was already long established. The Curse references events from Cat People, but is anything but a horror movie, even though it drifts that way in the end. Overall Curse is much nearer to Lewton’s production of Ghost Ship, and ironically was set in a place called Sleepy Hollow.

Curse begins seven years after the tragic events of Cat People: Oliver Reed (Smith) and his workmate Alice Reed (Randolph) have a six-year old daughter Amy (Carter). The family lives in rural New England, where Amy is at prep school. She has the tendency to daydream, rather like his first wife Irena whose traumatic death still haunts him.  And Irena becomes Amy’s imaginary friend, after Oliver burns her photos to obliterate his past. Amy wanders into the gloomy mansion of ageing actor Julia Farren (Dean) and her daughter Barbara (Russell), and befriends them after being rejected by her school chums. But Julia had trouble in excepting that Barbara is her daughter, showing more empathy with Amy, and causing Barbara to mutter “I will kill the brat, if she appears again”. After the Amy gets her first (off-screen) ‘spanking’ from her father over her fantasy of Irena (Simon) appearing to her in the garden, the little girl runs away into woods and meets Barbara who is only too willing to make her promise come true.

DoP Nicholas Musuraca creates a parallel universe to that of Cat People. Although the panther scenes there intrude into a world of hyper-realism shared by Oliver and Alice share, that leaves Irena as the outsider. Curse shows a family which looks perfectly normal to the outside, but is crippled by Oliver’s inability to come to terms with the past. Then, there is the voice of reason that comes courtesy of Amy’s teacher Mrs. Callaghan (March), Oliver rejecting her rather modern approach. Irena is much more benign fantasy than Cat People‘s Panther. In analytical terms, Irena is a much better mother than the rational Alice, who, like her husband, has not worked through the events leading to her marriage with Oliver: she is deeply suspicious that Oliver is still under Irena’s spell, and therefore punishes Amy, just to show just the opposite. Furthermore, the Irena sequences in Curse are the total inversion of its predecessor: Irena here is about peace and harmony, while her Panther ego was just the opposite. Curse also demonstrates that Oliver has not learned very much from his experience with Irena: he still  not able to show empathy for those who do not share his “pragmatic” approach to life. His inability to realise that emotions are the most important qualities human’s possess, costs Irena her, and now threatens that of his daughter.

When all is said and done, Curse of the Cat People is anything but a sequel to Cat People: it’s a story about loneliness, repression and denial – both the Farrens and the Reeds have much more I common than at first glance. AS

NOW ON BBC iPlayer

 

    

The Velvet Touch (1948) **** BBC iplayer

Dir.: Jack Gage; Cast: Rosalind Russell, Leo Glenn, Sydney Greenstreet, Claire Trevor, Leon Ames; USA 1948, 100 min.

This is certainly a collector’s item: The Velvet Touch was a one hit wonder from Jack Gage (1912-1989). He spent the rest of his career in TV (Jane Eyre 1952), having started as a dialogue coach in Hollywood where he met Rosalind Russell, during the shooting of Mourning becomes Electra, persuading her to star in The Velvet Touch, based on script by Leo Rosten and Walter Reilly.

Valerie Stanton (Russell) is a comedy actress Broadway where her lover the impresario Gordon Danning (Ames) made her a star. But when she falls for British architect Michael Morrell (Genn), who encourages her to play the title role in Hedda Gabler, fostering her dreams of succeeding on the stage. But Danning won’t let Valerie go, and during an angry scene in her changing room, she accidentally kills him with one of her award trophies. Earlier in the day Danning had had a tiff with his ex Marian Webster (Trevor), who is now the number one suspect – or is the police detective Captain Danbury just playing a clever game to flush out the real killer?. Valerie is taken to hospital in shock while Captain Danbury (Greenstreet) interrogates everyone who had been there the night before in theatre. After visiting Valerie, Marian takes her own life. But on the night of the premiere of Hedda Gabler, the story takes an unexpected turn and one that reveals Valerie’s true colours.

Sidney Greenstreet steals the show: his presence alone is enough for him to dominate the proceedings. We are never quite sure if he knows the truth from the beginning, toying with Valerie like a cat with a mouse. DoP Joseph Walker (His Girl Friday, Only Angels have Wings) uses the theatre as a brilliant background for intricate black-and-white images, and  Russell manages some emotional depths, Gage directing with great flair. The Velvet Touch is a sparkling gem, and certainly one of the more memorable noir-films of the genre’s hayday. AS

NOW ON BBCiPlayer       

Don’t Look Now (1973) *****

Dir: Nicholas Roeg | Writers: Alan Scott, Chris Bryant | Cast: Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland, Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania | Fantasy Horror, UK 110’

Nicolas Roeg based his achingly tragic supernatural drama on a short story by Daphne du Maurier. It sees a grieving couple burying their sorrows in Italy after their small daughter drowns at home in Suffolk, wearing a shiny new mackintosh. John, an architect, has been commissioned to restore a church and Venice is eerie and beguiling in the out of season mists. But soon a doom-laden warning from a two English women, one of them a blind psychic, takes them off guard shrouding their bereavement in fear and but bringing Laura (Christie) a strange sense of hope in the shape of premonitions. But soon further torment seems unavoidable as the past and the future collide.

 As a wave of killings haunts the city, Laura returns to England to visit their son after an accident at his school. But the premonitions don’t stop: John suffers a near-fatal accident high on the church scaffolding, and then he glimpses his wife, supposedly hundreds of miles away, on a private launch flanked by the two mysterious sisters. The local police are intrigued by and even sympathetic to his story, but cannot help. As Venice and his fate closes in on John, illusion, reality and sudden terror spiral the story to its grotesque climax, as the design in director Nicolas Roeg’s mosaic becomes unforgettably clear.

Don’t look now is a richly romantic and deeply sorrowful story of love, longing and quiet desperation Imbued with ominous motifs and Roeg’s evocative visual style. Fate seems inescapable in this  dreamlike place where time stands still and unsettling silence is occasionally broken by a bird in flight or a banging door. A whiff of atavistic evil lurks at every lonely corner undermining the power of love and casting a dark pall over the couple’s attempts to discover the truth as they are gradually drawn into a web of mystery and horror. It’s a dignified, discreet and well bred terror, but it’s terrifying all the same.

Christie and Sutherland exude a captivating chemistry drowning in this kindgom of the senses the mood gradually escalating in into a mood of horror and disbelief surrounding their dead daughter. MT

4K ULTRA HD RESTORATION BACK IN CINEMAS JULY 5 COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL | AVAILABLE ON BLURAY, DVD, COLLECTOR’s EDITION and EST JULY 29

https://youtu.be/xXP8OaJGxrM

Jean-Pierre Léaud | Tribute | Bergamo Film Meeting 2019

Jean-Pierre Léaud (*1944) is widely known as the face of the French Nouvelle Vague. During his impressive career he made seven film with François Truffaut and eight with Jean-Luc Godard. But the indie directors of the 1990s have continued to fascinate him and more recently he has appeared in Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre (2011) and Ming-liang Tsai’s Face (2009) and the upcoming comedy from Walter Veltroni C’e Tempo (2019).

Leaud’s transition from juvenile hero to mature character actor is quite amazing: his performance as the dying Louis XIV in Albert Serra’s La Morte du Louis XIV (2016) is stunning, and the antithesis to his very beginnings. Whilst avoided the glitz of international stardom, he has enchanted six centuries of European filmmaking.

After his debut as Pierrot in Georges Lampin’s King on horseback (1958), he was to meet François Truffaut: an encounter which would change both their lives. The sly rebel, as Truffaut called himself, had met the revolutionary of the frontal attack. After filming wrapped on Les Quatre cents Coups (400 Blows) in 1959, Truffaut took charge of Léaud who was fast becoming a social outcast. The young man had been expelled from school, his parental home and a foster family. And this trauma feeds into the narrative of 400 Blows, a black-and-white hymn to adolescence. Léaud’s Antoine steals and lies his way through a drama which  ends on the run-away Antoine facing the sea. It’s one of the most impressive finales in film history. The pairing of Truffaut and Léaud would manifest itself best in the Antoine Doinel trilogy – Baisers Volés (1968), Domicile Conjugal (1970) and L’Amour en fuite (1979), both men growing up together in a strange sort of way.

In 1966 Léaud would star in Godard’s Masculin, feminin: 15 Faits Précis, winning a Silver Bear for Best Actor at the Berlinale for his role as Paul, who is in a ménage-a-quatre with three women in a contemporary Paris. Loosely based on Maupassant’s short stories, this feature was the beginning of the break Godard would make with narrative cinema. Also called The Children of Marx and Coca Cola (an inter-title of the feature), sex and politics are at the core. Léaud is fragile, and the lighting shows him as beautiful and vulnerable as the three women, Madeleine (Chantal Goya), Catherine (Isabelle Duport) and Elisabeth (Marlene Jobert). All four main protagonists have very different plans for the future, when their agendas collide. There is immense elegance and beauty here  (DoP Willy Kurant), and Godard treats his actors (perhaps for the last time) with more care than in the verbal politics of later films. Pauline Kael called it “that rare achievement: a work of grace in a contemporary setting” and for Andrew Sarris it was “the film of the season”.

A year later Godard would cast Léaud as part of a group in La Chinoise (1967), this time surrounded by two women and two men, but with a very much harsher political focus. Based on Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed, this was Godard’s first adventure into Maoism. Léaud is Guillaume, in love with Veronique (Anne Wiazemsky), who has a much stronger personality than him, and will finally leave him. Kirilov (Lex de Bruijin), is the weakest of the trio and he will kill himself, as in the novel. Léaud’s Guillaume is in love with Veronique, but he is very much a man of clever words, but little action. Veronique on the other hand, is much braver, and decides in the end to assassinate the Russian Cultural minister on a visit to Paris. But he mixes up the numbers of his hotel room, and kills the wrong man. Wiazemsky, the grand daughter of novelist Andrew Malraux, then the Gaullist minister for Culture, fell in love with Godard, and the couple married after the shooting. As an in-joke, Godard casts Francis Jeanson in the film (Wiazemsky’s philosophy lecturer at the Paris 10 (Nanterre) University) having a debate with Veronique while on her way to assassinate the minister.

Pier Paolo Pasolino’s Porcile (1969) tells two parallel stories. The first is about a young cannibal who has killed his father. The second features Léaud as Julian Klotz, the son of German entrepreneur (Alberto Lionello), who is part of the German economic miracle after WWII. Julian’s fiancée Ida (Wiazemsky) is very much an early version of the Baader Meinhof Group, and tries in vain to agitate him. But Julian can’t stand people in general. He prefers the company of pigs, who will be his downfall. Léaud is again the angelic outsider, treating society with avoidance. He is so much more feminine than Ida, that the role reversal is quite breathtaking and Léaud carries his limited part with great sensitivity.

Truffaut’s 1973 outing La Nuit Americaine (Day for Night), is essentially about filmmaking, showing Léaud as the weak and self-obsessed actor Alphonse. During the filming of Je vous présente Pamela , a conventional weepie, he fancies leading lady Julie Baker (Jacqueline Bisset), who has recently had a breakdown. Out of pity she sleeps with him but Alphonse then ‘phones her analyst, Dr Nelson (David Markham), who has left his own family to live with her, and spills the beans on their fling. Léaud plays the histrionic weakling with great skill. And Truffaut, playing himself as the director, assumes the role of his protector – much as in real life. Godard, who by now had broken with his ex-friend Truffaut, called Day for Night “a big lie” – later the two founding fathers of the Nouvelle Vague fought over  Léaud who somehow survived the acrimony and went on to work with another enfant terrible, Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki.

I hired a Contract Killer (1990) was one of Kaurismaki’s first English language films and he made a beeline for Léaud in the lead role. The gamine actor of Day for Night had since changed dramatically. His slight, almost feminine appearance was gone, and he’d put on a substantial amount of weight – his acting too was from another dimension. He plays Henri Boulanger, an English Civil Servant, who is sacked after fifteen years of service due to privatisation. With no life outside his work, he tries – in vain – to commit suicide. Then asks a contract killer (Kenneth Colley) to step in. But Margaret (Margi Clarke) gives his life a new meaning. With time running out, Henri tries to contact the killer, to reverse the order. Léaud is totally morbid and emotionally reduced, the environment is straight out of the 1950s, the colours pale, bleached out by wear and tear. Léaud’s agile friskiness has been replaced by gentle placidness, making him look much older than forty-six. But his acting had matured too, and he slips easily into character roles nobody would have expected from him in his New Wave days. AS

BERGAMO FILM MEETING | 9-17 MARCH 2019

 

 

Bakumatsu Taiyo-Den (1957)

The Sun Legend Of The End Of The Tokugawa Era

Dir: Yuzo Kawashima | Script: Shohei Imamura | Cast: Frankie Sakai, Sachiko Hidari, Yoko minamida, Yujiro Ishihara, Izumi Ashikawa, Toshiyuki Ichimura, Nobuo Kaneko, Hisano Yamaoka | Comedy, Japan, 110mins

A prestigious Blue Ribbon for star comedian Frankie Sakai, a Japanese award set up in 1950 by the critics, little-known internationally, but very highly prized at home. It’s worth remarking that it also won top prizes at two other prestigious Japanese awards, the Kinema Junpo (Sakai-Best Actor) and Best Score for Toshiro Mayazumi at the Mainichi Film Concours.

Black and White, with English subtitles, Bakumatsu Taiyo-Den combines a variety of straight all the way through to broad slapstick comedy, almost in the ‘Carry On’ vein, with genuine drama, so to Western sensibilities it can feel quite uneven in tone. This said, in 1999, it was voted fifth greatest Japanese film of all time in Japan.

Japanese comedy is without doubt an acquired taste, but if you are self-assured in your points of reference within the Japanese milieu, then there is alot to be gained from this complex, layered, confident piece from director, Kawashima.

To offer a little of the homework necessary to frame this film, it is set mainly within the confines of a brothel in the Shinagawa District of Tokyo in 1862, six years before the fall of the (Tokugawa) Shogun Era; Japan lay under quasi-British occupation, to the understandable chagrin of the Japanese people.

At this time, prostitution was still legal and huge districts of brothels servicing the Samurai had existed for centuries. Bakumatsu Taiyo-Den is set at a time just before the fall of the Samurai, when the future of the country was uncertain and a steady living hard to come by, especially those in the service industries.

So, this red light district attracts all sorts; soldiers find themselves rubbing shoulders with superiors, relatives and even sworn enemies whilst hoping to snatch a little RnR from their hectic lives… hence providing the comedy and the drama, as the geisha’s swap rooms as fast as affections in a sometime successful attempt to keep several suitors sweet and thus scrape a living to pay the rent.

Into this cutthroat every-man-for-himself world of greedy landlords, resistance fighters and treacherous affections steps Sakai, ‘the Grifter’, a man who lives entirely on his wits, dancing on quicksand. He understands need and knows there’s a profit to be made in times of upheaval.

For me, it’s a question of taste. I’m happier to watch Ozu, Kurosawa, Koreeda, Kitano, Kobayashi, Mizoguchi… the broader comedy elements here left me unengaged and yet I marvelled at the accomplished depth and breadth of the film, as well as the performances of most of the cast. Without doubt, the inclusion of real drama is one of the reasons it has endured so well with audiences for so long. It refuses to be dismissed simply as a forgettable, nebulous Japanese comedy and the film will without doubt resonate with me for some time to come. If you like your pathos served with bathos, there’s certainly plenty here to enjoy. AT

The Masters of Cinema series on DVD and Blu-ray 

Scarecrow (1973)

Dir: Jerry Schatzberg | Wri: Garry Michael White | Cast: Gene Hackman, Al Pacino, Dorothy Tristan, Anne Wedgeworth, Richard Lynch, Eileen Brennan, Penelope Allen. Richard Hackman, Al Cingolani | US Drama    112mins”

It’s easy to see why Hackman and Pacino were drawn to this screenplay: it leaves so much scope for the actor to act. Indeed, Hackman cites Scarecrow as his favourite piece of work. The two of them are given full licence to get in some serious character work and went hitchhiking through California in hobo gear to scope out their roles.

The two hander is very much about their interplay, and the chemistry sparkles as this latter day ‘odd-couple’ busk their way across America, via goods trains, casual labour and hitching rides in open trucks.

Vilmos Zsigmond (The Deer Hunter) provides the cinematography, much of it beautiful long lens stuff extracting the max from the fabulous vistas the journeying buddies find themselves oblivious to.

Hackman’s Max is an ex-con hoping to get across to Pittsburgh to pick up a stash he salted away and set up in the carwash trade. Like tumbleweed, he bumps into ex-Sailor Francis (Pacino) on a dusty, windswept California road, waiting patiently for a ride into town. Any town. Sure enough their individual stories soon get spilled as there’s precious little else to do but talk to each other.

Chanelling Five Easy Pieces and Midnight Cowboy, it’s the story of a difficult mission promising nirvana at the rainbow’s end but although the performances are exemplary from two bonafide character actors in the finely observed minutiae of hobo life. There are several great scenes but all this cannot quite compensate for the lack of a plot and distinctly underwhelming ending.

Interestingly, the film did far better abroad than at home, where it tanked at the box office. That said, it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, Best Foreign Film at Bodil and at the prestigious Tokyo Kinema Junpo Awards; foreign audiences more accepting of this unorthodox, meandering approach to storytelling. What plot there is comes in the final third and, without giving anything away, isn’t in keeping with what we’ve already seen.

Already a big star for the likes of The French Connection and The Poseidon Adventure among many others, Hackman was sincerely disappointed by the film’s performance and vowed henceforth to do more commercial fare.

A great many of us look back at the Seventies through rose-tinted specs, but that isn’t to say they didn’t make the odd star-laden misstep, even then. Without Scarecrow’s undeniable star power, it would never have been considered for the award season. Accordingly, there are perhaps other more worthy 35mm sparklers sitting in cold, dark archives. Let’s hope they get an airing too. Worth seeing then, for vistas, scenes and perfs, but by no means a classic. AT

SCARECROW IS now on AMAZON PRIME

 

 

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

Dir: Frank Capra | Script: Francis Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra | Cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi, Frank Faylen, Ward Bond, Gloria Grahame, H.B. Warner, Frank Albertson | USA  1946 130mins Comedy Drama

History might argue this was not his finest film, as Capra bestrode the 1930’s like a colossus, previously winning Best Director at the Academy Awards no less than three times, but going away empty handed from this one, despite five nominations. Indeed, it was perceived as something of a flop upon its release, making a loss at the box office and marking the end of an extraordinary run of hit films and indeed an era, for Frank Capra. What however cannot be argued now, is the nascent and evergreen popularity of It’s A Wonderful Life for filmgoers now.

Now an Christmas chestnut, it is only since the early Seventies, when Wonderful Life fell into the public domain, that Capra’s unerring ability to portray emotional truth coupled with his absolute mastery of filmmaking as a craft enabled it at last to finally find its audience.

Quite aside from it being a staple Christmas movie and epitomising all that America stands for, what underlies is a Capra standard through and through containing surprisingly dark undertones for the day: A man George Bailey decides his life isn’t worth living seriously and contemplates suicide but his guardian angel then leads him through what life in his home town of Bedford Falls would have been like if he hadn’t existed. Tying this story in with the concept that any one person can effect change for the better in the face of overwhelming odds, and you have both a Capra classic and the recipe for some serious ‘feelgood’.

In interview, Capra stated that he was against: “mass entertainment, mass production, mass education, mass everything. Especially mass man. I was fighting for, in a sense, the preservation of the liberty of the individual person against the mass.”

Capra was born in Sicily in 1897 and came over to America penniless, in the stinking bowels of a ship at the tender age of six. He worked very hard, under terrible privation for many years; his father dying in a dreadful factory accident when he was just 15. But he also studied hard against the wishes of his parents, it must be said, but made good and then worked as writer, as an editor and even as an extra on many films, before finally getting a go at directing. He described filmmaking as akin to drug addiction; once it was in your bloodstream…that was it.

And a brilliant filmmaker he was. He made some extraordinary documentaries during the war and a string of feature hits, working with the biggest actors of the day, from Frank Sinatra to Clarke Gable, Cary Grant, Barbara Stanwyck and of course the great Jimmy Stewart. But he was also directly responsible for dragging the medium of film forward; just as the silent era was ending, he was changing the way films were conceived and shot, jumping characters in and out of scenes instead of waiting for them to walk in and out of rooms. Of overlapping dialogue to make it feel both more natural, but also picking up the pace of storytelling and again, moving away from the staged play. The Directors Guild of America voted him a lifetime membership in 1941 and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1959.

Capra will always have his detractors; those that saw his brand of filmmaking too saccharine, but as he saw it, life was tough and cinema was the perfect place for escaping, if only for a short while. And it was by his focusing on the emotional and moral issues his protagonists faced; conflict between cynicism and the protagonist’s faith or idealism, that has made this film in particular endure for so long with audiences. Well, that and Jimmy Stewart.

In short, be unmoved by this film and there has to be something wrong with you. AT

NOW ON

 

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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