Friday, 26 September 2014
MACHINE GUN KELLY (1958) Directed by Roger Corman. ***
I've always had a strong affection for Roger Corman's early efforts and, for me, MACHINE GUN KELLY stands out as one of the best. I first saw it at the National Film Theatre many, many years ago and liked it then. It has a lot going for it. In the first place, unlike many of the other Corman's of the period, there is no element of humour in it - this one is serious business. It is very nicely shot and tightly edited - the opening wordless bank heist and getaway is a mini-masterclass in economy. And the cast is really excellent. Charles Bronson heads the list as the death-haunted Kelly and he is ably backed up by Susan Cabot as his Lady MacBeth moll. His gang consists of Morey Amsterdam, Jack Lambert, Richard Devon and Frank DeKova - all outstanding. The film may not bear much resemblance to the career of the real George "Machine Gun" Kelly and it is hard to imagine why Corman let slip on Kelly's famous cry of "Don't shoot G-Men" but otherwise this is bargain basement film-making at its best.
Thursday, 4 September 2014
I've been away on holiday and sadly have not seen much in the way of movies beyond the recent CAPTAIN PHILLIPS starring Tom Hanks which I recommend to anybody who hasn't seen it. I feel I must say something about Richard Attenborough who died while I was away. Since his tearful Oscar speech he has often been viewed as something of a figure of fun or the ultimate "luvvie" which somewhat overshadows his many achievements and his major contributions to British cinema both as an actor and director. For me, the acting was the most important and I have many favourite performances from his sinister Pinkie in BRIGHTON ROCK (above) through such films as SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON, LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, 10 RILLINGTON PLACE, THE GREAT ESCAPE and his wonderful performance as an old school Sergeant Major in THE GUNS OF BATASI. There were a few duds along the way such as the misconceived remake of MIRACLE OF 34th STREET (a film he reportedly loathed) but, to be fair, they were few and far between and often it was Attenborough's performance that one remembered long after the rest of the movie had, thankfully, been erased from your mind...I still love his bit in DR>DOLITTLE. His films as a director were usually big star-studded extravaganzas from OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR, GANDHI (which many think was his crowning achievement) to CHAPLIN and A BRIDGE TO FAR and for the most part they were passionately felt projects...certainly they are all very watchable. RIP
Friday, 15 August 2014
BOBBY (2006) Directed by Emilio Estevez. ****
BOBBY is Bobby Kennedy and Emilio Estevez's film chronicles the day of his assassination. However the film chooses not to follow Kennedy (who is not dramatically portrayed in the film) but instead to concentrate on the other people who were shot on that day in the hotel kitchen and their reasons for being there. It must be stated that although these people existed the characters who represent them in the film are fictional substitutes - with the possible exception of the young Mexican kitchen hand. Some have complained that it is difficult to be interested in the details of these people's lives while such dramatic historical events are unfolding, but I think they miss the point of the film that Estevez set out to make. Whatever one's feelings about the Kennedys both JFK and Bobby represented to many American's the hopes, dreams and aspirations they had for a better, fairer and more just country. If the JFK Camelot dream was wiped away in Dallas, Bobby offered a second chance - and that is what this film is about - about the people's dreams. I found the film supremely moving in much the same way that Emilio's earlier directorial effort, THE WAY was. Both films are quietly subversive inasmuch as they get under your skin and make you think of things that lay beneath the surface - just as THE WAY was "not about religion" (to quote one of that film's characters) so BOBBY is not about politics, it is about much, much more. The cast is quite phenomenal : William H. Macy, Anthony Hopkins (who also produced), Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen, Sharon Stone, Harry Belafone, Elijah Wood, Laurence Fishburne, Helen Hunt, Lindsay Lohan, Shia LaBeouf and many others.
Saturday, 2 August 2014
WALK LIKE A DRAGON (1960) Directed by James Clavell. **
What a strange career James Clavell had. It is hard to believe that the director of this interesting little film was also responsible for TO SIR WITH LOVE - although both films show in interest in racial issues. WALK LIKE A DRAGON was the second film to feature the young James Shigeta (who died last week) following Sam Fuller's THE CRIMSON KIMONO which was made the previous year. Both films deal with inter-racial relationships. While KIMONO was probably the braver film for the time inasmuch as the Nissei detective (played by Shigeta) was allowed to get the caucasian girl over his white buddy, it is DRAGON that goes into the subject of prejudice in greater depth. Shigeta plays a young Chinese who goes to the American West in the 1870's and finds himself in a love triangle with a girl freed from slavery and her employer with whom she has fallen in love. Shigeta takes to the gun under the tutelage of a gunfighter (surprisingly played by singer Mel Torme) and the girl (the lovely Nobu McCarthy) has to choose between the two men to avoid bloodshed. interesting to see Jack Lord, in his pre-HAWAII 5-0 days, as the third side of the triangle. The direction by Clavell is pretty pedestrian but the film deserves praise for its willingness to deal with a controversial subject in an intelligent way.
Thursday, 31 July 2014
My dear friend, Ian Dean, passed away in Southend Hospital last Friday at the far too young age of fifty-three. Ian was one of my film viewing companions. His passion was anything to do with musicals - a subject about which he knew almost everything there is to know whether it was film or stage. Ian was a larger than life character, an extrovert some days and introvert others - depending on which way the wind was blowing.
A cat lover, a devout Christian, flamboyant, camp, funny, a lover of Shakespeare and the classics. His favourite film of all-time was probably THE WIZARD OF OZ but some days he would swear it was Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS - the latter reflecting his love of silent films. We watched countless films together and although I introduced him to many of those films, Ian was his own man and he was never slow to speak up if he didn't like something - he hated anything set in Outer Space (although he liked earth bound sci-fi) and he absolutely refused to watch anything starring Kevin Costner. There were many films he still wanted to see, both old and new but more than anything he was looking forward to the forthcoming film adaption of Stephen Sondheim's INTO THE WOODS. I shall miss him more than I can say. R.I.P Ian.
Monday, 21 July 2014
LE TROU / The Hole (1960) Directed by Jacques Becker. ****
Another cracking prison escape drama based on a true story, this time one that happened in 1949. Four long term inmates are about to put their escape plan into action when a new arrival is put in their cell. Is he a snitch or can he be trusted? Eventually they decide to trust him and the film meticulously shows us the work the men have to do to put their plan into action. Becker (CASQUE D'OR and GRISBI) is content to hold on a man digging through rock for minutes on end and it certainly heightens the suspense because we, the audience, genuinely feel the effort involved (thankfully not physically!). There is obviously more to the story and I don't want to give anything away. Terrific performances by the entire cast (which includes Philipe LeRoy and Michael Constantine). Like A MAN ESCAPED, a classic prison drama.
Friday, 18 July 2014
UN CONDAMNE A MORT S'EST ESCHAPPE/ A Man Escaped **** (1956) Directed by Robert Bresson.
I have to admit that I've never really fallen under the spell of Robert Bresson. I certainly don't dismiss his talent as many knowledgeable people take him very seriously (perhaps not as seriously as Bresson takes himself), including Louis Malle and Paul Schrader. I have enjoyed both LES DAMES DU BOIS DE BOULOGNE (from a Cocteau script) and PICKPOCKET, both of which are in my collection, but his later films have never held much of an attraction despite their high ratings. Having said that, I must say I loved A MAN ESCAPED and watched it twice within twenty-four hours. The plot (based on a true story) tells of a resistance operative imprisoned by the nazis in Lyon in 1943 and the film meticulously depicts his efforts to escape - made even more urgent when he is condemned to death. I found the whole film very suspenseful and the tension is in no way diminished buy knowing the outcome - it's not so much "will he do it" as "how will he do it." Bresson's style is minimalist and any acts of violence take place off screen. Francois Letterier conveys a whole world of emotion with very little expression (watch his eyes) although he was not a professional actor, only making one more film, Alain Resnais' STAVISKY, although he went on to have a successful career as a screenwriter. On my first viewing I couldn't understand why he looked so familiar until I realised he bore a striking resemblance to a young Alan Alda. I'm sure that somewhere this film is called an existential classic. I wouldn't argue with that assessment but I'll settle for nail biting thriller.