Thursday, 3 September 2015
MR. TURNER (2014) Directed by Mike Leigh. ****
I am not Mike Leigh's greatest admirer, something about his work irritates me. The early scenes of MR. TURNER are immaculately rendered vignettes of scenes from Turner's life, undeniably brilliant but lacking in context - like looking into the past but with no guide to explain what you are seeing, scenes which seem to be going somewhere then suddenly cut to something else. Yes, I began to get irritated, no doubt looking for some reason for disliking this Mike Leigh effort. This was no doubt compounded by my fond memories of the 1970's television film, THE SUN IS GOD based on the same subject and starring Leo McKern as Turner. However as the film progressed I was won over and thankfully Leigh begins to reveal some depth to his depiction of the great artist helped by the extraordinary performance by Timothy Spall. The film is funny, moving and, ultimately, distressing in equal parts. The scenes of encounters between the curmudgeonly Turner and such comtemporaries as Constable and Ruskin stick in the mind along with the amazing reconstruction of Victorian London - well worth watching the excellent "Making of" documentary if only to see how the remarkable set of the Royal Academy Exhibition at Somerset House was achieved. Okay, Mr. Leigh,
you win, I surrender. This is a terrific film.
Thursday, 13 August 2015
THE GREAT CARUSO (1951) Directed by Richard Thorpe ***
THE GREAT CARUSO is certainly no masterpiece but if you are a fan of its star, Mario Lanza, it is a must see. The film is a typical Hollywood hagiography about the life of Enrico Caruso. An example of just how Caruso's life has been airbrushed is the complete omission of his long affair with soprano Ada Giachetti and his four illegitimate children by her, but that's Hollywood for you - one only has to think of other Hollywood biopics of the same period such as NIGHT AND DAY(Cole Porter) and THE MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES (Lon Chaney). Of course, MGM was more interested in getting Mario Lanza on the screen than it was in telling the story of Caruso. That said, the singing is in good hands and Lanza is more than capable of doing the arias in the operatic scenes justice and Ann Blyth in what is essentially a non-singing role (just one song). As usual Thorpe's direction is efficient but pedestrian. It's all about its star and his voice so if you are a fan you'll love it. If not......well.
Monday, 10 August 2015
ALEXANDER THE GREAT (1956) Directed by Robert Rossen ***
No, not the Colin Farrell starrer of a few years back but a rather interesting version of the story by American director Robert Rossen filmed in 1956 with a mainly British and European cast (the main exception is Frederic March as Philip of Macedonia. Not great by any means but very watchable with a nice script that compresses history more than it mangles it - the characters of Roxane and Barsine both appear here while many historians believe they were the same person and, as one might expect there is no hint of Alexander's bisexuality. Besides Burton, Claire Bloom and the aforementioned March there is Niall MacGinnis, Stanley Baker, Peter Wyngarde, Harry Andrews, Peter Cushing and Helmut Dantine (the latter's voice being dubbed by Christopher Lee).
Sunday, 9 August 2015
NINOTCHKA (1939) Directed by Ernst Lubitsch ***
I start my second review in a row with a confession. I have never been won over by the charm of the films of Ernst Lubitsch. I'm sure that the fault is entirely mine but I suppose we all have blind spots.
On the other hand, like many others, I adore Greta Garbo, although I came to her films only a few years ago when a friend passed on an unwanted present to me - a box set of her famous films. I loved QUEEN CHRISTINA, MATA HARI, ANNA KARENINA and ANNA CHRISTIE - only NINOTCHKA was missing. It has wonderful performances to be sure (even a brief one scene appearance by Bela Lugosi as a Russian Kommisar!) but except for the famous "Garbo laughs" scene (illustrated above) I remained unmoved and even a little impatient for it to end - perhaps I stuck with it to see Lugosi whose scene comes near the end of the film. I'm sure it is the masterpiece so many claim it to be. The plot about a female Russian official who is slowly "humanised" by Western culture and the love of a man has been used many times since in a musical remake (SILK STOCKINGS) with Cyd Charrise and Fred Astaire and a rather less successful film starring Bob Hope and Kartharine Hepburn and a disastrous one starring John Wayne and Janet Leigh.
Friday, 7 August 2015
THE STUDENT PRINCE (1954) Directed by Richard Thorpe. ***
Up front, I'll say that this is not my type of film, despite my huge admiration for the wonderful tenor voice of Mario Lanza. There are conflicting stories about why Lanza did not appear in the film himself as originally intended, including a conflict with the director (whether this was Thorpe or the original director, Curtis Bernhardt, is unknown) over how the songs should be sung. The more likely reason was Lanza's continuing weight problems. Edmund Purdom lip-synch's perfectly and all the cast are more than up to what is essentially a light weight piece of nonsense. Musically the film has two outstanding moments, the rousing "Drink, Drink" and the beautiful "I'll Walk with God", both have rarely, if ever, sounded better.
Thursday, 6 August 2015
R.I.P. Michel Parry (1947-2014)
Today I began to make a list of the people with whom, over many years, I have enjoyed watching films with or talking about films to. Out of curiosity I decided to see if any of those I was no longer in touch with were on Facebook. Imagine my shock when I discovered that one of them had passed away only last November. Michel Parry was never a close friend but we often talked about movies and we had many mutual friends and were both part of an extended group of fans who often hung around together in the 1960's. Michel went on to make a career out of the fantasy books and films that he loved as novelist, an anthologist and a screenwriter. We last spoke several years ago and discussed the possibility of him visiting me in Westcliff, sadly that visit it happened. R.I.P.
Tuesday, 4 August 2015
R.I.P. Coleen Gray (1922-1915)
It was sad to read of the death of beautiful actress Coleen Gray. Coleen's long career in films and television began in 1946 and featured memorable roles in NIGHTMARE ALLEY, KISS OF DEATH, Stanley Kubrick's THE KILLING and Howard Hawks' RED RIVER. Along the way she made a couple of low-budget horror movies THE LEECH WOMAN and THE VAMPIRE.