Wednesday, 29 July 2009


As my appetite for junk is almost if not equal to my appetite for art, I continue to look forward to each Tarantino film as it appears. Quentin is, perhaps, the ultimate junk film junkie and whatsmore he is proud of it. After I saw his explosive debut with RESEVOIR DOGS I fully expected Tarantino to follow a similar course to Martin Scorsese and balance his movies between the sacred and the profane. I really did expect a serious movie somewhere down the line but it seems that isn't the course his river is going to run. Tarantino isn't so much paying homage to the action and exploitation movies he loves as recreating them with a 21st century sensibility. Although I really don't like watching the man himself I have to say that I do think of him as a "good" director - certainly he knows what he wants to do and, more importantly I think, knows why he wants to do it and, unlike many directors today, he can articulate those things because he has a solid grounding in and knowledge of film history. He doesn't feel that the films he loves - or his own films - a guilty pleasures, rather he celebrates them. DEATH PROOF is far from his best film and it drags somewhat in the middle when Kurt Russell (a wonderful performance) is off screen for too long, but it is wonderfully un-PC fun. I won't even begin to give away what plot there is except to say that it comes as no surprise that QT intends to remake Russ Meyer's FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL, KILL! Grab a few beers and get some pals around to watch it with you. This might be bubblegum for the eyes but its got plenty of flavour. Rating ***

" Now that was fun"

Tuesday, 28 July 2009


FLEAPIT has a new companion blog called YESTERDAY'S WINE. You can check out the introductory post at :


Some film projects seem to have been conceived in hell, this one looks like it was dreamed up in Hellzapoppin!Directed by the usually sane Roy Ward Baker, THE SINGER NOT THE SONG is, at first glance one of those pseudo-westerns that the English used to occasionally have the urge to make back in the Fifties and early Sixties whenever otherwise respectable British thespians wanted to dress up and play cowboys. They are pseudo-westerns inasmuch as they were set usually in Australia (ROBBERY UNDER ARMS) or South Africa (THE HELLIONS). I'm not quite sure whether THE SINGER NOT THE SONG is set in Mexico or Spain or some fantasy Spaghetti Western Land. Whatever, the result is a scream with John Mills as a Catholic priest assigned to a rural village that is terrorized by bandit Dirk Bogarde. A strange role, you might think, for Bogarde, a closet queen who publically denied his sexuality who plays, the bandit in tight black leather pants, carries a whip and is obviously attracted to the priest. But Bogarde did not shy away from roles like those in VICTIM or DEATH IN VENICE. Here, however, it is hard to know quite what to make of his performance - a perfect English accent and the general demeanor of his Simon Sparrow character in the DOCTOR series. The film is probably not helped by knowing that John Mills disliked working with Bogarde who (whatever his considerable skills as an actor) always came over as a bit of a spiteful old Queen) and that Bogarde felt that Mills was miscast and not "pretty" enough for the part. Of course this was 1961 and the gay sub-text is played down by a "beard" in the delightful form of Mylene Demongeot as the girl who seemingly loves both bandit and priest. Despite being played absolutely straight (if you'll pardon the expression in this context) it is great fun when viewed today. The supporting cast is a collection of wonderful British character actors chosen, obviously, for their swarthy complexions and ability to sweat, and includes Erich Pohlmann, Roger Delagardo, Laurence Payne. John Bentley seems somewhat miscast as the police chief with a flawless English accent. Best of all though is the usually so-respectable Laurence Naismith (a specialist in playing Lords, Judges, Politicians etc and fondly remembered as THE AMAZING MR.BLUNDEN) going totally over the top as a feelthy cheroot chomping, sombrero wearing, sweating Mexican bandito), The final lust in the dust shootout is a hoot. Rating ***

Monday, 27 July 2009


Any film that describes Angela Lansbury as "A cheat from her painted toes to her plunging neckline" has got to be worth seeing and that certainly applies to this intriguing little film noir by director Paul Guilfoyle and scriptwriter Russ Bender. As with the previously reviewed PLEASE MURDER ME this makes a passing nod in the direction of DOUBLE INDEMNITY but is none the worse for it. Keith Andes plays the down-on-his-luck guy who gets roped in on a lucrative deal and soon realises that the dame that comes with it is more trouble than he needs. Given her present day television user friendly image it is good to remember that from GASLIGHT In 1944 our Angie played a whole series of bitch roles - culminating in her classic mother from hell in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. Andes is particularly good at conveying the hero's mounting suspicion and paranoia and there is strong support from the ever excellent Douglas Dumbrille who has a much meater role than usual. Rating ***


By the time he made this neat little film noir English director Peter Godfrey was fully esconed in American televion drama. But this last fling at the big screen, even if it is a low-budget indie production is worth seeking out for several reasons. The film starts in classic noir style with a man going into his office building late at night and beginning to talk into a tape recorder....wait a minute! That's a straight steal from Billy Wilder's DOUBLE INDEMNITY...but but because we know (or should know) this the film establishes firmly that we are in noir territory. Add to this that the male lead is the great Raymond Burr as a defence attorney who is hoodwinked by his client/lover (Angela Lansbury in pre-MURDER SHE WROTE bitch mode) you have a film which, even if it is not top draw is extremely entertaining. The supporting cast includes Dick Foran, John Dehner and Denver Pyle. Rating ***

Thursday, 23 July 2009


This film is, as they say, the business! Forget all about the art of the cinema, momentarily forget about the Bergmans, the Kurosawas, let yourself believe in a world where Orson Welles, Eisenstein and Griffith were never born. That is the world where this film featuring Santo, the hugely popular masked wrestler from Mexico is right at the top of the heap. In addition to Santo there is his wrestling pal Blue Demon, mad doctors, Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy, dwarfs, big breasted women in nighties and a cyclopean creature from the local lagoon. The pace is quite breathless and not one second is boring. All this and Mexican wrestling as well!!! Acting is of course of a very high order. My favourite scene is when Santo and Blue Demon (or at least his evil clone) go mano e mano with Santo having to contend with a werewolf chomping on his ear. Ridiculously entertaining and easily the best Santo film I've seen yet. Directed by Gilberto Martinez Solares. Rating ****

SOMMARLEK/ Summer Interlude/ Illicit Interlude (1951)

I've had this early Ingmar Bergman in my collection for sometime without ever getting around to seeing it. What a mistake that was! It's a little gem and considered by many to be Ingmar's first great film. As I was drawn into the story it seems deceptively simple. A ballerina, aware of her advancing years, receives in the post a notebook which turns out to be a diary kept during one summer by her first lover. On a whim she takes the local ferry to the island where she spent her childhood and the scene of her romance with a young boy about to go to University.We see in flashback that idyllic summer and I thought this was a simple romance. But, of course, it is a Bergman film and soon dark storm clouds are gather in the shape of a lecherous uncle and a tragic swimming accident. I have commented more than once on this blog about the great Swedish director's love of the conventions of gothic horror and it is a tribute to his skill that as this film becomes darker there is a sequence that would not be out of place in any classic 1930's horror movie. It is brief, lasting probably less than a minute. The ballerina sits alone in the empty theatre at her dressing table, everybody else has gone. She hears a noise, she listens and then continues removing her makeup. The noise comes again. This time she goes to investigate. As she crosses the landing we see against the wall behind her a figure dressed in the costume of the sinister mad scientist Dr.Coppelius from the ballet "Coppelia". It is very short sequence but it is there (as all Bergman's "horror" sequences are) for a reason and leads us into one of the film's most important scenes. Performances are very good with Maj-britt Nillson superb as the girl - both the delightful teenager and the disillusioned adult dancer. Like most of the early Bergman films this ends with an almost life enhancing optimism that would later all but disappear as the director's own dark clouds began to appear. Rating ****

Monday, 20 July 2009


Directed by Victor Halperin, this low-budget thriller is based on a story by Jack London about a disgraced brain surgeon who rounds up a group of wanted murderers and takes them on a sea voyage so that he can experiment on them and change their personalities. Even with a short running time of little more than an hour attention does wander a bit but generally, thanks to a cast that includes Lyle Bettger, Irving Pichel and Skelton Knaggs it is fairly watchable, although given the subject it is oddly devoid of any real atmosphere. Halperin certainly comes nowhere recreating the delirious joys of his classic WHITE ZOMBIE. Personally, whatever the quality or lack thereof I find it hard to resist these poverty row features. Rating **

Sunday, 19 July 2009


Except for the sacrilege of giving Sherlock Holmes at least three secretaries and a computerised office this is a pretty traditional Holmes tale which, allowing for the dramatic embellishments called for by the script, sticks pretty close to the original Arthur Conan Doyle short story. Massey is a rather good Sherlock and certainly gives the impression of actually working at mentally solving the crime. Although the print of the film viewed was pretty awful with obvious leaps in the action where scenes and dialogue are missing the film has some nice visual touches with excellent sets. With the exception of Massey the acting in just what you would expect from an English film of the early sound years, although Lynn Harding does a fair stab at rivalling Tod Slaughter as a melodramatic villain - six years later Harding would play another Holmes villain in SILVER BLAZE, a rather duller outing for the great detective which was distinguished only by the presence of Arthur Wontner whose Holmes bears a remarkable similarity to the original Sidney Paget Strand Magazine illustrations. Rating **

Monday, 13 July 2009

A Nearly forgotten director.........

Fans of English films will know the name of Basil Dearden but critically his credit seemed to have run out in the early Sixties. Dearden was born Basil Dear in the town where I live (other film personalities associated with the area are Helen Mirren and Michael Wilding) and he cut his directorial teeth on Will Hay comedies before finding critical success with the police classic THE BLUE LAMP(1950) which was followed by I BELIEVE IN YOU (1952)which tells the story of a probation (parole) officer. Seen today, these films offer an accurate view of post war London. Other films from these period of Dearden's career (the "den" was added to avoid confusion with Basil Dean, a prominent film-maker of thetime) that are of particular interest are THE DEAD OF NIGHT (Dearden contributed the "linking" story) and the lesser known ghost story HALFWAY HOUSE. In the 1950's Dearden made three comedies, the first of which was the little WHO DONE IT? a star vehicle for Benny Hill. Perhaps more interesting are THE GREEN MAN (1956) a sometimes frantic farce about a professional killer starring the wonderful Alastair Sim and THE SMALLEST SHOW ON EARTH (1957) which lovingly recreates one of the old fleapit cinemas and is a must-see film for film enthusiasts. Oddly, it was the next phase of Basil Dearden's career, which while being commerically successfuland critically acclaimed in some quarters seemed to end real interest in his career. Starting with the race-relations thriller SAPPHIRE (1959) and set in London's Notting Hill district, Dearden embarked on a series of films which balanced a social conscience with intriguing thrillers. As mentioned in my review of the heist film THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN Dearden had portrayed one of the supporting characters as both gay and sympathetic (remember that homosexuals at this time were still open to blackmail and imprisonment and often treated in films, if at all, as figures of ridicule) and in VICTIM (1961) he brought this sensitive subject to centre stage with Dirk Bogarde as a married, respectable barrister, who finds himself blackmailed after the death of a former male lover. The film was a controversial hit and while it received some criticism from those who felt that it was not outspoken enough. However it remains an important film and, given the period of its production, a courageous one. ALL NIGHT LONG (1962) was a somewhat pretentious yet entertaining retelling of Shakespear's "Othello" in a modern jazz setting with the ever watchable Patrick McGoohan as an edgy Iago. LIFE FOR RUTH, the same year, featured McGoohan as a doctor faced with a difficult decision when a Jehovah Witness father refuses a blood transfusion for his dangerously ill daughter. Less successful is THE MIND BENDERS (62), a spy thriller with a background of sensory deprivation, starring Dirk Bogarde. So, with so many watchable movies to his credit why did most of Dearden's subsequent films seem have less than interesting subject matter (I make an exception for the 1966 KHARTOUM which was one of the more intelligent epics of the period) ? The reason seem s to me that Dearden got bypassed in the rush of the film production companies to embrace the rise of the "new wave" of young British film-makers like Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz, John Schlesinger who were the darlings of the critical establishment who, maybe, saw Dearden and a throwback to an earlier and more staid period of British cinema (David Lean suffered a similar critical fate although, thankfully, his great contribution to world cinema is now recognised). Dearden does indeed belong to that earlier tradition where storytelling was not pushed into second place by "style". He was no Michael Powell or Alfred Hitchcock (both of whom put equal emphasis on style and content, but he was a very good teller of tales and deserves to be remembered. Basil Dearden was killed in a car crash in 1971. He was married to actress Melissa Stribling.

Saturday, 11 July 2009


I've totally lost count of how many times I've watched THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN since I first saw it in a cinema back in 1960. Of course, I'm talking about the Basil Dearden directed film starring Jack Hawkins and not the more recent unrelated television series. For me it is one of those films that I turn too again and again when I can't decide what else to watch or I just need cheering up. It's a heist movie in the tradition of such films as RIFIFI , THE KILLING and THE ASHPHALT JUNGLE but very different in mood to any of those. Jack Hawkins plays a disaffected ex-army officer who decides that he is going to rob a bank and to this end gathers around himself a group of life's losers - who all have a talent that he can use for his criminal venture. And what a crew it is! Truly, one of the great strengths of the film is the casting of the gang with a selection of top British character actors : Richard Attenborough, Nigel Patrick, Terence Alexander, Norman Bird, Roger Livesy, Bryan Forbes, Keiron Moore etc. The film is very single-minded in as much as the whole film (except for a flashbacks to the reasons why the various members of the League are happy to turn to crime) is seen entirely from the point of view of the gang from the recruiting and planning, to the execution of the robbery and the final climax - which makes for strong audience identification (I know as a 14 year old watching the film I was very attracted to the idea of robbing a bank!). Each gang member is given a distinct personality - from Terence Alexander's cuckold to Keiron Moore's homosexual - the latter being a particularly interesting characterisation in that, probably for the first time in an English film, a gay character is depicted as masculine with no hint of campness and without any of the weaknesses that films of the time usually assigned to gay characters (usually only hinted at - and played for laughs - if at all) so that when one of the other gang members makes a tasteless remark both audience and the other characters frown upon his crassness. The film opens with a memorable pre-credit sequence featuring Jack Hawkins, immaculately clad in Dinner suit emerging from a manhole in the street. When I worked in London I used to pass this particular manhole (situated in Eastcheap) every day on my way to the station and, of course, bored my friends to death pointing out this little bit of film history. The bank that the gang robbed was also situated in Eastcheap and I still own a small piece of brick that I rescued as a momento when the building was demolished in the 1990s. Tensely directed by Basil Dearden (an almost forgotten figure in British film history who I will be writing about soon) THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMAN is a classic. Rating ****

Saturday, 4 July 2009

From the Waterfront to the Streets of San Francisco on a Streetcar Named Desire....

1914 - 2009

REKOPIS ZNALEZIONY W SARAGOSSIE/ The Saragossa Manuscript (1965)

During the Napoleonic Wars in Spain a French officer is captured but not before he discovers a strange book. With the help of one of his captors he begins to read the book which it turns out tells the story of his captor's grandfather. What follows is a strange tale of ghosts, mysterious women, haunted inns, cabalists, castles, brigands and inquisitors. I can only imagine that this delightful film was a big influence on director Terry Gilliam for it effortlessly conjures up the sort of magical world that Gilliam strained at in BARON MUNCHAUSEN and THE BROTHERS GRIMM. It seems that the film was greatly admired by both Jerry Garcia and the great Luis Bunuel (at times it reminds one of the work of both Bunuel and his friend Salvador Dali). The film is in two parts (this is the full 3hr version not the two hour version that was in circulation in America. The first part takes as into the strange gothic world mentioned above (the whole story could be turned into a tale of vampires with only the slightest of effort) while part two starts with out hero being taken to the castle of a sinister cabalist. I had a slight problem with the second half and found it outstayed its welcome (which is probably why a shorter version was in circulation), perhaps because the magic of the first half is replaced by a plot which takes us away from the promise of the sinister cabalist and his castle into a tale of romance and marital deception which seems more like a sequel to THE BARBER OF SEVILLE. It is mildly amusing but simply too long and it is a relief when, for the climax, we are whisked back to the demonic world of the first half of the film. The structure of the film (which I assume comes from the original novel by Jan Potocki) is fascinating - virtually every major character in the films begins to tell his own story which we then see, so the film is stories within stories within stories - all of which adds to the surrealist nature of the work. Directed by Wojcrech Has, the films stars the famous Polish actor Zbigniew Cybulski who had made such a dramatic impact on the film world as the star of Andrzej Wadja's ASHES AND DIAMONDS. Two years after appearing in THE SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT Cybulski would die tragically after slipping and falling beneath the wheels of a train he was running to catch. Despite my minor qualms about the second half this is a wonderful and fascinating movie. Rating ****