Wednesday, 23 September 2009
Tuesday, 22 September 2009
Any remake of THE PHILADELPHIA STORY was bound to be on a beating for nothing but in the case of HIGH SOCIETY one has to admit that the beating is probably justified. It is a pretty tired film, seemingly lacking in energy and conviction. Yet, that said, it does have Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra. What it doesn't have is Cary Grant, Kate Hepburn and James Stewart....neither does it have George Cukor directing and Charles Walters is no substitute. One shouldn't be too hard on what is, after all, a piece of light weight confectionary but it really does fail to satisfy. The one plus is, of course, the music and both the "Now you has jazz" number featuring Crosby and the great Louis Armstrong and Bing's duet with Frank Sinatra are well worth waiting for. Rating **
Thursday, 17 September 2009
Although neither Amazon or LoveFilm seem to be aware of it (surprise, surprise!) Jack Clayton's great film THE PUMPKIN EATER is released on DVD in October. Made i n 1964 this was one of the great British films of the period although it is virtually forgotten today except by dedicated cinephiles. Great direction, great script (Harold Pinter) and superb performances by Anne Bancroft, Peter Finch and James Mason.
Tuesday, 15 September 2009
This penultimate entry in the popular series is one of the more enjoyable of the later efforts. Johnny Weissmuller is obviously overweight for the role of the Lord of the Jungle but not disastrously so and Johnny Sheffield, now a handsome teenager, as boy, makes his last appearance in the series before being snapped up by Monogram Pictures to star as BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY. Brenda Joyce has replaced Maureen O'Sullivan in this the second of her three outings as Jane (and the only one which attempts to duplicate the romantic playfulness of the O'Sullivan films.) The plot is pretty standard with Tarzan taking on unscrupulous animal trappers trying to stock up post World War Two zoos but a boost is given by the gorgeous Patricia Morison as animal trainer Tanya who, we are told, is "the toast of Europe" and the ever villainous Barton McClane. Bizarrely, despite being set in Africa with all the usual African animals, all the negro natives have disappeared and been replaced by obviously Anglo actors dressed in what look like Malaysia costumes, just as two years later in TARZAN AND THE MERMAIDS we find an African tribe looking and behaving like South Sea Islanders. But for the truly bizarre look no further than the final scene with the chimp Cheetah descending from an airplane by parachute while applying lipstick! Direction by Kurt Neumann is efficient and I have to inform Cerpts that his obsession with Weismuller's nipples gets no support in this film. His nipples are normal, Cerpts, live with it! Rating ***
Monday, 14 September 2009
Nice English B/W thriller that occasionally attains something approaching a Film Noir feel (there is a sad tendency these days to label any B/W crime film as Film Noir - it just isn't so) but this has an atmospheric opening as a gang prepare to rob a jewellers - night time, fog, trenchcoats etc. IT occured to me later that the robbery itself is so totally badly planned that it really doesn't make much sense but I didn't think of it at the time. The jeweller is killed but his daughter sees the killer. As the police can't build a case against him she decides to go undercover and infiltrates the home of the killer's brother. Slowly she is drawn into the world of the rival gangs. A good cast is headed by Elizabeth Sellars and Keiron Moore and there is a nice piece of swarthy villainy from Martin Benson as a gang leader. One of my favourite supporting actors of the period, Michael Balfour, turns up in one scene but is sadly not seen again. Director John Gilling does an efficien t job, particularly in the action scenes - an ambush outside a night club and a shootout in a warehouse are a cut above those usually seen in English crime films of this period. I wouldn't go as far as to call the film outstanding but it'll keep you watching. Rating ***
There have been a few actors who have played THE LONE RANGER including, notoriusly, Clinton Spilsbury in one of the biggest of Hollywood flops. We are also promised, intriguingly, that Johnny Depp will take on the role in a future production. But, playing THE LONE RANGER is all that any of these actors did or will do. Clayton Moore WAS the masked man and always will be. Clayton had spent years in supporting and bit part roles in Hollywood before he was cast as THE LONE RANGER in a television series in the mid-sixties. After the series ended Clayton continued to make personal appearances "as" THE LONE RANGER but the producers of the disastrous Spilsbury version got a court order to stop him appearing "as" the Ranger. However, you can't outwit the real Ranger that way and Clayton simply wore heavy dark glasses that approximated the famous mask. After the new film disappeared down the drain Clayton was again permitted to be THE LONE RANGER. My favourite story of him (probably apocryphal but maybe with an element of truth) is that he was driving home from a personal appearance when he witnessed a serious accident. He leapt from his own car and pulled the injured driver from the crash vehicle and made them comfortable until help arrived - all while wearing his white stetson and his mask! When help appeared Clayton simply returned to his car and drove away. With a mighty "Hi-Yo Silver, Away!" I'd like to bet. My friend Ray was lucky enough to meet Clayton at the Biograph Cinema during an English tour. I have to content myself with an autograph. There are pictures on the web of Clayton without his mask but I'm not going to be the person who unmasks the masked man. I will watch some episodes of THE LONE RANGER tv series late today, though. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO A HERO.
Wednesday, 9 September 2009
Ingmar Bergman's first made-for-television film is not the easiest of his films to approach. Three members of a theatrical troupe are called befor a judge on an unspecified charge of obscenity. They are questioned together and individually by a seemingly friendly but unsympathetic judge - much of the questioning centres on the actor's personal lives and relationship to each other. In the climatic scenes the actors give a private performance. I really can't pretend to tell you what this is really about (maybe just what it says?) except that the judge seems almost to be judging himself - it's all a bit obscure. But, of course, being Bergman it is quite rivetting and nothing starring Ingrid Thulin and Gunnar Bjornstrand can by less than watchable. Perhaps it is a black comedy, S&M gear, giant strap on penises, and a captioned epilogue which made me laugh out loud after witnessing the preceeding scenes. It has been suggested that Bergman was playing with his audience just as the actors ultimately play with the judge. I suspect there is more to it than that but with Ingmar you never know - which is why he is such a great director. Not classic Bergman, maybe not even essential but no admirer of the great Swede can afford to miss it. Bergman himself does an unbilled cameo as (what else?) a priest in a (where else?) Confessional. Bless me Ingmar for I have sinned. Rating ****
Monday, 7 September 2009
The first time I saw this film was on a dreadful VHS copy that was so badly cut that it was quite incoherent. I really wondered if it deserved its reputation as one of the best Italian horror films of the 1960s. To see a good DVD copy of what, by the title, I take to be the English release print leads me to say that it certainly deserves its reputation. Italian Gothic often look good and Riccardo Freda's film is no exception but it is also very well directed and Freda seems much more capable of telling a story than some of his contemporaries. Freda's directions gives us one of Barbara Steele's best performances and she looks gorgeous with those amazing eyes highlighted by lashes that must be at least an inch long. Of course, much of the film's reputation also rests on its somewhat perverse subject. Dr.Hichcock likes his females dead and cold and his wife is happy to indulge his little sexual peculiarities by allowing herself to be injected with an experimental anaesthetic which renders her corpse like before sex. Hichcock, seeking something more closely resembling a corpse, accidentally overdoses and she seemingly dies. Twelve years pass and the Doc is back with his new bride (Miss Steele) who soon starts hearing strange noises and seeing ghostly figures in the garden...and does the sinister housekeeper really have her mad sister locked up ? Freda gives his subject the full Gothic treatment with billowing curtains, screams in the night, black cats, thunder and rain, lightning flashes and a superior score by Roman Vlad. Not least of the film's plus points is the performance by English actor Robert Flemyng as Dr.Hichcock - just melodramatic enough for the subject but subtle enough to make the character more rounded and believable that the average mad doctor. He conveys Hichcock's mounting sexual frustration (at one point he attempts to have sex with a corpse in the hospital but is interrupted) at not being able to indulge his necrophila quite superbly. This is obviously a much better vehicle for his talents than the dire THE BLOODBEAST TERROR where he took on the role at the last minute to replace Basil Rathbone. All in all Freda's film is an excellent, even outstanding, example of the Italian horror film. Rating ****
Friday, 4 September 2009
After sitting through THE SPIRIT I really deserved to see a good film. You hear that a film is good and within minutes of it starting you get a sinking feeling...well, for once that did not happen. I knew nothing about the plot of this film. I'd heard that it was a good horror film from Sweden so I added it to my rental list. I'm not going to write too much about the film except to say it is probabably the best new film I've seen this year, the best new horror film I've seen for quite a few years and the best vampire film since NOSFERATU (and I mean the 1922 original!)Nuff said? It's a masterpiece. See it. Rating ***** P.S. Currently being re-made in Hollywood.
Thursday, 3 September 2009
I may be wrong but I seem to remember that yonks ago (and I'm talking over 20 years) sc-fi writer Harlan Ellison was involved with plans to film Will Eisner's classic comic strip THE SPIRIT. I do remember Ellison saying that the perfect casting for the character would have been a young James Garner - something I totally agree with, though, of course, even by that time Garner was too old. I am no fan of comics (I don't dislike them, I'm just not a fan) and even less of films adapted from comics. I quite enjoyed the Tim Burton BATMAN films and even liked the first two SPIDER-MAN films but have been left cold by the revived BATMAN franchise which seems to me to take itself far to seriously. Frank Miller's SIN CITY and 300 sort of worked for me but when reviewing both I expressed serious doubts about the way that the technology used to create them, impressive though it was, was leading. These films are a bit like very advanced androids - perfectly mimicking human life but totally lacking in any soul. They are all surface without depth. You really can't care to much about what is happening to the characters. I loved Eisner's THE SPIRIT and was encouraged when I heard that Frank Miller was going to "do it right" - well, what happened Frank? Knowing how protective Eisner was of his work why have you turned it into this good looking turd. Eisner and Miller were, it seems, friends and because of this you'd think that Miller might have wanted, as much as possible, to be faithful to the material. No such thing. I read that Miller signed up for the project on the day of Eisner's memorial service - et tu brute! Gabriel Macht is without charm as The Spirit, while Samuel L. Jackson goes totally OTT as the evil Octopus. It lacks pace, a good script and Miller's direction is woeful. A well mounted turd but a turd nonetheless. Rating *
Totally predictable ghost story set in a children's hospital where the second floor has been sealed off for twenty years. If you are a fan of this sort of thing (and I am) you'll see each event and twist of the plot ten minutes before it happens. Having said that, this English/Spanish co-production is rather well done and has some genuinely spooky scenes, the climatic appearance of the ghost is very nicely done. The international cast (American, English, Spanish) is headed by Calista Flockhart as the troubled nurse. But bottom line is that it just doesn't really offer anything we haven't seen before and given the setting and the fact that director Jaume Balaguero is Spanish it all looks like an attempt to muscle in on the territory already exploited by Guilermo Del Toro. Rating **
With a remake in the works it seemed a good time to reacquaint myself with the original. If I had to ra\nk directors a la Andrew Sarris, Andrew V. McLaglen would fall into the group labelled "Lightly Likeable". Despite his apprentership under the great John Ford, McLaglen never really made a great film but he did make a few very good ones and some enjoyable ones. He did the fondly remembered John Wayne comedy McCLINTOCK which, perhaps, only really works for dyed in the wool Wayne fans like myself and a million others. His films with James Stewart are amiable affairs - THE RARE BREED, SHENANDOAH, BANDELERO - and in the case of FOOL'S PARADE even memorable. Later in his career he made a trio of British based adventure films of which THE WILD GEESE is the best (the others - THE SEA WOLVES and FFOLKES - are both highly enjoyable) and is now regarded as a minor classic. The plot has ageing mercenary Richard Burton hired by a multi-national company to rescue a Mandela type African leader. He gathers together his crew of specialist, trains them and the mission is successful. But we know that in this sub-genre there will be a doublecross and the mercenaries have to fight there way out. As an action film THE WILD GEESE really delivers the goods and the there is plenty of bang bang stuff which is convincingly done. The film allows itself a little moralising about the role of mercenaries but this is kept to a minimum and the when the inevitable question of the white man's role in black Africa rears its head it is personalised between a South African mercenary and the rescued black leader and the script is far from uncritical of the corruption, tribal massacres etc that have marred the post-colonial history of the dark continent. The cast is truly outstanding with good performances from everybody. Headliners are Ricard Burton, Richard Harris and Roger Moore and a quite phenomenal supporting cast which includes Stewart Granger, Jack Watson (doing his excellent Sgt-Major routine), Ronnie Fraser, Kenneth Griffith (as scene stealer as the gay medic), Frank Finlay, Hardy Kruger, John Kani, Barry Foster, Julius Limbani and Jeff Corey.Rating : ***