I first saw this about a year ago and deliberately didn't write about it because I wanted to see it again to see how I felt about it after a second viewing. I still think it is a cracking piece of film making which contains some terrific direction, writing and acting. Certainly it deserves all the praise that that was heaped upon it. And yet......maybe it's just me, but how many people are totally satisfied by the ending. Not many, I suspect. But it just isn't cool to say so. I've always been a Coen Brothers fan since BLOOD SIMPLE and I accept that Cormac McCarthy is a great writer (although I'm not a fan of his work) and I do, truly, love this movie. However, I'm still uncool enough to like a film where you have a beginning, a middle and an end. I know life isn't always like that but this ain't life, it's a movie - a drama. I don't mind an enigmatic ending which is open to interpretation (John Boorman's POINT BLANK is a perfect example) but the problem I have with NO COUNTRY is two fold. From a purely personal view I still like to see the bad guy get his come uppance - again I know that isn't always how life plays out. I hated it back in the 1970's when the trend began in horror films that the villains/monsters began to win. All those totally predictable twist endings really pissed me off. My second objection which is more to do with the film itself is that NO COUNTRY sets everything up for a climax which however it turns out is good dramatic story telling. A character we have followed throughout the film, been lead to identify with and like is placed in a dramatic situation that we desperately want to see resolved. Then what happens ? Well, whatever it is it happens off screen and the character is killed. The bad guy gets away. End of movie. I did not, however, have any problem with the scene at the end where Tommy Lee Jones (a brilliant performance) narrates his dreams - that he was not involved in the resolution did not worry me, I thought that was a perfect irony for his character. But in respect of the other two characters I needed resolution - maybe life is like that but dramatically its all a bit coitus interruptus to me. Rating ****
Monday, 30 November 2009
Sunday, 29 November 2009
It is true that we sometimes view the past through rose coloured glasses but, despite what some cynics say, this is not necessarily a bad thing. The distillation of memory often results in the preservation of the things that really matter (see Cerpts wonderful invocation of his childhood in New Jersey in THE LAND OF CERPTS AND HONEY) - yesterday's wine of a very fine vintage. Joan Littlewood's SPARROWS CAN'T SING is an important (albeit disgracefully neglected by critics and film historians) film which records an East End of London that was rapidly vanishing even as the film was being shot. Despite slight exaggerations of behaviour this is far removed from the "Mockney" world of Guy Ritchie or the instant depression of EAST ENDERS. More than any other part of the city, East London has its own character and its own mythology - Jack the Ripper, The Kray Brothers, The Elephant Man etc. I'm from North London, rather than East, but I grew up among people not unlike those depicted in this film. The James Booth character could have been my Uncle Bill (coincidentally named Booth) and the Cockney Kneesup in the pub may look a bit contrived and embarassing but I can recall feeling equally embarassed seeing my Aunt Peg dance the Can Can just as Avis Bunnage does in the the film. Although it is no way a crime film one can almost feel the presence of Reggie and Ronnie Kray who visited the set production on several occasions in their never ending quest for rubbing shoulders with show business celebs. The films star, Baraba Windsor, was, of course, married to the Kray's fellow gangster and associate, Ronnie Knight. Barbara Windsor is wonderful in the film, looking gorgeous with, as one writer said, "tits you could impale a charging buffalo on" and playing Maggie whose life is thrown into turmoil by the return of her seafaring husband (Booth). The film perfectly captures the mood of the dying East End where the old homes that formed a real community are being bulldozed and the people squeezed into sterile and impersonal tower blocks. The street where Roy Kinnear lives in the film was actually in the process of being demolished during production.
Besides Windsor, Booth and the aforementioned Roy Kinnear (who nearly steals the film) director Littlewood employs a cornucopia of London talent - Brian Murphy, Avis Bunnage, John Justin, Victor Spinetti, Bob Grant etc - many who had worked for her at her groundbreaking Stratford theatre. I must make special mention of a few players such as Wally Patch who plays a watchman and who was a real life friend of my mother. Patch can be seen in bit parts in countless British films and once played the hero in a series of thrillers featuring Fu Manchu clone Dr. Sin Fang, back in the silent days. Stephen Lewis, who is best remembered as Inspector Blake in ON THE BUSES is the co-writer of the film and contributes a wonderful viginette as an over officious caretaker. Finally there is Queenie Watts as the barmaid in the final scenes of the film - Queenie was a real life pub landlady/actress/pianist. I know Queenie was quite likely to get on stage and belt out a song in a pub but whether the voice we hear in the film delivering a Bessie Smith like blues is hers is difficult to judge as it is badly lip-synched. They should have let the old girl do it live. Arthur Mullard, who plays, the brewery cart driver, was exactly the same off screen as on and towards the end of his life used to hang about a pub near Highbury Station in North London (where I believe he had a share in a Flower stall) and cadge drinks off anybody who would buy them - including me! He was a genuine character. SPARROWS is a treat although I suspect a lot of people will just miss the point. Rating ****
Young Barbara Windsor
"Tits you could impale a charging buffalo on!"
Friday, 27 November 2009
SUSPIRIA not withstanding, DEEP RED is my favourite Dario Argento movie by a big margin. I'm not an Argento fanatic by any means but despite his sometimes alarming lack of narrative skill ( something he shares with other Italian horror directors such as Lucio Fulci and even the great Mario Bava) you can't deny the man is a true stylist. After the disappointment of the awful MOTHER OF TEARS I decided to go back and see if I still liked the earlier films and I'm happy to say I do. DEEP RED still stands out for me and becomes a richer experience each time I see it - which is not bad for a film I've seen five or six times. Argento has always been well served by his English speaking stars with Tony Musante, Karl Malden, James Franciscus and Tony Franciosa amongst others all turning in good performances for him and in DEEP RED the excellent David Hemmings brings with him the added bonus of slight deja vu from Antonioni's BLOW UP which has a similar now you see it now you don't theme - indeed it isn't too far a stretch of the imagination to see DEEP RED as the sort of horror film ntonioni might have made in an alternate world. Even after multiple viewings I still find the suspense scenes work very well indeed, as does the rather subtle humour and, thankfully, Argento is in total control of the story. Rating ****
Thursday, 19 November 2009
Over at THE LAND OD CERPTS AND HONEY our friend Cerpts is recovering from the shock that I've actually seen SERVICE DE LUXE before him! Vincent Price's film debut has eluded me for as many years as I have been a fan of the great man. Directed by Rowland V.Lee who helmed such classics as TOWER OF LONDON and SON OF FRANKENSTEIN and showed with both a rather dark sense of humour. SERVICE DE LUXE is a lightweight screwball comedy which benefits from some wonderful ensemble playing from its cast which includes Constance Bennett, Charles Ruggles, Helen Broderick (pictured above with Price) and a scene stealing Misca Auer.Price is excellent as a young inventor trying to get finance for a revolutionary tractor and becoming unintentionally involved with his sponsor's daughter while preferring to devote his attentions to agency boss Bennett. Based on a story by Vera Caspary (who penned Price's 1944 classic LAURA) the film never really reaches the sublime heights of PHILADELPHIA STORY or BRINGING UP BABY but it is amiable entertainment and, of course, a must for Price fans. If you are inclined (are you listening Cerpts?) y0u can do what I did and watch the whole film on YouTube. Rating ***
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
I've been taking a little sabbatical from film viewing...not intentional but just the way things have worked out. Should be back to normal by next week. In the meantime here is (to me) a totally delightful scene from one of the Ingmar Bergman films that I am yet to see. The combination of Ingmar Bergman and Mozart in an intriguing one. Hopefully a copy of the complete film will come my way soon - it has been rather elusive so far. Opera is not to everybody's taste - but for friend Cerpts I can promise that these are not people arguing with each other in Italian....
Sunday, 8 November 2009
Wednesday, 4 November 2009
Jour se leve
Marcel Carne's JOUR SE LEVE bridges the gap between the Poetic Realism movement and that of The Popular Front. The film starts with a murder and then; with the murderer cornered in his attic room, we see how fate has led to the crime. Carne is one of the great directors of cinema with a string of classic films to his name and with his epic drama LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS often being cited as one of the greatest films ever made. The great French actor Jean Gabin plays the man who is trapped by his love for a pretty girl despite the evidence of her fickleness and ultimate betrayal - her impressionable head being turned by the attentions of the toadlike but suave Valentin - a trainer of performing dogs (the irony is not lost on the attentive viewer) - while rejecting the more honest and genuine love of Valentin's ex-assistant (played by the wonderful Arletty). From the start of the affair we see Gabin's character being sucked into an inescapable web and few actors have ever been as capable as Gabin of expressing the world weariness of a man who knows where fate is leading him. If JOUR SE LEVE is a great film, Anatole Litvak's remake THE LONG NIGHT is certainly a very good film, even an excellent one, up to a point. That it fails to reach the heights of the French original is, I think, due more to Hollywood convention and censorship than any real fault of the film makers. THE LONG NIGHT has a lot going for it. Firstly it has one of Henry Fonda's career best performances - it is a detailed portrayal which is in many ways the equal to Gabin's in the original. Likewise Ann Dvorak is tremendous as the showgirl whose love is ultimately rejected. Where Litvak's film not only equals but actually surpasses the earlier film is in the casting of Vincent Price in the Valentin role (here he is called Maximilian). Where Berry was an almost comical dirty old man, Price is positively wolfish. THE LONG NIGHT gives the character more screen time than the first film so we see more of his seduction of the girl. This is probably because the Hollywood version needs to make her more of a victim of evil (to accomodate to changed ending) than the more fickle, rather dim girl of Carne's film. So where does THE LONG NIGHT finally go wrong? It is in the changed ending. I watched the films on consecutive nights and three quarters of the way through the American film I knew that Hollywood was not going to have the courage to follow the French lead. Giving the film a totally illogical upbeat ending (and it really doesn't make sense) robs the film of the tremendous final shot of the French film which Carne holds and holds to devastating effect. Hollywood just wasn't ready for that. Both films look terrific with Sol Polito's crisp black and white photography being a highlight of the American film and Alexander Trauner's sets (cleverly aped by Eugene lourie for THE LONG NIGHT) being standout in JOUR SE LEVE. The object of desire is played in Carne's film by the excellent Jacqueline Laurent and in the remake by Barbara Bel Geddes (who I find almost as intensely irritating as June Allyson) making her film debut. Ratings : JOUR SE LEVE ***** THE LONG NIGHT ****
The Long Night
Tuesday, 3 November 2009
I remember being rather impressed at the time that the great Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann was making a film in England. If I am right, this film, premiered on television in England. I know I watched it at the time but seeing it again nearly thirty years later revealed how little I recall about the plot. Liv plays a woman whose husband has a heart attack while on a business trip and subsequently dies. At the hospital she discovers that he had being travelling with his mistress (played by a very young Amanda Redman). She tracks the girl down with revenge in mind but finds herself being seduced both emotionally and physically. The film seems surprisingly dated now and, it has to be said, a bit pretentious. But it is quite watchable thanks to the performances. Liv Ullmann is hardly stretched by a role that she could have played in her sleep (let's face it, her eyelashes could act most other actresses off the screen!) and she is more than ably supported by Miss Redman as the bi-sexual lover. Tim Piggott-Smith is the reliable friend (tweedie clothes, pipe and beard were standard reliable accessories back then) who leads the adequate supporting cast. I quite enjoyed it even if I didn't really get to involved with the characters. Rating ***