Thursday, 25 February 2010

And as BONNIE PARKER we present......

Bonnie Parker, the gunslinging girlfriend of depression era outlaw Clyde Barrow, had been depicted on the screen a couple of times before she became big box-office with Arthur Penn's highly acclaimed film BONNIE AND CLYDE. Here's a picture of the real Bonnie :

Hollywood needs more glamorous killers so Faye Dunaway was cast in the role. While this might seem ridiculous in terms of realism (as with Johnny Depp as Dillinger in PUBLIC ENEMIES) it didn't hurt it at the box-office or with the critics and the film garnered some justifyably great reviews. Here's Faye in the role....

Convincing? I'll let you decide.

Monday, 22 February 2010


I met Michael Reeves, the director of THE SORCERERS, soon after the film opened in London. We became friends and enjoyed talking movies over an occasional lunch or drink. Michael made only one more film (WITCHFINDER GENERAL) before his sad death at the age of only twenty four. Much adulation has been heaped on the few films Michael made and while I agree that each of the films have a lot going for them in turns of invention I do not rate them has high as some admirers - while admitting their unique elements. Both THE SORCERERS and especially WITCHFINDER GENERAL are intelligent films and certainly a cut above the average British horror film of that period. But for me their real importance is in what they promised for the future, for the films that were still to come. THE SORCERERS is an enjoyable horror movie set in the Swinging London of the late 60's. The film belongs to Boris Karloff and Catherine Lacy as the aged hypnotist and his wife in search of teenage kicks. The teenagers are a different matter with Ian Ogilvy good as the total asshole who becomes the subject of their experiments. Victor Henry as the film's nominal "good guy" lacks charisma and Elizabeth Ercy as the female interest is pretty and adequate, no more. Was the teenage scene in 60's London as embarassing as depicted here? Yep, 'fraid it was even worse! Rating ***

Friday, 19 February 2010

Lionel Jeffries dies....

1926 -2010
Lionel Jeffries was one of the great British character actor. Probably remembered more for his comedy roles he was equally adept at dramatic and villainous parts. His first film was Alfred Hitchcock's STAGE FRIGHT and he went on to do many memorable film roles including his much loved portrayal of Grandpa Potts in CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. He also directed a handful of films of which the first two, THE RAILWAY CHILDREN and THE AMAZING MR,BLUNDEN are highly regarded. In later years he did many television guest spots. R.I.P

DER STUDENT VON PRAG/The Student of Prague (1926)

The original 1913 version of THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE starring Paul Wegener is a by todays standards a pretty crude affair (at least judged by prints in circulation) but is historically a very important films as it is probably the first German horror film. Henrik Galeen's 1926 remake with Conrad Veidt is a much more sophisticated movie in terms of plot, acting and direction. It still suffers inasmuch as the print in circulation on DVD is not the best quality. The story is based on a story by fantasy writer Hans Heinz Ewers and uses elements from Edgar Allan Poe's story "William Wilson" and tells of a student who, bored with life, makes a deal with the satanic Scarpinelli (the great Werner Krauss) that in return for a fortune in gold Scarpinelli can take anything from his room. Scarpinelli takes the student's mirror image. Balduin (the student) becomes a benefactor to poor students, woos a rich heiress and lives a life of luxury. But a spurned lover causes him problems and he is haunted by his doppelganger - his mirror image. The films is, expectedly, rather well acted with Conrad Veidt and Werner Krauss being the obvious standout and although the special effects are crude the scenes between Balduin and his evil double carry a genuine chill. Despite the extremely monotonous musical score that has been dubbed on to this print I enjoyed the film a lot. I would be most interested to see the 1935 remake with another of my favourite actors, Anton Walbrook. There was another version in 1914 called THE OTHER STUDENT OF PRAGUE and a 1990 Czech TV mini-series and a 2004 short film also from Czechoslovakia. Rating ***

Tuesday, 16 February 2010


Some films take you completely by surprise. Although I have always enjoyed Mel Gibson as an actor I took serious issue with his controversial PASSION OF THE CHRIST and just sort of turned my back on APOCALYPTO and would probably never had seen it if it hadn't been shown by the BBC. It is a terrific piece of film-making despite some short comings in the script department - it's a long time since I've seen so many unlikely coincidences introduces to carry a plot along. The story is slight, consisting of, basically, two journeys - too and from a Mayan city that is in the throes of a frenzy of human sacrifice. The second half of the film is one long and exciting chase through the jungle while the first have absolutely wallows in Gibson's seeming obsession with brutalizing young naked men. Technically the film can't really be faulted - it looks superb. Acting is top-notch and even Gibson's decision to have the actors speak in what I take is the Yucatan language, which while probably not helping the film's box-office chances, give the production a seeming air of authenticity. Although the film does contain some humour in the opening sequences of hunting and village life the best laugh is provided towards the end of the film by a single economic subtitle. The vengeful Mayan warrior looks at one of his men who has just been bitten by a snake and simply says "He's fucked". Impressive. Rating ****

Friday, 12 February 2010

And as "BOSS" WILLIAM TWEED we present...

Boss Tweed was an infamously corrupt political figure in 19th Century New York. His character plays a major supporting role in Martin Scorsese's THE GANGS OF NEW YORK. This is the real Tweed....

Scorsese sent to England for the actor he wanted to portray Tweed, perhaps secure in the knowledge that Jim Broadbent can probably take on any role and make it his own. Certainly Broadbent was more convincing in historical accuracy than Vincent Price's, admittedly highly entertaining, stab at the character in the very different 1948 musical UP IN CENTRAL PARK.
Here's Jim Broadbent as Tweed....

Convincing ? I'll let you decide.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

A remake too far...

Hollywood's remake frenzy continues. Do we really need another remake of A STAR IS BORN ? It started life in 1932 as WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOODD directed by George Cukor and was a pretty good movie - so good that it was reworked into an even better movie in 1937 by William Wellman as A STAR IS BORN with Janet Gaynor. It was Cukor's turn again in 1954 with the classic Judy Garland/James Mason version and then in the 70's Barbra Striesand did her not so great version with Kris Kristofferson. So who is set for the new version. Robert Downey Jr. has walked, understandably preferring a sequel to SHERLOCK HOLMES, to be replaced by Russell Crowe.....So who will follow Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland and Striesand ? Would you believe BEYONCE!!!!!!!! As Hattie McDaniel might have said "Lordy, Lord it am just sumting da Debil thought up!"


Ian Carmichael 1920-2010

Forever associated with a string of popular Boulting Brothers comedies such as PRIVATES PROGRESS, BROTHERS IN LAW, LUCKY JIM and I'M ALL RIGHT JACK where he was always cast as the likeable, well meaning innocent, Ian Carmichael was a fixture of British social comedy. Later he became a popular and much loved star of theLORD PETER WIMSEY television series and until a couple of years ago was a regular on the hospital series THE ROYAL. He was a class act.

Monday, 8 February 2010


A classic of it's kind. Totally inept sci-fi adventure which uses left over costumes from the 1956 FORBIDDEN PLANET with shabby cardboard sets which finds the wonderful Zsa Zsa Gabor complete with Hungarian accent leading a revolution on the Planet Venus where the entire population seems to be young women of a similar age. Of course, dahlinks, ZZ has to pose in every scene and pout for each contractual closeup. Eric Fleming who is only remembered these days as the star of TV's RAWHIDE leads the Earth crew who want to teach the amazons what a kitchen is and how to love their men. The cast also features Paul Birch, one of those likeable B-movie actors who was able to keep a straight face while uttering the most inane dialogue. Birch was a graduate of the Roger Corman stock company so for him at least this film probably had a bigger budget than his usual movies. Non-direction by Edward Bernds whose twenty year stint as a director started and ended with The Three Stooges. He deserves some sort of award for directing so much highly enjoyable rubbish.

I watched this with a friend who enjoyed it but was interested to know why I can enjoy something like QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE but be so scathing about the ineptitude of a film like VAN HELSING. I told him why - it ain't rocket science and you can agree or disagree as you wish. Unlike VAN HELSING, Edward Bernds film, did not waste a budget that could have fed a couple of famine stricken African countries for five years. QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE is unintentionally funny while VAN HELSING wasn't funny or scarey either intentially or not. Fifty two years after QUEEN was made people are still watching, enjoying and discussing it and I doubt if that will be the case with VAN HELSING. And, you know what, I bet it made a profit for Allied Artists. Rating *** and be damned.

Saturday, 6 February 2010


Over the last few years Marcel Carne has become one of my very favourite directors, ever since I saw what many regard, not only as his towering achievement but one of the defining moments of the cinema, LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS. Carne's golden years are usually accepted as being from about 1935 until around 1948. Films he made outside these years are difficult to come by and thus it is difficult for those who discovered Carne late to decide. THERESE RAQUIN made in 1953 is generally regarded to be inferior to his earlier work but the film is more than capable of standing on its own. Of course the changes that Carne makes to Emile Zola's original novel will probably upset some Zola purists - the novel features no blackmail plotCheck Spelling and the book ends with the adulterers suicide. Carne goes for a completely new and more cinematically suspenseful end which I found quite satisfactory. Like Zola, Carne is not overly sympathetic to his lovers - what empathy we feel for them may come from their predicament rather than the way they deal with it - and, of course, from the casting of two very charismatic and attractive lead in Simone Signoret and Raf Vallone. Other performances are excellent with Roland LeSaffre as the blackmailer, forever smiling and polite and every bit as sinister as Robert Mitchum (whom he somewhat resembles) in CAPE FEAR. Le Saffre was a new actor to me but the very next day I spotted him in a minor role in Alfred Hitchcock's TO CATCH A THIEF as the young man who tells Cary Grant that he has a phonecall on the beach. The film might not be great Carne but it is certainly very good Carne. Rating ****

LES VAMPIRES/The Vampires (1915) Episodes 1-5

You either appreciate Louis Feuillade or you don't. Reading the IMDb noticeboards the posts are pretty evenly split between the do and don't faction. My introduction the Feuillade's serial was a lucky one during the mid-Sixties when I was lucky enough to see a screening of JUDEX with a live piano accompaniment by the pianist Arthur Dulay. I found the experience fascinating although it took me another forty years before I caught up with his most famous creation, FANTOMAS. It was a pretty forgone conclusion that I would be totally entranced by LES VAMPIRES which was made between the two titles mentioned above. What I love about these films particularly is the way Louis Feuillade uses the streets and rooftops of Paris, the use of automobiles (still in their infancy) and how one is suddenly struck by striking and unexpected images - the black clad Vampires (not bloodsuckers here, but a gang of criminals) moving slowly through a salon robbing the corpses of their victims, the hero being yanked out of a second storey window by a noose, or the black clad "vampiress" Irma Vep. It is easy to see why French directors such as Georges Fanju (who remade JUDEX) and Alain Resnais were such fans of these serials. Rating **** Note: The serial has 10 episodes and although there is an ongoing story of the hero's fight against Les Vampires each episode can, more of less be viewed separately.

Thursday, 4 February 2010


If this was meant to be a tribute to U.S. submarine crews it is totally unworthy of them. To be honest I always thought the film was about Navy fliers - how wrong could I be? The main interest in this boring film today is the co-starring of Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis who later resided in The White House. Reagan's performance is actually the best thing about the film being solid and reliable in a B-list John Wayne sort of way. Nancy, on the other hand, is pretty awful. The film just lacks any spark of life which may be because of the active involvement of the U.S. Navy - even the usually reliable Arthur Franz looks bored stiff throught. Directed by Nathan "Hertz" Juran - the man who brought us ATTACK OF THE FIFTY FOOT WOMAN, a movie of infinitely higher artistic achievement that HELLCATS. Dull, dull, dull. Rating *

The Trailer is better than the film.


I've been a Vincent Price fan for about fifty years and have seen most of his films. THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES, based on Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel and directed by Joe May (a German who had been influential in the early career of Fritz Lang) has until now eluded me. Now its here and it is pretty much what I expected given all the ingredients such as cast, director, year and studio. It is good solid Hollywood fare of the 40's. True to the spirit, if not the word, of Hawthorne's work and bearing absolutely no relationship to the later version (also starring Vincent Price) which was included as a segment of the portmanteau film TWICE TOLD TALES. Margaret Lindsay is excellent and George Sanders is despicably good but I expect that most people will by the film for Vincent Price as the wronged Clifford Pyncheon - framed for patricide by his evil brother. Fans won't be disappointed and Price goes from romantic to tormented to vengeful by way of hysterical (some wonderful manic laughter during the courtroom scene) and even manages to sing a song along the way Rating ***