Monday, 31 May 2010


Carol Haney in "Steam Heat"
Most of the classic musicals I've seen three or four times each but THE PAJAMA GAME only had one viewing - back in the 6o's on television and in black and white - and panned and scanned! No way to watch a movie. Seeing it on a friend's shelf I decided to give it another go. I'm glad I did. It's essentially a lightweight piece but none the worse for that. A new supervisor starts work in a pajama factory and falls in love with the head of the grievance committee. This brings workers and management together and a potentially ruinous strike for fair pay is avoided. The cast is particularly strong with Doris Day and John Raitt in the lead roles. Am I alone in thinking that back in the days when DD was making musicals - befor the Rock Hudson, Cary Grant years - she was one of the most drop-dead gorgeous women ever to grace the screen? John Raitt made few films, being essentially a Broadway star. His good looks and fine baritone voice are reasons to regret that he never ventured into the film world more often. Eddie Foy Jr. is outstanding as the factory foreman and his featured numbers are a joy. But, for me, the real star of the film is Carol Haney. Like Raitt she was not a big name in movies (she had been Gene Kelly's assistant choreograpger on SINGIN' IN THE RAIN) but was a legendary Broadway star and the great Bob Fosse's dancer of choice. Fosse is responsible for the choreography here and we get a great picnic number in "Once a Year Day" but nothing can beat "Steam Heat" which showcases Raney's dancing skills - and Fosse's style that would later flower on Broadway and in such movies as CABARET and CHICAGO. Raney effortlessly steals the film for me. Further down the cast is Barbara Nichols, one of the great Hollywood dumb blondes. Direction credit is shared by George Abbott (who directed on Broadway) and Stanley Donen. Rating ****

*A word of WARNING. I had to suffer this film on the Dynamic Films DVD. The transfer is absolutely appalling and I swear its slightly out of focus with color that looks like it is beginning to run. Do yourself a favour only watch it on the official Warner DVD or better still, do what I did, buy that version after watching the Dynamic version.

Saturday, 29 May 2010


Dennis Hopper
1936 - 2010

UN GENIO, DU COMPARI, UN POLIO/ A Genius, Two Friends and a Dupe (1975)

It's funny what you'll tolerate in the the search for forgotten masterpieces. I'm joking, of course.I'm a big fan of Sergio Leone and this is the last Western that he worked on. Although uncredited, Leone was Executive Producer and actually directed the pre-credit sequence. Terence Hill is his usual affable or irritating self (depending on your taste) as he brings the third incarnaton of his "Trinity" character who became "Nobody" for MY NAME IS NOBODY and now becomes "Joe Thanks" to the screen. While this is inferior to NOBODY and goes on far to long it does have certain points of interest - visually and in the cast. One is not at all surprised to find Klaus Kinski (as a surprisingly tolerant and forgiving gunfighter) but the presence of Patrick McGoohan slightly raises an eyebrow. But the best thing about the film by a long way is the totally delightful French actress Miou-Miou who, for me made the whole thing watchable if not inspiring. Directed by Diamano Diamani. Rating : a generous *** but without its leading lady it would have been **

Thursday, 27 May 2010


The Birthday Boys
(Sorry I'm a day late Peter but I wanted you all together!)

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

BOYS FROM COUNTY CLARE/The Boys and Girl from County Clare (2003)

Never heard of this before it was shown on the BBC. It's an absolute little gem. Set in the mid-60s against the background of a traditional Irish music festival in County Clare it tells of two estranged brothers - one a farmer and the other long living in Liverpool - who are competing against each other with their Ceili Bands. Sabotage and dirty tricks not withstanding the two brothers meet after twenty years and old grievances and long buried secrets rise to the surface.Beautifully played by the entire cast with Bernard Hill and Coln Meaney outstanding as the rival brothers and perfect support from Andrea Corr and Charlotte Bradley. Nice to see that fine actor T.P.McKenna again and there is even a surprise appearance by Patrick Bergin. Both laugh out loud funny and touching this is one worth seeking out. The music is first class as well! Directed by John Irvin. Rating ****

Tuesday, 11 May 2010


Last night I watched Kenji Mizoguchi's UGETSU MONOGATARI which turned out to be very worthy of its reputation. I wouldn't go as far as to put it among my favourite films of all time but I can see why some might. Based on classic Japanese ghost stories the film is very beautiful and superbly acted. It is one to seek out if you have not seen it so although it is an old film I don't want to spoil the plot - particularly the end. If you need to know you can read David Thomson's review in his book HAVE YOU SEEN? It seems that Mizoguchi, a master of his art, was unhappy with the ending and the way the studio "softened" the climax. For once I agree with Thomson that here is an example of the studio being right and the director wrong. The end is incredibly beautiful and very touching. I will warn you, however, that Thomson obviously had not seen the film for many years and totally misremembers a very important element of that ending. Rating *****

Sunday, 9 May 2010

PAYROLL (1961)

Okay, it wasn't the great heist film I remember but it is an extremely good heist movie with lots of interesting points and a few faults. On the plus side is the bleak Newcastle Upon Tyne setting which is perfectly captured by the bleak black and white photography. The cast is uniformly excellent with Michael Craig interestingly cast against type as the ruthless leader of the gang and Billie Whitelaw as the wife of one of their victims who decides to take the law into her own hands. Other gang members include the ever watchable Kenneth Griffith, Tom Bell and Barry Keegan. Francoise Prevost is particularly good as the totally mercenary wife of the man who sells info to the gang and her scene towards the end of the movie in a garage washroom deserves applause. There are a few plot holes but nothing too serious and William Lucas, an actor I always enjoyed on television and in British B-movies tends to overact during his most stressful moments in the film as Prevost's husband. The armoured car robbery itself is excellently handled. If you enjoy old English thrillers you'll like this. Sidney Hayers was an uneven director but given the right material as with NIGHT OF THE EAGLE and here he could deliver. Rating ***


The magnificence of the Ambersons is a shadow of what might have been, or so we have been led to believe. Mutilated beyond recognition, the director betrayed, a masterpiece destroyed, or so we are led to believe. I think we have to take a more realistic view. The Welles faction claims the above while the anti-Welles faction cites Welles' irresponsibility as the cause. The DVD has an extra in which a French critic gives a third, more reasoned explanation, that it was simply circumstance. I'm in the middle but think that Welles (and I'm a great admirer) bears a lot of responsibility although the new ending forced on the film by RKO is unforgiveable. But, all that taken into consideration, THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS is still a masterpiece - even at the ridiculous 88 minutes that we have. If we judge what is in front of us it is damn near perfect except for the final, horribly inappropriate, scene not directed by Welles, which betrays what goes before. If we do take into account the partisan battles surrounding the film then it remains a towering monument to Welles' gigantic talent that so much of his vision remains. It is mind-boggling good and in Agnes Moorehead it has one of the greatest performances by an actress in the history of Hollywood. Rating *****

Friday, 7 May 2010

LA REGLE DU JEU/The Rules of the Game (1939)

Many years ago I developed an aversion to Jean Renoir's LA REGLE DU JEU. It was a totally unreasonable aversion. For no particular reason I got it into my head that I didn't want to see it. Very odd, because generally I adore the films of Jean Renoir and you'd think I'd want to see a film that his regularly listed among the top dozen films of all time. Anyway, last night I sat down and watched it. On the surface it seems to be a typical French farce. A group of idle rich gather at a big country chateau for a shooting party. A mixture of husbands, wives, lovers, servants etc. There is lots of cheating, seduction, slamming of doors and running up and down the corridors of the chateau. Farce it may be but it is a dark one, brilliantly engineered by Renoir to show the decadence and shallow morality of the upper classes that, figuratively, fiddle while Europe burns. We start by laughing at these sad people but soon become aware that virtually every word they speak, every action they take, are lies, deceptions totally based on the "Rules" of their worthless society. Although it is never mentioned the shadow of the approaching war hangs heavy over the film and the long sequence of the slaughter of the rabbits prefigures the coming massacres. The inspiration seems to be Beaumarchais stories of the factotum Figaro (represented here by the poacher Marceau) and just as those stories unsettled the ruling class of the day so Renoir's film was banned by both the French goverment and the invading Germans and most copies of the movie were destroyed - including the original negative. Luckily various bits of the film survived and with Renoir's help it has been reconstructed with, according to the director, the loss of only one minor scene. A masterpiece? Undoubtedly. But, having said that, I couldn't warm to the film and didn't really enjoy it. Rating *****

Thursday, 6 May 2010

A Great Heist Movie

This is not a review....that will come soon. While watching the documentary OIL CITY CONFIDENTIAL I was intrigued to see that they had edited into the film footage from a 1961 film called PAYROLL directed by Sidney (NIGHT OF THE EAGLE) Hayers. I first heard about this film at school when one of my teachers, who had seen it at the cinema the night before, told us how much he enjoyed it and gave us a detailed account of the heist that is the central setpiece of the movie. I went to see it a few days later and loved it. For years it seemed to have vanished but seeing those clips again made me check it out and there it was available on DVD quite cheaply at Amazon. It's now winging its way towards me and I'm quite excited about seeing it again. I remember that it was considered very violent and brutal for its day and this opinion seems borne out by the reviews in IMDb. And its got Billie Whitelaw in it!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010


While not quite in the same class as THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, Lewis Gilbert's THE GOOD DIE YOUNG can lay fair claim to being a minor classic British heist movie. Four guys who are having various kinds of trouble with money and women find themselves drawn together in a pub and set about planning the robbery of a Post Office van carrying used bank notes. There is Laurence Harvey as a good looking bounder whose rich wife (Margaret Leighton) will no longer support him, Richard Basehart who needs to take his pregnant wife (a very pretty Joan Collins) away from her scheming mother, Stanley Baker as an amputee boxer who finds his wife (Rene Ray) has lost his savings helping her no good brother and John Ireland as an American serviceman married to an unfaithful starlet wife (Gloria Grahame at her gorgeous sluttish best). These back stories are told in some detail but hold the interest until the heist itself - an amatuer job (Jack Hawkins would have laughed his socks off) that is totally botched leading to a pursuit through the dark streets, railway stations and churchyards of post war London. Nicely shot in the Film Noir style and mainly told in flashback from a point just before the robbery the film certainly held my interest - even on what is at least my third viewing. The supporting cast has some interesting names including Freda (BRIDES OF DRACULA, MONSTER OF TERROR etc) Jackson as the mother-in-law from hell and Robert Morley as Harvey's father. The leads are all convincing with Harvey and Baker being particularly good. In the scene prior to the actual boxing match watch for the arrival in the background of a young boxer - if I'm not mistaken that is a very young Edward Judd. In the first pub scene there is a young man with black hair standing by a piano who looks remarkably like the singer Michael Holliday who was popular in the mid to late Fifties - anybody know for certain? Rating ***

Monday, 3 May 2010

Lynn Redgrave 1943 - 2010
R. I. P.


I suspect that Willis Hall's play comes over much more powerfully on stage. Leslie Norman's film version, filmed entirely on sound stages, never really tries to open the story out. While the reason is obviously that to do so would have seriously damaged the integrity of the original it also means that as a film it becomes fatally, in my view, artificial. I'd be interested to see Hammer Films' very similar YESTERDAY'S ENEMY again to compare how they dealt with similar production problems. The excellent cast is led by Richard Todd as a tough, experienced sergeant with a blot on his career that haunts him and he is ably supported by, amongst others, Laurence Harvey, Richard Harris, Ronald Frasier and David McCallum. One certainly can't fault the talent involved although performances struck me as stage rather than film orientated - the exception being Richard Todd who underplays convincingly and makes his character seem more real than just a cypher. The film's theme - an ethical question about whether or not to kill a Japanese prisoner - is cliched and contrived but, as I've said, no doubt works better on the stage than on film. It's rather strained seriousness coupled with the studio bound artificiality finally sank the film for me but it remains an interesting attempt at filming a play which is still popular and still performed after Fifty odd years. Rating ***

Sunday, 2 May 2010


Classic piece of wartime propaganda which despite being made in 1942 starts with a prologue set after the end of the war. The film tells of an idyllic English village invaded by Nazi paratroopers disguised as British soldiers and has many similarities to the much later THE EAGLE HAS LANDED. Count Zaroff himself, Leslie Banks, is up to no good at the Manor House and the excellent cast includes David Farrar, Basil Sidney, Mervyn Johns, Harry Fowler, Patricia Hayes and Thora Hird. The film remains quite shocking in the way the villagers begin to despatch the Germans with anything at hand - one kindly old lady doesn't think twice about taking an axe to a German she has been feeding moments before while others stab, shoot and club the enemy. It must have had them cheering in the local cinemas back in 1942 and it still pretty gripping drama today - a dark companion piece to Powell and Pressburger's A CANTERBURY TALE. Rating ****