Clever film. Written by Andrew Davies (wouldn't you know it?) the film tells of two (fictional) jurors at the (real life) trial in 1962 of Penguin Books to decide whether their publication of D.H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover contravened the Obscene Publications Act. The couple, she (Louise Delamere) is middle class, divorced, experienced and sophisticated, while he (Timothy Spall) is working class, married and a bit naive. While serving on the jury they begin an affair which reflects that in the book. The illicit romance makes him re-evaluate his life, expectations and values and she finds in the brief liason a fulfillment and happiness that seems to elude her in the rest of her life. We learn this as the film is told in flashback from the characters older selves (perfectly played by Claire Bloom and Kenneth Cranham). The trial itself is taken strictly from the actual transcripts and the parade of expert witnesses (including David Tennant) defending Lawrence's graphic depiction of the sexual act, actually comments on the morality of the affair of the two central characters. Being an Andrew Davies script the film has its share of material that some may find shocking in a television movie from the BBC with all Lawrences expletives paraded (if you want to hear Dr.Who talking dirty this is the film for you!) and graphic depictions of intercourse (and not too graphically oral and anal sex) and full frontal male nudity. The acting is superb and I found the characters totally believable - not to mention extremely likeable. The period atmosphere and detail is first class and the sparing use of pop music (often over-used in other films) as a link to separate the days of the trial works well. Plaudits all around. Rating ****
Jules Dassin's THE NAKED CITY has always seemed over-rated to me. True, it is an important film for its use of real New York locations. It has a good story and a good cast. Good as that cast is it is there that I find the film flawed. I'm not denying the worth of performers like Barry FitzGerald, Don Taylor and Howard Duff but here they seem totally at odds with the intended realistic style of the film. The worst offender is FitzGerald who I find totally unbelievable as the cop heading up the investigation of the murder of a model. FitzGerald, who is about 4ft 6in tall is referred to as an ex-beat cop! Maybe in Middle Earth arresting drunken Hobbits but as a detective here his comes over far too whimsical and "oirish". The realistic tone is further spoilt by the scenes of Don Taylor's home-life which is twee enough to have come from a 50's American sitcom. There is also a crushingly wrong footed narration by the film's producer, Mark Hellinger, whose comments on the action are at odds with the avowed documentary look of the film. On the plus side Ted DeCorsia is terrific as the heavy and the final chase through the New York streets is excellent. An enjoyable film, maybe a notable one but over-rated nonetheless. Rating ***
A couple of years ago we were treated to the release of two long unavailable John Wayne aviation adventures (THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY and ISLAND IN THE SKY) and now along comes another one. I've never seen JET PILOT on VHS or DVD before and as far as I recall not on television. Made under the banner of Howard Hughes it combines two of HH's great passions - aviation and pursuing young starlets. The film is a light romantic comedy masquerading as a spy story in much the same sub-genre as NINOTCHKA and SILK STOCKINGS but far below those templates in terms of quality. This is not to say that there isn't a lot for the cinephile to enjoy. For one thing it is the last film directed by the great Josef Von Sternberg. I don't know the circumstances but it certainly seems a strange project for Dietrich's svengali, the director of such classics as THE SCARLET EMPRESS and SHANGHAI EXPRESS and it seems that there is uncredited direction by Jules Furthman. Acting wise the film suffers from a rather stiff supporting cast which includes Jay C. Flippen and Wayne's old buddy Paul Fix as well as one scene from Hans Conreid. Praise must be given, however, to the two stars - John Wayne and Janet Leigh (the object of HH's desire) - as there is a real chemistry between them which I found completely charming and unexpected - not to mention quite sexy. The film was actually made in 1950 with the full co-operation of the U.S.Airforce. Because their co-operation was so full (they get star billing) the film's release was delayed for nearly seven years as some of the technology shown was still on the secret list - plus HH, as was his want, refilmed many scenes to keep up with the fast advance of aviation technology. The flying sequences are amongst the best I've ever seen and are a joy to watch. The stunt flying is mostly done by test pilot Chuck Yeager who later went on to be the first man to break the sound barrier in the X1 rocket plane which is featured heavily at the climax of JET PILOT masquerading as a Russian "Parasite fighter". Of course the movie is very much a piece of Red-baiting propaganda but as such it is a less offensive than Waynes's BIG JIM McLAIN. The film is slight and a bit silly with a totally unbelievable plot but once you accept that, if you like Wayne and don't mind eye-balling the gorgeous Miss Leigh, there is a lot to enjoy. The DVD I picked up was really cheap but the picture quality is absolutely superb. Rating ***
This was the last of the RKO Tarzan series featuring Johnny Weissmuller as Edgar Rice Burroughs' jungle hero. Although the film is mildly entertaining and certainly not the worst of the series it is easy to see why the end was in sight. Weissmuller is too old for the part and is obviously overweight. Boy (usually played by Johnny Sheffield) is away being educated in England, there's a new smaller Cheetah and Tarzan is wearing sandals. The famous tree house is only seen in a couple of stock shots from earlier films with Jane and Tarzan's home being limited to a cramped soundstage set. Worst of all is the comedy relief provided by John Laurenz who bursts into song several times during the movie. Like most of the series during the 40's the African jungle is totally devoid of black natives and Tarzan's home seems to be situated a few miles upstream from a Mexican coastal village. The plot is a cast off from an old Republic serial with wicked whites masquerading as a talking idol to control the simple natives. On the plus side the main villain is George Zucco in High Priest mode who veers between looking as though he is enjoying himself and looking distinctly embarassed by the crown of seashells he has to wear in some scenes - but mostly the old Zucco twinkle is still there. The film benefits from an interesting location and some impressive sets. But it was obviously time for Weissmuller to put on his clothes again and become JUNGLE JIM for rival studio, Columbia. Rating ***
Due to any administration oversight...i.e. I forgot...there has been no link on this page to my third blog, entitled YESTERDAY'S WINE. This is now rectified. Oil slicks, Heinz Sandwich Spread, Freudian Dreams, music - all human life is there.
Early in his career Paul Naschy (or whatever name he was using then) appeared in the same television episode of I SPY as the ageing Boris Karloff. It's nice to think that was the defining moment that changed his life. There can be few non-English speaking actors who were so determined to become identified with the horror genre. Naschy certainly achieved his dream (I certainly hope it was his dream) and today, despite the poor quality of many of his films, he is held in some affection by genre fans. I had seen none of his films prior to his death in 2009 but those I have seen since (thanks Cerpts) sort of explain the appeal. FURY OF THE WOLFMAN is, I believe, one of his best known films. It's a dilly! The film packs so much plot into its running time I honestly gave up on trying to follow the story and just let the images waft over my eyeballs and seep into my sub-conscious - werewolves, dungeons, hypnosis, whippings, murder, adultery, some pretty girls, some dubious looking costumes, a Yeti. Like ASSIGMENT TERROR (See the previous post) it has a certain primitive charm. Directed by Jose Maria Zabalza. Rating ***
Like blood to a vampire, every few months at least I have to have a trash infusion. Why is it that a film as blatantly bad as this euro-trash monster fest can be so bloody entertaining. Badly acted by everybody (poor Michael Rennie must have been close to death when he made this) with Paul Naschy doing his lycanthrope bit without any dialogue and wide eyed Karin Dor who always looks as though she would rather be somewhere else (there was no escape for Karin who just went from one euro-trash film to another) and incomprehensibly edited - although I was watching the re-edited American video version. So why was it so much fun? Who knows? Perhaps because watching something as inconsequential as this doesn't do as much damage to your soul as being subjected to a multi-million dollar fiasco like VAN HELSING, a film whose only justification for existence is so horror fans can hurl abuse at it. Also known as DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN and directed by Tulio Demichelli and (unaccountably) Hugo Fregonese. Rating **
Robert Altman is, without doubt, one of the great American directors, although I have followed his career from a distance inasmuch as I own nothing by him. A PRARIE HOME COMPANION was the last film made before his death and it is a superb final effort and a perfect example of the ensemble style that Altman made his own over the years. It is based on the popular radio show of the same name by Garrison Keillor (above with Meryl Streep and Lindsay Lohan) which is a sort of cod version of the Grand Old Opry complete with singing cowboys, folksy humour and even fake adverts. I catch the show on the radio sometimes and it is an absolute delight which sounds like it is coming through a time warp from the early 1950's. The film expands on this and is set during the show's final broadcast before being cancelled by the new radio station owner (a wonderfully unsympathetic Tommy lee Jones) and while the show is being visited by an angel (Virginia Madsen) who has come to take one of the cast to meet God.The humour is subtle, dry and extremely laid back and is tuned perfectly to Keillor's own straight-faced delivery (he appears as the show's host - simply called GK) and the cast is simply magnificent - Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin and Lynsey Lohan as the Johnson Family singers, Woody Harrelson and John C.Riley as the singing cowboys intent on slipping dirty songs by the show's producer, L.Q.Jones as an ageing country star and Kevin Kline as the immaculate, preening, hard-boiled detective Guy Noir. It's funny and the music is pretty good and above all it is a wonderfully tender film that really does have something worthwhile to say about human values, loyalty etc. One of the best I've seen this year. Rating *****
George Waggner's 1941 THE WOLF MAN (note the subtle difference in the title) was not the brightest of movies and neither is Joe Johnston's 2010 remake. Both films have plot flaws and illogical moments which bring a smile to those who not necessarily looking for great intellectual truths or deep philosophical ponderings. The many critics of Johnston's film seem to live in a cloistered little world where horror films are the be all and end all of cinematic art - even suggesting that Rob Zombie might have been a better director!!!!!!!!. Nothing much seems to exist for them outside the genre. Horror films of the generic kind are not particularly important in the scheme of things but good ones are enormously entertaining and this is where THE WOLFMAN scores very highly for me. Unlike the appalling VAN HELSING, Johnston's THE WOLFMAN seems to know exactly where it is going. It is full-blooded (in more ways than one) gothic melodrama with no pretensions. It has minor faults (particularly when potentially interesting plot elements are introduced and then dropped - such as the mysterious man with the cane) but it is very well acted with Del Toro a perfect choice as Lawrence Talbot (here a moody Byronic Shakespearean actor, first seen playing Hamlet on stage) and Anthony Hopkins just right as his father (a very different character from Claude Rains in the original) indulging in some very effective underplaying. Hugo Weaving turns up as Inspector Abberline (a real-life character) fresh from hunting Jack the Ripper (a better performance than either Michael Caine or Johnny Depp gave in previous film incarnations of Abberline.) Emily Blunt's role a Gwen seems a bit underwritten but not fatally. The films looks gorgeous (even if some of the locations used for Victorian London look a tad familiar). Danny Elfman's score is excellent, if somewhat reminiscent of Kilar's music for Francis Coppola's DRACULA. Great fun. Rating ****
Here's one to get excited about. I've waited years to see this - it was one of the few foreign language films my mother ever raved about but one that has eluded me for years although I did see the not so good version directed by Roger Vadim in the 1960's. Max Ophul's 1950 version of Arthur Schnitler's turn of the century play about sex is a masterpiece. On a technical level it is stunning - long takes, tracking shots to die for and some wonderful direction from Ophuls. Part of Ophuls greatness as a director is that even when you are aware of his technical virtuosity one tends to forget while watching the film for Ophuls style is always at the service of his story. I watched the film and fell in love with it. I then watched a long interview with Ophuls expert Alan Williams where he pointed out much that I had not consciously noticed. I then watched it again and looked for many of the points that Williams had noticed but found myself being drawn into the story and the characters yet again. It was not until I watched it a third time with a commentary that I could concentrate on the technical pyrotechnics employed by Opuls. Somebody once said that if you left a cinema remembering the musical score the composer had failed in his job. His music should enhance the action without drawing attention to itself. That is the secret of Ophuls style. The cast is superlative. Of course any film featuring the great Anton Walbrook is going to be special and here he is on top form as the "raconteur" - as sort of on screen narrator who is able to step in and out of character (and in and out of the film) at will, address the audience, move characters through time and at one point "censor" a scene by actually clipping the film with scissors!
He moves through Vienna is various disguises, changing costumes at will, commenting on the action and even giving one character directions on where to stand so that the story can commence. He is, in fact, Ophuls alter ego, allowing the director to step into the film. A character asks him "do I know you?" to which Walbrook replies "I get around." The part does not exist in the original play nor in the other two film versions. Anton Walbrook was third choice for the role but it is hard to believe that anybody could have been better and the actor is obviously enjoying the playfulness of the part immensely. The rest of the cast is a virtual who's who of post-war French cinema greats with Simone Signoret, Serge Reggiani, Simone Simon, Daniel Gelin, Danielle Darrieux, Jean-Loius Barrault and Gerard Philippe. Lowering the tone a bit, look out for some wonderful double entendres particularly in the Gerard Philippe sequence : "Didn't think you would come this morning" "let me hold your sword" "where can I put my helmet" - all worth of a CARRY ON. Yet this is not a French farce. It actually does have something to say about sex (without ever being moralising) and human nature and it does it with wit and style. It jumps straight into my top ten favourite films. Rating *****