Thursday, 30 September 2010

TONY CURTIS 1925 - 2010

Whenever possible I like to pass on personal memories of those film celebrities that I have been lucky enough to meet personally. Tony Curtis was one of those. It was sometime during the mid-60's that I was lucky enough to spend time in the presence of Tony and his then wife, the actress Christine Kaufman, in their suite at London's Savoy Hotel. I had just delivered some tickets to them and in the process of bringing them to the hotel I had been caught in a downpour of rain. Tony insisted on sending my jacket to be dried which took about twenty minutes. He was completely unaffected by his star status and talked about his early days working in Universal Studios. Despite his pretty boy looks (and he was ridiculously handsome even during the 60's) Curtis was a fine actor, as witness such films as THE OUTSIDER, SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, SOME LIKE IT HOT, THE BOSTON STRANGLER, SPARTACUS, THE VIKINGS and others.Sadly, as the looks faded Tony didn't seem to handle it too well and he appeared in a succession of bizarre toupees and hats. In the last couple of years he seems to have found peace with himself. He was 85 when he died and it was a privilege to have shared 20 minutes or so of that remarkable life.

Monday, 20 September 2010


Eighteen minutes into this film I thought "Why am I watching this piece of shit?".

Friday, 17 September 2010


Charles Sturridge's television film based on actor/writer Tony Warren's fight to get his script for "Florizel Street" made by Granada Television is as perfect a piece of entertainment as I've seen on the box for many a day. It's easy to get snobby about soaps - I've given them up along with broadcast television - but I still remember clearly the day back in 1960 when CORONATION STREET(as it eventually became) first appeared on our screens. I was 14 at the time and now 50 years later it is still running. Like many I followed it for years and for many years I enjoyed it for its balance of drama and comedy. I was never a fanatical follower and it never worried me if I missed episodes but it was part of my life and there were many characters that I still feel genuinely fond of. This film tells how the show came into being, how the pivotal characters were cast and ends just as the first episode goes on air.I admit that I felt quite emotional watching it and loved the way that, like the show, it balanced the drama and comedy. It is helped enormously by casting that is near genius. David Dawson is superb as Tony Warren - keeping his portrayal of the then 22 year old writer just this side of camp - while it took me a good thirty minutes before I realised that the Canadian producer Harry Elton was played by none other than Christian Mackay who proves that he is more than a one trick pony after his portrayal of Orson Welles in ME AND ORSON WELLES. But Warren and Elton were behind the scenes faces and films of this kind can lose credibility if no attempt is made to cast the more familiar faces. Lynda Barron is magnificent as Violet Carson and Celia Imrie as regally perfect as Doris Speed. A nice touch was having James Roache play his own father William ("Well, it's only for 13 weeks")Roache but the real plaudets must go to actress Jessie Wallace(herself a veteran of over 500 episodes of EAST ENDERS) who gives a performance as Pat Phoenix that is so spookily accurate that it has to be seen to be believed. Steven Berkoff appears as Granada supremo Sidney Bernstein. Script is by Darren Little whose previous work includes EAST ENDERS, HOLLYOAKS and, of course, CORONATION STREET episodes. Rating ****

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Claude Chabrol : A personal appreciation.

The death of Claude Chabrol has robbed the French Cinema and the world of one of its masters. Chabrol started is career as a film critic, one of the group which included his friends Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard who gathered around the influential film journal Cahiers du Cinema. Along with Truffaut, Godard and others he moved on to become a film director and a leading light in the Nouvelle Vague movement that revolutionised French cinema and widely influenced the whole world of film making. Unlike Godard, but like Truffaut, Chabrol was a heart a traditional film-maker and his best films for me are those where he displays his love of classic films, particularly Alfred Hitchcock. But Chabrol was not a slavish imitator like Brian DePalma, his best films shared certain preoccupations with the master. His career embraced everything from literary classics like MADAME BOVARY to Euro-spy films like MARIE CHANTAL CONTRE DR.KHA and his two "TIGER" films - often made as commercial assignments when he neeed to raise money for more personal projects. He made DR. M which was a modern day Dr.Mabuse adventure and on television he even tackled FANTOMAS and Edgar Allan Poe. My favourites among his movies are LE SCANDALE, LA FEMME INFIDELE, THE BEAST MUST DIE, LE BOUCHER, JUSTE AVANTE LA NUIT, LES BICHES, TEN DAYS WONDER, THE HATTER'S GHOST and REINE NE VA PLUS. A favourite moment ? It has to be that heart rending look that passes between Stephane Audran and Michel Bouquet at the very end of LA FEMME INFIDELE - full of emotion but typically Chabrol achieves the effect by having the faces of his actors immobile and blank. Of Chabrol himself - his wonderful, very French, face domininated by his eyes so full of humour (and magnified by his glasses) indicate somebody who enjoyed life as much as he loved cinema. He was married to the beaufiful Stephane Audran who starred in many of his best films. R.I.P.

Thursday, 9 September 2010


I have no idea what the original novel that the film is based on is like although the only person I know who tried to read it hated it. The main problem with Peter Jackson's film version is it can't make up its mind what it wants to be. While it is earthbound it is fine but once we get to heaven we get lost in the too cute CGI effects - we might as well be in Oz with Dorothy. Films based on novels that have unconventional narrative structures are often better off ignoring them rather than finding a cinematic equivalent (am I alone in thinking that the film version of one of my favourite novels THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN totally failed in this mission as well?) and here I kept imagining what a director like Hitchcock or even Claude Chabrol could have done with the story without the heavenly interludes. Given the course the film does take the plot just cries out for some sort of closure for its characters that is dramatically satisfying for its audience and even that is missing from the strangely schizophrenic film. Performances are exemplary with Stanley Tucci, Mark Wahlberg and Susan Sarandon being especially notable. Rating **


Nicholas Ray's films are never less than interesting. Even when not entirely engaged by the project he managed to look at the most commercial subjects from a slightly askew angle and they were never less than entertaining. He was a true Hollywood maverick and therefore had much in common with German director and Ray fan Wim Wenders. The two met when Wenders asked Ray to play a role in his film THE AMERICAN FRIEND and Ray became Wenders American friend. Shortly before Ray's death from cancer Wenders took time of from his own projects to go to New York and stay with Ray and his wife, Sue, in the loft apartment where they lived surrounded by film equipment, books, Mickey Mouse memorabila and a few admirers who seem to have taken up residence in various corners. As film-makers like these often do when they get together it was suggested that they do a film together. This is what there is of that film. Part home movie, part fiction, part documentary there is virtually no structure. We see Ray at a screening of his film THE LUSTY MEN and rehearsing a stage adaption of Kafka's "Report to the Academy" but mostly the film centres on Ray himself - obviously in pain and near to death and relating his philosphy and his fears often in a rambling stream of consciousness. The love of Wenders for his American friend is obvious in the pain on his face and the heart rending honesty of their conversations. Ray himself comes over as likeable and eccentric - a totally bohemian figure at odds with his Hollywood career. I've read that this film is profound - I don't know - but for me its value is that Wenders shares with us that very personal episode of his life and his friend's approaching death and that is extremely moving and valuable to those of us who have admired Nicholas Ray's films. Rating ****

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Here's an interesting one.......

Ward Bond as "John Dodge" alongside John Ford
on the set of THE WINGS OF EAGLES.

Sometime ago I ran a series of posts on this blog about real-life people who have been portrayed by actors in films. One of my regular readers - Ray - has come up with a similar themed question : Real life film directors who have been depicted in films. Let me make it clear that I don't mean film directors who have taken character roles in films - although we might get around to that in the future - because actor/directors are fairly common (i.e.Clint Eastwood). What I mean is film directors who have been played by actors. I will accept examples where a director has played himself in a dramatic presentation as in my first example listed below. I've done no research into this yet but have listed a few examples that immeadiatly come to mind.Please feel free to add to this list via the comment facility or e-mail and I'll list them on the blog proper. Here's my initial list :

Cecil B. DeMille as Cecil B.DeMille in SUNSET BOULEVARD
Ward Bond as "John Dodge" (John Ford) in THE WINGS OF EAGLES
John Malkovich as F.W. Murnau in SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE
John Depp as Edward Wood Jr. in ED WOOD
Ian McKellan as James Whale in GODS AND MONSTERS
Clive Revill as Charles Chaplin in THE SCARLETT O'HARA WAR
George Furth as George Cukor in THE SCARLETT O'HARA WAR
Martin Ferrero as George Cukor in GODS AND MONSTERS
Robert Downey Jr. as Charles Chaplin in CHAPLIN
Eddie Izzard as Charles Chaplin in THE CAT'S MEOW
Cary Elwes as Thomas Ince in THE CAT'S MEOW
Michael McKean as Christy Cabanne in AND STARRING PANCHO VILLA AS HIMSELF

Saturday, 4 September 2010


I was quite prepared to dismiss this as a frothy "romantic comedy" - a minor work directed by the great Rene Clair. While I still feel that it is not one of Clair's best films just as the previously reviewed L'AIR DE PARIS was not one of Carne's best it works in part for more or less the same reasons as the Carne film; it has a genuine gallic charm and is more than carried by the fact that it stars two of the great stars of the French cinema of the period : Michele Morgan and the great Gerard Philipe. I say they are "partly" responsible because quite unexpectedly it has another darker dimension. The scene is France durin La Belle Epoque and in a provincial garrison town a young officer of dragoons with a reputation as a womaniser makes a bet that he can seduce any woman. The woman is picked by the winning number in a charity raffle but things go awry when the soldier actually falls in love with his victim and has to try to conceal the fact that they came together because of a wager among drunken soldiers. So far, so good, it is pure romantic comedy. But, in truth, it is a tragi-comedy and as the film moves towards its climax the desperation of the the soldier to convince the woman of his true love and the confusion anf hurt she experiences make it obvious that it is going to be difficult to avoid tragic consequences. The cliche would be a happy ending but Clair does not let these characters that we have really begun to care about of the hook. The film ends sadly with the woman rejecting the soldier. But Clair went further and there is an alternative ending (included on the DVD as an extra) which, presumably, was considered too harsh for audiences at the time which ends with a suicide. Both endings give the film unexpected depth. The cast also includes a very young and pretty Brigitte Bardot. Rating ****

Thursday, 2 September 2010


To me, Marcel Carne rates as one of the greatest of French directors but this is hardly on a par with his great films of the Thirties and Forties. The plot which involves an ex-boxer who owns a rundown boxing gymn who, on the point of retirement, discovers a young boxer of real talent who just as things begin to happen for him is distracted by an affair with a beautiful antique dealer (the gorgeous Corinne) is totally predictable (so much so that one of the characters even comments on the cliche of the situation. But it is atmospheric, never boring and reunites Jean Gabin and Arletty from Carne's JOUR SA LEVE and features Roland Lesaffre (who sticks in the mind as the smiling blackmailer from THERESE RAQUIN), so what's not to like? The boxing scenes are convincing. Rating ***