Sunday, 31 October 2010


Some might call KINGS OF THE SUN a guilty pleasure but why should we feel guilty about innocent pleasure. Reading the IMDb discussion boards there seem to be a lot of people who feel the same about this movie as I do. Many years ago when George Chakiris visited by hometown I asked him about the film and he said that it was great fun to make. And that, I think, sums the movie up. So what have we got? Well, for a start the film is about Mayans which means the characters get to wear flower pots on their heads or more spectacular headgear that looks like it had been liberated from the wardrobe of Carmen Miranda. The Mayans are forced to flee their homeland in the Yucatan Peninsula because they are being attacked by Leo Gordon (and in movies being attacked by Leo is a serious matter). They end up somewhere in Texas where they come into contact with Native Americans led by a Russian from Vladivostok who bears a remarkable resemblance to the King of Siam. The plot is pretty silly but like many silly things it is great fun. One of the real pleasures is watching the actors for a variety of reasons. Brad Dexter copes bravely trying not to look silly with a flowerpot on his head while Richard Basehart manfully deals with the ridiculous wig he has to wear before giving up and committing suicide. Then there is the strange case of Shirley Ann Field. She was probably a very nice girl but I never really saw any sign of acting ability - her lines here and in all her films being spoken in a droning monotone that destroys any dramatic value they may have had. She is, to say the least, a very unconvincing Mayan (and to stand out on that account in this film is something of an achievement). And then there is Yul Brynner - sinuous, charismatic, panther-like and the epitome of a star. When Brynner is on screen nobody else stands a chance. Enjoy. Rating ***

Tuesday, 26 October 2010


Aaahh! Some trash at last! Made ten years before Roger Corman pervy version starring Shelley Winters, this is an another inaccurate (although slightly less so than Corman's) retelling of the story of Ma Barker and her boys. It is generally accepted now that the legend of the gun-toting old lady beloved by Hollywood was created by the FBI when they discovered the dead body of the old girl when they shot it out with her son Arthur. But the old John Ford dictum "When the legend becomes fact print the legend" holds true and rather that showing Ma cleaning their shirts and cooking their grits we again have Ma as the machine gun brandishing brains behind the Barker gang. Laurene Tuttle plays the part well, encouraging he boys to steal, kidnap and murder. The real-life brains of the gang seems to have been Alvin "Creepy" Karpis, played here by Paul Dubov - having his second stab at the character after having played him five years earlier for the same director in the GANG BUSTERS series. The film is no masterpiece but it has a nice low-budget 1950's feel to it which gives it a nice seedy atmosphere. Inaccurately, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Machine Gun Kelly all turn up - the first two as actual members of Ma's gang! Rating **

Thursday, 21 October 2010


With this television film adaption of the novel by H.G.Wells, on which he is executive producer, scriptwriter and star, Mark Gatiss continues his plan to dominate the BBC airwaves. With the serialisation of his novel The Devil in Amber (read by Gatiss himself) on Radio 7 and his recent SHERLOCK series plus his A HISTORY OF HORROR and now THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON it is getting difficult to turn on the television or radio without tripping over him. But given his track record so far I'd give him the whole BBC to play with if he wanted it. Gatiss takes the moon landing of 1969 as his jumping off (or back) point for a pretty faithful adaption of the Wells novel and while and space adventure set in Edwardian times is bound to be a WALLACE AND GROMIT, or Steam Punk as they call it now,but that only adds to the charm. Gatiss makes a wonderfully eccentric Professor Cavor and Rory Kinnear is his slightly nervous companion Bedford. The special effects are adequate in a nice pre-CGI way and the ant-like Selenites are decidedly creepy with the Grand Lunarite looking like something from the mind of H.P.Lovecraft. Great fun. Rating ***

Sunday, 17 October 2010

ON THE BEAT (1962)

Increasingly in recent years, old English films in black and white have become like comfort food for me. It is the simple pleasure of nostalgia - of seeing the world I grew up in. ON THE BEAT was released in 1962, the year that I left school and started work. By that time I felt I had outgrown the comedies of Norman Wisdom which I had enjoyed as a child. Norman's recent death spurred me to see at least one of his films again and by sheer luck it turned out to be ON THE BEAT which was transmitted as a tribute to Sir Norman. And what a tribute! Norman's style of clowning has gone out of fashion with the public and was never really in fashion with the highbrow critics but I suspect that now he has gone his comedy legacy will be re-evaluated and rehabilitated much as Benny Hill's has been. Of the films of Norman's that I have seen ON THE BEAT is easily the best and any doubt that he was one of the greatest British clowns must vanish after seeing it. The film is genuinely funny, highly inventive and a perfect showcase for Norman's many talents (as a physical clown he is in the first order) and as a plus the film features a dazzling array of great British character actors - I can't remember when I've seen Raymond Huntley having so much fun and to see David Lodge trying to teach Norman to do a mincing walk is a sheer joy. The long chase scene involving a veritable army of police constables is equal to anything done by The Keystone Kops. It's a police comedy with Norman in a dual role as police wannabe and an Italian gangster and for once his "little chap" pathos which somewhat marred his films is played down to an acceptable level and he doesn't get to sing (thankfully, in my opinion). It's a classic. Rating ****

View the entire film by clicking this link : Norman Wisdom in ON THE BEAT

Saturday, 16 October 2010


I watch movies for many reasons. This one is the total opposite of the Norman Wisdom film reviewed elsewhere. I am quite happy to be just entertained and I like movies that make think about issues, but perhaps the films I enjoy most are those where I have to mentally engage with the film-maker. I really don't mind not having thinks spelled out for me, I don't need every single point of a film being explained to me. I appreciate that there are writers and directors out there who don't underestimate their target audience and trust them to meet the material to meet half way. Of course, sometimes I'm dumb and miss a lot of points (as I did with Chabrol's MERCI POUR LE CHOCOLAT) but on those occasions I'm usually aware that I've missed something and am prepared to put a little more effort into my viewing. THE KILLER INSIDE ME certainly demands effort on many levels. Controversially it contains a couple of scenes of violence against women which some may feel go too far in the way they are shown but I think that is separate discussion. The film is about madness - about a mad killer who happens to be a deputy sheriff in West Texas (the film is based on a novel by Jim Thompson which is set in the 1950's) and the film itself makes no moral judgements but rather simply observes Lou Ford (a brilliantly chilling performance by Casey Affleck) as he spirals out of control. Watching the movie it is difficult to decide how much of what we see is real and how much is in Ford's mind - certainly the ending will provoke endless discussion. It's a complex film which demands an effort on the part of the viewer. Of course, I'm sure, some will take everything simply at face value and that also is a valid way to see it - but I'm pretty sure it results in a less rich experience. Not for the squeamish. Rating ****

Note : The story was previously filmed under the same title by Burt Kennedy and starring Stacy Keach in the 1970's.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

"Karloff was a pussycat" says Gloria Stuart.

Any programme devoted to the history of horror films is welcome and when that programme is written and directed by bonafide horror film fan Mark Gatiss (as part of his current bid for world domination) then it is doubly welcome. In his new three part series, not surprisingly called A HISTORY OF HORROR, Gatiss provides us with a basic guide through the popular horror film. In no way do I use the word "basic" to deride the show for it is in all ways excellent. For those who know little of the genre it will provide a good grounding and while long-time horror fans like myself and Cerpts probably won't learn much that is new the show does show us a whole coffin load of wonders such as Lon Chaney's original makeup kit, a tour of Universal's Frankenstein village and the opera house set of the first PHANTOM - not to mention Sarah Karloff's wonderful bathroom! The clips are well chosen as are the interviewees such as Gloria Stuart (possibly one of her final interviews) and a British actress who toured in a stage production of DRACULA with Lugosi in the Fifties.John Carpenter tells us that he thinks Val Lewton is "way over-rated" (although Gatiss obviously doesn't agree) and Donny Dunegan contributes memories of working with Karloff and Lugosi on SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. I'm looking forward to the next two episodes and a DVD release. A real winner.

Sunday, 10 October 2010


The recent death of Claude Chabrol has reawakened my interest in this director. I've been a fan for many years but his death made me realise that recently I've somewhat taken his talent for granted. Often it is useful to go back and reassess films that we saw many years ago. We, hopefully, mature, understand the language of films a little better, have different values and a better appreciation of the subtleties of human behaviour which enable us to see things in films that we missed on a first viewing. A recent re-viewing of Chabrol's LE BOUCHER on television made me feel it was a greater film than I had originally thought. I was surprised to see how much of Chabrol's ouvre is now available on DVD (although sadly there is no sign of his "Tiger" euro-spy films - reportedly not good but high on my list of films I want to see) and I've recently gone through Lovefilm's catalogue clicking the "rent" button on a host of Chabrol titles. First to arrive is MERCI POUR LE CHOCOLAT and it is a perfect example of Chabrol's talent. It is a deceptively simple film, so deceptive that as it ended I was quite taken back - thinking that I'd missed something. I went back to the beginning and watched it again and it all fell into place and Chabrol's seemingly abrupt ending made perfect sense. The making of documentary included as an extra is particularly revealing (confirming my own interpretations) and providing a very welcome chance to watch Chabrol at work and talking about the film. Chabrol describes the film as a detective story but at first it seems we have no detective. Of course we, the audience are the detective, provided with clues to a crime we don't know about and another that has not yet happened. We have a suspect whose guilt is revealed to us simply be her behaviour rather than seeing any crime commited. Wonderfully subtle performance by Isabel Huppert who like Stephane Audran before her seems perfectly in tune with the director. Look out for the cushion cover. Rating ****

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

INCENSE OF THE DAMNED/ Bloodsuckers (1970)

Based on an interesting novel called Doctors Wear Scarlet by Simon Raven this is a real treat for the connoisseur of bad movies. Director Robert Hartford Davis claimed that the film was never finished and had his name removed from the credits and its easy to see why. It was made in 1970 but not released until six years later. The story starts with an echo of Hammer's THE DEVIL RIDES OUT with a group of friends meeting to discuss rescuing Patrick Mower from bad company. They set off for Greece where they find him under the influence of a beautiful vampire. Rescue follows but back in England all is not well. The editing is slack, the script is banal and even the trailer which is included as an extra is better than the film it is advertising. So why in the demented fleapit I call a brain did I enjoy this film so much? Well it has a cast to relish with Peter Cushing, Patrick Macnee, Patrick Mower. See Patrick Mower spank a donkey, see Imogen Hassell as a mini-skirted vampire, see David Lodge as greek cop, see the best man on a donkey chasing a vampire on a donkey chase ever filmed and see giant rocks bounce of Patrick Mower's head, see Madeline Hinde's as Cushing's daughter struggle to react convincingly to anything that is said to her (at one point she even fails to leave a room convincingly), watch Johnny Sekka trying to dance and see Mower and Hassell indulging in some serious tongue fencing - but best of all see Edward Woodward's cameo as a vampire expert which is very funny (and Woodward knows it!) The DVD contains a deleted scene as an extra - a 7 minute drug fuelled orgy which looks like it was imported from a Jesus Franco film. Rating ** but fun.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

SEARCHERS 2.0 (2007)

I knew nothing about this until I saw it listed on the BBC iplayer. Immeadiatly I was intrigued by the credts - a coproduction between the BBC and Roger Corman, produced by John Davison and written and directed by Alex Cox. I like Cox a lot, I like his enthusiasm, I like the way he talks about other peoples movies and I admire the way he weaves his way through the film industry determindly setting up intriguingly offbeat subjects. Unfortunately I never seem to like the films themselves. Good in parts but often over indulgent, meandering in the extreme and often a bit silly. SEARCHER 2.0 is his most likeable film for some time - indeed I wanted to like it more than I actually did. Two ageing Western film extras decide to travel to Monument Valley to revenge themselves of a sadistic screenwriter who had abused them as child performers in one of his films. With the help of one of the men's cynical daughter they set off for Arizona. Some of the script is amusing as the men argue about their favourite Westerns, revenge movies and the Iraq War ("It's our gas - it just happens to be under their desert!"). It should work better than it actually does, the two leads are not very strong in the acting department and it never really takes fire. But, having said that it is hard not to be sympathetic towards the project and if you like road movies and Westerns you should give it a try. Rating ***

Monday, 4 October 2010

JUSTE AVANTE LA NUIT/Just Before Nightfall

The late Claude Chabrol doing what he did better than anybody - exploring guilt against the background of the outwardly respectable French bourgeoisie. Add to this two of his most sympathetic actors - his wife Stephane Audran and the always excellent Michel Bouquet (also teamed in LA FEMME INFIDELE) and a plot that starts with a murder and you know you are in for something special. There is no mystery here as we see the murder in the opening minutes of the film (which begins with a visual quote from Hitchcock's PSYCHO) because as I said above Chabrol's interest lies not with the crime but with the guilt - and it is not necessarily the guilt felt by the murderer. For, being a Chabrol film, everybody else in the film becomes equally guilty after the fact, a witness, the victim's husband, the muderer's wife, even the police. And, of course, it's as French as a shrug of the shoulders. Rating ****

Sunday, 3 October 2010


I've been after this film for a while now and was given a DVD by a friend only this weekend. The film, which is best remembered today for "The Warsaw Concerto" is a romantic drama about an American girl (Sally Gray) who meets and marries a concert pianist (played by Anton Walbrook) who had been one of the Polish pilots to escape from the German invasion in 1939. In America Walbrook resumes his concert career but is obsessed with returning to Europe to continue the fight against the nazis. The film is pretty ordinary in its execution but none the worse for that, although how much you enjoy it will probably depend on how big an Anton Walbrook fan you are. I enjoyed it immensely. Rating ***


James M.Cain has been quite lucky with film adaptions of his novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. There have been two versions under the book's title - an excellent 4o's version by Tay Garnett with John Garfield and Lana Turner and a later rather good version by Bob Rafelson with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange. The first version, however, was made in wartime Italy by the great Luchino Visconti. It is a fascinating mixture of neo-realism and film noir and perfectly captures the seedy, sweaty atmosphere of the original novel. The stark black and white photography and austere settings are perfectly matched by the performances by Clara Calamai, Massimo Girotti and Juan de Lauda. I can;t say it is my favourite version but undoubtably it is the best. Rating *****