Thursday, 16 December 2010


I stopped being a Bond fan around about the time of THUNDERBALL. Since then I've caught them if they come my way but don't seek them out. But I appreciate that there are lots of people out there that love them. Today I received a nice e-mail from the BBC telling me about some sort of Bondage Festival (sorry, couldn't resist the old joke) that they are having. I usually resist e-mails from any individuals or organisations wanting me to advertise on their behalf or help them raise money to finance some dodgy film production but this one was very polite and it seems to me it might actually interest any Bond fans reading this blog, so click here to find out what it's all about.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

THE 39 STEPS (1935)

A few weeks ago I had a whole evening of watching vintage Hitchcock films on DVD. I viewed THE THIRTY NINE STEPS, THE LADY VANISHES and SABOTAGE. The films - particularly the first two - hold up very well although to be fair virtually any Hitchcock film can be safely revisited without fear of boredom. It is difficult to choose a favourite out of STEPS or LADY as both are excellent entertainments packed with both adventure and humour (a recent re-reading of the original 1915 STEPS novel by John Buchan convinced me that the plot devised for the Hitchcock film is vastly more exciting than the original story which, for me is the weakest of the four novels featuring Richard Hannay). A chance meeting with an old friend from the 70's alerted me to the fact that a group of film enthusiasts known as the White Bus Company were screening Hitchcock's THE 39 STEPS in darkest Westcliff. Seeing the film again on a big (or biggish) screen with an appreciative audience was a real treat. The White Bus crowd are a friendly bunch who love movies, preserve them and screen them. As for the film itself, it easily stands up to many viewings and hardly needs to be discussed here except it deserves its reputation as one of the truly great British films and the performances by the entire cast are excellent with only superlatives being good enough for the stars - Robert Donat and Madeline Carroll. Rating *****

Saturday, 4 December 2010

AUS DEM LEBEN DER MARIONETTEN/ From the Life of the Marionettes (1980)

Made during Ingmar Bergman's exile in Germany this is one of the dour Swede's bleakest works. The optimism that shone even in the darkest films of his early period and the obvious human concern for the troubled characters of the middle period has now disappeared. This is a cold and detached examination of a troubled soul. The film starts with a colour sequence in which the main character (brilliantly played by Robert Atzorn) murders and sodomizes a prostitute in a Munich peepshow. You know any film that starts like that is not going to be a lot of laughs! Bergman's films have often been concerned with psychological violence but his German films (this and THE SERPENT'S EGG) are the culmination of an increasing tendency for this to spill over into a physical manifestation which when it happens is disturbing in the extreme. Christine Buchegger (above with Atzorn in a fantasy sequence) is superb as the wife and Walter Schmidinger is outstanding as their gay friend (?). While watching the film I decided that I really didn't like it much but the next morning I find that it's images and themes are still with me. This is Bergman at the true Heart of Darkness. The mysterious title is a quote from PINOCCHIO.Rating ****

Wednesday, 1 December 2010


Jack Finney's novel The Body Snatchers is really bucking the odds. This is the fourth film version and so far each one has something to recommend it. There was Donald Siegel's classic 1956 version and Philip Kaufman's rather good remake and then what was probably the least interesting - Abel Ferrera's THE BODY SNATCHERS (although by no means a dud) - and now it is the turn of Oliver Hirschbiegel, director of DOWNFALL. Despite what seems to have been a very troubled production which involved extra scenes being directed by James McTeague (and written by the Warchowski Brothers no less) the film is not a complete disaster. This version is set in Washington D.C. and stars Nicole Kidman (looking very beautiful but oh so thin) as a psychiatrist (in Washington it must be difficult to sort strange behaviour there!) and rather that the giant pods of the book we now have a virus pandemic - although sleep is still the catalyst. Kidman is excellent and there is a fine supporting cast including a nice bit from Veronica Cartwright who was also in the Kaufman version (no Kevin McCarthy this time). I did get the impression that they didn't really know how to end the film and it all seems a bit rushed with an unconvincing domestic epilogue. But by far the worst thing about the film is the bland performance by Daniel Craig whom I found totally unconvincing as Kidman's doctor boyfriend. Entertaining. Rating **