Saturday, 17 December 2011

THE WAY (2009)

If you had told me at the beginning of the year that one of my favourite movies seen during 2011 would be directed by Emilio Estevez I'd probably collapsed laughing. No disrespect to Emilio, it just seemed there were likely to be better candidates. But THE WAY has insinuated itself into that select band of films that become personal favourites for reasons beyond their merits as cinema. Emilio's real life dad plays a respectable and rather dull dentist who has issues with his more adventurous son's lifestyle. The son (played by Emilio) heads for Europe and sets out to walk the pilgrimage route - El Camino - to Santiago in Spain. On his first day he is killed in a freak storm. Dad goes to Europe to bring the body home but makes a spot decision to do the pilgrimage carrying his son's ashes. On the surface that is about it but this is a film that goes far beneath the surface. Along the route he meets and reluctantly travels with three other other pilgrims - a Canadian, an Irishman and a Dutchman. All believe they have rather superficial reasons for making the 800 km journey , but on a pilgrimage (and I speak from experience) you often find that your head ends up in a completely unexpected place. THE WAY is not a religious film, certainly not a Christian film in any accepted denominational way and it isn't even particularly spiritual in any obvious soul searching way. Yet, in being about the experience of simply being human it manages to be both religious and spiritual without ever resorting to sanctimonious preaching. At the same time the film is very moving and very funny. Rating *****

Tuesday, 6 December 2011


Opinions on this low budget horror film seem to be sharply divided between those who think it is an incompetent mess and those who hail director Ti Hardin as a genius. I fall into neither camp. I've been a horror film fan for about fifty years now and one thing I've learned is that amongst horror film fans - and here I mean those who watch very little else - a little talent goes a long way. So, what have we got here? Well, there is a virtually non-existant plot with very little in the way of development and an ending which seemed to me to be confused, derivative, predictable and dramatically unsatisfying. Having said all that HOUSE OF THE DEVIL has a lot going for it. For a start it is very well acted by the entire cast. We could expect no less of Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov who are old hands at being slightly disturbing or disturbed but it is up to Jocelin Donahue to carry the film virtually single handed while nothing seems to be happening to move the plot along and it is to her credit that I never felt the slightest bit bored. This, of course, is also points to director Hardin who cleverly disguises the fact that he has nothing much in the way of a script - although, even there the dialogue scenes are pretty good. Yes, I kind of liked it and liked it enough to want to check out Hardin's THE INN KEEPERS. If you check HOUSE OF THE DEVIL don't expect too much and you might be pleasantly surprised - at least for 9o minutes. Rating **

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

KEN RUSSELL 1927 - 2011

To be honest Ken Russell was not one of my favourite directors. I felt, along with many (including, it seems, Martin Scorsese) that his best work was done during his years at the BBC and films like THE DEBUSSEY FILM, DANTE'S INFERNO and DELIUS linger in the mind's eye. This is not to say that his later film work was not without interest and moments approaching greatness - even if they never actually achieved it. There is no denying his talent but for me it lacked discipline. RIP.

Sunday, 27 November 2011


Directed by George Stevens (with a little help from David Lean and Jean Negulesco), this film is often maligned as being elephantine in production and derided for some of its casting. The first charge is totally unfair although the MTV generation will undoubtably find it strains their attention span at 199 minutes. The casting, it is true, does raise the odd eyebrow and the occasional smile : Pat Boone as an angel and the infamous scenes involving John Wayne as the centurion at the crucifixion telling us that "Truly this is the son of Gad!". Of course, the film has also been criticised as being too pious. But this wasn't made for unbelievers. As far as the production goes the film shuns any attempt at historical realism in favour of a very attractive pictorial stylisation. Religious paintings of the past often eschewed realism and one of the strengths of Steven's film is that scene after scene has the quality of a beautiful religious tableaux or icon. Despite the smiles resulting from the aforementioned casting the film has some wonderful performances - Donald Pleasence as the Devil, Claude Rains as a rather reptilian Herod the Great, Victor Buono as a cynical member of the Sanhedrin and Sydney Poitier as Simon of Cyrene among them. The disciples are a rather bland lot despite the presence of John Considine and David Macallum. Max Von Sydow as Jesus is more problematical. The mighty Swede is among the finest actors in films and there can be little doubt that in a more naturalistic production he would have been among the greatest film Christs of all time but while there is absolutely nothing wrong with his performance within the context of the film, he is - with his designer stubble beard - the Jesus of a great painting (the film is framed by shots of Sydow in a painting) rather than a great film. Despite the feeling I was walking through an art gallery rather than sitting watching a film I found much of the film very beautiful and very moving and I think Stevens only just misses greatness. Rating ****

Friday, 4 November 2011


There are films you like, there are films you love, and on rare occasions you see a film that is a revelation. That is how I felt when I first saw Jean Vigo's 1934 film L'ATALANTE. That film genuinely expanded the possiblities of what the cinema could achieve as art. It has inspired many film makers, among them Julien Temple. VIGO : PASSION FOR LIFE is Temple's tribute to Vigo. There is good news and bad. Did I like it? Yes. Does it really succeed? Sadly, not.

Why did I like it then? Well, I enjoyed it on the level of any biopic about somebody I admire; even more so because it sticks pretty much to the facts - and it's certainly more entertaining than the Johnny Cash biopic, I WALK THE LINE. So where does it go wrong? The film is constructed with cliched scene after cliched scene - it is film making by the numbers and while it does inform you about Jean Vigo's short life (he died of tuberculosis aged just 29) it coveys little of what made him such an important figure in cinema. Temple took on a daunting task and more power to him for making the film but if you want to understand Vigo's passion for film as well as his passion for life perhaps it should be compulsory to watch his films before watching Temple's - not a daunting task as it is possible to watch his entire output in about three hours.

I watched VIGO : PASSION FOR LIFE with a friend who is a professional film maker and has actually worked with Julien Temple and who was, incidentally, the person who first screened L'ATALANTE for me. He absolutely hated the film and at one point was going to text Temple and ask him what went wrong! While I took on board my friend's criticisms as being in many ways justified, I remain entertained and in many instances genuinely moved by it. Rating ***

Friday, 21 October 2011


My apologies to anybody who followed my blog YESTERDAY'S WINE for its sudden and unannounced disappearance. If you still with to follow the inane ramblings of Weaverman on topics other than films you will find that YESTERDAY'S WINE is continuing under another name at THE STRANGEST OF PLACES. Talking of names - I'm appearing there under my own moniker (how exciting, I hear you shouting!).

Saturday, 8 October 2011

VALERIE A TYDEN DIVU/Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)

All that glitters is not gold. VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS is very beautiful to look at - quite exquisite. Based on a famous Czech novel the film is loved by many (seemingly more in the West than in its homeland) and was well received by the critics. Author Angela Carter supposedly loved it so much that it inspired her short story collection THE BLOODY CHAMBER and the film she subsequently wrote, THE COMPANY OF WOLVES which has similar thematic similarities and which in my opinion is vastly superior. So why did I not enjoy the film? It's got a vampire from the Max Schreck school, its got great photography, goods sets, a nice score....but director Jaromil Jires seems incapable of telling a coherent story. Or is he simply unwilling to - being content to hide behind the hoary old "surrealist" label. I've nothing against surreal dream sequences and I quite enjoy films (particularly horror films) that, often because of low budgets or sheer incompetence, become surreal but this feature length (mercifully only 73 mins) dream by a girl experiencing her first menstrual cycle gets pretty tedious if you try to follow the story. What makes it even more frustrating is that there is a good story in there somewhere and if it had been told coherently it could have been a classic. Actress Jaroslava Schallerrova who plays Valerie is drop dead beautiful but as she was only thirteen when she made the film I won't say more. Rating **

Friday, 30 September 2011


In the late 30's three young men became lifelong friends in Los Angeles. They were future writer Ray Bradbury, collector, writer and future literary agent Forrest J. Ackerman and the young Ray Harryhausen. The three had in common a love of fantasy, science fiction, the great fantasy films - particularly the 1933 KING KONG. What was so important about that friendship was that in the years that followed these three young men dreamed wonderful dreams that few had dreamed before and whatsmore they shared these dreams with the generations that came after them. Bradbury was the man who wrote THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, THE ILLUSTRATED MAN and FAHRENHEIT 451 and brought poetry to science fiction. Forry Ackerman inspired a generation of fans with his magazines FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, SPACEMEN and MONSTER WORLD, instilling in kids like me a love of the fantastic cinema. It is hard to think of anybody who grew up in the Sixties and Seventies who are making horror or sci-fi (an abbreviation invented by ackerman) films today who do not regard themselves a "Children of Ackerman". Ray Harryhausen put his dreams on film with a whole series of monster, sci-fi and fantasy films such as THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and CLASH OF THE TITANS in which his magic brought to life aliens, mythological monsters, Greek Gods in thrilling ways. I consider myself lucky to have seen most of these films when they were first released. In 1962 I went to work at Columbia Pictures London office and it was not long after I encountered Ray himself in one of the corridors. I, naturally took the opportunity to exchange a few words with my hero - all too briefly the moment was over. Ten years later I was asked if I could suggest a subject to interview for the French magazine L'ECRAN FANTASTIQUE and I suggested Ray would be a good subject. I rang Ray and, despite a busy schedule he was kind enough to agree. Ray suggested his London home as the venue. Need I say that it was a mind-boggling experience! After all those years of watching his wonderful films I was spending the day sitting in Ray Harryhausen's lounge with GWANGI (a tyrannosaurus if you need to ask) on the rug between us, talking about Ray's films. I count Ray Harryhausen an one of the nicest people I've ever met. To show the measure of the man, when I sent Ray the transcript of the interview he felt that his answers to my questions had not been complete or interesting enough so, although he was preparing his latest SINBAD film, he took the time to retype all his answers and elaborate on them. L'ECRAN FANTASTIQUE published the interview without paying me for it so I felt fully justified in passing it on for publication to the American fanzine publisher Gary Svehla and later in England to THE HORROR ELITE fanzine.

This wonderful 2 Disc DVD brings together Ray's early stop-motion MOTHER GOOSE STORIES, his more ambitious FAIRY TALE series (incuding an abandoned TORTOISE AND THE HARE recently completed by two of Ray's admirers). There is much, much more like animated army training films, tests and drawings for projects like MUNCHAUSEN, FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, THE ELEMENTALS and EVOLUTION, even a couple of advertising films.

Disc 2 contains masses of interesting stuff including a reunion between Ray, Ackerman and Bradbury, tributes from other film makers and even a piece on Ray's wonderful bronze statues which include a twice lifesize depiction of explorer David Livingstone (his wife Diane's great grandfather) being attacked by a lion which now stands at the Livingstone museum near Edinburgh and several interviews and trailers. This is an important release and a wonderful one which is a fitting tribute to a great film-maker and a very nice guy. Rating *****

Sunday, 25 September 2011


A very low budget yet worthy H.P.Lovecraft adaption that manages to keep the main elements of the original intact. When this started I really didn't expect much but was pleasantly surprised and it was obvious that the makers had their heart in the project and respect for the source material. Besides the feature the disc includes a German short called MARIA'S HUBRIS which seems to be another adaption of the same story distilled down to fifteen minutes. There's also an excellent puppet film based on HPL's FROM BEYOND and a funny Lovecraft inspired cartoon called DON'T FEED THE BOOK. Add to this a couple of trailers and an interview with John Carpenter and you've got a nice DVD from The Lovecraft Film Festival crew. Rating ***

Saturday, 24 September 2011


 Seeing NOBODY'S FOOL, AMERICAN SPLENDOUR and THE BIG LEBOWSKI so closely together is an interesting experience as all three centre around rather different "outsiders" from society. The Coen's THE BIG LEBOWSKI is for me the weakest of the three for many reasons. I came to the film with little knowledge of it - none of the story it tells - and only a slight awareness of the cult that surrounds it and its central character "the dude" played by Jeff Bridges. I've enjoyed several films by the Coen Brothers, most recently their version of TRUE GRIT, although I've been rather surprised at most of adulation heaped upon them by their fans. For me THE BIG LEBOWSKI is yet another case of the slight of hand that passes for originality in Hollywood today. There is a lot to enjoy in the film but it contains absolutely nothing in terms of originality (unlike AMERICAN SPLENDOUR) and comes over as contrived in the extreme. The plot is an amalgamation of film noir/private eye cliches - smart mouthed loner hired by millionaire to investigate a kidnapping that may or may not be genuine, the sexy blonde by the pool, the femme fatale, the beatings by hired thugs working for a local crime kingpin - the over used plot element of the detective character (a role fulfilled here by "the dude") being followed by a mysterious figure who turns out to be another Private Eye is rolled out yet again. Okay, okay, it may be a homage to Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald but these days "homage" tends to mean laziness. If you are going to take the classic PI plot and stand it on its head you need to look to films like Frear's GUMSHOE or Altman's THE LONG GOODBYE to see what can be achieved. To fill the film with entertaining (and they are entertaining to be sure) eccentric characters is simply not enough. Having said that the film has some very funny moments and while I never warmed to any of the characters they are, without exception, superbly played by Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, David Huddleston, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Sam Elliott. Rating ***

Friday, 16 September 2011


Robert Benton's NOBODY'S FOOL is the sort of movie that improves with age. By that I do not mean the age of the film but rather that of the viewer (Bergman's WILD STRAWBERRIES is one of several other examples). It's not a flashy film, it doesn't blow its trumpet loud and it seems to meander a bit but within this unassuming framework it says an awful lot about how we live our lives, how we atone for our sins, about friendships, relationships, memories etc, etc. This is not to say that somebody of, say, thirty, could not appreciate NOBODY'S FOOL both for its technical and acting qualities (and both are considerable) as well as what it is saying, but I assure you that the film will look even better when the viewer is sixty-five. There'a a lot of talent at work here but the film is Newman's from start to finish and what might at first seem like a rather cliched character provides some of the finest acting moments of his career. The final shot in the movie is sheer brilliance and for me it will always be the closing scene of Newman's career - all that came after, good as it may have been, was a curtain call. Well done. ****

Monday, 12 September 2011


RIGHTEOUS KILL is what passes for competent mainstream entertainment these days - I was just musing on that and mentally comparing it with another film I recently felt suffered from a similar delusion, BLACK SWAN, when I discovered (with an ironic laugh, I assure you) that Jon Avnet - the director of RIGHTEOUS KILL - was also the producer of BLACK SWAN. The films both take a plot idea - a very cliched one - and then develop it into a script without worrying too much about a plot. The film starts with one of the two stars (De Niro and Pacino) confessing to a series of vigilante murders. Then we flashback to find that the two central characters are the cops investigating the murders. Everything points to one of the cops being the killer - everybody except his buddy thinks he is the killer. So, call me dumb if you want, but given film cliches and given the two stars on board and being 100% certain that the guy we see confessing isn't going to be the culprit I was sure who the killer would be....and this is meant to be a mystery? If it ain't Pacino its going to be De Niro - or vice versa. I'm a huge Pacino fan and I certainly like De Niro despite his long string of poor film choices but this second outing together (if we discount the second GODFATHER movie) is not worthy of either star. Of the two De Niro comes off best here and poor Al seems to be having another bad hair day. The plot might have worked thirty or forty years ago but today a mystery plot that reveals the answer to the mystery in the first scene just won't do. Rating **

Saturday, 10 September 2011

LE DEUXIEME SOUFFLE/The Second Wind (2007)

Here's a real surprise, a remake of a classic Jean-Pierre Melville gangster film that can stand honourable comparison with the original. The French have always shown a flair for this type of film and there are many fine examples of what might be termed Gallic noir - and Jean-Pierre Melville was indisputably its greatest exponent. Melville made his version of LE DEUXIEME SOUFFLE in 1966. Based on the novel "Un Reglement de comples" by Jose Giovanni, it starred the great Lino Ventura and was released in England as THE SECOND BREATH. I have a real soft spot for the film as not only was it the first Melville film I saw I also worked on the English publicity for it. Alain Corneau's version goes back to the original novel rather than Melville's script but both films are faithful to their source material so are very similar. Corneau has resisted any temptation to update the story and it remains firmly set in the 1960's with Denis Auteuil an excellent choice to replace Ventura as the ageing gangster Gu Minda who breaks out of jail to find that the criminal underworld has changed and there is no honour among thieves of the new generation. Auteuil (who impresses me more with every film I see) perfectly captures the growing realisation of Minda that the rules by which he lived no longer apply. The supporting cast are uniformly excellent : Monica Bellucci goes blonde to play Minda's girlfriend Manouche and ex-footballer Eric Cantona is impressive as the loyal Alban. Michel Blanc and Jacques Dutronic also contribute excellent performances. THE SECOND WIND proves that the French have not forgotten how to make classic gangster films. I still have a preference for the b/w original but this is very good indeed. Rating ****

Thursday, 8 September 2011


Director H.Bruce Humberstone had a respectable career working with the likes of Boris Karloff, Danny Kaye and Glenn Miller. My favourite among his films is the film noir I WAKE UP SCREAMING with Laird Cregar. Thanks to friend Cerpts I welcome the chance to see this early example of his work. It certainly has a busy plot with masked criminals, amateur sleuths, an old dark house, a sinister swami, skeletons and trap doors etc. I share with Cerpts a fascination for the "Old Dark House" genre and while some examples can be a bit on the slow side THE CROOKED CIRCLE could never be accused of that. It fairly bubbles along with never a dull patch - in fact one gets the feeling that the film has too much plot for its running time. The films biggest stars are actually regulated to supporting roles as comedy relief but as they are wisecracking James Gleason ("It's Moider!") and Zasu Pitts the fun never sinks to the irritating level seen in so many films. Interesting to see Ben Lyon as the hero because although he famously appeared in Howard Hughes' HELL'S ANGELS he is best known to my generation in England as the star of the long running BBC radio show of the 50's, LIFE WITH THE LYONS - his voice alone conjures up part of my childhood. Rating ***

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


Turhan Bey gets top billing here although his role is definitely that of a support to the other stars of this minor Universal horror film. The real star of the piece is George Zucco who must have been the real reason people paid to see the film (although I'm sure the title was the film's main box-office draw in 1943). What a trooper Zucco was! Not only did he never turn in a bad performance he often seems to have a twinkle in his eye indicating that he found his on screen villany both enjoyable and amusing. Whether this was really the case I have no idea but it comes over that was and has kept him a popular figure among horror fans. Here Zucco is pretty restrained as the doctor engaged in outre experiments but his performance is just as entertaining as ever. Evelyn Ankers is always a welcome addition to these old thrillers and although he is a little on the bland side David Bruce adequate as the unlucky title character. Both Robert Armstrong and Milburn Stone have amusing supporting roles and look out for Charles McGraw in one of his earliest appearances. James Hogan's direction is pretty much by the numbers and the film moves as slowly and as predictably as the script dictates. If, like me, you are a dedicated fan of Universal horrors or Hollywood B-movies in general then you'll probably overlook the slow patches and relish the cast. Rating ***


This is the second film to be based on Stuart N. Lake's biography of Wyatt Earp, an earlier version having appeared in 1934. The film plays fast and loose with historical fact with Earp played by Randolph Scott as an ex-army scout who arrives in Tombstone without any sign of his famous brothers and single handedly goes to the O.K. Corral for a rather anti-climatic shootout with the bad guys (led by Joe Sawyer as Curly Bill Brocious in the complete absence of the Clantons and McLaurys). The film, directed by Allan Dwan, is a perfectly servicable Western, the main interest of which is in the performances. Randolph Scott plays Wyatt Earp as if he was Randolph Scott and there are nice performances from Nancy and English actress Binnie Barnes (whom I met in London in the early 60s). Oddly, the film gives Earp no romantic involvement - leaving that department solely to Cesar Romero. It is Romero who gives the best performance as Doc Holliday (here called Halliday and being shot down before the O.K.Corral). In a supporting role is Ward Bond who had appeared in the 1934 verion and who would go on to play Virgil Earp in John Ford's 1946 version, MY DARLING CLEMENTINE. Rating ***

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


Sadly, this is what passes for art in Hollywood today. The film totally lacks originality the plot is cobbled together from movie cliches as old as...well, at least as old as THE RED SHOES, a far superior film, from where most of the key plot elements are taken. It is slick, looks good and, to be fair, is quite entertaining in the same way that MOMMIE DEAREST was entertaining or Glenn Close in FATAL ATTRACTION was entertaining. O.K. so we have THE RED SHOES rip off with Vincent Cassel as a sneering dance master who likes to talk dirty as a substitute for Anton Walbrook. There are (what we now call) "references" to many other popular films including Coppola's DRACULA and in the film's most alarmingly silly and hilariously awful scene to AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (Aronofsky is quoted as saying he thinks of the film as a werewolf movie without a werewolf). Natalie Portman's much praised performance is o.k. inasmuch as she does what the scrip asks well enough and she handles the dancing scenes very well but it reminded my of two other performances (both of which I admire) : Meryl Streep in THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN and Jack Nicholson in THE SHINING - both of which telegraphed the fact that their characters are mentally unstable (wheras in the source novels had a much subtler revelations) and that is what is the flaw at the heart of BLACK SWAN - it is obvious from the opening scene that poor Natalie's terrors are a product of her own mind and however awful they get they are not real. The much discussed lesbian oral sex scene is purely exploitive soft porn. Yes, I was entertained for the running time on a silly level (just as I was entertained by SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY) but for goodness sake let's not confuse either with great film-making. Franco's film had the advantage that while lacking the technical quality of BLACK SWAN it also lacks its pretention. Rating ***

Thursday, 28 July 2011


SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY is an interesting piece of Euro Trash directed by Jesus Franco (who else?). It is interesting because although while watching the film (mercifully short at 74 mins) and realising it's not very good there are enough interesting points to keep you watching. Two of the points of interest belong to the beautiful Soledad Miranda. Miss Miranda is credited as Susana Korda and several other members of the cast and crew are working under pseudonyms - presumably to protect the guilty. The plot is a variation on THE BRIDE WORE BLACK or even DR.PHIBES with Miranda bumping off the medical board that caused the death of her husband by driving him to suicide. Notable among the victims are dear old Howard Vernon, an expert at this kind of stuff, who actually gets his kit off for a full frontal nude masochistic sex scene that will make it difficult to watch THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF again - this sort of thing never happened when he worked for Fritz Lang. Even more bizarre is another victim played by none other than Jesus Franco himself. Like poor old Howard, Franco gets his dick cut off. If you look quickly there is also an appearance by EL VAMPIRO himself - German Robles! If you are into Euro Trash you're probably salivating by now but there is also a totally inappropriate pop score which has nothing to do with the action, female nudity and girl on girl action. Rating ***

" I am Jesus Franco, I directed this movie, you can't cut my willy off!"

Sunday, 17 July 2011


MMarlene Dietrich named this as her personal favourite among her films and it is easy to see why, although for me it falls just short of SHANGHAI EXPRESS and THE SCARLET EMPRESS. There have been at least eight or nine versions of this story - one starring Bardot and a much more diistinguished version by Luis Bunuel - his last film. Of these three the Dietrich version directed by her Svengali, Josef Von Sternberg is my favourite. The central character, the beutiful Conchita, is a tiotal bitch and surprisingly (for Thirties Hollywood) the film does not try to palm the audience off with any redeeming features as she puts poor old Lionel Atwill (in one of his finest performances) through hell. Sternberg's direction is exquisite and as in all his films it is obvious he never knew the meaning of the word excess when it came to set decoration. Cesar Romero and Edward Everett Horton are fine in support roles. I look forward to MOROCCO.

Thursday, 14 July 2011


Despite excellent films like HOMBRE and HUD, Martin Ritt is a director who is rarely mentioned by film fans today. He seems to have passed from the collective consciousness and been relegated to being a footnote in the career of Paul Newman. To be honest, PARIS BLUES is, despite many positive qualities, not one of his best films. While being perfectly acceptable in technical terms it betrays its age in many ways, admittedly this is not necessarily a minus point. The film begins with a pan across the rooftops of Paris and then dissolves into what is obviously a series of model buildings before descending into a studio created Parisian street. Now I'm not particularly against this as I'm fond of model work and well done studio sets but in this case it goes somewhat against the tone of the film and one has to ask, given that much of the film was filmed on location in Paris, why? Perhaps they couldn't find a street that looked atmospheric enough. The first view of the interior of the jazz club is wonderful parade of cliche characters - hipsters in shades, a fat lady with her toyboy, real gone kids, intellectual types, beatniks and even a very coy suggestion of homosexuality. The acting by the four principals is, as you would expect, excellent and they almost overcome the difficulties of the script. Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier as the two ex-pat American jazz musicians come off best. Newman is cynical, moody and magnificent. He looks incredible - cool, confident and every inch a super star. What a great actor the man was - the camera loved him and he dominates the screen whenever he appears. Poitier, no less charismatic and talented, has to overcome the script's insistence that he is shown to be hip by having to end every sentence with the word "Man". The real life Mr.Newman, Joanne Woodward, and Diahann Carroll are fine although I never quite believed how easily the self-confessed lover of small-town USA life falls into bed with Newman's character on her first night in Paris. Carroll's character is forever reminding poor Sidney of his racial responsibilites and how he should return home to the fight for the cause. This, unfortunately, gives the film a rather dated "preachy" feel. Being about jazz musicians the subject of drugs has to turn up but here it is confined to the secondary character of the "gypsy" guitarist played by Serge Reggiani (the "introducing Serge Reggiani" betrays the Hollywood imperialism by casually wiping out the distinguished European career of this fine actor). Musically the film is treat from the musical score by Duke Ellington to the on screen apopearances by Louis Armstrong. Despite some rather jarring elements I enjoyed the film and, let's face it, the chance to see Satchmo jamming with Newman, Poitier and Reggiani is a hard one to resist. Rating ***

Friday, 1 July 2011


I'm very much a born again Charles Chaplin fan. Years ago I lost interest in his silent comedies although I retained an admiration for some of his talkies like MONSIEUR VERDOUX and LIMELIGHT. A television documentary a couple of years back sent me back to his silent features such as CITY LIGHTS. As a kid I went to see THE GOLD RUSH several times at the old Electric Palace, Highgate. I loved it although as this was during the 1950's it must have been the version re-released by Chaplin the early Forties with with narration and dialogue spoken by Charlie himself rather than the original 1925 version which has a different and far more satisfying ending - which I'd nominate as one of the greatest romantic moments in cinema history. Today, I find the sound re-issue extremely irritating but luckily the DVD I viewed has both versions. THE GOLD RUSH in its original 1925 version is, undoubtably, a great American movies. Chaplin keeps the pathos in check with a touch of cynicism, provides some iconic comedy sequences and some extremely clever in-camera special effects. Chaplin had to refilm many scenes after getting the original female lead pregnant and she was replaced by the luminously beautiful Georgia Hale with whom he also had a romantic involvement - watch that final scene in the original verson! As with Bogart and Bacall in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, it's all there on the screen. Rating *****

Thursday, 23 June 2011


An appealing idea but an absolutely appaling movie. The plot which seems to be a meld of Samurai action and something to do with androids is incoherent and seemingly made up on the spot. The film also features an incredible amount of gore (and I mean GORE) which might appeal to some. Rating : a very generous *

Saturday, 11 June 2011


Fritz Lang had originally been set to direct these stories written by his wife Thea Von Harbou very early in his career but the project was effectively stolen from his by his producer Joe May. By the time it was remade in 1938 Lang was already in Hollywood. In the late Fifties he was lured back to Germany to finally tackle the project himself. A huge production, THE TIGER OF ESCHNAPUR and its companion film THE INDIAN TOMB is essentially a load of old nonsense about plots and counter plots in a Maharajah's palace and a love triangle featuring a prince, a beautiful dancing girl and a German architect. The plot is silly beyond belief with a man wrestling a stuffed tiger, Indian gods, evil priests, murder, tiger hunts, elephants, torture, chases, caves etc. It is also wonderfully entertaining because Lang is intelligent enough to treat his comic book material seriously and straight-faced without pretension and, more importantly, without condescension. Blessed with beautiful Hollywood star Debra Paget, Lang makes good use of her and the actress certainly works for her money. The two dance routines are tremendous with the one in THE INDIAN TOMB featuring a near naked Miss Paget in a way that I doubt would have been allowed in her native American productions at the time. Hero work is adequately handled by Paul Hubschmid. Now restored and released on DVD with some nice extras and a 40 page booklet, the films together offer three and a half hours of great, if undemanding, entertainment. A must for Lang fans. Rating ****

Debra shakes her booty

Wednesday, 1 June 2011


Shown as part of BBC's Robert Ryan season of RKO thrillers, this film directed by French born Jacques Tourneur has so many points of interest that it is almost impossible for it not to be entertaining. Part train set mystery (a sub-genre I have a weakness for) and part thriller as a group of foreign nationals (America, British, French and Russian - representing the various power zones of Berlin) band together to track down a peace loving professor who has been kidnapped by the Nazi underground. Essentially a post war (but pre-cold war) propaganda piece complete with philosophising voice over, but it works thanks to Tourneur's fast paced direction (from story by Curt Siodmak) and some atmospheric Film noir style photography by Lucian Ballard. The excellent cast includes Robert Ryan, Merle Oberon, Paul Lukas, Robert Coote, Charles McGraw and Fritz Kortner. Filmed on location in post-war Germany it never quite adds up to the sum of its parts but is never less than entertaining. Rating ***

Friday, 27 May 2011


As a long time film fan I've been thrilled to meet quite a few stars - Ginger Rogers, Tony Curtis, Harold Lloyd, Christopher Lee among them - but none could equal the thrill of meeting and, to an extent, getting to know Vincent Price. I first met Vincent when he was in England filming WITCHFINDER GENERAL. Thankfully, the meeting was easy to arrange as another friend, the late Michael Reeves, was directing the film. After that my girlfriend at the time and myself became regular guests on the sets of THE OBLONG BOX, SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, CRY OF THE BANSHEE, MADHOUSE, THE ABOMINABLE DR.PHIBES and its sequel and THEATRE OF BLOOD. Vincent, as much as his work would allow, was an attentive host - always ready to chat and reminisce about his career, art or cooking. There were even more special times such as the car journey we shared with him from Harrow to London with Vincent in his full Tudor costume from CRY OF THE BANSHEE or the time he invited us, plus my mother and aunt, backstage during the stage production of ARDELE in London. He was a charming, generous, witty, lovely man. Vincent Price is also being celebrated over at the LAND OF CERPTS AND HONEY and its sister blog BATHED IN THE LIGHT OF ANDROMEDA. Click here to join the party.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


Jacques Tourneur's films are nearly always worth a look. I say nearly always because you'd be hard pushed to make a case for CITY UNDER THE SEA (War Gods of the Deep) which was a sad end to a pretty illustrious career. Luckily GREAT DAY IN THE MORNING is one of the interesting ones. A technicolor Western which has a decent script and because of this its characters have some depth. The cast is very good with Robert Stack doing well as the morally ambiguous hero and there is a nice portrait of villainy from Raymond Burr as the Elephant obsessed "Jumbo" - knowing Burr's constant weight problems I'm not sure that his physical size in this film was achieved by padding. The women who compete for Stack's attentions are good girl Rhonda Fleming and bad girl Ruth Roman. Stack can't make up his mind for most of the film and when he finally does it is too late because Ruth has paid the price for being a tart with a heart of gold in 1950's Hollywood. Set just before the American Civil War the plot concerns Southern sympathisers trying to smuggle gold down to Dixie for the coming war. The Union supporters (led by Burr who has his own agenda) are depicted very unsympathetically thanks mainly to the presence of the great Leo Gordon who almost before the opening credits are over is spitting out venom. Rating ***

Tuesday, 17 May 2011


Wonderfully straight-faced horror comedy in the tradition of SHAUN OF THE DEAD. This time around it is genetically modified killer sheep rampaging across the New Zealand countryside. In camera effects rather than CGI, a funny script, good cast and bucket loads of gore. Mint sauce and sheep farting jokes abound - what's not to like? There is even man on sheep and ram on man sex, but who are we to criticise Kiwi culture?

Thursday, 12 May 2011


Flora Robson and Stewart Granger

Highly romanticised version of the scandal that surrounded the ancestors of our present Royal Family. The film tells the story of the affair between Sophie (Joan Greenwood), wife of the future George I and the dashing Philip von Konigsmark (Stewart Granger) who are presented here a star-crossed lovers and more sympathetic than they probably deserve - but, as I said in my RED BARON review, historical accuracy does not necessarily make for an entertaining film - although I understand that the film gets the political side of things fairly accurate. I find it interesting that mystery of sorts surrounds the deaths of the central characters of this and the two previous films reviewed here - Stavisky, Richtofen and Kongismark - the later officially went missing although it is generally assumed (certainly by this film) that he was murdered. Turning to the film rather than history, this Ealing Studios film is very impressive with a fine literate script and superb colour photography by Douglas Slocombe. Direction is by Basil Dearden (born about a mile from where I sit writing this) and besides the two lead players the court intrigues are wonderfully played out by Flora Robson, Peter Bull, Francoise Rosay, Michael Gough and Anthony Quayle. Eagle eyed fans will also spot Miles Malleson, Guy Rolfe and Anthony Steel. They won't however spot Christopher Lee whose performance was removed from the completed film. Rating ****

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


I am rather fond of Roger Corman's VON RICHTOFEN AND BROWN (aka THE RED BARON) but I think that this German film (made entirely in English) has the edge on it. A critical and box-office disaster, it has been pointed out that the film is far from historically accurate in its retelling of the story of WWI's greatest air ace, Manfred Von Richtofen - The Red Baron. It is my view that when you are making a fiction film about a character who has become almost a semi-mythological figure one should follow John Ford's dictum from THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE that "When the legend becomes fact - print the legend." This does not mean a complete perversion of fact - just an acknowledgement of the legend. I thought this film handled fact and fiction rather well and it certainly contains some pretty hair-raising flying sequences. The film struggles a bit trying to give Richtofen a romance with a pretty nurse and a meeting with Roy Brown (the Canadian pilot who was officially credited with downing the German ace, although it is now generally believed he wasn't responsible) in No Man's Land. As, I said above, I enjoyed the film - probably as much as Corman's version and for similar reasons. Rating: ***

Sunday, 8 May 2011


STAVISKY is at the same time one of Alain Resnais's most audience friendly films and one of his most puzzling. On the surface it is a straight forward picture of Sergei Alexandre Stavisky, the charismatic Russian born swindler and con-man (played superbly by the equally charismatic Jean-Paul Belmondo) whose dirty dealings in the early Thirties nearly brought down the French coalition goverment - to the point of bringing France to the edge of civil war. The film shows us nothing of these tumultuous events - concentrating on the man himself while offering no real moral judgement on his lifestyle. Typically, Resnais shows us many sides of Stavisky's personality. He maybe on the edge of madness, maybe schizophrenic; he is a devoted husband with a stunningly beautiful wife yet happily sleeps with a woman in order to buy her jewellry at a cut-down price. For much of the film he seems rather like one of those gentleman crooks that were so popular in Thirties crime fiction. Investigated by the police and the secret service, Stavisky's financial empire begins to crumble - he is pursued by the corrupt forces that have allowed him to operate because his financial scams have supported them. When his friend, Baron Raoul, happily talks of having delibedrately squandered the ill-gotten fortune he inherited, Stavisky comments "I have to invent the money I squander!" Baron Raoul is, along with Stavisky's wife, the only one to remain loyal to him as all those he trusted desert or betray him. Raoul (probably a fictional character) is wonderfully played by Charles Boyer in one of his last performances. He is charmed by Stavisky and even when the truth is revealed that his friend is not French and is Jewish (he is like many European aristocrats casually anti-semitic) he stands by him - for Resnais not character is one sided. Stavisky's story is shadowed by events in the lives of two other Jewish immigrants - Leon Trotsky and a young German actress. The style of the film is typically elliptical with flashbacks and forwards and ending with a question that a lot of people have been asking about a more recent death - was Stavisky executed by the police who went to arrest him? The "official verdict" was suicide. Perhaps the line of dialogue that best sums up Stavisky the man and STAVISKY the film is "To truly understand him you must dream about him and dream his dreams." Very Resnais. Rating ****

Saturday, 30 April 2011


Made the same year as Douglas Sirk's HITLER'S MADMAN which was based on the same events, Fritz Lang's HANGMEN ALSO DIE is one of the great director's most undervalued films. The film may be a blatant piece of wartime propoganda but this drama of paranoia, nazis and betrayal harkens back to the director's DR.MABUSE films. Brian Donlevy plays the assassin of Reichsprotekor Heydrich who escapes detection by accidently implicating the family of a famous professor. Hostages are taken, tortured and exccuted and the professor's daughter, at first willing to betray Donlevy is slowly convinced to help the resistance by turning the tables on an informer. The film depicts dramatically the decisions people had to make in such circumstances very convincingly. The use of studio exteriors, stark (typically Langian) shadows - particularly in the interrogation scenes at Gestapo headquarters - gives the film a strong expressionistic feel. Performances are strong with Donlevy, Anna Lee, Walter Brennan, Dennis O'keefe and Alexander Granach all turning in excellent work. Eagle eyed viewers will spot the great Dwight Frye in an uncredited performance as a hostage. Co-wriien by Berthold Brecht. Rating ****

Friday, 29 April 2011

MANSION OF MADNESS/Dr.Tarr's Torture Chamber (1973)

Like his later film ALUCARDA, Moctezuma's adaption of Edgar Allan Poe's The System of Dr.Tarr and Prof.Fether has to be experienced rather than described to appreciate the sheer lunancy. A journalist travels to a remote region of France to do a story on a Lunatic Asylum unaware that the inmates have taken over the establishment. There's a bit of horror, a bit of nudity, and a lot of absurdity - indeed, as with ALUCARDA, the theatre (or in this case the Cinema) of the Absurd is a pretty accurate description. The cast is just about adequate but the film benefits from a very atmospheric location and a genuinely bizarre atmosphere. I'm not sure if Moctezuma is a good director of not - but while watching the film such names as Peter Brook, Luis Bunuel and Ken Russell keep coming to mind. This might not indicate that he is good but it certainly makes him interesting. Warning: The DVD in circulation is very poor quality, too dark and out of focus. Rating ***

Friday, 22 April 2011


Alexander Sokurov's THE RUSSIAN ARK is a remarkable film for many reasons, not the least of which because it is almost impossible to catagorize. Is it a documentary? Is it history? Is it science-fiction? It is certainly an almost unique cinematic experience. It has at it's core a situation rather than a story. Two men, one never seen, the other a 19th Century French aristocrat/diplomat find themselves, mysteriously, entering The Hermitage Museum in St.Petersburg. To their surprise they can both speak Russian. They are not sure what century they are in - historical figures such as Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Czars Alexander and Nicholas, real people, tourists all seem to be there. Together the two men wander through over thirty rooms of the former Winter Palace discussing art, arguing, being harassed by staff. To say more would be unfair for this film is really to be experienced rather than talked about. Technically the film is quite mind-boggling. It is done in a single 99 minute take - perhaps not so difficult in these days of digital technology but when/if you see the film you will realise that the logistical difficulties are stunning - everything we see is achieved in real time without second takes (and we are talking about a cast of over 2000!). We, the viewer - maybe we are the unseen man because we see through his eyes - are taken on a journey through this magnificent historical building (for this is not a set), a journey that in its own way is just as magical as Lewis Carroll's Adventures of Alice in Wonderland (and full of equally eccentic encounters) - of which the film strongly reminds me. I read that, perhaps, it is a film that should only be watched once but I know that it will haunt me for a long time and equally I know that I will take that journey again many times. I won't name the lead actor because although it is one of the most remarkable performances I have ever seen it would spoil the illusion - for me he was a real person and I look forward to meeting him again. A masterpiece. Rating *****

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Bravo, Michael.......

Frankenstein, The True Story

Michael Sarrazin, who died this week, was an extremely likeable and competent actor. I honestly cannot think of a bad performance in those films of his that I have seen. I narrowly missed the chance of meeting him after a visit to the set of FRANKENSTEIN, THE TRUE STORY failed to happen. Michael was, of course, a memorable "creation" in this adaption by Christopher Isherwood. However, my reason for writing more than I usually do about the death of film personalities is to mention one of Sarrazin's oddest credits - for a film in which he never appeared in person. The film was John Huston's Western THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN. In the film the Judge's daughter has an aviator boyfriend. He never appears in the film and is only seen in a photograph. It is a photograph of Michael Sarrazin. He is credited on the film with something like "with the participation of...." I assumed on first viewing that the scenes featuring this character had been cut out but I later read that his presence in the photograph was due entirely to Sarrazin's real-life relationship with Jaqueline Bisset, the actress playing the Judge's daughter.

Monday, 18 April 2011

GAMLET/Hamlet (1964)

More Russian cinema, this time from the Soviet period. One of the great pleasures of being a film fan is showing friends the films you admire and vice versa. Being a bit of a Shakespeare fan I'd always wanted to see this film - remembering the very positive reviews it got back in the 6o's. Last week an old friend with a special interest in Eastern European finally got around to showing it to me. After only a few minutes I knew I was watching the finest bit of filmed Shakespeare I'd ever seen and not long after that I knew I was watching a truly great movie, full stop. It's a traditional production with amazing sets, superb acting from the entire cast. Stunning photography and a powerful score - the latter from Dmitri Shostakivich no less.A Warning though - the English subtitle vary ftom accurate for the famous speeces (To be or not to be,,,) to the wildly eccentric so it really helps if you know the plot. Rating *****


I seem to be on a bit of a Russian kick at the moment. This epic retelling of the rise of Temujdin is very entertaining without ever really reaching the heights it seems to be aiming for. If you've seen either the John Wayne epic or the dreadful version starring Omar Sharif you'll recognise all the main characters and the basic plot - Temujdin, Jamuga, Bortai etc but this films easily makes more believable watching with oriental actors. It's weakness for me is that despite some nicely staged battle scenes the film often resorts to telling you what Temujdin did rather than telling you how. How does he escape his wooden yoke?, how does he escape from the ice? and how does he raise his army? But that said it is an interesting film, spectacularly shot, well acted and enjoyable. Rating ***

Saturday, 9 April 2011



I've not reviewed many musicals on the blog. This does not mean I don't enjoy them. A good musical can be an uplifting piece of entertainment and can be enjoyed for many reasons. I am fond of both GREASE and the more recent MAMMA MIA not because they are particularly great pieces of filmmaking but simply because they were particular favourites of my late partner and gave her so much pleasure during the latter stages of her illness when she found concentration difficult. A friend of mine has just started his first blog, called LIFE IS A CABARET which will feature his views on musicals - both film and stage. In honour of his new blog I am listing here my first attempt to list my ten favourite musicals. I doubt if it is a definitive list as I struggled with not including such films as Stanley Donen and George Abbott's PAJAMA GAME and Alan Parker's EVITA and the omission of anything starring Doris Day, but I decided to go for just ten titles - although, perhaps, their will be more to said on the subject in the future. So, for now, in alphabetical order, ten musicals that I count among my very favourites.

1. THE BAND WAGON (1953)

2. CABARET (1972)

3. CHICAGO (2002)

4. 42nd STREET (1934)

5. HELLO DOLLY (1969



8. A STAR IS BORN (1954)

9. TOP HAT (1935)

10 THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)

42nd Street