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

Friday, 8 April 2011

JE T'AIME MOI NON PLUS/I Love you I don't (1976)

One of my quirkier lusts over the years has been Jane Birkin but for some reason I never thought to check out any of the films she has made in France, contenting myself with her CDs and occasional picture searches on Google. A flash of inspiration caused me to add a few of her titles to my rental list and the first to arrive was this film which, literally, turns out to be a real pain in the arse. Jane plays a girl working in a roadside cafe. Known as "Johnny" because of her androgenous looks. She develops a crush on a local refuse collector (Joe Dallesandro) who it turns out is gay. Joe finds himself attracted to Jane but can't get it up with a woman. They solve this by having anal sex - prolonged scenes of Jane screaming in pain! Really, Serge, once was enough! Joe's boyfriend gets jealous and tries to kill Jane after he himself has been turned down for casual sex by a man with a huge penis (a young Gerard Depardieu no less). Joe realises how much his boyfriend loves him and they bugger off into the sunset leaving Jane naked, rejected and half suffocated. As you can see from the plot the film doesn't contain a lot of laughs, even the awfulness of it all doesn't really lend itself to unintentional humour. Acting is competent but Gainbourg's direction is pretty dreadful and one wonders just why such a depressing piece was chosen as his directorial debut - one for the psychiatrists no doubt. If sodomy in a garbage truck turns you on them maybe this is the film for you...if not I'd give it a wide berth. Incidentally this is the film which featured Gainsbourg/Birkin's hit "J'taime" but it is only heard on the soundtrack as an instrumental. Rating *

Thursday, 7 April 2011


Josef Von Sternberg's THE SHANGHAI GESTURE is a film full of surprises. The first one is that his muse, Marlene Dietrich, is not in it. Una Munson is a more than adequate substitute - probably bringing a much needed harder edge of the character of Mother Gin Sling. Another surprise comes from the very beautiful Gene Tierney as the rich girl who becomes addicted to gambling and drink. Victor Mature plays the sleepy eyed Doctor Omar and Walter Huston plays the rich businessman who once slit the soles of his Chinese mistresses feet and had pebbles sown in to stop her running away. The film is set in a gambling casino in Shanghai. In the original play the setting is a brothel run my Mother Goddam, Poppy (the character played by Tierney) is addicted to drugs and Mature's seductive Omar is a procurer of new girls fo the brothel (in the film represented by "hostess" Dixie "You can call me what you want as long as you give me something with a cherry in it" Pomeroy played by Phyllis Brooks and the only sympathetic character in the film)). The casino is a wonderful creation which, as was pointed out in an excellent review on NOIR OF THE WEEK resembles the rings of Dante's Hell. I really don't want to give any plot away here because none of the characters are what they seem and the film rips away their secrets until the stunning ending that still has the power to be shocking seventy years after the film was made. Good as everybody in the film is (and there are a host of wonderful character actors in support roles) it is Munson who stays in the memory - in one scene she says she was a Manchu, bet her dad's name was Fu! Truly memorable. Rating ****

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

THE TOWN (2010)

Almost without a hiccup, Ben Affleck completes his impressive transition from actor to actor/director with this first class crime drama inspired by the odd fact (you missed this one Stephen Fry) that the town of Charleston in Massachusetts has produced more bank and armoured car robbers than anywhere else in the world, the profession often being passed down from father to son. It's a tough, gritty and violent film that rarely puts a foot wrong - although I found the sentimental coda at the end a bit out of step with what had gone before. Performances are solid but I'd be amiss if I didn't mention the late Pete Postlethwaite as the very frightening Irish godfather. Rating ****