Wednesday, 10 July 2013

JULY 10, 2013

117 ICHIBAN UTSUKUSHIKU / The Most Beautiful (1944) Directed by Akira Kurosawa **
118 TORA NO O WO FUMU OTOKOTACHI  / Men Who Step on the Tiger's Tail (1945) Directed by Akira Kurosawa.

The Most Beautiful
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL is minor Kurosawa. Made in 1944 at the behest of the Japanese wartime government, it is a propaganda piece urging female workers to fulfill their work quotas as part of their patriotic duty. The film is set in a factory that makes lenses for military equipment and shows the girls happily trying to meet requirements despite personal problems and accidents. Interest today is, for me, limited to the fact that it is an early example of Kurosawa's work and for me he is one of the five greatest film directors of all time. The flag-waving is kept to a minimum and Kurosawa tries hard to make the girls come to life as individuals. The director has expressed a personal fondness for the movie, understandably as he met his future wife (who plays the matron of the girl's dormitory) on the production.

Men Who Step on the Tiger's Tail
THE MEN WHO STEP ON THE TIGER'S TAIL, made the following year, is  more what we expect from the Kurosawa of the later samurai films. Despite a running time of less than an hour and the fact that the whole story is filmed on a Toho Studio sound stage (complete with painted mountains and sky backdrps) and resembles a television play rather than  cinema, the film is compulsive viewing. Set during the Shogunate, a written prologue tells us that the Shogun's brother and six of this retainers are trying to escape to northern Japan to escape assassination. To pass a military blockade they disguise themselves as wandering priests and porters. Although we see neither the beginning of the story or the end the film is suspenseful and gripping. The final scene is, and has been, open to all kinds of interpretation, although I feel that the simplest and least complicated one is probably the right one - sometimes the obvious is the right answer.  As with THE MOST BEAUTIFUL, Kurosawa stalwart Takashi Shimura has a supporting role.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

JUNE 22, 2013

116 THE HALFWAY HOUSE (1944) Directed by Basil Dearden **

I find Basil Dearden's career quite fascinating. He was born not far from where I sit writing this and over the years he has consistently made interesting and thoughtful British films. Never showy and, maybe for some (not for me) a bit on the dull side but he was a good story-teller. There were, a few clinkers along the way but more credits than debits overall.  THE HALFWAY HOUSE is not one of this best but despite that it is consistently entertaining and must be seen in its historical perspective. A group of people converge on a Welsh inn - all have problems or important decisions to make in their lives. It soon becomes apparent that their is something mysterious about the innkeeper and his pretty daughter and that time has gone back a year. Being from Ealing Studios it is tempting to see the film as a companion to the same studios DEAD OF NIGHT (to which Dearden also contributed) without that film's more sinister aspects.  The original play on which it is based (unlike the film) reportedly makes no mention of the war and therein is the problem. The films, seen today, is very much a propaganda piece with mentions of supposed cowardice, war profiteering and, rather specifically, Irish neutrality and as a result comes across as rather preachy. Having said that it is very watchable and, interestingly, it seems to have been inspired by a real incident that has never been fully explained (see IMDb). It is good to see Mervyn Johns and real life daughter paired together and  to see the cute Sally Ann Howes long before her signature role in CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. Worth a look.

The Halfway House

Friday, 21 June 2013

JUNE 21, 2013

Sorry for inactivity but I'm working my way through five seasons of THE WIRE...and yes, it really is one of the best TV shows of all time. Great characters, awesome cast, outstanding scripts. *****

Friday, 7 June 2013

JUNE 7, 2013

113 REPTILICUS (1961) Directed by Sidney Pink *

A Danish monster movie that has little to recommend it beyond curiousity value, a certain grainy charm in the monster scenes and a nice poster. For the rest the direction is non-existent, the script risible, the acting laughable and the special effects pathetic...and you get a travelogue of Copenhagen.
A fan on IMDb mounts a spirited defense of the film and its writer Ib Melchoir.

Also Viewed :

114 THE RAINMAKER (1997) Directed by Francis Coppola ***
115 FRANKENWEENIE (2013) Directed by Tim Burton ***

Thursday, 6 June 2013

JUNE 5, 2013

109 INVADERS FROM MARS (1986) Directed by Tobe Hooper *

I alway thought Tobe Hooper was a pretty crap director and this remake of William Cameron Menzies' 1953 film certainly didn't change my opinion. In fact just about everything about this film is bad from the acting, the script, the dialogue, the not-so-special special effects. But, to be fair,  the question as to whether the badness is intentional must be asked. I admit I don't know the answer. What finally dooms the film is that it really can't decide what it wants to be. It seems to start as a straight remake of the 1953 films but subsequently shows signs of being a serious sci-fi film, then a parody/comedy. It retains the "It's all a dream but its beginning again" ending of the first film but plays it more like the over familiar twist in the tail ending of so many 70's and 80's horror movies.The original film of 1953 retains a naive charm and a certain menace even today thanks to Menzies' off-kilter child's eye view perspectives and being content to keep to it rather than flounder all over the place.

Invaders from Mars
 Also Viewed :

110  BENEATH HILL 60 (2007) Directed by John Sims  ***
111  THEY FOUGHT FOR THE MOTHERLAND (1967) Directed by Sergei Bondarchuk ***
112  TOY STORY 3 (2009) Directed by Lee Unkrich ****

Friday, 31 May 2013

JUNE 1, 2013

008 RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK (1966) Directed by Don Sharp **

Hammer films, rather like the old Universal Horrors are rather like film comfort food but I have to say that revisiting this film rather gave me indigestion. I was torn between relishing the familiar sets and character actors but just irritated by the script. I am aware that I'm being unfair inasmuch that Hammer on its limited budgets was never in my wildest dreams ever going do Grigori Rasputin anything approaching justice and they certainly never intended to - the were making a B-horror movie plain and simple. Made as a quad of films in 1966 which recycled sets and actors, RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK was filmed back to back with the superior DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS while THE REPTILE was the flipside of PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES. The story of the Russian monk who exercised so much influence over the last of the Romanoff Czars has been filmed many times - I first encountered it in an Italian film called NIGHTS OF RASPUTIN and later in NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA (with Tom Baker) and RASPUTIN (with Alan Rickman) although I've never managed to catch up with the 1930's Hollywood version with the three Barrymore siblings (Ethel Barrymore reputedly quipped "I thought I was rather good but I don't know what those boys were up to!"). But back to the Hammer effort. There is no serious attempt a historical accuracy in the script or the setting and Czar Nicholas is noticeably absent and, surprisingly, the murder scene is rather less dramatic and horrific than its historical counterpart. Don Sharp's direction is adequate given what he has to work with with only the scene where a would be assassin stalks the monk in the dark really being memorable. Acting is so-so with a competent cast which includes Francis Mathews, Barbara Shelley, Susan Farmer, Dinsdale Landen  and Richard Pascoe. Lee is good (most of the time) but really doesn't look much like Rasputin. Sadly, finally, it doesn't work as history or horror.

Rasputin the Mad Monk

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

MAY 28, 2013

107 TONI (1934) Directed by Jean Renoir ****

I honestly thought I'd seen this back in the 60's but could remember little about it. Turns out I had not seen it which was a nice surprise as a Renoir film that is new to me is always welcome as he is one of the greatest of all directors in my estimation.  TONI is generally regarded as his first great film and a precursor of the Italian neo-realist movement. Toni is an Italian immigrant worker who comes to work in the south of France and begins an affair with his landlady. He becomes obsessed with a Spanish neighbour and this eventually leads to tragedy for everybody. The film is unflinching in its depiction of the day to day lives of the immigrants although this is never over emphasised and is in the detail - the food, poor quality clothes and even the camaraderie of strangers in a strange land. The film, technically, has rough edges (Renoir himself considered it a primitive work) and despite the restoration still has rough edges. It's power is undeniable.


Monday, 27 May 2013

MAY 27, 2O13

106 THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN FABIAN (1951) Directed by William Marshall **

As a Vincent Price fan I've waited many years to see this film and while I can't say it is a particularly outstanding film it is certainly adequate for its genre - although exactly what its genre is must be open to debate. It certainly isn't the swashbuckler one might expect from its star, Errol Flynn (who also penned the screenplay). Price actually seems to have more screen time than Flynn in this story of lust, blackmail and murder. Interestingly, Micheline Presle's "heroine" is totally unsympathetic in her actions while "villain" Price, while being weak and devious, is strangely sympathetic (despite being driven to murder by Presle's lies) and one feels that everybody would have been better off if "hero" Flynn hadn't interfered in the first place and saved Presle for being sentenced to death for a murder of which she really was guilty. The film seems to have originally ended with Presle getting her just desserts for her actions but an additional "softer" ending has very obviously been added  with a voice over taken from an earlier love scene, indicating that she survives to be carried off in Errol's arms (a stand-in is seen here) - this scene was reputedly shot by Robert Florey. Happy birthday Vincent.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

MAY 22, 2013

101 THE MAN FROM EARTH (2007) Directed by Richard Schenkman ***

A science fiction film written by the late Jerome Bixby and produced by his son which contains no visual effects (let alone CGI), no action and takes place in one room. An impromptu farewell party for a university professor by his friends and closest colleagues takes a weird turn when he reveals that he is actually  a  old Cro-Magnon man who  has walked the earth for 14,000 years. He is at first not believed but slowly his friends are divided between those who start to believe him and those who think he is mentally ill. This simple idea opens up into an engrossing conversation piece that tackles preconceptions about anthropology, science, religion. It is only in the area of religion where the film starts to lose itself by becoming a bit too ambitious and looses credibility - not, I hasten to add, because its arguments are invalid, albeit a bit contrived,  but rather because of the unlikely plot twist. Despite this hiccup the film is an engrossing, intelligent chamber piece. Faultlessly acted by the ensemble cast who, with the once exception of William Catt,  are unknown to me - although I am assured that, like author Bixby, many have STAR TREK connections. Definitely worth a look. Richard Schenkman went on to direct ABRAHAM LINCOLN VS. ZOMBIES.

The Man from Earth

102  MAN OF THE WEST (1958) Directed by Anthony Mann ****

Like THE LAST FRONTIER with Victor Mature, this Western with Gary Cooper is not as well known as Anthony Mann's series of James Stewart Westerns although it is highly rated by critics and writers on the Western genre, although it must be said opinions of the fans are sharply divided. Somebody was once asked what they got from an Anthony Mann film that they didn't get from one by John Ford. The answer was "a sense of urgency" and I think that is a fair comment. Mann's films are edgy affairs with damaged heroes. MAN OF THE WEST has ex-outlaw Cooper forced to team up with his former boss in an effort to save the lives of two fellow travellers after a failed train robbery. Coop is truly iconic here - never has he looked so tall - framed in Mann's amazing cinemascope vistas. The rest of the cast is truly remarkable with Julie London, John Dehner, Arthur O'Connell, Jack Lord, Royal Dano, Frank Ferguson etc. For me, however, the film's one weakness and one that jars my sensibilities whenever I watch the film is the performance by Lee J. Cobb as Doc Tobin, Coop's old outlaw boss. I admire Cobb greatly as an actor but here I feel he overacts like crazy and his shouting becomes irritating in the extreme. I can't blame Cobb as one would assume that this is the performance Mann wanted. Despite this reservation this slow-burn film is a great Western.

Man of the West

Also viewed :

103 SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (1942) Directed by Preston Sturges ****
103 CENTURION (2011) Directed by Neil Marshal **
104 NORTHWEST MOUNTED POLICE (1947) Directed by Cecil B. DeMille ***
105 THE LAST FRONTIER (1955) Directed by Anthony Mann ***

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

MAY 14, 2013

100 THE PLAINSMAN (1936) Directed by Cecil B.DeMille ***

If you are looking for historical accuracy this is not the film for you. In telling his fictional story of Wild Bill Hickok tracking down renegades selling guns to the redskins Cecil B. Demille manages to weave many real elements and people from Hickok's life - his famous watch, the gunfight with 7th Cavalry troopers in Hays City, Buffalo Bill, Yellow Hand, Custer and, of course, Calamity Jane - but, oddly, completely ignores his career as a lawman on much of his real-life reputation rests. DeMille never really seemed to "get" the Western genre and this film lacks the picturesque historical tableaus which make even the more stolid of his films memorable. DeMille was never a great director but he was a genius entertainer and what THE PLAINSMAN may lack as art it more than makes up for in other areas - particularly the fine cast led by Gary Cooper (a fine Hickock without moustache) and Jean Arthur as Calamity. Look out for Anthony Quinn and Gabby Hayes in small roles. Best line in the film "Come Mr.Lincoln we'll be late for the theatre!"

The Plainsman

Monday, 13 May 2013

MAY 13, 2013

095 QUEEN OF BLOOD (1966) Directed by Curtis Harrington **

Curtis Harrington is one of those directors whose films are rarely, if ever, totally successful. On the other hand they are usually bizarre enough to be interesting and enjoyable - especially if, like me, you enjoy trawling through the lower depths of exploitation cinema. You just have to look at some of Harrington's film titles to see where he is coming from - DEVIL DOG HOUND OF HELL, THE CAT CREATURE, WHO SLEW AUNTIE ROO? , THE DEAD DON'T DIE, - well, you get the picture. Working almost obsessively within the horror genre (except for a period as an assistant to producer Jerry Wald) Harrington was a film fan of the kind that many of us can identify with and, personally, I find it hard to turn down the opportunity to catch up with one of his rarer films. QUEEN OF BLOOD came from the Corman stable - one of several films that were cobbled together by splicing together special effects from cheaply acquired Russian sci-fi films and newly filmed footage featuring American actor with the help of directors like Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Coppola and Harrington. The plot involves a group of astronauts who travel to mars to try and rescue survivors from a crashed alien spaceship. The lone survivor turns out to be a vegetable based life form in the shape of a woman who happens to be a vampire!  The cast is very interesting with b-movie stalwart John Saxon, Judi Merydith, Basil Rathbone slumming towards the end of his career and Dennis Hopper (who had starred in Harrington's first feature, NIGHT TIDE). The film's best performance comes from Florence Marly who gives a genuinely eerie turn as the vampire woman. For those of us who up reading Famous Monsters of Filmland there's a nice little cameo from Forry Ackerman.  Not a particularly good film but an interesting one and  worth seeing if you are a genre fan - particularly for Florence Marly.

Also viewed :

096 I MARRIED A WITCH (1942) Directed by Rene Clair ****
097 THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942) Directed by Frank Tuttle ***
098 THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946) Directed by George Marshal ***
099 SWAMP WATER (1941) Directed by Jean Renoir ***

Tuesday, 7 May 2013


It was with genuine sadness a few minutes ago I learned of the death of Ray Harryhausen. Ray was, of course, a true legend in his own lifetime so I will not even try to list his achievements here. I first met Ray during my early days working as a messenger in the London offices of Columbia Pictures. We spoke for only a minute or two but I was thrilled to meet one of my heroes. Several years later I was commissioned by a French film magazine to do an interview with Ray. I simply looked him up in the phonebook and rang him. He graciously invited me to his beautiful home in Kensington. I was a very inexperienced interviewer and the great man showed infinite patience and was a charming host. It was a magical afternoon and he very kindly allowed me a quick look into his workshop - at the time he was working models for the forthcoming  GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD and he was understandably a bit secretive about revealing his creations for the film. I was privileged to be able to hold the original GWANGI - a model that Ray's cat attacked at every opportunity. Later I shared tea with Ray and his charming wife. Ray felt that some of his answers to my questions were not to clear and a week later I received in the post several closely typed sheets of paper with more detailed answers - that he would take time out from his busy schedule to do this was very much the measure of the man.  A few days later in Russell Square I bumped into director Gordon Hessler whom I had met on a couple of occasions when he was working with Vincent Price and he told me how thrilled he was to be working with Ray whose films he had admired for years.I believed for a long time that the interview never appeared in L'ECRAN FANTASTIQUE although I found out later that they had printed it without informing or paying me. I subsequently gave the interview to Gary Svehla who arranged for it to be published in the American fanzine THE LATE SHOW No.3 and it was later reprinted in an English fanzine.

My afternoon with Ray was something I will never forget and I mourn his passing. From his amatuer films (available on DVD), through his work on MIGHTY JOE YOUNG and his long a successful collaboration with producer Charles H. Schneer Ray gave us wonder upon wonder - his legacy is truly the stuff that dreams are made of.  R.I.P. Ray Harryhausen...and thank you.

Friday, 3 May 2013

MAY 3, 2013

091 THE CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN (1958) Directed by Edward L. Cahn **

As you might expect, a low-budget horror movie from producer Robert E. Kent but an easy time-killer if, like me, you are quite forgiving of this type of thing. It is in most respects just another perambulating Mummy film although in this case it is a man who was buried in the ashes when Mount Vesuvius destroyed the city of Pompeii. What more can I say except that it doesn't outstay its welcome and in one scene (see the still below) achieves a real eeeriness. The cast is nothing to get excited about although it does feature the lovely Adele Mara as one of the two females. The hero is Richard Anderson who looks rather unhappy and uncomfortable - perhaps because he'd read the script and knew he had to go into the sea wearing his toupee. Scripted by sci-fi writer Jerome Bixby who wrote IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (the precursor to ALIEN) and the interesting THE MAN FROM EARTH (2007).

The Curse of the Faceless Man

Also viewed :

092  THE HOBBIT (2012) Directed by Peter Jackson ****
093  PARTIE DE COMPAGNE (1938) Directed by Jean Renoir ****
094  BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING (1936) Directed by Jean Renoir ***

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

APRIL 3O, 2013

090 BABY FACE NELSON (1957) Directed by Donald Siegel ****

Don Siegel once stated that his real forte was comedy although he didn't get much chance to try his hand at the genre. When he did make a couple of comedies at the end of his career they were pretty disastrous and very unfunny. No, I'm sorry Don, I'm afraid you will rightly be remembered for your crime films for they were your true forte, even if you didn't think so. Films like MADIGAN, CHARLEY VARRICK, DIRTY HARRY, COOGAN'S BLUFF are for me the best Siegel movies (along with his classic INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) and I have fond memories of some of his earlier smaller budget efforts like THE LINEUP, which like BABY FACE NELSON is so rarely, if ever, seen today. BABY FACE NELSON was part of the 1950's gangster cycle that included such excellent films as Richard Wilson's AL CAPONE and Budd Boetticher's THE RISE AND FALL OF LEGS DIAMOND but for many years the film has eluded me. But now somebody has kindly uploaded a copy to You Tube. It is a poor copy but beggars can't be choosers and I am grateful to finally see it. I certainly wasn't disappointed. Although far from historically accurate the film is tough and gritty and thankfully makes no attempt to turn Nelson into a Robin Hood character (which would be pretty difficult!) and he is played superbly by Mickey Rooney who gives one of the best performances of his long career. Carolyn Jones, best remembered these days as Morticia in THE ADDAMS FAMILY television series is excellent as his girlfriend. The rest of the cast features some of my favourite character actors from the period - Leo Gordon (as Dillinger - see below)), Anthony Caruso, Jack Elam, John Hoyt, Elisha Cook Jr, Emil Meyer and Ted De Corsia. Sir Cedric Hardwicke also turns up, cast against type, a a lecherous old doctor. Siegel's direction is fast and snappy making this one of his best films of the period.  A nice good condition print on DVD would be a real treat.

Baby Face Nelson

Friday, 26 April 2013

APRIL 26, 2013

086 KHOLODNOE LETO PYATESYAT TRETEGO/Cold Summer of 1953 (1987) Directed by Alesandre Proshkin ****

It is 1953, Stalin in dead and Beria, head of the secret police, has announced an amnesty/pardon for all convicted criminals but not political prisoners. In a small Siberian trading post, two political prisoners, unaware that Beria himself is now out of favour and they too will soon receive a pardon live on the charity of the poor villagers and by doing odd jobs. The town is invaded by a small band of violent released criminals who shoot the local lawman and rob the villagers and who intend to escape on a motor launch which will soon visit the village. The local officials seem impotent to resist.
Only the two political outcasts, spurred by the attempted rape of a young girl who has been kind to them, decide to resist and one by one they pick of the criminals.  This is essentially a Russian Western which reminded me rather of both Andre De Toth's DAY OF THE OUTLAW and Sergio Corbucci's THE GREAT SILENCE (although, ironically, it is the Russian film which is devoid of snow) and it is a pretty good one with some terrific performances by actors whose names I won't even attempt to spell. The setting is as interesting as it is unfamiliar and while it has none of the sophistication or flash that a contemporary Hollywood film might have brought to the subject the direction of Alesandre Proshkin is unobtrusive and one can't help thinking that the film is better off for it.

Cold Summer of 1953

Also viewed :

087 VANILLA SKY (2001) Directed by Cameron Crowe ***
088 ABRE LOS OJOS/Open Your Eyes (1997) Directed  by Alejandro Amenabar ***
089 LIMITLESS (2011) Directed by Neal Burger  ****

Saturday, 13 April 2013

APRIL 13, 2013

083  THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (2002) Directed by Mark Pellington. ***

I had always been under the impression that this film was rather underwhelming and, certainly, the only person I know personally who has given me an opinion didn't like it. I liked it a lot but if suffers from the malady that afflicts too many modern films. let me explain: personally I would have been quite happy if the film ended when Richard Gere doesn't pick up the phone - I would have been completely satisfied, although I can understand why the majority of viewers would have found that ending lacking. But as the film is inspired (rather than based on) supposedly real events that happened in West Virginia which culminated in the collapse of a bridge over the Ohio River director Pellington, understandably, had to take the story further and I have no problem with that. So what is my beef?  It comes when Richard Gere, playing a Washington Post reporter, jumps of the collapsing bridge, swims down into the depths, breaks into a sunken car, pulls out the driver and swims back to the surface!  And, I might add, he does this in December, at night and while fully clothed, wearing a heavy overcoat and his shoes!  C'mon, is it just me, or is that stretching it a bit?  I've seen so many films in recent years where the credibility of a film is ruined by such unlikely behaviour by a charater or by a script that ends in a dramatically satisfying way and is then spoiled by having a completely illogical twist ending that makes little sense even in the context of a fantasy film (Michael Stokes THE BEACON being just one example.  I can't say that THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES was ruined for me because I liked it a lot for many other reasons. Performances are first rate from Richard Gere and Laura Linney and I was charmed by Deborah Messing who play's Gere's wife, partly because she bore a spooky resemblance to a friend of mine. Director Pellington builds atmosphere nicely.

The Mothman Prophecies

Also viewed

084 LAWLESS (2012) Directed by John Hillcoat  ***
085 MIMIC (1997) Directed by Guillermo Del Toro ***

Monday, 8 April 2013

APRIL 8, 2013

082 LE HAVRE (2011) Directed by Aki Kaurismaki *****

So often I find myself watching films where people are determinedly unpleasant to each other, more often they are downright murderous, so it makes a refreshing change to seeuman  a film where people are really nice to their fellows. LE HAVRE isn't "nice" in a pleasant Mary Poppins sort of way but in a way that actually celebrates the human spirit - ordinary people struggling with life and helping each other. This may sound corny but in the hands of Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki it works wonderfully. The story concerns an elderly shoeshine who sets out to help a young illegal immigrant - no more than that. The film is filled with characters who even if only on the screen for a few moments are beautifully drawn from the black clad Police Inspector down to the local baker and greengrocer. It is very much an ensemble piece so I won't pick out anybody for special praise (except maybe Laitka) but I will, for the film fans, draw attention to two small roles - the informant and the doctor - which are played respectively  by Jean-Pierre Leaud and Pierre Etaix, both formerly big stars of the French cinema. The film is also very humorous although the jokes are so laid back and straight-faced it is easy to miss them. I can't recommend this film enough.

Le Havre

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

APRIL 3, 2013

081 JUST IMAGINE (1930) Directed by David Butler ***

Seen to day this a totally bizarre piece of film history. A science fiction comedy musical set in 1980 when food is replaced by pills, planes have replaced cars, marriage is decided by a judge. Comedian El Brendel is revived from the dead to see the wonders and accompany the hero on the first manned flight to Mars. Brendel's comedy is far too broad for my tastes but just to be able to see this museum piece makes it worth the effort. Maureen O'Sullivan is the heroine and John Garrick (who bears a disconcerting resemblance to a young Bruno Ganz) is the hero although the film was for me totally stolen by the second female lead, Marjorie White - a blonde Betty Boop if ever there was one. Director David Butler started his film career in 1927 and went of to direct lots of highly entertaining Hollywood movies including Doris Day's classic CALAMITY JANE.  Being pre-code, some of the jokes in JUST IMAGINE are decidedly racy for the time. Fascinating.

Just Imagine

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

APRIL 2, 2013

079 THE RAVEN (2012) James Tiegue **

Poor Edgar! Having recently suffered fifteen minutes of Uli Lommel's THE RAVEN before consigning it to the "unwatchable" can I decided  to treat myself to a copy of the more recent version, of which I had heard a few good things and eagerly anticipated, rather than wait for a rental copy to arrive. It would be wrong to criticise the film for being historically inaccurate with regards to Edgar Allan Poe himself or to his last sad days in this world because this is, after all, a work of fiction but for the record almost the first thing we are told is that Poe was discovered dying on a park bench when actually he was discovered drunk in a tavern wearing clothes that were, oddly, not his own.  There seems to have been no effort here to put the "real" Poe into the story and instead we have here, as played by John Cusack (an actor I usually admire) somebody who shouts a lot and has a beard.  The plot, such as it is, has Poe combining with the Baltimore police to hunt down a killer who is disposing of his victims in ways described by the author in his tales -  in the film we actually see a newspaper headline referring to a "Serial Killer" and I wonder if the term was actually known in 1849. When Edgar finally confronts the killer the term "greatest fan" is used which also sounds rather anachronistic and other examples abound in the lazy script by Ben Livingstone (his first) and Hannah Shakespeare (obviously no relation to you-know-who) which bears a striking resemblance to the main elements of Matthew Pearl's two excellent novels "The Dante Club" and "The Poe Shadow".  The direction by McTiegue is all over the place. But wait! The photography Danny Ruhlmann is excellent and the costumes by Carlo Pogglioli are first class. Very disappointing.

The Raven

080 THE NIGHT VISITOR (1971) Directed by Laslo Benedek.***

Somewhere out in windswept, snowbound Ingmarbergmanland somebody is commiting murders by strangulation, axe and poison and the main suspect is that dour Swede Oscar Persson. Oscar swears he is innocent and that the real murderer is that other dour Swede Max Von Sydow who he swears was hiding in the bedroom closet wearing only his underwear - a discovery made while Oscar was trying to kill an overtalkative parrot. His wife, played by dour Norwegian Liv Ullman doesn't believe him, mainly because Max has been locked up in the local fortress-like Lunatic Asylum for years. Local detective, Trevor Howard, has trouble believing anybody. This is absolutely the best film I've ever seen where Max Von Sydow runs through the snow in his underwear - Ingmar never made him do that. Read what I've written again and tell me honestly that you don't want to see this film! Quoth the Parrot "nevermore". An American/Swedish co-production filmed in Denmark with an Swedish, Norwegian and British cast, Produced by actor Mel Ferrer with a Hungarian director. What a crazy world......!!!

Monday, 1 April 2013

APRIL 1, 2013

 078 DIE SCHLANGENGRUBE UND DER PENDEL/Blood Demon(1967 Directed by Harald Reinl ***

A surprisingly good German horror film - good inasmuch as the photography is excellent, the performances adequate, the direction competent and the story bizarre enough to keep you watching. Of course all this doesn't place it very high in the scheme of things but if you enjoy the genre then there are far worse ways tp spend 90 minutes. Christopher Lee is Count Regula who is executed for the murder of twelve women and is later revived to take his revenge on those who betrayed him and to continue his search for the secret of immortality. Supposedly based on Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum" the film does, indeed, feature an entertaining array of  torture devices to be used on Lex Barker and Karin Dor (Mrs. Reinl).  Lee, as one might expect, turns in the film's best performance despite having relatively little screen time. The film was a change of pace for Reinl who was better known for his WINNETOU westerns and Edgar Wallace krimis.


Saturday, 30 March 2013

MARCH 30, 2013

076 SERANATA MACABRA/House of Evil (1968) Directed by Juan Ibanez/Jack Hill. *

This the first of the four Mexican/US coproductions made by Karloff before his death is usually considered the worst of the bunch. I actually thought it was slightly better than the others...but having said that it still stinks. Set in Eastern Europe in the 1800's the credits claim that it is based on Poe which is nonsense although it is slightly less incomprehensible than its companions. Sadly, Boris doesn't hang around too long and it is hard to blame him - although what he does he does well, especially at the climax.  The film's murderous automatons are more interesting than the Mexican cast.

077 THE KILLER SHREWS (1959) Directed bt Ray Kellog  **

Not quite as bad as its reputation suggests as long as the "shrews" are only half seen. Acting from most of the cast is pretty weak (Ken Curtis, who also produced, is obviously taking it very seriously. A word must be said about James Best, an actor too often relegated to playing crazy rednecks (and usually playing them rather well) and probably best know today as the Sheriff in the TV show THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, who here grabs his chance to play a hero and turns in a very creditable performance. Best has recently written and filmed a sequel in which he revives his character. I rather enjoyed THE KILLER SHREWS and look forward to the sequel. No, I have no shame....

....and you thought I was joking!

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

MARCH 27, 2013

072  FRENCH CAN CAN (1954) Directed by Jean Renoir.  *****

I bow to nobody in my admiration of Jean Renoir, a director who was seemingly able to turn out masterpieces with startling regularity prior to his sojourn in Hollywood, but I approached this - the film that marked his return to France, with some trepidation. The subject didn't seem to hold much appeal to me. But, of course I should have trusted Renoir.  I found the film totally captivating. It is light, frothy and funny. It tells the (fictional) story of the entrepreneur who opened the Moulin Rouge and introduced the Can Can to the world. Jean Gabin (who replaced Charles Boyer prior to shooting) has just the right of sophisticated charm and Francois Arnoul is delightful as the laundry girl he selects to be his new star much to the consternation of her fiance and Gabin's mistress (played by the statuesque and beautiful Mexican star Maria Felix). To be honest the songs are not memorable except for the one sung in the finale although earlier in the film there is a cameo by the great Edith Piaf. The film does score with its dance scenes - a delightful one near the beginning when Gabin and Arnoul meet and the wonderfully exuberant and raucous final can can number. The scene where the girls are training and limbering up (courtesy of Degas)  for the Can Can are great fun. Viewed today it is innocent fun but on its original release outside France the sexual swapping that goes on and  some of the dialogue was considered very racy. The film has now been fully restored. On the BFI DVD there is an interesting documentary about the film which points out the similarities between Renoir himself and the character played by Gabin.

French Can Can

073  THE SUSPICIONS OF MR. WHICHER (2012) Directed by James Hawes ***

Based on Kate Summerscale's best seller this tells the story of the infamous Road Hill House murder of 1860 and the efforts of ace Scotland Yard detective Jack Whicher to prove his suspicions as to the identity of the murderer of 3 year old Savill Kent. Although fact rather than fiction the film is a classic Victorian murder mystery both in its settings and its characters. While the restraints of running time have led to the writer and director somewhat simplifying the investigation the film sticks to the basic facts. A nice performance by Paddy Considine as Whicher (who seems to live in his overcoat!).

The Suspicions of Mr.Whicher

074  THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1973) Directed by Robert Kjellin *
075  THE RAVEN (2009) Directed by Uli Lommel *

Sunday, 24 March 2013

MARCH 24, 2013

070 CRY OF THE WEREWOLF (1944) Directed by Henry Levin ***

I've been looking for this film for nearly fifty years. Whenever the subject of werewolves came up when I was a teenager (and being a horror fan the subject did come up) my mother always said that this was her favourite of the genre. But the film seemed to have disappeared (at least in Britain). Columbia were not particularly noted for their horror films in the 30's and 40's although they did produce two excellent Karloff vehicles in THE BLACK ROOM and THE DEVIL COMMANDS and the entertaining RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE and, of course, the routine series of mad doctor films with Karloff - the plots and titles of which seem interchangeable. But back to CRY OF THE WEREWOLF. After waiting so long to see it, was I disappointed?  Not at all.  The reviews on IMDb are pretty evenly split between those who are cautiously enthusiastic and those who think it the worst werewolf film ever made. What those who deride the film seem to have completely missed is how much the film is influenced by what Val Lewton was doing over at RKO and the film is almost successful in creating a mood similar to CAT PEOPLE (although Levin, a pedestrian director at best, is certainly no Jacques Tourneur) especially in the scene set in the vaults of a funeral home where Stephen Crane is stalked through the shadows by a wolf - strongly reminiscent of the swimming pool sequence in Tourneur's film. The movie strives for suggestion rather than shock and for the most part succeeds admirably.  Nina Foch is excellent as the gypsy priestess and there is good support from the aforementioned Stephen Crane,Barton, Osa Massen, MacLane, Blanche Yurka, John Abbott and the ever welcome Milton Parsons.

Cry of the Werewolf

Also viewed :

071 THE SHANGHAI COBRA (1945) Directed by Phil Karlson.  **

Saturday, 23 March 2013

MARCH 23, 2013

069 WITCHCRAFT (1964) Directed by Don Sharp ***

Better than anything Don Sharp did for Hammer, this is a really good low-budget horror film. Beautifully shot by Arthur Lavis (with my old friend Len Harris taking time out from Hammer to operate the camera) this more than stands comparison with that other much admired minor classic CITY OF THE DEAD. Filmed at Shepperton Studios with much use of iconic horror film location Oakley Court at Bray the film has a more than competent cast led by Lon Chaney, Jack Hedley, David Weston and Diane Clare. A winner all the way.


Friday, 22 March 2013

MARCH 22, 2013

067 THE BLACK CAMEL (1931) Directed by Hamilton McFadden ***

"Death is a black camel that kneels at every door" says Charlie Chan in this rather good mystery which has a few things that make it stand out from the Chan films I've been enjoying recently. Firstly the film sticks fairly closely to the original Earl Derr Biggers novel on which it is based and Chan is on home ground in Honolulu for once and we get to see all his many children and even catch a brief look at Mrs. Chan. Warner Oland is excellent as honourable detective and the supporting cast is headed by a very elegant looking Bela Lugosi as a psychic (what else?). There is a very young Robert Young and, as a rather weird butler, an uncredited Dwight Frye. It looks like they actually did some location work in Hawaii for this one and the costumes and set design are a wow if you are into 1930's style.

The Black Camel

Also viewed :

068 THE GODFATHER (1968) Directed by Francis Ford Coppola *****

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

MARCH 20, 2013

065  THE BEGINNING OF THE END (1957) Directed by Bert I. Gordon. **

I admit I have quite I high level of tolerance for stuff like this, indeed for all types of low budget sci-fi, horror and mystery movies. This one was actually far more enjoyable than I expected. Genetic crop research is the cause of a swarm of giant locusts attacking Chicago. As this is a Bert I. Gordon film the special effects are far from special - during the climatic battle the consist mainly of grasshoppers climbing up photographs of Chicago landmarks - but I suppose that is part of the fun. Peter Graves and Morris Ankrum are on hand to save the world with a straight face - both actors well used to this kind of production.

Also viewed :

066   THE CYCLOPS (1957)  Directed by Bert I. Gordon  **

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

MARCH 18, 2013

063 DARK ALIBI (1946) Directed by Phil Karlson ***

This was one of the Chan films made by Monogram after Fox sold the rights. It is also the fourth from last in the series and Sidney Toler was already showing signs strain caused by the ill health that would kill him the following year. Supposedly the budgets a Monogram were smaller but it doesn't really show here and the script is really good despite the fact I spotted the main culprit as soon as he appeared. Instead as Victoy Sen Yung as No.2 son we have Benson Fong as Tommy Chan and to raise the comedy relief level we have the great black comedian Mantan Moreland. Moreland is always a joy to watch and is more than capable of carrying a film on his own. The idea was probably to take some of the pressure off the ailing Toler but for once it doesn't look like padding and Mantan even gets to do three very clever patter routines with fellow black actor Ben Carter. Carter actually receives third billing on the credits but sadly it would be his last film as he died of diphtheria in soon after the film was released. As an added treat Toler actually joins in the last of the patter routines. Direction is handled by the excellent Phil Karlson.

Dark Alibi

Monday, 18 March 2013

MARCH 18, 2013

062 CHARLIE CHAN AT TREASURE ISLAND (1939) Directed by Norman Foster. ***

I'm becoming quite addicted to these Charlie Chan movies so it is nice that so many are available on YouTube. Despite the title which my make us Brits believe Honourable Detective is on trail of one-legged pirate this is actually set during thev1939 San Francisco Exposition. The film does actually acknowledge that something very important and world shattering is about to kick off over in lil'ol Europe before settling down to a quite impressive mystery involving Chan and No.2 son (Victor Sen Yung) solving the suicide of a friend who was the victim of a mysterious fake psychic called Dr.Zodiac. It is very nicely photographed and is competently directed by the reliable Norman Foster. Sidney Toler is excellent as honourable oriental smart arse and as well as the aforementioned Yung there is Cesar Romero, Douglas Fowley, Pauline Moore, Douglas Dumbrille and Charles McBride to keep things bubbling along.

Charlie Chan at Treasure Island

Sunday, 17 March 2013

MARCH 17, 2013

 060 THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956) Directed by Cecil B. DeMille.***

I first saw this film on its first release when I was about ten and was naturally unpressed and have seen it maybe half a dozen times, It is, to be truthful, a clunking great beast of a movie and watching it this time I found it rather dull. But, that said, it is an event rather than a film and you can just sit back and enjoy the
fruity dialogue, the spectacle and some great turns by actors who seem to be having a good time - Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price, Cedric Hardwicke and Anne Baxter (she's a real hoot). Charlton Heston plays it impressively straight but is acted of the screen by Yul Brynner who provides the film's best performance as Ramsese. A classic?  Certainly, but a clunky one.

The Ten Commandments (1956)

061 THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1923) Directed by Cecil B. DeMille *****

DeMille is often derided as a not very good director but he knew how to deliver the goods at the box-office even if he doesn't always please latter day critiwith the film's messagecs. This film has re-awakened my interest in DeMille. The film, unlike the 1956 film is in two parts. The first tells the story of the Exodus (but in nowhere as much detail as the later film) while the second half is a modern day morality tale built around the Ten Commandments. As you might expect the film has a strong religious message that modern, more cynical audiences may find not to their taste - although the film delivers a double whammy as the film actually reflects that attitude. Personally I had no problems.  The historical portion of the film is, I thought, superior, more spectacular and impressive than the remake. But I adored the contemporary  tale as a great piece of film story telling with wonderful performances by Richard Dix, Leatrice Joy, Nita Naldi, Vilma Banky and Rod La Roque. The doctor who appears during the collapse of the church sequence is Charles Ogle who earned a place in horror film history by being the first actor to portray the Frankenstein monster on film in the 1910 Edison film.  DeMille directs beautifully. The DVD has an excellent commentary by DeMille expert Katherine Orrison.  I watched the film twice in a day - once without the commentary and once with.

The Ten Commandments (1923)

Saturday, 16 March 2013

MARCH 16, 2013

057 NIGHT OF TERROR (1933) Directed by Ben Stoloff  ***

Made at Columbia Studio, this is a superior old dark house thriller. Stoloff directs nicely at a cracking pace, perhaps because the script is jam packed with the standard ingredients of the sub-genre : old dark house, a will, greedy relatives, a mysterious servant, a stupid cop, seance, secret panels, mysterious experiments, a maniac on the loose and, of course, a wise-cracking reporter played by the indomitable Wally Ford. Bela Lugosi makes the best of his role as the Indian servant and delivers some juicy lines with relish and his entry is one that will delight all Lugosi fans. The film has a cracking epilogue as well.

Night of Terror

058 CHARLIE CHAN AT THE WAX MUSEUM (1940) Directed by Lyn Shores ***

Much to my surprise I find I'm enjoying the Sidney Toler Chan's more than those starring Warner Oland.
This is an excellent entry into the series set, as the title suggests, in a wax museum. The plot offers few surprises but the fun of these films depends more on just going with the flow. This one benefits by having Marc Lawrence as an escaped gangster out to get his revenge on honourable Chinese dectective during a radio murder reconstruction. Definately worth tracking down.

Also viewed :

059 ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968) Directed by Sergio Leone. *****

Once Upon a Time in the West

Monday, 11 March 2013

MARCH 11, 2013

056 SCHLOSS VOGELOD/Castle Vogelod/The Haunted Castle (1921) Directed by F.W, Murnau ***

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with this film it is difficult not to feel a sense of disappointment simply because it is directed by Murnau and scripted by Carl Mayer. It has little of the visual style we have come to expect from the director of NOSFERATU and FAUST.  Despite it's misleading English title the only thing haunting Castle Vogelod is guilt (except in one very brief nightmare sequence - see below) and the plot concerns a man trying to prove himself innocent of the murder of his and unveil the true culprit.  Even the castle is not atmospheric - the exteriors being obvious model shots.  But it is Murnau and if you love silent films then you'll probably want to see it. The acting is good but obviously of the period and it is interesting to see Olga Tschechowa, niece of Anton Chekov personal friend of both Hitler and Stalin (her life would make a fascinating film - check her biography on Imdb). You won't have much difficulty solving the mystery. I viewed the restored print available in The Masters of Cinema series.

Schloss Vogelod

Saturday, 9 March 2013

MARCH 9, 2013

052 THE CAT CREEPS (1946) Directed by Roy William Neill **

Another lively old dark house comedy thriller, this time directed by Erle C. Kenton who had helmed the classic ISLAND OF LOST SOULS and some less distinguished but entertaining Universal horrors. All the familiar ingredients are here as noted in earlier reviews. Performances are functional rather than memorable with only Noah Beery Jr. and Douglas Dumbrille making any impression. Surprisingly the film isn't a rerun of the 1930 film of the same name (itself a sound version of the silent THE CAT AND THE CANARY) despite the fact that most films in this sub-genre have interchangeable plots.

Also Viewed

 053 THE AVENGERS (2012) Directed by Joss Whedon  *****
 054 CAPTAIN AMERICA : THE FIRST AVENGER (2012) Directed by Joe Johnston  ****
 055 BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS (1982) Directed by Colin Higgins ***

Monday, 4 March 2013

MARCH 4, 2013

049 ONE FRIGHTENED NIGHT (1935) Directed by Christy Cabanne ***

Made in 1935 but looking for all the world like it was one of the plethora of Old Dark House films made five years earlier this is a surprisingly lively entry into this sub-genre. Stormy night, a will to be read, greedy relatives, a killer on the loose and unexpected guests - all very familiar ingredients but handled here with a light touch. Helped along by a sprightly performance by Charley Grapewin and the ever welcome Wally Ford doing his best Wally Ford impersonation. If, like me, you love old dark house movies this one is above average.

One Frightened Night

050 CONDEMNED TO LIVE (1935) Directed by Frank Strayer. **

A vampire is loose in a European village. Strayer's film is remarkably similar to his earlier THE VAMPIRE BAT but where BAT was fast paced and had a sense of humour CONDEMNED is static, humourless and beset by and over wordy script and dull performances by the leads - only Misch Auer making anything of this role as a loyal hunchback. A curiousity but a dull one.

Condemned to Live

 051 THE BLACK ANGEL (1946) Directed by Roy William Neill  ***

Neill, best remembered fot the Universal Sherlock Holmes series with Rathbone, here turns in a neat and atmospheric noir based on the novel by Cornell Woolrich. Good performances from the main players - Dan Duryea (who not only was the Woolrich actor par excellence by a friend of the writer), June Vincent, Peter Lorre and Broderick Crawford. The plot may seem a bit familiar (Woolrich's THE PHANTOM LADY springs to mind) but it has nice twist in the tail. Watch for the great camera move at the beginning - previously exploited by both King Vidor and Orson Welles and later by both Hitchcock and Chabrol, proving what goes around comes around although Neill executes it superbly.

Black Angel

All these films can be viewed in their entirety on You Tube.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

MARCH 2, 2013

 046  EXPERIMENT PERILOUS (1944) Directed by Jacques Tourneur  ***

Interesting psychological mystery set in the New York of the 1900 with George Brent as a psychiatrist who is drawn into a dark web of menace by a chance meeting on a train. Smoothly directed by Tourneur and expertly played by the three leads, Hedy Lamarr, George Brent and Paul Lukas. Brent was an interesting actor and all the more effective because he was not cut from the same cloth as other leading men of the period. Lamarr (who, in real life, it seems designed guidance systems for torpedoes and forsaw the internet) gives the heroine a nice vulnerability and Lukas exudes European menace. ***

Experiment Perilous

047  THE LAST WARNING (1929)  Directed by Paul Leni  ***

Paul Leni's last film was arguably the last hurrah of the silent movie. A mixture of old dark house mystery (or rather old dark theatre in this case) and a retread of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (making good use of the Paris Opera House set from that film) the plot is never more than predictably routine. What makes the film fascinating viewing is that Leni uses every trick in the silent director's bag to make the film visually exciting - at one point placing his camera on a swing.

The Last Warning

Thursday, 28 February 2013

FEBRUARY 28, 2013

045 FLIGHT TO MARS (1951) Directed by Lesley Selander **

Made back in the innocent days when crew members could be in their Sixties and female scientist knew without question that one of their important jobs was to get dinner ready for the men and if you didn't meet monsters on Mars you were sure to meet long legged babes who knew all about silettos and short skirts. It seemed a bit illogical that the Martians had to wear space suits on the planet where they had evolved - but maybe I missed something. Cameron Mitchell plays a reporter who goes on the first Mars mission and falls for the lady scientist when her boyfriend gets the hots for a Martian chick.  I love these 1950's space films for the scientific gobbledgook they talk. If only the real thing had turned out to be a bit like this.

Flight to Mars

FEBRUARY 27, 2013

043 TALES OF HOFFMANN (1951) Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger *****

I have to disagree with Martin Scorsese on this one. While admiring the film he thinks it is flawed, I think it is a masterpiece. Of course it is stylised, it is opera and ballet and it may not be to some people's taste but I thought the whole thing was stunning. Hoffmann's stories are, of course, macabre and I'm sure this must have appealed to Powell's imagination as much as it lent itself to his visual style. The first tale of Coppelius and the automaton Olympia (the beautiful Moira Shearer whose point work - although I am no expert - seems phenomenal to me) is deceptively light until the shocking moment when Olympia has her head ripped off and is torn limb from limb. Yes, in the story, we know it is a doll but it still worked for me as a moment of horror.
The other two tales have Robert Helpmann (who appears in all the stories) as a more satanic figure. My favourite being the second which stars the wondereful Ludmilla Tcherina  as the courtesan Antonia who steals the mirror reflection of Hoffmann for her satanic patron. Ludmilla (below with Helpmann) was one of the great beauties of the ballet world and here she positively oozes a dark sexuality that almost made me think I was watching a  vampire film.  Other Powell regulars such as Frederick Ashton and Pamela Brown (who can convey so much with the roll of her eyes) are on hand. Al so with Leonide Massine, Robert Rounseville and Ann Ayars. Appearing in the last story is the Hungarian actor Meinhart Maur who had made is debut in Fritz Lang's HARAKIRI (1919. Wonderful.

Tales of Hoffmann

Also Viewed :

044  THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997) Directed by Luc Besson *

Friday, 22 February 2013

FEBRUARY 22, 2013

042 THE TEMPEST (2013) Directed by Julie Taymor ****

I was lucky in that I was not force fed Shakespeare at school and rather came to the bard via the cinema (specifically via Olivier's RICHARD III) and perhaps because of this, understanding to some extent the problems of adapting 16th Century drama for the movies, I have never been a purist -  film and the stage being very different mediums. My favourite Shakespearian films come on all shapes - great versions of Macbeth and King Lear from Akira Kurosawa with a word of the original text (THRONE OF BLOOD and RAN), Ian McKellan's RICHARD III, the Russian film of HAMLET, Olivier's HENRY V (along with his aforementioned RICHARD III), Al Pacino's two efforts and, of course Orson Welles CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT.   Kenneth Branagh did a good job on HENRY V but left me cold with his full text HAMLET.

So where does Julie Taymor's THE TEMPEST stand with me? Well, for my money, it ranks very highly. The idea of having the magician Prospero played by a woman might seem a gimmick but it really works and although Prospera (as the character is now named) requires a new back story it gives the story new and subtle dimensions. Of the cast I cannot write highly enough and although I am often lax in mentioning casts on this blog I feel compelled to list all those living or wrecked on the magic island.  Helen Mirren (Prospera), Felicity Jones (Miranda), Ben Whishaw, Djimon Hounsou (superb as Caliban), Tom Conti, Alan Cumming, Reeve Carney, David Stathaim and Chris Cooper. I will make special mention of Alfred Molina who proved by initial feeling that he was miscast totally wrong and also Russell Brand whose presence has stopped me watching the film till now - Sorry Russ, you were brilliant and very funny.

Filmed on a private island in Hawaii the film looks as good as it sounds and it encourages me to seek out Julie Taymor's TITUS. If you see the film on DVD make sure you watch the hour long "Making of" documentary RAISING THE TEMPEST - it is a masterclass in how to make one of these usually uninspired "bonus features" really enhance the main feature and be almost as interesting.

The Tempest