Monday, 28 January 2013

JANUARY 28, 2013

023 CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA (1945) Directed by Gabriel Pascal ****

This film rarely seems to be mentioned by film historians and critics but it certainly deserves to be remembered and seen more often (this is my only second viewing in fifty years) as it remain a great piece of literate entertainment. It is probably the film's literacy (a script by George Bernard Shaw based on his own play) that has caused the film to be almost forgotten for there was a lamentable tendency among the supporters of the British New Wave and the young turks of the Nouvelle Vague in France to raise "style" above literacy at all costs and there is no doubt that CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA is filmed theatre but as such it is at least the equal if not the superior of  both the DeMille and Mankiewicz efforts. Shaw's dialogue sparkles, the photography is gorgeous and rarely has such a cast of great British character actors been assembled in one film. Vivian Leigh is a beautiful Cleo (and we are reminded of just how good an actress she was) and Claude Rains is a witty, urbane and quite believable Caesar. For the rest there is everybody from
Flora Robson, Francis Sullivan, Stewart Granger, etc down to Stanley Holloway, Michael Rennie and (if you concentrate) even Roger Moore.

Caesar and Cleopatra

024  MIDNIGHT RUN  (1986)  Directed by Martin Brest. ****

Do you have what I call "comfort films" ?  I'm not necessarily talking about the best films you've seen or even your favourite films but rather ones that you can slip into as easily as a pair of old slippers. MIDNIGHT RUN is one such film for me, As with another De Niro film (THE SCORE) I know every plot twist, most of the dialogue yet immediately I'm into it for the ride although I know exactly where it's going. Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin make a great team as the Bounty Hunter and fugitive up against Yaphet Kotto and Dennis Farina as the Fed and Mafia boss aligned against them. It's predictable and lightweihjy but great fun.
What ever happened to Martin Brest's career?

Midnight Run

Also Viewed :

025  THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)  Directed by Louis Lettier  ***

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

JANUARY 22, 2013

022 THE LAST LEGION (2017) Directed by Doug Lefler ***

My friends will think that the *** rating I've given this film is a sign of my increasing madness but, dammit, that is how much I enjoyed this film. I'm certainly not rating it for artistic achievement and it is easy to pick holes in the plot that you could drive a chariot through. History, geography, continuity and believability play little part in this movie. When the Goths sack Rome the boy emperor escapes with the help of his bodyguard
Mr. Darcy and Sir Ben Kingsley, finds Julius Caesar's sword and crosses Europe without incident and goes to Hadrian's Wall to rally the last remnants of The Ninth Legion against an alliance of Goths and Vortigern...oh yes, I left out the female Indian Ninja. Of course it doesn't take long to work out that all this nonsense is a prequel to the Arthurian legends and Sir Ben is really our old friend Merlin. Some will say it is crap but I loved every minute, enjoyed every performance, found the fight scenes exciting and laughed at the jokes. It's nice to see an old fashioned adventure film with no pretensions beyond wanting to entertain. I unashamedly stick by my rating and I certainly had more fun watching it than I did KING ARTHUR.

The Last Legion

Monday, 21 January 2013

JANUARY 21, 2013

019 THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1936) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock ***

 While Hitchcock's 1956 remake is far superior his original  1934 version has a charm all of its own. The plot of the married couple whose child is kidnapped by anarchists to prevent them spilling the beans about assassination being planned that will plunge Europe into war. Peter Lorre is excellent as the leader of the gang who are headquartered in "The Tabernacle of the Temple of the Sun" in Wapping. This was Lorre's first film for Hitchcock and he would later appear in SECRET AGENT - where I found his overplaying extremely irritating in a film where I found so much irritating that it is one of my least favoirite Hitchcock films. The final shootout, although reminiscent of the climax of Lang's THE TESTAMENT OF DR.MABUSE. was inspired by the historical siege of Sidney Street twenty-two years earlier.

The Man Who Knew Too Much

020 FARINELLI (1994) Directed by Gerard Corbiou **

Inspired by rather than based on the life of the castrato singer known as Farinelli who is believed to have been one of the greatest opera stars of all time. Sadly, the film, which is full of inaccuracies (Handel's opera house was in Haymarket not Covent Garden), puts a heavy psychological emphasis on the story and a heavy dose of sex is thrown into the mixture without really telling us much about the singer. The castrato voice is achieved here by combining a male and female singer on the soundtrack quite convincingly but the film never really captures the bizarre splendour of the baroque operas of the 18th century giving instead the false impression that Farinelli (well played by Stefano Dionisi) merely stood alone on the stage and sung while wearing  outrageous costumes instead of being part of an opera production - we see very little of the theatrical world in which he lived and sang. The scene where the young singer vocally duels with a baroque trumpet was recreated on stage at the Barbican last November by Cecilia Bartoli and was much more exciting and entertaining than here. The story of the castrato singers, young boys castrated to preserve their voices, deserves to be told. The aforementioned Cecilia Bartoli's album and DVD SACRIFICIUM honours their memory far more than the gratuitous scene that opens this film.


Also viewed :

021 TERMINUS (1961)  Directed by John Schlesinger ****

Watch the award winning documentary TERMINUS by clicking the image below,

Sunday, 20 January 2013

JANUARY 20, 2012

017 JUGGERNAUT (1936) Directed by Henry Edwards **

The last of the three films that Boris Karloff made in England during the 1930's, JUGGERNAUT is, despite having Boris as the evil Dr. Sartorius, is not really a mad doctor film in that it doesn't venture into the world of science fiction. It starts rather slowly with Karloff denied funds for his research (when would they learn?) and being forced to take a job with a rich patron in the south of France. Plots are soon hatched and the fun starts. Karloff's performance is totally unsympathetic and bad tempered (and all the better for it) and completely in tune with the mounting hysteria that pervades the film. The scene where the rich man's unfaithful wife learns that she is not going to inherit his fortune is a real gem with actress Mona Goya going screamingly over the top. The film may creak but once it gets going it is great fun if you're in the right mood. The film is available on You Tube.

018  THE DEVIL COMMANDS (1941) Directed by Edward Dmytryk. ***

Edward Dmytryk was an interesting but uneven director but this early effort is easily the best of Columbia's mad doctor series. Karloff and Ann Revere are excellent as the couple trying to contact the dead through scientific methods. The film is blessed with an above average and literate script by Robert H. Andrews (who had earlier scripted  THE WALKING DEAD and BEFORE I HANG which had both starred Karloff) based on a novel by.  All technical credits are excellent with the photography being outstanding.

The Devil Commands

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

JANUARY 16, 2013

015 THE WOMAN IN BLACK (1989) Directed by Herbert Wise. ***

I have read Susan Hill's book, seen the stage play, heard the radio adaption and seen both this television film and the more recent theatrical film produced under the Hammer banner. I enjoyed both book and play and was very impressed by the television film under discussion here, particularly as while remaining fairly faithful to its source, I thought actually improved on it.  This seems odd as, reportedly, author Hill absolutely loathes this version and has thrown her weight behind the more recent film version which takes far more liberties with her novel and throws subtlety out the window - not to mention being hampered by a performance by Daniel Radcliffe which runs the gamut from A to B. Wise has had a long and honourable career as a director of British television drama and he does a fine job here by proving when it comes to classic ghost tales less is more - a lesson well taught by his namesake Robert with THE HAUNTING in 1963.The cast is headed by Adrian Rawlins and Bernard Hepton and the film makes very effective use of its atmospheric locations. The complete film is available for viewing on You Tube. Wish I hadn't watched it before going to bed!

The Woman in Black

Also Viewed :

016 THE VIKINGS (1956)  Directed by Richard Fleischer ***

The Vikings

Monday, 14 January 2013

JANUARY 15, 2013

014 TERROR OF THE TONGS (1961) Directed by Anthony Bushell  **

The only scarey thing about this Hammer romp for me was the fact that I last saw it fifty-one years ago on its initial release in 1961. There isn't a lot to be said about this tale of Chinese hatchet men in early 20th Century Hong Kong except that it is mildly watchable. Directed by actor Anthony Bushell who was an associate of Laurence Olivier it gives Christopher Lee a chance to warm up his Fu Manchu performance as the leader of the Red Dragon Tong. The most striking thing about the film is that so few of the Chinese roles are played by Chinese actors with Hammer preferring to rely on British character actors such as Charles Lloyd Pack, Roger Delgardo and Marne Maitland in not very convincing makeup - Bert Kwouk being a notable exception. Yvonne Monlaur plays the Eurasian girl who falls for English sea captain Geoffrey Toone before she succumbs to a hatchet man's chopper.

Terror of the Tongs

Friday, 11 January 2013

JANUARY 11, 2013

013 IRON SKY (2012) Directed by Timo Vurensolo ***

Towards the end of WW2 the Nazis managed to establish a base on the dark side of the moon (seems some people really believe this!) and are just waiting to reconquer the Earth. Bizarre?  You bet! but then IRON SKY is a pretty bizarre movie. A co-production between Germany, Australia and Finland and made with money largely raised on the internet the film really deserves to be seen if only for the enthusiasm of the people behind the project.  It's not great, mainly I felt because of the rather scattergun approach to the comedy which just throws every joke it can think of at the audience - but, I suppose, if a joke is bad another one will be along within a few seconds. I felt a little more restraint and a bit more straight faced satire would have worked better. There are some good one-liners (especially from the Sarah Palin like U.S.President) and there is a nice self-depreciating joke at the expense of the Finnish co-producers if you are quick enough to catch it. Udo Keir plays the new Fuhrer as if to the job born and the rest of the cast (who I confess are completely unknown to me) are fine.  The big plus in the film's favour is the really excellent CGI and model work which achieves the perfect balance between h-tec sci-fi and appealing steam-punk.

Iron Sky

Thursday, 10 January 2013

JANUARY 10, 2013

010 CHARLIE CHAN IN LONDON (1934) Directed by Eugene Forde. **

Enjoyable mystery starring Warner Oland as the oriental sleuth. Crime writer Philip MacDonald supplies a good script that actually (unlike some later Chan films) has a genuine who-dun-it plot that allows honourable detective some real deductions. Nothing special but fun. Supporting cast includes a very young Ray Milland

Charlie Chan in London

011 CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD ( 1964 ) Directed by Warren Keifer *

I knew Paul Maslansky, the producer of this film, when he was based at Columbia Pictures office in London and I was friends with one of the film's assistant directors, Mike Reeves who went on to direct WITCHFINDER GENERAL, and spent a pleasant afternoon with him and actor Christopher Lee at Shepperton during the filming of THE OBLONG BOX, so I have three connections with people involved with this film. Sadly it doesn't make the film any better. Reeves directed some of the scenes and seeing the film again after many years it was interesting to note that the opening narration is remarkably similar to the one that Reeves later used to open WITCHFINDER GENERAL.

Castle of the Living Dead

Also viewed :

012 PROMETHEUS (2012) Directed by Ridley Scott ***


Tuesday, 8 January 2013

JANUARY 8, 2013

007 HARRY BROWN (2009) Directed by Daniel Burton **

Daniel Burton's debut feature is impressive. Harry is a widower living alone on an inner city council estate infested by feral youths and drug dealers. When his only friend is killed Harry, an ex-marine, takes the law into his own hands with dramatic results. So what we have is a vigilante movie closer to Michael Winner's DEATH WISH than Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER although comparing it to Winner's film is doing it a disservice. Burton builds the atmosphere slowly and carefully and never attempts to make Harry any kind of hero - in this he is aided by a superb performance by Michael Caine. While the film's purpose is not to look at the reasons behind the violence  it does acknowledge in passing the exploitation of the young by adults even if these (rightly in my view) offered as Harry's concern or motivation. Unfortunately  when the film switches its emphasis to the police it begins to fall apart.

Harry Brown

008 ERNEST HEMINGWAY'S THE KILLER (1963) Directed by Donald Siegel. ***

In some respects this has dated. The obvious back projection in many scenes is quite noticeable and it has to be said that it drags badly in the middle section. Part of the problem is that the scenes involving the two hired killers, played by Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager, are so good that everything else is a bit of a letdown. The opening when the killers track their prey to a school for the blind and the closing scene are justifiably regarded as classic.  Much as I admired John Cassavetes work I found his performance here a bit too mannered and edgy. The rest of the cast are fine and include Ronald Reagan in his final film role, Angie Dickinson, Claude Akins and Norman Fell. Originally made for television but premiered theatrically.

Ernest Hemingway's The Killers

also viewed :

009 PSYCHO (1960) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. *****


Saturday, 5 January 2013

JANUARY 5, 2013

006 DIE ABENTEUER DES WERNER HOLT/The Adventures of Werner Holt (1965) Directed by Joachim Kunert.  ****

A friend with a particular interest in Eastern European cinema showed me this and for the first three-quarters of an hour (it runs two and three quarter hours) I really couldn't get into it. Then suddenly everything clicked and by the end I was convinced I had seen a great film. At the outbreak of the Second World War two students are called up to serve in the German Army and are assigned at first to an ack ack unit but later, as the war progresses, they see front line combat against the advancing Russians. One of the young men is patriotic enough to be drawn along by the propaganda about defending the Fatherland without being totally convinced by the nazis while the other is a fanatical supporter of Hitler. The former boy (the eponymous Werner Holt) becomes more and more disenchanted with the fascist regime as he sees the horrors perpetrated by the SS, the senseless brutality and the concentration camps but although he openly challenges his friend on several occasions he can never quite bring himself to desert him or the German cause. Made in East Germany the film never offers simple answers as it shows a world where basic human decency and morality have been turned topsy turvy. The ensemble cast are excellent by special mention must be made of
Klaus Peter Thiele (who bears a strong resemblance to Ryan Gosling) as Werner. The film also contains some disturbingly black humour.

Die Abenteuer des Werner Holt

Friday, 4 January 2013

JANUARY 4, 2013

004 THE WEB (1947) Directed by Michael Gordon ***

Michael Gordon had quite a diverse career which included Jose Ferrer's CYRANO DE BERGERAC and being a director favoured by Doris Day. In this later capacity he was responsible for the delightfully silly chiller MIDNIGHT LACE which had poor Doris menaced in the London fog by a maniac. With THE WEB he delivers a really enjoyable film noir. Forget the plot as anybody with two brain cells to rub together will figure out what is going on almost before it happens, but it has a terrific cast headed by Edmund O'brien and the lovely Ella Raines. Vincent Price is on top form as the suave villain abetted by John Abbott. Abbott was rarely given a chance to shine although his turns  as a particularly intelligent bloodsucker in THE VAMPIRE'S GHOST and a killer in THE BLACKOUT MURDERS are worth catching. William Bendix is at his best as the tough, no nonsense, cop who has everything figured out right from the beginning, unlike O'Brien who seems very gullible for the smart attorney he is supposed to be.

005 ONE BODY TOO MANY (194 ) Directed by Frank MacDonald  ***

A will is about to be read, a stormy night, a vanishing corpse, secret passages, the beautiful heir in peril and a sinister butler. In terms of originality this old dark house horror/comedy offers no surprises but it stand out as a cracking example of this sub-genre. It has a first class cast led by Jack Haley and Jean Parker who are more than ably backed up by the likes of Bela Lugosi, Lyle Talbot and Douglas Fowley.  Although Bela is used, yet again, as a red herring, he plays his role as the sinister butler with enthusiasm and the running joke about the coffee ("This coffee won't keep you awake") is done nicely and raises a smile if not a laugh. But the real reason this film stands out from others in similar vein is its pace. Graced with a better than average cast and script Frank MacDonald keeps things moving with not a minute wasted.

One Body Too Many

006 THE MAN IN THE ATTIC (1953) Directed by Hugo Fregonese ***

       Fregonese, like Robert Florey and Edgar Ulmer, was one of those foreign born (Brazil in Fregonese's case) directors who occasionally turned in offbeat work which achieves for them a cult reputation. My personal favourites among his films are BLACK TUESDAY and his Argentinian "Western" SAVAGE PAMPAS. If I say that THE MAN IN THE ATTIC is a perfectly good reworking of the oft filmed THE LODGER by Mrs. Belloc Lowndes - twice filmed with Ivor Novello (once with Hitchcock at the helm) and so memorably in the Forties by John Brahm with Laird Cregar - I'd probably be doing it an injustice. Jack Palance is excellent as the mysterious Mr.Slade, achieving a nice balance between the sympathetic and the sinster and once free from the confines of the boarding house Fregonese's direction comes to life with some atmospheric Whitechapel street sets.  There are two musical numbers set in a theatre that, despite being set in 1888 bear all the marks of 1950's Hollywood and jar against the tone of the rest of the film.

There is an interesting little  "mystery" in that the heroine of the piece, played by Constance Smith, is an actress whose dresser/maid is shown to be an Asian lady. It seems odd that this should be in the script with no explanation, especially in Hollywood at the time,  The explanation may lay with the Brahm 1944 version where the actress was played by Merle Oberon.  Oberon really did have an Asian Dresser/maid.  Oberon, although it was not revealed until years later, was of mixed race and her maid was really her mother, although few people knew it. I find it difficult to believe that this was a coincidence.

The Man in the Attic

Thursday, 3 January 2013

JANUARY 3, 2013

003 IL BARBIERI DI SIVIGLIA/The Barber of Seville (1974) Directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle ****

This was a real find for me. I am in the process of transferring some VHS recordings of opera productions to DVD. This one had mysteriously (not by me) been labelled as a 1980's Glynbourne production. Instead it turns out to be Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's 1974 film version of his La Scala production of two years earlier. Being a film it opens out the action a bit more than some other filmed stage productions such as the 1988 version with Cecilia Bartoli as Rosina.  When I say than this is far superior to the Bartoli (which I adore) I am not giving faint praise. Visually it is more interesting for the reasons stated above and vocally it is graced by the German baritone Hermann Prey as Figaro and the beautiful Teresa Berganza as Rosina. Next to Mascagni's CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA this is Rossini probabably my favourite opera. Based, like Mozart's THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO on a story by Beaumarchais it is hard to imagine that these tales originally ran into censorship problems because they showed servants outwitting and being cleverer than their masters at a time when the French Revolution was very much on peoples minds.

Il Barbieri di Siviglia

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

JANUARY 2, 2013

002 FIRES WE STARTED (1942) Directed by Humphrey Jennings.  *****

Also known as I WAS A FIREMAN. I have a feeling I've seen this before but I'm possibly confusing it with Basil Dearden's THE BELLS GO DOWN made the same year which I saw when I was about ten. But whatever, this is an authentic masterpiece of British cinema made by Humphrey Jennings whom Lindsay Anderson called "a poet".  A simple story of a fire fighting crew during the London Docks Blitz is truly amazing and I think it effected me emotionally more than any film I saw during 2012.  Acted by a cast of real fire fighters ( one of them went on to have a very long career as a character actor) the film is grimly realistic and the fire scenes very convincing (they were staged for the film). My own step-father was an ambulance driver at London Docks during the blitz so the film has added interest for me.

Fires Were Started (1942)

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

JANUARY 1, 2013

001 ROGUE'S REGIMENT (1948) Directed by Robert Florey ***

French born Robert Florey was set to direct FRANKENSTEIN for Universal before he was usurped by James Whale. This was probably a blessing given the evidence of THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE. Florey has, at least, a couple of good films to his name, both starring the great Peter Lorre, THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK and THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS. Mainly because one of its stars is Vincent Price I have wanted to see ROGUE'S REGIMENT for a long time and while it does not bear comparison with the two Lorre films it stands the test of time as a competent thriller - part post-war propaganda and part film noir. It is probably the first film to deal with the situation in Vietnam under French rule. Dick Powell is an American agent who joins the French Foreign Legion in Saigon while on the trail of a fugitive German war criminal played by the excellent and underrated Stephen (Horace) McNally. He is hindered in his investigation by illegal arms dealer, Vincent Price, who is running guns to the Viet Cong. The performances are excellent with the lovely Marta Toren as the sultry night club singer who is more than she seems.

Rogue's Regimen (1948)