Monday, 28 September 2015

SEPTEMBER 28, 2015

EMBRYO (1976) Directed by Ralph Nelson. *

One of the two awful foetus movies made during the 1970's by former directors of live television drama (the other being PROPHECY directed by John Frankenheimer) - both directors having done far superior work earlier in their careers. This one has an over-serious Rock Hudson growing Barbara Carrera from a foetus in his lab. The pace is slow and nothing really interesting happens until the climax when the film descends into B-movie horror hysteria. Director Nelson has a cameo as a doctor at an autopsy. It is worth mentioning here that the picture quality is abysmal, looking like it was taken from a poor quality VHS.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

SEPTEMBER 27, 2015

BLUEBEARD (1972) Directed by Edward Dmytrk *

A real piece of Euro-trash, surprisingly directed by Edward Dmytrk, who had a long and very honourable career in Hollywood. Supposedly set between the world wars with Burton as the eponymous wife murderer/air ace/nobleman/photographer/musician/Nazi. Period detail is non-existent as men wear 70's suits, lead actress Joey Heatherton wears a mini-skirt and Burton wears a series of costumes that should have been reported to the fashion police. For some reason the Nazis wear green and sport a cross in place of swastikas. The film can't decide if it is a horror film or a black comedy and veers totally into farce. Visually it looks like a Mario Bava film that has gone horribly wrong - come to think of it, maybe they should have got Bava to direct it as the subject would have suited him perfectly. The luckless wives are played by Raquel Welsh, Virna Lisi, Marilu Tolo and the aforesaid Miss Heatherton. It is bizarre enough to become a guilty pleasure although please be warned that the hunting scenes are particularly unpleasant if you are sensitive to such things.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

SEPTEMBER 19, 2015

THE JOLSON STORY (1946) Directed by Alfred E. Green and Joseph H. Lewis. ***

Hagiography isn't the word for it. As with THE GREAT CARUSO this film has only the slenderest connection to the true story of Jolson's life. No mention of his brother Harry, no mention of his mother's death before 1900 (she is still around in the film after Al's retirement!) and certainly no mention of his marriages other than to dancer Ruby Keeler (here given a completely fictitious name) or his adopted son. But, of course, the film is about Jolson's voice - the man himself sings most of the songs to actor Larry Parks' miming. So, a serious biography it isn't but very entertaining it most certainly is - if you're a Jolson fan (guilty, m'lud). Larry Parks, who bears little resemblance to Jolson,is excellent and there are good performances from Evelyn Keyes and William Demarest. Jolson's blackface is probably deemed politically incorrect today but his relationship to the black community and black performers is much more complicated and is barely, if at all, touched on in this film. Ultimately this is Hollywood schmaltz but beautifully done.

Thursday, 3 September 2015


MR. TURNER (2014) Directed by Mike Leigh. ****

I am not Mike Leigh's greatest admirer, something about his work irritates me. The early scenes of MR. TURNER are immaculately rendered vignettes of scenes from Turner's life, undeniably brilliant but lacking in context - like looking into the past but with no guide to explain what you are seeing, scenes which seem to be going somewhere then suddenly cut to something else. Yes, I began to get irritated, no doubt looking for some reason for disliking this Mike Leigh effort. This was no doubt compounded by my fond memories of the 1970's television film, THE SUN IS GOD based on the same subject and starring Leo McKern as Turner. However as the film progressed I was won over and thankfully Leigh begins to reveal some depth to his depiction of the great artist helped by the extraordinary performance by Timothy Spall. The film is funny, moving and, ultimately, distressing in equal parts. The scenes of encounters between the curmudgeonly Turner and such comtemporaries as Constable and Ruskin stick in the mind along with  the amazing reconstruction of Victorian London - well worth watching the excellent "Making of" documentary if only to see how the remarkable set of the Royal Academy Exhibition at Somerset House was achieved. Okay, Mr. Leigh,
you win, I surrender. This is a terrific film.