Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

New must sees ...

Now the festival season is over and winter settling in, the new Award Season should be underway for the next Oscar ballyhoo in February. Three I particularly want to see are the new Luca Guadagnino CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, Annette Bening (surely leading the Best Actress nominations) as Gloria Graham in FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL and PADDINGTON 2- my lofty film buff friends turned up their noses at the first one, boy are they missing out ... 

Revisiting old favourites ...

I have written about these here several times, so no need to rehash them again, but its been a lot of fun revisiting QUENTIN DURWARD, JUSTINE and SANDRA ..... see labels for previous comments.
QUENTIN DURWARD from 1955 is maybe my favourite costume drama from the 50s (along with Fritz Lang's MOONFLEET, also 1955 - I enjoyed seeing them as a kid at Sunday afternoon matinees). DURWARD captures the Walter Scott world perfectly, with perfect roles for Kay Kendall and Robert Taylor and Robert Morley as the very devious King of France. 
JUSTINE is a genuine Trash Classic, started in Tunisia and then moved to Hollywood, it in 1969, it has that plush 20th Century Fox look, a great score by Jerry Goldsmith and Anouk Aimee looking stunning in those Irene Sharaff creations, plus Michael York and Dirk Bogarde as well as Anna Karina. George Cukor took over the direction, lensed by veteran Leon Shamroy, so it romps along, capturing some of Durrell's exotic Aleandria. I just like it a lot.
SANDRA in 1965 is maybe a lesser Visconti, but is still a powerful operatic melodrama with Claudia Cardinale and Jean Sorel at their peaks of stunning beauty as the incestuous brother and sister. Again, one to savour. 

Monday, 13 November 2017

Soldier of Fortune, 1955

One of those little seen now adventure movies the studios churned out in the 1950s, usually teaming two stars (like John Wayne and Lana Turner in THE SEA CHASE, also 1955) and featuring exotic locations - we are in 1950s Hong Kong here and with Clark Gable and Susan Hayward, plus Michael Rennie.

Susan - looking good here - arrives to find her missing husband who it seems in held captive in 'Red China' and engages shady businessman Gable to help her, he is initially reluctant but falls for her charms. There is lots of local colour too in the locations with all those junks and sampans and those shady people at the hotel. It moves along at a nice pace but the two stars never left the studio backlot, though one would not notice. This was Susan's adventure movies period for 20th Century Fox, when she was teamed with the likes of Cooper, Power, Mitchum, before her big emoting roles in I'LL CRY TOMORROW and I WANT TO LIVE!. (Gable it seems did go go to Hong Kong for some location shots).

Gable was getting a bit long in the tooth for these kind of action roles - he wisely stuck to romantic comedies afterwards until his final film THE MISFITS filmed in 1960. Hayward is in her element, she had tested for Scarlett O'Hara in 1939, but finally gets Gable here. Directed by Edward Dmytryk, with a good score by Hugo Friedhofer from a novel by Ernest K Gann, it is one programmer that is worth another look now. 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Under-rated directors: Clive Donner

Like Desmond Davis (below) Clive Donner (1926-2010) also seems under-rated but directed a clutch of interesting films and tv movies during the 1960s, starting with THE SECRET PLACE, a 1957 Belinda Lee drama I have just got a copy of, and he also helmed Pinter's THE CARETAKER in 1962 with the powerhouse trio of Robert Shaw, Alan Bates and Donald Pleasance. He also did SOME PEOPLE that year, that pleasing film about pre-Beatles teenagers making music in Bristol, with the young David Hemmings.
Two seminal Sixties movies followed: NOTHING BUT THE BEST in 1964 capturing that new London on the rise, and the delirious WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT in 1965 which the 19-year old me and my friends loved and saw several times, with that terrific line up of O'Toole, Sellers, Schneider, Capucine, Paula Prentiss, Ursula Andress and more in a madcap Paris, with a Burt Bacharach score (I had to have the soundtrack album) and script by Woody Allen, who also appears - his first film.

We also loved his 1967 Swinging London (though set in Stevenage) comedy HERE WE GO ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH with its cast of engaging youngsters led by Barry Evans, and that great Traffic score, and his 19689 historical mini-epic ALFRED THE GREAT, filmed in Ireland and very much of its time as hippie king Alfred (David Hemmings) fights the Danes led by Michael York, and it also features a young Ian McKellen, Colin Blakely and Vivien Merchant. Its one to see again too. Quality television work included Peter O'Toole in ROGUE MALE, and good versions of THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL and A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Donner, below, with Hemmings & Blakely.
Quite a few of these I would like to see again- see Donner label for reviews.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Under-rated directors: Desmond Davis

Now in his 90s (born in 1926) Desmond Davis is surely one of Britain's most neglected film directors, who had a good run in the 1960s, and directed that original star-heavy (led by Olivier, Maggie Smith) CLASH OF THE TITANS in 1981 (I couldn't even watch the CGI-heavy remake). 
He began as camera operator on TOM JONES in 1963, and also on Huston's FREUD, plus those new wavers A TASTE OF HONEY and THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER. His 30 directing credits include those two particular favourites of mine, from Edna O'Brien stories: THE GIRL WITH GREEN EYES in 1964 and I WAS HAPPY HERE in 1966, with those great County Clare locations Lahinch and Liscannor, as they were then, and Sarah's bedsit in London overlooking the new Post Office Tower.  

I have written about these a lot here  - see Ireland, O'Brien, Miles, Tushingham labels), and he also directed the 1984 television remake of O'Brien's THE COUNTRY GIRLS (the original of GIRL WITH GREEN EYES). Other 60s films include our other favourite SMASHING TIME, re-uniting Rita and Lynn in that slapstick Swinging London riot. There was also a rather good Agatha Christie: ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE
Other British-based directors of the time may have got all the kudos and awards (Tony Richardson, Schlesinger, Losey, Lester, Boorman) but Davis's work endures and is still endlessly watchable, particularly his Irish-based dramas,which should have a lot of resonance with anyone Irish. He also did a lovely little film THE UNCLE in 1967 which barely got seen, though I got a ticket to the premiere from "Films and Filming" magazine. 

Next: equally neglected Clive Donner & WHATS NEW PUSSYCAT, ALFRED THE GREAT etc.

Monday, 6 November 2017

1960s girls on London underground

Julie Christie of course, and below: Brigitte Bardot, circa 1955, and a guy - me, in 1966 .... thankfully the tube is more modern now, even if  more overcrowded. 

Jenny or Jenny ?

Jenny Bowman or Jenny Stewart, that is. Both are legendary Broadway divas, very used to getting their own way.  Joan Crawford is Jenny Stewart and TORCH SONG is Joan's first in colour, in 1953, and is a camp riot of garish colour, particularly with Joan in "tropical makeup" for the bizarre "Two Faced Woman" number. One feels sorry for the chorus boys Jenny terrorises and Michael Wilding as the blind pianist who is the only man who can stand up to her. Very odd too is her pack of teenage fans crowding the stage door to meet her .... I have reviewed this Camp Classic several times, as per Crawford label, so these are just a taster: love her party where she is the only woman. Joan truck gold again the following year with the equally bizarre western JOHNNY GUITAR, the first movie I saw, aged 8; again see label.
I COULD GO ON SINGING is more serious fare, with Judy Garland's final role, a decade after her A STAR IS BORN, where she plays Jenny Bowman, a version of herself, superbly aided by Dirk Bogarde. The numbers are great and Judy is caught here at a good moment for her in the early sixties. The shoot though was a nightmare, as per Dirk's memoirs. Lots more at Judy label,

Happy Birthday Joni

74 tomorrow, Happy Birthday to our icon (whom I met in 1972, when we were both in our twenties, as per previous reports at label), Joni Mitchell, we trust she  is improving and keeping well. 
Good to see her out and about, if in a wheelchair, at various music events, with her peers and people she knows. Wonder if she is still smoking. 

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Grace for the weekend

It sounds like all my clubbing nights rolled into one!

Thursday, 26 October 2017

"Life during wartime" ...

Given my penchant for  1940s British movies, both of the war years and that grim post-war era, its surprising I never saw WATERLOO ROAD before. Its a 1944 Gainsborough gem set around Waterloo Road in South London, just behind Waterloo railway station and there are lots of shots of the station then and those streets and back to back houses.

I felt at times I was watching an alternative THIS HAPPY BREED or IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY, as we encounter squaddie John Mills, unfaithful wife Joy Shelton (who does not register at all - it needed a Kay Walsh) and the widest of wide boys Stewart Granger (before he decamped for Hollywood) as the spiv putting the make on Mills' wife. Mills goes AWOL to track him down and that very brutal fight follows. 

Add in Alistair Sim as the local doctor, Jean Kent as local good time girl, Beatrice Varley as the worried mother and the great Alison Legatt (above)as another nagging spinster aunt (as she was in THIS HAPPY BREED). She is as under-rated as Kathleen Byron)  I loved it, directed by Sidney  Gilliat. Play it with HOLIDAY CAMP or THE WAY TO THE STARS or 2,000 WOMEN, THE BLUE LAMP, POOL OF LONDON etc.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Vanishing London - an occasional series

Today: Sandwich bars

The evolution of London into the new metropolis continues with the rise of all those new eateries and trendy new restaurants and foodie destinations like Borough Market, as detailed in the (now free) weekly "Time Out".

But those of us who worked in the city or west end in the '80s and '90s and early 2000s fondly remember the proliferation of sandwich bars, where office workers queued up at lunchtime for sandwiches made to your specifications so it was all fresh and at a reasonable price.  Those windows with their stacked piles of cold meats, chicken, ham, cheeses and salads of every description - like a New York deli in fact.. The premises did not need to be large, just enough room for a couple of tables as it was mainly takeaway business.
But since then the unstoppable rise of chains like Pret A Manger, EAT and all the rest, and all those gourmet burgers means most of these earlier fast food outlets are on the way out. I am as much to blame as anyone else - I loved those early Pret sandwiches and baguettes, even if they got soggy if left too long. Then Marks & Spencer got in on the lunchtime trade, and their sandwiches were and are top notch. I might be having their chicken and avocado today. The humble sandwich may be on the way out though as they all now promote wraps, flatbreads, quinoa pots etc. 
When I first began working in London in the Sixties there were still some Kardomah cafes with their super strong coffee, and at the other end of the spectrum those Wimpy Bars, how we liked those burgers wrapped in a frankfurter with all the trimmings. Worker then too got Luncheon Vouchers as part of their salary, which were used as part of paying for lunch.

Here are a few places I particularly liked: 
In Brewer Street, across from where I worked in Regent Street was a terrific outlet, run by a very friendly mother and daughter, where it seemed most of the office went for their freshly made sandwiches, they seemed to have an endless supply of different fillings and salads.
Down in The Strand too, in a tiny space next to one of the Drury Lane theatres, the most perfect sandwiches or baps were treats, with  perfect ham and fillings.
There were still some sandwich bars (maybe they are still there) in the Marylebone area just up from Oxford Street - a particular favourite was our Friday morning treat of a hot sausage sandwich with mustard, it set one up for the day, as did their bacon butties, maybe with a fried egg.

Progress of course is inevitable but one wonders where the next trendy food revolution will lead, and of course it won't be cheap and cheerful.

Monday, 23 October 2017

The Crown

Slight reservations about the massive Netflix series THE CROWN, Series 1 is now a 4 dvd pack (10 one-hour long episodes), as they film Series 2.  One can see the quality and the interesting casting, but it moves at a slow pace and Buckingham Palace seems a very gloomy, dark place, with all those older ministers and courtiers - but I presume thats how the Fifties are perceived now.

Stealing the show four episodes in is the venerable Dame Eileen Atkins as Queen Mary, a role she has played a few times. Claire Foy and Matt Smith are growing into their roles, but will be replaced by older actors as the decades pass .... John Lithgow is a terrific Churchill, and there's Jeremy Northam (Anthony Eden), Greg Wise (Lord Mountbatten), Harriet Walter (Lady Churchill) and more, who capture the essence of their characters, without being lookalikes. Victoria Hamilton is a perfect Queen Mother, but Jared Harris seems all wrong as George VI (it begins with him coughing up blood, while drinking more whiskey and endlessly smoking, and shooting wildlife. The very busy Alex Jennings would be much better here, but he plays the brother who abdicated. Showing the coronation scene mainly through his eyes is genius. Vanessa Kirby looks like being an ideal Princess Margaret too.

Surely though Princess Elizabeth knew she would always be queen and was trained to step into her father's shoes, so why all the nervous stares and looking like a scared rabbit in the early scenes. The marriage in 1947 and the births of her first two children (surely important events for her) are glossed over too. Still, there will be a lot to cover ... television costume drama at its best then, these early episodes are directed by Stephen Daldry and its written by Peter Morgan (THE QUEEN). Its certainly better than the risible VICTORIA!
Series 2 starting next month continues from 1956 so we should see a lot more of Margaret once she meets Tony Armstrong Jones.

Above: the Royal Family at Windsor Royal Lodge, by Herbert James Gunn, 1950.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

An Irish cottage for the weekend ...

Its a weekend with THE QUIET MAN - John Ford's immortal piece of Irish whimsy from 1952. No matter how many times I have seen it (quite a lot since I was a kid) it always comes up fresh. All those great characters to enjoy spending time with - that perfect cottage interior and were Wayne and O'Hara ever more lovable?  (above: the restored cottage for today's tourists)

Thursday, 19 October 2017

RIP, continued

Danielle Darrieux (1917-2017), aged 100. Madame Darrieux, one of France's premier stars clocked up 140 credits, including several classics. I first saw her as Richard Burton's mother Olympias in ALEXNDER THE GREAT in 1956, when a kid, and she  did several other international films like THE GREENGAGE SUMMER, FIVE FINGERS, but will be always remembered for Max Ophuls' THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE ... , LA RONDE and more. She was delightful as the mother in Demy's YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT in 1967, and in her later years was one of Ozon's 8 WOMEN. She also replaced Katharine Hepburn in COCO on Broadway in the 1970s. 
She was tarnished with a Nazi smear during the war years, and one of her husbands was the "legendary" playboy Porfirio Rubirosa. 
See reviews at label.

Rosemary Leach (1935-2017) aged 81. Another venerable British actress it was always a pleasure to see, mainly in television roles as in THE  JEWEL IN THE CROWN and THE CHARMER, and as Mrs Honeychurch in A ROOM WITH A VIEW.

Walter Lassally (1926-2017) aged 90. Acclaimed cinematographer (I attended a lecture he gave at the BFI in the 70s), who was in at the birth of the English New Wave with his luminous work on A TASTE OF HONEY and THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER and TOM JONES. ZORBA THE GREEK in 1964 cemented his reputation and he also shot favourites like THE DAY THE FISH CAME OUT and SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE. He also shot several Merchan-Ivory films,including HEAT AND DUST and THE BOSTONIANS. He shot several filmsnin Greece and had moved there.

Fats Domino (928-2017), aged 89. Fats was one of the first rock'n'rollers I saw as a kid, probably in THE GIRL CANT HELP IT or the few other movies in appeared it. we preferred him to the somehow more sleazy Chuck Berry. Fats and Buddy Holly and of course Elvis were our new gods then in those great '55 and '56 years. One only has to hear "blueberry Hill" or "Ain't that a shame" to bring it all back - his jovial brand of New Orleans and Louisiana boogie woogie and rhythm and blues remain timeless and was hugely influential.

Gloria Grahame

Gloria Graham (1923-1981) is being celebrated by a two-part season at London's BFI. 
The season will tie in with the release of FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL (Paul McGuigan, 2017), about the passionate relationship between British actor Peter Turner and the Academy Award-Winning actress, starring Annette Bening and Jamie Bell. (Bening should be ideal here - I read the book some time ago, so looking forward to seeing it).

As the perceptive notes by programmer Jo Botting, say:

Although Grahame never reached the heights of major stardom, she excelled at playing complex, damaged women. Her innate ability to tap into the psyche of troubled characters imbued them with an emotional depth that hinted at a troubled past, and a doomed future. Crossfire (Edward Dmytryk, 1947) offered Grahame one of her earliest substantial roles; her portrayal of a dance-hall girl who witnesses a murder earned her an Oscar®-nomination and set the mould for her screen persona. Nicholas Ray’s beguiling blend of murder mystery and love story In a Lonely Place (1950) is one of the finest American movies of the early 50s, which sees a Hollywood scriptwriter (played by Humphrey Bogart) become the prime suspect in the murder of a young woman, that is, until his neighbour played by Grahame provides him with a false alibi. As the pair embark on a romance, his volatile temper makes her wonder whether he might have been guilty. In a Lonely Place is rereleased by Park Circus on Friday 24 November, and plays on extended run; also re-released on the same day is The Big Heat (1953), Fritz Lang’s stark thriller about a cop fighting city-wide corruption. Lang’s film is pacy, unsentimental and to the point in exploring the thin line between the law and rough justice. The robust direction, terse script and unfussy performances ensure the movie feels strangely modern. Grahame read Macbeth in preparation for the role of Irene Neves in Sudden Fear (David Miller, 1952) – looking to Lady Macbeth to locate the emotional drive to manipulate a man to murder, as she does with actor-cum-fraudster Lester Blaine. Joan Crawford is at the film’s core and plays the melodramatic angle to perfection, but Grahame is compelling as the driving force behind the murderous plot. 

Alongside the noir titles, part one of the season in November will also include Vincente Minnelli’s classic Hollywood take on the movie business The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), which tells the tale of a ruthless producer and the effect his dealings have on his friends and colleagues. Grahame received the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for the role despite being on screen for only nine minutes.
Part two of the season in December further explores Grahame’s femme fatale finesse, but also showcases some of her lighter roles including Vincente’s Minnelli’s lush melodrama The Cobweb (1955) in which she plays the neglected wife of a doctor, frustrated by his dedication to his work and stifled by the small-town mentality of those around her.  Although she was not a natural singer (her singing was dubbed in Naked Alibi) Grahame’s na├»ve, endearing vocal style in the classic Rogers and Hammerstein musical western Oklahoma! (Fred Zinnemann, 1955) brings genuine charm to her portrayal of the flirtatious The selection of films screening in the season illustrates Gloria Grahame’s great acting talent and reveals a scintillating screen presence and effortless glamour. Her scandalous and turbulent private life has intensified her legendary status, but this shouldn’t distract viewers from her most important legacy: her uniquely compelling performances.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

"100 thrillers to see before you die"

Here's a doozy for lovers of lists and thrillers. The British Film Institute has come up with 100 listed alphabetically. See them all at the link:
 http://www.bfi.org.uk/thriller/100-thrillers-see-before-you-die?

But what really is a thriller? Is CHINATOWN a thriller or a deep romantic drama with thrills added? 
I am happy with 90% of this list, most of the obvious choices are here - from Chabrol's LE BOUCHER (right) to THE BIG HEAT (below), and pleased to see Moll's HARRY, HE'S HERE TO HELP included, but would have to fit in :
  • OBSESSION - DePalma, 1976
  • THE PARALLAX VIEW - Pakula, 1974
  • LE SAMOURAI - Melville, 1967
  • CHAIR DE POULE - Duvivier, 1963
  • COMA - Crichton, 1978
  • THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR - Pollock, 1975
  • LES MAUDITS - Clement, 1948
  • THE BIG COMBO - Lewis, 1955.
Next: Gloria Graham ...

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Marilyn by Milton

She really was the most photographed woman ever, and this stunning new tome THE ESSENTIAL MARILYN MONROE with 280 full page photographs covers only 1953 to early 1957.
There have been other great Monroe picture books, but nothing tops this. Milton H. Greene was MM's friend, confidant and business partner - they produced two films; BUS STOP and THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL as he helped her break out of her 20th Century Fox contract, and did at least 50 photograph sessions with her.

A lot, in fact most, of these are new to me - only a few have been published before  - like the iconic "ballerina" shot which even my teenage niece had on her bedroom wall - mainly in Norman Mailer's 1973 biography which brought all the main photographs together, including Greene's stunning "black session" shots never published during her lifetime. Greene was one of the ace photographers of the era and his son Joshua has curated this massive tome, and its a reasonable price too. The restored images just don't look 60 years old.
It shows Greene as up there with the other key Monroe photographers like Eve Arnold, George Barris, Bert Stern, Jack Cardiff, Lawrence Schiller (the 1962 pool pictures), Sam Shaw, Cecil Beaton etc, each capturing a different Marilyn. 
By 1957 Marilyn had moved on to marrying Arthur Miller and the Greene pictures were shelved. 
Massively recommended. Just don't drop it on your foot, like I did yesterday! 

Milton H. Greene (1922-1985), famous for his fashion photography and celebrity portraits from the golden age of Hollywood, met Marilyn Monroe on a photo shoot for Look magazine in 1953. The pair developed an instant rapport, quickly becoming close friends and ultimately business partners. In 1954, after helping her get out of her studio contract with 20th Century Fox, they created Marilyn Monroe Productions, Inc. Milton and Marilyn were much more then business partners, Marilyn became a part of the Greene family. By the time their relationship had ended in 1957, the pair had produced two feature films, in addition to more than 5,000 photographs of the iconic beauty. There was magic in Milton and Marilyn's working relationship. The trust and confidence they had in each other's capabilities was on full display in each photo.

Greene passed in 1985, thinking his life's work was succumbing to the ravages of time. His eldest son, Joshua, began a journey to meticulously restore his father's legacy. A photographer himself, Joshua spent years researching ways to restore his father's photographs as well as cataloging and promoting Milton's vast body of work all over the world. As a result, Joshua established "The Archives," a company committed to the restoration and preservation of photography. After spending nearly two decades restoring his father's archive, Joshua Greene and his company are widely regarded as one of the leaders in photographic restoration and have been at the forefront of the digital imaging and large-format printing revolution.

Now Joshua Greene, in conjunction with Iconic Images, presents The Essential Marilyn Monroe: Milton H. Greene, 50 Sessions. With 280 photographs, including many never-before published and unseen images, newly scanned and restored classics, as well as images that have appeared only once in publication, Greene's Marilyn Monroe archive can finally be viewed as it was originally intended when these pictures were first produced more than 60 years ago. These classic sessions - 50 in all - cover Monroe at the height of her astonishing beauty and meteoric fame. From film-sets to the bedroom, at home and at play, Joshua has curated a lasting tribute to the work of a great photographer and his greatest muse.

Poignant and powerful, joyful and stunning - these breathtaking images of an icon stand above all the rest. The Essential Marilyn Monroe: Milton H. Greene, 50 Sessions is sure to be a book that will become the platinum standard in photography monographs
.