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, Jorge in Sao Paulo, Martin in Derry & Colin, and Donal.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

British trio 1 ....

Some British '50s moves I had not seen before and now appreciate a lot …

THE SMALLEST SHOW ON EARTH, 1957.  I can’t believe I had not seen this before. What a marvellous entertainment it turns out to be, as nice young marrieds Virigina McKenna and Bill Travers interit a cinema at Sloughborough (a nice play on English town names!) 
and when they travel there imagine it is the Grand, a very grand edifice, but no, it is the Bijou – a rundown fleapit next to the railway line (and yes its that amusing joke again, as in A LETTER TO 3 WIVES, when the the trains rattle by…). Every town then had a fleapit, though probably not as decrepit as the Bijou (mine when new in London in 1964 was the Coliseum, Harlesden, where one happily saw re-runs of EL CID or FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE as well as new double bills including SHE or 10 LITTLE INDIANS).

This is a perfect 1950s British comedy, produced by that regular team of producer Michael Relph and director Basil Dearden, screenplay by William Rose. It now seems to be called BIG TIME OPERATORS on IMDB! It would make a terrific double bill with  HOW TO MURDER A RICH UNCLE.

The casting is the thing here, apart from the married leads, there’s the trio of the Bijou’s staff: Margaret Rutherford as cashier Mrs Fazakerley, Peter Sellers as Percy the projectionist and Bernard Miles as Old Tom the janitor. Percy is the only one who understands how the old equipment works. Leslie Philips is the suave solicitor who advises the new owners they have to get the cinema up and running again to maximise its worth, as they intend to sell the site to rival Grand owner, hissable Francis de Wolff, who is keeping an eye on their progress and tries to sabotage proceedings with a bottle of whiskey …. Our new owners  do not want a cinema but to travel to places like Samerkand …  How this is resolved is deliciously worked out, Sellers is a revelation here, he really becomes that old man. Sidney James of course is also present and correct. A delicious treat for anyone who remembers the fleapit cinemas of their youth, and another great Basil Dearden film from his very prolific period.

VIOLENT PLAYGROUND, 1958.  Also by Basil Dearden, and scripted by James Kennaway, and is a tough thriller/topical drama of the time about juvenile delinquency, with Stanley Baker as the cop/Juvenile Liaison officer in Liverpool. David McCallum (before his MAN FROM UNCLE era) is the dangerous pyromaniac on the loose and he seems to be apeing Marlon Brando’s WILD ONE as a rock’n’roll hoodlum. Anne Heywood is his older sister (who might get romantically involved with Baker) and the family also includes those two naughty twins Baker is looking after - the school kids all look so typically Fifites. There’s also Peter Cushing as the local well-meaning priest, John Slater, Tsai Chin and other regulars like Melvyn Hayes, as we see how these huge inner-city estates are breeding grounds for juvenile delinquency, as in NO TREES IN THE STREET, below. It builds to a shattering climax where school-children are held hostage by the now demented McCallum, which has echoes of real-life tragedies. I don’t imagine this will be shown on television ever again due to this protracted school siege …  

NO TREES IN THE STREET, 1959. A solid drama from the pen of Ted Willis (WOMAN IN A DRESSING GOWN), and directed at full tilt y J. Lee Thompson, another drama of poverty breeding delinquents, this is a roller-coaster ride, starting in the 1950s present as teenager David Hemmings is caught and warned by Ronald Howard about the dangers of getting into trouble with the police. What follows is a long flashback about Tommy (Melvyn Hayes again) who wants the good life he sees local racketeer Herbert Lom enjoys with his flashy suits and flashy dames like Carole Lesley (right, with Lom)
Tommy though is stuck in a tenement block with heavy drinkers like parents Stanley Holloway, Joan Miller, Liam Redmond, and his good sister Sylvia Syms who tries to steer him in the right direction. Lom though wants Sylvia and finally wears down her resistance until she comes to her senses. 
But Tommy goes to work for Lom, and ends up with a gun and killing a shop-keeper. The snivelling killer returns to the family as the police (Ronald Howard again) close in.  
We are back in the present for the coda, when young Hemmings (left, and right, with Syms)  promises to be good, as Howard and wife Sylvia see him go. 

Next British trio by Anthony Asquith & Anatole de Grunwald: Dirk in THE DOCTOR'S DILEMMA, 1958and LIBEL,1959, and Sophia as THE MILLIONAIRESS, 1960. Book your tickets now ... 

Saturday, 19 July 2014

The cat's miouw !

LE CHAT (THE CAT), 1971. A masterclass in screen acting from two of France’s greats: Jean Gabin and Simone Signoret in this version of a Simenon novel as directed by Pierre Granier-Deferre.  Julien and Clemence are a long-married couple who now seem to detest each other and share their house without talking – he has transferred his affections to his cat. Their state of war exists as the neighbourhood around them, in suburban Paris, is pulled down and their own house is due for demolition too. Each shops for themselves as their feud escalates. Clemence worked as a circus acrobat but now has a limp, while he becomes every more grumpy and isolated. Events come to a climax with a gun – she shoots the cat, which he puts out with the rubbish! Then he moves out to stay with Annie Cordy at her hotel but he is no happier as Clemence hangs around the streets watching him. He moves back but then tragedy strikes …. 

It is an absorbing drama with both stars note-perfect, at first I thought it was shaping up to be a savage black comedy, but then it just gets sombre and grim as we reach a very downbeat ending. Granier-Deferre (who was married to Susan Hampshire in the '60s), like Claude Miller, made several absorbing dramas and entertainments without ever getting the kudos of the Truffauts. (Trintignant and Romy Schneider are both terrific in his THE LAST TRAIN, review at French label and I have his LE VEUVE COUDERC, another Simenon, with Delon and Signoret, to watch),. This one does not disappoint either. 

Friday, 18 July 2014

Hot town, summer in the city ...

Our Tropical Heatwave continues .... "hot and humid nights to be expected" ... We re being told to stay indoors, not to jump into rivers, to keep hydrated (thats easy, I just drink lots of cold liquids - I particularly recommend the Stella Atrois new French cidre) as we see gasping commuters coping with those hot trains and buses. Cool fresh rain is promised for tomorrow after some summer storms - bring it on, the flowers and plants will love it ...
Summery songs? How about: "Sunny Afternoon" by The Kinks / "Summer in the City" - the Loving Spoonful / any version of "Summertime", maybe Ella's or Nina Simone's / Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning" or "Night in the City" + "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" / Nelly's "Hot in Herre" (produced by Pharrell, whose "Happy" certainly is a must / The Beatles "Here Comes The Sun" / Bob Marley's "Sun is Shining" .... thats enough to be going on with.

RIP continues ...


James Garner (1928-2014), aged 86. We always liked James, he was a pleasing presence and an attractive, amiable guy, great at comedy too, particularly with Doris in THE THRILL OF IT ALL, where he drives home and into the swimming pool that was not there that morning ... he was CASH McCALL, and his hits include THE GREAT ESCAPE, 36 HOURS was one I particularly liked, and THE AMERICANISATION OF EMILY and with Julie again in VICTOR/VICTORIA, and of course all those ROCKFORD FILES
He was also of course one of the first tv western stars (MAVERICK) to make it big in movies, an ideal co-star for the likes of Audrey, Lee Remick, Eva Marie Saint, Kim Novak and a host of others in films like MR BUDDWING, SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF, MARLOWE and MURPHY'S ROMANCE. GRAND PRIX from 1966 is actually in this afternoon's tv schedules here on the BBC, we will be tuning in. Cliff Robertson, Rod Taylor and John Gavin were similar new '60s leading men who also started out in the late '50s, but James seemed the best of them. He had an astonishing early life too, and saw action in Korea, before ending up acting. 

Elaine Stritch (1924 -2014), aged 89. 'Broadway Baby' and legend, quite at home in London too where I saw her one-woman show ELAINE STRITCH AT LIBERTY, a decade ago, and we also saw her in Tennessee's play SMALL CRAFT WARNINGS and Neil Simon's THE GINGERBREAD LADY.. Films included the 1957 A FAREWELL TO ARMS and the Tony Curtis comedy THE PERFECT FURLOUGH (reviewed here recently) and Resnais's PROVIDENCE in 1977. She was in Noel Coward's SAIL AWAY and Sondheim's COMPANY where she immortalised "The ladies who lunch". Luckily she has been preserved in the concert version of Sondehim's FOLLIES (with Lee Remick, Barbaba Cook et al). Known for her caustic wit and frank tales of her romances as well residing at the Carlyle in New York and at The Savoy in London, we will raise our glass to Elaine later ...

Paul Mazursky (1930-2014) aged 84, American director and screenwriter, who had a winning streak in the late '60s and '70s ... his dramatic comedies were nominated for 5 Academy Awards including his AN UNMARRIED WOMAN nominated for Best Picture. Other hits included BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE, MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON, NEXT STOP GREENWICH VILLAGE, SCENES FROM A MALL etc. Roger Ebert stated that "Mazursky has a way of making comedies that are more intelligent and relevant than most of the serious films around".

Bobby Womack (1944-2014). Soul legend, singer-songwriter, musician, Bobby wrote the Rolling Stones early hit "Its All Over Now", just one hit in a career coverig 50 years. He worked with Sly & The Family Stone, Janis Joplin and played on several Aretha Franklin albums. 

Jacques Bergerac (1927-2014) handsome French actor who had a brief hollywood career in the '50s - amusing in my favourite LES GIRLS in '57, GIGI in '58 and with Susan Hayward in THUNDER IN THE SUN in 1959 where they are Basque peasants fighting Indians en route to California. Jacques married two Hollywood stars: Ginger Rogers and Dorothy Malone, and later, like Cary Grant, went into cosmetics, Revlon.  Below: Bergerac with Kay and Mitzi in Cukor's LES GIRLS.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Harold, Maude & Vivian ...

Self-destructive and needy but wealthy teenager Harold is obsessed with death and spends his leisure time attending funerals, simulating suicides trying to get the attention of his indifferent, snobbish and egocentric mother. When Harold meets the anarchic seventy-nine-year-old Maude at a funeral, they become friends. Meanwhile, his mother enlists him in a dating service and tries to force him to join the army. On the day of Maude's eightieth birthday, Harold proposes to her but he finds the truth about life at the end of hers. 

Finally up from the vaults, Hal Ashby's HAROLD AND MAUDE, a cult film if ever there was one (it and SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE (reviewed here at Lansbury, York, gay interest labels) were our big cult favourites back in that pre-video world of the early '70s - one had to catch them during their brief runs whenever they turned up), it is now though back on dvd and Blu-ray to entrance a new generation.
Its a deliciously morbid tale (written by Colin Higgins) of a suicidally obsessed young man (Bud Cort) who strikes up a relationship with that odd old lady he keeps seeing at funerals of strangers they both go to. Factor in Vivian Pickles as his mother with all those dates (like Sunshine Dore) she arranges for him, laugh as she fills in the questionnaire .... more on her soon! 
With its spine-tingling Cat Stevens sountrack and great images, Ashby's enduring weirdie continues to delight us now. I also recently got Ashby's 1970 THE LANDLORD, another cult item that captures that era perfectly, we will be re-seeing and reviewing it before too long.... Ashby's biggest hit was COMING HOME in 1978 (but I never wanted to see his BEING THERE in 1980). He died in 1988. Writer Colin Higgins also wrote and directed NINE TO FIVE and FOUL PLAY (before dying of Aids aged 47 in 1988).


Bud Cort had an odd appearance and an odd career and is still working now, he was often used by Robert Altman. Ruth Gordon of course is that hollywood veteran actress and writer, in films as far back as Garbo's TWO FACED WOMAN in 1941, but scored as those odd old ladies in INSIDE DAISY CLOVER, ROSEMARY'S BABY, LORD LOVE A DUCK and of course HAROLD AND MAUDE.

People We Like: Vivian Pickles.

Vivian is an amazing Britsh actress, as unique as Kay Kendall or Joan Greenwood - Vivian too has a unique voice and manner. Harold's preoccupied mother may be her best screen role. In her 80s now, she was in a recent BIRDS OF A FEATHER tv comedy series, and was a stunning Mary Queen of Scots opposite Glenda Jackson's ELIZABETH R, she also had that cameo in Scheslinger's SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY in 1971, and I remember her in BBC series of VILE BODIES. She was Mrs Bennett in a 1967 PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and was Isadora Duncan in Ken Russell's 1966 film on Duncan in a long career of interesting choices.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Loving the alien ?

An alien entity inhabits the earthly form of a seductive young woman  who combs the Scottish highways in search of the human prey it is here to plunder. It lures its isolated and forsaken male victims into an otherworldly dimension where they are stripped and consumed. But life in all its complexity starts to change the alien. It begins to see itself as ‘she’, as human, with tragic and terrifying consequences. UNDER THE SKIN is about seeing ourselves through alien eyes, as ‘she’ sees her reflection in a mirror …. UNDER THE SKIN starring Scarlett Johansson is Jonathan Glazer’s critcally acclaimed third feature after SEXY  BEAST and BIRTH.  - 
to quote the blurb.

A few hours after watching Jonathan Glazer’s new film UNDER THE SKIN I am still dazed and confused. What an unsettling, polarising film – its been an amusement skimming through the 20 pages of comments on it AT IMDb, as so many either love it or loath it. It is of course a film of staggering visuals which anyone who admires Kubrick or Roeg (in MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH mode) can relate to, but as I find with a lot of films these days some of the visuals are so dark and murky one can barely see what is going on – and I barely noticed the soundtrack …. We seem to be in 2001 territory at the start as the alien is created, but several questions: why is it only men she picks up ? –  if they want human flesh surely women could be targets as well, (maybe even tastier?). Why is she in Scotland? Is she even female ? Are the men in motorcycles also aliens whom she collects the men for? What is that goo they sink into? Why is the pacing so off in some scenes so one feels one could fast-forward without missing anything …. The scene at the beach with the body and the abandoned baby seems inconclusive?   
It is fascinating though seeing the emotionless alien going about her/its business and slowly discovering what it is to be be human and to feel emotions. Is she/it really killed at the end or was that just one representation of her? I think I will have to watch it again ….. we loved Glazer’s SEXY BEAST but I have not seen BIRTH, one to catch up with then, he also did some stunning well-known commercials like that one with the horses in the sea waves for Guinness. But few films are as mesmerising or as puzzling as UNDER THE SKIN
This will become a future classic, like PULP FICTION or 2001. but to others it will either thrillingly original or tedious and boring or a bad acid trip.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

My night with - no, not Maud - Reg

On its premiere, Kevin Elyot’s Olivier and Evening Standard Award-winning comedy, MY NIGHT WITH REG, defined a moment in the lives of gay men and became an instant classic. For its 20th anniversary, rising star Robert Hastie directs the first major revival at the prestigious Donmar Warehouse in London's Covent Garden. 
At Guy’s London flat, old friends and new gather to party through the night. This is the summer of 1985, and for Guy and his circle the world is about to change forever.
Deliciously funny and bittersweet, Kevin Elyot’s comedy captures the fragility of friendship, happiness and life itself
so says the blurb for the new Donmar Warehouse production. I have just got 2 tickets for a matinee in September, as it is practically sold out already, as is only on for a limited season and the Donmar only holds 250 or so seats. It may of course transfer to a larger theatre for a longer run - the original production began at the Royal Court Upstairs, and then moved to the west end, where I saw it in 1997. 
I saw the original production, which was filmed by the BBC with the original cast, and I have just rewatched that (Thanks to Colin again for providing a copy on disk, from vhs). So it will be interesting to contrast with the forthcoming new production. MY NIGHT WITH REG may be an English version of THE NORMAL HEART (reviewed here recently - yes, at gay interest label). Not as in your face as THE NORMAL HEART, REG covers how an English group of friends deals with the Aids crisis during that same mid-80s era. The action is set in Guy's flat, Guy is a fussy singleton forever getting "Cooking for One" cookbooks as presents, Eric is the rather dreamy young painter doing some decorating. Guy is excited as longtime friend John is calling and Guy has been hopelessly devoted to him since their university days, stealing items of his like a used jockstrap .... Another couple call during the second act - seemingly devoted but the cracks soon appear as Bernie and Bennie soon being to bicker. There is also Daniel who flits in and out, he is the partner of Reg, who has died by the second act. It turns out each of them have slept (or at least had sex with) Reg (who never appears), unknown to each other. Did Reg die of Aids? Are they safe ?  
SPOILER AHEAD: Guy it seems is not, by the third act he has died (from having had unprotected sex while on a holiday when a stranger practically forced himself on him) - the others have to deal with that. Guy has left his apartment (rather nice and in a smart part of London) to John - who does not even want it. John, drinking a lot, is now in residence, Eric is still here - naked this time, as he seems to be having a desolutary relationship with John. He finally tells John how much Guy had loved him all along, and we see the suitcase of John's items - including that jockstrap - that Guy had kept .... its a rather sad, melancholy ending. John also has to deny he was involved with Reg when Daniel wants to know ...

The play was billed as a comedy originally, and I remember it being fast moving and funny on stage, but this BBC production, from 1997, is so slow placed it moves at a funeral pace by the third act, rather apt I suppose, and it drains most of the comedy out. It is still a fascinating piece, sadly the author Kevin Elyot died recently - see RIP label. He also did that BBC version of Isherwood's CHRISTOPHER AND HIS KIND, also reviewed here.. The BBC REG was directed by Roger Michell who did some interesting items like that 1995 PERSUASION which I like a lot (costume drama label), NOTTING HILL and the recent well-regarded LE WEEKEND.  The cast of REG are all exemplary having of course played it on stage as well: David Bamber as Guy, John Sessions as Daniel, Anthony Calf as John, Roger Frost as Bernie, Kenneth McDonald as Bennie, and Joe Duttine as Eric (Duttine is now the rather grubby Tim in our weekly soap CORONATION STREET, a total contrast to his Eric here. Roll on the new production.
As part of an annual 'gay season' we will be looking at some other BBC productions like THE LOST LANGUAGE OF CRANES, THE LINE OF BEAUTY, and a powerful episode of THE STREET, and French items PRESQUE RIEN and THE CLOSET, and maybe going back to those powerful items: Technine's WILD REEDS (LES ROSEAUX SAUVAGES) and Fassbinder's FOX & HIS FRIENDS - both reviewed at gay interest label, not to mention QUERELLE or PRICK UP YOUR EARS or PRIVATES ON PARADE and MAURICECHRISTOPHER AND HIS KIND and those Oscar Wilde films, then there is BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. Sorry, I just didn't like MILK. The recent STRANGER BY THE LAKE and BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR are also reviewed (at gay interest label) along with CLOUDBURST which I liked a lot, and the delightful 1985 Mexican DONA HERLINDA AND HER SON.. There is also that recent GAY SEX IN THE '70S.What will I make of that ? or the recent CUPCAKES. Pity the 1986 tv movie of Graham Greene's MAY WE BORROW YOUR HUSBAND? adapted by and starring Dirk Bogarde is not available now ...

Monday, 14 July 2014

Lush life

THE TWO MRS GRENVILLES. If only all tele-movies were as lush and as plush as this 1987 offering, from Dominic Dunne’s story, directed by John Erman.
Family image matters more than anything to the Grenvilles, even when the son is shot dead by his former chorus girl wife, whom his mother despises. 

Classy Trash Classic then, up there with the best of Susan and Lana ...
Ann-Margret is sensational as usual as Ann, the showgirl who foolishly did not divorce her first husband, as she falls for navy officer Stephen Collins, working that 1980s look perfectly; he though is one of the wealthy Grenville family and Ann wants some of that luxury. She initially loves her husband and confronts his mother, Claudette Colbert, who of course is horrified by their match, but image is everything to the Grenvilles. This will be tested to the full as the marriage falls apart, he discovers they are not even legally married, as a prowler prowls the estate and he gives her a rifle to protect herself that stormy night. He of course get shot and there is a sensational court case. Will Ann get off, will his mother pull enough strings to ensure the family name is not ruined. How will Ann live afterwards as she is forced to give up her son, and travel the world, rich and bored and drinking a lot, picking up eager bar stewards? (hey, I dare say some people could get used to that...).

The two women confront each other in several juicy scenes, with Ann giving as good as she gets. Colbert is mesmerising in this her final screen performance as the fearsome matriarch. Add in Elizabeth Ashley, Sam Wanamaker (who tries to destroy Ann in court), marvellous Margaret Courtenay who reads the cards and sees what is in store, and, maybe best of all, Sian Phillips as a simply perfect Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor. Now if they had  made a telemovie about her with Sian …. 

Ann of course looks sensational in the period clothes and furs and delivers another nuanced performance, matching veteran Colbert all the way. I have just had to order her 1984 A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE where apparantly she is a very good Blanche, with Treat Williams as Stanley - this could be a treat indeed, I will be filing a report in due course. See Ann-Margret label for reviews of KITTEN WITH A WHIP, THE SWINGER, BYE BYE BIRDIE, ONCE A THIEF and THE PLEASURE SEEKERS which we loved recently. We will have to catch her great roles in CARNAL KNOWLEDGE and, TOMMY again, and she was fun too in JOSEPH ANDREWS and RETURN OF THE SOLDIER, and was great as the prejudiced mother in OUR SONS opposite Julie Andrews. Ann was always sensational. Oh, I have her 1966 MADE IN PARIS to watch too - more camp glamour then. 

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Thomasina

THE THREE LIVES OF THOMASINA, 1963. If you like orange or marmalade cats you will be in seventh heaven watching Thomasina as she tells us about her first three lives in this Disney classic, with a great cast of British players. Ably directed by Don Chaffey (who also did GREYFRIARS BOBBY and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS in a long career) from a Paul Gallico story, and set in some idyllic Scottish highland scenery, we watch Thomasina with Karen Dotrice as Mary, who lives with her widowed father, Patrick McGoohan, a no-nonsense vet, as we see when he brusquely puts old Nora Nicholson’s dog to sleep. 
Thomasina gets injured too and as father is busy saving a guide dog’s life he has no time to tend to the cat, who seemingly dies too. The children give it a proper funeral in the glen, but they do not know Lori McGregor, the local “witch” (Susan Hampshire) with that cottage in the wood where she heals and tends sick animals, discovers Thomasina just in time ….. 
Thomasina gets well but knows she belongs somewhere else – we also get her journey to Cat Heaven before she returns to her new life; meanwhile Mary blames her father for killing her pet and refuses all contact with him, even when he brings a delightful puppy home. Jean Anderson is the family housekeeper, and Laurence Naismith the local priest and there is also Finlay Currie, Wilfrid Brambell, Rita Webb and Francis De Wolff as the dastardly circus owner who neglects his animals. Things come to a climax one stormy night as Thomasina just has to return to her former home as wee Mary is very ill from pneumonia, and the cat has to go to the father who can return her to his daughter. 
There won’t be a dry eye in the house by this stage, but all is resolved as the happy new family, with Thomasina too of course sit around the dinner table. 
Matthew Gerber scores too as Mary’s friend who takes his frog with a broken leg to the witch to cure it – he and Karen Dotrice went into MARY POPPINS next, (what a shame he died aged 21). 
Thomasina is a screen natural, even when dressed up and wearing a bonnet -  how on earth did they train her? The cat’s thoughts are voiced by Elspeth March. 

This is a Disney classic for all ages, and another of those nice early '60s ones like SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON, DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE, THIRD MAN ON THE MOUNTAIN, POLLYANNA and the afore-mentioned GREYFRIARS BOBBY. I can't though seem to find his 1965 one THE FIGHTING PRINCE OF DONEGAL with his MOONSPINNERS star Peter McEnery and Susan Hampshire again, its a fond memory. 

Saturday, 12 July 2014

British double bill

THE ANGRY SILENCE. One 1960 British film I had not seen before from that 'kitchen-sink' era, but I remember it well as it attracted a lot of publicity at the time, when I was 14. About a wildcat strike at a midlands factory and the motives of the various people involved, it plays like a serious version of I’M ALL RIGHT JACK and it’s a riveting view now, capturing as it does that lost world of busy factories, workers arriving on the bicycles, the furnished rooms and apartments they live in. Richard Attenborough is a dependable guy, married to Italian Pier Angeli, and Michael Craig lodges with them. (I remember having that "Picture Show" magazine, above).
Then unrest at the factory begins, as we see that stranger (Alfred Burke) arrive in town, is he perhaps there to stir up trouble?, we also see his leaving at the end, job done. Bernard Lee is the pushy union man looking for any opportunity to strike, Geoffrey Keen and Laurence Naismith the worried but decent factory bosses. Young Oliver Reed and Brian Bedford are among the young layabouts wanting to cause trouble.
 Attenborough gets sent to Coventry by his former workmates and friends as he refuses to join their strike, so no one will talk to him. This leads to tragedy, his son too is bullied at school, as his wife Anne gets more and more frantic. 
Pier Angeli (above) is a stand-out here, in maybe her best role. (She and Attenborough were in the 1959 programmer SOS PACIFIC (review at Pier Angeli label), which maybe led to her casting her). Craig is reliable as usual, the film is scripted by Bryan Forbes (who also appears) from an idea by Craig and his brother Richard Gregson (who went on to marry Natalie Wood). It remains a riveting slice of life from that era. Directed by Guy Green (that ace cinematographer on Lean's GREAT EXPECTATIONS, who became a director).

KING & COUNTRY. The one Joseph Losey film which never made any money, I had not seen it since its release in 1964 and it never cropped up since (outside of Losey retrospectives at the BFI),  but there it was on late night television, along with BILLY LIAR and THE ANGRY SILENCE, on a minor cable channel.
During World War I, an army private is accused of desertion during battle. The officer assigned to defend him at his court-martial finds out there is more to the case than meets the eye.
This, from a play “Hamp” scripted by Evan Jones, and it seems star Dirk Bogarde (back with Losey after THE SERVANT) also had a hand in it. It is the downbeat story of a private in the First World War, tried for desertion and executed, as he simply walked away from the guns and carnage, obviously shell-shocked. Confined to one set, we are in the muddy trenches with the common soldiers (Jeremy Spencer and gang) as officers Dirk Bogarde, Leo McKern, James Villiers prepare their case against Private Hamp – 
Tom Courtenay in another sterling performance as the innocent who does not realise the enormity of what he did and what will happen to him, in this brutal system. 
This was an ‘X Certificate’ film at the time, I cannot see why now. It is strong stuff though, bleak and unrelenting, particularly that climax when Bogarde puts the injured soldier out of his misery. Made in 18 days and for not very much money, it is certainly one rare item it is good to see again, and how it fits into the Losey canon between THE SERVANT and MODESTY BLAISE and ACCIDENT. 
KING & COUNTRY is now available on dvd, and, for UK viewers, is being screened again by Film4 this time, next Tuesday afternoon, 15th, and will be repeated the following week. 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Marvin, trouble man

Last weekend one of our tv channels ran one of those music programmes, this one on "The Nation's Top Tama Motown Song", a countdown of the 20 most popular Tamla hits - cue all the usual subjects and talking heads and video snippets, as we arrive as Number One: Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" - thats good enough for me, I had imagined it would be one of Diana Ross's epics. 
I loved "Grapevine" at the time,  1969, and remember playing the single over and over, as we all did, but seeing Marvin sing it back then in his prime is something else. He is such a beautiful man and I love those sinuous movements and one can feel the emotion he brings to it:
Its all reminded me how much I loved Marvin and those classic albums. My two favourite Tamla singles back in the mid-'60s, when I was 20, were Marvin's "Aint That Peculiar" and The Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love". There are lots of Marvin collections, with those hits like "Thats the way love goes", "Too busy thinking about my baby" and the epic "Got To Give It Up" etc where he is Motown's main man up there with Smokey and Stevie and young Michael. 

Those later albums are still astounding too, I particularly love "Distant Lover" on "Lets Get It On" and of course those ground-breaking "Whats Going On", the "Trouble Man" soundtrack, "Here My Dear", and that odd final album "Midnight Love" with the still potent "Sexual Healing". Marvin's story is too well-known to re-hash here, this is just to say how much we love this song and Marvin (1939-1984) singing it, or his other classics like "Inner City Blues".
Atlantic had the troubled Donny Hathaway (1945-1979). and Stax Otis Redding, both soul singers supreme, up there with Marvin; at least I saw Otis on that final soul tour he did in 1967 ... to think he was only 26.


Away from Tamla we have been going back to some classic albums which never date:
Quincy Jones' "Back on the Block" his '80s tribute to that be-bob era, with snippets of Ella, Sarah and others, the title track is a zinger.
Weather Report's "Heavy Weather" from 1977, with those fascinating tracks like "A Remark You Made" and "Teen Town" with musicians like Joe Zawinul, Jaco Pastorius and Wayne Shorter - both of whom I discovered via their work with Joni Mitchell (Jaco's first solo album is still terrific too); 
more 'jazz fusion' with those '70s Santana albums like "Abraxas" and "Caravanserai" and tracks like "Singing winds, crying beasts" and the funky grooves of "Black Magic Woman"; and of course Miles himself, I particularly related to his 1969 "In A Silent Way" and some great moments on "Bitches Brew".... all of course from that great era of the vinyl album, as covered before here, music label