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.

Monday, 31 August 2015

A new top 100 movies ! (1)

I am compiling, in odd moments,  a new top 100 favourite films - not 'best' films, but films I love and can re-see any time, 100 "essential favourites" then ? It will be more than 100 - 150 maybe, as I have already used up 50 for the 1930s and 1940s .... The list covers from the 1930s to the 1980s - I will have to do a separate one for from the 1990s to now !  So here are my 20 from the 1930s and 30 from the 1940s:

1930s: I have to have 2 Garbos, 2 Dietrich/Von Sternbergs, Hawks, Mae West, Bette, Erroll, Fred & Ginger, Cary, Katharine, Loretta, Irene Dunne, Margaret Sullavan, some Pre-Codes, and some screwball ...


1940s: including 13 British classics and some noir dames:


Next: the 1950s and 1960s, then the 1970s and 1980s. 

Ingrid Bergman's centenary

Its Ingid Bergman's centenary - she was born on 29 August 1915, and died on the same date in 1982 (that year Grace Kelly and Romy Schneider also died). We like Ingrid a lot here at the Projector, she is one of our essential actresses, and we were lucky in London to get to see her several times.  I saw her in two plays (A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY in 1966, and CAPTAIN BRASSBOUND'S CONVERSION in 1971 which also featured Kenneth Williams), we got to meet her twice at stage doors where she was very pleasant, and also at the BFI National Film Theatre some years later where she attended a screening of CASABLANCA and was very friendly with people near me, and she told us all about how confusing making the film was, as they did not have a proper ending. 

We forget though that Ingrid, like Sophia Loren in early 50s Italy, was already making films before Hollywood came calling. Selznick re-made her INTERMEZZO in 1939, and George Cukor re-made her 1938 A WOMAN'S FACE, very effectively with Joan Crawford. I have not seen Ingrid's version but this clip shows how expressive she is here 4 years before CASABLANCA.
We have seen most of Ingrid's films over the years, some several times - but not seen THE VISIT in 1964 and the supposedly awful A WALK IN THE SPRING RAIN in 1969, that that Minnelli A MATTER OF TIME in 1976. So what are our favourite Ingrids? 

CASABLANCA of course, she is also marvellous as the prostitute in DR JECKYLL & MR HYDE, plus SARATOGA TRUNK (her second with Coop), the two Hitchcocks SPELLBOUND and especially NOTORIOUS. The 1949 UNDER CAPRICORN is a bit of a slog but Jack Cardiff makes her look marvellous in it. Ingrid was too popular in the mid-40s (after FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS and her first Oscar for GASLIGHT): her delightful nun in BELLS OF ST MARY'S was also a monster smash (a popular joke at the time went: "hey, today I saw a picture without Ingrid Bergman in it") - so when the Rossellini scandal broke it was major news. 

Her Rossellini era has been re-evaluated now - nobody got to see them much at the time - but VOYAGE TO ITALY is a key movie now, anticipating the Antonioni era of fashionable alienation, and figures in landscapes. STROMBOLI , EUROPA 51 and her comic segment in SIAME DONNE are all fascinating now too. 
I do not care for ANASTASIA which brought her back to the Hollywood fold, but INN OF THE SIXTH HAPPINESS, where she is really all wrong for the role, is a superior tear-jerker, and INDISCREET, back with Cary, is still a treat. Her droll sense of humour is to the fore too her her segment of THE YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE, and she walks away with CACTUS FLOWER in 1969 where her starchy dental nurse undergoes such a makeover. Another one we like a lot is the 1961 GOODBYE AGAIN, from Sagan, where she and Tony Perkins are marvellous driving around Paris, and its bittersweet mix is just right. 

Ingrid finished off with Ingmar Bergman's AUTUMN SONATA in 1977, a key movie for me, as per other comments here - she and Liv Ullmann provide a masterclass in acting with that scene at the piano .... and her last role, when already ill, was as Golda Meir in a superior telefilm GOLDA - Ingrid as Golda seems an odd choice but it works. Her autobiography is very revealing on its making (as it is on her life and romances) - she knew it was her last time in front of the cameras for that final scene, just like she wrote about her last night in the theatre (at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket). Her very funny turn as the missionary in MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is a joy too. I now have another Ingrid to watch: her ELENA ET LES HOMMES for Renoir in 1955. It should be a treat.  
More Ingrid at label - including with her pal Dirk Bogarde, and that 2015 Cannes Festival Poster.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Tasty revew of L'ECLISSE

A delicious review of Antonioni's L'ECLISSE (now back on big screens at the BFI) from the London "Evening Standard" by Charlotte O'Sullivan (no relation), one of the new generation of film reviewers: 

"God, this is so much better than the angsty L'AVVENTURA, Antonioni's "masterpiece". There's no denying that his 1962 satire involves Monica Vitti staring into space for much of the time - was there ever such a girl for mooching? Nevertheless, her various encounters - she trails after her potty mother, flirts with a fretful stock market whizz (Alain Delon), irks a racist neighbour - seem plugged into the real world.
Meanwhile, Rome looks monumental, in a wonderfully unstuffy way. Antonioni's black-and-white images suggest there's great beauty in the world but plenty of humdrum uginess too. Perhaps because the director has rooted the story in characters, rather than concepts, every inch of the landscape makes you look twice." 

Friday, 28 August 2015

30 movie questions .....

I copied this from pal Martin's facebook page.  Dare you take the 30 question quiz?

01 - Your favorite movie : I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING
02 - The last movie you watched : THE CHEAP DETECTIVE
03 - Your favorite action/adventure movie : RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK or AIR FORCE ONE
04 - Your favorite horror movie : EYES WITHOUT A FACE / THE INNOCENTS
05 - Your favorite drama movie : ANATOMY OF A MURDER / WILD RIVER
06 - Your favorite comedy movie : SOME LIKE IT HOT
07 - A movie that makes you happy : THE BANDWAGON ./ A LETTER TO THREE WIVES
08 - A movie that makes you sad : UMBERTO DAMOUR
09 - A movie that you know practically the whole script of : TOO MANY - ALL ABOUT EVE
10 - Your favorite director : MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI
11 - Your favorite movie from your childhood : THE VIKINGS / EL CID
12 - Your favorite animated movie : THE JUNGLE BOOK
13 - A movie that you used to love but now hate : CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND
14 - Your favorite quote from any movie : "WHY WOULD A GUY WANT TO MARRY A GUY?" - "SECURITY!" (SOME LIKE IT HOT)
15 - The first movie you saw in theaters : JOHNNY GUITAR
16 - The last movie you saw in theaters : GONE GIRL
17 - The best movie you saw during the last year : BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR
18 - A movie that disappointed you the most : STRANGER BY THE LAKE
19 - Your favorite actor : DIRK BOGARDE (MASON, DE NIRO, GRANT, STEWART ...)
20 - Your favorite actress : TOO MANY - see Actresses-1 label.
21 - The most overrated movie : THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
22 - The most underrated movie : PADDINGTON
23 - Your favorite character from any movie : LINA LAMONT - SINGIN' IN THE RAIN
24 - Favorite documentary : THE MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA
25 - A movie that no one would expect you to love : KILL BILL 1 &2
26 - A movie that is a guilty pleasure : TOO MANY: VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, THE SINGING NUN (see Trash-1 label for reviews and more)
27 - Favorite classic movie : CASABLANCA / OLD ACQUAINTANCE
28 - Movie with the best soundtrack : BLOW-UP / UN HOMME ET UNE FEMME / THE LION IN WINTER / 2001 /  BARRY LYNDON /AMERICAN GIGOLO
29 - A movie that changed your opinion about something : 
30 - Your least favorite movie : MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW - see review at 1930s-1 label

10 more  questions:

Your favourite western : THE SEARCHERS / RIO BRAVO and, er, NORTH TO ALASKA
Your favourite sci-fantasy : 2001 / LORD OF THE RINGS / THE BIRDS
Your favourite Italian film : VOYAGE TO ITALY / L'AVVENTURA / LA NOTTE BRAVA
Your favourite World Cinema film: TOKYO STORY / BLACK ORPHEUS / UNCLE BOONMEE
Your favourite costume drama : THE LEOPARD / THE SCARLET EMPRESS / MARIE ANTOINETTE - both of them

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Joan Crawford megamix

We first came across this some years ago, its such fun it deserves another look. Go, Joan
Just to add that I don't consider Joan a figure of fun. I love her 40s dramas like Cukor's A WOMAN'S FACE or the grim camp of HUMORESQUE, and MILDRED PIERCE is quintessential forties. Her fifties movies are a whole lot of fun: HARRIET CRAIG, the delirious TORCH SONG, the marvellously baroque JOHNNY GUITAR the first movie I ever saw aged 8 (what a vivid introduction to cinema!) and those camp treats QUEEN BEE, FEMALE ON THE BEACH, AUTUMN LEAVES right up to her cameo in THE BEST OF EVERYTHING in 1959. The quality dropped in the 1960s but I deft anyone not to enjoy STRAITJACKET or BERSERK! and there's always her Crystal Allen in THE WOMEN. See Joan label for more ....

Monday, 24 August 2015

10 great nights at the theatre

OK, so its more than 10 .... some choice plums from decades of shows.

A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY - Turgenev's play has current productions in London and Dublin, but I am glad this 1965 production was one of my first London theatre experiences, with a great cast led by Ingrid Bergman, Michael Redgrave, Emlyn Williams and Jeremy Brett. I was 20 and joined the crowd at the stage door and got all their autographs.

THE ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN, 1966 - the original Old Vic production, a staggering piece of theatre by Peter Shaffer, where Robert Stephens made his reputation as the Inca king. I was up in the 'gods' (cheap seats) at the Old Vic.

FUNNY GIRL - I was in the front row for this one, also 1966, when Barbra Streisand brought her Broadway hit to London. It was the hot ticket then. Needless to say Streisand lived up to her reputation. As with lots of musicals a lot of the songs did not make it to the movie.

THE THREE SISTERS - Chekhov's play had a mesmerising production at The Royal Court in 1968. I was in the front row for this too - Glenda Jackson as Masha and the luminous young Marianne Faithfull as Irina glow in the memory.

HEDDA - Ingmar Bergman directed this 1970 stark production of Ibsen, with a severe Maggie Smith as a very haughty Hedda, with Robert Stephens and Jeremy Brett. It was played out in red rooms with the actors all in black. So rivetting I went to it twice. 

HOME - David Storey's play was a big success in 1970, first at the Royal Court and then in the West End. I also went to this twice. John Giegud, Ralph Richardson, Mona Washbourne and DandyNichols were sublime as the inhabitants of a care home. I had to wait and meet Gielgud (very pleasant with a twinkle in his eye) and Richardson who came out in leathers to drive his motorcycle. He grandly signed "Richadson" across the programme page. 

HAMLET - as mentioned below I have seen several Hamlets, but the 1980 production at The Royal Court brought the audience to a standing ovation, Jonathan Price excelled as did Jill Bennett at Gertrude. 

A CHORUS LINE - maybe the best musical night at the theatre ever, at Drury Lane, on my thirtieth birthday in 1976.

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC - I have seen three productions of the Sondheim classic, but the National Theatre's 1990s one with Judi Dench and Sian Phillips was tops, I was at a preview with Sondheim himself just one seat away, scribbling furiously throughout. There was that great FOLLIES production too, and of course SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM, another one I went to twice, and was taken backstage to meet Julia McKenzie and Millicent Martin - thanks Pamela. 

NOT I - the seminal 1973 Royal Court production of Samuel Beckett's astonishing work, a disembodied mouth on a blacked out stage ..... Beckett muse Billie Whitelaw was astounding as the voice.  Also at the Court that first preview for Martin Sherman's BENT - we had no idea what to expect and were blown away by it all, pure theatre ...

ALL OVER - more serious drama with this lesser known Edward Albee, at the RSC circa 1973. It was a masterclass watching Peggy Ashcroft and Angela Lansbury sharing the stage, along with Sheila Hancock. 

GYPSY - the new current production in London was total bliss too - perfectly staged and Imelda Staunton was dynamic. She is still playing it until November ...... 

There were other recent pleasures too - revivals of MY NIGHT WITH REG, ONCE A CATHOLIC, THE JUDAS KISS at those interesting theatres like The Donmar, Kilburn Tricycle, Hampstead Theatre, and ASSASSINS at the Menier Chocolate Factory ...

and how could I forget  a delicious production of Coward's DESIGN FOR LIVING in 1973 with Vanessa Redgrave, John Stride and Jeremy Brett making a divine threesome; or Joan Greenwood and Gladys Cooper in a 1971 production of THE CHALK GARDEN ...

Being in London of course over the years one to to see some great performances and favourite players on stage: Ingrid Bergman several times, ditto Maggie Smith and Judi Dench; Julie Christie, Faye Dunaway, Deborah Kerr, Jean Simmons, O'Toole, Bacall, Lee Remick, Liv Ullmann, Claire Bloom's Blanche in STREETCAR and the great Julie Harris as THE BELLE OF AMHERST in 1977. I had to write to Miss Harris (the only star I ever wrote to) and she sent a charming reply - as per the Julie Harris label, page 2. 

More on these plus illustrations at Theatre-1 label. 

Friday, 21 August 2015

My very favourite film

Take the usual ingredients: a wilful heroine, an unconventional leading man, supporting characters we like and want to see more of, mix in the mystical highlands of Scotland, add in some Scottish castles, Scottish dances and songs, and the result is perfection. 
"Yes, but money isn't everything" ... That is probably the key line in I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING - Powell & Pressburger's timeless romantic fantasy from 1945 (the year I was born). The very independent Joan Webster who wants to marry a rich man travels up to the highlands on her way to the remote island of Kiloran which the millionaire has rented, but a storm forces her to stay on the mainland, at Erraig the house of Catriona (whose husband is away in the Far East, and children at boarding school), the war must be still on. Also staying is a friend of Catriona's Torquil whom Joan realises she is falling for, hence her desire to get away to the island. Navy officer Torquil [who is the real Laird of Kiloran] realising her dangerous plan to go out to sea in the storm helps her but the storm defeats them and the weary travellers arrive back at the house where Catriona puts Joan to bed in her own room with a roaring fire. (how wonderful it seems now to have real fires in bedrooms!). Catriona soon puts Joan to rights as Joan thinks that all these highland people are poor because they have no money so why doesn't Catriona sell her house Erraig, and their neighbour Mrs Crozier could sell her estate Achnacroish and Torquil could sell Kiloran - Catriona thinks about it and then says decisively "yes, but money isn't everything".  
The early scenes are marvellous too, at that fancy restaurant with Joan and her father and her trip by train to the Highlands - this was the real age of rail travel with sleeping compartments and attentive stewards. 
The next morning sees the storm abated, Joan has come to her senses as she sits on the table and says "I can't do a thing with my hair" and wonders where her wedding dress is (it was lost in the storm) to which Torquil replies "a mermaid will get married in it". The boat from Kiloran finally arrives to collect her, but will she have a change of heart? .... enter 3 pipers and the most perfect ending imaginable.

There is also that lovely detour to the Castle of Sorne to visit some snobby neighbours whom the pompous millionaire thinks are the only people worth knowing locally - it is the most perfect location with that high window seat (and young Petula Clark is the daughter) and then there is that lovely interlude at Achnacroish with Rebecca Crozier (Nancy Price) who sees Joan's worth at once and we have the highland dancing as the magic works on Joan. Torquil who is also there explains "highland economics" to Joan - letting Kiloran for three years means he can live there for six - and the millionaire installing a swimming pool means that "money spent is money earned" for the local workmen whom they travel with on the bus. The highlands scenes are marvellously shot, as we visit Tobermoreyand the Western Isles Hotel, and the Isle of Mull. 
These are just some moments from this lovely film, which grows on one at each viewing. The cast are all superb: Wendy Hiller as Joan, Roger Livesey (that voice!) as Torquil (he was not actually at the highland locations due to being in a play in London - his scenes are interiors, with a stand-in for location shots), Nancy Price as Mrs Crozier and that very individual actress Pamela Brown as Catriona, the resourceful woman managing on her own, in that perfect 1940s house, while her husband and children are away (she was Powell's lover at the time and until her death aged 58 in 1975) - her entry here with her dogs and gun and a rabbit presents her like Diana the huntress - as she says "if I don't shoot this rabbit then I don't eat"! She and Torquil are old friends and she soon realises the attraction between him and Joan. Hiller is delightful too as Joan who is used to getting her own way (as set out in the breezy introduction). The climax with the ruined castle and that curse and the highland tune are also just right. I also like the great photography with those great black and white images [like WHISKEY GALORE that other great film shot in Scotland in the '40s]. A film to cherish then, it may well be my favourite film of all. Like THE QUIET MAN or THE SEARCHERS it's admirers are legion and devoted, just like for Powell's others like BLACK NARCISSUSA MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH and THE RED SHOES all of which I also love dearly.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

To be or not to be ....

Alas, poor Benedict, as HAMLET-mania grips the city. Back in the '60s and '70s and '80s we went to HAMLETs regularly without all this fuss. Of course it is all different now in the social media age. It is not enough to see HAMLET any more but one has to post selfies with the actor or even film clips of the stage production.  Benedict Cumberbatch, the current incumbent of the sell-out production at London's Barbican first had to announce that he would not be posing for pictures or signing autographs and tried to leave the theatre by different exits (just like Barbra Streisand did when she was doing FUNNY GIRL here back in 1966 - I know, as friends and I used to hang around the theatre trying to see her, being 20 year old autograph collectors at the time). One quite understand's Benedict's stance - the last thing you need after a marathon performance is having to spend an hour or so being nice and posing for selfies and having demands on your time when you just want to get home. Then last weekend he had to plea for the audience to stop filming him on stage, as seeing all the red lights was distracting him. The intrusivness of filming a live performance seems appalling bad manners to me, but then we are dealing with a new generation, perhaps unused to live theatre, and who have to film what they see to show their friends that they really did see it .... not much fun for the actors though. The play has not even opened yet, and runs for 80 or so performances.

Which leads me to all those various HAMLETs I have seen. Famous past Princes of course include Gielgud and Burton, Peter O'Toole for the new National Theatre in 1963, David Warner's gangly student prince. My first Hamlet was Peter McEnery at Leicester in 1967, when I was 21 - a thrilling production. Then there was Michael York in 1970, also at a provincial theatre (Leatherhead in Surrey) - I had the pleasure of talking to him about it some 7 or so years ago now. Alan Bates had a west end run with it in 1973 (with Celia Johnson as his Gertrude), and Jonathan Pryce was a sensational Hamlet at The Royal Court in 1980, with Jill Bennett. Then there was Stephen Dillane in the 1990s, and my friend Anne got tickets for the then hot Hamlet - David Tennant of DR WHO - in 2008, but he had hurt his back and we got his understudy, but it was a long ponderous production of 4 hours: we sat down at 7 and staggered out after 11 into a blizzard. Other notable Hamlets since then have included Jude Law, Ben Whishaw, Simon Russell Beale and Rory Kinnear. There has even been a female Hamlet: Maxine Peake. It is of course the role that challenges every actor of note, with that huge amount of lines and action including those choreographed swordfights before the Prince is carried to his rest ...

On film, I have 6 Hamlets: Olivier's towering 1948 production, and the great 1964 Russian one by Grigori Kozintsev with Innokentli Smocktunovskly, a mesmerising production   ---- Nicol Williamson was a memorable Hamlet with Marianne Faithfull and Judy Parfitt at The Roundhouse, filmed by Tony Richardson in 1968. I must watch the BBC version with Derek Jacobi and Claire Bloom, and then there is the Zeffirelli one with Mel Gibson with Glenn Close, Bates, Scofield, should be an interesting reading of the play, and Kenneth Branagh's all-star 1996 production, with Julie Christie as his Gertrude. So, lots of HAMLET still to see - just like that equally fascinating MACBETH where I have Ian McKennen & Judi Dench; the Polanski, the Welles, Nicol Williamson again for the BBC and the forthcoming Michael Fassbender ..... 

Meanwhile, good luck to Benedict and his current run. The reviews are now in and very favourable, but it seems a gimmicky production - this Hamlet begins listening to a Nat King Cole record ("Nature Boy") on a wind-up gramophone!. More on Hamlet at theatre label. 

RIP, continued

Cilla Black (1943-2015), aged 72. Before she became Queen of Saturday Night TV here in the UK, Cilla was one of the new major singers of the 1960s - her and Dusty Springfield plus Sandie Shaw, Marianne Faithfull and Lulu. Cilla came along at just the right time: coatcheck girl at The Cavern in Liverpool. pals with The Beatles, signed by their manager Brian Epstein and the hits kept coming: "Anyone Who Had A Heart", "Alfie" (there's great footage of her recording this with perfectionist Burt Bacharach and producer George Martin) and her TV theme "Step Inside Love" and that marvellous "You're My World". The BBC then discovered she was a natural for television, a new Gracie Fields for the swinging set. She had her own TV series from 1969 to 1976 - the BBC is showing a compilation of them this weekend, where she sings with everyone from Tom Jones to Mark Bolan. I was at the recording of one of them, in '69 at the old Golders Green Hippodrome, and Cilla was just was one expected, joking and talking to the audience and having a good time. Dusty had her own series too and I also got to see one of those - Dusty was the grumpy diva, stomping around the stage and being annoyed at having to sing her first number again. 
Cilla then took over those Saturday night hits shows SURPRISE SURPRISE (not my cuppa) and the fun BLIND DATE where her deadpan humour was just right - good for a laugh when getting ready to go out. These ran for years making her very popular. Cilla's sudden death was a shock, being the main item on the news (not many get that), she was also fun in later years sending herself up with that amusing turn playing herself in hit comedy series BENIDORM, and doing that Strippers number from GYPSY with pals Paul O'Grady and Babs Windsor for a Royal benefit, She also acted seriously for Peter Hall in his WORK IS A FOUR LETTER WORD with David Warner.  

Val Doonican (1927-2015), aged 88. Another veteran of BBC light entertainment Irish crooner Doonican also also his own shows for years on the BBC.

George Cole (1925-2015), aged 90. Anther English veteran whose career spanned more than 70 years. Best known for his Arthur Daley in the hit series MINDER, he was also Flash Harry in those 1950s ST TRINIANS films with his friend and mentor Alastair Sim. He was also in CLEOPATRA (1963) and I like his gypsy Hayraddin in one of my '50s favourites QUENTIN DURWARD with Robert Taylor and Kay Kendall. He certainly did lots of television too. 

Robin Philips (1940-2015), aged 75. Actor and theatre director. His film roles included that rather nice 1970 all-star DAVID COPPERFIELD, DECLINE AND FALL (which I liked again recently) and TWO GENTLEMEN SHARING (which it seems never saw the light of day). He moved to the Stratford Festival in Ontario,Canada where, in the late '70s, he re-established himself as a theatre director of note, attracting the likes of Maggie Smith and others to his well-received productions. Survived by his partner Joe Mandel.

Jonathan Ollivier (1977-2015), aged 39. Lead dancer with Matthew Bourne's dance company, Ollivier was killed in a motor cycle accident as he drove to play the final performance of THE CAR MAN. He was also a stupendous swan in the 2010 revival of Bourne's SWAN LAKE, among other roles which defined him as one of the leading dancers of his generation.  

Friday, 17 July 2015

Black narcissus

BLACK NARCISSUS was on once again and once again there I was watching it one more time, its a film that never palls and is so richly textured that one discovers new aspects to it. It is probably my Number One movie now among my best/favourite films ever ... as per my previous posts here, see label. Every element is perfect here, I would not want to change a moment of it.

It is on the one hand a very 1940s lurid melodrama set in that convent/harem high in the Himalayas, from the popular book by Rumer Godden. It is also maybe the best of the Michael Powell-Emeric Pressburger classics (I also love I KNOW WHERE I'M GOINGA MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATHTHE RED SHOES..) as key British films of the '40s. The look of this 1947 film is amazing, so many shots of the convent and the mountains and landscapes are beautiful as are those flashbacks to Ireland in that rich '40s Technicolor, as photographed by ace camerama Jack Cardiff (see also PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN, and that desert adventure LEGEND OF THE LOST, plus THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL etc, as per Cardiff label).

This time around I liked that early introduction to the convent as we follow the old Ayah (May Hallatt) around the deserted halls while the mother superior registers her disapproval of young Sister Clodagh being put in charge of the mountain convent. The other nuns are nicely depicted too: Sister Honey, Sister Briony and Sister Phillipa who plants flowers instead of vegetables ... Deborah Kerr at 26 (a decade before her lovely Sister Angela in HEAVEN KNOWS MR ALLISON) is ideal as Sr Clodagh and Kathleen Byron's Sister Ruth comes into her own in the closing scenes as she leaves the convent, puts on that red dress and lipstick and goes in search of Mr Dean, the land agent in the shorts, who has been having an unsettling feeling on both her and Sr Clodagh .... there is that scene in a red mist as Mr Dean rejects her .... the convent at sunset as the nuns search for her, and Sr Clodagh wearily goes to toll the bell .... this is delirious stuff that no matter how often one sees it keeps one enthralled. that stunning cut too and then the aftermath .... 
That ending is perfect too as the nuns leave as the clouds swallow up the convent, and there is that deeply emotional final meeting of Sr Clodagh and Mr Dean when their affection and love is apparant as they have to say goodbye, and she asks him to do one final thing for her ... I love too that shot of the rain starting to fall on those giant leaves as the caravan moves on.  Back around 1980 when I got miy first vhs video recorder BLACK NARCISSUS was one of the first films I taped on those clunky cassettes, so we used to see that scene over and over ... I have not even mentioned Jean Simmons as Kanchi and Sabu as the young general with that perfume "Black Narcissus" from the Army & Navy Stores in London ... and to think it was all created in the studios with some stunning matte shots.


Interesting to see HELLO DOLLY again .... back in 1969 when in my twenties this seemed an elephantine old-fashioned film in that era of trendy counterculture, but we went along to see it all the same, and even had the soundtrack album. We were still on a Streisand high and she certainly delivers here, though of course is far too young for the middle-aged Dolly  Levi, a role ideally suited to Shirley Booth in the film THE MATCHMAKER (Mary Martin, Carol Channing and Pearl Bailey had successes as Dolly too). But hey it was a hit show, and 20th Century Fox certainly made it high wide and handsome. Gene Kelly directs (but not so that you would notice), it does though have some nice moments.
I like the opening number "Just Leave Everything To Me" as Dolly sets off for Yonkers to see her latest client, that well-known unmarried half a millionaire Horace Vandergelder. Streisand is perfect here gowned and hatted by Irene Sharaff (who also did the costumes for that other Fox extravaganza CLEOPATRA). Walter Matthau is ideal as the grouch (of course he and Streisand did not get on at all, putting it mildly), and young Michael Crawford and Danny Lockin (later, murdered by a stalker pickup) are fun as the juveniles Cornelius and Barnaby, Tommy Tune scores too. Barbra is a lot of fun actually as she vamps an guys the material.

"Put On Your Sunday Clothes" is a delicious number too, nicely staged and danced (and with a nod to MEET ME IN ST LOUIS) - then there is the huge parade and that finale at the restaurant with the singing waiters and Louis himself to reprise the title number.   On the downside, it looks too brash, the period detail looks trowelled on, the costumes look too new, the two girls at the hat shop - Irene Malloy and her assistant Minnie Fay - are excruciatingly winsome. It is a fun scene though when Horace comes calling, with the boys in hiding and Dolly on hand to get them dancing ..... 
Not a GREAT musical then, but fun to see now and then.  

1949: The heiress

THE HEIRESS: William Wyler's 1949 classic is the very definition of the well-made picture, and is a perfect 1940s golden age movie. It still fascinates and enthralls now. Olivia de Havilland may well be too good-looking to play the rather plain Catherine Sloper of Henry James's novel "Washington Square", but she certainly conveys the character's gaucheness and reserve, while Ralph Richardson as her wealthy surgeon father delivers one of his best performances - one cannot take one's eyes off him. Then there is Montgomery Clift, in maybe his best role to date, as Morris Townsend, a poor young man with an eye for the finer things in life ...

A young naive woman falls for a handsome young man who her emotionally abusive father suspects is a fortune hunter.

The Slopers (the house also incudes Sloper's widowed sister Lavinia) live in an opulent house at 16 Washington Square in 1860s New York. Catherine is a plain, simple, awkward and extremely shy woman, lacking in social graces, who spends all her free time doing embroidery. Catherine's lack of social charm and beauty - unlike her deceased mother - is very obvious to Dr. Sloper, forever comparing her to her late mother. The first man ever to show Catherine any attention is the handsome Morris Townsend, who she met at a family party .... Is Morris though a fortune-hunter? Maybe he would love Catherine (and her fortune)?  Dr Sloper is not convinced and Catherine comes to realise how he really feels about her and retaliates in kind.

Wyler directs it all perfectly, from the play adapted from the Henry James novel, and it has a perfect score by Aaron Copland. How the plot works out, with Morris leaving and then returning, Catherine waiting in vain to elope with him, and then grimly taking up her place back in her father's house, as her resentment boils over, Lavinia trying to get him back in her favour, her father's illness and death as Catherine suggests he change his will to disinherit her .... and then Morris's return and Catherine's final resolution, are all marvellous to watch.  Like those versions of THE ASPERN PAPERS or THE TURN OF THE SCREW (THE INNOCENTS) Henry James is very well served here 

Dr. Sloper may be right about Morris and only wants to protect his daughter, or maybe his actions are those of a vindictive man who blames her for the death of his beloved wife (in childbirth). Morris could be a fortune hunter, or he could be a man who does care for Catherine, in his own way, and would make her happy. 
It is a perfect Wyler picture with the three leads (and Miriam Hopkins as Lavinia) all at their peaks. There was a later remake, but I felt I did not really need to see it - despite having Albert Finney as Sloper and Maggie Smith as Lavinia in the cast. 

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

1950: In a lonely place

Nicholas Ray's IN A LONELY PLACE remains a brilliant noir from 1950 - it should be as well known as that year's other major movies like SUNSET BOULEVARD, ALL ABOUT EVE, THE ASPHALT JUNGLE or WINCHESTER '73.  

Screenwriter Dixon Steele, faced with the odious task of scripting a trashy bestseller, has hat-check girl Mildred Atkinson tell him the story in her own words. Later that night, Mildred is murdered and Steele is a prime suspect; his record of belligerence when angry and his macabre sense of humor tell against him. Fortunately, lovely neighbor Laurel Gray gives him an alibi. Laurel proves to be just what Steele needed, and their friendship ripens into love. Will suspicion, doubt, and Steele's inner demons come between them?
Poor Mildred - quickly murdered and forgotten about, so it seems. Even who did it is immaterial, as it is not about that at all, but the tortured relationship between Dixon and Laurel who provides his alilbi that night he quickly gets Mildred out of his apartment after she has told him the story of the novel he is supposed to read by morning. Laurel's apartment overlooks Dixon's and she sees Mildred leave alone .... 
They get to know each other at the police station, and things quickly develop between them. Laurel is initially attracted to him, but his violent temper, like when he beats up that car driver and almost kills him, soon causes her to have doubts .... By the time the police confirm it was not Dixon, it is too late for them ..... By turns charming, cold, romantic and remorseful, Dix Steele is as unpredictable a character as Bogie has ever played - an abusive man with a quick temper. It is a joyless view of love and fate.
Laurel is Gloria Graham, director Nick Ray's wife at the time, and it is one of her better roles. She remains one of the underrated great US actresses of the 50's (THE BIG HEAT, OKLAHOMA!), and has an electrifying chemistry with Bogie. Frank Lovejoy heads a fantastic supporting cast. The reasons for Mildred's murder are never satisfactorily made clear, but it doesn't matter. Laurel witnesses how Dixton treats his old friends and starts to worry for her own safety. The more she tries to escape from Dixon the more trapped she becomes and the more violent he gets ..... until that last telephone call. 
This is a noir that focuses on romance rather than crime and is a gut-wrenching love story,and should be so much better known, A perfect noir/twisted romance complete with those big cars driving by night, nightclub scenes and lots of shadows. One of Rays best too - up there with REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and JOHNNY GUITAR

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

1967: Vanessa in Vogue - by Bert

Sixties glamour with a vengance: A favourite book is Vogue in the Sixties, capturing the glamour of that decade with some stunning images. Here is Vanessa Redgrave in one of their January 1967 issues certainly ramping up the glamour stakes - thanks to Colin for finding it on Twitter. 
These were Vanessa's break-out years after the successes of MORGAN and BLOW-UP and she would go on to CAMELOT and ISADORA and so much more. Interestingly, the photographer here is the great Bert Stern, who did those final Monroe images in his "The Last Sitting". 
Also in 1967, here is Vanessa in another ritzy outfit at Cannes Film Festival with Monica Vitti and Antonioni. In her memoir Redgrave related how her first husband Tony Richardson wanted her to be like Monica Vitti .... Vanessa only went on to star for Antonioni and here they all are sur le plage!  Lots more on Vanessa at label. 

Monday, 13 July 2015

1970: Fire and rain

Many thanks to Colin for sending me this treat: the very readable FIRE AND RAIN, or to give it its full title: FIRE AND RAIN, THE BEATLES, SIMON & GARFUNKEL, JAMES TAYLOR, C S N Y AND THE LOST STORY OF 1970. Its a fascinating 2011 tome by David Browne chronicling that fascinating year in music (and movies and popular culture) 1970 as he focuses on the inter-twined fortunes of these musicians and their latest opuses. Other characters like Joni Mitchell flit in and out too ... 

These iconic acts of the '60s are at last wrapping up major new releases. The Beatles assemble one more time to put the final touches to LET IT BE. Crosy Stills Nash and Young finish their highly anticipated DEJA VU. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel finally complete their masterpiece BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER. (Paul referred to the title track as his "Yesterday"). Meanwhile on the sidelines, a shy upstart singer-songwriter named James Taylor is trying to write one more song to finalize an album called SWEET BABY JAMES. Over the course of the next twelve months, the lives of these remarkable musicians  - and the world around them - will change irrevocably. 
Acclaimed journalist David Browne sets the stories of those rock legends - and legends-to-be - against an increasingly chaotic backdrop of end-of-the-'60s events that sent the world spinning throughout that tumultuous year. The first book on the musical, political and cultural changes of 1970 FIRE AND RAIN tells the story of four landmark albums, the intertwining personal ties ties between the legendary artists who made them, and the ways in which their songs and journeys mirrored the end of one era and the start of another. Browne avoids sentimentality and nostalgia, aiming instead at a fresh look at the bands and their milieu. Some of the period details are almost astonishingly apt. says the blurb.  Below: Joni's album art for the CSNY album:
I was 24 then and in the thick of it all. 1970 was quite a year for me too - all that music, those movies still around like FELLINI SATYRICON and ZABRISKIE POINT. There were lots of Trash movies too, like Helmut's DORIAN GRAY. I was sharing a large flat with two friends in South London - here I am on the balcony leading down to the garden, plus some other shots from that year ..... My best friend Stan and I left the flat that summer to travel in Europe - my first trip to Paris, we walked all over the city and yes, slept under the bridges, then the train south and into Spain .... on return to London I rejoined my hippie friends (whom I saw The Doors & Jefferson Airplane with in 1968) in their rambling apartment until I left and found my own place for 1971. 
So it goes. 1970 was also the year I was at the British Film Institute cinema, the NFT, a lot, meeting and seeing and talking to Lee Remick and Dirk Bogarde among others, and standing next to Leonard Whiting in the gents urinal! plus seeing The Burtons and Joseph Losey on stage at the "Sunday Times" Cinema City Exhibition. I had also discovered Joni Mitchell by then, we liked her first two albums, and then saw her at her Royal Festival Hall concert later that year, from where I was sitting I could see the hippie princess waiting in the wings to go on - that was a fantastic evening too of course, little did I know I would be talking to her two years later when I met her purely by chance in the Kings Road (as per Joni label).
This book though captures it all - I loved the James Taylor album, and its follow-up MUD SLIDE SLIM, I was not really into CYNY but loved Young's voice and solo albums. We also had the Simon & Garfunkel and Beatles albums of course - this was the time When Albums Ruled The World! This of course was before the internet and social media, when the music spoke for itself. This is a fascinating rock book as Browne unearths a wealth of new material on performers one thought one knew more than enough about, for instance fascinating reading again on the mutual antagonism between Simon and Garfunkel. The Rolling Stones though do not get a look-in here. Left: Joni and James recording backup vocals on Carole King's TAPESTRY