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.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Blonde Crazy ?

London's National Film Theatre is running a season on cinema blondes. Since you ask, its GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES / RED DUST / I'M NO ANGEL / BECKY SHARP (Miriam Hopkins as the first Technicolor blonde?) / TO BE OR NOT TO BE / I MARRIED A WITCH / CASQUE D'OR / IT SHOULD HAPPEN TO YOU / YIELD TO THE NIGHT / WILD STRAWBERRIES / MARNIE / IMITATION OF LIFE / LE MEPRIS / BELLE DE JOUR / GLORIA and BASIC INSTINCT.

Intriguing enough, but no room for Jean Seberg, Kim Novak, Janet Leigh, Carroll Baker in her 60s sexbomb period, Belinda Lee [England's other blonde siren], Jayne in THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT or art-house goddess Monica as MODESTY BLAISE or her hilarious role in LE FATE or THE '50s siren Anita Ekberg or that other great exotic, Ursula Andress? Then there's the more 'everyday' blondes like Joanne Woodward, Carol Lynley, Tuesday Weld, Doris Day and ..... those other iconic Hitchock blondes as exemplified by Grace Kelly, Eva Marie Saint, Madeleine Carroll and the glacial Ann Todd.


R.I.P. Ian Cameron

Sad to hear of the passing of Ian Cameron, one of England's best critics and film writers since the '60s, shortly after the death of Robin Wood whose books on Hitchcock and others are still very pertinent and are standard texts on movie criticism.

Ian Cameron set up MOVIE magazine which was a brilliant new look at magazine layout and presentation [a more trendy SIGHT & SOUND?] and covered in depth the new interest in movies and the works of directors like Minnelli, Nick Ray, Preminger and others in the '60s. One could almost say it was an English Cahiers. There were issues devoted to Kazan, Von Sternberg, as well as serious features on Aldrich, Losey and of course Ford, Hawks, Hitchcock and Welles.

There were also those cinema paperbacks, a new concept in the late '60s, and essential for young movie buffs, such as I was, being affordable, well-designed arts paperbacks. Ian co-wrote the Antonioni one with Robin Wood; and he and his wife did that essential title on 'Broads' covering everyone from A - Lola Albright to W: Shelley Winters.

Click to enlarge back cover blurb above, showing the extent of the Cameron movie paperbacks - there was nothing like them back then.

Coming attractions...

items in the pipeline:

4 Woodys, 2 Pedros, + Penelope
60s rarities
60s schlock
60s favourites
60s romances
60s the international years
favourite sountrack albums
back to art-house: Bergman, Antonioni, Visconti, Demy, Varda
40s pleasures
Showpeople at play
BLOW-UP and the London '60s
Antonioni's THE PASSENGER - my 1976 feature for "Films Illustrated"
BLACK NARCISSUS & Michael Powell
2 best comedies: SOME LIKE IT HOT + ONE TWO THREE
Alternate Oscars
A Decade: 1954-1964
70s favourites
Guilty pleasures
Doomed flights: those airline dramas
Anita Ekberg - THE '50s siren
Belinda Lee - England's other bombshell
British cinema: 40s to 70s
Dirk Bogarde & The Rank Organisation years
Those English girls: Julie, Susannah, Sarah + Rita and Jane too
Julie Harris
Wendy Hiller
Lee Remick
Susan Hayward
Loretta Young & LADIES IN LOVE
Anouk Aimee trio
Lilli Palmer trio
Ingrid Thulin trio
Those Italians: Mangano, Lollobrigida, Loren, Cardinale, Valli, Vitti
10 French actresses: Aimee Audran Adjani Ardent Deneuve Dorleac Moreau Seyrig Signoret Darrieux (+ Laforet)
English actresses of the '50s
Jack Hawkins, Trevor Howard, Harry Andrews - the great dependables
Jeremy Spenser ?
Marilyn and the whole Monroe thing
Theatre-going since the 60s
Those versatile directors: Sturges, Mann, Daves, Hathaway, J Lee Thompson, Ronald Neame
An English quartet: Lester, Losey, Richardson, Schlesinger
Those recent directors: Ozon, Condon, Haynes, Roos + Ang Lee
Those Howard Hawks women ...
People we like: Stewart Granger / David Hemmings / Claire Bloom / Glynis Johns / Flora Robson / James Mason / Nigel Patrick / Yvonne Mitchell / Joan Greenwood / Michael Craig / Peter Finch / Alan Bates / Stanley Baker / Stephen Boyd / Laurence Harvey / Janet Leigh / Jeffrey Hunter / George Sanders / Clifton Webb etc.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

'50s dramas

Staying with the '50s for now, it seems it was the great decade for dramas, starting with ALL ABOUT EVE and SUNSET BOULEVARD in 1950, up to ANATOMY OF A MURDER and SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER in 1959. Here are some renowed, still endlessly watched titles:
ALL ABOUT EVE / SUNSET BOULEVARD / A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE / A PLACE IN THE SUN / COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA / CARRIE / FROM HERE TO ETERNITY / THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA / THE COUNTRY GIRL / A STAR IS BORN - its surely as much a drama as a musical / EAST OF EDEN / ON THE WATERFRONT / GIANT / REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE / BIGGER THAN LIFE / THE ROSE TATTOO / I'LL CRY TOMORROW / ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS / PICNIC / MARTY / BABY DOLL / BUS STOP / PEYTON PLACE / SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS / PATHS OF GLORY / 12 ANGRY MEN / A FACE IN THE CROWD / I WANT TO LIVE / SEPARATE TABLES / THE LONG HOT SUMMER / CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF / THE DEFIANT ONES / ANATOMY OF A MURDER / ON THE BEACH / THE NUN'S STORY / SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER. It was of course the great era of those Tennessee Williams and William Inge adaptations (even if they had to be diluted for the screen) and of course the heyday of Kazan and Kramer, Nicholas Ray and Otto Preminger, with Wyler, Wilder and Zinnemann, Mankiewicz, Cukor and Minnelli, Huston and Hawks, Hitchcock and Ford all producing their late classics. I particularly like the look of those late '50s/early '60s 'American dream' melodramas like: A SUMMER PLACE, THE BEST OF EVERYTHING, IMITATION OF LIFE, STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET by the likes of Evan Hunter who also scripted THE BIRDS.
Here are just a few overlooked ones I like:

BONJOUR TRISTESSE - one of Otto's big successes in 1958, this was bliss to discover recently. Its a terrific adaptation of Francoise Sagan's novel and Jean Seberg is perfect as Cecile it's narrator. The present as Cecile, a spoiled rich girl, and her playboy father David Niven continue their irresponsible way around the Paris highlife is in black and white, melting into technicolor when they recall the events that destroyed their happiness last summer... Deborah Kerr has one of her best roles as the new woman in Niven's life, whom Cecile discovers will not allow her to carry on doing as she pleases. Mylene Demongeot is nice as Niven's cast-off mistress, Geoffrey Horne is Cecile's boyfriend, and its all nicely judged and one of Otto's best. There is a nice moment near the start with Juliette Greco singing the theme tune in the nightclub as Cecile dances and tries to forget. Niven is much better here as the roue father than in SEPERATE TABLES as the blustering bogus colonel. Great views of '50s Paris and the Riviera too. As ever great Saul Bass titles.

THE JOURNEY - Anatole Litvak's 1959 drama set against the backdrop of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 with a busload of passengers trying to get to the border, is rather forgotten now, but TCM UK have been reviviving it recently. The best of 3 Deborah Kerr films in '59, she is ideally cast here as the perfectly groomed English milady (complete with pearls and twinsets) trying to smuggle her lover, wounded Jason Robards (his debut) over the border. Robert Morley is splendidly on board too and yes, that annoying child is the young Ron Howard. Kerr and Yul Brynner are re-united here and even have a little dance. He is the disillusioned Russian leader, and it reaches a nice dramatic climax. Anouk Aimee registers as a freedom fighter and Senta Berger is one of the girls in the background. It was an important film for Kerr as she met her second husband, writer Peter Viertel, here as he was helping Litvak (always a great director of actresses) with the script.

THE SEA WALL [or THIS ANGRY AGE]. There is a new French version starring Isabelle Huppert of this Marguerite Duras story - but this 1958 Rene Clement drama is a cherished memory as the movie itself seems totally unavailable these days. Set in French Indochina it features another great mother role for Jo Van Fleet here trying to keep her plantation from the oncroaching sea. Her son and daughther played by Silvana Mangano and Tony Perkins have their own ideas. Alida Valli features, as does Nehemiah Persoff and Richard Conte. Its a fascinating film (as is the recent version with the original title "Un Barrage Contre la Pacifique") one of those co-productions De Lauentiis did featuring his wife and star Silvana Mangano, who seems to feature a lot in my choices. Van Fleet of course was also amazing as the very old woman in Kazan's WILD RIVER from 1960 with Clift and Remick.

FIVE BRANDED WOMEN. An offbeat, downbeat Martin Ritt drama from 1959 - Ritt was certainly having an intriguing run of films in the late '50s and into the '60s. This is another Dino De Laurentiis co-production about 5 women who have their heads shaved in wartime Yugoslavia for fraternising with the enemy, they join the partisans led by Van Heflin and Richard Basehart and its all very very glum - but the women are Mrs De Lauretiis Silvana Mangano and Jeanne Moreau, plus Vera Miles and Barbara Bel Geddes. Carla Gravina as I remember was the 5th one ... they really did have their heads shaved - Vera Miles had to wear that unflattering wig in her next film, PSYCHO, as her hair had not grown back!

4 from that great year 1954:
THIS IS MY LOVE - here Linda Darnell is Vida, the unmarried sister of the more vivacious Faith Domergue married to crippled ex-dancer Dan Duryea who is very jealous of his young attractive wife. Vida lives with the mismatched couple and works in their diner and is engaged (or stringing along) a very dull boyfriend, until one day his friend, a “gas station Casanova” Rick Jason walks in and seems the answer to Vida’s dreams. He is merely leading her along however until he meets the vivacious Faith, thus setting in motion a tale of rage, murder and revenge, played out in lurid colours as the girls sling hash in the diner. 50s lurid melodramas don’t come much better than this, as directed by Stuart Heisler. [Jason was back in the '50s diner milieu in the downbeat '57 Fox film of Steinbeck's THE WAYWARD BUS as the bus driver married to shrewish diner owner Joan Collins (which Linda has tested for and would have been ideal casting) and with down-on-her-luck stripper Jayne Mansfield also on board the bus. The Steinbeck estate seems to be holding up release of this interesting very-'50s oddity - Fox could not include it in either their Joan or Jayne boxsets!]

KNAVE OF HEARTS [or MONSIEUR RIPOIS]. Good to finally get to see this rare Rene Clement film from '54 which features Gerard Philipe as the amorous Frenchman on the loose in a very '50s London breaking hearts left right and centre. The women include Joan Greenwood at her very best, and quite heartbreaking here, as well as Natasha Parry and Valerie Hobson. There was extensive location shooting so its fascinating seeing London of the period. Clement has a sure touch as he demonstrated a few years later with that great Highsmith adaptation PLEIN SOLEIL where the 24 year old Delon is as much an outsider as Philipe is here.

MAMBO is a film I had never heard of until recently, but its a fascinating puzzle. Its a Paramount film directed by Robert Rossen (an odd choice for him) but its also a Carlo Ponti-Dino De Laurentiis production set mainly in Venice and Rome with two Italian stars, Silvana Mangano and Vittorio Gassman – if only it had been in color with that great scenery and Venetian masked balls and the colourful Katherine Dunham dance group, which Silvana joins. She looks terrific here and in the dance numbers (the mambo must have been big about then as Loren does a terrific one in her ‘working in the river in shorts’ film WOMAN OF THE RIVER). MAMBO’s convoluted plot features Shelley Winters (Mrs Gasssman at the time) in what is surely one of the first clearly implied lesbian roles as she has a major crush on Silvana. Michael Rennie completes the odd quartet. Silvana's numbers are available on YouTube.

WOMAN OF THE RIVER. I have now re-seen the 1954 WOMAN OF THE RIVER for the first time since I saw it as a kid, and I am amazed at the 19 year old Sophia here in 1954, a very busy year for her - as Nives the proud canning factory girl who falls for hunk Rik Battaglia she does a sensational mambo dance and is just wonderful - no wonder it was her calling card to international films. She also goes cane cutting in the Po river, and it ends in drama with her young child. Its a film for the Italian market and Pasolini had a hand in the script, but its certainly vivid 50+ years later.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

More '50s pleasures...

SERENADE. Mario Lanza films were jolly affairs as I remember [like THE SEVEN HILLS OF ROME], but SERENADE in 1956, seen again recently on TCM UK, is a very enjoyable, dark, twisted tale, from a James M Cain novel, with that rich deep Warnercolor and as directed by Anthony Mann (having a break from westerns) has some great scope compositions. Mario here is the factory worker on his tractor who is discovered by Joan Fontaine as Kendall Hale. Kendall is a society dame/rich bitch who, aided by her campy sidekick Vincent Price, picks up and then destroys her proteges, her current one being hunky young boxer Vince Edwards. Mario is soon in Kendall's clutches and on his way to being an opera star, but he spectacularly falls apart once Kendall discards him - in a scene as intense as Judy Garland's in A STAR IS BORN - so he ends up in Mexico ... enter Sarita Montiel (who became Mrs Mann) who is very attractive here, and gets Mario back to singing. The stage is set for a showdown between the women when they return to New York and it all ends in pure melodrama. Joan has a lot of fun with the role [though she dismisses it in 1 line in her autobiography] and does that quizzical look and raised eyebrow to perfection as Mario serenades us with "Nessun Dorma"; she also wears a divine mink cape for going to the opera.

WOMAN'S WORLD. For me this 1954 Fox movie is the '50s in aspic. Its a fabulously entertaining variation on the '3 girls sharing an apartment and looking for love' genre that Fox and director Jean Negulesco did so well (HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, 3 COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN, THE BEST OF EVERYTHING) - here the 3 girls are married and visiting New York - cue great views of 50s Manhattan - as Clifton Webb, the head of a motor company, has to choose a new general manager and the wives are being vetted too to see if they are suitable material for company events. The 3 couples are out-of-towners Cornel Wilde and ditzy (or is she?) June Allyson, sophisticates on the point of divorcing Lauren Bacall and Fred McMurray, and ambitious Van Heflin and Arlene Dahl who will go to any lengths to get her man the position. The gals get to wear to some marvellous frocks, Allyson and Bacall play their usual personas so the unknown quantity here is Dahl who steals the film - particuarly when she enters in that green clinging sheath with a divine little fur-trimmed bolero which she knowingly removes as she puts the make on Clifton and lets him see how grateful she will be if Van is the man. Clifton is in his element here and even seems to be (can it be possible in '54) a coded gay as he is not married and seems devoted to his general managers. Whatever, its an absolute treat to see anytime, a nice contrast to that other '54 star-studded executive drama EXECUTIVE SUITE.

THE OPPOSITE SEX. A 1956 musical remake of THE WOMEN? Yes and it works quite well and is very enjoyable on its own level. Allyson again is the Mary Haines figure this time, with Joan Collins stepping into Crawford's shoes as Crystal Allen - but best of all is the divine Dolores Gray as Sylvia. A great cast of 50s gals is assembled for this lavish MGM treat: Agnes Moorehead having fun as the Countess, Joan Blondell, Ann Sheridan, Ann Miller (who sadly does not sing or dance), Carolyn Jones, Charlotte Greenwood and Alice Pearce (ON THE TOWN's Lucy Schmeeler) as the gossip-spreading "Jungle Red" saleslady. There are musical interludes and the men are included this time, Leslie Nielson as the straying husband, and Jeff Richards as that Buck Winston. Its all very colorful and the gals wear a great array of 50s fashions. Whats not to like? Broadway star Dolores Gray only made a handful of films at MGM but she is sensational here, as she is in ITS ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER, KISMET and tipping the plate of ravioli into Greg Peck's lap in DESIGNING WOMAN, another great Minnelli from '57.

JUPITER'S DARLING. Another '56 musical - the only Esther Williams movie I saw in the cinema, its her last musical too [directed by George Sidney]. Set in Ancient Rome Esther is promised to emperor George Sanders (who is dominated by his mother Norma Varden!); enter Howard Keel as a splendid Hannibal, Marge and Gower Champion are terrific too and do a great number with painted elephants (real ones, not CGI). Esther does a bit of swimming and saves Hannibal's life - he can't swim! This cheerful farrago would be a great double bill with MGM's other ridiculous costumer THE PRODIGAL where Lana is the pagan priestess and Edmund Purdom that prodigal son, great MGM production values though you have to laugh when Edmund wrestles with the stuffed vulture and Lana faces the mob... young Taina Elg is also at hand, before she became one of those fabulous LES GIRLS.

BELL BOOK AND CANDLE. A pleasure to see again yesterday. John Van Druten's play [the Harrisons - Rex and Lilli - had done it on the stage] is nicely transferred to screen in '58 by Richard Quine, with his muse of the time, Kim Novak at her zenith here as the witch who cannot fall in love - enter James Stewart. Its a lovely look at New York in the 50s, Stewart and Novak are teamed again after Hitch's VERTIGO. The great supporting cast includes Jack Lemmon (just before SOME LIKE IT HOT) as her warlock brother, Ernie Kovacs as the writer on the lookout for witches, and Hermione Gingold as head witch, aided by Elsa Lanchester, plus Janice Rule as Stewart's girlfriend. Pyewacket the cat is super too.

Amusingly, this has now been seen in a gay context. Druten it seems was gay, and the coven of witches with their hidden culture and their own nightclub (presided over by la Gingold) could be read as coded for the secret life of gays in '50s New York. "They are all around us" Lemmon happily tells the bewildered Kovacs ... It was also Stewart's last as a romantic lead [he is 50 here], he really slipped into character parts with his next, the still terrific ANATOMY OF A MURDER + those father parts. [Nice to see him and Novak re-united handing out an award on one of those 80s Oscar shows].

NO DOWN PAYMENT. This 1957 rarity was a treat when discovered recently. Set in the boom of suburbia as couples move to the new estates, it focuses on several couples - new arrivals Jeffrey Hunter and Patricia Owens, nice Barbara Rush and Pat Hingle, flaky Joanne Woodward and brooding Cameron Mitchell, and desperate Tony Randall and Sheree North. Martin Ritt orchestrates the dramas nicely and its a splendid period piece with that good team of Fox contract players.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Some '50s discoveries...

BUT NOT FOR ME is a neglected gem from that great year 1959 and was a treat to catch recently. Its one of Clark Gable's last films [he had just done TEACHER'S PET with Doris Day, and would next go to Italy for IT STARTED IN NAPLES with Sophia Loren (30 years his junior, but its great fun) and then finally to that MISFITS location]. Here he is guying his older image as the Broadway producer falling for his ambitions young secretary Carroll Baker who also wants to be an actress. Its a comedy set in the theatreland of the '50s and has some nice views of New York back then, particuarly as his car glides through Manhattan in the morning, as Ella sings that great theme song. Best of the cast though is Lilli Palmer enjoying her role as his ex-wife watching on the sidelines. Will she get him back at the end? It's nicely worked out and there is also Lee J Cobb in scenery-chewing mode as a drunken playright. A nice Perlberg-Seaton production from Paramount.

WILD IS THE WIND. Another good discovery is this long unseen George Cukor item from 1957. Anna Magnani is magnetic as the sister from Italy brought to America to marry her late sister's husband, Anthony Quinn in very gruff mode here. Quinn's protege young Anthony Francoisa is the only one to show her affection as she struggles with life on their ranch, which rapidly escalates to a doomed romance. I did not care for Magnani's over the top performance in the acclaimed ROSE TATTOO when I saw it a while ago, but I love her here, as reined in by Cukor. She has a wonderful scene at the outdoor party when she sings a lovely little song, and has a nice scene with young Dolores Hart too. There is also another great theme tune (by Johnny Mathis) and, surprisingly for Cukor, the scenes of capturing wild horses is as forceful as Huston's in THE MISFITS. Anna is of course marvellous in Renoir's THE GOLDEN COACH, and its fascinating seeing her with Brando in THE FUGITIVE KIND.

THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE - I did see this MGM comedy from 1958 when young but its a missing title here in the UK and not seen for decades. Its a wonderful as I remembered and - along with GENEVIEVE and LES GIRLS - Kay Kendall's crowning achievement. She is divinely funny and daffy as the diplomat's wife launching his daughter on the London season as a debutante. Add in Angela Lansbury as the catty friend who is also launching her daughter and the stage is set for lots of comedy. Rex Harrison is in his element here and seems enchanted with his new wife in their one main starring film, which at least captures their high comedy style. The youngsters are Sandra Dee and John Saxon (whom I liked then) but they seem pallid now by comparison. It was actually shot mainly in Paris due to Harrison's tax requirements as he was between the US and London runs of MY FAIR LADY, but Minnelli adds the required elements - lots of splashes of yellows and reds (those perfect armchairs and cushions in that perfect apartment) and that perfect shade of green for chairs and lamps. Kay wears her Balmain wardrobe splendidly and has some great moments. Perhaps only Carole Lombard was as glamorous and gifted a comedienne. The play originally featured Celia Johnson and Wilfrid Hyde White (one can just picture them in it) with young Anna Massey as the deb, but with the Harrisons on board it was nicely modernised to make her his second wife and the daughter reared as an American by his first wife. Splendid stuff and ideal for a rainy afternoon. Minnelli had a busy year, he knocked this one out between GIGI and SOME CAME RUNNING!

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME [1957]. An important movie from my childhood, from when I was first allowed to start going to the cinema on my own, aged about 11. This was marvellous colorful stuff then, widescreen, lots of action and it still looks good now, set around the cathedral of Notre Dame. Anthony Quinn is perfect as Quasimodo and gains one's sympathy while Gina Lollobrigida is sensational and so attractive as Esmerelda. Director Jean Delannoy has a sure hand with the material. That ending with Esmerelda's body being dragged away (with her faithful goat) and Quasimodo following her to the crypt was powerful stuff for the younger me and it still works now.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Music Music Music

Great month for new music. New albums by MASSIVE ATTACK, SADE, HOT CHIP, BILLIE RAY MARTIN to add to ipod and THE PET SHOP BOYS do it again - terrific new CD of their December concert at the O2 in London, which includes a dvd of same, with some brilliant extras.
Its a brilliant extra-long concert which the full O2 certainly appreciated, I always love the new versions they do of the hits like "West End Girls", "What Have I Done To Deserve This?" [with Dusty tribute], "Suburbia" and "Being Boring". They revisit the hits and its all very visual. I have seen 4 other Pets concerts (including their Savoy residency in 1997 and at the Tower of London a few years ago). What other duo have been going for over 25 years and still as dynamic today? Dvd also includes that brilliant mix they did at the Brits last year, with Lady Gaga and Brendan Flowers.

One of my 70's favourites JOAN ARMATRADING is touring as well, so seeing her in May. She is always terrific live, its been too long since we saw her last. Will JONI MITCHELL ever tour or appear here again? At least I got to meet her (in Kings Road, Chelsea) purely by chance in 1972 and we walked along having a pleasant conversation. She did great concerts in London in 70, 72, 74 etc. Given her antipathy to the music biz now I don't suppose we will be seeing her cashing in on a nostalgia tour as others do! Her painting probably takes precedence now, but we will always have that marvellous sequence of albums from 1968 onwards. She has a good website though for updates.

Bang up to date

Possibly the best films of this and last year?

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS - I can't recall two and a half hours flying by faster at the movies than here, with Quentin Tarantino's take on war movies. This is both a comic and a cartoon and as stylish as they come, with of course no relation to history, though may be a new DIRTY DOZEN. I love the little '40s Parisian cinema (quite palatial on the inside) and Melanie Laurent as Shosanna is surely a new French actress of note. Christoph Waltz is amazing as Landa and has to be best supporting actor - though the whole ensemble is perfect, with lots of Quentin's in-jokes. Pitt here seems a combination of James Coburn & Lee Marvin - I thought at first his character was named Aldo Ray! There are stunning set-pieces: the long first chapter introducing Landa and his methods at the French farmhouse, where one sense's Tarantino taking his time setting out his stall; the German war hero sniper's (Daniel Bruhl - wasn't he the boy in LADIES IN LAVENDER?) pursuit of the cinema owner Shosanna taking her to the centre of the German occupation and her re-union with Landa ...
The film is audacious and hilarious, with great dialogue sequences like the shoot-out in the cafe and the conflagration at the cinema with all the Nazi high command in attendance. Nice period feel too, as though getting the look of the 40s was important (something that's often ignored in war movies). I just loved it, Tarantino's best since PULP FICTION. Great music choices too as ever - particularly good to hear Bowie's "Putting Out Fire with Gasoline" [from CAT PEOPLE] again, its particularly apt here. I just downloaded it from iTunes!

THE HURT LOCKER - Kathryn Bigelow's latest and a nerve-shredding, white knuckle ride with that bomb disposal unit in Iraq. This is surely war as it is lived and torn from the news bulletins - even more so now with the Afghanistan war on our screens every night. Bigelow of course is one of the most exciting directors working today and has been since POINT BREAK back in the 90s. Filmed in Jordan it captures the everyday work of the soldiers and the (hostile?) Iraqis lurking in the background, and those ready to prime a bomb. Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pearce appear, the lead Jeremy Renner seems rather like a new Russell Crowe, but certainly delivers. His Sergeant James lives for the adrenalin rush of disposing bombs which he compounds by not wearing his protective gear and maybe getting his colleagues into danger. The final set-piece with the wired Iraqi is edge of seat stuff. But as the quote at the start tells us: "war is a drug", our hero feels out of place back home in the supermarket, so has only one option left. It tackles war in a totally different way from Tanantino, but both films are dynamite.

I now feel like more "theatre of war" movies like re-seeing Peckinpah's CROSS OF IRON, Spielberg's EMPIRE OF THE SUN and Polanski's THE PIANIST, and I recently watched some Jeffrey Hunter [always ideally cast as a marine] titles like SAILOR OF THE KING, NO MAN IS AN ISLAND, FROM HELL TO ETERNITY and that Fox ensemble IN LOVE AND WAR. Robert Aldrich also did some gritty war movies like Palance and Chandler in the '59 10 SECONDS TO HELL [another bomb disposal unit!, in Berlin after WWII) and Palance & Lee Marvin in ATTACK, and of course Warners' big one, Walsh's BATTLE CRY in 1954. A great kids' movie too was Universal's ensemble in AWAY ALL BOATS ['57] and all those British war movies ....

Saturday, 13 February 2010


Romcom or Classic?

What is it to be for Valentine Day viewing? A new romcom? or a classic? BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S now seems to be THE classic for Valentine's day, my local art-house is showing it with champagne and chocolates ! For pure schmalz you can hardly beat a Fox double bill of AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER and LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDOURED THING. That would leave one limp and with not a dry eye in the house... ditto Sirk's ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS.
The latest romcom I like is THE PROPOSAL, which was actually the in-flight movie on a trip to Greece last summer, but I liked so much I got the dvd. Sandra Bullock is about the only romcom queen I like and she is perfect here, and the guy is cute and there is Mary Steenburgen whom I love, now in the Mom phase of her career. It's well put together and it works, what's not to like? I also have that recent Gerard Butler effort THE UGLY TRUTH to look at .... one I will be giving a big miss to is this excruciating sounding VALENTINE'S DAY with that current crop of the younger crowd, and even Shirley McLaine included - there is even a token gay relationship I understand. It seems to be trying to be a new LOVE ACTUALLY [though that snipped out the gay (lesbian) relationship, though it is included on the dvd - maybe the women (Anne Reid and Frances De La Tour) were too old and one of them dying? - though Emma Thompson refers to them later in the film], but LOVE ACTUALLY was bad enough, without a Gerry Marshall imitation.

The romantic classics I like for Valentine's Day are those Ophuls: LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN, LA RONDE and MADAME DE. There is also a Roger Vadim 1964 LA RONDE with a young Jane Fonda and some interesting French players (Anna Karina, Jean Sorel, Maurice Ronet etc) but the one that works is Max Ophuls 1950 one which is perfection with that cast of Signoret, Walbrook, Darrieux, Gerard Philipe etc).

Then there is my new favourite, a discovery from last year: David Lean's 1949 romantic drama THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS, which should be as well known as BRIEF ENCOUNTER. This is a delirious romance, perfectly orchestrated by Lean, with the usually glacial Ann Todd re-discovering her lost love Trevor Howard on an alpine holiday, but she has married rich, possessive Claude Rains in the meantime. It's wonderfully worked out with great locations (you can sense Lean making the most of the Alpine shoot, as he did with Venice in SUMMERTIME) and there is that marvellous scene where jealous Rains cannot contain his anger any longer as he confronts the lovers with the theatre programme for the show they did not attend. The three players are at their best here and its a richly romantic treat with that perfect late '40s ambience.

Getting back to BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S that ending (the opposite of how Capote's novella ends) with Audrey and Peppard in the rain (did any couple ever look better wet?) as the heavenly chorus sings "Moon River" and cat is found .... they embrace with the damp cat squeezed between them .... movie perfection! Tears all round.... My theory about TIFFANY'S is that Audrey Hepburn plays Holly Golightly in the style of the recently departed Kay Kendall who died in 1959. It's a perfect Kendall role and Audrey knew the Kendall sisters when they were all chorus girls in early '50s London. One can just imagine the Kay of LES GIRLS or THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE as a perfect Holly... TIFFANY'S though remains a great New York film and an early 60s classic.

Martin Ritt's THE BLACK ORCHID from 1958/59 is a perfect romantic treat too, as widow Sophia Loren is wooed by widower Anthony Quinn - quite lovable here. He has a disapproving daughter and Sophia (aged 24 with just a hint of grey in her hair) is the mother of teenage tearaway. Its all nicely resolved at the breakfast table and must surely have influenced Cher's MOONSTRUCK, a nice romcom pastiche.

A very nice '40s romance is the 1945 Alexander Korda VACATION FROM MARRIAGE [or PERFECT STRANGERS] where bored young newly weds Robert Donat and Deborah Kerr each get drafted into the wartime services and re-discover themselves and each other. Its utterly charming, with nice roles too for Glynis Johns and Ann Todd.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Hitch & Mankiewicz

Two books its a pleasure to re-read are the late critic Robin Wood's seminal Alfred Hitchcock study - one of the first books on film criticism I got, back in 1969 - one of those little Zwemmer arts paperbacks. Thats probably filed away in a box in the garage somewhere, but I acquired the expanded version and its a real treat, not only the original studies of the films but expanded and covering a lot more Hitchcock films. For me, the Hitchcock essentials are NOTORIOUS, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, REAR WINDOW, VERTIGO, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, PSYCHO and THE BIRDS, and that early RICH AND STRANGE - I also rate UNDER CAPRICORN and his lesser masterpieces like THE PARADINE CASE and STAGE FRIGHT. So interesting to read on all these plus items like SHADOW OF A DOUBT which I didn't get at all. The one Hitch I never wanted to see was TORN CURTAIN ! I may just get back to thinking MARNIE is a masterpiece ....

Also, PICTURES WILL TALK, that fascinating look at Joe Mankiewicz and his films. Joe is surely one of the most fascinating erudite witty film makers - well along with Billy Wilder and quite a few others actually ... but I have particular affection for Mankiewicz and those endlessly re-watchable films like A LETTER TO 3 WIVES, ALL ABOUT EVE, THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, JULIUS CEASAR and THE HONEYPOT. I particuarly like the first half of CLEOPATRA. I have now got a brace of unseen Mankiewicz's lined up to watch: NO WAY OUT, PEOPLE WILL TALK and 5 FINGERS. All should be fascinating. It was interesting seeing LETTER TO 3 WIVES again recently - there are several similarities with EVE, not least in dialogue situations and both being about 3 women, as Margo, Eve and Karen actually all have about equal size roles; Davis's Margo dominates the first half with some great scenes but she really is on the sidelines during the second half as Eve and Karen and Addison de Witt play out their power games, that's also why we see no more of Thelma Ritter's Birdie once the action moves away from Margo's duplex.

His BAREFOOT CONTESSA has that wonderful scene of Ava on the balcony in the moonlight (as lit by Jack Cardiff) with Bogart, just one pleasure of this fascinating movie. The book is also engrossing on Mankiewicz's time producing films at MGM - Crawford vehicles and those Katharine Hepburn starrers PHILADELPHIA STORY and WOMAN OF THE YEAR. It was he who came up with the often-quoted line that Tracy would cut Kate down to size! Then there were his romances with the likes of Linda Darnell, Judy Garland, Lana and the rest...

2 from 1962

1962 must surely be one of the 3 best years ever for movies - my other 2 would be 1939 and 1959 - each have at least 20 films of note. It was also that great era for black and white films and that early 60s vibe. I will get around to 1959 later but for 1962 - when I was 16 in Ireland - the key movies include L'ECLISSE, ADVISE & CONSENT, LOLITA, DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES (where Lee Remick should have won that academy award!), BILLY BUDD, LONG DAYS JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, JULES ET JIM, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ, TO KILL A MOCKINBIRD, SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH, JUMBO, GYPSY, THE MUSIC MAN, A KIND OF LOVING, BOCCACCIO 70, THE TRIAL, WALK ON THE WILD SIDE (trash but I love it), THE MIRACLE WORKER and THE COUNTERFEIT TRAITOR, for starters, plus Sophia Loren doing the twist in Paris in 5 MILES TO MIDNIGHT and the camp farrago that is SODOM AND GOMORROW! Two I particularly like are:

ALL FALL DOWN - one of Frankenheimer's three this year. I loved James Leo Herlihy's book when I was 16. People talk about THE CATCHER IN THE RYE or LORD OF THE FLIES as great books about children or teenagers, but when I was 16 ALL FALL DOWN, as scripted by William Inge, perfectly captured how I felt and my relations with my family. I too eavesdropped on my parents and noted down what they said. I did not have an older brother though to worship, being the oldest of 6 myself! The film is perfectly cast: Angela Lansbury and Karl Malden deliver pitch perfect performances as the parents Ralph and Annabel who is forever fretting over her missing son Beri Beri - probably Warren Beatty's best early role, and Eva Marie Saint is perfection as Echo O'Brien "the old maid from Toledo". At the centre is Brandon de Wilde as Clint, the narrator and the story concerns his eventual disillusionment with his selfish, womanising brother. It is all lyrically shot, with some nice scenes at the Florida Keys and back in Ohio. Its certainly one for me to savour. What a shame De Wilde died so young in a motorcycle accident, after he being a child actor on Broadway, he is perfect as little John Henry in THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING. Then there were SHANE, NIGHT PASSAGE, HUD etc. Herlihy also wrote MIDNIGHT COWBOY, among others, and acted.

THE CHAPMAN REPORT, Cukor's film of a sensational book (which I also read as a teenager) concerning a sex survey among a group of women. It has that perfect early 60s look and Cukor certainly makes it look good, with a separate 'look' for each of the women and their homes. Claire Bloom is outstanding as the self-loathing nymphomaniac - she is presented like a vampire lurking in the shadows watching the water delivery boy, Chad Everett in tight trousers; Glynis Johns is a lot of fun as the arty housewife who becomes distracted by beach boy Ty Hardin in those spray-on shorts; Shelley Winters is the hausfrau with a very dull husband and she is having an affair with heel Ray Danton, a theatre director - it ends in tears in the book, but no so in the movie. Jane Fonda impresses the least as the frigid young widow, but Jane had not yet found herself back then. Cukor regular Henry Daniell also pops up. Its all marvellously entertaining and not at all trashy like some others I could mention - and will in due course. It was great to finally see THE CHAPMAN REPORT recently, as it has not been available for decades, and there is still no proper dvd release!


Good to see Sophia Loren back in a new movie, even if she has nothing much to do in NINE and is badly photographed to boot! Yesterday had a repeat of the 1957 BOY ON A DOLPHIN, which I never tire of - she is wonderful here, so beautiful and animated, aged about 23. She and Clifton Webb are a joy together and its amusing seeing how they they try to make Alan Ladd taller than her - it starts with a mini-travelogue of some Greek islands (quite a novelty back then I imagine): Rhodes [where I was last summer], Delos, Mykonos, Poros, Hydra where the film is set. LEGEND OF THE LOST is more of the same, a Hathaway western set in the Sahara, and she squares up nicely to Wayne, and Jack Cardiff makes it look good. Back then, I loved her in HOUSEBOAT with Grant, she is delighful (and sings and dances) in IT STARTED IN NAPLES, even if Gable looks far too old for her, THE MILLIONAIRESS, EL CID - where she is as monumental as Heston, FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, and of course her De Sica films including TWO WOMEN (aged 26, playing the mother of a 14 year old), so funny in the Naples section of YESTERDAY TODAY & TOMORROW, MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE, perhaps at her zenith opposite Peck in the still entertaining ARABESQUE. I also like her doing the twist in Paris in 1962 with Tony Perkins in 5 MILES TO MIDNIGHT, and all the others.... THE BLACK ORCHID was a pleasure to see again recently, as was Cukor's HELLER IN PINK TIGHTS. In her early 20s she was co-starring with all these leading men who were about 30 years older than her - only Tab Hunter or Tony Perkins were about her own age!
There are now 3 new books on her: a lavish picture book, a nice career appraisal with lots of photos, and a rather academic look at her rise in the early '50s. I saw her up close in 1979 at her book signing at a very packed Selfridges store in London. She lives away from the headlines unless there is a cookery book or movie to promote, so - unlike Liz - we have not spent the last 40 years keeping up with her marriages, divorces, weight or health problems. She is still very private and rater mysterious, and is much more visible now since Carlo Ponti's death. She looks better than ever these days in her mid-70s at various events and award shows.

I must add how much I now like those earlier films: TOO BAD SHES BAD from 1954 (she must have been 19) is a blissful discovery, her first with De Sica and Mastroianni - and WOMAN OF THE RIVER, which I did see when I was 12 - her mambo dance is sensational. Mangano and Lollobrigida may have began before her, and Vitti and Cardinale followed in her wake, but Sophia was and is THE international star of the 50s/60s, plus of course Romy Schneider! My IMDb appreciation on her is at: