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.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

'50s novelists on screen

Reading a collection of Nevil Shute's novels [NO HIGHWAY, A TOWN LIKE ALICE and ON THE BEACH] on a recent holiday break reminded me of those best-sellers of 50 years ago when I was entering my teens; those well-crafted and developed stories with rounded characters which were great for cinema adaptations by the likes of well-respected authors like Shute, John Masters, Hammond Innes and Alistair McLean.

It was pleasant catching up with NO HIGHWAY a while back, an avaiation drama lit up by the star wattage of James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich [re-united in 1951 after their teaming in DESTRY in 1939]. Stewart is the aviation boffin who realises the flight they are on may crash at any time as the tail may drop off due to metal fatigue, as per the tests he has been doing. Marlene is the glamorous movie star Monica Teasdale who at first rebuffs him but comes to realise he could be right, and Glynis Johns is just right as the air stewardess who decides Stewart, and his daughter, young Janette Scott, need her in their lives. Jack Hawkins and Kenneth More are solid support and its nicely worked out by director Henry Koster.

A TOWN LIKE ALICE is the successful 1956 film of Shute’s involving story of the Japanese invasion of Malaya and the forced marches imposed on the group of women prisoners. Virginia McKenna and Peter Finch are convincing leads.

ON THE BEACH is Stanley Kramer’s big one for 1959, about the end of the world no less after the Northern Hemisphere is wiped out by nuclear radiation which is borne to Australia and the Southern Hemisphere by winds. Attractively cast with Gregory Peck as the visiting submarine captain, Ava Gardner finding love too late, Anthony Perkins and Donna Anderson as the young marrieds, and Fred Astaire in a late dramatic role. The plot is interestingly developed as they wait for the end to come. The movie’s tagline was “There is still time, brother”. Ava upset the locals when she arrived in Australia and made that comment about it being the perfect place for a film about the end of the world.

John Masters’ BHOWANI JUNCTION made for a fascinating George Cukor film in 1956 set at the time of the partition of India. Ava Gardner has one of her best roles as Victoria Jones, half English and half Indian and the conflicts this causes. Stewart Granger and Bill Travers are good and Lionel Jeffries scores as the army man who cannot keep his hands off Victoria. Lots of local color and great scope compositions. I love the story Granger tells in his autobiography about when he and Ava were on location.

Hammond Innes was a great story-teller too, with lots of adventure stories. 1954’s HELL BELOW ZERO is one of the movies Alan Ladd made in England for tax reasons and is a gripping adventure set in the frozen wastes of Shepperton studios. Stanley Baker is the young villain and Jill Bennett in one of her first movies has a very intriguing role as a female whaling captain.

CAMPBELL’S KINGDOM – a Rank Organisation hit of 1957, set in the Canadian rockies, but filmed in the Italian dolomites, with Dirk Bogarde at his prettiest [he is pure knitting pattern model glamour here] fighting for his inheritance and discovering oil to the chagrin of evil Stanley Baker, who would be reunited with Bogarde 10 years later in Losey’s ACCIDENT – this is much simpler stuff but no less enjoyable, with Michael Craig, Barbara Murray, James Robertson Justice and yes, Sid James in solid support. It may be movie-making by numbers, directed by Ralph Thomas, but it works.

THE WRECK OF THE MARY DEARE – another Innes tale, this 1959 film is Gary Cooper’s penultimate and teams him with Charlton Heston in a sea-faring adventure, directed by Michael Anderson, with a good supporting cast including Michael Redgrave, Emlyn Williams, Richard Harris and Virginia McKenna. Its interesting now seeing Cooper stride out of the Waterloo Station of 50 years ago, and other London locations of the time.

I mentioned the film of McLean's THE GUNS OF NAVARONE in my very first post here - having just been (then) on holiday in Rhodes it was fun seeing the locations used.

1 comment:


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