AN ALLIGATOR NAMED DAISY, a delicious 1955 Rank comedy starring Donald Sinden and Jeannie Carson, and Stephen Boyd [the essence of '50s beefcake here] teamed with Diana Dors – both of them going places. Sinden has to look after the alligator and chaos ensues. [This was a childhood favourite of mine and I bought the Donald Sinden box set purely for this still enjoyable comedy..]. James Robertson Justice, Richard Wattis, and - wonderfully - Margaret Rutherford (in one scene as a pet shop owner who can talk to the alligator) are all blissfully funny. Another by J Lee Thompson!
HOW TO MURDER A RICH UNCLE - a long-forgotten 1957 comedy, rather like a new Ealing production, featuring a ramshackle rich family now down on its luck, trying to bump off the rich uncle of the title, but killing each other insead. Its quirky and funny, directed by and starring Nigel Patrick, with Wendy Hiller and dear Katie Johnson of THE LADYKILLERS. Charles Coburn is the wealthy uncle whose relatives are dropping like flies around him...
WOMAN IN A DRESSING GOWN – one of several here featuring Yvonne Mitchell, this 1957 melodrama by Ted Willis and directed by the astonishingly versatile J Lee Thompson was a hit at the time. Mitchell is the slovenly wife, forever in that dressing gown, whose middle management husband Anthony Quayle is being lured away by bright young thing Sylvia Syms. It captures the mood of the late ‘50s with those modern new offices and the rising middle class. Carole Lesley, a starlet of the time, also features. Yvonne as usual makes it very compelling.
SAPPHIRE. Hardly ever seen now, this is a vivid childhood memory. Basil Dearden’s 1959 thriller is very colourful as it depicts late ‘50s Britain and the racial tensions of the time, with the arrival of those immigrants from Jamaica and Trinidad who were encouraged to move to England and better themselves, but were usually working on buses and trains. Sapphire is the girl found murdered on Hampstead Heath as detectives Nigel Patrick (dependable as ever) and Michael Craig look for clues. Yvonne Mitchell scores as the sister of Sapphire’s boyfriend, as it is revealed that the murdered girl was a half-caste who was passing as white. As in Dearden’s following VICTIM, attitudes are revealed among the suspects and its intriguingly worked out. A vivid scene set in a nightclub shows Craig’s reaction while watching a blond girl absorbed in the music as the owner tells the police that the girls passing for white always give themselves away when they hear that funky beat…. FLAME IN THE STREETS in 1961 is another set in this era as John Mills’ daughter (Sylvia Syms again) wants to marry an ordinary black man (not a Sidney Poitier superhero, as in Kramer's 1967 film) thus testing his liberal attitudes, while his wife, splendid Brenda de Banzie, is violently opposed to the union. This is also by Ted Willis.
THE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE is a fascinating and intelligent working of the Wilde story and for a movie made in 1960 about as frank as it could be. Peter Finch was a magnificent Wilde capturing the facets of the writer knowingly facing his destiny, and winning a BAFTA award. Yvonne Mitchell was the perfect Constance, and John Fraser as petulant a Bosie as Jude Law in the 90s Stephen Fry film. There was another version of the Wilde story made at the same time in 1960 by Gregory Ratoff with Robert Morley (playing Wilde as Robert Morley), but the Finch version directed by Ken Hughes won hands down, with handsome period detail and in scope and colour. James Mason and Nigel Patrick shone as opposing barristers and Lionel Jeffries was a malevolent if not insane Marquis of Queensbury. The film still holds up perfectly today. The Stephen Fry version may have been franker in 1997 but this one is just as good if not better and more nuanced.
Marketing Oscar in 1960: Click image to enlarge
CONSPIRACY OF HEARTS in 1960 from the Rank Organisation remains a superior tearjerker, where Lilli Palmer is the very elegant Mother Superior of a convent in Italy where the nuns save Jewish children from the Germans. Add in young Sylvia Syms, Yvonne Mitchell as the crotchety nun, David Kossoff as a rabbi and Albert Lieven and Peter Arne as dastardly Germans, plus Roland Lewis as a partisan. Experty put together by Ralph Thomas. Lilli is perfect as head nun squaring up to those Nazis.
NORTH WEST FRONTIER is a terrific adventure movie in scope and colour by J Lee Thompson in 1959 and it remains a television staple to this day as its screened at least once a year here in the UK. Thompson also made TIGER BAY that year as well as other ‘50s sterling titles like NO TREES IN THE STREET, YIELD TO THE NIGHT, THE WEAK AND WICKED, ICE COLD IN ALEX before going on to the likes of THE GUNS OF NAVARONE and CAPE FEAR. Here we are in India during the Victorian Raj era, Kenneth More has to guide a train through bandit country while protecting the young Prince whom a lot of people, including someone on the train, want to see dead. Lauren Bacall is the governess, Herbert Lom a shady character and Wilfrid Hyde White one of these decent English chaps. Its great fun to watch anytime.
UPSTAIRS AND DOWNSTAIRS – a very typical Rank Organisation comedy from 1960, with fascinating décor to see now, at the dawn of the new ’60s era. Michael Craig and Anne Heywood are the young marrieds who simply must have a domestic help to do their chores and look after their house. Their trials and tribulations make up the plot as they cope with bank robbers, a drunk Joan Hickson, Welsh girl Blodwyn (a hilarious young Joan Sims) who has never left Wales – Craig has a hilarious scene on a train with her – and Claudia Cardinale as a continental sexpot with men calling to the house at all times [5 years later Craig would be supporting Cardinale in Visconti’s SANDRA, of which more later]. French Mylene Demongeot plays the Swedish girl and its all jolly good fun and so typical of the era, also by Ralph Thomas.