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.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Two French Flicks: Back to Paris 1959 and Moreau as Mata-Hari

What a year! 1959 was one of those key years not only for American and British but also European cinema. The French and Italian new waves were in full flow ... In Paris Truffaut was shooting THE 400 BLOWS and Godard was preparing BREATHLESS while Chabrol after LE BEAU SERGE in '58 was filming LES COUSINS. Malle had also done LIFT TO THE SCAFFOLD in '58 - but another lesser known film was also shooting on the nighttime streets of Paris: Jean-Pierre Mocky's LES DRAGUEURS (THE YOUNG HAVE NO MORALS) which is a pleasure to catch 50 years later, it comes across as fresh and spontaneous as it is not as well known as the others of its era.

We are back in the Paris nightlife of the late '50s as two young men - Jacques Charrier (whose main claim to fame would be as Brigitte Bardot's second husband) and Charles Aznavour - drive around trying to pick up girls, so we have lots of episodes of them meeting various girls and it all seems very free-wheeling ... the girls include Dany Robin, a starlet of the era; Anouk Aimee in just one scene and later at a decadent party there is English starlet Belinda Lee who gets a lot of screen time and is as usual fascinating. (She died in a car accident in 1961 when she was a star of the Italian sword and sandal peplum movies). So, in all, a fascinating movie ...

Also, just re-seen is MATA HARI - not Greta Garbo's 1931 classic but a 1963 French version, scripted by Francois Truffaut, directed by Jean-Louis Richard and starring his ex-wife Jeanne Moreau. This and LES DRAGUEURS were earlier posts of mine at the start of this blog over a year ago, but I only saw them in French versions - now, with sub-titles they are just as fascinatng. Moreau is in her element here, whether giving messages in code while doing her exotic dance, or luring men to reveal military secrets as she tries to evade her nemesis until it is too late. This was Moreau's great era of the early '60s when she was THE actress everyone wanted for their films.

The full title is MATA HARI SECRET AGENT H21. Truffaut injects a lot of romance into the spying tale and the period detail of World War I is interesting, a few Hitchcockian touches as well - like when Mata is stealing documents - is she going to get caught? The ending too while brutal is perfectly romantic as Mata and her love Jean-Louis Trintigant are together at last.... the film though is very little known, I don't think it even played in London back then.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Dolls and Fates

Following on from Gina in KING QUEEN KNAVE and Jean Sorel in CHAIR DE POULE here they are in the 1965 Italian sex comedy LE BAMBOLE (THE DOLLS), below: Sorel with Raquel Welch in the '66 LE FATE (THE QUEENS or SEX QUARTET) and Monica Vitti from the same film...

I have written about these Italian compendiums, popular in the '60s - Antonioni contributed to one too, with Princess Soraya, but it hardly saw the light of day - as per Vitti, Sorel labels. LE BAMBOLE (aka FOUR KINDS OF LOVE) is probably the best featuring 4 tales of which the best is the torrid Gina Lollobrigida as the hotel owner's wife trying to seduce the secretary (Sorel) of visiting cardinal Akim Tamiroff - it is played for laughs and was rather a sensation in Italy at the time. Monica Vitti is also hilarious playing aganst type as the working class woman trying to get her slob of a husband killed off. Elke Sommer and Virna Lisi are in the other two, less amusing segments.

LE FATE (SEX QUARTET) the following year and in colour feature Vitti and Sorel again - he in a rather silly tale with the young Raquel Welch, while Vitti dazzles in that dress as the hitch-hiker driving men wild, as she moves from one to the other. Seeing the arthouse muse (the same year as her MODESTY BLAISE for Losey) being so deadpan silly and looking terrific, remains a treat, as ever. Two other favourites, Claudia Cardinale and Capucine (with the dreaded Alberto Sordi) star in the other two tales. Fun seeing them again.

The Italians must have liked these compendiums: back in '54 we had GOLD OF NAPLES, another 4 stories featuring the young Loren, Silvana Mangano, De Sica and Toto; and then BOCCACCIO 70 in '62 which was 3 segments - Fellini's with Anita Ekberg, Loren with De Sica and Romy Schneider in the Visconti tale - there was a 4th by Monicelli but it had no big stars and was taken out, but is now available on the dvd and its an amusing tale with that perfectly 1962 look - Marisa Solinas and Germano Giglioli (below).

Monday, 25 April 2011

Jerzy Skolimowski's fascinating movies

Above: Gina Lollobrigida and (presumably) John Moulder-Brown in KING QUEEN KNAVE (from a novel by Nabokov), 1972.
Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski, now in his '70s and still-making movies also writes, paints, presides over Film Festivals and is certainly highly-regarded and attracts quality casts - but somehow his films are practically impossible to see! There was, finally, a recent dvd issue of his 1970 oddity DEEP END, but KING QUEEN KNAVE in '72 seems impossible to see now and I think it barely surfaced in London, despite its stars David Niven, Gina Lollobrigida (looking sensational) and John Moulder-Brown again, who was the lead in DEEP END, set in that East London swimming pool where tease Jane Asher works, he is the new attendant who becomes fascinated by her, and Diana Dors in her blowsy era is also on hand looking for satisfaction!

Jerzy began in the Polish cinema of the early '60s, scripting Polanski's highly-regarded debut KNIFE IN THE WATER - one of his early films as director is the 1967 THE DEPARTURE with Jean-Pierre Leaud which was popular at the time. THE ADVENTURES OF GERARD though in 1970 was tossed away as a dubbed supporting-feature, which I did see at the time, with Peter McEnery as the hussar of Conan Doyle's stories, with Claudia Cardinale, Eli Wallach and Jack Hawkins. THE SHOUT in 1976 was regarded as an oddity and little-seen too, despite the presence of Alan Bates, Susannah York and John Hurt - as I said, top quality casts! MOONLIGHTING with Jeremy Irons about Polish workers stranded in then early-80s London was premiered on the BBC here, and the 1984 SUCCESS IS THE BEST REVENGE with Michael York and Anouk Aimee (reunited from JUSTINE!) was only ever shown once here on the BBC2 channel!

Skolimowski now though has a new film, which has been getting some attention, so hopefully we may get to see it in London before too long - ESSENTIAL KILLING, about a Taliban member who lives in Afghanistan is taken captive by the Americans after killing three American soldiers. He is transferred to Europe for interrogation but manages to escape from his captors and becomes an escaped convict on a continent he does not know. Topical stuff! with Vincent Gallo and Emanuelle Seigner.
John Moulder-Brown is one of those fascinating actors one knows nothing about - even his IMDB page is blank - but he keeps working, now in his 50s. When he was young and pretty, apart from the two Skolimowski titles above, Visconti cast him as Prince Otto in the monumental LUDWIG, 1972, and Maximilian Schell cast him as the lead in his 1970 version of Turgenev's FIRST LOVE which was a nice period piece I caught at a film festival screening, with Dominique Sanda and writer John Osbourne!

DEEP END is now being re-released in selected cinemas (here in the UK) from May 6 and a new dual-format dvd is out in July from the BFI. Interesting comments on it in this weekend's papers by Jane Asher and John Moulder-Brown (now 57). It will be good to see a good print of it again - Now for those other titles like KING QUEEN KNAVE and GERARD!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Black Narcissus, again

Perfect for an Easter afternoon: a repeat of that excellent documentary on ace cameraman Jack Cardiff - it includes lots of his portraits too of the likes of Monroe, Loren, both Hepburns, Ava Gardner, Anita Ekberg etc not seen elsewhere, plus home movies on the set of films like LEGEND OF THE LOST, WAR AND PEACE, PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN etc. following by repeats of BLACK NARCISSUS and THE AFRICAN QUEEN (though I think that one should be given a rest for a while, one may have seen it too often...).

BLACK NARCISSUS though from Rumer Godden's novel in 1947 is one one never tires of, and is a film one can live with and see quite often - every frame and scene are just spellbinding, as the heated melodrama of the nuns living in the abandoned harem high in the Himalayas - and it was all done at Pinewood after the war! then that cast: 26 year old Deborah Kerr as Sister Clodagh (a decade later in '57 she would be a much simpler nun in Huston's HEAVEN KNOWS MR ALLISON - at least she got to go to Tobago for that!); Kathleen Byron, an unjustly neglected actress, as Sister Ruth; teenage Jean Simmons, Sabu, Flora Robson, David Farrar as the agent Mr Dean ... somehow I always love that final scene at the end between him and Sr Clodagh and then the rain falls on those giant leaves, as the convent is obscured by clouds. The scenes too of Sr Ruth now demented as sunset falls on the chapel and Sr Clodagh goes to ring the bell are endlessly fascinating. Sr Clodagh (like Audrey Hepburn's Sister Luke in THE NUN'S STORY) may also be over-reaching her authority as she has to maintain order and discipline in this hostile environment, with the winds blowing, as feelings of jealousy, anger and madness surface ... and the presence of Mr Dean in his short shorts does not help...

Then there are those 4 luscious flashbacks to Sr Clodagh's life in Ireland, in Cardiff's perfectly '40s Technicolor: fishing on the lake, hunting, the gift of the emeralds and the carol singing where Kerr looks radiant. It may well soon be my favourite movie of all time!

Cyd's green gloves, and shoes, and handbag ..

Bliss it is to watch THE BANDWAGON again, on the big screen. It is my favourite musical after all, as per label. Now though one could focus more on the decor and the costumes. Cyd Charisse has a terrific wardrobe here (like Grace Kelly in TO CATCH A THIEF). I was particularly taken with Cyd's dark green dress with those green gloves, green shoes and handbag - perfect for her first meeting with Astaire and in that red room. She actually has a lot of marvellous handbags here. Then of course there is the simple white outfor for "Dancing in the Dark", the sensational red dress for the "Girl Hunt", and just seen briefly that very Minnelli yellow dress with the splash of red. Divine!

Fabulous interiors

Or who lives in a house like this?

Bunny Watson's [Katharine Hepburn] New York apartment in DESK SET - it looks so comfy, particularly when the fire is lit!

Then we have that very roomy lush apartment belonging to Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall in 1958's THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE, with that corridor, and those very Minnelli touches: the yellow and red armchairs and lamps, and that perfect shade of green chair and matching lamp ...

Then more Minnelli: the red room and that yellow and white study in THE BANDWAGON, part of theatre ham Jeffrey Cordova's [Jack Buchanan] townhouse. I want to live there too ...

as I do of course in Julian Kay's [Richard Gere] perfect living space in AMERICAN GIGOLO.