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, 31 May 2011

Romy, Ronet, Delon ... again

QUI? (aka THE CORPSE WITH STEEL CLAWS), 1970. A better than usual Eurotrash thriller, with top-notch casting: we begin with a couple quarrelling, a red sports car, a mad drive along the cliffs, the car goes over the edge – she jumps out just in time but has he been killed? Romy Schneider is our heroine and looks quite lovely here. Enter Maurice Ronet as the dead man’s brother, who takes her back to Paris. She stays with him and of course – join the dots – they get involved, while he tries to prove she killed the unpleasant brother. She meanwhile feels she is being watched … Only someone who had never seen a Hitchcock, Chabrol, Clouzot or Franju film would be surprised by what happens next. Leonard Keigel unfortunately is directing here and is not in their league. There is a good chase though through a department store, and the ending is a steal from PLEIN SOLEIL as police wait to arrest an unsuspecting arrival at the harbour. Ronet and Schneider seem like old friends as I have seen them in several movies lately, so I liked it a lot, and again, it clocks in at 73 minutes!

ONCE A THIEF, 1965. Director Ralph Nelson had a successful run back in the 60s (LILIES OF THE FIELD, FATE IS THE HUNTER), I had not seen this crime caper since it was on release. It’s one of the few Alain Delon made in America then. Here he is a small-time criminal trying to go straight, with wife Ann-Margret and their little daughter. He puts down a deposit on a boat (it is San Francisco) as he is framed for a robbery and murder, where his trademark roadster car and sheepskin coat are mentioned, convincing detective Van Heflin that Delon is the killer. Then Jack Palance as Delon’s older criminal brother enters, with his cronies, and he wants Delon to help with a robbery. Things begin to spiral out of control as Veflin realises Delon has been framed … Palance and Delon are an unlikely pair of brothers, a lot of it is shot at night, Delon isn't a sympathetic lead here, Ann-Margret screams a lot and gets slapped around and there is a typical score by Lalo Schifrin. Very mid-60s then.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Gil Scott-Heron R.I.P

Tributes are being published to jazzman/rapper Gil-Scott Heron (1949-2011). Another veteran of the music scene departs far too young. I did not discover him until over a decade ago, during my clubbing years, when his track (in its many versions) "The Bottle" was among my most played. That lyric and the music just got to me.... I had been meaning to play some of his cds, but again time overtakes events. His material spanned soul, jazz, blues and the spoken word - he was a real poet. His 1970s work heavily influenced the US hip-hop and rap scenes.

Gil seemed to shun the trappings of fame and success and - like say Nina Simone - could be difficult, while his work had a strong political element, one of his most famous pieces was "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised".. R.I.P. indeed.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

A '30s rarity . . . . I can see why

MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW. Some ‘30s films are timeless classics that never date (Leo McCarey’s 1937 THE AWFUL TRUTH) while others, like this other McCarey film of the same year make the 1930s seem a very dated, remote place indeed, which seems just too far away from us now. I am afraid this tale of an old couple [Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore] who lose their home to the bank during the depression and have to separate for a time to stay with their children (who cannot take both of them) just did not involve or move me as much as I imagined it would. In a way one can almost understand the children’s point of view. Beulah Bondi's old fashioned ways are annoying to son Thomas Mitchell’s family – she disrupts the bridge class and she herself feels out of place and confused, having lived with her husband for 50 years. So how come they lose their home – has he been careless with money? And if Thomas Mitchell and Fay Bainter need extra income from the bridge classes how come they can afford to have a black maid? – well I suppose every family had one back then …

Modern audiences can hardly identify with Bondi when she says to the grand-daughter that people of 70 have no interest in parties or dancing any more. Bondi herself was 45 at the time but presumably back then playing 70 meant making her look ancient. There is a nice conclusion though as the reunited couple get 5 hours together (at the hotel where they spent their honeymoon 50 years earlier) before they have to part forever – she knows it but he doesn’t. Then she sees him off on the train to California (as though its only a few stops down the line) while she shuffles off into a retirement home – finally there is real pathos here. Mitchell as the only child to feel any guilt and Bainter (nicely unsympathetic) are of course excellent. It is only the car salesman and the hotel manager who treat them with respect and are kind to them....

But it for me is not as moving as Ozu or De Sica – I weep at TOKYO STORY or UMBERTO D or AU HASARD BALTHASAR or THE WORLD OF APU, as to me they are on the realistic level, and we cry at IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE '46, perhaps the best of all sentimental films [where, incidentally, Beulah Bondi plays the mother of hero George Bailey (Stewart)], but I find something glutinously sentimental about this McCarey film - that sequence where she disrupts the bridge class is just toe-curlingly gruesome comedy of embarassment; so as a depression-era tragedy it just does not work for me – and the obvious back-projections didn’t help. There is just something mawkish and grimly funny seeing Bondi shuffling around playing "old" and being irritating without realising it - its a very old- fashioned view of old people and looks so fake. She does score though in the scene where she pre-empts the son with her decision to go to the retirement home, but insists her husband must not know. So, a neglected masterpiece or a savage black comedy about an insufferably nice old couple who understandably bring out the worst in their callous children ?

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Strike a pose ...

Taken at a previous Cannes film festival - between 1958-1962, this photo perfectly captures that late 50s-early 60s look. This is the look we guys aspired to then, the clean cut, striped shirt look - preppy I suppose. Love the airline bag! I had one too though did not fly until later ...

This is one of the great photographs [of an Italian model Giancarlo] by John S. Barrington, a pioneer of nude male photography since the '40s through to the '90s (before the age of gay liberation and the new permissiveness and the internet...) and is the subject of a fascinating book "PHYSIQUE The Life of John S Barrington" by Rupert Smith, published by Serpent's Tail. Perfect social history - great pictures too including the young Alain Delon, also captured by Barrington at Cannes in 1958; and life during wartime was a lot of fun too in the London blitz for those who seized the moment!

Festival in Cannes

FESTIVAL IN CANNES. This Henry Jaglom film from 2001 seemed rather appropriate at the moment, so I pulled it out of the “to see sometime” pile. It is like Altman-lite as we dip in and out of various people at Cannes - the story is silly, there seems to be no script as they seem to improvise a lot, are the characters real or fake? Anouk Aimee is Millie Marquand a mature French actress looking for a good role. Greta Scacchi is another actress who has written a script which she wants to direct with a good role for Millie, while Ron Silver is the hot-shot producer (who is financially overstretched) who also needs Millie to cement the deal for a big movie he is putting together where Tom Hanks will only commit if Millie plays the small role of his mother. So which will Millie choose? Advising her is her ex-husband Maximilian Schell, who wants to direct the film. Then there is Kaz (Zack Norman) who comes across as a major creep but says he is a producer with a $3 million to spend – but is he really? Both the men hit on various women (that is what producers do, right?) as everyone tries to hustle a deal. Anouk and Max Schell seem bemused by it all and play along gamely – nice to see her on screen again, as alluring as ever. Scacchi also seems to be improvising a lot and seems very amused by it all (though the very idea of Anouk Aimee as Tom Hanks's mother...!).

Shot at the 1999 Festival others who pop up include Peter Bogdanovich, and Faye Dunaway with her son Liam, all it seems keen to be on camera. An amusing trifle then, with a very nice poster and some Charles Trenet and Piaf on the soundtrack. Altman fans should like it – the end credits include an apology to Tom Hanks! [Scacchi is currently playing Bette Davis on stage in London in "Bette and Joan", to good reviews – I am seeing it before it closes in June].

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Where The Spies Are, 1965

WHERE THE SPIES ARE. I really liked this comedy spy thriller back in 1965, nice to see it again. David Niven is Dr Jason Love, an English country doctor whose passion for vintage cars gets him dragooned into helping the security services (as represented by a dry John Le Mesurier) into doing some spy work for them abroad – in Beirut, Lebanon to be exact, a 60s playground then. He is meant to be helping out local agent Nigel Davenport, but when Nigel ends up dead Dr Love realises he is out of his depth as goons with guns chase him all over the place.

Francoise Dorleac is the very 60s model on a fashion shoot at the airport who turns out to be his local contact, but is she a double agent? A plane exploding after take-off is nicely suggested as the bodies and thrills pile up. Director Val Guest keeps it briskly moving and of course it turns out the Russians are behind it all. The climax is good as a Russian plane had to be made to make an emergency landing. Dorleac is lovely as ever and Niven is ideal here before he got too old for this kind of thing. It was meant to be the first of a series, from novels by James Leasor, but there were no more…. Jazzman Jimmy Smith did a recording of the theme tune, which teenage me bought at the time. I’ve still got it!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Life during wartime ...

LEON MORIN, PRETRE My current obsession is Jean-Paul Belmondo (now 80 and being feted at Cannes this year) as I had realised I had seen so little of his work, though I loved THAT MAN FROM RIO when I saw it aged 18, and finally got to re-see it this year and its just as marvellous as I remembered. My current favourite cult movie! (as per Belmondo label). LEON MORIN PRIEST from 1961 is a more obscure item, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville but more like an austere Bresson film rather than a tale of wartime resistance or gangsters (as in his LE FLIC, LE CIRCLE ROUGE or ARMY OF SHADOWS). This is set in wartime France about a lonely widow and the priest she obsesses about, but it is mainly a static chamber piece where they mainly sit around talking about religion most of the time, so it defies easy categorisation - there is no suspense regarding the resistance [which hardly matters to the story] and the performances are low-key. Emmanuelle Riva is brilliant of course but its an odd role for Belmondo - we never get to really know what his priest feels (is she just a convert to Catholicism for him, or does he have deeper feelings for her?); the ending is oddly inconclusive. Life during wartime is obviously no joke, but it seems very glum here. Probably a difficult film to get into today when religion does not feature in people's lives in the same way.

Romcoms (2)

LETTERS TO JULIET - Leftover from last Christmas, this 2010 romcom finally gets taken out of its case. I am not one for chick-flicks per se, though I liked THE PROPOSAL (which I saw initially on a flight) and IT'S COMPLICATED wasn't too unbearable. This one though had the attraction of Vanessa Redgrave reunited on-screen with [her husband] Franco Nero and all that Italian countryside. As such, it delivers. The plot is probably a bit too saccharine, as we follow Sophie (Amanda Seyfried, MAMMA MIA) from the "New Yorker" to Verona where she discovers Juliet's balcony and the letters left which are replied to, and guess what - she finds a letter from 1957 when a brick falls out of the wall, so of course she replies to it. Gael Garcia Bernal is rather wasted as her workaholic boyfriend - then Christopher Egan turns up with his grand-mother Claire (Redgrave) in tow and they decide to track down the lover fate had separated her from 50 years ago. There are though 74 Lorenzo Bartolini's in the area .... it is a pleasant moment though when Nero rides up on his white horse - and it continues exactly as one would expect and wish. Directed by Gary Winick. Nice to see a good late role for Redgrave [like Julie Christie with AWAY FROM HER,] looking well and natural in her early 70s. (The 1969 Redgrave-Nero arthouse eurotrash A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY is reviewed at Redgrave label).

IT’S COMPLICATED – I was not enamoured with Nancy Meyers’ SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE and I just did not want to see THE HOLIDAY, so presumably here is more of the same in IT’S COMPLICATED, which has Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin who have been divorced meeting again at their son’s college graduation and rekindling their relationship as he determines to win her back. He though has remarried with young children but it is not working out, and she also starts to get involved with architect Steve Martin, so yes, it’s complicated. If one likes seeing rich people (she is the wealthy owner of a bakery chain) fool around, and smoke pot, then I suppose this is the kind of thing you would like. Meryl seems to be enjoying herself and laughs a lot, at least Martin is low-key here, and Baldwin is the best thing as he has turned into a droll comedian with no vanity at all. I suppose it is a superior romcom with one laugh out loud scene with the webcams (above).

Saturday, 21 May 2011

People We Like: the great dependables (2)

Last time round, my great dependables were those sterling British actors Jack Hawkins, Trevor Howard, Nigel Patrick and Harry Andrews. Here's another batch of people we like, the distaff side this time...

GLYNIS JOHNS. Born in 1923 Glynis Johns is still with us, in her 80s. What a fascinating career she has had, from those 40s ingĂ©nues (AN IDEAL HUSBAND) and that mermaid MIRANDA (reprised in ‘54’s MAD ABOUT MEN). Glynis’s husky voice and comedy sense made her ideal for films (where she began in the 1930s). In a very prolific career highlights include PERFECT STRANGERS, DEAR MR PROHACK in ’49 opposite the young Dirk Bogarde, THE CARD with Alec Guinness, THE COURT JESTER in ‘55, and opposite James Stewart in NO HIGHWAY (1951) as the air hostess, Disney fare like ROB ROY, THE WEAK AND THE WICKED, ANOTHER TIME ANOTHER PLACE, SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, with Kerr again in THE SUNDOWNERS, the mother in MARY POPPINS, THE CHAPMAN REPORT (where she is great fun gurgling over Ty Hardin in those spray-on shorts, below, as per my review), and a lot of television including her own tv series GLYNIS. Married and divorced 4 times her first husband Anthony Forwood became the lifetime partner of Dirk Bogarde.
I met Glynis in 1966 when she was doing a play THE KING’S MARE in London, I recall a very short lady with enormous eye-lashes! Of course her greatest stage success must be A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC where Stephen Sondheim wrote “Send In The Clowns” to suit her voice. She was Lady Penelope Peasoup in the BATMAN series in ’67 and other work included LOCK UP YOUR DAUGHTERS (Mrs Squeezum), Myfanwy Price in the all-star UNDER MILK WOOD (1972) and an Amicus horror compendium VAULT OF HORROR in ’73 – Glynis was fun in it though and didn’t disgrace herself. What a trouper.

MARGARET LEIGHTON (1922-1976). Margaret was a leading actress in classical theatre who also took successfully to the movies. Her brittle manner and glamour was evident from the 1940s and in films like THE ASTONISHED HEART with Noel Coward and THE HOLLY AND THE IVY (both reviewed below). She also scored in Hitchcock’s 1949 UNDER CAPRICORN as Millie, the devious housekeeper who is secretly tormenting Ingrid Bergman as she is in love with Joseph Cotton. Other cinema roles include CARRINGTON V.C., THE GOOD DIE YOUNG opposite her husband Laurence Harvey, THE CONSTANT HUSBAND, THE BEST MAN, she is brilliant as the Blanche Du Bois type Caddie in the 1959 THE SOUND AND THE FURY (below, also reviewed here) and in the all-star THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT, '69. Among her television roles was AN IDEAL HUSBAND in 1969 and she won two Tony awards for theatre roles in SEPARATE TABLES and as the original Hannah Jelkes in NIGHT OF THE IGUANA in 1962. She had a late career resurgence with her fearsome mothers in Losey’s THE GO-BETWEEN (where she is no longer able to tolerate the deception going on between Bates and Christie) and she gets the last word as Lady Melbourne in Robert Bolt’s LADY CAROLINE LAMB. She was one of those SEVEN WOMEN for John Ford, his last film in 1966, where her missionary head clashes with Anne Bancroft, and she is fun as the aged hippie with Elizabeth Taylor in ZEE & C0, 1972.
She was also married to publisher Max Reinhardt, and after Harvey she had a happy marriage to Michael Wilding (below). She died aged 53 in 1976. Fascinating now catching up with her other roles, Miss Leighton was certainly a class act.

ANN TODD (1909-1993). A fairly new discovery for me, I now find Ann Todd fascinating. She had a fairly remote Garbo quality which with her patrician manner made her ideal for those upper class roles she portrayed for her third husband David Lean in the 40s and early 50s. In movies since the 1930s, I first noticed her in the 1945 PERFECT STRANGERS (or VACATION FROM MARRIAGE) for Korda, as the nice woman Robert Donat could have had a romance with, before he re-unites with wife Deborah Kerr. Hitchcock then took her to Hollywood (along with Alida Valli) for his rare misfire THE PARADINE CASE in 1947 as Gregory Peck’s wife. This is a fascinating oddity to see now. She is perfect in THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS for Lean in 1948, as per my review (Ann Todd label), as the wife of Claude Rains who meets her old lover Trevor Howard again at an Alpine holiday, so the stage is set for dramatics when her jealous husband turns up. MADELEINE was another created for her by Lean and she is also ideal in THE SOUND BARRIER (again, reviewed here) in ’52 as Ralph Richardson’s daughter who marries test pilot Nigel Patrick, as they try to break the sound barrier. Other roles include Losey’s TIME WITHOUT PITY in ’57 and a Hammer thriller A TASTE OF FEAR in 1961 – she even played in THE SON OF CAPTAIN BLOOD with Erroll Flynn’s son, Sean (which would be interesting to see now). She later took to directing and made some successful documentaries about travels in then exotic locations like Nepal.

PAMELA BROWN (1917-1975). One of the most fascinating British actresses, Pamela had memorable looks and that distinctive voice which made her ideal for some eccentric roles. She began in theatre and then in films with Michael Powell and Emeric Pessburger. She and Powell lived together until her death aged 58 in 1975. I have already written about her Catriona in I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING in 1945, one of my absolute favourite women in cinema. Other roles include RICHARD III, LUST FOR LIFE, BECKET, the seer in CLEOPATRA (above), in Losey’s SECRET CEREMONY and FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE, a silent cameo as Mrs Fitzherbert in the Brighton flashbacks in ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER, LADY CAROLINE LAMB, THE NIGHT DIGGER with Patricia Neal, and another Rumer Godden drama about nuns IN THIS HOUSE OF BREDE. It is a very prolific career with lots of television also. Never a conventional beauty, Pamela added a dramatic presence to whatever she appeared in, and is always a pleasure to see.

Soon: British actresses of the 40s and 50s: Muriel Pavlow, Dinah Sheridan, Shirley Eaton, Yvonne Mitchell, Diana Dors, Sylvia Syms, Virginia McKenna, Rosamund John, Wendy Hiller, Celia Johnson, Margaret Lockwood, and Dame Flora Robson. I have already written extensively here on Kay Kendall, Joan Greenwood, Claire Bloom, Belinda Lee …

Thursday, 19 May 2011

An alternate Oscar dozen ...

Danny Peary’s book ALTERNATE OSCARS has been well thumbed over the years, with its alternative suggestions for best film, actor and actress choices since the Academy Awards began. We all have our own list of Oscar injustices, though the Awards don't seem that relevant any more, one would be hard pressed to list last year's winners, it was a different story though back in the '50s and '60s...

Also, there has only been one tie, in my lifetime, in 1968 with Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand, which seemed entirely appropriate at the time. I have a few more!
Here are my own top 12 alternative choices:

1950Bette Davis & Gloria Swanson. Davis and particularly Swanson must have been regarded as old timers back in 1950, thus allowing the new girl [Judy Holliday] to win (as new girls Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly did in '53 and '54, and a decade later those two new Julies), but for me 1950 has to be the year of Bette and Gloria. SUNSET BOULEVARD and ALL ABOUT EVE remain imperishable.

1954Judy Garland. I like Grace but it seems she won for looking dowdy in a cardigan and glasses. THE COUNTRY GIRL isn't that revered today, A STAR IS BORN certainly is - Enough said! In retrospect though we can see that there was no way Garland who was perceived as "difficult" and washed-up could have won then. [This is the year I came in, seeing movies aged 8 and STAR was one of those first unforgettable choices...]

1960Deborah Kerr & Jean Simmons. The two British girls who went to Hollywood and were very big stars indeed. The '50s was their heyday (Kerr did 3 films in 1959 and usually averaged two a year). It would have been the culmination of their great years if the friends and three-time co-stars had tied in 1960, for THE SUNDOWNERS (Kerr) and ELMER GANTRY where Simmons was not even nominated (her co-stars Lancaster and Shirley Jones got their awards here). Taylor would still have her 1966 win which she richly deserved.
[Alternatively, Kerr could have won in 1957 for her lovely portrayal of Sister Angela in Huston's HEAVEN KNOWS MR ALLISON, and Simmons to win in 1960 for ELMER GANTRY - '57's winner Joanne Woodward, nominated in 1973 could win then - Glenda Jackson didn't need a second oscar (in '73) for a comedy which I had no interest in seeing!]

1960Peter Finch & Burt Lancaster. We have to acknowledge Peter Finch's towering performance as Oscar Wilde in the 1960 THE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE where he is richly witty and affecting - it's a great performance.

1962Lee Remick. All 5 female nominees in 1962 (as in '61) were richly deserving, but for me it has to be Lee Remick for her totally brilliant performance as the wife taking to alcoholism in DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES. Seeing it again lately, it is as affecting as ever.

1963Dirk Bogarde & Maurice Ronet. Sidney Poitier won in 1963 - he should have won at some stage, but was this his best role? Dirk Bogarde in THE SERVANT and Maurice Ronet in LE FEU FOLLET both re-defined themselves with their mesmerising performances [though of course in the real world these British and French films could not be nominated, but can in my alternate universe].

1967Audrey Hepburn. The wrong Hepburn won in 1967! Kate seems to stroll through that Kramer film, whereas Audrey re-defines herself in Donen's TWO FOR THE ROAD, and was also in WAIT UNTIL DARK. Of course it was the first time Katharine had been back on screen in years and with Tracy - who knew she would come storming back the next year with the very deserving win for THE LION IN WINTER? Faye Dunaway's BONNIE is also a major contender ...

1971Dirk Bogarde & Peter Finch. Instead of Gene Hackman this year, I would honour career best performances by Bogarde in DEATH IN VENICE and Finch in SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY, both of which are acting on the grand scale and totally affecting. (Gene could have his for THE CONVERSATION).

1974Faye Dunaway & Ellen Burstyn. Instead of winning for NETWORK, I would give Faye her win for her endlessly fascinating Evelyn Mulwray in CHINATOWN, which is as much her film as it is Nicholson's. Ellen has to share it with her...

1976Robert De Niro. As I have already honoured Peter Finch twice, I would make the sole winner in 1976 Robert De Niro for his unforgettable Travis Bickle in TAXI DRIVER.

1980Romy Schneider. For me THE female performance this year is Romy Schneider as the woman who is told she is dying in DEATH WATCH (LE MORT EN DIRECT) and her dying days are observed for a television show by Harvey Keitel (with a camera in his brain) as they flee to remote Scotland in this odd sci-fi tale [with Max Von Sydow and Harry Dean Stanton to complete its odd mix of indie and arthouse]. Romy is totally affecting, and would die two years later ...

2006Julie Christie. It would have been perfect if Julie had won for AWAY FROM HER, 40+ years after her first win for DARLING in 1965. Only Hepburn could have matched that distance between major wins, but it was not to be ...

These have been discussed further here, as per labels on those named...

Stop Press: how could I have forgot one of the worse omissions ever: Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann in a tie as best actress in 1978 for their astounding mother and daughter double act - if only for that scene at the piano, a masterclass in screen acting - in Ingmar Berman's AUTUMN SONATA !

3 very British treats

THE ASTONISHED HEART, 1950, written by Noel Coward who also scored the music and he stars too as the psychiatrist contentedly married to Barbara (Celia Johnson). Barbara meets her old school friend Leonora (Margaret Leighton) by chance and they become friends again. There is an initial coolness between the husband and Leonora but soon passions are raging beneath those stiff upper lip exteriors as they embark on an affair. The wife though does not seem to mind too much and even encourages the lovers to go away together. Is she waiting for it to run out of steam and he will return to her? I knew nothing about this 1950 rarity so the ending is a surprise. It is all redolent of that older age of film-making, easy to spoof now, with the upper-class accents, the high life in Mayfair (complete with butler and cook) as Coward and Leighton do the rounds of nightclubs and restaurants, ordering their stingers and trying the samba. The two ladies are of course splendid as ever (with Leighton, as gowned by Molyneux, the height of late 40s chic), but it is odd seeing Coward with his clipped vocal delivery and mandarin appearance as the clever man torn between two women [he was perfect though with Johnson in IN WHICH WE SERVE] … it seems Michael Redgrave was set to star initially. Coward’s pals Graham Payn and Joyce Carey are in support, and co-director is Terence Fisher who helmed those Hammer classics. A very intriguing oddity then - essential though not to know how it is going to end....

Much more conventional is THE HOLLY AND THE IVY from 1952. Adapted from a play and directed by George More O’Ferrell it is a “heartwarming tale of an English minister and his family reunited at Christmas time” so why isn’t it a Christmas perennial? Ralph Richardson is the rather bumbling minister but he hardly seems old enough to be the father of daughters Celia Johnson and Margaret Leighton (again) or son Denholm Elliott. Celia is the dutiful daughter who stays at home to look after him but she longs to leave and marry reliable John Gregson who has an offer of work abroad. Also returning home is Leighton as the wayward daughter in London whose life has gone wrong – she has taken to drink after the loss of her wartime lover and the death of her child. As son Denholm rails to the minister, he cannot be told the truth about them, but he turns out to be very human and understands perfectly as solutions are found to suit everyone. Add in two maiden aunts (one very bitter about losing her own chances of marriage by having to look after aged parents) and suave Hugh Williams and the stage is set for a nice drama played out with the snow falling on that perfectly quaint English village. I loved it.

Back to 1945 (the year I was born!) for THE SEVENTH VEIL, an enormous hit at the time and one can see why. It's a delirious melodrama, classily done, which pushes all the right buttons: lots of music, heightened emotions and great roles for James Mason and Ann Todd. Todd starts as a convincing 14 year old in pigtails, in thrall to her ward Nicholas (Mason with that cane…). She becomes a famous pianist but is always under the Svengali-like spell of her lame cousin/guardian and mentor until she attempts suicide by jumping off a bridge. Enter the doctor (Herbert Lom) who tries to unlock her secrets and her phobia about playing again. Lom discovers the severely shy young woman's repressed need for love, and her guardian's overbearing need to live his life's dream through her and her talent as a pianist. By the end her three suitors (the band-leader she wanted to elope with, before Nicholas whisked her off to Paris, and the painter who fell for her as he painted her, as well as the brooding Nicholas) are all waiting to see which she will choose – but it is not really a surprise. Lom, in a long and varied career, went on to play the psychiatrist in a successful tv series THE HUMAN JUNGLE.

Todd, with her odd Garbo quality, is fascinating as ever here, and no wonder Mason was soon on his way to Hollywood. Todd though remains virtually unknown of all the major British actresses of the ‘40s – was she too patrician or aloof for the moviegoers to take to their collective bosoms? Directed by Compton Bennett, with an Oscar-winning script by Muriel and Sydney Box.