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.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Saul Bass album cover

I had not seen this '50s ['56?] album cover before, by the great Saul Bass, for a Frank Sinatra album I had not heard of before. I am fairly familiar with Frank's classic '50s albums like "Songs for Swinging Lovers" which I love, and those classic Nelson Riddle albums like "Come Fly With Me", "In The Wee Small Hours", but this imagery is so perfectly '50s and a work of art in its own right - you could hang this on the wall and enjoy seeing it every day. Not a Sinatra album as such, there are no familiar or singable melodies here and of course no words or vocalists. They are semi-classical orchestral tone poems, classy easy listening perhaps.

Bass of course created those marvellous titles for films as diverse as ANATOMY OF A MURDER, VERTIGO, MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, EXODUS and so many others, as well as graphics for advertising, logos etc. and those later Scorsese fims like CAPE FEAR, AGE OF INNOCENCE etc. One of the truly innovative masters of advertising graphics, as celebrated in a book book on his art.

Friday, 28 October 2011

"The Throb of Manhattan"

ITS ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER, 1955, may well be my very favourite musical (after A STAR IS BORN and THE BANDWAGON of course) - it and those sophisticated musicals from 1957 [LES GIRLS, FUNNY FACE, SILK STOCKINGS, THE PYJAMA GAME, bits of PAL JOEY] are my perennial favourites, ever since I saw them as a child at Sunday afternoon matinees - BRIGADOON was another but it it not quite in that league, but I prefer them to the over-hyped SINGING IN THE RAIN or AN AMERICAN IN PARIS both of which show Kelly at his most grating (of course, as per Musicals label, I also love ON THE TOWN, MY SISTER EILEEN, KISS ME KATE, SWINGTIME, GYPSY, LES DEMOISELLES DE ROCHEFORT among others...)

Good to see that ITS ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER is being revived by the London National Film Theatre in their season on MGM musicals - it cries out to be seen on widescreen, using as it does, multiple images when our 3 wartime buddies reflect on their lives now. It seems to have been a troubled shoot, co-directors Kelly and Stanley Donen fell out, Kelly and Charisse don't have any number together, she has one marvellous dance number "Baby You Knock Me Out" at the gym (where, as Pauline Kael put it, "Cyd Charisse is benumbed until she unhinges those legs") wearing that terrific Helen Rose ensemble, and Gene has the very inventive roller-skate number and of course when the 3 guys dance with the dustbin lids, so it is all very innovative, just as original musicals were dying, it was mainly films of Broadway shows after this.

It is the perfect mid-century story of 3 wartime buddies meeting up 10 years later in 1955 and realising that they don't like each other much now, and indeed Kelly and Dailey don't much like themselves either. Gene is mixing with hoods and managing a dumb boxer, while Dan Dailey has risen to "Executive Vice-President" level in advertising and is sick of the advertising game as he lets rip in his terrific solo number "Advertising-wise". Cyd Charisse is the television researcher who stumbles across the 3 wartime buddies and realises their reunion is ideal for her television show "Midnight with Madeline" for "The Throb of Manhattan" spot where saccharine stories are featured. This is the early days of live television and the movie is a splendid satire on those artificial tv hostesses like Madeline and her diva tantrums. Dolores Gray is stupendous here, and has one of the best numbers ever "Thanks a lot but no thanks" which is a delirious treat with that ritzy gown and that killer line:"I've got a man who's Clifton Webb and Marlon Brando combined"!. Then hood Jay C Flippen and his goons invade the studio where the live broadcast is being made, as they are after Gene who has thrown the fight once he realised his boxer has been bribed to lose it. Cyd gets the hoods to confess on live air, Madeline has a hit show, the 3 buddies realise they are still friends after all. It's a perfect conclusion as Cyd joins Gene and the the guys back at the bar where they vowed to meet up 10 years previously.

Choreographer Michael Kidd is ideal as the family man, Dailey has one of his best roles (apart from his father in THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS), Cyd and Gene sparkle as they spar with each other, and Dolores steals the show. What's not to love? It is a dark, sometimes bitter take on ON THE TOWN a decade later as the 3 buddies meet again - by 1955 though Sinatra had gone on to solo projects and was "difficult" and Jules Munchin was not a name enough. Produced of course by Arthur Freed, with songs by Andre Previn, script by Comden and Green; perfect entertainment then, but see the widescreen version, not panned and scanned! The DVD includes a fascinating 'Making-Of' chronicling the fallout between Kelly and Donen, and several out-takes including a terrific inventive (that word again) deleted number between Kelly and Charisse "Love is Nothing But a Racket" which has been unseen for far too long, and Michael Kidd's solo spot with some kids, but Gene did not want that included, after his number with kids in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS! Essential stuff then.

I met Gene at a recording of an interview of his for the BBC in 1975 - Donen of course went on to direct several of my enduing favourites: those Audrey Hepburn films like TWO FOR THE ROAD and CHARADE, Kendall in ONCE MORE WITH FEELING, Peck and Sophia ideal in ARABESQUE, and the marvellous BEDAZZLED with Pete and Dud and Eleanor Bron in 1967. We won't mention STAIRCASE or LUCKY LADY!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

1960 !

A thread on The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) on 1960 unleashed a torrent of memories:

1960 - what a year to have been 14 and "deeper into movies". Looking at it retrospectively now I am firmly in the PSYCHO and L'AVVENTURA camp (though I did not see the latter until years later) as the two most important films of the year, ushering in the new modern world (both of course feature a woman who goes missing and the people searching for her....)

So the major ones that year for me are: The 10 Big Ones:

PLEIN SOLEIL [I was entranced by that cool European style, and Delon and Laforet]
WILD RIVER [ditto Lee Remick]

Lots of solid middlebrow entertainment:

TWO WOMEN [Sophia at her peak]
NORTH TO ALASKA [a favourite!]
POLLYANNA [how we loved that in Ireland!]
THE SUNDOWNERS [Mitch and Kerr were so ideally perfect here, again]

I suppose THE ALAMO should be included too among the year's hits, and I also liked Blake Edwards' HIGH TIME where rich Bing Crosby goes back to college, and rooms with Fabian, Richard Beymer and Tuesday Weld!

It was certainly the year for call girls - apart from Elizabeth and Melina (NEVER ON SUNDAY) there were also

Gina Lollobrigida - GO NAKED IN THE WORLD (high class call girl falls for Tony Franciosa but his powerful father - Ernest Borgnine, an ex-client of hers, has other ideas...)


Anne Francis - GIRL OF THE NIGHT (downbeat indie film)

and award-winning Shirley Jones in ELMER GANTRY.

Adultery in suburbia was covered in Quine's STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET, with Kim Novak at her zenith.

It may have been Sophia Loren's best year: apart from the success of TWO WOMEN, she was also in Cukor's charming western HELLER IN PINK TIGHTS, plus THE MILLIONAIRESS with Peter Sellers' Indian doctor, with Gable in his second last film IT STARTED IN NAPLES which is still a charmer, and the under-rated A BREATH OF SCANDAL which I liked a lot.

Brigitte Bardot acted in LA VERITE, and Ingmar Bergman provided the austere THE VIRGIN SPRING, while Stanley Kramer inflicted the ponderous INHERIT THE WIND on us, and John Ford provided a good late western SERGEANT RUTLEDGE.

Donen's ONCE MORE WITH FEELING showcased Kay Kendall in her last role, she had died in 1959.

There were 2 Minnelli's: another hothouse melodrama HOME FROM THE HILL, and the under-rated musical BELLS ARE RINGING, Judy Holliday's last appearance.

Elvis was back from the army in GI BLUES and FLAMING STAR.

For those who like that kind of thing: Jerry Lewis as THE BELLBOY.

Some ghastly musicals were Fox's CAN-CAN and Columbia's all-star PEPE, and the Rat Pack played around in OCEAN'S 11.

One that did not work at all was Lumet's too highbrow THE FUGITIVE KIND, though Brando, Magnani and Woodward should have generated some box office .... despite playing what seemed like caricatures of themselves.

and for Trash you can't beat MGM and Arthur Freed for THE SUBTERRANEANS, their sanitised version of Jack Kerouac and the beat generation as depicted by Leslie Caron, George Peppard and Roddy McDowell - followed by the star quartet of Natalie, RJ Wagner, Susan Kohner and George Hamilton tearing each other apart in ALL THE FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS, plus the afore-mentioned GO NAKED IN THE WORLD. Lurid melodrama doesn't get much better... though there were also two Burton starrers: THE BRAMBLE BUSH and ICE PALACE; while THE DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS and FROM THE TERRACE were also contenders.

Some other delirious treats - not Trash, but Guilty Pleasures - were two Ross Hunter extravaganzas: Lana, Sandra and Quinn in PORTRAIT IN BLACK and Doris and Rex in MIDNIGHT LACE, and Dirk Bogarde as Lizst in SONG WITHOUT END, plus Fox's biblical: THE STORY OF RUTH, while Gordon Scott was Tarzan and Belinda Lee and Steve Reeves headed the Italian sword-and-sandal movies.

Lots of these are covered at the Trash label.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

A '30s rarity: Employees' Entrance

EMPLOYEES’ ENTRANCE. Another of those snappy pre-Code melodramas like William Wellman’s MIDNIGHT MARY or FRISCO JENNY, this is by Roy Del Ruth and not quite in that league, but is another of the 9 films radiant young Loretta Young made in 1933.

This is about life in a big department store as tyrant manager Warren William (?) rules with a rod of iron firing anyone who displeases him. Loretta is the shopgirl who sleeps with the boss to get a job, then she and young Wallace Ford (yes he was young and quite attractive, for those who only know his older self) fall in love and marry in secret as William (who does not believe in marriage or relationships and does not really like women) has an unspoken yen for Ford whom he is grooming to be a ruthless as he is. Things come to a head when he wants Ford to move in with him as he again picks up Loretta at the annual dance. Quite intriguing with a lot of undertones maybe not realised at the time. Loretta of course is the perfect depression heroine, as mentioned before, as per label.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

A '50''s rarity: Gervaise

I must admit I have not read any of the great 19th century French novels (Balzac, Zola etc) where grim malevolent fates lay in store for the likes of Madam Bovary, Therese Raquin, Cousin Bette and of course Gervaise and her daughter Nana .... Maria Schell in Rene Clements' 1956 film GERVAISE delivers a great performance even if she smiles too much as everything conspires against her, but today's feminists would scream at her almost wilful complicitness in her own misfortune and putting up with those useless men who leech off her and not seeing through her rival Viriginie. Clements' film though has the complexity of a greart novel and its a marvellous recreation of 19th century Paris working class life.

Poor Gervaise has a limp, works in the laundry (there is a great extended fight scene), men use and abuse her, she can't be with the real man she loves, the roofer husband has an accident and takes to drink and sinks into a spiral of alcoholism and is soon using up all her money from her shop .... and she too sinks into drink as little Nana runs wild. Strong stuff ! This adaptation of Zola's L'Assommoir is a harrowing and somewhat excruciating tale of working-class Parisians in the mid-19th century. .

The film begins with Gervaise being left by her lover Lantier, leaving her with two young boys and she finds out everyone knew about his cheating. This leads to an extended cat fight when Gervaise is confronted by the other woman's sister, Virginie (Suzy Delair) at the laundry. Unfortunately for Gervaise, this incident has long-term ramifications for her.

Gervaise then marries the roofer Coupeau (Francois Perier) and they have a daughter Nana, but his roofing accident takes all their money, but his steadfast friend Goujet who quietly loves her, loans Gervaise the money to finally open her own laundry shop, but then Virginie returns with her own plan for revenge as she re-introduces the neighbourhood. Coupeau who is sinking into a spiral of drink becomes best friends with Lantier and even invites him to move in with them! Both men are soon using up the profits of Gervaise's shop, the disgusting Coupeau even pawning customers' sheets, while Lantier casually forces himself back on Gervaise whose shame kills her blossoming romance with Goujet. Finally the only solace for Gervaise is to hit the bottle herself.

Schell won the best actress award at the Venice film festival and was soon on her way to Hollywood. Clements had a good run of interesting films I like a lot: KNAVE OF HEARTS with Gerard Philipe in 1954, GERVAISE in '56, THE SEA WALL (or THIS ANGRY AGE) which I have written about here several times (Silvana Mangano label) in 1958 and PLEIN SOLEIL in 1960. His 60s successes included LES FELINS with Delon again and Jane Fonda, and the 1966 IS PARIS BURNING?

Thursday, 20 October 2011

My Voyage to Italy - Martin Scorsese

The perfect documentary for me is Martin Scorsese's MY VOYAGE TO ITALY, I missed this whenever it played on television - did it ever play here in the UK? - but at least the dvd is now avalable. Scorsese of course as an Italian-American is the ideal guide through Italian cinema, he grew up watching these films and they have inluenced his work. It is a given that he would have loved Fellini's I VITELLONI (which I raved about here a while back), it is a major influence on his MEAN STREETS.

This four hour documentary charts the landmark films and directors of the post-war era, including Vittorio de Sica, Luchino Visconti, Federico Fellini, Roberto Rosselini and Michelangelo Antonioni, good to see the usually neglected Rossellini given his due here. Given Marty's wealth of knowledge and infectious passion, just watching this DVD is like attending the best film class. He knows what he’s talking about and gives precise, eloquent descriptions of each movie, using his years of experience in front of a screen as well as behind the camera. Most of all this is 246 minutes of one of the great US directors imparting his passion about some of the most important films of the 20th century. It makes one want to go back to the movies and experience them all over again, particularly Visconti's great SENSO, De Sica's UMBERTO D, and those Fellini and Antonioni masterworks. I VITELLONI for instance remains a timeless pleasure and makes me want to see those other early Fellini films.

If you care about the medium, then it is an essential purchase. Scorsese introduces various segments and through judicious use of clips and an informed, eloquent voiceover takes us on a journey of the following films:

Paisà (1946))
Rome, Open City (1945)
Stromboli (1950)
Europa ’51 (1952)
Shoeshine (1946)
Bicycle Thieves (1948)
Umberto D (1952)
The Gold of Naples (1954)
Ossessione (1943)
La Terra trema (1950)
Senso (1954)
I Vitelloni (1953)
La Dolce Vita (1960)
Voyage to Italy (1954)
L’avventura (1960)
L’eclisse (1962)
His focus of course is on classic Italian cinema, but a broader view would encompass the sword-and-sandal peplum films popular in the late 50s/early 60s (like GIANT OF MARATHON, Leone's rather good THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES, THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII and the Steve Reeves spectaculars, APHRODITE, MESSALINA (see Belinda Lee label), and the giallo thrillers by the likes of Mario Bava and Dario Argento (Jean Sorel label), as well as the popular Loren-Mastroianni films and the delicious comedy films of Monica Vitti, Alberto Sordi et al (BOCCACCIO 70, LE BAMBOLE, LE FATE etc); and those films from the works of Alberto Moravia (TIME OF INDIFFERENCE (Claudia Cardinale label), TWO WOMEN), Georgio Bassani (THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI CONTINI'S) and those intriguing novels by Natalia Ginzburg (DEAR MICHAEL (CARO MICHELE), FAMIGLIA etc). Other strands of Italian cinema I liked are those Lina Wertmuller films like SEVEN BEAUTIES, the Taviani's PADRE PADRONE and new comedies like LOOSE CANNONS (review at Italian label), and the lesser known films by Alberto Lattuada (THE TEMPEST, DOLCI IGNANNI), Mauro Bolognini (LA NOTTE BRAVA, SENILITA, CORRUZIONE, GRAN BOLLITO, METELLO), Monicelli etc; Visconti's 1952 BELLISSIMA and 1965 operatic melodrama SANDRA (VAGHE STELLE D'ORSA) being my recent re-dioscoveries. I will have to comment separately on the polarising works of Bertolucci and Pasolini!

I have written about these in more detail at Italian, De Sica, Antonioni, Fellini labels at labels for Loren, Vitti, Valli, Cardinale, Magnani, Mangano, Mastroianni. We sure love those Italians!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Back to: Close Encounters

I never thought I would want to see CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND again, ever - as I overdosed on it so much back in the '70s, but there it was just starting on afternoon television, so I looked in and was hooked again. It is simply one of the most perfect movies ever, pure cinema and its all done with lights and music, John Williams' sweeping score being an integral element here, as it all captures the wonder and awe of a child seeing movies for the first time.
Back in 1977 we went to STAR WARS but that was not me at all - then the buzz grew about CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, I went to see Stephen Spielberg discuss it at the London NFT (National Film Theatre) with my pal Stan, and we could not wait to see it. It was so astounding I had to go back to it again a few days later having the full screen in front of me at a matinee. That moment when Melinda Dillon turns around and sees the mother ship coming over the hill is still astounding even on television. Richard Dreyfuss's character of the Indiana everyman has not worn well though (like most of his roles) but those two terrific actresses Terri Garr and Melinda Dillon show why we loved them so much then - Terri of course was also so loveable in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, another key '70s treasure.

The splendid moments are still there and it remains a solid pleasure. What are particularly engaging now are the scenes between mother and son, Dillon and Cary Guffey and his delight at the visitors from the skies. The scene where he is spirited away is a powerhouse too as the house is no refuge from the visitors from the skies above rural Indiana. Like AMERICAN GIGOLO and ALL THAT JAZZ and those 70s Woody Allens and Bergman's AUTUMN SONATA and Malick's DAYS OF HEAVEN and LOOKING FOR MR GOODBAR it remains a key late '70s masterwork.

Monday, 17 October 2011

My week with Marilyn ?

This is going to be one fascinating movie - but will it work? Michelle Williams who was so great in MEEK'S CUTOFF (review at Westerns label) is hardly one's first choice as Marilyn, but judging by the clips she somehow seems to convey the essence of MM without impersonating her. All the other girls who played Marilyn (ususally in cheesy telemovies) were of course hilariously awful, this though could be interesting. Some unusual casting too - Kenneth Branagh should be able to suggest Olivier, and Judi Dench Dame Sybil Thorndike - but Dougray Scott as Arthur Miller?

It is of couse based on the book by Colin Clark and captures Monroe at an interesting juncture. She has been tired of being the 20th Century Fox sex symbol and had moved to New York where her friend Milton Greene and others had taken some wonderful studies of her and then they set up this filmTHE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL to be made in England and directed by Laurence Olivier who also stars, and photographed by ace cameraman Jack Cardiff, who liked her a lot, as per his book MAGIC HOUR. It was of course a legendary troubled shoot, as detailed in all those Monroe books, but did she ever look lovelier even crammed into that tight dress? We will always have the film, I saw it again a while back, not entirely successful but it has some lovely moments [review at MM, Cardiff labels]. It should be fascinating then to see how it is presented here ....

Betty Driver R.I.P

R.I.P. indeed to Betty Driver [1920-2011], who was stll acting in England's longest running soap CORONATION STREET into her 90s. The Rovers won't be the same without Betty's hotpot!

Betty had been a successful singer before being asked to join a new soap back in 1969! and quickly established her character as one of the more lovable in "continuing dramas".

Sunday, 16 October 2011


How good to see Vanessa Redgrave continuing to work into her '70s both in cinema and currently on the stage. Two fascinating new projects awaiting release are her Elizabeth I in ANONYMOUS about Shakespeare and his works, and CORIOLANUS by Ralph Fiennes, and that she continues to be as admired as Dames Maggie and Judi et al.

She has been a fixed presence in my moviegoing since the mid-60s: MORGAN, BLOW-UP, THE SAILOR FROM GIBRALTAR, ISADORA, CAMELOT, THE DEVILS, THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, JULIA, THE TROJAN WOMEN and through to cameos in HOWARD'S END, THE WHITE COUNTESS, ATONEMENT etc, not to mention her delirious A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY in '69 with Franco Nero (now her husband). I have only caught a few of her stage performances but she was astounding in a delicious '70s DESIGN FOR LIVING (photo at Vanessa Redgrave label) and A MADHOUSE IN GOA sometime in the 80s. She is very lucid too on the making of BLOW-UP in a BBC documentary showing how Antonioni showed her how he wanted her to sit and move and stand. Her autobiography is a revealing read too covering not only her theatrical heritage, the Tony Richardson years and later. Her late sister Lynn was also a particular favourite of mine, as per Lynn Redgrave label.

Update 26 October: a busy week for Vanessa, she has been on morning television twice, on different days, promoting ANONYMOUS as well as CORIOLANUS and DRIVING MISS DAISY - must be tiring doing a play at night and then up early for morning tv! Good to see Joely with her, as Vanessa is as busy as ever - ANONYMOUS looks like a must-see with mother and daughter both playing Elizabeth I. Franco Nero also popped up in LAW & ORDER, SVU as the (Italian here) diplomat accused of rape by a hotel maid, in a topical take on that recent headline grabber!

Coming up: return visits to MORGAN and ISADORA.