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.

Friday, 28 February 2014

'60s comedies: the witty and the witless ...

Two long-unseen '60s comedies were interesting viewings now. GOODBYE CHARLIE from 1964 I did not remember at all, though I did see it at the time, but being 18 or so then, it seems to have made no impression on me. However, it turned out to be a pleasant surprise, as I will return to.

PRUDENCE AND THE PILL, on the other hand, from 1968, I remembered well, and pals and I saw it on its general release. I dare say a comedy about the (then new) contraceptive pill seemed a daring idea at the time, but couldn't it have been funnier?
Prudence is on the pill; so is her sister-in-law, but someone has been swapping aspirin for their pills. Is it the teen-age niece, the maid, the chauffeur, a lover, Prudence's husband, or all of the above?
Available for the first time for home viewing, Prudence and the Pill serves up a comic slice of sixties permissiveness from the days when the oral contraceptive was an exotic and legendary device that few people had any experience of using. Made in Britain by 20th Century Fox, and starring the debonair David Niven and the luminous Deborah Kerr, with vivacious support from 'It' girl Judy Geeson, this film takes us back to 1967's "summer of love", when established morality and codes of sexual behaviour where being turned upside down by new ideas and technology. So grab a gonk (a gonk was a 60s cuddly toy), straighten your mini-skirt and prepare yourself for a bumpy ride courtesy of the imprudent Prudence. 
(so went the hopeful dvd cover blurb, trying to make this feeble comedy into something important...)
This is so dated now, created by middle aged squares who imagined they were being hip and daring, but in fact creating a worthless, unfunny, snobby look at how Americans perceived the English back in that swinging decade. It is a film about posh people - David Niven and Deborah Kerr are frightfully posh and in fact just frightful. 
Their posh house is full of rooms in bilious colours (one longs for Minnelli and those decors and that sure comedy touch in THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE) and Kerr is unflatteringly photographed and costumed (she was getting rather matronly as the '60s progressed and her film career was winding down). She is Prudence and Niven is the husband, both are fed up with each other and having affairs - she with her doctor Keith Michell, and he has his professional mistress, played (amusingly) by professional mistress Irina Demick (Darryl F Zanuck's latest at the time, he put her in several Fox films of the era). The lower classes are represented by their maid Vickery Turner and the chauffeur, they are an item too. Then there is Niven's brother, silly ass Robert Coote, (being very silly ass here) and his wife, Joyce Redman (a rare movie role for her after that scene with Albert Finney in TOM JONES), and their mini-skirted daughter Judy Geeson, who is having it off with boyfriend David Dundas when mum and dad go to the cinema every week, however they return early this time and catch the two of them, in scenes which are painfully unfully and over the top. 
It turns out daughter (god, this is tedious to unfold) was swopping her mother's contraceptive pills with aspirins, and it soon turns out that everyone is swopping pills (which are conveniently sold in bottles and not individually bubble wrapped as now). Niven wants Prudence to get pregnant by her lover, so he swops her pills, the maid though swops Prudence's with the vitamin tablets her boyfriend gives her, and so on.
Dame Edith Evans then makes a few pointless appearances as a dotty aunt - thankfully she is not on the pills or forced to wear a mini-skirt. This farrago was directed by one Fielder Cook and must have appeared dated even before it was shown, back in the groovy decade, its a very square view of London too, where people meet for dinner at The Ritz. The mystery is did either Niven or Kerr, in what, their fifth teaming, really think this material was funny or worthy of them? Deborah did this kind of thing so much better in items like 1960's THE GRASS IS GREENER before the Sixties began to swing. Poor PRUDENCE isn't even campy enough to quality as a Trash Classic.

I did not think GOODBYE CHARLIE would be up to much, a forgotten 1964 comedy, but we are in the hands of experts here. Its from a George Axelrod comedy (which Lauren Bacall played on the stage - though that is no guartantee of quality - I saw, endured APPLAUSE, Bacall label), and directed by Vincente Minnelli - so it looks good. The music is by Andre Previn, and his then wife Dory co-wrote the title tune, its a zinger. I did not think Tony Curtis or Debbie Reynolds could surprise us, but they are nicely on form here - a decent role for Curtis and Debbie is a revelation, and not as grating as her UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN
Shot by a jealous husband, Charley falls out a porthole and is lost at sea only to find himself returned as an attractive blond woman. His best friend is staying at his house as he puts Charlie's affairs in order and after being convinced, finds himself an unwilling helper in Charlie's new plan to marry into money.
This is all quite amusing as womaniser Charlie is reincarnated as an attractive blonde, who soon gets a handle on his new situation and how to milk it to his advantage. Pat Boone is just right as the nice rich guy who falls for Charlie. Will Charlie for once do the right thing? Walter Mattheau is deliciously funny as the movie tycoon who shot Charlie, as nicely different here as he was in CHARADE. Joanna Barnes and Ellen Burstyn amuse as two of the wives Charlie dallied with, and now blackmails. It is all worked out quite nicely, as Charlie is reincarnated once again .... So, GOODBYE CHARLIE is a nice feelgood movie, with Tony and Debbie on top form - who knew? It fits nicely into Minnelli's '60s output too. It captures that early 60s grooviness and the showbiz shallowness before the swinging era got underway. The only jarring note is Tony's distaste at the idea of marrying his old pal Charlie, even if he is now a glamorous woman - which seemed unfunny compared to the brilliant "Why would a guy want to marry a guy?" similar scene in the classic SOME LIKE IT HOT.
Soon: another 1964 sex "comedy" - SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL, I saw it but I don't remember it, was it that forgettable? Curtis again, and Natalie surely looking her best, and Dame Bacall ....  

Thursday, 27 February 2014

French glamour, thanks to Monsieur Demy ...

Jacques Demy's films are awash with that particular type of French glamour, as we have noted here before, see labels, where he dresses up Deneuve and Dorleac in those pastels for LES DEMOISELLES DE ROCHFORT in 1967, turns Jacques Perrin into a blonde sailor in a sailor suit, gets George Chakiris and Grover Dale into tight trousers, and makes Danielle Darrieux a very glamours mother to the singing and dancing sisters. 
As per report below, LES DEMOISELLES DE ROCHEFORT is now on the BFI list of '10 Best Gay French Films" ....
Then there is Jeanne Moreau as a very glam blonde at the gambling tables in BAY OF ANGELS in 1963, as well as Anouk Aimee enchanting as LOLA in 1961, and later even more mysterious in MODEL SHOP in '69, as well as the dreamy teaming of Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo in THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG in 1964.
Demy's wife Agnes Varda also made her CLEO FROM 5 TO 7 where Corinne Marchand, a glamours blonde singer, wanders Paris waiting for those medical results in that fascinating 1962 drama. And of course Jean Seberg was IN THE FRENCH STYLE in 1963.

French heart-throbs? The big guys like Delon, Belmondo, Trintignant and Ronet are well represented here, as well as Brigitte Bardot, as per their labels. Here's a bit more on those thriller guys Jean Sorel and Robert Hossein - both going strong in their 80s. Back in 1963 they teamed up for Duvivier's terrific thriller CHAIR DE POULE (HIGHWAY PICKUP) as per my review on that at French/thrillers/Sorel/Hossein labels. 
Sorel & Hossein in '63
Classic French glamour of course with Catherine Deneuve (again, in INDOCHINE, which we liked a lot, review at French label), those VIVA MARIA girls, and of course back to the dawn of the 60s, and the PLEIN SOLEIL crew, and Belmondo and Dorleac in THAT MAN FROM RIO! We love them.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Peplum guys and gals, and costume dramas ...

Pompeii erupts again, Sophia and Robert and Napoleon, Belinda and that DANGEROUS EXILE ...

We like a good volcanic eruption here at the Projector, and the 1951 French film (thanks, Mel) SINS OF POMPEII has a rather good one, even if in black and white.
The muddled story features an Egyptian sect (bet you didn't know the Ancient Egyptians had also settled in Pompeii ....), a lady Helene - Micheline Presle - and a slave - Georges Marchal - amid a tangle of plots as the volanco finally blows the big one. 
Cue the usual mayhem with people trying to escape, fortunately our leading couple manage to get away in a boat, though its very unlikely anybody did back in 79 AD ! 
If only they had splashed out on colour and a more streamlined story. At least the statues in this peplum have the requisite nude look, unlike those tastefully covered ones in a Hollywood peplum like 1956's ALEXANDER THE GREAT ! Now for the Steeve Reeves version of POMPEII ... not to mention that new Paul W A Anderson 2014 feature. Best of all for me though is Robert Harris's novel, yes, titled "Pompeii" which Roman Polanski had been associated with a film of, pity that never came to pass ...

Unseen since 1961 is the French comedy MADAME SANS-GENE, a Christian Jacque romp (he also gave us Gerard Philipe's FANFAN LE TULIPE among others), with Sophia Loren at the height of her early 60s popularity (after TWO WOMEN, EL CID) as the French washerwoman following Napoleon's army, and washing the great man's shirts. 
She falls for Robert Hossein, one of his generals and the amusing story follows their ups and downs as they go in the world as the Duke and Duchess of Zanzig, with Sophia clowning as she learns to how conduct herself at court. Hossein also went on to have a neat line in tough thrillers which he often directed, as per Hossein/ French labels. MADAME is an amusing trifle now, which Loren turned out between more important engagements.
DANGEROUS EXILE - good to see this costume drama from 1957 available again on a proper dvd. Britian's Rank Organisation knew how to make movies like this, I enjoyed it as a kid, and still do now, featuring as it does that British siren Belinda Lee, unfortunately killed in a car crash in 1961, she could have gone on to have had a long career, in both European cinema (she is in the French New Wave LES DRAGUEURS in 1959, Italy's THE LONG NIGHT OF '43 (where her ordinary Italian woman is the equal of a Loren or Mangano), and various peplums like MESSALINA and APHRODITE, as well as sensational fare like SHE WALKS BY NIGHT - as per Belinda label. 
This is what I said about it a while back here:
DANGEROUS EXILE. One of those rather good Rank Organisation period adventures this 1957 drama features the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette who is smuggeled out of the Basteille and escapes by hot air balloon but lands on a small island near Wales. The little prince (young Richard O'Sullivan) is found and protected by local beauty Belinda Lee and her aunt dowager Martita Hunt - there are however treacherous servants (Anne Heywood, Finlay Currie), the French in pursuit (Keith Michell) and French aristocrat Louis Jourdan also wants the boy, whom he replaces with his own son. Its stirring stuff well handled by veteran Brian Desmond Hurst and I liked it a lot as a kid, so good to see it again. One of Belinda's best for Rank. There is a poignant moment when her character says that when she is an old woman she can tell her grand-children the King of France wanted to marry her - Belinda though did not make old age, she was killed in a car accident when only 26. She had though become one of the sword and sandal stars on the continent. This is an engrossing period story about what may have happened to the young French prince Louis VXII. Lots of swashes are buckled. 

Peplum guys:
Vidal and Loren in ATTILA
Vidal & Belmondo
French actor Henri Vidal, married to Michele Morgan - posted about here before, as per label - in Rene Clement's LES MAUDITS, FABIOLA, with young Loren in the '54 peplum ATTILA where Anthony Quinn rampages across the ancient world. We liked Henri in some Hossein thrillers (like WHAT PRICE MURDER or THE WICKED GO TO HELL), and with Bardot in their two films, and with Romy Schneider in a 1959 comedy, ANGEL ON EARTH, (the year he died aged 40), which also featured up and coming Jean Paul Belmondo - right. Ironic it was Vidal's last film as Belmondo's career was taking off ...

Peplum guys: Ed Fury, a 50s American muscle guy, went the peplum route to Europe in the early Sixties with those URSUS films, after bit parts in lots of USA items: he is one of the boys Jane Russell serenades in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (thanks to the enterprising Peplum site for identifying him), he is also one of the sailors in SOUTH PACIFIC (below, at right), and seemingly uncredited in Marilyn's BUS STOP, and is the guy introduced to Joan Crawford in FEMALE ON THE BEACH .... thats one we will have to return to. Here's Ed with Susan Hayward star of DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS in 1954, where presumably he was a gladiator, and with Richard Widmark in another Fox movie, HELL AND HIGH WATER ...

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Finally on DVD: The Chapman Report, 1962

I have written about it several times here already, but simply have to again - that favourite lost movie of ours, THE CHAPMAN REPORT from 1962 is finally on dvd – a Warner Archive no-frills issue, but I went for a Spanish edition (CONFIDENCIAS DE MUJER) which has the trailer and chapters, and a lurid painting of Claire Bloom on the cover, in full nympho mode. Cukor’s 1962 film of that sensational best-seller (I read it when I was a teenager) still looks good, with that early ‘60s look in spades, 
with different backgrounds and colours for the 4 ladies – costumes by Orry Kelly, colour co-ordinanation by Hoyningen-Heune, Cukor regulars, as was Henry Daniell, who also gets a scene here, advising Efrem Zimbalist Jr on the dangers posed by his sex survey in suburbia. The credits are amusing too, styled like early computer cards for a electronic filing system. 
Claire Bloom steals the show here with her magnetic portrayal (she said in a recent interview Cukor was the best director she ever worked with), as we see her like a vampire in the shadows watching the water delivery boy (Chad Everett in tight trousers), before her encounter with those sleazy jazz musicians led by Corey Allen; 
meanwhile arty Glynis Johns gets an eyeful of Ty Hardin in those spray-on shorts at the beach and wants him to pose (and more) for her; while bored housewife Shelley Winters is having an affair with no-good theatre director Ray Danton – her husband Harold Stone just wants to watch tv. Jane Fonda is the fourth wife and makes the least impression here, as the frigid widow whom Efrem gets to comfort. Soap opera then, but a superior one, and a Trash Classic finally available again. 

Sunday musings ..... and some bands I like

"NYMPHOMANIAC has wooden performances and a baffling plot - STRANGER BY THE LAKE is a far sexier proposition" so states The Sunday Times banner covering its film reviews .... Von Trier's latest four-hour opus is "droning, repetitive, pants-down piffle", where "frustrated by her inability to achieve orgasm she seeks the help of an amateur sadist named K, played hilariously by BILLY ELLIOT (Jamie Bell). Who would have thought the world's most famous dancing child would make the world's least convincing dom? Yet here he is, playing a proficient whipper with all the menace of Postman Pat"
So goes the hilarious review by Camilla Long - who liked that new French gay thriller STRANGER BY THE LAKE (though it first opened in France last year) a whole lot better. It seems to be the one to watch, the dvd is out in May, I may well wait until then, as reading Andrew Sullivan's colum, has practically put one off going to an actual cinema ....

As Andrew says "You'd be forgiven for believing there was a resurgence in serious movie-making in America after all the big-budget, special effects mega-movies of the recent past", due to the current glut of Award-nominated movies of recent months, with the Academy Awards next Sunday. But, as he points out, "only one best picture nominee made it into the top 10 of highest-grossing movies of 2013: GRAVITY, a special effects movie with two bankable stars. 12 YEARS A SLAVE made it number 70, the others could not even crack the top 100! It seems the real moneymakers of the last year were comic superhero franchises (IRON MAN 3, THOR II, MAN OF STEEL) or animation (FROZEN, DESPICABLE ME 2). Food for thought there ...

Andrew also bemoans the state of cinema-going now. "There is clearly an audience for grown-up films but it is not, perhaps, in the actual cinema" .... "Most middle-class homes in America now come with vast flat screens of crystal-clear images that would have looked like something out of science fiction in the 1990s. So instead of venturing out to pay ridiculous sums of money for popcorn and a fizzy drink, endure unfathomable rudeness, get distracted by the texter two seats down and by the constant chatter behind you, and get blasted with endless promos for upcoming films that you have no interest in seeing" - or wait a couple of months and watch the same movie in your own place"? "A good film should not be wasted amid a noisy, distracting mob". 

My friend Leon made a similar comment to me yesterday, he was outraged by the prices of films in the West End of London now, ok he went to the Odeon, Leicester Square - maybe THE prime first run cinema where the prices were "£16, 18 or 22 - for a FILM" !  As i said, its cheaper to buy the dvd and you get to keep the film and get all those extras and can watch it without being disturbed.  

That other current explicit film BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR makes one realise how what can be shown on screens has changed, as is demonstrated by a new book: SEXPLOSION by Robert Hofler (a senior editor of Variety), which I will just have to order. It covers that era from 1966 (when a brief moment of nudity in Antonioni's BLOW-UP was a sensation to those early 70s years when suddenly everyone was stripping off, as cinema pushed the boundaries, first with nudity and then violence. It all seems a long time ago now, as time rolls on and values change. As the review of the book (by Clive Davis) says, "When Ken Russell died in 2011, news bulletins struggled to explain why a scene of two men wrestling in the nude in WOMEN IN LOVE had once seemed like the end of civilisation as we know it", likewise his THE DEVILS, still strong stuff. I remember a discussion at the then National Film Theatre in 1970 when actors on stage, including Billie Whitelaw and Romeo Leonard Whiting (in a crushed velvet blue suit) were discussing the topic of "The Actor and Nudity", a hot potato at the time - my point was when an actor is naked they are no longer than character but the actor naked. The interesting cast of characters in SEXPLOSION include the then censor John Trevelyan, whom I remember well, and Princess Margaret expressing her disapporval at SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY .... Bring it on. 

Now for a new subject: Some bands I like:

Little Feat - nice to see a new compilation boxset of their albums. Little Feat were the quintessential Americana band, developing a potent hybrid of rock, blues, funk, jazz, and country (rather like Leon Russell and his funky band then), led by their beatnik genius singer/guitarist Lowell George, a slide guitar ace and a vocalist of rare blues quality; sadly he died in 1979 at the young age of 34 - of heart failure, according to Wikipedia (I had thought it was of a heroin overdose). Back in the 70s I loved their FEATS DONT FAIL ME NOW and DIXIE CHICKEN albums (iPod staples now), with those tracks like "Rock and Roll Doctor", "Down The Road", "Long Distance Love".

Next Band I Like: Talking Heads - that arty American new wave band formed in 1975 in New York City and active until 1991. David Byrne and Tina Weymouth were the main members. A friend, Ivan, once gave me an audio cassette of them live, back in the 80s, which I must have played out. Their STOP MAKING SENSE film remains terrific, and their sound still endures and sounds as fresh as paint. I want to hear them again: "Slippery People", "Psycho Killer", "Life During Wartime", "Take Me To the River", "Burning Down The House", "Once In A Lifetime", "I Zimbra", and those albums like "More Songs About Buildings and Food".  All effortlessly funky and groovy, like Deee-Lite or Herbie Hancock or Miles Davis or Blondie or ...
Here's a treat, though it won't let me upload it just now: Liberace, Phyllis Diller, Dusty Springfield and Millicent Martin in a hilarious comedy clip. Gets one in the mood for that Liberace biopic !

Next musician/composer I like: Villa-Lobos,  "Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) was a Brazilian composer, described as "the single most significant creative figure in 20th-century Brazilian art music". Villa-Lobos has become the best-known and most significant Latin American composer to date." His soaring "Bachianas Brasileiras Nr 5" and "The Little Train of Caipira" have been done so many times. I have had his "Bachianas Brasileiras" by diverse voices such as Joan Baez or Kiri Te Kanawa ...

and some club hits I like ....

And that man again: Sky Arts channel here is currently running THE DOORS IN EUROPE quite a few times, its, as per Doors label, where I am visible looking up at Jim Morrison, towering over me, back at The Roudhouse in Camden, in 1968 when the group was touring Europe with the Jefferson Airplane. I was 22 ande on acid with my hippie friends, but never saw the recording until a decade or s ago .... and nearly fell off my chair seeing myself in it. I really must try and get the image lightened and cleared up .... Jim was so sweaty in that white shirt and leather trousers ...