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 March 2014

John Huston as Noah ...

THE BIBLE – IN THE BEGINNING. As Russell Crowe’s NOAH is about to descend upon us, a timely look at that forgotten John Huston version from 1966, this version of parts of The Bible, as produced by Dino De Laurentiis looks rather like his production of BARABBAS, and also has a polyglot cast. 

The creation of man section is rather risible as Michael Parks and one Ulla Bergryd essay Adam and Eve discovering shame in their nakedness after that apple; then its on to Richard Harris and Franco Nero as Cain and Abel (before they went off to Hollywood and CAMELOT), Stephen Boyd is an oddly made-up King Nimrod with that tower of babel, Peter O’Toole plays 3 Angels who appear to Abraham – George C Scott going way over the top, with Ava Gardner as his wife Sarah. 

The central section has Huston himself enjoying playing Noah with all those real animals going two by two into the ark. Lets see if Aronofsky can top that! - it seems his animals are digitalised and not really central to the film. Then it is on to the destruction of Sodom as those decadent citizens want to “know” those Angels (didn’t O’Toole suffer enough as T E Lawrence?) . 
Before a nuclear bomb hits the city Lot (Gabriele Ferzetti from L’AVVENTURA) and his wife Eleanora Rossa Drago flee, but she too gets turned into that pillar of salt – that section was better done in Aldrich’s 1962 extravaganza SODOM & GOMORRAH. This is all over-ripe fun now – not quite an epic nor a peplum, but certainly a curiosity in Huston’s resume. 

Tony and Janet go to Paris ...

THE PERFECT FURLOUGH (or STRICTLY FOR PLEASURE as it was called here, furlough not being a word we use here) or ‘Tony and Janet Go To Paris’. This 1958 Universal-International comedy was a cherished memory of when I was about 12, but I had never re-seen it since, odd it never surfaced as its an early Blake Edwards, scripted by the master Stanley Shapiro (the Rock and Doris comedies, COME SEPTEMBER, THAT TOUCH OF MINK etc). Its still quite amusing now, on a Spanish dvd, if not laugh out loud. 

100 sex-starved men are spending a year on a project in the Artic Circle and morale is very low – they are all bachelors, as married men would not be able to cope. Army lieutenant Janet Leigh comes up with the idea of the perfect furlough – where one man wins a dream holiday the others can share vicariously. It’s a trip to Paris with movie star Sandra Roca – The Argentine Bombshell – nicely played by Linda Crystal. Smooth operator Tony Curtis makes sure he wins the contest and wants to continue his skirt-chasing ways in Paris – a typical Curtis role then – but Janet and the army brass have to keep him in line. 
Sandra turns out to be a nice girl secretly married to an accountant and in fact pregnant. Her bombastic agent Keenan Wynn tells her secretary Elaine Stritch that he holds her personally responsible! Janet decides to loosen up and the usual complications follow to the expected happy ending. A pleasant piece of fluff, Janet looks great and it looks like they really are in Paris, perhaps on their way home from THE VIKINGS in Norway. Troy Donahue pops up too.

Snapshots of Britain

Kay and Bonar at the DANCE HALL

Ken Annakin's HOLIDAY CAMP in 1947 is post-war England in aspic, with working-class families going on holiday to the new holiday camps as the new age of leisure dawned after the war, its almost a historical document of that era. Flora Robson has a great role here as the lonely spinster yearning for her love lost in the war, only to discover he is the holiday camp announcer but is now blind, and happily married and does not remember her. Esma Cannon (later in the CARRY ONs) as her twittery friend fares less well, as she falls prey to Dennis Price's murdering conman. The Huggett family (from the radio) are enjoying themselves, led by father Jack Warner and mum Kathleen Harrison, with daughter Hazel Court, Jimmy Hanley and Diana Dors as well as Patricia Roc also pop up. Below: Mr and Mrs Huggett get used to being on holiday, Dennis Price with murder in mind, and Dame Flora - noble as ever. 
Its an enjoyable time capsule now, as is:

DANCE HALL - Charles Crichton's 1950 portrait of 4 working class girls who work in the local factory and let off steam at the Saturday night dance (the Chiswick Palais). This is a roll-call of ‘50s British showbiz with a very varied cast here: the girls are young Petula Clark, Natasha Perry, Jane Hylton and the rising Diana Dors. Its a fairly grim look at working class life, but lots of fun too. Donald Houston and Bonar Colleano are among the men they attract, Kay Kendall pops in for a minute, as do Eunice Gayson and Dandy Nichols, Sydney Tafler is the dance hall manager and dear old Gladys Henson is Petula's mum who gives her an awfully old-fashioned dress to wear at the dance contest! Dors is great fun as the good-natured blonde with an eye for a hunky fella! Parry is torn between stolid Houston and wide boy Colleano, while Hylton remains a spinster. 
10 years later SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING would be a new male-dominated update on working class life, as the '60s dawned, but this 1950 version is just as pleasing and relevant now. This and HOLIDAY CAMP are as essentially '40s and early '50s British as IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY, POOL OF LONDON, THE BLUE LAMP, HUNTED etc. - those movies where the likes of Jack Warner and Jimmy Hanley were bobbies on the beat or dependable guys next door, and Canadian Bonar Colleano (of the circus family, he died in a car crash in 1958, aged 34) was the not to be trusted wide boy or American G.I. in England, and young Bogarde was a spiv with a gun before graduating to war hero roles.
Factory girls
Diana lets rip on the dance floor

PLAY IT COOL. A hopelessly square 1962 British musical showing the pop scene at the time, showcasing pop idol of the time Billy Fury in his movie debut. We liked Billy then, an authentic rocker with a great look and voice (“Halfway to Paradise”) who died too young, aged 43 in 1983. 
He and his jolly gang (Michael Anderson Jr, Keith Hamshere, Jeremy Bulloch, and a very young David Hemmings) are en route to Gatwick Airport when they decide to help out a runaway heiress (don’t laugh, this isn’t the 1930s) – Dennis Price plays her oily father and others roped in include Mr Showbiz: Lionel Blair and his dancers. 
Statue of Billy in Liverpool
There is a twist number, the twist was big at the time – and American Bobby Vee gets to sing, as does Helen Shapiro, the school girl singer of the time (I was an early teen then, and loved her songs). Michael Winner directs and keeps it all moving. This pop scene though, along with the Cliff Richard films (THE YOUNG ONES, SUMMER HOLIDAY) and those earlier Tommy Steele, Frankie Vaughan, Adam Faith ones,  was swept away the next year, when The Beatles exploded in 1963, and 1964’s A HARD DAY’S NIGHT showed how to make a pop movie which also captured the moment perfectly.

SOME PEOPLE – more pop from 1962. I remember this one vividly, being 16 at the time. This is a lively look at teenagers in a suburban city – Bristol – with a lead role for Kenneth More as the well-meaning choirmaster with that church hall where the kids can play their instruments. It features the then up and coming Ray Brooks (THE KNACK) and a gormless David Hemmings (4 years before Antonioni made him an icon of the 60s in BLOW-UP), Anneke Wills who wears her jeans in the bath to shrink them, Angela Douglas (who married More). 
David Hemmings, centre
The bored teenagers are only interested in motorbikes and music and are convinced society has no use for them, but are hardly rebels without a cause. Kenny More soon gets them playing – this was all part of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme, which features here. The music is catchy though and it all looks nice in colour. Clive Donner – another under-rated 60s director – helms it, he also directed the Hemmings starrer ALFRED THE GREAT in 1969, after his like WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT? and THE CARETAKER, and that other look at teenagers in a suburban city HERE WE GO ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH in swinging '67. What is interesting here is the contrast between the options for teenagers in 1962 (in pre-Beatles England) and 5 years later, at the start of the hippie and psychedelic era in 1967 in HERE WE GO ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH ... it was a different world for them then!

More early '60s British movies:

TWICE ROUND THE DAFFODILS. This 1962 comedy, adapted from a play, is a CARRY ON in all but name, produced by the regular team Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas. Of interest now mainly for that supporting cast of familiar faces. We join 4 patients who arrive at a hospital for tuberculosis patients (they are still allowed to smoke though!) – RAF type Donald Sinden with an eye for the ladies, funny man Lance Percival, boorish Wesh Donald Houston who is in denial and refuses to accept he is ill – one wants to reach for the mute button every time he starts ranting, and young Andrew Ray. Already on the ward are Ronald Lewis and snobby Kenneth Williams whose only visitor is his dowdy sister Joan Sims. Head nurse is Juliet Mills, and others include nurse Jill Ireland, Sheila Hancock as a loyal girlfriend,. Nanette Newman as the glamorous one who has found someone else with a sports car. The patients are getting better when they can walk twice around the daffodil patch … a slight amusement, matinee fodder perhaps, which shows that the 1960s had yet to begin at Pinewood. 

THE VERY EDGE. This long forgotten 1963 thriller has suddenly been re-discovered – the BFI are screening it in April, but thanks to a fellow correspondent here I have got a ‘screener’. It’s a taut thriller (filmed in Ireland), a Raymond Stross production starring his wife Anne Heywood again as the happy housewife, looking after her husband Richard Todd and her ideal early ‘60s home, who is stalked by a deranged stranger – young Jeremy Brett, terrific here. He follows her around the supermarket and attacks her in her home causing her to miscarry her child. Worried policeman Jack Hedley notes the stranger will be back. Our worried couple move home, but its no use. 
Brett soon has her in his power again as she tries to fight back. We end up on the roof as our brave heroine has to outwit him before help arrives. Add in Nicole Maurey as Todd’s super-efficient secretary with a yen for him, as his and his wife’s marriage falls apart and tension is maintained to the very end. A routine thriller perhaps, but certainly watchable now. With Pauline Delaney, Gwen Watford, Maurice Denham, Barbara Mullen and Patrick Magee, and ably directed by journeyman Cyril Frankel.We liked Heywood recently in that revived I WANT WHAT I WANT from 1972 - Heywood label - where she is a transexual ...

Dames & blithe spirits

A few assorted photos ..... 

Raves of course for Dame Angela back on stage agt 88, reprising her Madame Arcati in Coward's BLITHE SPIRIT, here is the Broadway production with Rupert Everett:
and we just have to include that priceless moment from David Lean's 1945 film when Rex Harrison first sees Elvira's ghost ....
More of Ruth Roman in Angela's MURDER SHE WROTE, finishing off her career here in a good way, as Loretta who runs Loretta's Beauty Shop - think pink! Ruthie enjoys herself here in '87 and '89 doing 3 episodes of Angela's series, set in Cabot Cove. The beauty shop regulars are fun too: Julie Adams looking better than ever, Kathryn Grayson and Gloria de Haven. 
Two more favourites: Geraldine Page and Dame Gladys Cooper who suprisingly have a duet in the 1967 Disney film THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE (its worth sitting through Fred McMurray, Tommy Steele and Greer Garson) for this number ! 
Soon: a real troupe of dames in some campy '60s fun with Curtis Harrington's grand guignol titles: Debbie Reynolds, Shelley Winters, Geraldine again with Ruth Gordon - as we find out WHATS THE MATTER WITH HELEN? WHO SLEW AUNT ROO? and WHATEVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE?, plus Romy Schneider's grand guignol THE INFERNAL TRIO in 1973!

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Actors: Mr Peck

One of the 'People We Like' here Gregory Peck is always a pleasure to watch. One could say he was the ideal post-war male: that new breed of actors who came along in the mid-40s as the second world war drew to a close. Along with William Holden, Peck was the cream of the crop, along with young Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas and Robert Mitchum, and Glenn Ford. 

Peck (1916-2003) from La Jolla, California, was always serious, but there was a sense of humour there too. One of the best-looking men of his era (just how many mothers' favourite actor was Gregory Peck?). Like Cary Grant and a few others Peck also looked great teamed with those leading ladies: Audrey in ROMAN HOLIDAY (where he got the billing changed to put her name above the title), Ava in ON THE BEACH, Ava and Susan in SNOWS OF KILLIMANJARO, Jean Simmons in THE BIG COUNTRY
Bacall in DESIGNING WOMAN (where he has that hilarious scene where Dolores Gray tips the plate of ravioli into his lap in the restaurant), with Sophia in ARABESQUE etc, and of course DUEL IN THE SUN in '46, the original CAPE FEAR in '62, Hitch's SPELLBOUND and THE PARADINE CASE - yup, he looked great with Ingrid and Valli too, and with Deborah Kerr in BELOVED INFIDEL as Scott Fitzgerland, if only the film had been worthy of them. He also did those adventures like GUNS OF NAVARONE, HMS HORNBLOWER etc. 
 1962 proved his Best Actor year with his perfect Atticus Finch in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD - they should though have had 2 best actors that year - with O'Toole for LAWRENCE OF ARABIA also winning. Sophia Loren presented him with his best actor award, and he returned the favour presenting her with her second in 1993. 

One of his best later roles was in THE SCARLET AND THE BLACK (review at Peck, war labels) in 1983 as the Irish priest at the Vatican during World War Two, rescuing Jews from the Nazis, he and Christopher Plummer have two great roles here, along with John Gielgud as Pope Pius XII. It often pops up on tv and is worth watching.  Then there is his hilarious portrayal of Joseph Mengele in the 1978 THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL with Olivier equally hilariously miscast or over the top.  
THE OMEN with Lee Remick in 1976 was a surprise hit too, even those who did not like horror films went to this one. THE STALKING MOON was a good western, as was that space opera MAROONED, and I WALK THE LINE
He was an actor who took chances and didn't just rely on his looks to coast through movies, vis his Captain Ahab for Huston's MOBY DICK. His signagture roles (apart from Atticus Finch) are surely his journalist in ROMAN HOLIDAY and that sea captain out west in THE BIG COUNTRY, where he had a producer credit but apparantly Greg and Wyler fell out, as the director was going to do it his way whatever his star suggested ...

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Actors: Hoffman x 2, Finney, De Niro

A double bill featuring that fascinating actor Philip Seymour Hoffman - I have not liked all of his films, but sometimes he blew one away, ever since his early roles in BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA and THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY.  Here teamed with Albert Finney and Robert De Niro as equally magnetic co-stars, he delivers the goods ...

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD. Sidney Lumet’s last film in 2007 (see below & Lumet label for other reviews) is also – yes, fascinating – to catch now, since its star Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death recently. This is a family drama that veers into Greek tragedy territory. Lumet at 83 lays on a powerhouse cast as we watch brothers Andy (Hoffman) – desperately needing money to finance his drug habit and cover money he has embezzled, and weak younger brother Hank (Ethan Hawke), who needs money for his family and who gets lured into big brother’s plan to rob a jewelry shore – not just any old jewel shop, but the one belonging to their parents, Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris. 
This is meant to be a victimless crime with the insurance paying out. But younger brother gets someone else involved in the robbery and the mother, who was not meant to be at the shop, fights back, resulting in two deaths: hers, and the robber. Both brothers go into meltdown, and the father – Finney at his most intense, in a good late role for him, decides to investigate further. This leads to a stunning climax between Hoffman and Finney ... Marisa Tomei has a good role too. Now for another I had been putting off: Hoffman with De Niro in FEARLESS, which I did not want to see at all at the time.
FLAWLESS from 1999 is a real oddity, sometimes one wants to turn it off or speed it up, as we watch homophobic ex-cop Robert De Niro, who suffers a stroke during a run in with some drug dealers, and tries to recover. His doctor tells him the best way to improve his speech is to start singing lessons. He plucks up courage to ask his neigbour to teach him to sing - this is Hoffman as the flamboyant transvestite and drag queen, who has problems of his own, as he finally admits he is lonely and ugly and unloved. This film is about how the relationship grows between these two very different people and how they both work together to overcome their very different problems, while some vicious hoods are also looking for that money. 
It is good to see De Niro back to his best after some very average movies, a lot of which one didn't want to or need to see (he is almost an older Travis Bickle here, down on his luck in a very seedy sleazy gritty New York) and Phillip Seymour Hoffman is just outstanding and mesmerising again, he was certainly an actor who took risks - and will be as sorely missed as Heath Ledger. Its a Joel Schumacher film, a lot of it though looks too dark, one can barely see what is going on. 

Soon: Finney in Huston's 1984 UNDER THE VOLCANO, and with Tom Courtenay in THE DRESSER, plus Tom in Noel Coward's ME AND THE GIRLS.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Long Goodbye, 40 years later ....

Now on Blu-ray, with neat new cover art (left), and a host of extras including documentaries, interviews, and a fascinating booklet, Robert Altman's 1973 THE LONG GOODBYE, misunderstood at the time, now makes its claim as one of the great American movies of the Seventies, on a par with CHINATOWN (with whom it shares a surprise climax), there are also shades of THE THIRD MAN with that perfect ending. As scripted by the great Leigh Brackett (who had also done THE BIG SLEEP in 1946), and shot by Vilmos Zsigmond with his trademark camerawork and that great score by John Williams and Johnny Mercer - that theme song, played and sung in different styles will not be easy to forget. Altman regular Alan Rudolph, who later helmed some films we like, was second assistant director. It makes Los Angeles look good here too.

The Projector has not done too much on Altman here, but, like Woody Allen, we love his early stuff: M.A.S.H, McCABE & MRS MILLER, NASHVILLE are all classics we return to, and now THE LONG GOODBYE. Other items like THIEVES LIKE US were seen and liked too at the time - the later oddball Altman like 3 WOMEN or QUINTET left us cold. So, lets head back to L.A. and the Malibu Colony:

When private eye Philip Marlowe is visited by an old friend in trouble, it sets in motion a series of events in which he is hired to search for a missing writer and finds himself on the wrong side of vicious gangsters. So far so faithful to Raymond Chandler, but Robert Altman's inspired adaptatation of the writer's most personal novel takes the legendary detective and relocates him to the hedonistic, selfish culture of the 1970s in laid-back L.A. where he finds that his old fashioned notions of honour and loyalty carry little weight. 
Widely misunderstood at the time, THE LONG GOODBYE is now regarded as one of Altman's best films and one of the outstanding American films of its era, with Elliot Gould's shambling, cat-obsessed Marlowe ranking alongside those portrayals by Bogart and Mitchum. 
The start is marvellous as the cat demands to be fed and is not fooled by the wrong catfoot in the right tin, as Marlowe goes to the supermarket and also gets some cookie mix for the girls next door  .... this demanding cat joins the BREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS and BELL BOOK & CANDLE cats, or that cat in Truffaut's LE PEAU DEUCE and DAY FOR NIGHT
SPOILERS, maybe. .. Marlowe's old pal Terry Malloy, whose wife has been murdered, turns up and needs a favour - a drive to Tijuana, before the cops come looking for him; they take in Marlowe to answer questions and he is quietly hilarious with them. Then there is the search for missing novelist, Sterling Hayden (JOHNNY GUITAR) in Hemingway mode, and his mysterious wife Ellen Wade (Nina Van Pallandt - who played a similar role in that other great L.A. movie Paul Schrader's AMERICAN GIGOLO, see label). 
Plots interweave with the introduction of gangster Marty Augustine (director Mark Rydell) and his goons, including a silent young Arnold Schwarzenegger. There is a moment of shocking violence with Marty's young girlfriend and a coke bottle .... and Marlowe trying to catch up with Ellen Wade in her car, which lands him in hospital. Finally, the pieces fit and we head back to Mexico to find out who has been fooling who as Terry Malloy re-appears, it seems he regarded Marlowe as a loser, as he double-crossed everybody and killed his wife .... then his lover Mrs Wade re-appears driving her jeep as Marlowe walks away. Perfect ending ..... did I mention that theme song? 
Gould had just done an Ingmar Bergman film THE TOUCH - unseen for decades now - and was certainly the hot actor of that time, an Altman regular. He comes across marvellously in the later interviews as his and Altman's work is re-assessed. 
Leigh Brackett sounds a mascline name, but was a woman - and was born the same date as me, 7th December - but in 1915 and died aged 62 in 1978, another victim of smoking! A Howard Hawks regular, she also scripted HATARI, RIO LOBO, EL DORADO, the great RIO BRAVO in 1959. and that rather gay 1961 Clint Walker western I like GOLD OF THE SEVEN SAINTS (Westerns label), 
Altman, the great maverick, died in 2006, aged 81. I still have his last one to watch: A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION. His last hit was probably GOSFORD PARK in 2001, others like PRET-A-PORTER were spectacular misfires, but with great casts. His 1996 KANSAS CITY seems highly regarded too, and of course SHORT CUTS and THE PLAYER. Before THE LONG GOODBYE he did IMAGES with Susannah York in Ireland, one worth seeking out. I didn't want to see POPEYE, it may be fun now, and we certainly like COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN.