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, 29 February 2016

Winners & losers .....

Well thats over for another year, as the 88th Academy Awards finally ends. I was not going to bother this year, but ended up spending the morning (here in the UK) seeing the show unfold. It was a slick show, great idea to have all the endless thank-yous unfold on screen. Not totally predictable either - good to see SPOTLIGHT win best film and original screenplay, and Mark Rylance as Supporting Actor, and Alicia Vikander (looking terrific in that yellow dress) as Best Supporting Actress, though of course she really was the leading lady there. Great too to see those two veterans Ennio Morricone (87) and Quincy Jones together. And there certainly were quite a few black presenters - was the Academy making a point? I am miffed though that CAROL and its director Todd Haynes were not included in the nominations for best film and director - is the Academy homophobic as well as seemingly racist? - think back to BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN a decade ago... (below, Haynes with his two muses Blanchett and Julianne Moore, who both did two films with him). 
So, nothing for CAROL or BROOKLYN or THE LADY IN THE VAN (not even nominated) or 45 YEARS or THE MARTIAN, but apart from that, good to see MAD MAX getting all those technical awards ..... (THE REVENANT only got best actor and director of its 12 nominations). 
Cate Blanchett looked stunning as usual in another sensational dress by Armani Prive - as did Kate Winslet in that black Ralph Lauren. 
Mark Rylance made a great comment when being interviewed about the madness of voting on which actor is the best, when he said "its not a sport, its a craft".
Ho ho ho - it seems Sam Smith (winner for Best Song for that dreadful Bond theme) has annoyed the gay community with his speech where he seems to think he is the first out gay man to win an Oscar (well, he is 23, and its all about him ...). Dustin Lance Black (who won for his MILK script) was not amused, as per his Twitter rant. Then there's Sondheim and Elton John who won Best Song Oscars before Sam did! Perhaps Sam should have checked before making a fool of himself, he misquoted Ian McKellen who was talking about out gay actors. But what did it matter about his sexuality - who cares? He was lucky to be there to have won for that song ... 

See Academy Awards link for my Alternative Oscars.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Marilyn by Lee & and that 1962 film that wasn't ...

Marilyn Monroe would be 90 this year. Yes, I know, its impossible to imagine her - or James Dean - being "old" now - they are forever young, preserved in amber in that Golden Age: the 1950s and early '60 for Marilyn. Would she have aged like her once room-mate Shelley Winters? Would he have aged like Brando ? 

What is astonishing now is looking once again at those test shots for the uncompleted 1962 Fox film SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE where she looks simply radiant and totally gorgeous - a new sleek. slim, svelte slimmed-down Marilyn for the new decade, a few months before that still mysterious death - compare with how chubby (by today's standards) she looked in the second half of the 1950s: in that skintight white dress she spends most of THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL in, those Orry-Kelly (see below) creations in SOME LIKE IT HOT, how her looks and weight varied in LET'S MAKE LOVE in 1960, or in THE MISFITS in '61 ... I like this pensive shot of her on set in that dress in 1962.
Here also is what remains of SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE, mainly Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse, and that pool scene which Marilyn did, her intention was to get Liz Taylor (shooting the wildly expensive CLEOPATRA in Rome) off the covers of the world's magazines - 
she certainly succeeded there. We still find those pictures and footage fascinating. Liz of course was getting a million from Fox while Monroe was still on her contract salary and this would be her final Fox comedy - it looks as if it would have been more fun than her last one, the rather dull and tedious LET'S MAKE LOVE ...  I somehow never wanted to see MOVE OVER DARLING, Fox's reworking of the material for Doris Day in 1963 ...
Right: MM and Curtis on the set of SOME LIKE IT HOT ....
Here too is that 1987 documentary hosted by our Projector favourite Lee Remick  (four years before her own death in 1991....) - maybe the best of the Monroe documentaries - fascinating seeing one star commenting on another and of course Lee, back in 1962, had been named as replacing Marilyn in the Cukor film - which it seems was a bargaining ploy to get Marilyn back - it was the only film Fox had in production apart from the ruinously expensive CLEO .... I have the video-cassette of the Monroe/Remick documentary, shame its not on dvd. 
Left: that Nov1962 issue of British TOWN magazine with some of those last photos of Marilyn on the beach at Malibu, shot by George Barris - more on these at MM labels. We love those photos here ...I had this magazine when I was 16, it now fetches astronomical prices on the internet, I have seen it on eBay for £100, or £299 on a vintage magazine site - luckily I snapped up another copy of it last year for £40 ! 

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The night manager's pass, 2016

Should one rave about a new BBC serial after just one episode? I feel like doing so after catching the first episode of new Sunday night 6-part thriller THE NIGHT MANAGER, an updated version of a 1993 John Le Carre novel. Event television: great cast, great story, brilliantly directed and one can hear and understand every word - unlike in that other BBC highly regarded series HAPPY VALLEY * where the actors mumbling on location cannot have been recorded properly? 
A night manager of a European hotel is recruited by intelligence agents to infiltrate an international arms dealer's network.

Directed by Susanne Bier, this grabs one from the first moment. Tom Hiddleston is Jonathan Pine, the ex-army man now working as the night manager of a classy Cairo hotel, when he has his first encounter with the world of mega-rich Roper (Hugh Laurie), who is an arms dealer on the side ..... Tom Hollander plays his nasty henchman, Olivia Colman is the M16 operative on their trail, Russell Tovey pops up as an embassy man reluctant to get involved, and the large cast includes Douglas Hodge, Katharine Kelly, Neil Morrisey, David Harewood and more. After event get out of hand in Cairo and the death of the woman Pine was trying to help (after copying those documents which incriminate Roper) the action suddenly shifts to Switzerland 4 years later Pine is now the new night manager, and Roper and his cohorts arrive by helicopter and Pine has to provide the service they expect ..... We will be looking forward to more of this.

* Speaking of HAPPY VALLEY - sometimes an actor can astound one. We hardly noticed Kevin Doyle in DOWNTON ABBEY as mousey Mr Molesley, but he is riveting here as the Police detective who murders his difficult mistress - fabulous Amelia Bullmore, another Sally Wainwright regular. Doyle was also fantastic in SCOTT & BAILEY as that serial killer, over several episodes. Wainwright creates great moments for actors, like Joe Duttine (CORONATION STREET's resident window-cleaner) who has a great scene in SCOTT & BAILEY when he is revealed as a paedophile killer, and those great episodes with equally marvellous Nicola Walker. Of course Walker and HAPPY VALLEY's Sarah Lancashire were both stalwarts of Wainwright's terrific series LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX..). 

Busy boy Russell Tovey also stars in THE PASS, which he played on the stage here a year or two ago, and is now the opening night film of the new LGBT film festival at the BFI here next month. This should be an intriguing drama too .... mixing in the world of gays and football and sportsmen keeping secrets ....  Directed by Ben A. Williams and scripted by John Donnelly.
Nineteen-year-old Jason and Ade have been in the Academy of a famous London football club since they were eight years old. It's the night before their first-ever game for the first team - a Champions League match - and they're in a hotel room in Romania. They should be sleeping, but they're over-excited. They skip, fight, mock each other, prepare their kit, watch a teammate's sex tape. And then, out of nowhere, one of them kisses the other. The impact of this 'pass' reverberates through the next ten years of their lives - a decade of fame and failure, secrets and lies, in a sporting world where image is everything.

'60s British cinema: Dirk, Losey, Accident, again

Nice to see ACCIDENT on television again - thanks, Talking Pictures. Been a few years since I last saw it, though the dvd is filed away - we liked Losey's 1967 drama, scripted by Harold Pinter, a lot back then, it was almost the kind of movie we took for granted then, but it seems like an arthouse classic now. This is what I wrote on it here in 2013 :
Joseph Losey's ACCIDENT remains a key '60s movie for me - I well remember seeing it for the first time with my best pal Stan when it was on general release as a double feature - the supporting movie was JUST LIKE A WOMAN another forgotten '60s comedy, good cast though headed by Wendy Craig. ACCIDENT though was the culmination of those Bogarde-Losey films: THE SLEEPING TIGER in 1954 and that quartet which more or less defined the '60s: THE SERVANT, the too little see KING AND COUNTRY, the mod op-art delight MODESTY BLAISE (maybe my favourite cult movie with the divine triumvirate of Vitti, Bogarde & Stamp on that mad, mod op art island, with those witty asides as Dirk goes over the top as the supercamp villain Gabriel in the blonde wig... but I digress as usual). The Losey-Stanley Baker films are fascinating too, I particularly like the 1959 thriller BLIND DATE (LoseyBaker labels) and EVE and THE CRIMINAL ...

ACCIDENT, scripted by Harold Pinter, begins and ends with the sounds of a car crash, and we go back and forth to discover what really happened. There is that long marvellous central sequence depicting a languid lazy summer afternoon at the comfortably upper-middle class Oxford residence of professor Stephen (Bogarde) and his pregnant wife Rosalind, perfectly played by Vivien Merchant. Guests include William, one of the professor's pupils - a golden boy, aristocrat Michael York, and his girlfriend Anna an Austrian princess, Jacqueline Sassard.
An interloper is another rival professor Charley, Stanley Baker at his most aggressive. They shell the peas, go for walks, lie on the lawn, hands slowly touch, as we begin to see the tensions and undercurrents here... Stephen is having a kind of mid-life crisis and is attracted to Anna, the glacial girlfriend who is manipulating these men. She is sleeping with Charley but knows how Stephen feels about her. Rivalies between the men come to the surface over dinner as William falls drunk into his plate - Charley is also a tv presenter, he is good on tv - and taunts Stephen who also wants to be on tv, and in fact has an appointment with a producer, played by Pinter himself. We also see Charley's distraught wife Ann Firbank, watering flowers in the rain, while the pregnant Rosalind watches all - Stephen also has a date with an old girlfriend, silently played by Delphine Seyrig - we hear their disjointed conversation played over that restaurant scene. Her father is Losey regular, Alexander Knox. Upper class rituals are explored - rugby, punting on the river ....
 We know right away that William has been killed in the car crash, as Stephen takes the unconscious Anna out of the car and into his house. Who actually was driving ?
Do they sleep together too ? Does he take advantage of her dazed state? One thing that mars ACCIDENT for me is that Sassard is too blank a presence at the centre - she also had a big role in '68 as a similar object of desire in Chabrol's LES BICHES, though it was her last year in movies. (I also saw her when younger in FAIBLES FEMMES, a French comedy with the young Alain Delon, in 1959). Projector favourite Austrian Romy Schneider, who was originally cast, would have been ideal here, with that teasing, feline quality of hers and would have made so much more of the role. We never get to see or understand what Sassard is feeling or thinking. Baker and Bogarde of course are both pitch perfect, squaring up to each other again a decade after their Canadian adventure CAMPBELL'S KINGDOM, a perfect Rank Organisation movie in 1957. ACCIDENT would be their final film with Losey, who was next making films with the Burtons and going off to Europe (Losey label), as indeed would Dirk. ACCIDENT's reputation has grown over the years, though like Antonioni's BLOW-UP it is a polarising film, some people actively hate it, but like BLOW-UP and THE SERVANT it is for me a major '60s film, and one of Pinter's best scripts. Cinematography by Gerry Fisher, and music by Johnny Dankworth. 

RIP, continued

Douglas Slocombe (1913-2016), aged 103. The veteran British cinematographer, who shot a lot of British classics from the 1940s, those Ealing films like IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY, the great colour film SARABAND FOR DEAD LOVERS in 1948, KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS,  and 60s films like THE SERVANT, THE ITALIAN JOB, cult favourite THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS, and in the '80s those Indiana Jones films starting with RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, as well as THE MUSIC LOVERS, THE GREAT GATSBY and JULIA in the 1970s, and THE LION IN WINTER in 1968. As with the great Jack Cardiff, we like so many of the films he worked on.

Harper Lee (1926-2016) aged 89. The author of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD which still goes on selling and became that influential 1962 film. We loved the book and the film too.  

Margaret Forster (1938-2016), aged 77 - prolific British novelist, her best known book is probaby GEORGY GIRL, which was filmed in 1966. Her husband, writer  and official Beatles biographer Hunter Davies wrote the novel of HERE WE GO ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH (see below), which became another essential 1960s film. Forster's other best-sellers include "Diary of an Ordindary Woman" and "Hidden Lives: A Family Memoir" and "My Life in Houses".

Umberto Eco (1932-2016), aged 84. Italian writer and philosopher, whose best known work THE NAME OF THE ROSE was a 1980s film. 

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Top 60 female singer/songwriters ....

Our "Daily Telegraph" compiled a list of the top 60 (that many?) female singer/songwriters and I was pleased to see Joni Mitchell came out on top ....

1: Joni Mitchell. Canadian Roberta Joan Anderson (aka Joni Mitchell) began her career busking in Toronto but went on to become one of the leading figures in folk music in the Sixties and Seventies. For her pure vocals and thoughtful lyrics, which range from socially conscious to deeply confessional, Mitchell is seen as one of the voices of her generation. Her 1971 album BLUE often ranks well on lists of the greatest albums of all time.








The others? In order from Nr 2 onwards:

Kate Bush / Patti Smith / Dolly Parton / Carole King / Kirsty MacColl / Chrissie Hynde / Nina Simone / Adele / Amy Winehouse / Bjork / Janis Joplin / Madonna

14: Peggy Lee. Arguably America's first female singer-songwriter, Peggy Lee entered the public consciousness at a time when it was highly unusual for commercial singers to write their own material. Born into a poor North Dakota family in 1920, Lee began her career at a local radio station, where she sang in exchange for food. She would collaborate on original songs with Duke Ellington and Quincy Jones, but is best known for her equally inventive cover-versions. Lee heavily rewrote Little Willie John's hit song, Fever; her lyrics are now more famous than those of the original. Lee later wrote the co-songs for Disney's The Lady and the Tramp. With her blonde hair and outspoken manner, "Miss Peggy" was reportedly the inspiration for The Muppet Show's Miss Piggy.

Stevie Nicks / Taylor Swift / Sandy Denny / Lady Gaga / Barbra Streisand / P J Harvey / Edith Piaf /

22: Joan Armatrading. Born in Saint Kitts in the Caribbean, 64-year-old guitarist and singer Joan Armatrading moved to Birmingham with her family when she was three. She left school at 15 and was sacked from her first job at a tool manufacture for playing her guitar during tea breaks. Armatrading released her first album in 1972, and went on to have hits in the Seventies by blending jazz and folk, and in the Eighties with a more commercial pop sound. She won an Ivor Novello Award for her songwriting in 1996.

Joan Baez / Billie Holliday / Rickie Lee Jones / Loretta Lynn / Debbie Harry / Sinead O'Connor / Kate and Anna McGarrigle / Cyndi Lauper / Carly Simon / Lauryn Hill

33: Aretha Franklin. Soul legend Aretha Franklin began her musical career as a gospel singer in church, and was later taken on tour by her preacher father. The Tennessee native became a star in the Sixties singing jazz and Motown standards. Her 1967 re-working of Otis Redding's Respect - which was adopted as an anthem for change by the civil rights movement - gave her a number one in the US in 1967, and she followed this with further hit singles Chain of Fools and Say A Little Prayer. In the Seventies, Franklin began to write more of her own songs, including Call Me and Rock Steady. The 70-year-old became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

Patty Griffin / Lucinda Williams / Tori Amos / Siouxsie Sioux / Tracy Chapman / Regina Spektor / Erykah Badu / Bonnie Raitt / K D Lang /Gillian Welch / Emmylou Harris /  

45: Sade. British-Nigerian singer Helen Folasade Adu is better known as Sade, the lead singer of the Grammy and Brit Award-winning soul, jazz and R&B band of the same name. As the group's chief songwriter, Adu was the driving force behind hit singles Your Love is King and Smooth Operator. The band have sold over 110 million albums worldwide, making Adu one of the most successful British female musicians ever. In 2002, she received an OBE for services to music and dedicated it to "all black women in England".

Roberta Flack / Gretchen Peters / Alicia Keys / Aimee Mann / Dar Williams / Laura Marling / Shania Twain / Ani Difranco / Odetta / Cat Power / Norah Jones / Judee Sill / Beth Orton / KD Tunstall / Sarah McLachlan.

Phew! I know and like most of these of course - ok, there are a few I am not familiar with - but it almost seems a list of 60 female singers, but of course Peggy Lee wrote a lot of songs, and singers like Barbra and Aretha have song-writing credits too.  The only omissions I can think of are Laura NyroJanis Ian and Francoise Hardy. Has Annie Lennox written songs? 

Friday, 19 February 2016

'60s / '70s British cinema: Olly and David

Lets now look at those two interesting British actors Oliver Reed and David Hemmings through the decades. Both were young jobbing actors at the dawn of the Sixties, and were established by the middle of the Swinging Decade .... thanks to directors like Antonioni, Michael Winner and Ken Russell. They worked together several times and their ends were rather similar too. They are both in THE SYSTEM (left) in 1964, THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER in 1977 and GLADIATOR in 2000. Both took to the hell-raising life as their careers waxed and waned and both died in their early sixties (Reed at 61, Hemmings at 62), no doubt from all that excess - at least David left an enjoyable and fascinating memoir.

It was an exciting time for young actors as the likes of Peter O'Toole, Albert Finney, Alan Bates, Tom Courtenay came to prominence in the early Sixties, with Michael York, Terence Stamp and more following .... Oliver with his striking looks had lots of small parts, including that hilarious moment when his camp ballet dancer invades Jack Hawkins' LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN in 1960, he was more typically cast as werewolves or bullies (as in THE ANGRY SILENCE) and had a good role in Losey's THE DAMNED in 1961. Michael Winner's THE SYSTEM in 1964 was a terrific role for him, and it a terrific British 1960s film ushering in that Swinging Era. David Hemmings is also in THE SYSTEM in a rather nondescript role - who would think two years later he would be starring for Italian maestro Michelangelo Antonioni who made him the face of the decade in BLOW-UP ? Hemmings also came up in small parts in films like NO TREES IN THE STREET, SINK THE BISMARCK!, SOME PEOPLE, PLAY IT COOL, WEST 11, TWO LEFT FEET etc - see Hemmings label. I had a good conversation with his then girlfriend Jane Merrow (star of THE SYSTEM) in the summer of 1966 when she was doing a West End play, about the time he must have been filming BLOW-UP - 50 years ago. 
The Antonioni classic did not hit London until 1967 when it became the talk of the town and it was the film (and still is) one had to see and have an opinion about. Being 21 at the time it was like seeing oneself up there in the screen, as Antonioni transformed David into that decadent dissatisfied cherub. He was soon seen in more '60s classics like CAMELOT, BARBARELLA, THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE and kept busy into the 1970s, was married to Gayle Hunnicutt, also directing (RUNNING SCARED, JUST A GIGOLO with Bowie and Dietrich) as well as lots of American TV series like MAGNUM PI and THE A-TEAM as he had re-located to America and became a top action director for TV. 

Oliver did more Michael Winner films (THE JOKERS, HANNIBAL BROOKS - did anyone see that?, and that magnum opus I'LL NEVER FORGET WHAT'ISNAME) and then Ken Russell stepped in, not only with WOMEN IN LOVE and the notorious THE DEVILS (see Ken Russell/Reed labels) but he also impressed in Ken's 1967 BBC film on Dante Gabriel Rossetti DANTE'S INFERNO. His popular movies continued with THE HUNTING PARTY, THE TRAP, his Bill Sykes in OLIVER!TOMMY, ROYAL FLASHTHE TRIPLE ECHO and THE CLASS OF MISS MACMICHAEL, both again with Glenda Jackson, and American movies like BURNT OFFERINGS and THE SHUTTERED ROOM, and of course his brooding Athos in the Richard Lester MUSKETEERS films. 
THE DEVILS
They are both in the 1977 PRINCE AND THE PAUPER reboot, fun but not much more, and both turned up again in Ridley Scott's GLADIATOR, both rather aged now with no vanity at all, though just in their early sixties. Oliver had become a feature on the chatshow circuit where his increasing drunken antics make sad viewing now - there was a compilation on last week: THE OLIVER REED INTERVIEWS, it simply was too depressing to watch it all. Perhaps he was being encouraged to drink too much and go over the top to make car-crash television?
 He died of a heart attack in Malta during the GLADIATOR shoot in 1999 and was buried in Cork, in Ireland, where he had been living with his second wife. Hemmings kept going until 2003 - he had an effective role in Scorsese's THE GANGS OF NEW YORK, and the Brit film LAST ORDERS with peers Courtenay, Caine, Hoskins, Mirren, Winstone - and he also died of a heart attack on location in Romania. His memoir, published in 2004, is a fascinating read for anyone interested in British Cinema and his early life as a boy opera singer for Benjamin Brittan - he sang Miles in the first opera production of THE TURN OF THE SCREW. Hemmings talks about BLOW-UP (as does a still miffed Terence Stamp who had been promised the part) in that 1993 BBC series HOLLYWOOD UK, as do Vanessa and Monica Vitti too ... you also get Polanski, Roger Corman, Truffaut (with Julie Christie) and those other foreign directors wanting to be a part of Swinging London. 
We continue to like Hemmings and Reed and like seeing them on screen. Like Richards Harris and Burton they paid the price for all that excessive drinking, but kept going and working to the end -  of course like most working actors they did their share of rubbish and routine programmers (JUGGERNAUT, THE SQUEEZE, SITTING TARGET, AND THEN THERE WERE NONE), but we need not linger on those - more on them at labels. VENOM in '81 was a choice one for Olly - with the deadly snake going up his trouserleg ...

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

'70s British cinema & the curious case of Barry Evans

Today we look back at Seventies British cinema - which brings to mind that famous quote from THE GO-BETWEEN: "The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there". 70s British cinema began quite well with those well-regarded films like SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY, THE GO-BETWEEN (an award winner at Cannes) and DON'T LOOK NOW, as directors like Schlesinger, Losey and Roeg were at their peaks; and there were cult hits like THE WICKER MAN (originally sent out on release as supporting feature to DON'T LOOK NOW)..  British television was also good then in the early '70s, with series like COUNTRY MATTERS, WESSEX TALES, the BBC's TAKE THREE GIRLS and the hit ITV series UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS (the DOWNTON ABBEY of the era). 
The UK still only had three television channels (BBC1, ITV and BBC2, Channel 4 did not start until late 1982), video had yet to arrive - I got my first recorder in December 1979, so one either saw things at the time or missed them. BBC had a great series of sitcoms, we loved HI-DE-HI, ARE YOU BEING SERVED? and DAD'S ARMY. ITV sitcoms were generally weaker, and seen as a bit dim or low rent. I have to admit I did not bother with series like those spin-offs like DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE, DOCTOR AT LARGE or the later MIND YOUR LANGUAGE which ran from 1977 to 1986, all featuring Barry Evans (1943-1997), today's subject, or those series with Richard O'Sullivan, a spin-off from GEORGE AND MILDRED, though that may be my loss.

HERE WE GO ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH 
As the Seventies wore on British cinema still turned out some interesting films, usually featuring Glenda Jackson (probably England's busiest actress then)  with either Oliver Reed, Alan Bates, Michael Caine or Peter Finch - titles like TRIPLE ECHO, STEVIE, RETURN OF THE SOLDIER - she is terrific leading that cast in NASTY HABITS, and there's the dreadful THE INCREDIBLE SARAH - Glenda kept churning them out; I saw her on stage too in THE MAIDS with Susannah, which was also filmed (and in THREE SISTERS at the Royal Court in 1968 - Glenda label).
People still went to the cinema a lot, the 70s was a great decade for European cinema and that new American cinema of Altman, Scorsese, Coppola, De Palma etc The CARRY ONs and Hammer Films were still going too even if getting tattier by the day, soft porn was invading them too ..... which brings me to a double bill I recorded the other day, which was on sometime during the night on one of those cable channels: ADVENTURES OF A TAXI DRIVER and ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE EYE, dating from 1976 and 1977, when the tat really hit the fan.
Now lets go back to 1968, when the two Swinging London films we loved (being in our early 20s at the time) were SMASHING TIME (Rita Tush and Lynn Redgrave come down from the North to wreck havoc in George Melly's delightful script as directed by Desmond Davis - see label) and Clive Donner's HERE WE GO ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH set in Stevenage New Town with a great cast of new faces (Barry Evans, Judy Geeson, Adrienne Posta, Angela Scoular) and that Traffic score - it caught the scene perfectly, my pal Stan and I loved it. The brief nudity in it was fresh and engaging too - not cheap and tatty as in those later films.

Smut though was coming to the fore by the early 70s - kinky as in DORIAN GRAY or GOODBYE GEMINI (see Trash, 70s, British labels for more on these) but generally cheap and unfunny as in those CONFESSIONS OF A WINDOW CLEANER and others featuring the charmless chump Robin Askwith (still going now, as in the BENIDORM series which seems to have lost the plot completely). Then there was PERCY in 1971 and those Hywel Bennett films, like the mess they made of Joe Orton's LOOT .... Then there was that spate of '70s British gangster movies (covered here already, British label), like ALL COPPERS ARE, THE SQUEEZE, VILLAIN, SITTING TARGET, HENESSEY etc. and John Wayne (with toupee) taking on the '70s London underworld in the very enjoyable BRANNIGAN.

After MULBERRY BUSH Barry Evans had a small part in Donner's next, the interesting ALFRED THE GREAT in 1969 (David Hemmings and Michael York leading), and he was busy in television including those series mentioned. However in 1976 he starred in a CONFESSIONS OF ... rip-off titled ADVENTURES OF A TAXI DRIVER, which was an interesting view to flick through quickly (one would hardly want to see them in real time) with its follow-up ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE EYE - Barry bailed out of that one, the lead was a charmless nonentity called Christopher Neil. There was even a CONFESSIONS OF A PLUMBER'S MATE, but we were spared that - all directed by one Stanley Long - dare one mention him.
What was so depressing about these apart from they being desperately unfunny was seeing Barry and the MULBERRY BUSH girls (Geeson, Scoular, Posta) re-united a decade later but now given nothing to do apart from situations where their clothes fall off, and seeing the likes of Diana Dors (cheerfully playing the blowsy, harridan mother in both epics), Suzy Kendall, Liz Fraser, Harry H Corbett, Fred Emney, Irene Handl, Ian Lavender, Julian Orchard, Jon Pertwee, Anna Quayle, William Rushton etc roped in and given nothing to do. It may have been the only work going, but they would hardly have earned much for doing a day or two on poverty row productions like these. It must have been a lean time for comedians and young actors when the British cinema - so prolific in the '50s and '60s - was now on its knees and just producing smutty rubbish. At least the guys had to strip off too, as Barry or Chris had to run naked from various ladies' bedrooms as the husband returned ... presumably that had them rolling in the aisles. 

Barry's MIND YOUR LANGUAGE series ran until 1986 and his last credit was in 1993. By then he was a taxi driver in real life, in Melton Mowbray, where he was found dead in 1997, aged 53, in rather mysterious circumstances. 
The circumstances of his early death remain a mystery; He was found dead in his bungalow in Leicestershire, England with bottles of whiskey and aspirins nearby. A youth was charged with his murder, but acquitted on lack of evidence. A local coroner later recorded an open verdict.
There was also some story about him being involved with a rentboy, and having had a blow to his head - maybe by the youth mentioned above. A sorry end to when he was 18 and won a scholarship to train for the stage at the Central School of Speech and Drama. 

Sad how some actors' careers and lives pan out .... some die too young (Stanley Baker), some careers are over before the actor dies (Stephen Boyd, Laurence Harvey), some simply vanish - like the interesting case of Jeremy Spenser (see label), a 1950s actor who was the young prince in THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL, and in SUMMERTIME, THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS STONE, FERRY TO HONG KONG etc, which shows that acting with Monroe, Olivier, Katharine Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, Orson Welles is no guarantee of a long career. As I have said before, most personable actors though if they are fortunate get ten good years and can usually parlay that into smaller roles as they get older: Michael York, Terence Stamp etc. 
Next: a look at those pals Oliver Reed and David Hemmings and how their careers intertwined and changed over the years, as they did ...  

Monday, 15 February 2016

Mitchell Leisen, Hollywood Director

"Mitchell Leisen, Hollywood Director" first published in 1973 and reprinted in 1995, by David Chierichetti, is a fascinating return to Hollywood's golden age, from the 1920s onwards. The blurb says: "Mirchell Leisen's lengthy film career which spanned the silents through the advent of television, began in 1919 when he was hired as a costume designer for Cecil B DeMille. In the 1920s he moved up to set design and art direction, and he began directing in the 1930s. As director, Leisen's unique cinematic eye was responsible for such hits as TO EACH HIS OWN, EASY LIVING. LADY IN THE DARK, MIDNIGHT, REMEMBER THE NIGHT, and DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY. His story is a fascinating study of Hollywood's Golden Age." The book also gives an indication of Hollywood's rampant gay and bisexual scene back then ... Amusing stories too on those Leisen was great pals with (Carole Lombard) and those he wasn't (Miss Fontaine). 

My friend Daryl, also says this about Leisen:  "Mitchell Leisen was one of the master directors at Paramount in the 1930s; as a former set and costume designer, his films always had an elegant visual surface, and when that was coupled with a script of some merit, the results were some of the true delights of the period. (It's unfortunate that Leisen's reputation was tarnished by Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder - their anger over what they perceived as his meddling - he often cut the scripts if speeches got too unwieldy - caused them to strike out as writer-directors.)"

Leisen (1898-1972)  is now perceived as one of Hollywood's gay directors, but he was also avidly bisexual, being married and also having a long-time mistress, as well as his relationships with men. His early costume designs for Douglas Fairbanks for ROBIN HOOD and particularly THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD in 1924 are still marvellous now.In 1932 he was assistant director, and did art direction and costumes for DeMille's SIGN OF THE CROSS which I like a lot (see Peplums-1 label). He had to measure up a nude Claudette for her bath in ass's milk which DeMille wanted to come up to her nipples - but the heat of the studio was turning the milk to cheese .... 
Lets have a look at some of his successes:

MIDNIGHT, 1939. Today' guest reviewer, my friend Martin did this review of it on IMDB ten years ago, and sums it up perfectly:
As good as a movie can get. Claudette Colbert is the flapper/gold-digger/chanteuse, (take your pick), who arrives in a very rainy Paris in an evening gown and not much else. She is momentarily rescued from her predicament by a gallant taxi driver, (played gallantly by Don Ameche), with whom she immediately falls in love but from whom she runs as fast as her well-turned-out legs can carry her. She runs straight into the clutches of John Barrymore, (a magnificent comic performance), who saves her bacon, so to speak, if only she will seduce gigolo Francis Lederer who is stealing away Barrymore's wife, the always delectable Mary Astor, and thus save Barrymore's marriage.
This is a French farce of the very best kind, although it is written, not by a Feydeau, but by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, and directed with supreme elegance by the under-valued Mitchell Leisen. Colbert is wonderful as the wide-eyed chorine, torn between love and riches, Barrymore displays sublime comic timing and Astor is as sharp as a new pin. It feels and looks like a Lubitsch but I doubt if even Lubitsch could better it.

HOLD BACK THE DAWN, 1941. Told in flashback from a preface in which the main character visits Paramount to sell his story - to a director played by Leisen himself. Romanian-French gigolo Georges Iscovescu (Charles Boyer) wishes to enter the USA. Stopped in Mexico by the quota system, his old flame Anita (a doxy on the make) advises him to marry an American, whom he can then desert and return to her, who's done likewise. But after sweeping teacher Emmy Brown (Olivia De Havilland) off her feet, he finds her so sweet that love and jealousy endanger his plans. This is a perfect romantic fantasy where the varied characters have their own stories and motives for what they do. There is that nice very pregnant American lady Rosemary DeCamp (though she is so covered up one can hardly see that she is expecting) who connives to get her baby born on American territory. Olivia again plays a good woman without being cloying - I love that school bus she drives around. She is injured in a trafffic accident after Anita (a terrific turn from Paulette Goddard) confronts her and tells her the truth about how and why gigolo Boyer married her - he then risks all to cross the border chased by the immigration people, to get to her hospital bedside to comfort her and give her the will to live .... does it all end happily? You bet - even Anita lands a new rich patsy.

Wilder and Preston Sturges, in later years, bewailed the havoc Leisen wreaked on their scripts. Painted him as a flamboyant gay aesthete, who preferred d├ęcor to drama, party dresses to pithy dialogue. For Wilder, the problem with Leisen was simple. “He was a fag window dresser.”
Ironically, though, MIDNIGHT is a sharper and more stylish satire than Wilder’s dull  LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (1957). Lacking Wilder’s pervasive sourness and contempt (to the fore in ACE IN THE HOLEKISS ME STUPID and THE FORTUNE COOKIE), HOLD BACK THE DAWN views its hicks and whores and schemers through a veil of sympathy, suggesting they might have reasons to act as they do.  
Wilder is said to have hated so much what Leisen had done to his scripts – although it’s hard to imagine how anyone could fault MIDNIGHT or HOLD BACK THE DAWN – that he decided to become a director himself so that his scripts wouldn’t, in the future, be ‘butchered’ . "All he did was he fucked up the script and our scripts were damn near perfection, let me tell you. Leisen was too goddamn fey. I don’t knock fairies. Let him be a fairy. Leisen’s problem was that he was a stupid fairy." 
"HOLD BACK THE DAWN, an unlikely tale of redemption, of gigolos and gold diggers conniving their way across the American border from Mexico, would have been unpalatably depressing under Wilder’s direction. Charles Boyer’s and Leisen’s decision to cut a scene in which Boyer, a down-and-out playboy in his seedy hotel room, toys with and confesses to a cockroach, one can only surmise, was a good choice. It was the elimination of this particular scene that stoked most of Wilder’s hatred for Leisen."

I did these reviews here some while back:
Back to 1944 for FRENCHMAN'S CREEK, a costume drama about pirates from a novel by Daphne De Maurier, with her REBECCA star Joan Fontaine. This is now a Spanish dvd: EL PIRATA Y LA DAMA (The Pirate and the Lady), by that interesting gay director Mitchell Leisen. Mexican Arturo de Cordova is the pirate, with hissable Basil Rathbone, dependable Cecil Kellway and blustering Nigel Bruce. 
Joan is the noblewoman who tires of her husband and his decadent friends in bawdy Restoration London and who decamps with her children to her country estate, run by kindly Cecil, in remote Cornwall. She soon finds out that a French pirate moors his ship in a nearby cove and has been using her house and bedroom. They get to meet and have a chaste affair.  She soon enjoys herself dressing up a his cabin boy and getting involved in his pirate activities. 
Then her husband and suspicious Basil turn up as the plot works out to a satisfactory, for its time, conclusion as she has to give up her pirate lover and settle for dull marriage and looking after her children. Joan gives it her all and gets to wear some nice gowns. Arturo and his pirate gang seem a gay lot .... a subtext picked up by my IMDB pal melvelvit, who commented:  "I see what cinema scribes mean when they speak of Leisen's "gay sensibility"; the camera practically caressed Arturo's hairy (unusual for the time) chest and there were lots of lovingly photographed bare-chested pirates" ... A sometimes campy swashbuckler then. Joan's and Basil's fight to the death on the stairs is certainly well done and packs a punch! 

Then there is GOLDEN EARRINGS made after the war in '47 - is it a comedy, a romance or a thriller? perhaps a bit of each then as Ray Milland is on the run in Germany presumably before or during the war and has to depend on gypsy Marlene Dietrich to help him get around the country. Its actually quite amusing as directed by Mitchell Leisen and Marlene is droll in her gypsy makeup and not playing a heartless vamp for once. Bland Milland is dull - the stars did not get on - I read that Marlene sucked the eye out of a fish-head from her her stewpot during his first closeup to disconcert him. Again we get lots of comic Nazis and they do not seem to mind the gypsies roaming around or telling their fortunes - or maybe the gypsies were not being rounded up just then ! You have to laugh at the end: he comes back after the war and there is Marlene with her gypsy caravan and her stewpot as though he had left just a few minutes before...

Leisen continued into the 1950s - I caught THE MATING SEASON from 1951 once on television but it does not seem available at all now, but provided great roles for Thelma Ritter, Miriam Hopkins, and Gene Tierney. We will be looking out for more Leisen films ....  NO MAN OF HER OWN with Barbara Stanwyck sounds an interesting one.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Bette, dressed by Orry

Bette Davis's 3 films with William Wyler are undoubted classics (JEZEBEL, THE LETTER, THE LITTLE FOXES) where she was dressed by Orry-Kelly (see post below), but perhaps NOW VOYAGER in 1942 is her most perfect role (along with DARK VICTORY) where her repressed mother-dominated frumpy spinster Charlotte Vale is transformed into a soigne, sleek woman of the world due to Claude Rains psychiatrist ..... Bette is helped immeasurably here by Orry-Kelly again who designed a perfect wardrobe for her .... looking at the film again the clothes seem not to have dated at all.  (See Bette-1 label for feature I did on this 5 years ago..) 
As Bette herself said in a 1965 "Films and Filming" interview: "I was terribly fortunate only in one thing that in my personal taste I never was one to go in for the “present style” in clothes. I wear basically the same kind of clothes today on the screen and off as when I played a modern part back then. That is really what has hit many of the films, when a woman wore all the mad clothes and they really are ridiculous. It’s because I always basically wore what we call classic clothes today - all the wardrobe for DARK VICTORY you could wear today, with the possible exception of an inch or two in the skirt. I never wore padded shoulders and I very seldom wore hats and I never had crazy hairdos. And that really is what hurt the old films the most.”
I particularly like Bette's THE GREAT LIE (with Mary Astor) and OLD ACQUAINTANCE (with Miriam Hopkins) as my favourite '40s movies of hers - and its another look at her two sisters in the 1946 A STOLEN LIFE (with Glenn Ford - see below) coming up soon.