Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Italian rarity: Adua & her friends - hungry for love

Another Italian rarity, one I had not heard of until recently. How could a film featuring Simone Signoret (just after her ROOM AT THE TOP success and Academy Award) and Marcello Mastroianni (just after LA DOLCE VITA) be so unknown?, and also with French actress Emmanuelle Riva (just after HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR) who died last week aged 89. It was released in the UK at the time, titled HUNGRY FOR LOVE, which must have lured in the "dirty mac brigade".

ADUA AND HER FRIENDS (ADUA ET LA CAMPAGNE) When a brothel closes because of new laws, four of the prostitutes decide to go into business running a restaurant. They discover they cannot escape their past.

This story of four prostitutes forced to fend for themselves when a new law closes the bordellos of Rome has the required gritty social realism, but there are scenes of happiness and humor too. They pool their savings to open a trattoria, but find they cannot get a license. A prominent fixer with connections obtains the license for them, on condition that they conduct their old business upstairs and pay him an exorbitant monthly fee. The women are not anxious to turn tricks for a living any longer and find joy in running the restaurant. The women long to settle down -- one (Riva) has a child, another meets a man who loves and wants to marry her. Only one  (Sandra Milo) is tempted to return to her old life. Signoret, the major character here and as wonderful as ever as the worldly-wise Adua - but she too is a fool for a no-good man. Enter Mastroianni as a glib car salesman, hustler and womanizer. While the trattoria is a success, it does not bring in the kind of money demanded by their "patron," which leads to conflict. In this genre, happy endings are rare.
The girls end up exposing their pimp who wants them to resume their old business, using the restaurant as a cover, and they are all exposed in the papers. Society does not give girls like them a second chance, The last scene,  with the girls back on the street in the rain, is suitably right and downbeat. Signoret as Adua though is so enterprising and attractive it is hard to believe her wet, bedragged prosititute would be overlooked for a younger girl.

Nicely directed by Antonio Pietrangeli, I have seen several of his lately, who died early at age 49. This one won Best Italian Film of the Year at Venice in 1961. (See I KNEW HER WELL. below).
1960 was certainly a year for prostitution in the cinema: NEVER ON SUNDAY with happy hooker Melina, BUTTERFIELD 8 and GO NAKED IN THE WORLD with Liz and Gina both taking a tumble at the end (at least Liz got that Oscar), THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG, GIRL OF THE NIGHT, and Shirley Jones winning an Oscar in ELMER GANTRY - now there's ADUA AND HER FRIENDS!
It was of course that strange era of strip clubs and clip joints, as exemplified by EXPRESSO  BONGO, TOO HOT TO HANDLE, PASSPORT TO SHAME, THE WORLD TEN TIMES OVER, BITTER HARVEST, THE BEAUTY JUNGLE etc, and glamour girls like Diana Dors and Belinda Lee (SHE WALKS BY NIGHT, 1959) before the new permissiveness of the dawning Swinging Sixties. Bardot in Paris was mining a similar seam with steamy items like LOVE IS MY PROFESSION and LA VERITE.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

For the weekend ....

George sings Joni / Jimmy revisits "Smalltown Boy" in 2014 / Joan's "Back To The Night" in 1975. I have just bought a vinyl album of that, one of her essentials with those great early songs, but somehow it is not on cd, unless for very silly money ...

RIP, continued .... first of the new year

John Hurt (1940-2017), aged 77. Sir John has departed after a long battle with cancer, but was working as busy as ever (he is in the current JACKIE). I remember his start in 1962 in THE WILD AND THE WILLING and he became one of England's major actors, as in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, SINFUL DAVY, and came into his own in the 1970s with his immortal Quentin Crisp in THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT and his demonic Caligula in I CLAUDIUS, and 10 RILLINGTON PLACE.
Then came THE ELEPHANT MAN where he is unbelievably touching, plus MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, 1984, THE FIELD, harbouring the creature in ALIEN and so many more. I saw him around town a few times, and at the BFI promoting 44 INCH CHEST in 2010, where he is a terrifying Peanut. The legendary actor with that distinctive voice clocked up an amazing 204 credits including that dreadful 1982 film PARTNERS, see Hurt label. He is terrific too in LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND. He also reprised Quentin Crisp in AN ENGLISHMAN IN NEW YORK in 2009. 

Mary Tyler Moore (1936-23017), aged 80. Mary who starred in THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW as Mary Richards, changed the roles of women on American TV, being independent and career-focused, after her stint as Dick Van Dyke's wife. I have fond memories of her show, and we love her as Miss Dorothy in THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, She also did a film with Elvis, among others, and was Oscar-nominated for her ice-queen wife in Redford's ORDINDARY PEOPLE in 1980. Her MTM Enterprises production company was a major player too, with those spinoffs from her show: RHODA, PHYLLIS, LOU GRANT among other sitcoms and drama series such as HILL STREET BLUES.
"In the Ritz elevator you just go up and down"
Emmanuelle Riva (1927-2017) age 89. One of France's leading actresses, she was Oscar-nominated for her brilliant portrayal in AMOUR in 2012. She came to prominence in Resnais's HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR in 1959, other leading roles included Melville's LEON MORIN PRIEST with Belmondo in '61, KAPO, THERESE, ADUA AND HER FRIENDS (see next review, above) and more. 

Lord Snowdon (1930-2017), aged 86. Several notices mentioned that the least interesting thing about the former Anthony Armstrong-Jones was that he married into the British Royal Family. That wedding to Princess Margaret in 1960 was a major event - I recall the newsreels. He was one of the bright new photographers of the late 50s and early 60s, joining "The Sunday Times" in 1962 just as they launched that new colour supplement era. Jones was as distinctive a photographer as David Bailey and the others, covering the spectrum of celebrities and exposes of disabled and homeless people. He was also an inventor and passionate supporter of disabled people, making several documentaries. He and the Princess were, along with The Burtons, the celebrity couple of the era, and he continued being on cordial terms with The Royals after his divorce, and his colourful private life continued unabated.

Gorden Kaye (1941-2017), aged 75. Comic actor Gorden was of course Rene in the long-running BBC series 'ALLO 'ALLO, which poked fun at all those wartime dramas, as it mined comedy and made fun of the Germans, the French, the British etc. He also played the role on stage and survived a serious accident when a billboard hoarding crashed through his car windscreen in 1990.

Larry Steinbachek (1960-2016), aged 56. One of the original members and keyboard player of 80s electro band Bronski Beat. "Hit that perfect beat, boy".

Fran Jeffries (1937-2016), aged 79. Singer and dancer Fran (who had married to Dick Haymes and Richard Quine) brightened up some movies, including her terrific number in THE PINK PANTHER in 1963.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Sixties rarity: I Knew Her Well, 1965

I KNEW HER WELL, 1965. Despite my interest in Italian cinema, and the Sixties, I had never heard of this one until some recent reviews. It never played here in the UK or was mentioned in the quality film magazines of the time. (I was 19 in 1965 and seeing them all).  Looking at it now, on the Criterion dvd, it is an absolute treasure. All that mod black and white 1960s photography with a heroine, a model forever changing her looks, hairstyles and clothes as she goes through the LA DOLCE VITA Roman high society. The Criterion blurb says:
This prismatic portrait of the days and nights of a party girl in sixties Rome is a revelation. On the surface it plays like an inversion of LA DOLCE VITA with a woman at its centre, following the gorgeous,seemingly liberating Adriana (Stefania Sandrelli) as she dallies with a wide variety of men, attends parties, goes on modelling gigs, constantly changing looks and hairstyles, and circulates among the rich and famous. But despite its often light tone, the film ultimately becomes a stealth portrait of a suffocating culture that dehumanises people, especially women. A character study that never strays from its complicated central figure, I KNEW HER WELL is one of the most overlooked films of the Sixties, by turns funny, tragic and altogether jawdropping, as directed by Antonio Pietrangeli.

I go along with that, the parallels with the Fellini epic are obvious. Interesting that DARLING must also have been in production at the same time, showcasing that English party girl on the make.  It all looks as good as Visconti’s SANDRA, also 1965.
The lead here is Stefania Sandrelli, who is endlessly fascinating as simple country girl Adriana, adrift in Rome. I only knew her from DIVORCE ITALIAN STYLE and THE CONFORMIST. She is fascinating on the dvd extras, 50 years later, in her early 70s and still working now.
Adriana seems a happy-go-lucky girl unaffected by her enjoyment of the high life and dealing with all those various men who constantly exploit her: Jean-Claude Brialy, Nino Manfredi, Mario Adorf, Ugo Tognazzi. But gradually the mood darkens and one can sense what is going to happen …. With Franco Nero and Karin Dor.
Pietrangeli died aged 49 in 1968, so did not have a long career. I liked some others he did including the Capucine and Alberto Sordi episode of THE QUEENS in 1965, SOUVENIR D’ITALIE in 1957, and GHOSTS OF ROME in 1961. I KNEW HER WELL though is his masterpiece, part social satire and critique of the society he depicts as we follow his naïve heroine, It is for me an essential Italian discovery like Bolognini’s CORRUPTION in 1963, or  Vancini’s THE LONG NIGHT OF ’43, or Lattuada’s I DOLCI INGANNI in 1961 also focusing completely on a female lead (Catherine Spaak). See Italian label for more on those, 

Paris la nuit avec Theo et Hugo

THEO & HUGO, 2016. Hugo (François Nambot) and Théo (Geoffrey Couët) meet, in a highly-explicit fashion, in a French sex club. After they put their clothes back on and head into the Paris night, their conversation about how their sexual encounter had a deeper meaning seems to indicates the start of romance (though one has to ask who looks for romance in a naked sex club?) But their budding affair comes under strain when the confession of a mistake by one of the young men prompts a revelation from the other. 

This is pretty much a two-hander film which both actors rise to – including having real sex with each other. Paris by night is fascinatingly depicted too – I used to know to well in the 80s – as we take in the kebab shop and the first metro. The long central hospital sequence is interesting too, as the film plays out more or less in real time.

The long twenty-minute opening sequence in the sex club may be an eye-opener for some, but once the actors get dressed and venture out into the Paris night as they tentatively get to know each other the plot develops as we take in the consequences of having unprotected sex …..a more explicit WEEKEND (2011) then.

I like directors Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau’s earlier JEANNE AND THE PERFECT GUY from 1998, also an Aids-related subject starring Virginie Ledoyen and Mathieu Demy, the son of Jacques Demy and Agnes Varda. This latest film of the duo Ducastel and Martineau is another major landmark in gay cinema.

A different kind of gay flick is the Hungarian LAND OF STORMS from 2014, by Adam Csaszi. It drew me in with its slow moody pace, as we follow the young footballer Szabi, who has an intense relationship with  fellow player Bernard, as he returns to his rural village to renovate a house he has inherited as he wants to give up football; he hires surly local youth Aron to help and another relationship of sorts develops, to the annoyance of Aron's ailing mother and the villagers. Bernard turns up to re-claim Szabi who has to decide what he really wants. The ending though is a nasty surprise one is not expecting, but I suppose it highlights the East European homophobic mindset (though Hungary, like the Czechs) had a booming porn industry.

Feud: Bette and Joan

Here's one to look forward, a new tele-docu drama airing in March. It should be a prime slice of enjoyable trash as it portrays Bette and Joan filming WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? with Susan Sarandon (those Bette Davis eyes!) as of course Bette, and Jessica Lange as the more refined Crawford. 
And that 1963 "Films & Filming" cover ..... 

Bright Lights: Debbie and Carrie

BRIGHT LIGHTS, 2016. Funny, witty, charming, sad, tragic - now even more sad and tragic after the deaths of Carrie Fisher and then her mother Debbie Reynolds a day later, it was the main news here in the lull days after Christmas – that and George Michael’s passing …

Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds star in a tender portrait of Hollywood royalty in all its eccentricity. From the red carpet to the back alleys behind it, the documentary is about the bonds of family love, which are beautifully bitter-sweet.

It is a fascinating view now, as we watch an increasingly frail Debbie (and frail Carrie too, endlessly drinking cola and smoking) at their compound with their dogs and friends, as they prepare for a show and Debbie’s Life Achievement Award.  There is also footage of a dying Eddie Fisher – which feels intrusive.  We also see Carrie at one of those movie conventions selling autographs, and Debbie’s memorabilia auctions, which at least raised millions for the family. The bond between mother and daughter and son Todd is touching to see too.
The clips are a joy – people my age grew up with Debbie in the movies and on all those magazine covers. She was one amazing trouper for whom the show always had to go on. It makes me want to go back to THE TENDER TRAP, POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE, SHAMPOO and THESE OLD BROADS. A HBO production directed by Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens. 
More Debbie at label.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

La La Land

Finally, LA LA LAND. See the hit movie, sure, but don't think it's the best musical ever just because you've never seen a musical.

The Oracle, my friend Martin says:
Believe the hype! Damien Chazelle's gorgeous, bitter-sweet new musical LA LA LAND filters both Demy and Minnelli through Chazelle's own post-modern vision of a 21st century LA that's steeped in a mythical musical past. This is a movie the way I sometimes remember movies used to be; big, bold, innovative and totally unafraid to take chances. It begins with a genuinely entrancing homage to the kind of fifties song-and-dance films that Gene Kelly might have dreamed up before launching into a boy-meets-girl love affair that isn't afraid to threaten to turn sour a la NEW YORK NEW YORK, (another musical it pays homage to with its jazz inflected score), but never really does. 
This is a truly uplifting experience. unashamedly romantic and blessed with a couple of sublime performances from Ryan Gosling and especially Emma Stone who together make falling in love seem like the most natural thing in the world. LA LA LAND recently picked up seven Golden Globes and is virtually guaranteed to sweep the boards at next month's Oscars. Who says they don't make 'em like this anymore.

I agree with most of that, but I do not regard it a a muscial as such - apart from the astonishing opening scene on the freeway, and some nice moments with the two leads dancing. Anyone who knows Jacques Demy's UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG or, especially, LES DEMOISELLES DE ROCHEFORT from 1967 with its candy colours and the whole cast dancing - and yes, an older Gene Kelly is there too - will find much to enjoy here. It is certainly the film of the season, let's see how the rest of the awards pile up ...

Monday, 16 January 2017

The Neon Demon

What to say about Nicolas Winding Refn's latest THE NEON DEMON? Do I even want to say anything about it? We had been anticipating it, as we liked his DRIVE a lot, seen it several times, and I totally got and loved ONLY GOD FORGIVES, which alienated a lot, but it hypnotic hallucinogenic Tarantino-on-acid revenge tale with that amazing performance from Kristen Scott Thomas totally wowed me. (Reviews at Ryan Gosling label). 

THE NEON DEMON though seems to be all style and no substance, it starts great - super visuals and soundtrack. But whatever the "thing" that teen model Jesse has and which the other models want, somehow eludes me. She just seems passive and bland, and if she is the next big thing why is she staying in a seedy, rundown motel, run by a scuzzy Keanu Reeves? Then what do we make of that large animal in her room .... 

The sixteen year-old aspiring model Jesse arrives in Los Angeles expecting to be a successful model. Photographer Dean takes photos for her portfolio and dates her. Jesse befriends the lesbian makeup artist Ruby and then the envious models Gigi and Sarah at a party. Meanwhile the agency considers Jesse beautiful with a "thing" that makes her different and she is sent to the professional photographer Jack. Jesse attracts he attention of the industry and has a successful beginning of career. But Ruby, Gigi and Sarah are capable of doing anything to get her "thing". 

There are points to be made about the fashion industry and how it devours (literally here) new talent ... but we also get long pauses as that climax unfolds. I can't say any more about that, but one is left at the end thinking is that it?  Despite the grand guignol climaxes and that morgue scene, it is all rather forgettable. It is certainly though a polarising movie - some love it for the visuals and style, while others hate the story and the characters and those laughable eye-popping scenes! 

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Absolute Beginners, 1986

ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS was not quite a success in 1986, but Julien Temple's film is a fizzing delight now, perhaps a proto music-video film. It looks fantastic with all those day-glo colours and is quite impressive with those recreations of Old Compton Street in London's Soho, and the seedy tenements of Notting Hill and Portobello Road. It is 1958, so racial tensions are simmering as the new teenagers discover all that new music .....

A musical adaptation of Colin MacInnes' novel about life in late 1950s London. Nineteen-year-old photographer Colin is hopelessly in love with model Crepe Suzette, but her relationships are strictly connected with her progress in the fashion world. So Colin gets involved with a pop promoter and tries to crack the big time. Meanwhile, racial tension is brewing in Colin's Notting Hill housing estate...

Temple (I loved his documentary LONDON THE MODERN BABYLON a few years ago, and his pop videos include Bowie's JAZZIN' FOR BLUE JEAN and Culture Club's DO YOU REALLY WANT TO HURT ME?) has a great eye for staging numbers, brings in an eclectic cast to support his leads: Eddie O'Connell as the young photographer hero and young Patsy Kensit - a perfect Bardot type here - as the aspiring designer. There's Ray Davies of The Kinks doing a terrific number and none other than Mandy Rice-Davies as his wife. James Fox is the reptilian fashion designer. And then there is David Bowie as the slick ad man. One watches entranced, THEN Sade comes on to deliver that slinky number "Killer Blow". So, whats not to love?  One to re-watch again soon. 

Be My Guest, 1965

I was a teenager in 1965, seeing all the movies, but never came across this one, Perhaps it played for a week as a supporting feature at the local Odeon or ABC and then vanished for ever. Even its star David Hemmings barely mentions it in his entertaining memoirs.

A family inherits a seaside hotel and has trouble filling it up until their son's rock group begins packing 'em in. This film was one of several British films from the mid-sixties which offered the added inducement of a guest appearance by Jerry Lee Lewis.

This is one of those 'happy-young-people-making-music' movies popular then - though its the mid-60s with Beatlemania at its peak, its like A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, THE KNACK or BILLY LIAR never happened. It harks back to 1962's SOME PEOPLE and TWO LEFT FEET, both also featuring the young Hemmings,   He is the lead here, just a year before being cast by Antonioni as the face of Swinging London in  BLOW-UP in 1966, and he cheerfully goes through the motions. This one is directed by one Lance Comfort. 

Its of interest now only for him and co-star one Stephen Marriott, who went on to become Steve Marriott of The Small Faces group. We liked them a lot, he had started as an actor, and was an Artful Dodger in OLIVER on stage. 
Also interesting for me is that long opening tracking shot along the Brighton coastline showing the whole city front then. I lived there for several years. It was also the time of those old trains where one could sit in the guard's van, along with deliveries, just like they do in A HARD DAY'S NIGHT. What on earth though is Jerry Lee Lewis doing here? - perhaps he was touring the UK at the time.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

A Star Is Born premiere, 1954 + East Of Eden

That fascinating premiere footage of A STAR IS BORN in Hollywood in 1954, a dvd extra on the restored film, is also on YouTube. Its a time capsule now, as Hollywood - old and new - turned out for one of the biggest premieres of the era. It seems they all wanted Judy (rather overweight here) to do well in her comeback film ..... there's Doris Day, Peggy Lee, Debbie and Eddie, Liz and Michael Wilding, Tony and Janet, Jack Carson is the MC and Joan Crawford has fun joshing with her MILDRED PIERCE co-star. There's Liberace and his mother; Raymond Burr "back from Korea" turns up with a cute marine (a Mr Frank Vitti, who it seems spent several years with Burr) - and plenty more: Mitzi, Bacall, Shelley Winters - the furs, the costumes! 
We love A STAR IS BORN here, one of the first movies I saw as a kid, its still marvellous now. What did they think they were doing by cutting it drastically? It made no sense for Norman Maine to say to a nervous Esther Blodgett before her screen test "to think of a man eating a nutburger", as the scene of her working in the burger bar had been cut!
EAST OF EDEN in 1955 was the business too, another big Warner Bros spectacular event. Marilyn and Brando were ushers at this one, handing out the programmes. Somehow, today's premieres are not quite the same ....

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Some interesting careers ....

Hope Lange / Tom Tryon / Keir Dullea / Lola Albright. 

We are fascinated here at The Projector as to how some acting careers pan out, who gets the breaks and who keeps working into old age.  Here are some interesting ones .... maybe more later. 

If you were asked who co-starred with Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Montgomery Clift, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, would you come up with the answer? And if told it was Hope Lange would you be any the wiser?
Hope Lange (1933-2003) was one of 20th Century Fox’s players who came to prominence in the mid-50s and had a good career into the 1960s, maybe not individual enough to be a top line star, but a pleasing presence (rather like Vera Miles) in several hits of the time. She studied dance with Martha Graham, and was the young ingénue in BUS STOP in 1956, having scenes with Monroe, and then was Selina Cross in the Fox hit PEYTON PLACE in 1957, when she was also in the western THE TRUE STORY OF JESSE JAMES, with Robert Wagner and Jeff Hunter,  and in IN LOVE AND WAR, and then Montgomery Clift’s love interest in THE YOUNG LIONS in 1958. She was the lead and top-billed in a favourite of ours, THE BEST OF EVERYTHING in 1959, teamed with Stephen Boyd, with Joan Crawford in the supporting cameo role as her boss. 
She was the main lead opposite Elvis in the Fox meller WILD IN THE COUNTRY. Her scenes were cut out though from HOW THE WEST WAS WON in '62. Then Bette Davis had a supporting role in the 1961 A POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES  where Lange starred with her then amour Glenn Ford, after her marriage to BUS STOP star Don Murray. She then married directed Alan J. Pakula, and had a successful TV series from the film of THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR, among other television roles. Later films included the 1974 DEATH WISH and BLUE VELVET.

Keir Dullea, born in 1936, now 80, was a very individual young actor with those striking looks and eyes, and in interesting films like DAVID AND LISA in 1962 (for which he won the Golden Globe as “Most Promising Male Newcomer”), THE HOODLUM PRIEST, the comedy western WEST OF MONTANA and the lead in Preminger’s BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING in 1965 (where co-star Noel Coward famously said "Keir Dullea, gone tomorrow"), plus the Lana Turner classic MADAME X in 1966, and THE FOX in 1967. He is immortalised for posterity as Dave Bowman, the surviving astronaut in Kubrick’s 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY (and certainly looks better now than his co-star Gary Lockwood – see below). 
The 1969 DE SADE (see review – Dullea label) is a hoot now,
Dullea also did several stage roles and we saw him on stage in London in 1976, as that annoying cowboy in a revival of BUS STOP, with Lee Remick as a world-weary Cherie. - right.
He has kept busy with 84 credits and is still working now. Like Michael York, Terence Stamp and others he shows how actors can keep working as they get older, and the next crop of actors take over.

Tom Tryon (1926-1991) aged 65, clocked up 39 acting credits before becoming a best-selling author. The tall dark and handsome actor was very individual in early roles like I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE in 1958, and in THE UNHOLY WIFE, THREE VIOLENT PEOPLE, THE STORY OF RUTH (see below), MARINES LETS GO, THE LONGEST DAY. 
He was the lead as THE CARDINAL for Otto Preminger in 1963, and also in Otto’s IN HARM’S WAY in 1965. There were lesser roles after that for the gay actor, who had been a marine in the South Pacific during the war, but his novels which were filmed including THE OTHER, HARVEST HOMECROWNED HEADS – a great read, which included the short story FEDORA (which became Billy Wilder’s last interesting film) brought him a lot more success and money than acting! He would have been the sailor marooned on a desert island with Marilyn Monroe in SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE, in 1962 – if the film had been completed.
Lola Albright, born 1925, now in her early 90s – Considered one of the most stylish, sultriest and beautiful actresses in Hollywood, with one of the throatiest, smokiest and most distinctive voices in the business, she starred with Kirk Douglas in the 1949 hit CHAMPION, after uncredited appearances in THE PIRATE and EASTER PARADE, and a bit part in THE TENDER TRAP in ‘55. From 1958 to 1961 she played nightclub singer Edie Hart in the popular TV series PETER GUNN. She also made TV guest appearances on ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS (1955) – he should have made her a Hitchcock blonde. She played Constance McKenzie in the TV series PEYTON PLACE (1964) after Dorothy Malone became ill. Lola received critical acclaim for her performances in A COLD WIND IN AUGUST in 1961, and was in Rene Clements’ LES FELINS with Alain Delon in 1964, and was terrific as Tuesday Weld’s mother in the hilarious LORD LOVE A DUCK in 1966. A great example of a stylish actress under-used by Hollywood, but who kept busy with lots of television work.

Next:  Richard Beymer? Don Murray ? Tuesday Weld? Carol Lynley? Pamela Tiffin ? Vera Miles ?

A Place Called Winter

Marvellous to come across an unputdownable novel for the dog end days of the year. I was so engrossed in A PLACE CALLED WINTER by Patrick Gale, published in 2015, I could not stop reading it and did not want it to finish.  

Harry Kane has followed tradition at every step, until an illicit affair forces him to abandon the golden suburbs of Edwardian England and travel to the town of Winter in the newly colonised Canadian prairies.
There, isolated in a beautiful but harsh landscape, Harry embarks on an extraordinary journey, not only of physical hardship, but also of acute self-discovery
“Harry Cane is one of many, the disappeared who were not wanted by their families or their societies and whose stories were long shrouded with shame. This fascinating novel is their elegy” – The Guardian.
We meet Harry as a shy, stammering young man in Edwardian London, living a decent but rather idle life cushioned by his father’s fortune. He enters a somewhat platonic marriage and becomes a father, but his true feelings are unleashed when he falls in love with another man. However, his secret is discovered and Harry is given an ultimatum by his wife’s family. Under threat of disgrace and a sentence of hard labour, he finds himself en route to Canada to make a new life as a settler on a remote Saskatchewan prairie. He befriends his neighbours, a brother and sister who both go on to play important roles in his future, but as the threat of war reaches this remote outpost of the Empire, Harry’s life takes another dark turn.

It is really a western, complete with a terrifying unpredictable villain, and a hero forced to rely on his own resources in a wide open landscape, and it is also a bittersweet, passionate love story, and perfectly captures that Edwardian England (including Gaiety Girls including the young Gladys Cooper) before the Great War changed it all. The Great War also influences and changes the fortunes of our characters here, as we see the Canadian wild west being colonised and changed by the progress of the railways and the new settlers. A fascinating period brilliantly brought to life by Gale. Harry Cane was in fact a real person, Gale's great-grandfather and he pieces his story and invents where necessary to fill in the blanks, from materials left by his grandmother. 
Other characters like Paul and Petra, and Winnie, the wife he left behind, who loved another, are perfectly realised too, as is life in that harsh climate, we also get all-male dances in those early settlements with few women, and the fascinating Cree indians too. The real Harry returned briefly to England in the 1950s, before returning to Canada to die. But he found his happiness at least in that place called Winter.  Left; the real Harry Cane. 

Patrick Gale is a fascinating British author, gay and prolific. I like his collection of short stories DANGEROUS PLEASURES, which he signed for me when we had a very pleasant conversation at a book signing in the late 90s. Good to see he is still writing marvellous novels like A PLACE CALLED WINTER

Monday, 2 January 2017

Another Hard Day's Night

Thats a good way of starting the new year, with the joyous A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, reminding us oldies of what 1964 was like when the world was, as it seemed to us teenagers then, fresh and young. I was a Beatle fanatic so seeing them up close like this, and then in colour in HELP! in '65 was sheer bliss. Here is my 2014 review: (now for EIGHT DAYS A WEEK).
London's British Film Institute is celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Beatles first film A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, with an extended run of 34 screenings. I have the dvd but it would be nice to pop along and see it on the big screen again. It is very special to me. Prior to then, movies with pop stars were lame efforts like those early 60s Billy Fury and Cliff Richard vehicles (see music label), even the Elvis films were starting to look tired - then Richard Lester came along with Alun Owen's witty script and turned it all upside down. It was like a French New Wave zany comedy and not just to expoit the worldwide success of the Fab Four. It is both comedy and almost documentary showing the boys as prisoners of their success, and also some of those songs are staged and filmed like the first pop promos. Lester also included some veteran British players who play perfectly with The Boys. 

It chronicles a few days in the life of the band, on trains (Patti Boyd is one of the schoolgirls), in the studio, trying to get some space for themselves as they are pursued by hysterical fans, clueless reporters, a fretful manager and Paul's grand-dad (Steptoe's Wilfrid Brambell) the essence of a "dirty old man" though they keep saying how clean he is here! The moptops are all individuals - we all had our favourites - and are all great here. The great Victor Spinetti (see label) is a scream as the neurotic tv studio director driven to distraction by the Boys. Add in that dry Scouse humour as the four lads ooze charisma and charm, and of course those songs!. Lester too keeps it all flying - it revolutionised screen musicals at a time when Hollywood was still churning out moribund embalmed versions of stage shows like MY FAIR LADY. Jacques Demy in France though was doing something similar with his UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG - and the later LES DEMOISELLES DE ROCHEFORT. 1965 saw Lester with The Beatles again and more pop promos but in colour this time, with HELP! I love that one even more ...

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT covers a very special moment for me, being 18 and new in London, and loving the Beatles and their music. That summer I had to stay out in London all night, as I went to see a late night French movie (at the old Academy in Oxford Street) and could not get home to the suburbs - no late night transport then! - so as dawn broke I was walking down Regent Street (where I would later spend over 20 years working) as the sun was rising over the old London Pavilion cinema where A HARD DAY'S NIGHT was playing, so the posters and pictures were everywhere. It suddenly felt good to be 18 and new in London as dawn was breaking .... its one of those moments that stay with one! 

A movie buff friend of mine, not a pop lover, was "disappointed" with A HARD DAY'S NIGHT when he saw it recently, but as I said, you would not judge it as an ordinary film. Lester created a perfect defining 1960s moment, capturing the youth of 1964 with the very individual Beatles seen up close and surrounded them with some perfect British players like Anna Quayle, Norman Rossington and the marvellous Brambell and Spinetti. And then there are the songs - like early pop videos with that gleaming black and white photography. 

Early 60s 20th Century Fox double bill

THE STORY OF RUTH and FRANCIS OF ASSISI. I remember seeing these two back in 1960 and 1961 - when I would have been 14 and 15, we liked those lush 20th Century Fox cinemascope period movies then. I had never seen them since, so its been fun revisting them now.

Inspired by the tale from Hebrew scriptures and the Christian Bible, the Moabitess child Ruth is sold to the temple of Chemosh. Years pass and she serves as a priestess to the idol. While arranging a temple ritual, she encounters a Judean family of artisans: Elimelech, his wife Naomi, their sons Chilion and Mahlon, and daughter-in-law Orpah. Ruth is curious about their God, and begins to meet secretly with Mahlon. After tragedy strikes, Ruth follows Naomi and begins a new life in Bethlehem...

THE STORY OF RUTH is a perfect biblical - up there with THE PRODIGAL, SAMSON & DELILAH, and even THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, as we follow Ruth (Elana Eden) from being a child sold into being a priestess for a pagan cult (Viveca Lindfors is a very slinky high priestess) to her meeting and falling for Tom Tryon and the invisible god he believes in. As another virgin is sacrificed to that pagan idol Ruth rebels and escapes. 

Elana Eden is attractive and fascinating - its her only main credit. Israeli actresses were popular then, Haya Harareet in BEN HUR, and Daliah Lavi being others busy then. Tom Tryon and Stuart Whitman are the men in Ruth's life, and Peggy Wood is marvellous as the wise Naomi. Biblical life is nicely depicted too, Fox makes it look good and its all handled by veteran Henry Koster. A nice re-view now. Good dvd transfer too.
FRANCIS OF ASSISI. They went to Italy for this one, so it looks great at the real locations, and the costumes and sets look authentic. The cast is the problem. Fox players Bradford Dillman (a rather dull Francis) and Stuart Whitman are the leads. Dolores Hart is Clare (she is of course a real nun now), and the supporting cast features Finlay Currie and Athene Seyler. Old Timer Michael Curtiz directs, its one of his last movies. It follows the story of St Francis fairly faithfully if dully. I much preferred Zeffirelli's BROTHER SUN SISTER MOON in 1973, and of course Rossellini's 1950 film on St Francis.