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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The 39 Steps" was one of Hitchcock's very early film successes (1934)
before he left for Hollywood where he achieved even greater fame and cult
status. Written by John Buchan "The 39 Steps" contained all the elements of
Hitchcock's favourite theme of the innocent man on the run which he returned
to time and time again - notably in "Saboteur" (1942) and "North by
Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) is in the audience of a London theatre enjoying the performance of Mr Memory (Wylie Watson) - "Am I right sir?", when he meets the mysterious Annabella Smith, a young woman in trouble (Lucie Mannheim). He takes her back to his flat where she gives him some important information about a gang of spies who are trying to kill her. During the night she is murdered and Hannay is of course the chief suspect. On the run from the police he heads for Scotland which is where Annabella has told him the spies are located. During the train journey he meets Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) who turns him in to the police. Upon arrival in Scotland Hannay manages to find the ringleader of the spies, Professor Jordan (Godfrey Tearle), which places him in even more danger but he escapes only to fall into the hands of the police. He gets away from them and is reunited with Pamela who reluctantly teams up with him (she doesn't have much choice as she has been handcuffed to him). However, she eventually begins to believe his story and realises he is innocent after all so helps to clear his name. Pamela and Hannay return to London where they see "Mr Memory" who is once again performing in a theatre. Professor Jordan is also there but Hannay spots him and the film is brought to a dramatic but satisfying conclusion.
Some favourite lines from the film:
Robert Donat (to Lucie Mannheim): "It sounds like a spy story". Mannheim: "That's exactly what it is".
Mannheim (to Donat): "I had to get away from the theatre quickly. There were two men there who wanted to kill me".
Godfrey Tearle (to Donat): "Well Mr Hannay, I'm afraid I've been guilty of leading you down the garden path - or should it be up - I never can remember".
Donat (to Madeleine Carroll): "There are 20 million women on this island and I've got to be chained to you".
Donat (to Carroll): "May I ask what earthquake caused your brain to work at last?".
Donat (to Wylie Watson): "What are the 39 steps?".
The film was remade in 1959 with Kenneth More and again in 1978 with Robert Powell but neither of these remakes can compare with the original Hitchcock version. For anyone looking out for Hitchcock's regular cameo appearance this comes as Hannay and Annabella board a bus to go back to his flat. (Hitchcock is seen as a passer-by throwing some litter into the street). 10/10. Clive Roberts.
Duke Johnson (Bing Crosby) and Chester Hooton (Bob Hope) are struggling
entertainers down on their luck who travel to Alaska. Killers Sperry and
McGurk steal a vital map showing the location of a gold mine. Our two
manage to obtain the map and decide to impersonate Sperry and McGurk which
leads them into more trouble than they could ever have imagined. Along the
way they meet saloon singer Sal Van Hoyden (Dorothy Lamour) and as usual
both men compete for her charms. With Sperry and McGurk hot on their trail
plus other assorted villains after them Hope and Crosby get into many
corners but they still find time for some catchy songs along the way
including "Put It There Pal" which is a typical Hope/Crosby kind of number
and Dorothy Lamour puts over "Personality" with her usual
Of all seven of the "Road" pictures there are four which to me are outstanding and superior to any other comedy films from that same period. The "Road" films have certainly stood the test of time over the years and not become dated. My four favourites are the Roads to "Morocco", "Utopia", "Rio" and "Bali". Hope and Crosby worked well together as a team and in "Road to Utopia" reached new comedy heights. The film is very fast moving with gag following gag, talking animals, many hilarious comedy routines and situations, and even has Robert Benchley occasionally interrupting the proceedings to give an entertaining commentary on the film. The film is told in "flashback" and has a brilliant pay-off line at the end (one of the best in the entire "Road" series).
Some favourite lines from the film:
Bob Hope (to Bing Crosby): "I didn't think there was one more way to get the cops after us but you found it!".
Hope (to Crosby): "Next time I'll bring Sinatra!". (When Crosby loses a talent contest on board ship).
Hope (to Crosby): "It may be a mountain to you but it's bread and butter to me".
Hope (to Douglass Dumbrille): "I'll take a lemonade .... in a dirty glass!".
Hope (to audience): "We adopted him!".
The "Road" films never won any Oscars but brought an enormous amount of pleasure to a lot of people during the 40's. Hope and Crosby were a great team and made seven "Road" films in total. They both had very successful careers separately in movies, television, radio and on the stage and were probably two of the biggest stars to come out of Hollywood in the thirties and forties. 10/10. Clive Roberts.
The young Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand) desperately wants to be a success
in show business and after a shaky start thinks she has made it when she
lands a part in a big Ziegfeld show. Ziegfeld (Walter Pidgeon) and Fanny
clash over various matters due to her strong personality but her talent
shines through and she does eventually become a major star. She meets
gambler Nicky Arnstein (Omar Sharif) and falls madly in love with him.
Unfortunately his gambling habits get him in trouble with the police causing
Fanny much sadness and anguish. However, she overcomes these problems to
concentrate on her career and manages to realise her ambition to become a
big Broadway star.
The film of "Funny Girl" was awaited with much anticipation after all the tremendous publicity given to Barbra Streisand following her stunning portrayal of Fanny Brice in the hit Broadway show. An "unauthorised" version of the Fanny Brice story had been filmed once before as "Rose of Washington Square" (1939) starring Alice Faye, Tyrone Power and Al Jolson but Fanny Brice was not happy about the film and sued 20th Century Fox for invasion of privacy.
"Funny Girl" received a total of eight Oscar nominations but only picked up the one (for Best Actress) which Streisand had to share with Katharine Hepburn for "The Lion in Winter". Personally, I thought this was a real shame as Hepburn had just picked up the Best Actress Award the previous year for "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" and had also won back in 1932 for "Morning Glory". In my opinion Streisand (in her first film) had worked tremendously hard on "Funny Girl" and given an excellent portrayal of Fanny Brice and her singing at the time was sensational. To have to share the award with Hepburn was bad luck for Streisand and must have taken away some of the pleasure of winning.
The film was directed by the legendary William Wyler and produced by Ray Stark (who was in fact Fanny Brice's son-in-law!). The film had a superior supporting cast including Kay Medford (recreating her Broadway role as Rose Brice), Anne Francis (Georgia James), Lee Allen (Eddie Ryan), Gerald Mohr (Branca), and with Frank Faylen as Keeney.
What a marvellous collection of songs this film contained: "People", "Second Hand Rose", "Don't Rain on My Parade", "My Man" and "I'm the Greatest Star" are just five gems from a really wonderful score.
Some favourite lines from the film:
Barbra Streisand (to her reflection in theatre mirror): "Hello gorgeous".
Lee Allen (to Streisand): "Are you sure you can rollerskate?". Streisand: "Can I rollerskate??".
Streisand: "I'm a Ziegfeld girl!".
Streisand (to Walter Pidgeon): "O.K. you win. You don't win fair but you win!".
"Funny Girl" was one of those rare occasions when the perfect part came along with the perfect star to play it. One of the last of the great Hollywood musicals. 10/10. Clive Roberts.
Charles Laughton is first class as defending counsel Sir Wilfrid Robarts in
this riveting courtroom drama directed by Billy Wilder and adapted from the
Agatha Christie play. A terrific cast which in addition to Laughton included
Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Elsa Lanchester, John Williams and Henry
Power plays Leonard Vole suspected of murder with his only hope being famous defence counsel Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Laughton) who is not entirely convinced of Power's innocence. Sir Wilfrid contacts Vole's wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich) in the hope she can provide a defence for her husband. Things do not work out exactly as Sir Wilfrid had hoped they would and there are many surprises along the way leading to the shock ending that was totally unexpected. Much of the action takes place in the courtroom but as usual in a Billy Wilder picture the story grips your attention throughout and has a marvellous surprise ending.
Some favourite lines from the film:
Charles Laughton (to Tyrone Power): "Young man, you may or may not have murdered a middle-aged woman, but you've certainly saved the life of an elderly barrister". (Thanking Power for giving him a cigar).
Marlene Dietrich (to Laughton): "You wanna kiss me ducky?".
Elsa Lanchester (to Laughton): "Sir Wilfrid - you've forgotten your brandy!". (Final line in film).
"Witness for the Prosecution" received six Oscar nominations. These were for Best Picture, Best Actor (Charles Laughton), Best Director (Billy Wilder), Best Supporting Actress (Elsa Lanchester), Best Film Editing and Best Sound. Unfortunately, not one of these well deserved nominations won the Oscar. The Best Picture Award that year went to "The Bridge on the River Kwai" which was of course a wonderful film and a popular choice. The Best Director Award went to David Lean for the same film and the Best Actor winner was Alec Guinness (again for "Bridge on the River Kwai").
"Witness for the Prosecution" was remade in 1982 as a TV movie with Ralph Richardson, Deborah Kerr and Beau Bridges which despite having a very talented cast was not a patch on the original unfortunately. This was Tyrone Power's last completed film after a long and distinguished career. He later filmed some scenes for "Solomon and Sheba" which should have been his next film but he died during the shooting. 10/10. Clive Roberts.
"Red Rock West" was far and away one of the best suspense thrillers of the
90's with a superb script (by John and Rick Dahl) that kept you guessing
throughout and on the edge of your seat for most of the film. It was
brilliantly directed by John Dahl and featured a marvellous cast including
Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper, Lara Flynn Boyle and especially J. T. Walsh (in
a memorable performance) making this a riveting and captivating thriller not
to be missed. The film never had much publicity on release (in fact I first
caught up with it on TV) and is therefore one of those special little gems
that you have to seek out but this unique film is now slowly gaining a cult
Nicolas Cage is Michael Williams who is broke and out of work when he finds himself in the small town of Red Rock. Mistaken for a contract killer named Lyle from Dallas he is shocked to be offered $10,000 to murder the wife of bar owner Wayne Brown (the excellent J. T. Walsh). He plays along with the plan and decides he should go and warn Brown's wife Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle) but then the plot thickens and there are so many twists, turns and surprises - and double dealings - that Cage is thrown from one crisis to another and finds himself trapped in a terrible situation he can't drag himself out of! Then just to complicate matters even further the real Lyle turns up to carry out the contract killing (played by everyone's favourite heavy Dennis Hopper). When Hopper discovers what has happened he goes after Cage but no one could forsee the surprising events that follow.
Some favourite lines from the film:
Nicolas Cage (to Lara Flynn Boyle): "I hate to see an innocent woman get hurt but it's an awful lot of money".
J. T. Walsh (to Cage): "Michael Williams. Well, Michael, you're going to be spending some time with us till we get to the bottom of this".
Boyle (to Cage): "You're not a killer?". Cage: "That's right, no. But the guy I'm supposed to be just rode into town so you gotta get out of here".
Boyle (to Cage): "O.K. How you're going to explain impersonating a hired killer and taking $10,000 from my husband?".
An extraordinarily entertaining little thriller (just 98 minutes) with a storyline that never lets up and powerful acting by all the principals. Any film featuring J. T. Walsh is O.K. in my book and "Red Rock West" was one of his best. How sad it was that this exceptional actor's career was cut tragically short by a heart attack in 1998. The most prolific period for "film noir" was without any doubt the forties but "Red Rock West" is a good modern example of the genre and has jumped right into my "Top Ten" list of all time favourite films. I look forward to more like this from director John Dahl. 10/10. Clive Roberts.
Bill Gambini (Ralph Macchio) and Stan Rothenstein (Mitchell Whitfield) are
arrested for murder while driving through Alabama. Although innocent they
are put in jail and Bill's cousin New York attorney Vincent Gambini (Joe
Pesci) is persuaded to defend them in court. The only problem is that Vinny
has never tried a murder case before, has never actually been in a courtroom
and has only been practising law for six weeks! In spite of his lack of
experience Vinny accompanied by his girl friend Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa
Tomei) travel from New York to Alabama to take on the case. Judge
Chamberlain Haller (Fred Gwynne) is not too impressed with Vinny but
reluctantly agrees to him representing the two boys. The friction between
Judge Haller and Vinny is one of the highlights of the film and the banter
between them is hilarious. A running gag through the film is that Vinny and
his girl friend keep changing hotels as they are unable to get a good
night's sleep due to noises outside. In spite of his lack of experience
Vinny puts on a good show but there are many ups and downs before the final
Some favourite lines from the film:
Ralph Macchio (to Mitchell Whitfield): "There's nothing to worry about until there's something to worry about. Just relax, please".
Mitchell Whitfield (to Ralph Macchio): "Ridiculous, all this over a can of tuna!".
Fred Gwynne (to Joe Pesci): "What are you wearing?". Pesci: "I'm wearing - er - clothes. I don't get the question".
Gwynne (to Pesci): "Once again the communication process is broken down!".
Pesci (to Marisa Tomei): "Thank you Miss Vito. No more questions. Thank you very, very much. You've been a lovely, lovely witness".
Not a well known film but very funny with an excellent Academy Award winning performance from Marisa Tomei. Also a welcome change of pace for Joe Pesci after his psychopathic roles in films such as "Good Fellas" and "Casino". Austin Pendleton as the public defender has some good scenes and creates a comic character in a small but effective role. Ralph Macchio and Mitchell Whitfield give excellent performances as the two wrongly accused boys and their bewilderment at the way Vinny is conducting their defence is a joy to behold. 10/10. Clive Roberts.
"Casablanca" featured one of those all star casts that only come along once
in a lifetime - Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains,
Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, S. Z. Sakall, Dan Seymour,
Marcel Dalio and Dooley Wilson. (The first choice of leading players was to
have been Ronald Reagan, Ann Sheridan and Dennis Morgan but if this proposed
casting had gone ahead I very much doubt if the film would have received the
cult following it has today!).
"Casablanca" won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Michael Curtiz) and
Best Screenplay (Julius and Philip Epstein). It also had nominations for
Best Actor (Bogart), Best Supporting Actor (Claude Rains), Best
Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Score.
Surely almost everyone has seen this film and everybody knows the plot which is set during World War 2 at a night club owned by American Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) in Casablanca frequented by many dubious characters of all nationalities when just to complicate matters in walks Ilsa Lund Laszio (Ingrid Bergman) his ex-lover from years before who had abandoned him. She is now married to resistance leader Victor Laszio (Paul Henreid) on the run from the Germans. Bogart can help by supplying them with the vital transit papers they desperately need to escape to America but is he willing to do that when his policy has always been: "I stick my neck out for nobody"? In addition he still holds strong feelings for Bergman so will this influence his decision?
One of the great Warner Bros. films of the forties - possibly the most productive decade in the history of Hollywood .... and how about all those "classic lines"? It is very unlikely that any other movie produced as many quotable lines as did "Casablanca". Here are just a few of those legendary lines I still remember to this day:
Bogart: "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine".
Bergman: "Play it Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By'."
Bogart: "You played it for her, you can play it for me .... if she can stand it, I can. Play it".
Bogart: "Here's looking at you kid".
Bogart: "The problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world".
Rains: "Round up the usual suspects".
Bogart: "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship".
"Casablanca" is worth seeing over and over again just to hear Bogart uttering those unforgettable lines in his inimitable style. And of course that celebrated song by Dooley Wilson - "As Time Goes By". 10/10. Clive Roberts.
The 1940's was a very prolific period for Bob Hope as he made 21 movies
during that decade including some of his very best (the "Road" films of
course with Crosby and Lamour, "The Paleface" with Jane Russell, and "My
Favorite Blonde" with Madeleine Carroll). However, "Brunette" rates as
if not higher, than any of these as it had a very funny script and a
wonderful supporting cast including Peter Lorre, Lon Chaney Jnr, John Hoyt,
Ann Doran, Reginald Denny, Ray Teal, Jack La Rue and a couple of surprise
star cameos. Peter Lorre in particular seemed to enjoy sending up his usual
image as a sinister killer.
San Francisco baby photographer Ronnie Jackson (Bob Hope) has unfulfilled ambitions to be a private detective like his neighbour in the next office Sam McCloud. When Sam goes out of town Carlotta Montay (Dorothy Lamour) comes in seeking help and mistakes Hope for the detective who thinks this could be the big chance to prove himself but as usual in a Hope film he runs into more trouble than he can handle. Lamour persuades Hope to look for her uncle who has been kidnapped by the villains and a double put in his place. The plot thickens as he accompanies Lamour into many ludicrous situations, unforeseen danger and one hilarious episode after another.
Some favourite lines from the film:
Bob Hope: "You see, I wanted to be a detective too. It only took brains, courage and a gun - and I had the gun!".
Bob Hope: "I was cut out for this kind of life. All my life I've wanted to be a hard boiled detective like Humphrey Bogart, or Dick Powell ... or even Alan Ladd!".
Bob Hope (to Peter Lorre): "Nice cheerful place - what time do they bring the mummies out?".
Bob Hope: "It always looked so easy in those Tarzan pictures!".
Bob Hope (to Dorothy Lamour): "I don't know how much more of this I can take - you've had me in hot water so long I feel like a tea bag".
Bob Hope could always be relied upon to bring us the laughs with even the most average script but in this film he excels as he is given some great material to work with and certainly makes the most of it. 10/10. Clive Roberts.
Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Bob Curtin (Tim Holt) are two Americans
down on their luck in Tampico, Mexico who manage to acquire a temporary job
working for Pat McCormick (Barton MacLane) but don't get paid for their
efforts as McCormick does a disappearing act with the money. Dobbs and
Curtin catch up with him later in a bar and after coming to blows manage to
get the money that was owed to them. A young Mexican boy (Robert Blake)
approaches Dobbs who reluctantly buys a lottery ticket from him. Dobbs and
Curtin spend the night in a flop house where they meet Howard (Walter
Huston) a grizzled old timer who tells them stories of the times he went
prospecting for gold in the mountains. They are both quite interested in
this but don't have the necessary funds to purchase the equipment they would
need. Next day the young Mexican boy comes to find Dobbs to tell him that
his ticket has won some money in the lottery. It is not a fortune so he
decides to invest his winnings in some tools and equipment so that Curtin
and himself can team up with Howard to search for gold in the Sierra Madre
mountains. Greed and distrust inevitably take hold of Dobbs and he gets
increasingly suspicious of his two companions and becomes more and more
paranoid as the days go by. A group of bandits led by Gold Hat (Alfonso
Bedoya) come across their camp and try to rob them of the gold but with the
help of James Cody (Bruce Bennett) they manage to fight them
Some favourite lines from the film:
Bogart (to John Huston): "Hey, mister, will you stake a fellow American to a meal?".
Bogart (to Tim Holt): "The way I see it gold can be as much of a blessing as a curse".
Walter Huston (to Bogart and Holt): "Water's precious. Sometimes it can be more precious than gold".
Bogart (to Bruce Bennett): "Tonight you're our guest. Tomorrow morning look out - no trespassing around here, you know, beware of the dog - get it?".
Alfonso Bedoya (to Bogart): "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges!".
Bogart (to Tim Holt): "Fred C. Dobbs don't say nothing he don't mean".
Writer/Director John Huston played a cameo role at the start of the film as an American tourist ("White Suit") who Bogart approaches for money (three times!). It is said that Ann Sheridan also played a cameo role in the uncredited part of a streetwalker. Robert Blake was the small boy who sold Bogart the winning lottery ticket. Blake later went on to appear in many feature films such as "In Cold Blood", "Electra Glide in Blue" and "Tell Them Willie Boy is Here", and also starred in the TV series "Baretta".
"Treasure of the Sierra Madre" won Oscars for best director (John Huston), best supporting actor (Walter Huston) and best screenplay (John Huston). The film was also nominated for Best Picture but lost out to Laurence Olivier's "Hamlet". This was yet another marvellous performance by Humphrey Bogart and proves once again what an outstanding actor he is when given the right material. 10/10. Clive Roberts.
One of the greatest musicals ever put onto film is how I would describe "The
Music Man" with its show stopping numbers like "Ya Got Trouble Right Here in
River City", "The Sadder But Wiser Girl For Me", "Wells Fargo Wagon",
"Seventy Six Trombones" and many more.
Confidence trickster Harold Hill arrives in River City with the intention of setting up a boy's band and taking money for costumes and instruments but intends to leave town with the money before these arrive. Things don't exactly work out to plan when he finds himself falling for the town's librarian and he becomes involved with the lives of many of the River City citizens. Meanwhile, the mayor tries his best to have Hill run out of town but one by one the River City townspeople begin to realise that Hill has actually brought much happiness and contentment to several of them since his arrival. Marian the librarian gradually succumbs to Hill's charms and defends him against the wild accusations of the mayor.
A high class ensemble of players make this a captivating film - in addition to Robert Preston himself (absolutely brilliant as Professor Harold Hill) we have Shirley Jones as Marian Paroo (the librarian), Buddy Hackett as Hill's friend Marcellus Washburn, Harry Hickox as another salesman determined to expose Hill, Paul Ford as Mayor Shinn and Hermione Gingold as Mrs Eulalie Shinn. Paul Ford's excellent portrayal of Mayor Shinn was not that far removed from his role as Colonel Hall in the long running "Sergeant Bilko" TV series. (I half expected to see Phil Silvers turn up in River City with some new gambling scheme on his mind!). Also in the "Music Man" cast was a very young Ron Howard (aged only eight) as Winthrop Paroo who was outstanding in his featured number "Gary, Indiana" which he had to sing with a lisp!! (He is of course now well established as a competent film director). I was surprised to see the talented actor Max Showalter (also known as Casey Adams) only used in one scene at the opening of the film. An actor of his calibre should have had a much larger part I consider. I was delighted to see Percy Helton (albeit briefly), one of my favourite character actors, pop up as the train conductor at the beginning of the film. Percy Helton has appeared in hundreds of films and is instantly recognisable with his distinctive voice and chubby frame. A word of praise is due to "The Buffalo Bills" who provide many delightful musical interludes throughout the film. "The Music Man" was produced and directed by Morton da Costa and I loved his theatrical device when the screen went dark after some of the musical numbers - a fascinating innovation.
Some favourite lines from the film:-
Harry Hickox: "But he doesn't know the territory!".
Robert Preston: "Gentlemen, you intrigue me - I think I'll have to give Iowa a try!".
Paul Ford: "I said all along - get his credentials didn't I?".
Paul Ford: "Where's the band? Where's the band?".
Preston (to the boy's band): "Now think, men, think!".
In 1958 Robert Preston won the prestigious "Tony" Award as Best Actor in a musical (on Broadway) for "The Music Man" but was overlooked by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when it came to the "Oscars". Why Preston wasn't even nominated as "Best Actor" is a mystery to me as this was the perfect role for him having performed it so long on Broadway. He was ideally suited in the part of Harold Hill and played it to perfection. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards (including one for best picture but was beaten by "Lawrence of Arabia").
A fabulous musical with entertaining storyline, noteworthy acting talent, and impeccably photographed in ravishing colour. "The Music Man" is an exceptional musical which can be viewed again and again with increasing enjoyment. 10/10. Clive Roberts.
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