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The Blue Lamp (1950)
Now here's an unpretentious film with no glamour or glitz but keeps you hooked. Move over Hollywood, and give the "Bulldog" his due. The film moves at a pace that would seem a little slow focussing on trivial duties and lifestyles of the London bobby but don't go away the action and human drama starts halfway through and my word does it start moving! Dirk Bogarde is excellent and his portrayal of a petty hoodlum with a psychopathic streak which masks his fear is unforgettable. The bombed out East End of London and the Cockney accent takes one to post-War England. The coppers of yesteryear England did not wear guns and so do most present coppers in the sub-continent today but the director narrates by his tale that this is no walkover for criminals. Watch it.
Appointment in London (1953)
No clichés or extended heroics here
I had seen this film when I was in school where it was shown as part of educational films screened by one of my schoolmasters who had himself served in the Royal Indian Air Force in Burma.Today I own a copy on DVD. The exploits of people in Bomber Command is brought out with extreme accuracy to the screen by creating an atmosphere that is taut and realistic. Dirk Bogarde gives one of his best performances as the Wing Commander who is definitely cracking under the stress of command but does not want to accept it. The scenes where he gives Bryan Forbes a dressing down will certainly strike a chord where his sense of responsibility to the team is exposed. The accuracy of operations of RAF Bombers during night sorties right from the point of take off, to the tension of the ground staff till their return is brilliantly photographed. There are no clichés or extended heroics quite common in similar films but dark realism of survival during the war with the atmosphere of the airfields and aircrew intact. Being the son of an Air Force officer who did some war service in India the realism is striking. I would certainly recommend it to the younger viewers who need to study such situations.
The Way Ahead (1944)
What a Film
What a film! It packs a punch even today and one can just imagine what a morale booster it would have been to the war effort for England. Carol Reed as always is top notch in direction and the portrayals by David Niven, Stanley Holloway and in a very small role Peter Ustinov not necessarily in that order is remarkable. Niven I am given to understand was lent out by the army to make this movie which was incidentally scripted by a very young Ustinov. The narrative is simple yet effective. It brings about the story of a collection of men from various parts of British society drafted into the infantry, undergoing training and being bombed out of a troop carrier in the Mediterranean and then being baptised by fire in North Africa after El-Alamein. Top class to say the least. The standouts are the sceptical old-timers who keep following the progress of the war from 1939 to 1942(when the film ends) in the newspapers with their cryptic criticism about the regiment of which they were a part earlier, but in the final scene are obviously impressed by the regiments performance. Reed sees to it that there is no dialogue in this scene but just a close up of the old-timers recording their admiration and approval - Excellent. The final scene where the trainee soldiers fit their bayonets and prepare to attack into the mist is another Reed masterpiece.
Non-Stop New York (1937)
A Hitchcockian type Thriller
This unknown classic is a must see. It is fast paced in the Hitchcock style and well acted with a lot of droll sequences intertwined between. Anna Lee couldn't be prettier or more charming. The entire cast including the villain Francis Sullivan are great. The British attempt at American slang is slightly noticeable but otherwise the direction is top notch. I just love that luxury aeroplane and wish that it was a reality to the present air traveller to rid him of the monotony of long travel. The storyline may be a little slow paced but is offset by the acting. Certainly a movie far before its period and not necessarily a curio but most interesting to watch.
The Search (1948)
I saw this film in the early 1980's when as an Indian student in NY a senior friend who was a specialist on the movies made in the Hollywood Golden era introduced me to them. As a avid reader and history buff of the Second World war the film remains to date as one of my most favourite as I think that it is one of the few that really addressed the situation of the children refugees of the war. The story line is more or less accurate to a point as it is similar to whatever I have read on the period based on fact. The boy played by Ivan Jandl was as in the movie Czech and I am given to understand that he was later on persecuted by the Communist regime of Czechoslovakia for being US friendly. It is also a fact that though he was awarded a special Oscar he could not receive it. For a child of 10 his acting without mouthing any script is amazingly superb, maybe due to the fact that he had lived out such instances. Montgomery Clift - one of my personal favourites does not seem to act but live his role with ease. Aline MacMahon also does justice to her role and Jarmila as the mother is also excellent. However if it was not for the masterful direction of Fred Zinneman and the actual locations filmed in the bombed out post war Germany amidst the destruction and ruins maybe the film may not have been so good. Some of the scenes are etched in your memory eg. 1/ The wistful and longing look of the boy whilst at dinner sees another boy being fondled by his mother. 2/ When initially the children are being interrogated by the the Refugee Centre head a french boy recounts the horror of his being orphaned in Matheusen camp and another girl recalls collecting her mothers blouse after she perished in the gas chamber. These scenes can never be blotted out from memory. Don't miss a chance to view this classic.
The Sea Hawk (1940)
The Great Swashbuckler
Everything is right in this film loosely based on the exploits of Sir Francis Drake and very little on the Rafael Sabatini novel. Errol Flynn, Claude Rains, Michael Curtiz, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, The WB Banner and piracy on the High Seas What more could one ask for? Obviously the answer would be "The Sea Hawk". The only shortcoming to my knowledge was no Olivia de Havilland who for some reason was overlooked by Jack L Warner when he made the film. Flynn is at his dashing best as the fictionalised Geoffery Thorpe matching wits with the likes of King Philip of Spain and his treacherous agents . He matches swordplay, tongue in cheek and romance with ease making this his best ever. Claude Rains and Henry Daniel are unpleasantly debonair in their roles of Spanish spies. Brenda Marshall is adequate but just does not match up as one is always wishing Olivia alongside Errol as his lady love. Flora Robson re-creates her role as Elizabeth I and adds a great aura of grace and majesty in her depiction. One cannot but help feeling that her rendition is of such conviction that it makes one believe that Elizabeth could not but have spoken and behaved the way in which she is played. Michael Cutriz once again scores with his excellent action sequences but overall it is Korngold who enthralls the viewer with his sweeping score which is unforgettable. One cannot but recollect the similarities of this film to "Fire Over England" but the Hollywoodization of medieval England is more pronounced here. Some unforgettable scenes: The beginning of the film the shadow of a dictator (Philip of Spain) covering the map of Europe wanting to covet England and her colonies bears a striking resemblance to Hitler and his dream all the more significant as the film was released in early 1940 when the Phoney war had just begun and Dunkirk was in the near distance. The swordplay between Flynn and the Spanish captain where he points out that the English are a practical people who do not sink with their ships a veiled message to the Nazis that Britain would fight on even if all Europe was to fall? The speech by the Queen towards the end of the film where she warns her subjects of being prepared for the Armada that was poised to strike ( Hitler's Luftwaffe and The Battle of Britain) and a distant appeal to America to join the fight against Fascism. Last but not least the scene where the freed slaves of the Spanish Galley look wistfully at the distant Cliffs of Dover and ex- slave Tuttle mouths just one word "England" which to me was the émigré Curtiz announcing to all of downtrodden Europe that their safe haven in the wake of the impending onslaught was indeed Britain. One can go on and on about Sea Hawk but a review needs to be concise. The greatest of a swashbuckler that does not age a bit and can be viewed over and over again.
Carve Her Name with Pride (1958)
The Valiant Lady
The story of Mrs Violette Szabo as portrayed by Virginia McKenna is poignantly brought to the screen. The exploits of an ordinary woman who proved to be - "The most fearless of all women SOE operatives" - as described by none other than another famous SOE operative Mrs Odette Churchill who survived the war undergoing almost similar experiences is a must. The film in almost three compartments re-traces the life of Violette from the time she meets her husband on Bastille Day in 1940 and their whirlwind romance, flashes to 1942 when her child is celebrating her 2nd birthday when she receives news of her husbands death at El-Alamein. It then fast forwards six months when she is recruited by the SOE as she had perfect qualifications for the post which included being a crack shot with the rifle (which however is contradicted by SOE records which state that she spoke French with an English accent...). The next part of the film features her training where she excels but sprains her ankle and has to sit out the first assignment by her team. During her convalescence she has to confront her father who feels she is not doing enough for the war effort,brush aside her guilt in abandoning her daughter etc.( Virginia McKenna handles these emotive scenes with remarkable talent) Her first assignment passes off quite well but the undertones of the danger of such attempts by agents are underplayed by the director. Her second assignment just after D-Day puts her a prisoner with the Gestapo after she has valiantly stood upto to a single-handed encounter with a German patrol - the torture she suffers and her ultimate death facing a firing squad at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp is leaves the viewer with no doubts on the methods used by her captors without depicting violence per se. The third part of the film is largely based on reports given by the French Resistance & Nazi records & reports by fellow prisoners of Ravensbruck all poignantly brought to the screen. The finale where we see her 5 year old daughter being received by King George to honour her mother posthumously with the George Cross brings a lump to the throat. Incidentally the episode of her shopping in Paris for her daughter while on assignment is corroborated by others hence not fictionalised for the film. In all a wonderful film that makes one wonder-struck with the exemplary courage of ordinary people who became legends in their time.
Ice Cold in Alex (1958)
This is nothing short of an excellent rendition of the travails and exploits of those gallant men who served with the 8th Army in North Africa. I feel the exploits of the infantry and Army Service Corps who withstood the fury of Rommel's Afrika Korps at Tobruk has largely been neglected by Hollywood but for a few films like 5Graves to Cairo and Sahara and was left to the British film makers to recount. The storyline is purported to be a true one but probably intertwined from accounts of multiple servicemen. It is disturbingly to life with a brilliant performance by John Mills who portrays the shell-shocked, battle-weary, disturbed ASC driver ably assisted by Anthony Quayle the German spy. Sylvia Syms is very attractive and also renders one of her best early performances. The storyline takes us thru an Ambulance unit making it from under-siege Tobruk through the great desert depression to Alexandria in 1942. The group is joined by a German spy who commands the respect of his co-travellers by his exploits. We are given to really experience the brutal shocks of war torn servicemen under fire without the Errol Flynn effect like never before. I saw this movie only recently and to my knowledge I think it is one of the best of the period and genre. Krishna Kumar Menon Chennai (Madras)
Penny Serenade (1941)
The Ultimate Tearjerker
I would rate this as the best film that Cary Grant acted in and though he and Irene Dunne were known mostly for their bedroom farces this film showed them differently. Both artistes are at their best amply supported by Beulah Bondi and Edgar Buchanan. The storyline is way ahead of its period as the issue of adoption is more relevant amongst childless couples today. Irene Dunne without any dialogue emotes superbly and the scene where she gazes at the picture of a chubby baby needs no voice as her face says it all. Cary Grant shows his histrionic talents as the carefree husband who is not very interested in a baby but is prepared to adopt to please his wife. He later transforms into the doting father after the arrival of Baby Tina insomuch that the daughter becomes his most prized possession. I can empathise with this character as before my son was born I had the same disposition which changed after his arrival.The scene where Cary pleads his case with the Judge for possession of Tina can bring a lump to any cynical throat. Edgar Buchanan offers superb support as the all endearing bosom pal who suffers the trails and travails of the couple. The scene where he shows the foster parents in detail on how to wash the baby is a classic which I don't think has been repeated in any film since. Beulah Bondi gives a convincing performance as the Social Worker and the scene where she reads the letter sent by Irene Dunne informing her of the rift between her husband is particularly a stands out. The recounting of the story in flashbacks accompanied by gramaphone records is also unique and never dreary. A must see and my vote for inclusion in the list of the top 100 movies of the century.
Gunga Din (1939)
This film is a great entertainer for all times. The cast could'nt be better and the direction great. The action sequences are wonderful. Though the storyline is borrowed from Kipling it does not necessarily stick to it but adds its one theme for better viewing - one cant complain. Set aside the Hollywoodisation of British India and factual errors and the seemingly implied prejudices of the British Raj and concentrate to enjoy the movie for what it is and no more. It is rumoured that the film was shut down in parts of India upon release but is today in demand in the sub-continent. There are factual errors in the depiction of Thugee and also certain other facts of India which given the time of the film being made are pardonable.Actually Thugee and the Kali cult were followed in Upper Bengal area and not the Northwest Frontier. Cary Grant, Victor Mclaglen and Douglas Fairbanks are tailor made for their roles and I have read someplace that they used to address each other as Cuter Ballantyne and McCghesney when they spoke to each other.
A Great Actioner indeed.