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Meri Poppins, do svidaniya (1983)
Wonderful found, a must-see!
I had literally never heard of this Soviet 1983 two-part miniseries about Mary Poppins until browsing on a website. I had loved since my early childhood the Walt Disney Mary Poppins and could not quite imagine how this new version would turn out...
And it turned out very well indeed!
Meri Poppins, do svidaniya starts out the usual way: the Banks, a couple of busy parents want a responsible nurse to take care of their troublesome but sweet children, Jane and Michael. The very proper lady they end up hiring has magical powers and brings the children into a world of adventures. But the stories adapted from the books are different than those set in the 60's movies : no merry-go-rounds here but a talking statue, an oniric pastry shop and Mrs Banks' mother coming to visit.
The little town portrayed in the miniseries is both realistic and dreamy, a British suburb from a children's books, peopled with quirky and charming characters. Natalya Andrejchenko leads an excellent cast as Mary Poppins: she's ladylike and sweet, graceful and funny. A great actress to walk in Julie Andrew's footsteps, and give the famous part her personal touch. Lembit Ulfsak as Bert (now a gardener and Mrs Bank's beatnik brother) gives another very good performance, providing new relief to the part. And Albert Filozov as a more relaxed Mr Banks than David Tomlinson was in the film, has just the right combination of quirkiness and respectability.
Finally, the songs are extremely enjoyable and will stay in your head a long time after viewing. The soft ballad Mary Poppins sings to the children before they go to sleep, with nostalgic undertones, and "Veter Peremen" the final, hopeful number, being two of the highlights.
In the end, this is a very special and sometimes quirky miniseries, making the most of its actors, story and sets. A definite must-see for children and adults and a great alternative to the original Mary Poppins.
Sex and the Single Girl (1964)
Stars, sex and fun
Sex comedies from the sixties may seem a trifle dated now: it's a long way since Rock Hudson and Doris Day made their way through the seduction game. But what it loses in accuracy (if it was ever accurate), it wins back in appealing, innocent charm. This one was made in 1964, and follows the regular storyline: a guy who's strongly described as a womanizer, decides to make love to an inexperienced young woman, but she confuses him with someone else and the two fall in love in the process. This time, the guy is a newspaper man, from a tabloid (directed by Edward Everett Horton, who hasn't changed a bit since Fred Astaire) and the girl, a psychiatrist loosely based on the journalist Helen Gurley Brown- in fact that's her name, but the rest is fiction. There's also a shade of The Moon Is Blue, with everyone wondering if Helen is or not a virgin.
The film itself is not very long and you have sometimes the feeling it lasts forever- and sometimes you wish it could. In the pivotal part, Natalie Wood is plain exquisite. She seemed to have grown more and more beautiful with each film she made, and it's no exception. She also manages to be terribly funny, without turning ridiculous, childlike and touching yet never losing her sophisticated seduction. Wood was about 26 then and to me that makes the film work much better than the Day-Hudson comedies. Who could believe a thirty-ish, attractive woman with an interesting job and an independent mind wouldn't meet any man before Rock decides to come along? As for Tony Curtis, he's very fine as the seducer. He has the chance to play a few wacky comedy scenes as well, jumping in the river with Natalie in his arms, and dressing as a woman to get out of her building- a Some Like it Hot joke he even explains to the audience. There's no Tony Randall here but Henry Fonda is the best friend, a fussy, middle-aged, depressed lingerie manufacturer, who can't seem to make things right with his wife, blasé Lauren Bacall. The real magic of the film is anytime Wood and Curtis interact, flirt and seduce each other, but the two older stars make for a very enjoyable counterpart. Fonda, claiming he will "never laugh again" then giggling over a racy tabloid is priceless. So is Bacall, opening her door to Natalie an early morning, with her legend husky voice. We've also got Mel Ferrer in a highly unexpected turn, as the light-hearted and pro-dancer psychiatrist Rudy and Fran "Meglio Stasera" Jeffries has a small part as Tony's casual girlfriend -and of course getting to sing the title song.
Richard Quine gave a less dynamic direction than usual, but his emphasis on the easy life of the early 60's well-offs is still pretty funny to watch: the buildings, dresses, dances, dates come all from better days, probably idealized even then by the gentle eye of Cinemascope. The car chase near the end is uneven as well, with dragging bits against genuine laughter. Another pleasant point, still is the very breezy music written by Neal Hefti, the man responsible for The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park. A short piece devoted to accompany the two young leads 'romance, "The Game" is probably the sweetest Hefti ever get. Don't forget to check the in-jokes; Quine makes repeated allusions to one of his favorite actors, Jack Lemmon, who would a year after co-star with both Curtis and Wood in comedy masterpiece The Great Race. "When you smile like that, you do look a lot like Jack Lemmon", remarks a smitten Natalie through mid-film. He does not by the way, but who cares ? Lemmon's subtle yet persistent shadow on the film is another little thing that makes Sex and the Single Girl very lovable indeed.
Two for the Seesaw (1962)
When Jerry met Gittle
Two for the Seesaw is really the story of a second chance. An unlikely, difficult romance, between characters who have little in common, but their loneliness. You get that feeling ever since the sublime main titles, with Mitchum wandering in the black and white streets of New York. Later, Shirley MacLaine will also have a stylish, melancholy moment, when she practices ballet in a crummy, deserted studio. Jerry is a successful lawyer in Nebraska, who has never get around much, and now has lost everything, including the love of his wife Tess. He doubts his abilities to get by, both in a professional and personal point of view. Gittle, twenty-nine years old, is a divorced day-to-day dancer who'd like to open a class of her own. Behind her dreamy, charming smile, she hides failed relationships, forgotten ambitions and an ulcer. They meet quite by chance and decide to help each other, through their own frailties and struggles.
Adapted from a play by William Gibson, the script offers many exteriors shots and several settings, but never quite believes in them. Sequences showing the protagonists outside, with other people are all very short, and the emphasis is put on their intimate confrontations, wherever they take place on the telephone or in one of their small flats. Text is evocative, a bit talkative even- and it describes the efforts both characters do to establish communication, and make some order in their mixed feelings. A special attention is made on the idea of giving : Jerry appears anxious to take care of someone, to regain self-esteem, while half-heartedly, he expresses his own needs for help. He also encourages generous Gittle to make a claim on him. But, the girl remarks, when two people love each other, why should they need to make any claim?
Set in an atmospheric mood, in shadows of black, with beautiful Andre Previn score in the background, the film constantly drifts from raw, honest naturalism to a more sophisticated, classical drama. It's reminiscent of the New Wave (some scenes evoke Breathless) as well as Billy Wilder's The Apartment (MacLaine even goes to a Chinese restaurant) but the tone keeps a definitive identity until the very end. A bitter, feverish chronicle , it's the perfect illustration of an off-beat romance, with the awkwardness and the difficulty to understand each other coming over and ideal of mutual help. Frustrated in their feelings, the two leads are tempted by violence as a sure way of expression: Mitchum slaps his partner after a fight, and near the end, MacLaine seems eager to do the same with a cup. Gittle's illness, in the middle of the film, appears as a mean to reconcile them, and establish a kind of everyday routine, with Jerry finding back his sense of responsibility. But in fact, it drifts them further away: it seems Jerry can't bring himself to forget his ex-wife, and thus is unable to draw a line on his past. Gittle slow finding out of his nostalgia is really painful to watch. And the girl too, expects something more: a man, who will be completely hers. I couldn't help thinking of the Jack Lemmon character in The Apartment as a likely candidate for that.
The conclusion, then, is that Jerry and Gittle were not made for each other. Still, it's not such a sad touch as it may seem. Both may reintegrate a well-planned universe they had hoped to get away from together, but it's their own decision. And they have discovered a lot of things about themselves, in the run of this relationship, that helped them advance and grow up. "He will be very grateful to you" Gittle says, of her future lover. "And her too", replies Jerry. "More than she'll ever know". A sad, messed-up romance it may be, but the farewells of the characters certainly are a success of maturity and empathy, beyond love. Directed by Robert Wise, in a stylish way, TFTS lies heavily on the shoulders of the leading performances. Mitchum and MacLaine happen to make a wonderful combination, with the right rate of instability, surprise and charm. An ordinary guy, shattered by his divorce and rather ill at ease in society, Jerry was an unusual part for Mitchum. His sad, tired gaze makes you believe in the scars of the man; and while he does not speak as loud as he should at times, he's distantly moving. MacLaine's Gittle apparently brings back a few memories of Fran Kubelik and Ginnie. She gives her a determined individuality, a radiant persona and her spontaneity, in the laughs and in the tears is so powerful it's bewildering. She's effortlessly touching and you buy her at once as the strongest of the couple. The supporting cast is hardly there at all, although one sees the shadows of Jerry boss in New-York, his two boheme friends, who have an arty flat and a high regard for matrimony, and of course the voice of his wife, Tess.
MacLaine later revealed she had a three year affair with Mitchum, that began during the shooting. Usually, off-screen partners are not the best on a fictional level. Their own feelings make them awkward. But here, it is not the case. They have a terrific chemistry, and somehow, succeed in making you believe the story of Gittle and Jerry is how an ill-fated relationship should be lived. With classy honesty.
Lover Come Back (1961)
Innocent sex comedy at its peak
I must say right now I am not a fan of Doris Day, neither of Rock Hudson, and that the only reason I got to watch their three pairings is called Tony Randall. As the overeager, neurotic sidekick, he's just as good as a younger Felix Ungar - and he's got the best lines. Still, the background is not without charm, and while Send Me No Flowers left me totally cold, I found myself thinking this one was pretty cute stuff.
The story is terribly similar to Pillow Talk, and reminiscent of Meg Ryan's 90s comedies : a successful working girl with a pretty face, a big mouth and a virginal past gets seduced by her worst enemy, whom she has never seen before, when he pretends to be even more inexperienced than herself- in fact, he's a casual womanizer. Somehow the two fall in love in the process. But here, script is sharper, rhythm quicker and scenes shorter: all in all, a kind of condensed formula with, backing the romantic plot, a silly yet amusing story of commercials for pills that don't exist, but everyone wants them anyway, and it's up to Jack Kruschen, the kind neighbor of The Apartment, to perform the task of creating the stuff.
It's New York in the late 50s, so there's a general feeling of happy days around: characters are sophisticated advertisement people with large flats, secretaries, shrinks (for Tony), masseuses (for Rock) and ridiculous hats (for Doris). They drive fancy cars, hunt mooses in Canadian rivers and at night, take a glance at the strip club. So, everyone's out to have a good time, including the viewer, who would not find such a pleasant, yet polished portrayal of city life in the comedies of today.
Dialogues are a reflect of this mood, between racy and terribly innocent. Innuendos, misunderstandings and blushed cheeks make the game. Some lines are truly funny, such as Tony Randall complaints about his dictatorial father: "Just once I spoke back to . He gave me me such a whipping in front of the girl...I was 25 and she was my fiancé". or the compassionate reaction of a middle-aged lady, to the no-longer virgin Doris : "It's like olives, dear. It's something you acquire a taste for". Too bad the ending gets a bit ridiculous, with a second wedding in front of the maternity ward. Close, huh?
Actors, all in all, are sweet people: I said I'm not usually much impressed by Hudson, but here with a beard, sad eyes and a weird green coat, he looked kinda disarming, as well as casually funny. Still, Doris Day was a bit too old to play such a naive girl: the blame must certainly be put on the script, but her character never seemed anything but annoyed or sarcastic, and in the end she get really annoying. She has sweet close-ups though. As for Randall, he's just a sweetheart with a good deal of psychological problems. And to see him hanging around big, menacing Hudson is always enjoyable. I'll keep it in mind for the rainy days.
Irma la Douce (1963)
Quirky Fairy Tale
«What are you going to do now, Billy ?» someone asked Wilder after he received the Academy Award for his perfect film, The Apartment. The answer was One, Two, Three, then Irma La Douce with a re teaming of Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine : both films were rather bullied by critics although the latter would score a box-office hit. But to compare The Apartment with Irma is in itself absurd : inevitably, it's less gripping, biting and moving. Yet, as it tells such a different story, which develops in a rather unexpected light, it did work out for me -at least more than this disastrous other mixture of pepper and sugar, The Emperor's Waltz.
Set in Paris' hot spot of Les Halles in the 60's (but it does look much older at times), narrated by uncredited Louis Jourdan (who else could muse «don't you believe it» with such smooth ? ), here's the love story of a sexy, independent-minded prostitute and a naive happy-go-lucky cop. Fired from the corrupt police force because of his honesty, Nestor becomes Irma's pimp and lover. But his jealousy drives him to dress up as a British Lord to secure all of his business partner's attentions. What follows is a bunch of misunderstandings and ultimately a lavish church wedding, with prostitutes as bridesmaids and a very pregnant bride. Well, believe it or not.
Yet, the fantasy is saved by its own dizzy charm- and there's plenty of it : a good combination of screwball comedy, light drama and witty dialogs only Wilder and Diamond could write- so good the characters say them several times. The real problem is the length. No Parisian farce should exceed two hours and this one would have deserved a quicker start. Irma's tear-jerking, phony stories, while the main credits still roll, could have been cut with no harm , and the same goes for the general slowness in the development, with too many too long sequences. One of these musicals without music, Irma still get an Oscar for Andre Previn's beautiful score. Its atmospheric themes, composed by Marguerite Monnot for the original operetta, make for a very pleasant listening, specially the intimate «Language of Love» and the only dance number, done with disarming skill and energy by the two leads. Settings too have that singling out quality: from the poetic Casanova street, designed by Alexander Trauner, complete with old shop signs, to Irma's homey studio and the real things : sunny Parisian bridges where poor Jack Lemmon had to swim out. Honestly, the whole thing looks better than Midnight in Paris.
An other determinate point is the humanity depicted by behind the kookiness of characters and situations. They are crazy and unbelievable for sure, but in a lovable way. I could not care a bit for the boheme bunch of Can-Can, a film much similar to this one (at least, it has MacLaine as a light dancer), but this one won me over. Comic does drag a bit, but there are moments genuinely hilarious : the jail escape, Lemmon's British imitation: «The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain...I've seen every English movie in town», and about every time mysterious bartender Moustache is around, a character not so unlike «le maître de jeu» from La Ronde. And indeed, the lightness in the folly brings back the spirits of Max Ophuls or Luigi Pirandello, as well as some good old' slapstick.
Apart from the pleasure of having Jack and Shirley together again, it's actually quite nice to see them as «a real couple», up to strange adventures but also conventional banter, kisses and fights. Both of the characters are eccentrics and first very puzzled at each other, but they're willing to get along and one can easily buy their quirky romance. Lemmon gives a wonderful spontaneity to Nestor, that constantly saves him from caricature. Honest to a fault, madly jealous and overenthusiastic, you actually care for the guy when he gets punched by Irma's pimp or cries with exhaustion after the girl mistakes his moonlighting for infidelity. And his flamboyance as middle-aged Lord X, chuckling and impotent, lets his natural versatility shine. He'll get another great double part in The Great Race. As for MacLaine, in a part previously meant for Marilyn Monroe, she's pleasantly at ease and injects her own touch to the cliché of the sweet prostitute with green stockings. Stoic and casual, Irma wants security, stability and respect : she's a serious businesswoman of the underworld, that never seems over-concerned about anything. But like every Wilder heroin, she has also a good deal of cute innocence: «You don't anything about men, because you've been with too many», Nestor tells her near the end of the story.
A lot has been said about the filthy, racy mood - sure there are plenty not so subtle double entendres and some very plain lines, but with a general feeling of live and let live behind. Irma's stimulation of Lord X's blocked imagination are a wink to Some Like It Hot. And there's a graceful little scene, when Nestor and Irma are about to make love for the first time. While she's willing and practical, he gets shy and asks her to put her night mask while he undresses. After a fade, you find the mask on a sleeping, peaceful Nestor. The ending does not make much sense - nor does the reappearance of Lord X with all the clothes found months before by the cops, but who cares ? Like Moustache, masterfully played by Lou Jacobi, claims: that's another story. A story of hate, love, passion and death. All those things that make life worth living.
Let's Make Love (1960)
Uneven but sweet Marilyn comedy
The story of Jean-Marc Clement and his pretty chorus girl is so widely hated and depreciated among the critics I always get surprised when I find myself enjoying it. Sure it's overlong, from a good half an hour, sometimes dull and never truly believable: why they kept the introduction sequence is a mystery. Also, as often with musicals of this era, the camera practically never moves.
Still, there are noticeable good points: the score makes for a pleasant listening, from the classic Cole Porter 's"My Heart Belongs to Daddy" (the only number really well staged) to the romantic, jazzy themes "Let's Make Love", and "Incurably Romantic". Marilyn sings and dances with her own soulful abandon, and as an actress, she will only disappoint those who do not like her at all. I, a fan, thought she was right on my money. There is true charm in her portrayal of Amanda, an everyday beauty queen who knits between sexy numbers, good comic timing too -although she overacts a bit the final scenes. And with her pale blonde hair and tired gaze, she looks almost younger than in the 50's. Some biographical allusions -like the night school- and the fact she's supposed to be an happy-go-lucky, "at home wherever she goes" make sit ultimately poignant.
As for Montand, in charge of a difficult task after Gregory Peck and James Stewart had said "no", he looks surprisingly at ease. Apart from the heavy french accent, his approach of the Clement character is cleverly unexpected : while everyone thinks of him as an icy, pompous businessman crossed with a self-assured playboy, Clement appears as always charming and suave, exceedingly polite, widely smiling and very stiffly dressed. As a result, it makes impossible for the viewer not to go for him -specially as once he poses as a struggling extra, he gets humiliating indifference and mockery from everyone. The trouble is the story becomes much less believable and a bit confusing : and while you care for the billionaire, you never get to understand him or the life he leads. The chemistry between the two stars is fine yet it never sparkles, much because of the script which until the very end imposes misunderstanding and a one-way relationship.
The supporting cast is less reliable, from dazzling to forgettable. Theatre people have not much soul, although they're supposed to be the good guys : directors spend their time screaming, there's a mean blonde dancer and Frankie Vaughan, as the whining crooner, is no match for Monroe. On the other hand, Wilfrid Hyde-White is pleasant in a prototype for his Col. Pickering of "My Fair Lady". And young Tony Randall frankly excellent as the public relations man who gets disgusted by his boss's frivolity. Long before I got to love Randall as Felix Ungar, I thought he gave the subtlest performance of the movie. It's too bad that after a definite part in the first hour, his likable character stands aback in the shade with Hyde- White, to watch the seduction going on. One gets the feeling he had scenes cut or else added in the course of the film. Of course, one has to mention the three guest-stars that make most of the life in the middle dragging part, during which Clement learns how to be an artist. It turns out the shorter the appearance, the better it is and Gene Kelly is truly priceless in the one little scene he waltzes with Yves Montand. Bing Crosby and Milton Berle are nice too but the latter remains too long on the show.
The script, which suffered many rewrites before and during the shooting is an odd mixture, including moving monologues by Arthur Miller (who, complained Peck, wanted badly to extent Marilyn's part), classic comedy stuff, good one-liners and awkward gags: the Elvis Presley satire comes from a long way. The charm and tenderness of some sequences does not work so well with the mechanical farce going around, leaving the general feeling of an of- balance movie. George Cukor was not the ideal musical director and he fails to reconcile human comedy and singing lavishness - although he would score a triumph a few years later with "My Fair Lady", but then the script was of better quality. One may wonder what "Let's Make Love" would have been, with sharper writing and wiser editing. But there's enough good to contradict the severe critics, as long as Monroe, Randall and sometimes Montand are around. So forget the faults. Enjoy the stars.
Smiley's People (1982)
Smiley and his people
When General Vladimir, a former MI6 agent, is murdered, no one thinks of warning an old Russian lady settled in Paris. No one knows he was Mme Ostrakova's only hope to understand the weird and perhaps dangerous situation she is into, after Russian authorities approached her to permit her estranged daughter to join her in France, and that she has still never seen the sight of her. On the other hand, George Smiley, the middle aged spy master, is once again put out of retirement to investigate about this mysterious case. Or rather, from Whitehall's imperious order, to bury it. And the more he looks into it, the more he's convinced this would be a very bad idea...
Smiley's People happens a few years later TTSS: actually the third part of a novel trilogy by John Le Carré, whose second part, was never filmed. George Smiley is not the Circus chief anymore and has come back to semi-retirement and complicated marriage with Ann. His successor, Saul Enderby, is "an Atlantic man", a bureaucrat just as scrupulous than Percy Allelline, but a bit more clever. And Smiley is quite reluctant with working for the Circus again, until he learns it could lead to the fall of his old nemesis Karla : the elusive, cause-committed, high officer of Moscow Center. In some aspects, this miniseries is very similar to the previous : from the almost identical casting to the same idea of Smiley investigating through reminiscences of the past and crucial encounters. And yet, the rhythm as well as the mood, leave the impression of a change. While a part of TTSS's charm and almost flawless tempo was in a highly structured a plot, SP drifts, slows down then gets quicker, taking Smiley from London to Hamburg, Paris, Berne and finally Berlin. Because of this, the spy's quest looks more hazardous , almost blurring.
The tone is also different, both cruddier and sadder. A feeling of danger wraps all the episodes and sheer violence explodes once in a while, often in the most powerful moments : in the screams of panic of Tatiana, a young schizophrenic girl, in the brutally erotic dance of a Hamburg brothel, and most of all in the discovery of a butchered body on a boat while ashore, some guys are trying to break Smiley's car. And the general atmosphere is one of nostalgia and failure (though humor is still present): this is the post- Haydon era, after the mole has been found out to be the most charismatic person of the Circus. The shadow of his treachery is still very alive for the characters, who have lost those last hopes they possessed in TTSS. George Smiley, among all, has felt the blow. Turning from a compassionate spy to a wandering, self-doubted soul, who will go for every method to get Karla, and still asks himself if it's worth it. Alec Guiness did a magnificent job in pursuing his portray of Smiley, suggesting disgust and disillusion behind his calm facade. Supporting characters have grown weary as well: Connie Sachs, (Beryl Reid), is almost dying and she works harder than ever to give her precious memories to Smiley, Peter Guillam (Michael Byrne, the only important cast change who's fine but not as much as Jayston in TTSS) still likes fast cars but seems to have said his youth goodbye, Karla ( Patrick Stewart) appears as a frail little old man, who makes dangerous choices out of concern for his daughter; Ann Smiley (Sîan Phillips) must face definite separation. Even Cabinet Secretary Oliver Lacon (Anthony Bate) is going through a depression after his wife has left him. Only Toby Esterhase (refreshingly funny Bernard Hepton) who has gone back to his Hungarian origins and his profession of selling forgeries, seems to enjoy himself now- yet, it's Esterhase who says to Smiley: " We're over. They don't want us anymore".
New characters fit well this feeling of discouragement. The young ones are outshone by their heroic oldsters:they try to escape from them and fail like Villem; or to reach their level and fail, like Mostyn. Old timers such as Vladimir (Cürd Jurgens) and Otto Leipzig (Vladek Sheybal) who want to go back on the battlefield are not trusted and treated as mild eccentrics by the Circus. Enderby appears as an ambiguous new chief of MI6 : his smarmy attitude and cynical jokes indicate a mocking despise for both his colleagues and adversaries; and yet he seems almost fascinated by the obstinate fight Smiley wages, so different from his own. He's played well, if a bit over the top by Barry Foster. There is also a little Russian bureaucrat (Michael Lonsdale), an ordinary man with human faults, who gets stuck in a secret plan he understands better than he's thought of. As for Tatiana " the daughter of a man too important to exist" (Tusse Silberg) , she's probably the most moving figure of the story-An innocent girl who sees too clearly the shadows of her traumatizing past.
Pehaps a shade less limpid than its prequel, this mini -serie still gets a fine direction by Simon Langton, a compelling script, a lot of fascinating scenes which makes it truly unforgettable. The reunion between George Smiley and Toby, his oldest protegé, with friendship coming over mistrust; Grigoriev's interrogation, from light humor to drama; Smiley meeting Tatiana at the Swiss clinic: "Are you God?" asks the girl, "No, I'm just an ordinary person" answers Smiley; and the final, empty exchange of looks of the spy and Karla near the Berlin frontier. Oddly enough, my favorite moment is when Smiley is unable to enter in a boat which is far away from the pier and shouts for help. James Bond would have taken a submarine out of his pocket. That's the kind of things that makes Smiley close to us. Imperfect, sure he was, like all his people- spies, clerks, crooks, politicians, victims, double-agents... But he really was human.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979)
Life's such a puzzle, isn't it?
The set is an office on an ordinary London morning, in the mid seventies. Four men enter,once at a time, four members of the highest British intelligence and sit at a table. We do not know their names but their attitudes ,wether nonchalant, overeager, or plain indifferent are already a clear illustration of their characters Then one of them claims "Right, now we shall start". And hence starts one of the most fascinating spy movies ever made , let alone on TV.
Adapted very faithfully from John Le Carré wonderful book, TTSS is about betrayal, loss, difficulties to understand each other, disillusions, and thus succeeds in overcoming its genre. The Circus (codename for MI6) represents a small society with its human tragedies, its political compromises, its hierarchy corruptions. I'll add this is also incredibly riveting and entertaining, full of witty and tongue -in- cheek humor even in the darkest of situations. The action is not the main thing here, that's why some viewers might find it slow, but it's definitely not absent either. There are a few danger- explicit scenes ,although most of the time, danger is implied rather than showed: in a terse search among forbidden documents, a clandestine meeting, an evocation of painful memories. There is also a very subtle but very moving drama, in the exposing of various and broken lives; in which a look, or an apparently innocent word , may play an important part
The story really begins with two events set about a year apart: in the first, Control, the old chief of the Circus suspects there's a traitor (a "mole") among his closest collaborators and sends Prideaux, a reluctant yet loyal agent, to investigate about it. But Prideaux gets shot in the back in Czecho, in a apparent trap from Moscow Centre. In the second event, late Control has been replaced by Percy Allelline, when the mole theory comes out again with a British agent learning by chance that Karla, a high officer of Moscow Centre, has settled one of his most reliables sources right in the Circus headquarters. Yet who can spy on the spies? The answer is George Smiley, a middle aged agent who's been fired from MI6 after Control's death. Forced to go back on the field by a Whitehall representant, he begins investigating, reading old files, meeting old friends remembering the past and its deep buried secrets that some people, including himself would like to be able to forget.
One of the most lovable aspects of this film, apart from the beautiful sets - from sunny Lisbonne to gray London's streets and pictorial English countryside- and the fine, atmospheric music by Geoffrey Burgon, is simply the characters; how they are described, directed and acted. They are numerous yet unique, each of them unforgettable in his own way. My personal favorites are: George Smiley, the little old man lost in the crowd who turns out to be a terrific watcher and listener, the apparently harmless witness who fights to get the truth; Alec Guiness, who was really Smiley, gives him wit, warmth and sensitivity, particularly in the way he reacts to his wife's unfaithfulness, and the mocking he gets from people about it. Also, Jim Prideaux, the brave, suspicious but desperately loyal agent broken down by betrayal and torture, who becomes a school master after his coming back to England. The fith episode, in which Prideaux relates his captivity to Smiley , told from biting irony, to irrepressible pain, is one of the most powerful moments of the series. Ian Bannen was just amazing in this part. But there are also other noteworthy characters; a frustrated fortyish agent who has still to learn to grow up, Peter Guillam (Michael Jayston), an alcoholic Head of research with an incredible memory, who's been fired but hates the real world and only loves the Circus, Connie Sachs ( Beryl Reid), an incompetent upstart full of himself, Percy Allelline ( Michael Alridge), a cynical dilettante with charm and charisma, Bill Haydon ( Ian Richardson), a Hungarian immigrant who has suffered from his colleagues's xenophobia and overacts his British behavior, Toby Esterhase ( Bernard Hepton), a pompous yet smarter than he looks Cabinet Secretary, Oliver Lacon ( Anthony Bate), a womanizer, streetwise little spy who gets hurt, Ricky Tarr ( Hywell Bennet), a bureaucrat from lower classes turned skeptical by too much hard work and not enough promotion, Roy Bland (Terence Rigby) a Russian agent completely devoted to his cause we never hear talking, Karla ( Patrick Stewart), an elusive, ever fascinating wife, Ann Smiley (Sîan Phillips), a tired but reconciled Russian agent, Irina (Susan Kodicek), a mysterious, taciturn, dying Boss, Control ( Alexander Knox)...
TTSS is probably the most faithful adaptation ever: those who have read the novel by Le Carré will find back his terse sense of narration, colorful dialog and ultimate bitterness. Though ending with the discover - and death- of the mole, it is by no means a successful tale à la James Bond. The characters have been confronted to the shock of their deepest values, forced to look at an unpleasant truth, to discuss their principles, and to cut off definitely with their youth's ideals - symbolized by the Oxford drawing of the end titles, where most of the characters were recruited during the thirties. And in the case of Smiley and Prideaux, to cut off with a love they had once given everything to. When Ann claims to her husband, in the end, that "life's such a puzzle"to him, it seems no one has succeeded in solving it. The mystery of deceiving and trust will remain as deep as ever. And I'll remain watching this great TV series, as exciting and human as any story should be, until the end of my life.
The Russia House (1990)
Un chef d'oeuvre moderne
Il y a beaucoup de films contemporains dignes d'intérêt mais "La Maison Russie" est peut- être le seul auquel je pense comme un chef d'oeuvre. C'est un film complexe, riche, plus qu'une adaptation fidèle du célèbre roman éponyme de John LeCarré.
Commencée in media res, c'est l'histoire d'un éditeur anglais qui se retrouve malgré lui embarqué dans une affaire d'espionnage qui révélerait au monde occidental les faiblesses de la capacité nucléaire soviétique. Peu à peu, il découvre la manipulation qu'effectuent sur lui les Services Secrets Britanniques et tombe amoureux d'une femme Russe également impliqué, Katya. Le scénario apparaît d'abord très difficile à suivre (nombreux flash-backs et raccourcis narratifs) mais il vaut vraiment la peine de s'y accrocher.
À propos du cast, il est particulièrement bien choisi. Sean Connery est magnifique dans ce rôle nuancé et crédible d'homme imparfait qui par amour, se transforme en héros et Michelle Pfeiffer délivre une performance stupéfiante comme la touchante et courageuse Katya. Notons aussi James Fox tour à tour grave et léger en agent secret Britannique et le bouleversant Klaus Maria Brandauer.
La musique fascinante de Jerry Goldsmith sur fond d'une Russie austère forme une atmosphère inoubliable.
On a souvent critiqué "La Maison Russie" comme trop sentimental, voir irréaliste mais c'est très vrai et humain dans la psychologie des différents personnages. Une histoire d'amour étonnamment sérieuse et tragique pour le Hollywood d'aujourd'hui.
Nous aurons toujours Casablanca
Casablanca figure parmi les films les plus aimés des américains. C'est devenu un classique au même titre que "Citizen Kane" et "La Vie est Belle". Il est intéressant de le revoir aujourd'hui pour constater sa solidité et son originalité persistante. D'abord, il a très peu vieilli : autant dans la lucidité désabusé du scénario que dans les costumes intemporels d'Ingrid Bergman. Sa structure a quelque chose d'intemporel, voir de quasi tragique malgré le foisonnement des thèmes employés. Il se dégage du casting composite, une grande authenticité même si elle a quelque chose d'illusoire. Tout les immigrés réunis à Casablanca ne sont pas tous des immigrés mais ils portent en eux les incertitudes de la guerre. Humphrey Bogart trouve l'accomplissement de sa personnalité dans ce rôle d'anti-héros héroïque, ironique mais sensible. Un exemple très humain. Ingrid Bergman, pour son second film à Hollywood, rencontre une conjonction presque aussi parfaite. On n'a pas assez insisté sur la force introvertie de son interprétation et sa subtilité juvénile. Il serait fastidieux d'énoncer tout le monde : mentionnons au passage Claude Rains, parfait comme le policier français qui va "où le vent tourne" et Conrad Veidt, dont la performance de méchant nazi est encore plus menaçante par le fait qu'il dépasse les caricatures. Enfin, la musique omniprésente est quasi un personnage. Elle exprime, la nostalgie du passé et de l'amour face à l'incertitude. Et la fin du film va à l'encontre de toutes les conventions, même celle du mélodrame. Exprimant l'altruisme au-delà de la passion, juste pour survivre.