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I also really like the old Heston flick SECRET OF THE INCAS, so much so that I made a site devoted to it. Check out:
The Greatest (1977)
Ali can't play Ali!
THE GREATEST is a lamentable attempt to chronicle the tumultuous life and career of self-proclaimed 'Greatest boxer of all-time', Muhammad Ali, between the fourteen year period of his 1960 olympic success and regaining the world title against George Foreman in 1974. This flat, boring and unrealistic mess fails in every department, it doesn't entertain the movie fan, or enlighten the boxing aficionado. Ali plays himself - and doesn't do a very good job of it. The spontaneity, charisma, energy and humour that Ali displayed in his televised real life press conferences is sadly missing from his screen performance. What we get is a subdued, below-par Ali, sometimes mumbling and slurring his lines, making hard work of Ring Lardner's lackadaisical script and the inept direction of Tom Gries. James Earl Jones, who has a very brief cameo as Malcolm X, summed up Ali's acting ability with succinct honesty: 'Given his own words, he was a great performer, but given somebody else's words there was a self-consciousness that he was unable to overcome. Ali wasn't a great craftsman in the art of acting'.
Jones doesn't come out of this movie with much credit either. He's much too bulky and aged to convince as the dynamic Malcolm X. The only really good performance comes from Ben Johnson as the head of the syndicate who sponsor Ali after his olympic triumph. Johnson once starred in MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, in which a world heavyweight boxing champion, Primo Carnera, spars with a gorilla, the irony of which was not lost on me as I viewed this movie - given Ali's nickname for his bitter ring rival Joe Frazier.
In between the Acting-By-Numbers sequences, clips of Ali's real fights are shown. Grainy b/w footage of Ali battering Lamar Clark, Archie Moore and Willie Besmanoff, plus a montage in colour of his comeback bouts against Buster Mathis, George Chuvalo, Jerry Quarry, Floyd Patterson, Bob Foster, Joe Bugner and Ken Norton. What I found interesting was seeing his old amateur foe and gym-mate Jimmy Ellis once again sparring with Ali just before the second Norton fight. Ellis was one of the very few boxers to beat Ali as an amateur, in 1958 at Louisville.
There is a dedication at the end of the movie to director Tom Gries, who sadly died immediately after filming was completed. For a far better tribute to Gries talent, see the great Charlton Heston western WILL PENNY.
"Not so much a story, more of an Epic"
Michael Aspel surprised movie legend Charlton Heston with the words 'Charlton Heston - this is your life - not so much a story, more an epic; it tells of a young man who was a struggling young actor posing for art classes in New York to pay rent of a fifth floor tariff and went on to become the friend of presidents - here you are with no fewer than five of them'. (Shown is a photo of George Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon all listening to Heston making a speech).
Clips are shown from THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, BEN-HUR and THE BIG COUNTRY, and Carroll Baker then comes on and describes Heston as a "giant of our industry". Holly Heston flies in from New York and has 'A wonderful memory of getting off an airplane in Spain and being surrounded by hundreds of people screaming El Cid, El Cid". Film of Jack Heston calling his grandfather 'Ba' was shown.
Aspel then began chronicling Heston's rise to fame, beginning with some remarkable footage of a young Heston in the title role of PEER GYNT, a semi-professional movie made in 1941. Walter Seltzer, Hal Wallis' head of publicity described trying to locate an unknown Heston at Hollywood airport , armed with only a fuzzy 8x10 TV still.
A message from James Stewart was read by Aspel: "Dear Chuck, this being such a great occasion for you, I'm deeply disappointed that ill health precludes me paying tribute to you in person. Nobody is more deserving of being a subject of This is your Life than you. Your career has been nothing short of brilliant and the manifold honours which have been bestowed on you bear witness to your exemplary life as a citizen and an actor. Your long married life to Lydia has been an example to all who Know you. Our long friendship has meant a great deal to me and I look forward to it's continuation for many years to come. Sincerely, James Stewart".
Other guests included Nina Foch, who played Heston's mother in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, a very frail Janet Leigh , Ronald Reagan was filmed reading a tribute, and Christopher Mitchum slightly irked Heston with his reminiscence about a Mexican border guard - 'You had to remember that, didn't you!' Dame Edna, John Forsythe and President George Bush gave filmed tributes, while other studio guests were Stephanie Beacham (who told a funny gun story) and Martha Scott, who played his mother in BEN-HUR. I found it strange that Fraser Heston, his son, wasn't seen or heard in this short (25 mins) tribute.
Great topical gags
Charlton Heston was in the UK to publicize his third book, "In the Arena", and appeared on every breakfast show and talk show in a two week period. I recently found a tape of these shows, and they make for interesting viewing over a decade later. "Clive Anderson Talks Back" usually began with the controversial ex-barrister taking pot shots at celebrities who were in the news that week. It was weird seeing Anderson cracking below-the-belt gags about Princess Diana and Paula Yates, knowing what I know now of the tragedies that were just around the corner. When Heston walked on to a thunderous ovation from the large studio audience, even Anderson was impressed, 'Well. I can confidently say that's the biggest cheer this show has had!' The trouble with Heston's appearances on chat shows is that the host ALWAYS asks the Hollywood legend the same questions and Chuck would ALWAYS give word-for-word the same answers on every show. At least Clive Anderson slipped in the odd original quip that broke up Heston's familiar responses. 'You are the best Moses since....Moses!!' and 'You haven't EVER been married to Elizabeth Taylor?' The show ended with the audience in hysterics as Anderson, playing an ape, demanded Heston to bellow his greatest screen line, 'Take your stinking paws off me you dam dirty ape!'
Quest for Love (1971)
Tear-jerker masquerading as Sci-Fi soap
After an explosion during an experiment, Colin Trafford, a young physicist, finds himself transported into a parallel world where he is a successful playwrite with an unhappy marriage. In this world, Kennedy wasn't assassinated, Leslie Howerd is still alive and making movies and the Vietnam war never happened. Trafford discovers that he is a philanderer and he is unable to convince his 'wife' Ottelie of the validity of his strange behaviour and amnesic tendencies. Eventually she believes him after Sir Henry Lanstein explains the whole experiment to her. There happiness is short lived however, for Ottelie then dies. The shock of her death returns Trafford to his own world, where he searches for and finds her equivalent (working as an air hostess) and saves her life. QUEST FOR LOVE is a love story masquerading as Sci-Fi soap, Joan Collins has never looked more ravishing or given a better performance. The most powerful scene in the movie is Tom Bell's explosive outburst when giving a speech at the First Night party to all the luvvies. They all think he's drunk ... but we share in his bewilderment. QUEST FOR LOVE is highly recommended viewing, any British film that has the great Sam Kydd as a cab driver cannot be missed.
Second Chance (1953)
The boxers are seeing stars
Picture this scene, it's a rainy Saturday afternoon in England, circa 1962, the televised horse racing on BBC has been cancelled and a voice-over informs us that "We are unable to bring you the scheduled programme, instead the film ... will be shown". It would usually be REBECCA, HIGH NOON or SECOND CHANCE. I got to love these three movies, which I would always associate with bad weather at Doncaster. SECOND CHANCE was the only movie in which screen tough guy Robert Mitchum played a prizefighter, and he really looked the part. Mitchum had experience as a boxer, official and unofficial. In November, 1951, he was on location filming ONE MINUTE TO ZERO and was involved in a brawl with the heavyweight boxer Bernie Reynolds, who fought Rocky Marciano and Joe Baksi. Mitchum proved he was a tough guy off the screen as Reynolds was taken to hospital while Mitchum walked away without a scratch. The boxing match in SECOND CHANCE was filmed at the Plaza de Toros in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and was beset with problems. Mitchum's screen opponent was Abel Fernandez, who had recently retired from the ring due to a near fatality. This was his film debut, which coincidently had the story of an American boxer barnstorming the South American circuit trying to regain his nerve after a ring fatality in New York. Unfortunately for Mitchum, Fernandez occasionally forgot he was in a movie fight and not a pro fight, he knocked out Mitchum three times during the arduous all-day shoot in the boiling sun. Fernandez later appeared in THE HARDER THEY FALL, but got type-cast playing Indians in television westerns before landing a leading role in the TV hit "The Untouchables". The bad guy in SECOND CHANCE is another ex-boxer Jack Palance, who also fought Joe Baksi. Method actor Palance also got carried away in his fight scene with Mitchum aboard a cable car. Palance frightened the life out of me when I was a child, the menacing voice, sinister grin, almost plastic facial features and intense air of menace about him are well served in this 3-D action thriller. The climax aboard a stationary cable car thousands of feet in the air is very exciting, but recently came back to haunt me while on holiday in Matlock, Derbyshire. The wife and I were sitting hundreds of feet in the air in a cable car, which had come to a deliberate halt so the tourists could enjoy the marvellous view, when I suddenly thought of what happened to the cable car in SECOND CHANCE. I immediately had a panic attack which made Woody Allen look brave. The best part of the movie is the Linda Darnell-Jack Palance chase sequence, up and down the cobbled streets of a Mexican village. Bizarrely, Palance appears to be moving in quick motion, while Darnell and all around her are walking in normal motion. You'll think twice about getting in a cable car after seeing this enjoyable 1950's flick, the only thing I didn't like was the dismal pastel Technicolor used.
The Blue Lamp (1950)
Post-war classic of British cinema
THE BLUE LAMP, voted Best Film of the Year in 1950 by the British Film Academy, is a semi-documentary homage to the post-war Bobby on the beat. PC Dixon shows a young rookie, Andy Mitchell, the ropes and offers him lodgings under his own roof. Two young hoodlums rob a cinema, and one of them, Tom Riley, shoots Dixon, who later dies in hospital. After his accomplice Spud is killed in a car crash, Riley is finally apprehended in the White City Stadium; the police are helped by the criminal underworld, and the bookies using their tic-tac code. THE BLUE LAMP is famous for two reasons, it made a star of Dirk Bogarde, and introduced Jack Warner to the character of PC George Dixon, who later appeared in 430 episodes, (1955-1976) in the BBC favourite "Dixon of Dock Green". The location shots are a breath of fresh air, real policemen were drafted in to control the crowds during the shooting of these scenes. The cast are excellent, particularly Bogarde and Warner, with three exceptions. Peggy Evans goes way over the top as Diana Lewis, the hysterical moll of Bogarde. She screams, and screams and screams her lines. The young couple who witness Dixon's shooting at the cinema, and disagree with each other on every subject, are just plain ridiculous. If only Bogarde had shot them instead of good old Jack Warner. Also, the little girl, Queenie, who finds the discarded revolver, and answers 'no' to every single question of Jimmy Hanley, is quite obviously not a child prodigy. It was great to see Sam Kydd pop up at the exciting White City climax as the bookies assistant. Basil Radford appeared in the movie by accident. Scenes were being filmed in a billiard hall near Piccadilly Circus when Basil went in looking for a game, and ended up in a scene with a background group of extras. THE BLUE LAMP is always a pure joy to watch, and is justifiably regarded as a post-war classic of British cinema.
Brief Encounter (1974)
Ghastly and pointless remake
BRIEF ENCOUNTER is a ghastly and pointless remake of the 1945 David Lean classic, which was based on Noel Coward's play "Still Life". A doctor removes a particle of grit from a woman's eye at a railway station, he is in a miserable relationship, she is happily married social worker of Italian ancestry. They meet by accident on another occasion, form an instant attraction and arrange to meet each other every Wednesday. The pair fall in love, but after spending a few afternoons together they realise that they have no realistic chance of happiness and agree to part. Coward's original one-act play concerned two ordinary people who fall in love. Sophia Loren and Richard Burton, two Super Stars and veterans of Hollywood Epics, are nobody's idea of 'ordinary people'. Loren in particular is miscast - Sophia Loren in full make-up, looking like a million dollars, working as a part-time voluntary social worker at a Citizen Advice Bureau just doesn't ring true. Burton, looking haggard, with dyed hair, too much make-up and wearing platform shoes, doesn't come across as your average General Practitioner. That said, you can't really blame them for having an affair after seeing their spouses. Burton is married to a literary critic who spends her evenings penning poisonous reviews and who treats her husband with total contempt. Loren's husband, Jack Hedley, potters around the house all day and is terminally boring: the most exciting thing he has ever done is nearly have an affair six years previous. Their final scene together will induce nausea, ("You've been a long, long way away", etc.). That great British jobbing actor, John LeMesurier, has a three minute cameo as Burton's friend, and appears to be slightly inebriated, speaking his lines in a barely audible voice. It's a sad and forgettable performance in a dismal, awful rehash of a cinema classic. Avoid at all costs.
The Magic Christian (1969)
Wonderful 60's satire
This comedy passed me by when it was released in 1969. I had seen CASINO ROYALE and WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT? and automatically in my subconscious somehow roped this movie in with those two turkeys. I had always avoided it on purpose whenever the movie turned up on TV. The only reason I gave it a go this time was the fact that comedian Paul Merton gave it such a wonderful review on his recent "Paul Merton's Perfect Night In" show on BBC2. I am pleased I finally gave it a go, I actually laughed out loud on a number of occasions and didn't want it to end. I absolutely recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys the 1960's sub-culture. Peter Sellers plays an eccentric millionaire who adopts Ringo Starr, whom he fell in love with, but only in a 'paternal way'. Together they embark on a series of bizarre and degrading tests around London to illustrate the depths to which mankind will sink in pursuit of money: any man has his price and will do literally anything if the price is right. The movie makes less than subtle attacks on the establishment, including the annual Oxford-Cambridge boat race, that very British symbol of earnest endeavour and sportsmanship which is turned into a sea battle when referee Richard Attenborough accepts a bribe. The richest prize in sport, the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship, incites a riot when both protagonists actually kiss instead of punching the hell out of each other. The World Champ is played by that great character Nosher Powell, a former heavyweight boxer of the 50's. His challenger is none other than former European Champion Dick Richardson, a real tough guy who fought Ezzard Charles and Ingemar Johansson. This must have been an 'in-joke' by the film's director, having these two real-life hard cases acting as 'puffs'. "The Magic Christian" was a great surprise to me and I strongly recommend it.
The Square Ring (1953)
Clinches and clichés, not classic Ealing
Based on the stage play by Ralph W.Peterson, THE SQUARE RING hardly ventures outside its theatrical roots but is one of the very few British films about the 'Noble Art'. It contains every single cliché known to boxing movies: the nervous novice, the washed up ex-champ looking for one more shot at the 'big time', the anxious wife who threatens to leave if he doesn't quit, the behind the scenes 'fix', camera close ups of ringsiders screaming for blood and of course the rows of spectators throwing imaginary punches during the fight scenes. Unfortunately THE SQUARE RING has the worst impersonation of a 'punch drunk' boxer in celluloid history. George Rose narrows his eyes into slits, screws his mouth sideways and ends up resembling a grumbling grotesque gargoyle. His repetitious rendering of the line "first, first ...I'll show 'em" in a strange, gravelly groaning whine is deeply embarrassing. It's a terrible performance from Rose. Almost as bad is Bill Travers as a morose heavyweight in a permanent state of idiocy, reading a juvenile comic and only answering questions in a monosyllabic, moronic fashion. These two wouldn't pass the stringent medical examinations of todays Boxing Board of Control. On the plus side THE SQUARE RING has an excellent performance from Bill Owen, who bounces into the dressing room full of vitality and spouts out lines like "look at the nose son, not a dent in it". He moves like a confident fit boxer even when he's not in the ring. Real life man and wife Maxwell Reed and Joan Collins share a few scenes, your enjoyment of these scenes will be enhanced if you read her autobiography before viewing the film. Ronald Lewis makes his film debut as a clean cut, shy, Welsh amateur having his first professional fight, who learns the hard way that the pro ranks aren't "fair". Look out for the stiff way he moves towards the centre of the ring when the first bell goes, it's unintentionally hilarious. If he moved like that in a real fight he wouldn't last 20 seconds. Also, watch out for the ending of his bruising battle, he literally sees stars (and so do we!). The climatic encounter between Kid Curtis (Robert Beatty) and the unbeaten prospect Barney Deakon (Alf Hines) contains some excellent camera work and is quite realistic. Robert Beatty, 44 at the time, looks too mature to be sporting the ring moniker "Kid". His opponent was played by the former light-heavyweight from West Ham, Alf Hines, a good club fighter who fought at the Albert Hall, Wembley and Earls Court and had just retired from the ring. He played a boxer in another Joan Collins movie THE GOOD DIE YOUNG, boxing historians should find it interesting that the world famous gym owner, Joe Bloom, was the referee in both these movies. On 2 June, 1958, a TV version with Sean Connery playing Rick Martell and a very young Alan Bates was broadcast on the ITV Play of the Week. THE SQUARE RING's technical adviser was Dave Crowley, the former British Lightweight Champion, it's not a bad little movie and is well worth watching. Fans of CARRY ON comedies will enjoy the early performances of Sid James and Joan Sims.
The Dark Avenger (1955)
Enjoyable comic strip history
The American director Henry Levin once described THE DARK AVENGER as a "western in armour", which is an apt description of this colourful saga. The casting is hilarious: Errol Flynn, born in 1909, plays the son of Michael Hordern, born 1911. Although Sir Michael aged quickly, Flynn is no spring chicken either, and looks all of his 46 years. The result of living in the fast lane is right up there on the screen. Christopher Lee shines in one of his early roles and demonstrates keen swordmanship in his duel with Errol Flynn. Actually Lee duels with British Olympic sabre champion Raymond Paul - with Flynn taking over in the close-ups. The supporting cast is full of future TV household names. Rupert Davies and Ewen Solon had considerable success years later in "Maigret". Richard O'Sullivan, a talented child actor, went on to play swashbuckler "Dick Turpin" in the 70's. Fans of Patrick McGoohan had better not miss the beginning of this movie, the star of the cult TV classic "The Prisoner" only has a few lines in a brief appearance. This movie always crops up on Sam Kydd's filmography but spotting him is virtually impossible, maybe Sam was edited out of the finished film. THE DARK AVENGER was filmed on the abandoned IVANHOE lot and is enjoyable comic strip history, it's a good way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon.