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South of Algiers (1953)
routine action filler with all usual stereotypes
I watched this film for Van Heflin and Eric Portman; both usually excellent when given some half decent material. Here they floundered, unable to make something of the dreary dialogue and predictable plot. There was jerky editing of the film, with obvious back projection and use of actors' doubles on location, as well as location shooting cut in from another (bigger) budget film (maybe Portman's and Thorold Dickinson's earlier 'Men of Tomorrow') mixed up with studio close ups. The mix is very uneven and after a while it becomes part of the entertainment to spot whether it's a) studio b) location c) doubles etc Van Heflin does his best, trying to instill some oomph into his supposedly devil may care risk taker entrepreneur character. Trouble is Heflin looks as though he checks the risk percentage on ev ery step he takes. Portman has to watch endless tribal singing and dancing, probably taken from that other African film cut into this one. Wanda Hendrix has so little to do she could have phoned her performance in. However it passed away an hour or so on a wet winter's evening.
The Dark Man (1951)
B movie short effective thriller
I wanted to see 'The Dark Man'for a while mainly because of Maxwell Reed; i seem lately to have watched him in a few of his 'Clouded Yellow'/'Night Beat'/'Dear Murderer'/'Square Ring'. I got a copy of Dark Man off ebay finally.It is a short 'B' film, however it is well done for its style, punchy and effective. Unfortunately, i think the shortened US version is the one doing the rounds, not the longer UK version.I'd be interested in seeing the original longer release. A very young Natasha Parry is the leading lady and does the job very nicely, though the age difference between her and Edward Underdown is a bit too great for easy belief. Maxwell Reed is the title's otherwise unnamed 'Dark Man' and he fits the role well both in his looks and behaviour. He brings an edgy presence to the film, the dark side of Underdown's whiter than white policeman. The 2 men have a passing physical resemblance as well. There is interesting location filming down on the coast and a very unusual finale on the shooting range. The way Maxwell Reed stalks Natasha Parry, building her fear, is effective and realistic; a simple beach scene has dark undertones. The director also writer Jeffrey Dell didn't helm many projects, a pity based on this effort.
Derby Day (1952)
ensemble film, last of Neagle/Wilding pairings at backdrop of Derby Day
I watched this the other night for the first time i think, it is the last film in the Michael Wilding/Anna Neagle pairings which is the primary reason i watched it, though another Brit 1940's film couple Googie Withers and her husband John McCallum also appeared, who i also like. Derby Day is the weakest of the Neagle/Wilding films which oddly doesn't capitalise on their chemistry and casts them in sorrowful mood; there is no kiss even, let alone any singing and dancing duet-ting. Withers and McCallum have the more interesting duo plot to play I think. There is some nicely done Brit comic character supporting roles, but overall Derby Day doesn't really click or come together. It is too fragmented and moves around so much between the different stories that you never get really into anyone of them. It is a bit of a swansong film to a different earlier type of film making. Neagle is lovingly photgraphed but both her and Googie Withers seem a little old for the parts they are playing. It's hard not to flinch a little at the blatant class differences on show but then the film's over 50 years old.
Rope of Sand (1949)
entertaining thriller with a great quartet of male performances
This film is hard to find, but i finally got hold of a decent copy off ebay.co.uk recorded off a satellite channel. I'm glad i finally got to see it, it was very entertaining with numerous plot twists. The quartet of Lancaster, Rains, Henreid and Lorre make great viewing as they try and scene steal off each other at every turn. Claude Rains is smooth, silky and delightfully devious; Lancaster hulks, sulks and looms superbly. There is no discernible chemistry between Lancaster and the 'new' (well to US audiences) Corinne Calvert; which weakens their characters' motivation somewhat. Lancaster seems more in love with himself though, so tough competition for Corinne there. Calvert does a creditable turn here, ( though her French accent can be a little opaque), but she is outclassed easily by the men- Rains wipes the floor with her but she is stunning and exotic enough. Though her final clinch with Lancaster on the ship as they leave the desert hellhole that they've been inhabiting for the last hour and a half, is incredibly drippy and Lancaster looks as if he'd like shot of her big time. But that's the dialogue for you. Henreid is suitably nasty and sadistic and you can almost smell the sweat and feel the heat- so there is much to recommend in Rope of Sand.
tight, twisty low budget B noir with good cast
I watched this on a DVD double bill with 'Where Danger Lives' as its partner in noir. Richard Basehart is convincing as the meek as milk pharmacist, Audrey Totter is terrific as his trampy trashy wife and the supporting cast is strong too, with cynical Barry Sullivan as the cop with some odd investigating techniques and a young Cyd Charisse, looking rather different photographed in black and white than in her later Technicolour appearances-( I think colour gave Charisse an extra glow, whereas Audrey Totter was born to act in black and white.) Tension is fun, twist turning, not to be taken seriously and takes a few jabs at conventional American family life with its aspirations.
The Shop at Sly Corner (1947)
drama with a thriller twist in the tale
I finally caught this film on an ebay DVD copy which was OK quality but not top notch. I'd read Muriel Pavlow's interview by Brian McFarlane which mentioned this film and her role in it and so i was interested to see it. This is the film on which she met her future husband actor Derek Farr and admits she was upstaged by Oscar Homolka every which way. Homolka is the heart and guts of this film and he is superb. Kenneth Griffith( he played the same role in the stage production) also shines and once he disappears from the action the film is not so gripping. There is an effective twist in the tale/tail and it is a surprisingly downbeat story overall with its insights into the less savoury side of human character.
entertaining and over the top late 1940's drama with a film noir touch
I finally caught this film on a DVD copy bought off ebay. I had wanted to see it for years largely based on what i'd read about it in British film books and for Christine Norden, Britain's answer to Rita Hayworth's Gilda in this performance. Norden did not disappoint; she looks stunning, slinked convincingly, sang huskily, vamps superbly. Her scenes with Maxwell Reed were the film's high points; they are both so over the top in their different styles that it works quite well and is certainly a strong contrast to the demure Anne Crawford in her good girl role. Norden's career in British films was short but made an impact, she was Britain's bad girl before Diana Dors inherited the mantle. As for the plot, well not to worry, it is eminently predictable and very 1940's, but moves along at a fair clip.
Maytime in Mayfair (1949)
Entertaining in colour romantic comedy drama with musical interludes
I first saw this film over 25 years ago on British TV and have only just caught up with it again last week on a DVD copy bought off ebay. I had remembered the musical sequences, the colour and the gorgeous fashion plate poses and clothes but the plot is weaker than the earlier Anna Neagle/Michael Wilding film Spring in Park Lane and Maytime doesn't stand up so well to the passage of the years. But Michael Wilding is a joy in the film, charming, funny, debonair, appears to be having great fun and on top of his form. Worth watching for him alone. Anna Neagle appears a little matronly beside him, and a little too old for the part she plays but by the end of the 1940's their film partnership was well established with the cinema going public. Spring in Park Lane had been a top hit for 1947 and a big money maker. In his autobiography Wilding wrote at length of his great regard for Herbert Wilcox the director and instigator of this London series of films.
Faces in the Dark (1960)
Effective, but obscure black and white thriller
I finally got to watch this film on a scratchy DVD from a VHS copy bought off ebay- so the sound quality was muted at times, but i've tried to see it for years and failed. It is a good taut little thriller, on a moderate budget but well acted (everyone is suitably mysterious and two-faced) though John Gregson had to work very hard to convince as the tough, unpleasant workaholic boss (he just looks too affable). His dilemma, after an accident blinds him, gave me a few empathetic shivers and that dilemma is what kept my attention right through to the unexpected ending. There are some genuinely creepy moments,and an initially unsympathetic main character makes headway in conjuring our sympathy.
Enjoyable and should be better known.
Hell Is a City (1960)
excellent ahead of its time Brit-noir
I watched Hell is a City on DVD again the other day and was struck by how fresh and undated the story and acting still appears. It was a breakout Brit film for 1959/60- with its semi-documentary approach to police procedure,meshed with a tough on women approach and attempt to show relationships that don't have happy endings. On the DVD there is an alternate ending shown, which the director Val Guest claims to have no knowledge of at all! It's much weaker i think than Guest's own choice of ending. Stanley Baker is excellent; successfully showing all dimensions to an Inspector's working/personal life; Billie Whitelaw got nominated that year with the BAA for in the Newcomer category and deservedly so. All the support cast flesh out their characters' quirks very well. Actual location shooting (in this case-Manchester) was still quite unusual and there is a world of difference between this and a studio based crime thriller of maybe 10 years before.