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There Was a Young Lady (1953)
Vehicle for British stage and screen "golden couple" of '40s and '50s Michael Dennison and Dulcie Gray
Unfortunately it's surprisingly long and rather dull journey for nearly all the way.
It is difficult to work out how something with most of the (very familiar) elements of a British crime comedy: a fair bit of caper/capable supporting cast of usual suspects in familiar roles/comprehensible story, hardly raises a smile, until the mildly amusing plot twist in the last 5 minutes. The dialogue is flat footed and lacking in wit, and has what is the give-away: lines with no purpose whatsoever - not advancing the plot nor illuminating a character, purely superfluous. Michael Dennison was not a comedic actor and not capable of, and nor seeing the need, to make silk purses out of a sow's ears. (In "The Importance of Being Ernest", he was well suited to Wilde's throw-away witticisms).
The "young lady" in the title refers to MD's would-be fiancé, rather improbably the 39 year old Dulcie Gray, whose manner is distinctly wifely and bossy, and seems decades older, not unfortunately a vivacious Geraldine McKewan in her first film appearance, aged 19 in a distinctly under-written part. I can only assume that fans wanted to see MD and DG as a couple (in real life married for nearly sixty years until his death). To have swapped the two ladies would have been sacrilege for the fans but would have perhaps saved the film by energising script, cast and director.
The Dock Brief (1962)
Enjoyed the radio play version but not this
John Mortimer was a very clever witty man. His writings were accessible, never laboured, they never patronised the audience, baffled them or bored them. As a former barrister, he was entirely used to addressing and winning-over juries. It was plausible at the very least that his writings were based on true experiences. Like Dickens, working in the field of Law exposed him to a gallery of characters and odd situations which were beyond most people's experiences.
And in the radio play version, the story starts with the curious but plausible situation where an imprisoned accused (of murdering his wife) is joined in his cell by the barrister who is to defend him. The dialogue is both entirely reasonable yet at the same time entirely plausible such that the accused wrongly assumes that the barrister is a another accused come to share the cell. A long conversation at entire cross-purposes ensues. The skill and wit is all in the carefully constructed dialogue.
Here in this film version, the simplicity and wit is replaced by superfluous dialogue and additional scenes. Richard Attenborough is excellent as the accused, a modest man with a great deal to be modest about. Peter Sellers is however lack-lustre, perhaps ill at ease with the part and perhaps the direction. Sellers was at base a comedian who became a comic actor. Perhaps in 1962 he had not yet developed the skill to deliver a part he could not empathise with.
I see that it received no awards of any kind - confirmation that it fell flat
Street Song (1935)
Julius Hagen + John Garrick = A Musical
One in the entertaining series which Hagen produced and in which Garrick sang and starred. If you enjoy traditional music or popular music of the time well sung and played, you might well enjoy it. Garrick had a pleasant tenor voice and pleasant features which ensured he was both leading man and romantic lead. Here though unusually he has turned villain, redeemed however by a woman's love, then to live happily ever after.
Quite entertaining story, amusing moments, rather more sentimental than usual: pretty young widow, sick young son, appealing clever pet dog and the redoubtable Wally Patch with a good role as the hardened villain associate who nevertheless is forced to shed a tear (Wally Patch reminds of Oliver Hardy: the "kiss curl" on his sweaty forehead and the trick with the bowler hat: flicked and spun with the forearm then caught and placed on the head - one of Hardy's more minor accomplishments)
The main song, perhaps entitled "My Street Song" is attractive and memorable. I cannot however identify it. Nowhere near as musically ambitious as Lily of Killarney nevertheless very proficiently made and enjoyable. A 6.5
The Wipers Times (2013)
Ian Hislop is best known as editor of the long running "Private Eye" magazine - satirical; in its earlier days at least, fairly irreverent and often in (expensive) conflict with the rich and powerful. The team were witty, well-educated fellows often from good schools and families having a great deal of fun tweaking noses in a quite tolerant society during an extraordinarily long period of peace and prosperity when satire quickly became the mainstream.
Ian Hislop's central and dreadful misconception/misportrayal/conceit is that The Wipers Times was an early version of Private Eye - run by two witty satirical officers for their own and the troop's amusement, raising morale by satirising Army superiors but jeopardising their prospects of promotion by their impish irreverent nose-tweaking and mockery - ie how Hislop would see himself. But neither the times of Wipers Times nor the context could possibly have been more different to those of Private Eye. Nor the conditions under which each worked. The Wipers Times was produced for WW1 troops in their stinking trenches, in constant fear of death but also under martial law where cowardice - widely interpreted - was punishable by death. As was mutiny or insubordination. It was a life or death struggle, with a rigid hierarchy of command where all was sacrificed to victory, where a horse was more valuable than soldier (they cost more in transport and upkeep).
Troop morale however was vital so that they would continue to be willing to fight and die. How to achieve improved morale was the question In these harshest of conditions with the narrowest of focus - victory whatever it cost - it is inconceivable that, as portrayed in the film, two officers would be allowed to distribute an under the counter satirical publication lampooning senior officers etc without it being first intensely scrutinised, discussed then officially sanctioned. What was unusual was that there was a senior officer able to understand its contribution to morale and willing and able to convince his superiors of what was a very risky enterprise. In the film all the Stephen Fry character is required to possess is a robust sense of humour.
I believe the two officers combined this with their normal duties. If, as in this film, they appeared to have chosen a soft option, or pushed themselves forward, troops who had no such choices would have strongly resented it. Contrary to the film, The Wipers Times did not make celebrities of the two officers, instead it promoted modest but authentic contributions from ordinary soldiers and thus appeared to be the voice of the ordinary soldier - which in reality it was not. Any hint of condescension or aloofness by these two officers - as appears in the film where one casually mocks the social ignorance of a lower rank - might have been, possibly literally, fatal for them. Contrary to the film and verifying its central misconception, the two officers were neither punished nor discriminated against after the war (both had MCs). They had done their duty and more. The troops had fought and died and none had mutinied. The Wipers Times had fulfilled its officially sanctioned purpose - but it had brought happiness, laughter and an easing of the burden along the way.
Ian Hislop is a good popular historian of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It seems he was seduced by the enobling heroic notion that his comfortable late 20th Century satire had its ancestry in the horrors of the WW1 trenches and those two self-effacing officers. The film turned these two men into Private Eye in khaki, worse still, the characters were portrayed as attractive and professional entertainers. Such an idea worked in Oh What a Lovely War. It doesn't work here which cries out for a realistic treatment of a true and important story, giving some idea of the actual characters of these two officers. For all its production values, it is awful.
Cavalleria rusticana (1955)
Cutting to the chase
I watched a dreadful black and white print of this little known film on an obscure satellite TV channel yet found it riveting and the final 10 minutes unforgettable, made so by Anthony Quinns performance.
It is not a story of revenge - said to be best enjoyed cold - but, at its end, a life or death fight between two men who were once on good terms, over a woman. Not a tussle in hot blood. Not melodramatic but a grim ashen-faced older man (Quinn), determined, for mixture of reasons-personal pride and honour as a husband, punishment for the younger man's betrayal and, finally, to eliminate a rival for his very desirable beautiful young wife-to fight to the death. The Quinn character accepts his own death as a probability and calls briefly at the home of his aged mother to say a final goodbye. The younger man too, knows that he may die but he too feels aggrieved. Both believe death is a price worth paying. Neither wants to live after losing. For each it is life and the woman-or death. It is completely raw and elemental, and, it hardly needs adding, tragic.
The film's original title "Cavalleria Rusticana" comes from a novel by Sicilian writer Giovanni Verga who specialised in "realist" stories set in rural Sicily. It was later made into an opera parts of which accompany the realistically filmed action-something which works well.
Rather more pertinently in terms of other roles, the beautiful object of these two men's desire, the magnetic Algerian actress Kerima, played a very similar role with Trevor Howard as the besotted male in "Outcast of the Islands" (1951).
Most go through life never having even met let alone been involved with a woman who can inspire such terrible cravings and reckless jealousy, never imagining that extreme beauty may not be benign and pleasurable but dangerous and very possibly life-threatening. In "Lady from Shanghai" Rita Hayworth plays such a character with Orson Wells as the worldly sailor who rebukes himself for not having recognised the danger signals.
Where are they now? Kerima was the wife and is now the widow (since April 2016) of famed British film director, Guy Hamilton
Let's Go Crazy (1951)
An early film outing for Peter Sellers doing what he did best
This is an oddity - review and variety performers of variable quality interspersed with short sketches with Sellers playing various curious characters. Here he certainly shows potential and the relative restraint and lack of goony-ness allows him to demonstrate abilities which really reached their pinnacle in Dr Strangelove. Overall along with the better of the acts, quite entertaining.
One uncredited cast member (Mr Jollibottom)has a voice instantly recognisable to older British viewers. Wallace Eaton was the dismal barman in the long running radio comedy "Take it from Here", whose weekly role it was to serve a dismal pint of Mild and Bitter, and to listen, to the show's main star relate the goings on in the dreadful "Glum" household. Eaton was allowed dismal catch-phrases in the show such as "get yerself a trade". He had more of a career in the theatre than in film, appearing in "Fings ain't wot they used t'be"
Billy Liar (1963)
A crippling mis-casting
Billy Liar is a fantasist, someone whose daydreams merge with and overtake reality. He is though surrounded by the entirely down to earth: his situation, his immediate family and his boss. The comedy entirely relies on the audience finding Billy with his fantasies, likable and winning, and indulging him in a way those on screen find understandably difficult or impossible.
Billy, in the stage version was played by the robust, virile and extrovert Albert Finney, whose likable cock-sure persona was established in "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning". It is was surely just a small tweak to make him a likable but infuriating fantasist and credible love interest, Billy.
Tom Courtenay though a very fine actor, far more subtle than Albert Finney, is given to appearing introverted, inward, secretive even sly. These are not at all attractive qualities especially in a fantasist. There is absolutely nothing about him attractive to women, he is a conventional older stay-at-home son who the fashions of the day - indeed socialising contemporaries - pass by. There is little to make him and his fantasies likable, they appear like wilful unattractive private delusions rather than of a public, entertaining endearing (and amusing) kind. Director John Schlesinger chose instead of Finney who had played the part on stage, an entirely asexual-appearing Billy and coupled him with Julie Christie, the hottest British screen love-Goddess of the era, possibly of all time, as his love interest (and Courtenay as hers).
Billy, as portrayed by Finney, is a believable and not uncommon character. How many women have loved but found they could not live with such a character? It's a very very common story - the (young man) loving, full of enthusiasm and cheeky charm but prone to impractical dreams. How many mothers-in-law have believed their son-in-law to be so?
The story relies on two pillars: one, that we find Billy in fantasy mode, amusing and indulge this. Two, that his girlfriend is credibly attracted to him - why else should she stay around? It seems that director John Schlesinger's re-casting choice has knocked away both pillars. Tom Courtenay remains one of the finest actors but here was wrongly chosen.
The supporting cast though is rightly chosen, composed of some of the best most solid character actors of the day. Wilfred Pickles plays the infuriated father exactly as would have been at the time. I remember just such angry conversations.
Just Like Heaven (1930)
Telling the difference between Champagne and Budweiser
British troops returning from fighting in WW1 hardly spoke of their experiences when they returned to the UK. They knew that the horrors were too much to tell mothers, wives, sisters and daughters who had led sheltered lives.
But there was another category of experiences which in contrast were very fondly remembered but were also covered by a veil of silence albeit for very different reasons. American troops post 1917, just like their British counterparts, would not have got to know much of French private domestic lives, but a great deal about the streets, the bars - and the women who frequented either or both. By 1930 when this film was made, unlike today, there would, one guesses, have been perhaps 100,000+ former soldiers with a very expert eye indeed for authenticity, even more than a tourist they had been there,seen this and done that, of French WW1 street life and the characters, men and women, to be seen. Of travelling street entertainers. Of the brassy bar singer with her sometimes sweet, sometimes fierce manner and language. Memories too of unsullied sweetness and innocence. Albeit made charming and rather sanitised.
And who, other than these ex-soldiers - and their families ("You were in France, Dear, weren't you? Was it like this?") would this lovely film have been made for? Most of the cast are French - and more French is spoken than I think any other American film before or since. It also has a French lightness, sentimentality, charm and humour - I completely mistook it for a French film, and the heart-breakingly sweet Anita Louise as being French. For soldiers who had fought in France then returned home, the film could hardly have been a more charming, delightful and evocative reminder of pleasing memories - some perhaps just like Heaven - which thereafter they had had to keep to themselves.
That generation has of course gone and it is now for a generation with no experience of this very distant place and time to be judges of its authenticity. As to its French credentials, the screen writer had written the silent movie "L'Apache" in 1919 (Maurice Chevalier had made the song "I'm an Apache" internationally famous in Ruben Mamoulian's 1932 "Love me Tonight"). Tiffany it seems were just a very busy journeyman studio (I see that "One Punch Kelly" followed in 1931). They did however do a fine job on Just Like Heaven.
Seen on Talking Pictures TV Freeview and Freesat in UK
Stick with the first 10 minutes - it's a comic-romantic old-house-horror murder-mystery-romp gem
It is very easy to be put off by the first 10 minutes. Stiff and haughty Lady Lebanon (Helen Haye), severe mistress of all she surveys, commands one and all. Just a slight hint is given that all might not be entirely well in the household by the two very knowing and distinctly insolent footmen. But it is insufficient to disturb the viewers impression of stuffiness and boredom to which the arrival of Dr Amersham (Felix Aylmer - epitome of dull probity), family doctor, would seem to confirm.
But Helen Haye's brief dialogue with Dr Amersham is very off kilter. Within five more minutes, the film has changed gear entirely; lively and amusing, secrets and odd connections, enough for three or four films, are revealed, any one of which sufficient on its own to drive the plot, even to murder. The air is full of intrigue and possibilities. A handsome young architect arrives to draw up plans for renovation of the rambling ancient house and has caught the eye of the young lady of the house. He will have to stay a week. "Where does this lead to?" asks the sharp-eyed architect after spying an ancient door. "Where does it all lead to?" wonders the audience.
By 60 minutes the developing droll class-comedy between policeman Ronald Shiner and his boss had me laughing out loud and the plot developments came at a bafflingly faster and faster pace. The end itself was an extended nail-biter.
According to a review in BritMovie "The Case of the Frightened Lady" remains a classic for those who enjoy this genre".
Seen on Talking Pictures
Excellent Raffles, Bunny, adaptation and production
BBC radio did a reading of the Raffles stories 40 years ago. More recently a radio production starring Jeremy Clyde. Both were excellent. But this with the casting of the duo of Raffles and Bunny, attractive interiors and costumes, and excellent adaptation by Philip MacKie is a very worthy production. Anthony Valentine was such an excellent Raffles - I suspect it was his best role.
I would have preferred it to have stuck to the book for the first episode where Bunny meets Raffles having lost at cards. The book was better. EW Hornung was in my view a better writer than Conan Doyle and difficult improve on but Philip MacKie's was one of the best adaptation I have seen.
Just a shame that more of the Raffles stories weren't produced