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Must have looked fabulous on the big screen with a big orchestra...
If anyone is ever looking for an introduction to opera - then they could do much, much worse than this abridged version of Bizet's "Carmen". Telling the story of the anonymous temptress (Geraldine Farrar) who helps her smuggling friends by seducing the erstwhile incorruptible "Don José" (Wallace Reid) so they can continue to ply their trade. Soon, the poor captain is ensnared in her trap and when he kills his brother to help her, finds himself in the soup, so to speak. Whilst the detail of the story is largely lost here, the gist remains and the performances from the truly world class soprano Farrar and from Reid do their job fine. The design of the production is also quite effective: it hasn't the static look of so many of these early stage-to-screen adaptations - especially around the torero scenes - and, of course, it has the wonderful score to underpin it. The inter-titles are sparing - we get most of the plot from their expressions and the music, and that largely works well too. It is a bit clunky at times, the big crowd scenes are a bit confusing but the cat-fight is quite fun and it offers enough of a soupçon of the original, quite visceral, story to make it well worth watching.
Teddy at the Throttle (1917)
Hang on tight...!
"Gloria" (Gloria Swanson) and "Bobbie" (Bobby Vernon) live next door to each other and have the same, rapscallion guardian in "Henry Black" (Wallace Beery) who is systematically fleecing the youngsters so that he and his equally rotten sister May Emory can live the life of Riley. Their number might be up, though, when a codicil to a will is found suggesting that unless "Bobbie" marries "Gloria" - all his loot will go to her, and that could leave our dodgy executor exposed... If you are looking for a break-neck comedy adventure then look no further. It's got a cracking storm scene, Beery is superb as the cheating fraudster and, not for the first time, Swanson and Vernon work excellently together. She even get's tied to the railroad tracks - what more could one ask for? Well, actually there is the eponymous schnauzer "Teddy" for good measure, too... It's short enough not to have to repeat the comedic devices, and so keeps fresh and engaging for all of twenty minutes.
Male and Female (1919)
"If you married your chauffeur - wouldn't you tyre of him!!"
J.M. Barrie was still very much alive and kicking when this well crafted adaptation of his "Admirable Crichton" (1902) story was made and I wonder if he ever saw it... It is the story of the "Earl of Loam" (Theodore Roberts) who decides to take his entirely spoiled, aristocratic family on his yacht for a cruise on the South Seas. It's up to the butler "Crichton" (Thomas Meighan) to organise it all before the mollycoddled bunch all set sail... It's all, well, plain sailing until their boat runs aground on a desert island and their whole, nicely ordered, lives are thrown asunder... In order to survive, let alone thrive, in this outwardly hostile place, they must forget the protocols and deferences that bound their hitherto formal relationships and it isn't soon before roles are reversed and the butler is in charge... The original story offers a whimsical swipe at the landed gentry - amiably exemplified here by Roberts, Robert Cain ("Lord Brocklehurst") and the feisty "Lady Mary" (Gloria Swanson) - but it is also a bit of a love story that demonstrates how their lives might progress without the social restrictions placed on them - indeed, until the timely arrival of a rescue ship - their new meritocracy might just have prevailed!. The characters are exactly that, they add a richness to the story that is well developed here by the likes of the delightful scullery maid Lila Lee and "Lady Agatha" - who has about as much common sense as a teabag (Mildred Reardon) as well as Mayme Kelso ensuring due propriety at the end... This is a thoroughly enjoyable film that looks great, flows well and makes us all think, just a little about the things we all take for granted.
State of Play (2009)
A decent investigative journalism thriller.
When two seemingly unrelated deaths occur in Washington DC, maverick journalist "Cal" (Russell Crowe) smells a rat... His college room-mate Ben Affleck ("Congressman Collins") was the boss of one of those who died (she "fell" under a subway train), and soon "Cal" is convinced that there is one hell of a conspiracy going on. Aided by shrewd newbie "Della" (Rachel McAdams) and supported by his boss Dame Helen Mirren, they uncovers a plot that involves military contracting worth billions and political manoeuvring that would make Machiavelli blush... Crowe and McAdams gel well together and are on great form, the adaption from the original television serial is strong, and the direction builds up quite a sense of tension until, I have to say a really lacklustre ending that I found quite underwhelming. Still, it's a superior political thriller that is well worth a watch.
The Trespasser (1929)
Cinema history unfolds before us...
Proof, if it were ever going to really be required, that Gloria Swanson could take to talking pictures like a duck to water. Her first complete talkie is a bit convoluted, but somehow that just serves to shine a bit more light on her ability to carry it through. She is "Marion", a secretary who marries the rather hen-pecked son "Jack" (Robert Ames) of a millionaire. The father "Merrick" (the original William Holden) is having none of it and insists on getting it annulled. "Jack" proves pretty spineless and eighteen months later she finds herself living off her new boss with a secret baby whilst he has married some more "suitable" lady. Tragedy strikes the new wife, and her meal-ticket boss, though - and she is soon somewhat on her uppers and the story comes sort of full circle. Swanson manages the character of "Marion" very well indeed. The young, flighty gal in love with "Jack" becomes the maternal, stoic - even a somewhat repentant lady as the story concludes. The photography can be both sweeping and intimate and helps creates an effective ambiance well too. Swanson's singing is front and centre - not always obviously connected with the storyline, or the mood - but she can certainly hold a tune, especially with a nice rendition of Enrico Toselli's delightful "Serendade". The supporting cast do their jobs, little more - but this is all about Gloria, and is well worth catching up with.
His New Job (1915)
His old tricks...
Charlie Chaplin turns up for an interview at the "Lockstone" film studios (they've even got a water cooler!) - desperate for a job... He'll do anything, which is just as well because every task he his assigned by the director he manages to cock up. It's funny for about ten minutes, the timing and precision seems effortless but, despite the introduction of a few new foils for his humour (the leading lady, leading man and a poor old chippie just trying to get the sets built) it gets quite predictably repetitive pretty soon. There are only so many times you can get away with poking someone with a sword, or a stick; or hitting them on the head with a plank - before the performance becomes, well, routine. It shows off the acrobatic talents of the star well, too - but again, as with slapstick in general for me, has no subtlety to keep the humour crisp and fresh.
Music in the Air (1934)
'What's more important - music or cows?"
Perhaps this won't be a movie looked back on by Oscar Hammerstein II as one of his finest works - "I told every star, just how sweet you are" - but it does give us a clue as to what we are about to get in this really pretty ordinary romantic comedy. Gloria Swanson ("Frieda") and John Boles ("Bruno)" are a squabbling pair of opera perfumers who cannot live with nor without each other: constantly bickering whilst enthusing about themselves at the same time. They are amidst their latest bout of histrionics in the office of their agent - "Dr. Weber" (Reginald Owen) - when Al Shean ("Dr. Lessing") arrives with his new song; his butter-wouldn't-melt "Sieglinde" (June Lang) and the hunky village school-master "Karl" (Douglass Montgomery). Swanson takes a shine to the innocent young man, Boles to the young girl and soon everyone is involved in the antics as poor old "Weber" tries to get his operetta written and completed in just 4 weeks! You might notice at the start, as the herrenfolk set off from their village to reach the big city, just how gentle and affirming the settings are. Virtually the whole town turns out - all dressed in white, with lederhosen and hats, marching ensemble like a troop of scouts, guitars and drums in hand and smiles on their faces. A far cry from the marching styles they would be using just a few years later... Anyway, there are no political undertones to the story - it's penned by Billy Wilder from Jerome Kern's simple play, that allows the four stars to show off their considerable singing talents and the comedy is quickly paced, at times really quite effective. Though the story is not really much more than some tramlines to get Swanson and Boles heading in the same direction, it's quite an enjoyable watch.
The Danger Girl (1916)
Fasten your set belt...
Gloria Swanson looks at her most fresh and vibrant - and was only 17 - when she make this daft comedy. Her beau (Bobby Vernon) is receiving a bit of unwanted attention from the debonaire, but slightly predatory Helen Bray - unwanted by her at any rate, so she decides the best way to distract this man-grabbing woman is to dress as a man and do a little distracting of her own... The next ten minutes or so immerse us in a world of chaotic scenes amongst her wealthy set with loads of action, though not always with too much coherence, until quite an effective conclusion. It's got some beautiful old cars to look at, some true slap-stick comedy - and there is an engaging joie-de-vivre about the whole thing as couples make up and break up in a heart beat. This could easily be a pre-WWI equivalent of a night at a student disco - lots of folks, hormones all over the place, trying to pinch each other's partners - just this one has a wonderful turn from Swanson in a Tuxedo that is not to be overlooked...
"If you ever have the choice between a broken neck or a broken heart - take the broken neck"
You really have to hand it to Gloria Swanson in this - she goes at it full tilt! "Zaza" is a music hall girl. A bit rough round the edges, but she's a decent sort of soul who falls for the womanising "Dufresne" (H.B. Warner) only to discover he is a true cad... The story is pretty predictable, but the journey is a hell of a ride - we even have a cracking cat fight between her and her rival "Florianne" (Mary Thurman) and there are a few quite enchanting scenes with the young "Cecille" (Helen Mack). There is plenty of humour - verging on the bawdy at times, and it is used effectively to demonstrate the best and worst in human nature. There's a lot of acting here, and though the plot doesn't challenge, it is still joy to watch.
"Consommé...? Why, I thought it was soup"
Gloria Swanson only made a handful of talkies and this is probably my favourite. She still acts very much with her eyes and her lips - but in this she also does a fair degree of singing and her comic timing comes well to the fore. The story is simple fun - she is a lady who keeps her past a little secret until she discovers that her ex-beau "Jim" (Monroe Owsley) has moved onto her young sister "Joan" (Barbara Kent). The star for me, though, is the daft "Buster" (Arthur Lake), a slightly geeky, lanky young man who is enamoured of "Joan" too - and who comes up with a teeny-weeny cunning wheeze that might just thwart "Jim" - even though he has no real idea what or why he's a-thwarting. His performance has an innocence about it that lends much to the gentle comedy of film. Maude Eburne is also good as "Aunt Kate" who has finessed the facial expression to a fine art. It's a quickly paced romance that is light and fluffy, and pretty entertaining with loads of hammy scenes, a lovely score from Alfred Newman and just the smallest hint of tragedy/just desserts/happiness at the end.... Well worth a watch.
Perfect Understanding (1933)
Ahead of it's time...socially.
I can't help thinking that Cyril Gardner may have done better with this had it been a silent film. There are some stunning photographic scenes and at times, it verges on the travelogue as Gloria Swanson ("Judy") and a very dashing Laurence Olivier ("Nick") meet, fall in love and engage in an early thirties version of a "open marriage". They travel the length and breadth of Europe before he ends up in Cannes visiting a friend whilst she decants home to prepare their flat in London. In Cannes, "Nick" gets a bit sozzled and hooks up with old flame Nora Swinburne ("Lady Fitzmaurice") after getting injured in a high speed (and quite entertaining) power boat race... Riddled with guilt, he goes home and tells his wife. Ostensibly she forgives him, but does she? Does she, really - or is the green eyed monster about to rear it's ugly head? It's got it's fair share of schemers and plenty of rather childish tit-for-tat antics to keep the plot moving - sometimes quite amusingly, and there is definitely a chemistry between the two stars, but the dialogue just clutters things up and the whole thing is just a bit lightweight. Nothing wrong in that, I suppose, but I really wanted more from this pairing...
Saint Judy (2018)
A pretty soul-less legal drama.
If this were a magazine article about an attorney with determination, then it would doubtless be well worth reading. As a piece of cinema, however it's dry and procedural. Albeit Judy Wood (Michelle Monaghan) is qualified, it has a little of the "Erin Brockovitch" (2000) about it initially - a lawyer taking on the establishment in the face of a preoccupied boss, family pressures and a system that seems to be hard-wired against her. This, however, just lacks any of the charm, charisma - personality of that feature. It's an heart-rending story of young Afghan girl Asafa (Leem Lubany) beaten and raped by the police at home before coming to America and fighting that system to avoid deportation - but it is almost entirely free of emotion or humanity to encourage us to empathise with her plight. Whilst I felt sorry for Asafa, I can't say this film made me feel anything personal for her - it comes across as just another swipe at the US judicial process that always seems - in media depictions, anyway - to fail most of the needy, most of the time...
The Docks of New York (1928)
Really poor title for such an artistic and characterful silent film.
This is a beautiful example of the film-makers craft. Josef von Sternberg and Harold Rosson have created a thing of aesthetic beauty coupled with an interesting - if not especially deep - character study of two people George Bancroft ("Bill") and Betty Compson ("Mae)". The camera loves both of them - and interestingly for the late 1920s, it is not shy in illustrating the beauty of the male physique as well as the beauty of both Compson and Olga Baclanova ("Lou"). The story isn't really the main feature of the film: "Bill" is a stoker on the docks where he encounters a potential suicide victim - the disillusioned hooker "Mae" with whom he soon bonds - much to the frustration of his ex wife "Lou". It is almost totally devoid of sentiment, it is gritty, earthy and although to look at the pair, their love appears unlikely, it does engage with some almost crude, witty, interventions from "Lou" to keep the story entertaining as well as stylish. I am a fan of most of JVS's films - the "Scarlett Empress" (1934) being my favourite, but this one is up there...
A solid early outing for an all-American hero...
This could have been rather more than this simple melodrama, had Messrs. Seitz and Riskin been a bit more adventurous with their adaptation of quite a fun play. It centres around "Evelyn" (Laura la Plante) who is jilted by her beau, and so, reluctantly, marries "Col. Bonham" (Forrest Stanley) on the rebound. They relocate to his command in Arizona where they are soon joined by the colonel's handsome, football-star protegé "Bob Denton" (John Wayne) who, guess what - turns out to be the one who jilted her, and who now starts to take a bit of a shine to her younger sister "Bonnie" (June Clyde). Well, "Evelyn" is having none of this and sets up an elaborate plan to save her sister and disgrace poor old "Bob". This story is a bit thin, as are the performances - but it isn't hard to see why the dashing Wayne was drawing in the crowds - wooden as he is, he has charisma here in spades and plays well against the vengeful character and much more accomplished actress that is La Plante. This is really little more than a film for Wayne fans to tick off a list of his early works - not terrible, but not really anything much at all...
I Am Woman (2019)
A Star is Born...
I had heard of Helen Reddy, but I have to say I remembered little of her career as she didn't really take off here in the UK as she did in the USA; indeed I think "Angie baby" (1974) was her only big hit here. So armed with little knowledge aforethought, I was pleasantly entertained by this biopic of a scion of music and women's rights. The performance from Tilda Cobham-Hervey (reminded me a lot of Kiki Dee) is effective - very well complemented by the singing of Chelsea Cullen - as she battles the misogamy of the entertainment industry at a time when women had a very definite - and limiting - place in the market. The chronology now follows her life as she meets and marries her manager - the enigmatic and flawed Jeff Ward (Evan Peters), and her determined pursuit of her dreams reaches the heights of success known to few women in the business at the time - all before her husband's rather cavalier (and coke-fuelled) business acumen costs them dearly... It's an OK, biopic. What does set it apart is that Unjoo Moon lets Reddy's music speak more loudly - and continuously - than in many similar style rise to fame depictions. When she starts to sing, we are frequently allowed the whole song and I think that helps create quite a powerful narrative for the persona to deliver. True or not, I know not - but it delivers a decent appraisal of an interesting woman struggling to be heard in difficult times - and who, largely speaking, let her talents do her talking for her!
The Devil (1921)
Fine line between fiend and friend...
George Arliss is superb in this short feature as the marvellously manipulative, rapscallion "Dr. Müller" who relishes in the misery he causes. He overhears a conversation at an art gallery were a two people are discussing a painting illustrating that truth will always overcome evil. Our devious "Müller" sets about disproving this theory by cleverly manoeuvring "Mimi" (Sylvia Beamer) who is keen on painter "Paul" (Edmund Lowe) who is keen on "Marie" (Lucy Cotton) who is married to "Georges" (Roland Bottomley) and soon nobody trusts anyone anymore... Based on his play - and the direction and styling of the performances is clear testament to that - it is a bit stilted at times, the settings are a little too claustrophobic but Arliss is really good and sinister. Maybe the ending is a little bit disappointing, but that may depend on your own views of good v evil.
Glorious Betsy (1928)
A Napoleonic love story with a twist...
Dolores Costello (Betsy) is really quite mesmerising in this otherwise straightforward love story. She comes from wealthy Southern states plantation stock and takes a shine to her teacher. Needless to say, there is a bit of a gap in the social standing between them, until he - really Jerome Bonaparte (Conrad Nagel), brother to Napoleon - the First Consul of France, is invited to a ball hosted by her father. There, his true identity is revealed and their love and desire to marry can be publicly announced. Their joy is tempered, however, by a command from his now Imperial brother to return to France for an arranged wedding with a minor European princess. Determined not to lose her man, she returns with him in the hope that she can persuade the new Emperor to allow them to live out their lives happily. Sadly, not to be - he does the persuading, and she doesn't even get off the ship. Will brother Jerome acquiesce to his brothers desires...? It's not just that Costello is beautiful, for that she is, it is her expressions - she conveys emotions of joy, sadness and mischief like a natural in front of the camera. There is a dearth of action - swashbuckling it isn't - but Nagel serves adequately; even managing a short duel with the rather out-of-his depth "Preston" (John Miljan) and the settings and costumes are lavish and top drawer. On this rare occasion. I could have done with a few more inter-titles to help me through some of the more extended dialogue scenes (my lip reading isn't quite what is could be) and maybe a few less lingering close-ups of the pair, but it is an interesting topic for a story that I rather enjoyed.
Hold 'Em Yale (1928)
"Now, lissen lady - how long have you known this man... answer yes or no!"
This is quite a jovial tale of a fairly conceited Argentinian wastrel "Jaime" (Rod La Rocque) who is dispatched to Connecticut to study at Yale. Before he even arrives at the school, he manages to incur the wrath of an on-form Tom Kennedy's "Detective" - an ire that persistently follows him through his travails at the school where he is soon the freshman target for the upper students. That's until his skill with the football gets them, and his would-be girlfriend "Helen" (Jeanette Loff) paying him just a little more respect. The path to true love never runs smoothly, though, and his struggles see him take a pounding in a boxing ring - with some fun visual effects before much progress is made with her, even then it's a delicate game of cat and mouse.... I suspect that were it not that Cecil B. de Mille produced this, it would not exist in anything like the great quality of the print I saw recently. The story is really pretty simple and over-stretched, and though there is plenty of humour, it struggles to raise much more than a smile - and that's as much to do with the clever and lively photography as it has to do with the plot (though some of the vernacular on the inter-titles is quite witty). It's enjoyable enough just not very memorable.
Modern Times (1936)
People accept as progress what is often little more than just change...
I wonder how many people watch this nowadays and sympathise immediately with Chaplin's unskilled worker trying to keep up with the relentless march of technology? It starts with him being an unwilling guinea pig for a gadget that appears as useful for cleaning teeth as it is for feeding him - a cunning invention which allegedly saves time, money and increases productivity... Needless to say, it's a crock of the proverbial - but that's just the start with these wacky, frequently absurd, ideas that sees our hapless hero expend considerable energy and quick-wittedness trying to stay one step ahead of these "advances" - oh, and of just about everyone else he encounters as he struggles, comedically, along! Meantime, a starving, homeless, orphaned woman - Paulette Goddard - is caught pinching a loaf by a rather snooty passer-by, she bumps into Chaplin on the street whist effecting her getaway, and the pair are soon in cahoots together for more engaging escapades. Chaplin is outstanding in this film - his agility, timing and visionary direction - not just of the film, but of the portents for society at large - resonates just as soundly today as when audiences started watching it 85 years ago. It swipes at modernity, but not just for the sake of it , it's not luddite in outlook - just evaluative of what/who gets left behind - and that isn't just the blue collar workers either... The scenes on the ice skates in the department store are a delight to watch; charm, humour and agility all rolled into one - and I love his style consuming the rum! Definitely one for a big screen, there is so much going on...
La coquille et le clergyman (1928)
Surreal and thought provoking feature.
Germaine Dulac has created a monster here... Not in any kaiju sense, but by taking a surreal swipe at just about every element of the masculine-driven, religiously flawed environment of the world in the 1920s. The eponymous priest - Alex Allin harbours none too subtle desires about the mistress of "le général" (Lucien Bataille) - the beautiful Genica Athanasiou, and the next half hour illustrates some of the complex ramifications of this infatuation. Now I have watched this many times, each time thinking as I get older, that the penny may drop and that I shall discover a deeper meaning... Each time, I thoroughly enjoy the intimate, creative imagery and the truly characterful performances, but am still really none the wiser. I think that's what is enthralling about this short enigma of a feature. It stimulates questions, but doesn't answer any of them... Clearly, the director has an agenda, and a political point to make - but we are left to imagine a healthy amount of what this might be about. Is it erotic? Is it about frustration, excess...? I still don't really know....
"Stargate" comes to the Soviet Union
When a space mission goes awry, the craft crash lands leaving only one survivor - the captain "Konstantin Veshnaykov" (Pyotr Fyodorov) who, on the face of it appears ok. The military authorities draft in accomplished psycho-analyst Tatyana Klimova" (Oksana Akinshina) to give him the once over and she discovers he is harbouring a symbion that has a bit of a penchant for human flesh... I actually quite enjoyed this. It has an authentic, almost bakelite, style to it - and that helps sustain quite a suspenseful sci-fi drama with the odd twist in the tail - and an alien that is a little more creatively designed that the usual bug-eyed nonsense. There is an half-decent sense of jeopardy as the look of the film, too - dark and dingy - helps generate an extra bit of menace. Certainly, it is a cannibalisation of a great many films that have come before; but that doesn't make it awful - indeed, though basic in it's premiss, the production standards are quite high and it sends a salutary signal to Hollywood that their days of producing derivative, old hat, sci-fi will have to change if they want to keep ahead of the game...
Two Arabian Knights (1927)
Really enjoyable great war caper...
Refined and pretty William Boyd ("Phelps") and his rough and ready sergeant Louis Wolheim ("O'Gaffney") are a couple of front-line American squaddies captured by the Bosch during the Great War. Taken to a POW camp, they mange to escape and find themselves, after quite a series of adventures, out of the frying pan and into a fiery desert.... That's where they save the gorgeous "Mirza" (Mary Astor) from drowning. Young "Phelps" is immediately head over heels, but when they establish that she is the daughter of the Emir, and also betrothed to the menacing "Shevket" (Ian Keith) they must stay free (and alive) long enough to rescue her from her father's palace and from her unwanted nuptials. This is quite a fun story - the soldiers, initially wary of each other, overcome their suspicions and end up pulling well as a team which makes their escapades fun to watch. The comedy is simple, but plentiful and the production standards are pretty high - the lighting particularly, given so much of this is quickly paced and set out of doors. Maybe it is too long - the characters run out steam a little after 70 minutes, but it's still cracking watch after all these years - and an Oscar winner (for director Lewis Milestone) too!
The Last Command (1928)
A grand old man falls mightily - but with dignity.
Emil Jannings is masterful in this depiction of an elderly gentleman selected by an Hollywood director (William Powell) to play the part of a Russian general in a film. When he arrives on set, his colleagues tease him about a medal he is wearing. He proceeds to tell them it was given to him by Czar Nicholas II himself, and after a bit of playful derision, they return the medal and the "General" finds himself looking into the mirror of his make-up box whence he drifts into a retrospective of his true self - the commanding General Grand Duke Sergius Alexander, cousin to the Czar and the man in charge of Imperial Russian forces in 1917. His portrayal of this proud, effective man who displays some sense of pragmatism about their military situation, coupled with a sense of gentleness to Evelyn Brent (who is actually the Bolshevik spy sent to eliminate him "Natalie") is nuanced and engaging. As the revolution turns the tables on this once powerful man, we see his character exposed to hardship and degradation before his new love manages to help him escape the clutches of the murderous mob. When we return to the present day, this old, fading, patriot sees his candle burn brightly just one last time... Though it may have some basis in truth - it was frequently safer for European generals who lost battles to flee rather than face the consequences at home - it is a fictional story and I think that allows Josef von Sternberg much more licence to create and develop the characters. Jannings is super, but to a lesser extent, so is Brent as the dedicated revolutionary who falls in love with the old Duke, and sees in him a different sort of love for his country, one she finds endearing and honourable. The photography works well in illustrating the revolutionary scenes amidst the poverty and cold and sparing use of inter-titles gives us plenty to keep this strong, impassioned narrative moving along perfectly. Great watch.
The St. Louis Bank Robbery (1959)
McQueen can only carry this so far...
Were it not for the presence of Steve McQueen in this, then I'm not sure it would register much beyond a run-of-the mill crime story that depicts a gang of mistrusting miscreants who decide to rob a bank. McQueen is the rather naive "Fowler" who's been chucked out of college before falling into bad company and who gets himself roped in as wheel-man. He hopes to use his share of the $10,000 loot to get himself back on the straight and narrow. Whilst they plan, he must lodge with his pal "Gino" (David Clarke) who is the brother of his ex-girlfriend "Ann" (Molly McCarthy). Their self-imposed incarceration leads their nerves to fray, and for the gang leader "Egan" (Graham Denton) - scared that someone's going to blab about their plans - to reassign "Fowler" a more active task inside the building. It is based on true story, and many of the cast assume the roles that they had at the time, but that isn't particularly evident when we watch, so we are just left with a gritty, admittedly, but dry and dreary tale of a few rather odious people planning a heist that we just know is not going to turn out as anyone planned. At times, there is an edginess to the production; the two men cooped up together borders on the claustrophobic, but the almost documentary style of the delivery is very static, the storyline lacks any sort of emotion and it is all a bit too predictable for me, sorry.
My Fair Lady (1964)
Great story, great cast, great music - great entertainment!
A recent survey asserted that the English had the sexiest accents in the world. Perhaps not exactly the sort of recognition "Prof. Henry Higgins" (Rex Harrison) was seeking when, exasperated by the standards of his native language being spoken around London, he plucks poor "Eliza" (Audrey Hepburn") from her flower-selling and promises his equally plummy friend "Col. Pickering" (Wilfred Hyde-White) that he can train her to pass in more refined society as a Duchess. Despite her initially raucous protestations - exemplifying his very point, the two lock in a battle of wills that ultimately challenges both of their opinions of each other, and dare we even suspect - engenders perhaps some respect... or more...? Oscar, BAFTA & Golden Globe winning Harrison is superb as the jovially pompous professor whose disdain for just about everything and everyone is writ large, Hepburn (with a lot of musical assistance from Marni Nixon) manages the transformation from "gutter snipe" to "toff" magnificently and there are some wonderfully characterful contributions from Stanley Holloway as her (rather venal) father; from Gladys Cooper as his rather astute mother and of course the arbiter of all things elocutionary - "Prof. Karpathy" (Theodore Bikel) who famously concludes that our poor "Eliza" is Hungarian! George Cukor has worked his magic well here with a superbly colourful, pithy and engaging adaptation of the original Shaw story and the score from Lerner and Loewe offers us some of the best rhyming lyrics ever put on paper: "Why Can't The English" and "I could have Danced All Night" being two particular favourites as well as Holloway's cracking "I'm Getting Married in the Morning". In a time of much more in-your-face politically correct dramatisations, I think folks could take a look at this cleverly constructed swipe at intellectual and sexual "superiority" and see the best man win - even if she isn't a man...