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I saw this on the big screen when I was a kid. This was the B movie. I can't remember what the A movie was. I absolutely loved this one. A month later, I had a school essay, where I had to write about a film I had seen. I chose this one. And began to encounter problems...
I would tell you what the plot is...but I can't. Tony Randall is a "Professor of Comparative Psychology". The institution where he works is raided by the police, who are investigating complaints about a lion he uses for his research. The lion is tame and gentle. The professor knows that. We know that. But nobody else does....After a fight with police, the professor and his lion flees, and they take refuge in an hotel that has apartments rather than rooms. After that, it is easy to lose the plot, because you are too busy laughing.
The main comedy device I noticed in this film is that if a character says or does something, or if something happens, other characters will misunderstand it. Of course this is not the first film to use this device. But I have never seen it used so often or with such intensity. Does it work in this film? Well, if I am creased up from start to finish, then it obviously does.
Tony Randall is a comedy actor who can be good in one film, and bad in another, depending on the script. This is one of his better performances, as he struggles to protect his lion from armed police and armed vigilantes. Of the rest of the cast, I would like to single out Edward Andrews as the hotel manager. The laughter is also at its loudest when the man who plays the dipsomaniac is on the screen.
And the hysteria can be realistic. In the UK some years ago a man thought he had seen a lion. He reported it to the police. And out of the woodwork came the armed police, armed volunteers, heat-seeking helicopters. Everything. And the round-the-clock search began. One of the helicopters spotted an infra-red image, but it was probably a badger. The lion was never found. So the film might exaggerate the reaction of the public and the authorities; but it is more or less accurate.
With this film, analysis can only get you so far. The best thing to do is to just watch the film. Watch it with the rest of the family. I've watched it as a child and as an adult. As an adult, I laughed all the harder.
Cosh Boy (1953)
Roll up! Roll up! See the Gang that Contains the Oldest Juvenile Delinquent
Roy Walsh is a young delinquent, who makes a pound or two out of coshing old ladies and stealing their handbags. He has a gang with him who cycle to their scenes-of-crime. They include a simpleton; there's a character played by a young Johnny Briggs, and a strange character who looks and talks like a forty-year-old.
Walsh is a nasty character, who displays no remorse. He treats his gangsters badly, especially the simpleton. He has an affair with the simpleton's sister (Joan Collins), whose accent slips like a 4-man bobsleigh. Their short, loveless affair results in her getting pregnant. Walsh is not impressed, tells her to clear off. We are told that Joan Collins has "done herself in". In fact she is lying alive in a hospital bed, although she has lost her baby.
The screenplay has all the features of having been jotted down on the back of a cigarette packet at the last minute. There is no layering in this production. There is no explanation why Walsh is like this.
Walsh's gang upgrade from coshing old ladies to using a revolver to rob the takings at a wrestling match. The gun goes off, wounding a staff member.
The police catch up with Walsh. But first Walsh is caught by his brand new Canadian stepfather. The police stand aside, while Walsh's stepfather does what everyone thought he should have done ages ago. He takes off his belt and starts whacking Walsh.
This is one of several films that looked at post WW2 juvenile crime. "The Blue Lamp" was the best of these, in my opinion. But "Cosh Boy" is one of the worst films I have seen. It is badly scripted, badly acted. It is ridiculous that eight years after one of the biggest incidents of violence and vandalism known to humankind, all this film could offer as a remedy for youth crime is walloping a kid with a belt. How pathetic.
Watch out for Sid James playing a station officer in a short scene.
Catherine the Great (1996)
Well, at least they pronounced Potemkin correctly
Yes, the Potemkin of battleship and village fame is indeed pronounced Potyomkin. (Stress the second syllable.) And it is good to see an example of acting professionalism in today's sea of carelessness.
Having said that, the film itself is a series of pointless historical happenings, and none of them seem to go anywhere. The only one that made any sense is that members of the ruling elite wanted to modernise Russia by freeing serfs, but their plans were put off by diversionary wars. It might be good if it were made clear if these diversionary disasters were caused deliberately to delay any emancipation.
An incident that fails is the handling of the Cossack revolt. The script writers fail to understand the Cossack society, and have no inkling of the concept of Cossack brotherhood.
It is difficult to measure Cathrine Zeta Jones properly, because she was restricted by a poor script. She reads a lot, so she can quote this writer and that writer at people, and get a counter-quote in return. But there is no development of her character at all. She is still the same Catherine the German who arrives to marry the simpleton heir apparent. In fact, she was Princess Sophia (Sophie in German) and changed her name to the Russian Yekaterina. She changed her religion to Russian Orthodox. She also learned to speak Russian. The years pass, but the obvious character development has passed the script writers by. She is no longer a minor German noblewoman. She is empress of Russia, and - most importantly - she has BECOME a Russian. This would present the script writers with a challenge. How did the Russians regard her? Were they insulted at a German pretending to be a Russian? Did they appreciate the fact she had made an effort to adopt the customs of the country she ruled over? Or was it a combination of the two? The script writers could not rise to the occasion and all the characters surrounding Yekaterina Velikaya were addressing a neutrality.
The acting between Catherine and Potyomkin was not handled well. (According to S S Montefiore, Potyomkin's biographer, they were secretly married.) They might just a well be acquaintances. Of the other actors, it was good to see Brian Blessed successfully playing a role that was not some variant of Porthos from The Three Musketeers.
Some of the opulent scenery inside the palaces are good, if you are doing some interior decorating and you are looking for ideas, but the film is overly long, and you may find it disappointing.
Chu Chin Chow (1934)
Where the background music eclipses nearly everything else.
Chu Chin Chow was a well-known stage musical that started during the First World War years and lasted through the twenties and the thirties. Then mention of it suddenly stopped and was heard of no more. Of the songs used in the musical, only the Shoemaker's Song was catchy enough to survive outside the musical, and was covered by all kinds of musicians from trad jazz bands to Paul Robeson.
As others have said, the musical is set in Baghdad and is a variant of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. The costumes are exaggerated, with grotesque turbans and fezzes.
What is unusual for a British film is that the background music is almost non-stop. Often the background music has nothing to do with what is happening in the scene, and is thus more like Muzak in a supermarket or an elevator. This was sometimes done in early thirties films by First National/Warner Brothers. This is the first time I have encountered this in a British film.
The orchestration is adventurous and the higher pitches feature unusual instruments. These include domras that tremolo in the string section, and - soloing in the woodwind - are a sopranino recorder, and even an ocarina, to accentuate clownishness. As big jars, each containing a thief, are rolled into a pit, we hear the timpani making a thunderous noise - inappropriate due to the size of the jars, but unbelievably effective.
With one exception, the singers are not very good. The exception is the Australian basso profondo, Malcolm McEacharn, who is billed as "Jetsam," because he was a member of the Flotsam and Jetsam duo. An exceptionally rich and powerful voice that can reach down, down, down to depths that a basso cantate like myself can only dream about.
I have never seen anything quite like this in a British film of the period.
Department S (1969)
I missed this at the time it was made, and have just watched it for the very first time. It belongs to the ITC-type shows that the family would watch on a Sunday evening, although I don't think this one was given a prime TV slot in the UK. It is not so well known as The Saint, Danger Man, The Prisoner, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), The Baron. The difference with Department S is that - Randall and Hopkirk apart - the other shows tend to be about the adventures of loners. Department S and The Champions started to introduce teams.
And what a team. We have a man of action in Stuart. American, in order to sell it across the Pond. We have Annabelle, the good-looking female, with legs that go all the way up to her computer-operating brain. Then, the masterstroke. We have all kinds of mysteries to solve, so the team is complimented by someone who can produce ideas that are totally off the wall. Jason King. He is decadent, drives a Bentley with Swiss number plates, never misses the opportunity of picking up a pretty girl. Then there are the received pronunciation, the lived-in face, the expensive cigarettes, the flamboyant attire, the glass of spirits or champagne in his hand. In fights he is master of attack, delivering desperate hay makers; but he can't defend himself, and usually ends up senseless on the floor. He writes thrillers. Sometimes cases are solved because he can remember something that he wrote in one of his novels. Sometimes a solved case is published as his latest thriller. As an artist, he comes up with ideas that the other two would never even think of. The fourth member of the team - its head - is more mysterious. He is played by a Gambian actor. He has been knighted, so he is a diplomat from an African country that is a member of the British Commonwealth. He works for Interpol and the United Nations. It is clear that Department S is only a small part of his career, so his on screen time is very short. But he is important enough to enter the VIP lounges of the world's airports, and has enough status to pull strings to get things done, and to protect Department S if need be. Although he does little in the day-to-day running of Department S, he does have an understanding of Department S's purpose. For example, when everybody was saying that a prominent civil servant was blown up in a plane, he is the lone voice who says that the civil servant is still alive, using a gap on the wall where a picture had been as evidence. I found him the most interesting character of the four.
In an attempt to combat those viewers who can guess the denouement early on, the ITC scriptwriters came up with the most incredible mysteries, which had credible solutions. I have to admit that I didn't guess a single one, so all hail to the scriptwriters. They even foresaw the internet!
Although Department S is not so well known as many of the other ITC classics, it is well scripted, well acted, well directed, and can hold its own with the best ITC thrillers. It led to a spin-off featuring just Jason King. Although everybody loved Peter Wyngarde's portrayal, the Jason King series was not so successful, which underlines my observation that Department S is about a team and their casework, however flamboyant one of their members might be.
Watch it and enjoy it.
I'm All Right Jack (1959)
Many of us have seen the scenarios before
What makes this film so funny is that those of us who have been in the workforce have seen many of the things shown in this film. OK, so they are exaggerated...a little. But many of us have seen something similar happening in our places of work, especially during the 1970s.
In real life I have seen the Marx-reading shop steward, full of his own self importance; the works committee plotting the employer's downfall; people secreted away playing not only cards, but desktop football, Mastermind and chess; the remarks written (or pictures drawn) in the suggestions box; the animosity towards the time-and-motions man; and, yes, the management deliberately provoking a strike, because they could make more money (or lose less) by having the workforce out on strike than they could by having the factory open.
Among the cast, are Peter Sellers playing the hard-headed shop steward; Ian Carmichael as the simple upper-class twit, who finds himself mucking-in with the workers; Terry Thomas as the quiet-life-loving personnel manager Among the minor characters, are Wally Patch as the not-much-worker who hates authority; Sam Kydd as the union man who stutters his F's and C's; Malcolm Muggeridge slipping away while there's a riot in the TV studio; the great character actor, Marne Maitland, as the corrupt cigar-stealing, fez-wearing diplomat.
The film also looks at the confectionery industry. Note that one of the machines in the num-yum factory has two eyes a nose and a mouth, and the machine spews up the mix from its mouth, while Ian Carmichael does likewise shortly afterwards. Note also the factory worker sneezing over a tray of num-yums. (Oh, they not only sneeze over food, I've seen them urinate in cases of chocolate biscuits and spit in sandwiches. You'll never want to eat again!)
You can't help but love this film.
Death Is a Woman (1966)
Only for Those Who Are into Black Bedsheets
A lot of money must have been spent on this film, which was filmed on location in Malta in full glorious colour. The result, however, is an utter disaster. For a start, one wonders why the film makers hired Anita Harris to sing the film's one song, when they had an excellent girl singer playing the villain.
The acting is not good. Only one character, who plays a drifter, stands out. The rest of the cast are not good actors, and they struggle with an unexciting script.
Some of the underwater scenes look good, and are probably the best parts of the film. Patsy Ann (Trisha) Noble, who comes from Australia, looks as though she swam her underwater scenes herself, and did not use a double. Great frogwoman she may be; as a singer she is flawless, (whether she sings in English or in French) and has perfect vocal technique. But I don't think she is a good actress at all, and I am surprised that her acting career lasted so long - and in America, too. The only significant features of her character, Francesca, is that she is a dead shot with an harpoon gun, and that she sleeps in a bed with black bedsheets.
The plot is forgettable. So, if you have something better to do, you would be better doing that instead.
Nero Wolfe (1981)
Four Crazy People in a Brownstone
I had never come across the character Nero Wolfe before, and I had never read any of Rex Stout's books. Then I saw this.
I had seen William Conrad before in Canon. Here he is playing a different role. He is more selfish and testy than Canon, and barks out orders to the three people who work for him, and is rude to everybody else. Yet he still has a streak of affability that makes him likable.
To me, this seemed strange. A man who is a private detective, but is obese to the point of invalidity, so he never leaves the house, and travels about the brownstone in an elevator. He hires a younger, fitter man to do all the legwork for him. He has a greenhouse on top of his brownstone, where, with the help of an ex-employee of a British botanical garden, he keeps and cultivates rare orchids. He also employs a chef to cook rich food for him. I must have seen all manner of TV detectives, but I had never seen anything like this before.
I thought William Conrad was brilliant. He was genuinely funny. As well as a case that had to be solved, there were also the interchanges between Wolfe and the wisecracking Archie. The arguments between Wolfe and Theodore in the greenhouse; and between Wolfe and Fritz in the kitchen are hilarious. The row between Wolfe and Fritz about which portions of garlic and saffron to put into the marinade for the shish kebab is classic. In one episode Wolfe pours a bottle of Dutch beer into a pint mug, then drinks the lot down in one draught. In another episode, Archie tells the police that Wolfe takes his exercise by throwing darts from his bedside, then walks round the bed to collect the darts from the dartboard.
Sadly they only made one series of this, so maybe the show didn't catch on, or maybe they stopped it because George Voskovec, who played Fritz, sadly died.
Watch this series. It will change your life!
Don Quixote (1933)
The Great Shalyapin
It is unusual to see scrappy direction from Pabst, but I was disappointed with this film. What is interesting about this film is Shalyapin.
In opera, and folksong, Shalyapin took the art of acting seriously. He would jump into the skin of the character he was playing or of the narrator of a song. He was almost like Lon Chaney, when it came to costume.
Here the great man sings in English, and seems to be ideal as the pathetic character who sells all he has, to buy books of knightly romances; then, with his servant, Sancho Panza, sets out to do good deeds.
Shalyapin's English is excellent, and he speaks and sings with a heavy accent that is Russian, tinged with the accent of the country in which he lived in exile - France.
George Robey, with his music hall accent, who was beginning to shake off his "coward" image (He was a conscientious objector during the first world war) plays Sancho Panza.
Shalyapin does sing some songs in this scrappy production; but, unlike, Pabst, he does not leave us disappointed.
Song o' My Heart (1930)
You Get Your Money's Worth from This Film
Irish tenor Count John McCormack stars in a simple tale tinged with sadness.
Apart from McCormack and a young Maureen O'Sullivan, the cast is largely unknown. But the character actors produce some humorous Irish village types. I thought that Edwin Schneider put in an excellent performance as McCormack's close friend, accompanist and repertorist.
Most of the film is shot in a quiet Irish village - only the village is not so quiet, with that tenor singing all day. He even sings stories to the little children of the village.
Although you can never fault McCormack's singing, some of his acting is deficient. When his sweetheart dies and he has to postpone the part of a US concert tour so that he can return to his village to sort out what happens to her children, he acts as though nothing in particular is happening. In reality, you are in a turmoil, because thousands of people have bought tickets to see you. There are employees in all the theatres who get paid because of your show. If you don't turn up and perform, you are letting everybody down. This was not handled well in this film at all.
On the plus side, you are treated to loads of songs, including part of McCormack's recital on his opening night of his US tour. So there is plenty to enjoy. Most of the songs I had never heard before, so this film really does give you your money's worth.
A Total Mystery
This is difficult to follow. There is a strange scene to begin with. A boy is leaning on the railings of a bridge over the Kelvin River in Glasgow. Nearby is a Glasgow University student played by John Hannah. Along comes Stratford Johns, heaves the boy over the bridge and winks at John Hannah as he walks by.
Stratford Johns plays Frederic Lindsay's enigmatic "Universal Spider" Anders Brond.
From then on, Hannah, via an ex soldier named Primo (James Cosmo), who is Brond's sideman, is drawn into Brond's web. There are IRA characters, Primo is a Scottish nationalist, who thinks that Brond is on his side. Indeed Brond is sympathetic to the plight of the Scottish soldier, but is ruthless. In the end, he kills Primo.
As others have said, the plot is difficult to follow, and some characters do appear purposeless. But there are some memorable scenes. There is of course the scene where the boy is thrown over the bridge. There are brutal police interviews, where John Hannah is fitted up for the murder of a laird from the area of Scotland he comes from, even though the police know he is innocent. He only escapes when he asks to see Brond, and is released into his custody. Later, with Richard Tauber singing "Waltz of My Heart", there is the scene of Stratford Johns lying on the floor of a brothel in his underpants, as a prostitute shocks him with a cattle prod. As John Hannah watches him through a two-way mirror, Johns raises himself on his elbow and winks at him.
Brond has a purpose for Hannah. He is to kill someone with a swordstick. But because of his ruthlessness we ask ourselves: why can't Brond do it himself, or leave it to Primo?
I think the plot could have been done better.
Goodbye Gemini (1970)
Nailing Your Nose to the Lavatory Seat
The film starts off well. We are on a bus. As the Peddlers sing and play the song "Tell the World We're Not In," We see a carefree pair of star- crossed lovers. As the film progresses, we find out that the pair are actually twins. They are both immature. And they talk to a teddy bear named Agamemnon. In one scene the male twin uses the teddy bear as an oracle, which is probably how the source novel is called "Ask Agamemnon". In real life, twins can shut the world out even to the point of constructing their very own language. This pair have not got that far, but they have reached the point where incest is very much in evidence. Jenni Hall, the novelist also wrote: My Son, My Lover, which also touches on incest.
The pair fall into the Swinging London scene. There are drugs, scotch whisky, very camp gays, transvestites to add to incestuous twins. The impression I get is that the whole thing is to shock people for the sake of shocking them...under the guise of Swinging London. I was up and about in Swinging London. If you were at a party, chances were you would be drinking wine or beer, dancing with someone of the opposite sex,and dressed according to your own gender. People even smoked tobacco. And I can't say I ever witnessed anyone conversing with a teddy bear.
The male twin is the most unstable of the two, and wants to shut the rest of the world out; he just wants to be with his sister. That does not stop him for going out for the night with his sister's boyfriend to a seedy hotel, where he is seduced by transvestites. His sister's boyfriend photographs the proceedings, and uses it to blackmail the male twin,so that he can pay off a large sum of money to a violent loan shark, played by a moustachioed Mike Pratt.
The male twin challenges his sister's boyfriend to tell the twins apart. While the latter is out of the room, the twins dress in bedsheets where eyeholes have been cut with a sword. The sheets of course conceal the sword as well. The boyfriend is invited back in....Having been through incest, violence, smoking illegal substances, cross-dressing, male-on- male rape; then murder and subsequent suicide are mere bagatelles.
Quoting from Dame Edith Sitwell has not been fashionable for years. But her criticism of "that insignificant, dirty little book" which is how she described "Lady Chatterley's Lover," is what comes to mind when seeing this film. There comes a time in life when you stop pretending to be open-minded, and say: "Look I don't want to see this. I really don't want my nose nailed to other people's lavatories." We all know that there are people who have minds like sewers. The problem comes when they ram their filth down other people's throats. And Society really does degenerate as a result.
Fortunately, the Peddlers made a record of "Tell the World We're Not In;" so you can enjoy the best bit of this "insignificant, dirty little" film without having to watch it.
Black Death (2010)
It is the 1340s. England is in the grip of the Black Death. There is a story of a village that is untouched by the disease. A troop of rough armed men have been sent by the bishop to find the village. But they do not know where it is. They employ a young, callow novice monk to go with them to show them the way. They reach the village, and everybody there seems to be peaceful and welcoming. But the village is led by a blonde witch
The film has scenes of violence. Pick your poison: We have fighting with swords, knives and axes. Lots of tying up. Crucifixion on X's like St Andrew coupled with hara kiri-style disembowelment. A girl is brought back from the dead only to be killed again. And much more.
A method of torture I have not seen before is being tied up and thrown into a trough of cold water, and be left there to shiver.
There can't be many people who dislike Sean Bean. But if you are one of them, you will enjoy him being tied like a pair of Levis between a pair of workhorses and literally torn apart.
In an early scene, a senior monk tells the novice that after visiting this village he will never be the same again. And this comes true.
So long as you can stomach the violence, there is plenty layering to keep you thinking. Overall, the film is worthwhile, but you might want to keep your kids away from it.
Marie Galante (1934)
Fair Spy Thriller that is of Its Time
This film was originally going to be called "That Girl", and the part of Marie Galante was a French girl who betrays her own country. The part was originally offered to Lili Damita, who turned it down because she could not stomach playing the part of a French traitress.
A couple of years down the line, and we have a new title, a new French actress, a new script and a new country to betray. Marie Galante is a French post office employee who gets shanghaied delivering a telegram to an arms smuggler. She eventually finishes up officially accused of being a stowaway, and singing in a bar in Panama.
But Panama City is a hotbed of spies and counter espionage. The counter spies are looking for an unsavoury character who turns up in trouble spots all over the world - only no one knows what he looks like. Naturally, we try to guess who the person is, only to find that the film makers have cheated by making him a character that doesn't appear until at least halfway though the film. Just for a change, the Japanese is one of the good guys. Spencer Tracy is an expert on tropical diseases, although we have guessed early on that he is not what he says he is. Marie Galante is tricked into spying against the USA rather than France.
Probably because of the rewritten screenplay, the denouement is a bit of a mess; but the film has a happy albeit uncertain ending when the girl gets not only Spencer Tracy at the end, but the Japanese as well! Ketti Gallian, who plays the title role, plays a stereotypical French girl. Her hair photographs badly. She is meant to be blonde, but looks more like an albina. There is nothing particularly wrong with her acting, except that it lacks the personality of a star.
The film is perfectly watchable, although it lacks the tension of a really good thriller.
Birth of the Beatles (1979)
Captures the spirit of the Hamburg days nicely
There are a number of things that are not correct, although this is not too important since what happened to whom and when is still in dispute. The most blatant liberty with the facts I think is when they start to play at Bruno Koschmidder's Kaiserkeller, when in fact they played at the Indra and moved to the Kaiserkeller later.
I agree with Semprinni20 that the film was biased in favour of Pete Best's version, but if he is the story consultant then I guess he calls the shots. I also agree with Semprinni that the recordings Pete Best plays on say the last word on the subject of why he was fired.
Although the film is not such a lavish production as the later film "Backbeat", I prefer this film because it is more accurate, and because it has a better script with deeper characterisation.
There is plenty in the film that is quite substantial - such as Brian Epstein trying to hide the fact that he has been "queer-bashed," only to find out that the band knew he was Gay all along. Little touches like the band going into a café and ordering "Corn-Flakes mit Milch." My favourite scene, which does have some bassis in fact, is where at an audition Stuart Sutcliffe has just bought his bass guitar but can't play it, so he stands with his back to the impresario and tries faking it, but gets caught. That's rock 'n' roll.
Well worth watching.
Richard the Lionheart (1962)
International Intrigue as well as Action
It started in the mid-fifties when Sir Lew Grade, without consulting his associates, committed nearly all his capital to making Robin Hood with Richard Greene. The series was an instant success, so more medieval adventures followed. There was Roger Moore as Ivanhoe - The Saint in armour. William Russell - man of action - as Sir Lancelot. Conrad Phillips as William Tell, a Swiss Robin Hood with an arblast. Later, were the sea adventures of Sir Francis Drake, with Terence Morgan carrying out Queen Elizabeth's special missions.
Richard the Lionheart, jumped on the medieval bandwagon. It even had the rousing theme song that you could sing along with, parts of which I can still remember to this day:
"Richard, the Lionheart, wrote a page in England's book of fame. History shall long recall his name."
What makes Richard different from most of the rest is that it is about a monarch who can mix with other monarchs who bear more power than the characters in the other series. He has to deal with a vicious but fair Sultan Saladdin; his captor Emperor Leopold; a scheming and dangerous Philip-Augustus; and William the Lion, who will give Richard his way so long as he wins the fight that the former just loves to watch.
And that is why these series were so successful. You might like to watch westerns or gangster movies, modern war movies or sword and sandal epics; but you just can't beat a good medieval scrap.
The Sheik (1921)
The film that launched the "superstar"
I agree with most of the other reviewers here on most of their points except one. The one point is that the plot of the film is of its time. In fact, the plot of the 1985 film "Harem" with Ben Kingsley and Nastassja Kinski, and "The Sheik are almost identical. If "Harem" were a better-known film, there would be no need for sleeping pills, and shares in Glaxo-Smith-Kline would nosedive as a result.
"The Sheik", however kitsch its plot seems to be, is very well done. I agree that Valentino's popeyes look ridiculous, and kind of spoil the film. There is nothing challenging about his role, though he lives up to his image. Agnes Ayres's character, Diana, is a much meatier role. I admit that she went over my head on first viewing. On subsequent viewings, I got to appreciate her acting more, and I figuratively award her full marks. At the beginning of the film she is an independent woman, but it is all a facade, and a very thin one at that. After her capture this facade vanishes along with her gunbelt and pith helmet before the eyes of Valentino, and we see her "naked", even though she is dressed. I found that scene very powerfully done.
Although the film more or less follows Edith Winstanley's novel as closely as public outrage would allow it to, I could not help feeling that Patsy Ruth Miller's character was left withering on the vine and should have been developed more. Making her a schemer instead of a bowed-head menial who has had the stuffing knocked out of her sometime in the past was a waste, I thought. On the credit side, Adolphe Menjou was great as the father figure. And Omair is a very Arabian Arab heavy.
Some of the trite stuff written about this film is best ignored. For instance, they say that men hate this film or find it funny, and women love it. I'm male and I'm straight and I like this film. I agree it is not Valentino's best film objectively speaking, and it is perhaps not his best piece of acting...and, yet, there is something special about this film, something magical, something that I can't put my finger on - maybe the chemistry between the players. Maybe everyone on the set sensed that this film was going to shake filmdom to its foundations. Because of this certain "something", I will give it 10 out of 10 in spite of its flaws, because I knew when I was watching this film that I was watching something magical.
It would be wrong to say that they don't make films like this anymore. "Harem" refutes that. They do make films like this anymore, but they're just not in the same league.
The Apartment (1960)
Does not Stand up to Scrutiny
I liked the idea. I liked the story. The acting of the three central characters - Lemmon, MacLaine, MacMurray - was excellent.
However, the whole plot hangs together badly. First of all, we have a key to an apartment going around the office, but if someone has vacated the apartment, they have to leave the key under the mat. Jack Lemmon has a key to the front door of the building, but not to the apartment. Strange. Couldn't he have had another key to the apartment duplicated? And if he is stuck out on a winter's night and has a key to the front door, why can't he lurk around the building until the apartment is vacant? Why does he have to spend the evening on a park bench? And if MacMurray is so well loaded, why doesn't he rent his own apartment? Lemmon's head cold also developed pretty quickly. Pity these holes in the plot ruined the film.
I didn't know this film was a comedy. It didn't make me laugh. None of it did. When I was told that it was supposed to be a comedy, I couldn't believe it.
The Buddy Holly Story (1978)
...Or How to Get Written Out of History
Imagine if there were a film about George Harrison. John Lennon is written out completely, while the other two Beatles are named Fred Jones and Harry Smith. You think that's ridiculous? Well, that's exactly what this film has done.
The poor Crickets are all but deleted. Guitarist (the late) Niki Sullivan is written out completely. And why change the names of the drummer and bassist to a pair of nonentities named Jesse and Ray-Bob, when everybody knows that the other two Crickets were named Jerry Allison and Joe Mauldin. It is an insult to three musicians who are/ respected everywhere they go. In reality, Sullivan did a lot of the work that Holly got credit for, Allison's drumming was very much the band's distinctive sound, and - missing from the film - Mauldin climbing over his instrument was an important part of their stage act.
The group started in a small recording studio, and the producer helped write some of their earlier songs. Why all this nonsense about a racist record producer who tries to C & W "Peggy Sue?" And why does Buddy Holly keep calling a string bass a "stand-up bass", when, at the time, the string bass was the normal bass in use, and the bass guitar was still something of a curiosity? On the plus side, the actors work well with the script, and I thought Gary Busey made a good Buddy.
The problem with film-makers monkeying around with history is that you would be surprised at the number of dopes out there who will come out of the cinema thinking that this is what actually happened.
The Avengers (1998)
They Should Have Left the TV Series Alone.
The Avengers was a British Institution during the 1960s. It returned again in the 1970s as The New Avengers, which was semi-successful. The series is very much based around characters who are nonchalant in the face of adversity. The chief character is John Steed, played by Patrick MacNee. In fact, one could say that The Avengers is John Steed played by Patrick MacNee.
There was a certain amount of silliness attached to the original TV series, which was its charm. The characters of John Steed, accompanied by Cathy Gayle (played by Honor Blackman) had started life in an all-but-forgotten series called "Police Surgeon". (Not the American series of the same name.) Honor Blackman's catsuit coupled with high-heeled Russian boots, became an icon of the sixties. (How many people know that Blackman and MacNee actually recorded a song called "Kinky Boots", which was released as a single?) The catsuit and boots were taken over by Diana Rigg as Emma Peel. Emma's husband is missing believed dead in some remote corner of the world. This allows a certain amount of harmless flirting between her and Steed. This contributes to the charm of the original series. In the series it is done by dialogue. In this film it is more physical, and is charmless.
We got a sniff of what the original series was about with the scene of all those teddy bears sitting around the conference table. Sadly when Sean Connery bumps two of them off, that kills the mystery, and the teddy bears are (apart from one scene soon afterwards) never seen again. In the TV series, those teddy bears would be a source of mystery and menace until the very last scene.
The "problem" that Steed and Peel have to solve is weather control. Now, how many films have featured that? Offhand I can think of Flash Gordon, Our Man Flint, and wasn't there a Matt Helm film that featured that, too? So we are talking about a plot that is unoriginal. At the end we get the booms and bangs and flooding that has become the norm for Hollywood thrillers in recent years, all filmed through the usual blue filter.
Actingwise, Sean Connery starts off well, as an eccentric in the style of the old TV series, but becomes a stereotyped villain as the film progresses. Uma Thurman I thought was surprisingly good, although the script did not allow her to develop her character much.
But The Avengers is not The Avengers without John Steed. Here Ralph Fiennes was an absolute disaster. The Steed character is built around Patrick MacNee. The MacNee Steed is phlegmatic, effortless, never raises his voice, is graceful in his movements. If the ground opened up beneath him, he would simply step over the chasm giving the impression that he didn't even notice it. MacNee also has the face of an older man, and that gives him an air of authority. Ralph Fiennes's face is too young. His voice is just not right. He wears an open necked shirt in one scene. (MacNee would have worn a cravat.) Fiennes just doesn't have MacNee's style and panache. In fight scenes Fiennes tries too hard. MacNee need only tap an enemy on the head with his Gamp umbrella and the enemy would flake out. No need for all that action and rough stuff. (Whatever happened to realism?) But Fiennes's biggest sin is that he does not know how to carry an umbrella, and he does not know how to wear a bowler hat. To be honest, Fiennes looked more like Freddie Parrot-Face Davies than John Steed.
The Licensed Poets
A film which concentrates on the short musical and artistic career of Stuart Sutcliffe, the Scottish-born bass player from the days when the Beatles were a quintet playing the Reeperbahn of Hamburg, and his love affair with the German artist Astrid Kircherr.
I suppose there are two types of people who will watch this film: those who know little or nothing about the Beatles's time in Hamburg, and those who do. The former will probably enjoy the film for what it is; the latter will find it annoying. I am sorry to say that I am in the latter camp. There are so many historical inaccuracies that it is hardly worth listing them. The most annoying to me was the placing of the recording of "My Bonnie" before Stuart Suttcliffe had left the band. I thought that was totally unnecessary. Another inaccuracy is depicting Paul McCartney trying to kick Suttcliffe out of the band so that he could take over the bass. Also, the length of Astrid's hair is based on a self photograph of hers. Contemporary photographs show her with shoulder length hair.
As well as the Beatles themselves, who walk onstage and start to play without plugging their guitars in, the film also features the real life characters Astrid Kirchherr, Cynthia Powell Lennon and Klaus Voormann, who are named, and Bruno Koschmidder and Tony Sheridan, who are not.
Since John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe are dead, the film makers can imply that the pair had homosexual feelings for one another and not get sued.
The rest of the Beatles are reduced to one dimensional cutouts: the serious one, the quiet one, the cipher.
That's what the film got wrong. Let us see what the film got right.
When you look at an historical film - especially one that covers a period within living memory - one can find lots of anachronisms with the fashions of the time. Normally I will home in on half a dozen things that were not around in 1960/61. Not in this film. The shooting and direction - apart from the little melodrama at Sutcliffe's death - was good, and the scene where Sutcliffe spazzed out and threw red paint all over the bathroom was excellent, the red paint signifying blood, as though a murder had been committed.
But alas the scriptwriters were not up to the same standard as the wardrobe department, the cameramen, the musicians and the director, and I found titles of Beatles songs yet to be written, like "Hard Day's Night" and "Eight Days a Week," being worked into the script utterly ridiculous. What were the scriptwriters trying to do?
The Football Factory (2004)
It Almost Gets to the Essence of Soccer Hooliganism
There are one or two things that this film does not get right. The "firm" of Chelsea receive the news that they have drawn Millwall in the cup. For those who do not know much about English soccer, let me tell you that Millwall fans have had a reputation for violent conduct since as far back as I can remember (the mid 1960s), and Chelsea fans have been known to get into a brawl or two on occasions! Here is a minor point. We have the Chelsea fans liberally using rhyming slang, (from London's East End), whereas Chelsea's supporters are predominantly from North London, where I have never ever heard rhyming slang used in my eighteen years living there.
The other thing I found wrong with this film is that there were no scenes at the matches. (This may have been caused by budget constraints.) And no one seems to talk much about football: they only talk about taking on Millwall's firm. This reinforces the popular misconception that football hooligans care nothing about football, and that they are not real fans. They ARE real fans. They DO care about their team and about football.
Those minor faults aside, I found that the motivation for hooliganism - that it is fun and there is an adrenaline rush - was absolutely correct.
Dudley Sutton was great as always, and the star of the show was Frank Harper. (Yes, there really are hooligans his age.) I found the practical jokes funny All in all I would recommend this film and have given it a high mark.
If you are wondering what a "sigh" is, as in Frank Harper saying to other characters, "You SIGH!", I am reliably informed that it is short for "Simple Simon."
Dancin' Thru the Dark (1990)
Peer Group Pressure in Action
Dancin' Thru The Dark This is based on Willy Russell's play "Stags and Hens".
Linda is an intelligent girl who is getting married the following day. She and her friends go on a hen night, while at the same time her simpleton of a fiancé is having his stag night. They all end up at a club where there is a rock band from London playing. The rock band is fronted by Linda's ex-boyfriend...
For those of us who come from humble origins and have escaped to loftier heights, we notice that there are really no powers from on high that press the lower classes to keep them in their place. There is no need for that: the lower classes keep themselves in place. Willy Russell has observed what I have observed. Anyone who tries to break the class barrier is held back by an intense amount of peer group pressure. And we see it in action in this film - in all its sordid detail. Willy Russell returns to this theme again and again in his works, and it is also the linchpin of his better-known "Educating Rita." There are a few scenes - such as the stags and hens pairing off far too quickly - which are a little unreal, which is why I have given it 9 instead of 10. Otherwise this film captures the social scenes it portrays exceedingly well.
Willy Russell himself appears as a bitter piece of work who challenges the rock band's guitarist and bass player to play some "real music," and gets a beer inside his trousers for his pains.
I have seen many stage plays mutilated by film makers. If anything, in this case. the original stage play is enhanced as a photoplay, but perhaps not enhanced enough: it still has the claustrophobia of the stage in places; and I doubt it was left like that to display the claustrophobia of a lower class existence.
Absolute Beginners (1986)
The film is based on a genuine 1950s novel.
Journalist Colin McInnes wrote a set of three "London novels": "Absolute Beginners", "City of Spades" and "Mr Love and Justice". I have read all three. The first two are excellent. The last, perhaps an experiment that did not come off. But McInnes's work is highly acclaimed; and rightly so. This musical is the novelist's ultimate nightmare - to see the fruits of one's mind being turned into a glitzy, badly-acted, soporific one-dimensional apology of a film that says it captures the spirit of 1950s London, and does nothing of the sort.
Thank goodness Colin McInnes wasn't alive to witness it.
The Office (2001)
The British Ally McBeal
The successful American series Ally McBeal was set in an office, so I have little doubt that this was a BBC effort to create a British Ally McBeal. This British Ally McBeal is nowhere near so well written as its American counterpart, and, even if it were, it does not have performers with the ability to make it work anyway.
There have been a few British sitcoms set in offices over the years. None of them have been particularly good, and "The Office" is no exception.
What is worrying from my point of view is that the TV critics - the same ones that failed to gather the essence of Ally McBeal - are ecstatic about "The Office." It is supposed to be funny and Ricky Gervais - like Orson Wells - is a "genius." Well the touchstone of a comedy is, does it make me laugh? Well, no. Not once. Not so much as a smile. I am sure there are people out there who must like this. But I have asked lots of people about this programme. At the time of writing, I have not met anyone who likes "The Office" or who finds it remotely funny.
And it wins acclaim, awards and accolades. There's something funny going on.