From time to time, I do ponder over why a particular film seems not to have that sprinkling of magic dust. A case in point would be The Black Orchid (1959) shown last Sunday by Talking Pictures TV. It’s not a bad film, but despite having Sophia Loren (who won Best Actress at Venice for her work here), Anthony Quinn (always interesting), Ina Balin and direction from Martin Ritt (Hud, 1963), it just doesn’t work to the level you would hope for. In this instance, the script is weak, the music sometimes very odd (more suited to a science-fiction film) and the Little Italy/tenement milieu isn’t entirely convincing. Do I regret watching it? Absolutely not: on balance, there were enough pleasures to be had including a nice ending that tied up all the loose ends.
A STAR IS BORN (1954) Saturday 24 October 1.10-4.00pm BBC 2
Also Thursday evening, BBC 4 (see later notes) and followed today by a Talking Pictures on musicals.
UNEASY TERMS (1948) Saturday 24 October 7.50-9.40pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Here’s another of those not-in-the-film guides, courtesy of TP. Michael Rennie is a private detective (quite unusual in British films) trying to solve the murder of Colonel Stenhurst in his country home.
APOSTASY (2017) Saturday 24 October 10.00-11.30pm BBC 2
The BBC’s Film of the Week. I wouldn’t go that far myself – except to draw attention to a worthy, low-key British project, which it is. It takes us into the lives of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Oldham and the family problems that ensue when one daughter becomes pregnant. We thought it was a little too ‘one note’ - dour even – for us to programme, but, to be fair, most reviews were very positive and so it is an excellent opportunity to see for yourselves.
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (2014) Sunday 25 October 12.30-1.55am BST BBC 2
This is a great way to celebrate Halloween! You are, perhaps, familiar with the subsequent TV series: a family of Kiwi vampires argue about domestic chores, whilst sucking the blood from the occasional virgin. It strikes a lovely balance between the hip, the hysterical and respect for genre conventions.
13 GHOSTS (1959) Sunday 25 October 6.55-8.30pm Channel 70
Without the benefit of schlock producer-director William Castle’s “Illusion-O”, we cannot guarantee how many ghosts will be visible! Never mind, this story of a nice American family that is bequeathed a haunted house (with treasure) should still be entertaining enough.
LOVING (2016) Sunday 25 October 10.00pm-11.55pm BBC 2
Loving is based on the true story of a Virginia construction worker whose girlfriend becomes pregnant. In 1958, this would be problem enough, but his girlfriend is also black. Joel Edgerton has built quite a CV since Animal Kingdom (2011-12 season, 72%) and Ruth Negga is equally moving.
LAW AND DISORDER (1958) Monday 26 October 4.25-6.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
This comedy is minor fare compared to the same director and writer’s The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), but it’s worth taking time out (with cake of course). Michael Redgrave is very good as the petty crook trying to explain away his life of crime.
A QUIET PLACE (2018) Monday 26 October 9.00-10.45pm Film Four
I was keen to book it two seasons ago, but we were still smarting after the failure of The Babadook! To stalk their human prey, alien invaders are totally reliant on sound. It is imaginative, really well-acted and, at times, almost unbearably tense.
HONDO (1953) Tuesday 27 October 12.50-2.30pm Film Four
“There never was a man like Hondo!” screamed the publicity. John Wayne is the cavalry scout looking to protect an Oscar-nominated Geraldine Page (her deglamourised ‘heroine’ was very unusual in a 1950s Hollywood western) and her son. Originally filmed in 3D, so feel free to duck!
THE GREAT GATSBY (1974) Tuesday 27 October 10.00pm-12.50am Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
All the major versions (1949, 1974, 2013) are pretty much on a par – interesting, good period detail, charismatic leads (here it’s Robert Redford and Mia Farrow), but not outstanding. The one to see would be the 1926 original, but, alas, only the trailer survives.
THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (1965) Wednesday 28 October 4.25-7.15pm Channel 40
An aeroplane crashes in the desert after going off course; the only possible escape is for the survivors to build another one from the wreckage. James Stewart heads an excellent cast and, as an ex-member of the Army Air Corps, must have relished the opportunity to be on board!
BEWARE, MY LOVELY (1952) Wednesday 28 October 10.00-11.35pm TP (Channel 81)
We all knew how few women directors there used to be (and still are), but Ida Lupino flew the flag more than capably. Here, she also co-stars with the always impressive Robert Ryan. It’s not unusual to hire a handyman before Christmas; unfortunately, this one is psychotic....
COVER GIRL (1944) Thursday 29 October 9.05-11.15am Channel 40
Columbia couldn’t quite match MGM’s finest but this musical is still top-notch: a Jerome Kern score, Rita Hayworth providing the glamour and Phil Silvers the comedy, and Gene Kelly given free rein to create some innovative, brilliant dance sequences.
A STAR IS BORN (1954) Thursday 29 October 8.00-10.45pm BBC 4
Each generation seems to have its own A Star is Born that is embraced lovingly by the public. I’m quite fond of the Barbara Streisand/Kris Kristofferson edition (1976), am on record as saying that Lady Gaga’s is overrated and would side with film critic Andrew Collins in saying that the 1937 film is my favourite, if not quite the best. (Although Frederic March is the best Norman Maine and there is some scintillating dialogue, in part courtesy of Dorothy Parker.) There is absolutely no doubt, however, that the 1954 version is the one that enjoys mythical status. This is down to director George Cukor coaxing one last great performance from one of the cultural icons of the 20th century, namely Judy Garland. (Here performing ‘The Man That Got Away’, ‘Born in a Trunk’ and investing so much of her real self.) James Mason had excellent reviews too – “easily the finest performance of his career” said the Daily Telegraph – but Miss Garland owns the entire film. The Oscar, though, went to Grace Kelly for The Country Girl – a travesty best summed up by Groucho Marx, who declared it to be “the biggest robbery since Brink’s”. Incidentally, no-one talks about – and few have probably seen – the very first version What Price Hollywood? which was also directed by George Cukor.
HELL DRIVERS (1957) Friday 30 October 5.50-8.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
In essence, a British riff on The Wages of Fear (1953): haulage drivers work at dangerous speeds for an unscrupulous manager (William Hartnell). With Stanley Baker, Patrick McGoohan as Red, the ruthless ‘king of the yard’, Herbert Lom and Sean Connery, it is electrifying. The director, Cy Endfield, and Stanley Baker later went on to make Zulu (1963).
TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016) Friday 30 October 11.20pm-1.40am Film Four
Let’s conclude the week with this outrageous, tremendously gripping South Korean horror film. Escaping from zombies in a park is tricky enough, but on a train....
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
It has just been announced that Gal Gadot - the Israeli actor who played the title role in the hugely successful Wonder Woman (2017) - has signed up to make a new film about Cleopatra. (Paramount Studios has won the bidding rights.) This will be the latest of several versions over the years. The most famous is the 1963 epic (and, at 243 minutes, it remains the longest) with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The view has long been held that it almost led to the demise of 20th Century-Fox. With US rentals of $26 million, it topped the box office charts; the problem was it had cost $44 million. Thankfully for the studio, The Longest Day was doing splendidly and was to have a worldwide gross of $100 million. Some of the Cleopatra sets were put to further use – cannily – for Carry on Cleo, one of the best of the series. (Who can forget the line: “Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!”?) Cecil B. DeMille’s Cleopatra (1934) has a good performance from Claudette Colbert, but Warren William (later The Lone Wolf) makes a poor Julius Caesar. Vivien Leigh was the star of Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), but it didn’t do justice to George Bernard Shaw’s play and, as a rule, is only praised for its use of Technicolor. It does pop up on Talking Pictures TV if you want to catch it. Also not a classic was Cleopatra’s Daughter (1961) with Debra Paget, one of many sword-and-sandal epics being made in Italy at that time. The rarest Cleopatra dates from 1917 and was played by legendary vamp – and probably the first manufactured star – Theda Bara. This is now a lost film (a few minutes survive) and would be a tremendous find. Happily, the 1912 Cleopatra with Helen Gardner (who also produced) is still extant.
I was pleased to include Sky Arts in the listing last week, for the first time. It is also a good place to go to for programmes on actors and directors. Based on those I have seen so far, you don’t learn a great deal beyond the superficial, but the ‘talking heads’ are knowledgeable and many actors are covered. The BBC’s Reggie Yates in Hollywood documentary was both timely and very good – wherever he goes in the world, the results are invariably impressive, if rarely film related. The BBC’s Talking Pictures series, made up of archive interviews sometimes going back 60 years and narrated by Sylvia Syms, can also be illuminating – but don’t take everything you hear as gospel!
SPRINGTIME IN THE SIERRAS (1947) Saturday 17 October 1.55-3.30pm TP (Channel 81)
Well, bless my soul – it’s Roy Rogers and Trigger (but no Dale Evans, here replaced by Jane Frazee)! The plot is slim – a dastardly gang is killing game out of season – but there are several points of interest. The main villain is a woman (refreshingly, not completely unknown in B-westerns of this period) and action specialist William Witney, handed the director’s chores to toughen up Roy’s image, gives the enterprise some vigour. (Also showing Tuesday 7.55am.)
ISLANDS IN THE STREAM (1976) Saturday 17 October 8.00-10.10pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Director Franklin J. Schaffner and star George C. Scott (both from Patton, 1970) reteamed to film Hemingway’s posthumous novel about a grizzled sculptor/fisherman in the Bahamas. It flags in the final third, but Scott is excellent and this is a rare showing.
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967) Sunday 18 October 12.10-1.55am BBC 2
Winner of five Oscars, this superb drama about a white sheriff and a black detective working a case in the Deep South remains highly relevant. Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger are magnificent; I should imagine the scene in which Poitier slaps a white patriarch stunned audiences – where it was shown.
SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949) Sunday 18 October 2.35-4.15pm BBC 2
Also Thursday evening, BBC 4 (see later notes) and followed today by a Talking Pictures special.
CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) Sunday 18 October 5.20-6.50pm Channel 70
An inspiration for The Shape of Water (and for a great Dave Edmunds song), Creature still entertains and fascinates. AND it’s double bill time again! Hammer’s The Abominable Snowman (1957), with Forrest Tucker and Peter Cushing, follows at 6.50pm. Despite some use of studio sets, it is still atmospheric and rather watchable – and had a fair number of positive reviews on release.
DETROIT (2017) Sunday 18 October 10.00pm-12.15am BBC 2
Set during the city’s summer riots of 1967, this is a very fine film courtesy of director Kathryn Bigelow, writer/producer Mark Boal (they worked together on The Hurt Locker) and a cast led by John Boyega. It grips, it horrifies and I’d like to say that it beggars belief that it’s true, except that – sadly – it doesn’t. Indeed, fifty years on, and here we are again.
THE MAN UPSTAIRS (1958) Monday 19 October 7.45-9.30am Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
This is quite a curio, but worth a look. Richard Attenborough is ‘losing it’ upstairs, whilst the police attempt to negotiate with him from downstairs. It’s really an indirect remake of the 1939 French classic Le Jour Se Lève (1992-93 season, 74%). The Long Night (1947) was a more literal remake.
FENCES (2016) Monday 19 October 9.00-11.45pm Film Four
Denzel Washington, one of the best of the current generation of American actors, directs and stars as the head of a 1950s working-class family. It’s good enough to have been made in the mid-50s.
THE FIVE PENNIES (1959) Tuesday 20 October 6.40-9.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
As last week, there are two contrasting musicals the same evening; this is the traditional biopic. Danny Kaye plays jazz cornettist Red Nichols and there is some magical work by Louis Armstrong.
BEEN SO LONG (2018) Tuesday 20 October 9.00-11.05pm Film Four
Very different to the above, we have an adaptation of a Young Vic stage production that centres on a single mum (Michaela Coel, one of our most exciting new talents). It could be summed up as a musical/fantasy/urban drama with attitude!
CONE OF SILENCE (1960) Wednesday 21 October 9.10-11.00am Channel 40
This is a film that definitely falls into the ‘little seen but rewarding’ category. A plane has crashed in India and Michael Craig, Peter Cushing, Bernard Lee and others hope to find out how and why.
THE DEADLY AFFAIR (1966) Wednesday 21 October 10.00pm-12.10am TP (Channel 81)
Taken from John Le Carré’s Call for the Dead, James Mason is the controller convinced that a diplomat’s death wasn’t suicide. The British press was fulsome in its praise.
BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (1962) Thursday 22 October 10.10am-1.15pm Channel 40
I was hugely impressed when I first saw this biography of lifer Robert Stroud, who became an expert on birdlife, and my memories remain fond ones. Burt Lancaster heads a formidable cast.
SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949) Thursday 22 October 8.00-9.40pm BBC 4
Film Club is giving us a third western in a row – oh, joy! The elderly Captain Nathan Brittles is due to retire and his final mission looks doomed to failure. There are many who think that this is John Wayne’s finest performance (it’s certainly in his top five) and the Ford Stock Company gives splendid support. It’s the middle one of John Ford’s loose cavalry trilogy and the only one in colour – and Winton C. Hoch’s award-winning work here is fantastic. A commonly-held view is that the three films are an idealised tribute to the US cavalry; however, I would proffer the view that they are as much a tribute to the army of 1946 as to the one of 1876. The director had served in World War II and wanted more than “a cold page in the history books to mark their passing”. And of the three, Ribbon is the only one that could be described as a pacifist western. (Pony-That-Walks says “old men should stop wars” – and he should know, actor Chief Big Tree was 84 at the time and lived to be 102.) I think, too, that Ford was astute enough to realise that the baton was being passed to a younger generation, but he was doing it with the warning – in the film and in real life – that “young men do not listen” (Pony-That-Walks again). And perhaps he realised also that, very shortly, this would happen in his own fiefdom, Hollywood.
THE CAPTIVE CITY (1952) Friday 23 October 9.15-11.10am Channel 40
These modest, interesting films directed by Robert Wise (West Side Story) keep popping up. This one stars John Forsythe (later in Dynasty on TV) as a newspaper editor who uncovers a Mafia takeover. Cinematographer Lee Garmes was a favourite of Marlene Dietrich.
BLUE NOTE RECORDS: BEYOND THE NOTES (2018) Friday 23 October 10.20-11.45pm BBC 4
An essential watch for jazz lovers: it’s a look behind-the-scenes at the legendary record label, with contributions from key musicians and staff.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES - A FILM CALENDAR
Last week, when running through the films we have listed so far, I noticed that three of the titles contain months of the year. This has been quite a popular option over the years (or so it seems), but how easy would it be, I wondered, to think of a calendar for the full 12 months?
It was announced last weekend that Cineworld are to close, temporarily, all their cinemas in the UK and US. With Covid-19 restrictions set to continue for some time it is understandable and, it would seem, a second postponement of the new James Bond film (to April 2021) was the final decider. On to the Monday morning, Radio 5, and a young presenter is musing on how strange it is that people should want to gather in a dark place and watch what is, effectively, ‘a very big TV screen’. Eegah!! [1963, one of the worst films ever made] So, where do we start . . .
QUEEN OF KATWE (2016) Saturday 10 October 1.15-3.15pm BBC 2
Katwe is the story of a young chess prodigy who, against all odds, earns the right to compete in an international tournament. Beautifully shot and a big success with members (2017-18 season, 88%).
THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962) Saturday 10 October 4.00-6.35pm Channel 31
Ford’s last masterpiece is the one where he famously re-examines and dissects the mythological west that he, more than any other director, had helped to create and invigorate.
BLUEPRINT FOR ROBBERY (1961) Saturday 10 October 7.05-9.05pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
This is a very modest production, virtually unknown, which is why I’m selecting it! It’s a heist drama starring two very familiar supporting players (J. Pat O’Malley and Robert Wilke) enjoying the extra responsibility; the director is Jerry Hopper, who gave us The Atomic City.
RAGING BULL (1980) Saturday 10 October 11pm-1.20am ITV 1
Superbly shot and edited (in b/w), it tells the story of the rise and fall of boxer Jake La Motta. Often cited as the best film of the 80s – and one of the best ever – Robert de Niro won the Oscar for Best Actor, but Scorsese and the film itself lost out to Robert Redford and Ordinary People.
RIO BRAVO (1959) Sunday 11 October 2.00-4.15pm BBC 2
Also Thursday evening, BBC 4 (see later notes) and preceded today by a Talking Pictures special.
FRANKENSTEIN (1931) Sunday 11 October 5.40-7.05pm Channel 70
The most influential horror movie ever made – and it remains one of the best. Boris Karloff, aided immeasurably by Jack Pierce’s make-up, is staggeringly good (pun intended). AND it’s double bill time! The Wolf Man, with Lon Chaney Jr in his signature role (Pierce again), follows at 7.05pm.
THE GUARDIANS (2017) Sunday 11 October 10.30pm-12.40am BBC 4
When I first saw The Guardians, I thought it was one of the best films of the year, so was very sad that it didn’t secure enough member votes. The settings are realised perfectly and the characters are extremely well-drawn; every frame carries meaning and it makes a wonderful tribute to the French women who had to endure a different war, 1914-1918.
SORRY, WRONG NUMBER (1948) Monday 12 October 2.50-4.40pm Film Four
Long before the invention of mobile phones, a bedridden heiress (Barbara Stanwyck) makes a landline call and overhears her murder being planned. The tension mounts admirably.
THE CONSTANT HUSBAND (1955) Monday 12 October 6.55-9.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
This is a less well-known Rex Harrison comedy in which he plays an amnesiac Casanova who appears to be married. Kay Kendall and Cecil Parker are good and the Technicolor is lovely.
THE RUNNING MAN (1963) Tuesday 13 October 9.10-11.15am Channel 40
In lesser hands, this story of a dogged insurance investigator on the trail of a conman, would be run-of-the-mill. However, director Carol Reed, cinematographer Robert Krasker (both worked on The Third Man), writer John Mortimer and actors Laurence Harvey, Lee Remick and Alan Bates lift it several notches.
LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL (1959) Tuesday 13 October 1.05-2.55pm Film Four
Sheriff Kirk Douglas is determined to leave town with the man who killed his wife; the complication is that he is the son of a friend (Anthony Quinn). John Sturges also made Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
THE SWIMMER (1968) Wednesday 14 October 9.10-11.05am Channel 40
A troubled businessman swims home using all the neighbourhood pools en route. It’s a metaphor for alienation and an incisive look at the rigidity of suburban mores; typically late ‘60s, but still fascinating – and Burt Lancaster is such a commanding presence it works, the odd confusion aside.
HARD TARGET (1993) Wednesday 14 October 9.00-11.00pm Channel 31
I wouldn’t normally suggest a Jean-Claude Van Damme film, but as it’s quite an exciting update of The Most Dangerous Game . . . Hong Kong action specialist John Woo, making his American debut, ensures that it is one of Van Damme’s three best films.
TIGER BAY (1959) Thursday 15 October 2.40-4.50pm Film Four
Making her debut, aged 12, Hayley Mills is astonishingly assured as the girl who helps a sailor (Horst Buchholz), on the run for murder, elude Cardiff’s police force. J Lee Thompson deserves much credit.
RIO BRAVO (1959) Thursday 15 October 8.00-10.15pm BBC 4
Growing up, I was hesitant as to how good Rio Bravo was – its construction seemed over-elaborate, mannered even, and the actors unusually relaxed. Later, I realised that these were strengths – Howard Hawks was inviting us to be a part of his group dynamic (a favourite theme), to be comfortable in their company and to enjoy the film’s many incidental pleasures. So, from its stunning Mac the Knife-style opening to its explosive ending, it’s Top Ten all the way. John Wayne is the sheriff, Dean Martin his drunken deputy (so keen was he to do it, he hired a plane after a Vegas show to go and do a screen test); Walter Brennan is as peerless as always, and Angie Dickinson an essential part of the mix. For all the participants, both before and behind the camera, it ranks with their very best work.
SUMMER HOLIDAY (1962) Friday 16 October 8.00-9.50pm BBC 4
This Friday is Musical Day! Option 1: mix a drink, open that box of chocolates and sing along in celebration of Cliff Richard’s 80th birthday. Nostalgia alert – these were the days when you could board a double-decker bus without a face mask.
WHITE RIOT (2019) Friday 16 October 10.00-11.45pm Sky Arts (Channel 11)
Option 2: in cinemas only a month ago, this is a perceptive and fascinating documentary about how punk helped to create the Rock Against Racism movement. I’m certain we have members who will watch either film – or both!
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES - (NOT SO) RANDOM FILMS
After six months of writing about films that, hopefully, have been of interest, I have decided that it is a good time to look back. So, eschewing the great classics (such as Casablanca) that we all know and love, here is a selection of the modest productions; the ones where I take extra pleasure in saying, out of the 300 or so commented on so far, ‘so pleased that I included that one’. I have limited myself to 20 titles and not used film society bookings. In alphabetical order:
GREAT SHORT FILM: THE BESPOKE OVERCOAT
TWO VERY GOOD DOCUMENTARIES: I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO and LEE MILLER: A LIFE AT THE FRONT LINE. (The latter was fascinating and instructional for me; I didn’t know her work.)
Interestingly, only five of the twenty were filmed in colour. If you missed them first time round, they will be on again – indeed, some of them have been already!
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