Some of this week’s TV schedules have been taken over by the FA Cup Final and preliminaries for the Eurovision Song Contest, but I think that there are enough films to keep everyone ticking over! Not a film as such, but can I also draw your attention to an Arena special: Delia Derbyshire – the Myths and the Legendary Tapes (Sunday, 16 May at 9.00pm on BBC 4). A while ago, I wrote a piece on TV themes and referred to the work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop – and the creator of the Doctor Who theme was a true pioneering genius of electronic music.
BANK HOLIDAY (1938) Saturday 15 May 12.15-2.05pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Director Carol Reed’s first sizeable hit shows good characterisation and an adept use of naturalistic settings, as it takes the audience on a day trip to Brighton. It also dares to mix the (slightly) posh and the working class. Margaret Lockwood and Kathleen Harrison are fine, but so is Wilfred Lawson. His fondness for the bottle limited his career somewhat, but there are still several gems on his CV including The Long Voyage Home (1940), Becket and Tom Jones (both 1963).
A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL (1966) Saturday 15 May 5.25-7.40pm Channel 41
Aside from those directed by Sergio Leone, the three best spaghetti westerns, more often than not, are deemed to be The Big Gundown (1966), The Big Silence (1967) and this one, originally titled ¿Quien sabe? The story takes place during the Mexican Revolution and, in the hands of Gian Maria Volonte and Klaus Kinski, certainly holds the attention, but Italian westerns were renowned for their look (and sound), not their letters. And, in this instance, Luis Bacalov (and Ennio Morricone) composed the score and the art director, Sergio Canevari, had worked on the classic Battle of Algiers. Viewer caution: it isn’t clear which version is being transmitted; the longest is most likely lost; the 102m version would be fine (and matches the time slot); the truncated UK print would disappoint!
STRAWBERRY ROAN (1944) Sunday 16 May 11.45am-1.25pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
This is a rare British film, based on a then popular novel, in which William Hartnell is a farmer who falls for a dancer and marries her. She cannot, however, shake off her city ways. The director, Maurice Elvey, had a prolific career, but is equally unknown to modern viewers. I had the privilege of travelling up to London, a few years ago, for a showing of his rediscovered The Life Story of David Lloyd George (1918) and it was quite an event!
SWORD OF TRUST (2019) Sunday 16 May 11.10pm-1.00am Film Four P
What a great time, politically, to unveil the final film of writer-director Lynn Shelton! A woman decides to sell her grandfather’s Civil War sword; it also happens that he believed it to be proof that the Secessionists had triumphed. Perhaps she will find some conspiracy theorists willing to pay a hefty sum in order to own such an important artefact . . .
LAST OF THE COMANCHES (1952) Monday 17 May 11.15am-1.00pm Channel 41
A while ago, we listed the rather splendid Humphrey Bogart war film Sahara (1943); I mentioned that it was remade as a western – and here it is! Broderick Crawford is the cavalry sergeant attempting to get some stagecoach passengers and his men (including Lloyd Bridges, who was in both films) out of danger. Whilst it isn’t High Noon or Shane, the cast gives it everything, the colour photography and location filming are very good, and the action and suspense are building from the opening credits. Early on, look out for a brief appearance by Steve Forrest, billed under his real name of William Andrews.
THE IMITATION GAME (2014) Monday 17 May 6.45-9.00pm Film Four
Members will be very familiar with The Imitation Game, but it is really good and always worth seeing again. Benedict Cumberbatch is superb as a pre-banknote Alan Turing, to whom the country owes a huge debt.
DARK COMMAND (1940) Tuesday 18 May 11.00am-12.55pm Film Four
After John Wayne returned to his home studio following a hugely successful loan-out to Walter Wanger for Stagecoach, Republic decided to throw caution to the winds. They reteamed him with Claire Trevor, hired Raoul Walsh to direct, brought in Walter Pidgeon from MGM, used Roy Rogers as the wayward younger brother and still found room for George “Gabby” Hayes to take care of the comedy! The difference in budget allocation was considerable, therefore - $400,000 as opposed to $35,000 for a 3 Mesquiteers western. This also meant that their A-productions could be a little heavy on plot – in this case, election of a marshal, romance/marriage, local politics, pro-South guerrilla raids and a little dentistry. Whatever, it is very entertaining and Republic’s Second Unit directors knew how to put over exhilarating stunts and action sequences. The source novel was W.R. Burnett’s A Texas Iliad, so we ought not to be surprised by the revelation that William Shakespeare might have hailed from the Lone Star state.
AMERICAN WOMAN (2018) Tuesday 18 May 9.00-11.15pm Film Four P
Almost immediately, the critical consensus was that we had a career-best performance from Sienna Miller. She plays a single mother (and grandmother), fiercely independent, whose life begins to fall apart when her daughter disappears. Even so, she takes on the responsibility of raising her grandson and the audience is willing her to succeed.
THE SINGER NOT THE SONG (1960) Wednesday 19 May 2.45-5.30pm Talking Pictures (Ch 81)
Well – the film isn’t very good (Paris-presse declared ‘il faut le voir pour le croire’), but if you enjoy something outrageous it might just interest you (as it did me many years ago). Filmed in Spain, it has Dirk Bogarde as a Mexican bandit in very tight leather trousers and John Mills as the village’s Catholic priest. With Mylène Demongeot’s presence creating a potential love triangle, the church services are put under some strain. Bogarde did not want to work alongside John Mills and could be awkward in such circumstances, which surely did not help the cause!
WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005) Wednesday 19 May 9.00-11.15pm Film Four
Steven Spielberg is too good a director not to do justice to the HG Wells novel. The first half is particularly strong and there are some great set-pieces, especially the initial onslaught and at the ferry crossing. It is less effective in the final section and I still prefer the 1953 original; even so, it is still so much better than the recent, dire, BBC adaptation. Mr Spielberg pays a deft tribute to the original at the very end – the grandparents are played by Gene Barry and Ann Robinson.
DECISION BEFORE DAWN (1951) Thursday 20 May 4.45-7.10pm Channel 41
This is a wartime spy drama with an intriguing difference – Oskar Werner is a German POW who agrees to work for the Americans, in the belief that it might help to shorten the war. Richard Basehart is his usual sturdy self and the German locations are a big plus.
PARIS, TEXAS (1984) Thursday 20 May 11.15pm-2.05am Film Four
Paris, Texas became one of the best-reviewed films of the 1980s. Director Wim Wenders brings an analytical, unprejudiced eye to the proceedings. Harry Dean Stanton (you might remember his delightful cameo in The Straight Story) is the drifter who tries to reconnect with his son, ex-wife and his brother. It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and many other top prizes, and is probably still Wenders’ most acclaimed film. The Ry Cooder soundtrack is a real bonus, too!
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956) Friday 21 May 2.30-4.55pm Film Four
Hitchcock decided to remake his own 1934 thriller; it was the only time he did so and it was not a wise move. It is difficult to fault either James Stewart or Doris Day and the plot retains some tension (their son is kidnapped, so that they will not spill the beans on an assassination attempt), but the extra 40 minutes, colour and VistaVision don’t improve the original. Que sera, sera, I suppose . . .
TESTAMENT OF YOUTH (2014) Friday 21 May 11.20pm-1.20am BBC 2
Testament had a good reception on release and deservedly so. Alicia Vikander (she is a busy actor!) plays writer Vera Brittain, who volunteered as a nurse and experienced the horrors of the Western front. It is performed with sensitivity and filmed with some skill by James Kent, here making his big-screen debut. There are lots of very good films that do not reach the absolute pinnacle of achievement (how could they all?) and this is one of them.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
Johnny Crawford passed away on 29 April, aged 75 and Lee Aaker on 1 April; both were known primarily as child actors. Although Crawford impressed at rodeos later in life his main claim to fame was playing the son of Chuck Connors in the TV series The Rifleman; similarly, Lee Aaker was in The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, had a few film appearances in the 1950s (The Atomic City and Hondo for example), but very little thereafter and eventually worked as a carpenter.
Of course, some child actors did go on to exceed their earlier efforts in adult life. Natalie Wood and Elizabeth Taylor spring immediately to mind; Anna Paquin has built a decent career after her sensational start in The Piano (1993); Jodie Foster, as well as acting, has become a director of some note. Roddy McDowall, apart from a hiatus in the mid-1950s, was in demand continuously for a period of sixty years. And even Jackie Coogan, who starred alongside Charlie Chaplin in The Kid (1921) and who, by all accounts, had earned $4,000,000 by the 1930s, managed to keep busy in minor films (Sex Kittens Go to College) before re-inventing himself as Uncle Fester in The Addams Family on television.
However, even the greatest child star of them all, Shirley Temple, had called it a day when barely into her twenties – although 1920s star Baby Peggy (b. 1918) topped this by some distance. She made over 50 films between 1921 and 1924 before her days of stardom came quickly to an end. She passed away in 2020, aged 101. The most successful child actor in the 1930s, apart from Shirley Temple, has to be Freddie Bartholomew (1924-1992). He made some very successful costume dramas, including David Copperfield and Anna Karenina (both 1935) and Captains Courageous (1937, opposite Spencer Tracy), but only made eight films after 1941. And, it has to be said, despite modern education methods and, presumably, better planning and more sophisticated talent agencies, sustaining a career appears not to have become any easier: Macaulay Culkin soon faded after the huge success of Home Alone (1990). Perhaps in the UK young actors are more grounded and willing to engage with their responsibilities – both Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe became fine ambassadors for their profession.
Thankfully, we still have some actors willing to be interviewed and to share their memories of working during Hollywood’s golden years: Claude Jarman Jr who became a star overnight after his debut in The Yearling (1946) opposite Gregory Peck makes a very good interviewee. Mickey Kuhn, who is, I think, the last surviving actor who appeared in GWTW, must have some fascinating stories about that film and the subsequent decade.
Finally, a reminder of how much fortunes can differ. Philippe de Lacy was found in a shell hole in France just before the 1918 armistice, by a Red Cross nurse, and taken to the US (his mother and five siblings had been killed). His ten years as an actor included Peter Pan (1924) and Mother Machree (1927). Bobby Driscoll won a special Oscar in 1949 (aged 12) for The Window and followed this with Treasure Island (1951) and voice work for Disney’s Peter Pan (1953); he was taking heroin by the age of sixteen, died alone in an abandoned tenement aged thirty-one and is buried in a pauper’s grave on Hart Island.
I think there is something for everyone this week. My Thursday and Friday evenings are already mapped out, anyway, with Harry and Tonto and Death Line. There’s a contrast for you! TP continues to introduce more of the TV series from the 1950s and 1960s. I suspect that Sherlock Holmes will be the Ronald Howard series (I have a few episodes on DVD somewhere). Really interesting, though, will be One Step Beyond, a sci-fi series about psychic phenomena. It was mostly an American series that ran for over 90 episodes, BUT the third season was made in the UK (13 episodes) circa 1961. These episodes featured some of our best actors including Christopher Lee and Peter Wyngarde.
FRIED GREEN TOMATOES AT THE WHISTLE STOP CAFÉ (1991) Saturday 8 May 1.10-3.50pm Ch 31
In its day, Tomatoes was very much a staple of the film society and art house circuit (although we did not show it in Lyme). It is a friendship story-within-a-story, as an elderly Jessica Tandy (nominated for an Oscar) recounts some adventures from the 1920s and 1930s to housewife Kathy Bates.
WHEN WE WERE KINGS (1996) Saturday 8 May 10.00-11.20pm BBC 2
We did, however, open the 1997-98 season with this excellent documentary (audience reaction: 80.5%). It uses interviews and archive footage to look back at the Ali v Foreman championship bout in 1974 (the legendary “Rumble in the Jungle”), and to expound on its wider socio-political significance. Don’t be put off by the subject matter (boxing) – it is very good indeed. Preceded by Muhammad Ali: a Life in Ten Pictures – the full story of the most important sportsman of the 20th-century.
CITY OF TINY LIGHTS (2016) Sunday 9 May 12.05-1.50Am BBC 1
Today, we have a good opportunity to compare two fine actors early in their careers. (More or less – it is now eight years since the release of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.) Now, in 2021 Riz Ahmed is very much the flavour of the month, following his performance in Sound of Metal (2019). In this commendable attempt to transfer an American-style private eye thriller to Britain, Ahmed is the gumshoe tasked with finding a missing prostitute. Before you can shout ‘Raymond Chandler’, he finds himself navigating some very murky waters.
PRICK UP YOUR EARS (1987) Sunday 9 May 10.00pm-12midnight Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Gary Oldman made critics sit up and take notice with his brilliant portrayal of playwright Joe Orton. Not that he was the only one on top form: Stephen Frears directed, Alan Bennett wrote the screenplay and Alfred Molina was also quite exceptional as Kenneth Halliwell. In 2021, Oldman is a lauded veteran who, whilst happy to appear in franchise movies (Harry Potter and Batman), has always taken on challenging roles (JFK, Romeo Is Bleeding, Darkest Hour – and not forgetting his directorial debut Nil By Mouth). Please note that Prick Up Your Ears retains its 18 certificate. It has a repeat showing on Wednesday evening.
RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL (1958) Monday 10 May 12noon-1.55pm Channel 32
The Audie Murphy westerns keep coming thick and fast, courtesy of Paramount Network! Here, he is a bank robber mistaken for a new marshal and we wonder which trail he will take (sort of). It was one I caught up with relatively late in life and I found it to be an enjoyable time-filler, played slightly tongue-in-cheek and with the bonus of an early performance from Walter Matthau as a wily judge.
CAPERNAUM (2018) Monday 10 May 11.40pm-2.15am Film Four P
Thankfully, this Freeview première has saved me from trying to recommend Killer Mermaids. It is a film currently on our radar, being that it has received multiple awards and nominations, and is a sub-titled drama from Lebanon. Young Zain runs away from home and sues his parents for having given birth to him. Capernaum is a moving, affecting story in our best traditions of bringing you some of the finest films in world cinema.
THE TWO-HEADED SPY (1958) Tuesday 11 May 5.15-7.10pm Channel 41
This could be a world exclusive – two films featuring Gia Scala in just over 24 hours! Here, she co-stars with Jack Hawkins (rather than Audie Murphy) in the true story of a British spy operating in Berlin under the very noses of senior Nazis. It is a suspenseful, entirely believable account, well-told by a committed cast of good actors and the director, André de Toth. Michael Caine also has a small role.
SECRET IN THEIR EYES (2015) Tuesday 11 May 11.05pm-1.25am Channel 31
In my opinion, the Argentinean original (released in 2009) is one of the best films LRFS has shown. This is the American remake and the story is transposed to Los Angeles and the FBI. It isn’t as good, obviously, but Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman are quality actors who are always worth watching.
PALE RIDER (1985) Wednesday 12 May 9.00-11.20pm Channel 25
A number of critics dismissed Pale Rider as being an inferior rehash of Shane and with some justification. Even so, it was one of the few westerns of the 1980s that merited analysis and discussion and also enjoyed success at the box office. Clint Eastwood is the mysterious preacher, handy with both gun and axe handle, who rides into the valley and helps some struggling miners and their families. There is an ecological message (and questioning of big business) in there, combined with the mythological (Biblical) effect that Clint, as director, wanted. Interestingly, Dean Riesner wrote the Season 5 episode of Rawhide Incident of the Pale Rider and also worked on High Plains Drifter which shares some common traits with tonight’s film.
THERE IS ANOTHER SUN (1951) Wednesday 12 May 11.05pm-1.00am TP (Channel 81)
This is an above-average, b/w drama about the unseemly goings on at a funfair, as two workers plot to rob their boss. Maxwell Reed is the nominal star, but it was Laurence Harvey who grabbed the attention, and went on to build a major career (as did director Lewis Gilbert). Look out for comedy stalwarts Leslie Dwyer (Mr Partridge in Hi-di-Hi) and Arthur Mullard (here willing to box Mr Harvey for a purse of £1!!).
WHEN HARRY MET SALLY . . . (1989) Thursday 13 May 9.00-10.30pm BBC 4
The two best films of the day clash this evening, although it helps that Sally will be on iPlayer for another week or so. Arguably the best Woody Allen comedy that wasn’t made by Woody Allen, Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan are the acquaintances who beg to differ on how friendship and romance may, or may not, intermingle successfully.
HARRY AND TONTO (1974) Thursday 13 May 9.00-11.20pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Question: Who won the Oscar for Best Actor in 1974? Answer: Art Carney for this role – and his fellow nominees were Albert Finney, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino! He plays a widower, evicted from his New York apartment, who takes his cat, Tonto, on a journey across America.
DEATH LINE (1972) Friday 14 May 9.00-10.55pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Well, this is a turn up for the books! For once Donald Pleasence is the good guy, a police inspector investigating some disappearances in the London Underground. Little does he realise, but a group of cannibals, living in the tunnels since Victorian times, is responsible. Personally, I am delighted to see that the film’s reputation is undimmed amongst horror aficionados, as it was a key element in my formative viewing years. As well as catching the likes of GWTW and Ben-Hur on re-release (unusual for a teenager in the early 1970s), I must now confess to seeking out X-rated fare, when not quite of age. If I remember correctly, this required a bus journey to the Unit Four cinema in Brierfield and it was the support feature. All these years later, I can still remember key moments and scenes. I am pretty certain that the main feature was a psychological horror called Night Hair Child which teamed Britt Ekland with Mark Lester (!). If this ever turns up on Freeview (uncut), I would, as the phrase goes, be absolutely gobsmacked!
LONG SHOT (2019) Friday 14 May 10.45pm-12.40am BBC 1 P
Back to earth with a bump! We finish the week with a ‘modern’ romantic comedy (cue swearing, sex scenes, etc.), as a journalist (Seth Rogen) is hired by his former babysitter (Charlize Theron) as a speechwriter for her presidential candidature. As you would of course.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
FILM OR SONG?
Usually, as I type up the weekly notes, I click onto BBC Sounds and play the Bob Harris Country Show (or similar). Two weeks ago, he played a track by Poco following the death of founder member Rusty Young, aged 75. A day or so later, as ‘The Essential Collection’ played on the car stereo, I began to mentally sift through some titles that are common to film and song.
1. ROSE OF CIMARRON. The 1952 film is a poor, low-budget western with spotty colour starring Jack Buetel, who had been in Howard Hughes’ notorious The Outlaw alongside Jane Russell, and Mala Powers. The song, however, is one of Poco’s best, melodic and with good instrumentation; undoubtedly, it helped to make the album probably their most popular UK release.
2. MULLHOLLAND DRIVE. The song is on the 2012 album Handwritten by The Gaslight Anthem. Not a bad one, either, but the 2001 David Lynch film had many critics quite beside themselves, as they placed it in the masterpiece category.
3. THE ENTERTAINER – the final track to complete a rather nice KT Tunstall album Tiger Suit. It was also the title of a 1960 drama in which Laurence Olivier had one of the best roles (music-hall song-and-dance man Archie Rice) of his distinguished career. He had also played him on stage and director Tony Richardson gave us a valuable record of Olivier at the peak of his powers.
4. WALK ON THE WILD SIDE. The 1962 film has several pluses – an Elmer Bernstein score, titles by the great Saul Bass and a cast that includes Jane Fonda, Anne Baxter and Barbara Stanwyck - but the film per se doesn’t quite work. Probably because it was five years too early to shed the mantle of MPPA censorship. The song, however, is a Lou Reed classic. Also on the Transformer album is perhaps his best-known song, Perfect Day, which happens to be the title of a 1929 Laurel and Hardy short.
5. A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS and NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH. Al Stewart is a respected, and popular, singer-songwriter (who grew up in Dorset) and these are two of his songs. Good though they are, Night Train to Munich (1940) has Rex Harrison as a spy in a fast-moving and witty escapade and A Man for All Seasons (1966) won six Oscars, including Best Picture, Actor and Director.
6. STRANGERS ON A TRAIN – is the last track on the Travis album Everything at Once. The film is the one where two strangers agree to swop murders and would be placed – easily – in Hitchcock’s Top Ten.
7. COLD TURKEY. A Dick Van Dyke film made in 1969, but not released until 1971, tells its own story. It was the last film of the great character actor Edward Everett Horton (Top Hat etc.) as well. It is also the title of a John Lennon song (as a solo artist) – so, in this instance, the song has it.
8. THE MULE – is track no. 5 on the Deep Purple album Fireball which, I think, was released 50 years ago in 1971 (good grief – feeling old!). The film is the most recent acting success of Clint Eastwood; if, post-Covid-19, he decides to retire, then it would be a fitting end to his career.
9. NEW FRONTIER. The song, written by Adam Duritz, is on the Counting Crows album Hard Candy and it is a shame that the band isn’t better known. The film (aka Frontier Horizon) is a 1939 Three Mesquiteers B-western. It is the last of the batch of eight that starred John Wayne (rather than Robert Livingston and others) and is the weakest of the set. It does, however, have Phylis Isley as the female lead and she was paid $75 for the privilege. Not long after, she changed her name to Jennifer Jones, won an Oscar for The Song of Bernadette (1943) and married producer David O. Selznick in 1949.
10. DESPERADO. In 1995, Robert Rodriguez effectively remade El Mariachi on a bigger budget. It turned out well enough, but the song (and the album) is one of the best from The Eagles. Glenn Frey plays the evocative piano and Don Henley’s vocals are superb. I was surprised to read somewhere that he wasn’t happy with the original recording and felt that he could have sung it better, had they had more recording time. If that is true, then perhaps any roughness makes the song just right – it is a good way to drift off and bring to mind innumerable portrayals on the silver screen. Later on, the song led to a series of four TVM starring Alex MacArthur, the first being Desperado (1987). They popped up on late night TV in the UK beginning in the first week of December 1990 here in the southwest. I would quite like to see them again – wonder if they are on region 2 DVD . . .
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