Well, the summer is almost over and it looks as though schools will be open again. So, any time now, Film Four should be reducing their holiday programming and giving us better options again. In the meantime, what we do have this week, are some interesting foreign language titles, but – a note of caution – two are definitely outside even the art house ‘norms’!
THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1992) Saturday 29 August 9.00-11.15pm Channel 31
This is the best version of a classic adventure story – with the possible exception of Maurice Tourneur’s in 1920. It has thrills, excitement, a memorable score – and Daniel Day-Lewis.
GUNN (1967) Saturday 29 August 10.00pm-12 midnight Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
This has definite curiosity value: creator-director Blake Edwards revisits his successful TV series (1958-60, 114 episodes) about a big city private eye.
THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY (2014) Sunday 30 August 1.05-3.20am Film Four
The central plot strand – an S & M relationship – might be off-putting (and is cert. 18), but the film has humour and is very well made; indeed, some critics believe it is a modern classic. S/T
RANSOM FOR A DEAD MAN (1971) Sunday 30 August 3.55-5.55pm Channel 21
This was the TVM that set up properly the iconic detective Columbo (there had been a stage production, and then Prescription Murder in 1968). I recall it having a UK theatrical release at the time and that the character and modus operandi were already fully formed.
MOVIE STRUCK (aka Pick a Star, 1937) Sunday 30 August 6.00-7.10pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
The film (a young innocent arrives in Hollywood) is quite charming, but not a good one; however, it does have two priceless scenes with Mr Laurel and Mr Hardy.
THE UNFORGIVEN (1960) Sunday 30 August 8.00-9.50am Channel 40
Its credentials are impressive: John Huston directs Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn and Audie Murphy from an Alan LeMay novel, and both the music and photography are splendid. Hepburn is a Kiowa claimed by both races who is unsure as to where she belongs.
BORDER (2018) Monday 31 August 12.55-2.45am Channel 4
This, the second of the week’s off-the-wall art house films (with s/t), is a very unusual psychological drama about a customs officer who forma a very strange friendship with a traveller.
PASSPORT TO PIMLICO (1949) Monday 31 August 2.30pm-4.10pm Talking Pictures (Ch 81)
The inimitable Margaret Rutherford plays Professor Hatton-Jones, who confirms that paperwork stating that Pimlico is part of Burgundy is genuine. It remains a comedy classic.
THE COLDITZ STORY (1954) Monday 31 August 4.10-6.20pm Channel 40
Surely this is the film about prisoners-of-war who are determined to escape and who come up with ingenious ways of doing so. Later, it would be a successful BBC TV series (with Robert Wagner).
MOLLY’S GAME (2017) Monday 31 August 10.00pm-12.10am BBC 2
Jessica Chastain (you might remember how good she was in Miss Sloane) is an ex-skier who builds an illegal poker-playing empire. Idris Elba and Kevin Costner lend good support. Based on a true story.
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953) Tuesday 1 September 4.50-7.10pm Channel 40
Adapted from the weighty bestseller by James Jones, and directed by Fred Zinnemann (High Noon), all six of the main cast do some of their best ever work – a quite remarkable feat that helps to explain its 8 Oscars. As does the legendary ‘clinch in the surf’ scene!
THE COMEDY MAN (1964) Wednesday 2 September 10.05-11.55pm Talking Pictures (Ch 81)
It’s a desperately quiet day today, but TP does offer us another, not-so-well-known drama in its 10pm slot. Kenneth More plays a struggling, middle-aged actor; the observations are well judged and there is a strong supporting cast.
THE LAST HURRAH (1958) Thursday 3 September 9.00-11.20am Channel 40
A touch too sentimental, perhaps, but this story of a politician with too little service left to give, is also very moving. John Ford elicits excellent performances from Spencer Tracy and his cast.
ANNE OF THE INDIES (1951) Thursday 3 September 4.25-6.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
How lucky is this? After referencing Jean Peter’s pirate movie last week, we get the chance to take a look (with tea and cake). Shiver my timbers!
PILI (2017) Friday 4 September 12.35-2.15am Film Four
The third of this week’s subtitled films is a much gentler affair. It’s the story of a young Tanzanian woman, who has HIV, trying to raise the money for a market stall. TV première.
THE YOUNG MR PITT (1942) Friday 4 September 12.00 noon-2.00pm Talking Pictures (Ch 81)
Made, in part, to boost wartime morale, this account of an earlier triumph over tyranny is very good, particularly the settings and period detail. Robert Donat was always a most subtle actor.
THE GUNS OF FORT PETTICOAT (1957) Friday 4 September 3.00-4.40pm Film Four
By 1957, Audie Murphy was trying for greater independence and quality of product and, in George Marshall’s capable hands, he succeeds here. He’s a cavalry officer who must quickly mould a group of defenceless women into a fighting force.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
Last week’s listing of The Taking of Pelham 123 and The Kidnappers gives me the opportunity to shine a light on the two directors, Joseph Sargent and Philip Leacock. They are relatively unknown, having occupied that netherworld ‘twixt film and television, where you produce very good work in both mediums, but are never asked to take on a really big film project. Joseph Sargent (1925-2014), an American of Italian ancestry, worked on The Man from Uncle, directed one of the best Star Trek episodes (‘The Corbomite Manouever’), the pilot for Longstreet, and The Marcus-Nelson Murders which gave the green light to Kojak (and earned Sargent an Emmy). His early TV movies, such as The Soldier who Declared Peace and Sunshine (a moving drama about a young woman who is dying of bone cancer), are well thought of. His 1996 miniseries Streets of Laredo (the third of the Lonesome Dove sagas) is superb and, in my opinion, contains the best performance ever given by an actress in a television western, courtesy of Sissy Spacek. His cinema work was less frequent, and more variable in quality, but, in addition to Pelham, he directed The Man (1972) and Gregory Peck as MacArthur (1977).
Conversely, Philip Leacock’s TV movies such as The Birdmen (1971), Baffled! (1973) and Dying Room Only (no. 102 on my 1975- viewing list), whilst offering unusual and intriguing subject matter, were not of the same quality. However, his track record with TV series was quite impressive: as a producer on Gunsmoke, Cimarron Strip and Hawaii Five-O, but also directing episodes of Route 66, Marcus Welby MD and some of the best episodes of The Waltons. Here he showed a particular affinity with the younger cast members and this was his greatest attribute throughout his career. From the age of 18, he was an assistant director on documentaries, acquiring both good technique and a concern for social issues that he then brought into his feature films. The standouts, in this regard, are: The Brave Don’t Cry (1952, a mining disaster), Innocent Sinners (1958, neglect of the young) and, in particular, Take a Giant Step (1959, racial prejudice) and Hand in Hand (1960, religious bigotry). The latter, endorsed by Eleanor Roosevelt, is a delight and should be a part of any school’s teaching of tolerance and understanding.
This week we have another birthday – James Bond is 90! Sean Connery was born on 25 August 1930 and the BBC is repeating Sean Connery: in His Own Words on BBC 2, 8pm Saturday. The film Entrapment follows. It’s too weak to be a fitting tribute; The Wind and the Lion, showing Friday on Channel 40, is better. On the TV front, and following in the footsteps of such popular series as A Family at War, Enemy at the Door, set in the Channel Islands, starts its run on Talking Pictures next month (Sunday 6 September at 9.00pm).
HUE AND CRY (1947) Saturday 22 August 3.50-5.30pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
This, the first of the Ealing comedies (with a script by T.E.B. Clarke), is well worth a look. Alastair Sim and some unruly young ‘uns take on a gang of crooks.
GRAVITY (2013) Saturday 22 August 8.35-10.00pm BBC1
It’s quite unusual, these days, for BBC 1 to show a film at peak time. Gravity, a drama about two astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, both excellent) stranded in orbit, was one of the best of its year.
BOYZ N THE HOOD (1991) Saturday 22 August (and Weds 26th) 9.00-11.10pm Channel 32
Unquestionably one of the key films of the 1990s, Boyz is an electrifying drama about what it was (and still is) to be black in inner-city America.
FIVE CARD STUD (1968) Sunday 23 August 6.55-9.00pm Channel 31
If you ever wondered how Agatha Christie would fare out west . . . it’s good fun and entertaining. Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum head a strong cast; genre specialist Henry Hathaway is at the helm and Marguerite Roberts writes the screenplay. A year later, both were working on True Grit.
THE BOOK THIEF (2014) Sunday 23 August 10.00pm-12.30am Channel 4
The Book Thief, the story of a young girl discovering the joys of reading as the Nazis burn ‘inappropriate’ literature, was popular – and successful – both in print and on film.
CONVICTED (1950) Monday 24 August 8.00-9.50am Channel 40
Glenn Ford was a prolific leading man, always consistent, but some of his work between 1948 and 1955 is obscure. This, in which he’s an ex-GI who pays for an incident in a nightclub, is such a film, but it doesn’t outstay its welcome and remains watchable.
MANHUNTER (1986) Monday 24 August 9.00-11.20pm ITV 4 (Channel 24)
This account of Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox, here) predates The Silence of the Lambs. The success of the latter was huge, so Manhunter is often forgotten – a shame, as some close followers of the character and novel think it’s the better film.
COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA (1952) Monday 24 August 11.00pm-1.00am Talking Pictures (Ch 81)
By 1952, some of the new kids on the Hollywood block were taking the studios into new dramatic territory. Burt Lancaster was great as the failed doctor, but Shirley Booth’s debut won the Oscar.
FALSE COLORS (1943) Tuesday 25 August 7.40-9.00am Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Yes! The range was a little more threadbare after Hopalong Cassidy left Paramount for UA, but who cares? We have a crooked banker, coveted water rights, Jimmy Rogers (son of Will) making his series debut as the young sidekick, Roy Barcroft as the sheriff (!) and William Boyd besting a young Bob Mitchum in the obligatory brawl!! The Saturday matinee is back, pardner.
NIGHT WITHOUT STARS (1951) Tuesday 25 August 5.05-6.50pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
I always thought that David Farrar did better in a secondary role, but he is good here as the partially-blind lawyer tangling with various villains on the Riviera. Winston Graham adapted his own novel.
THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (1974) Tuesday 25 August 10.45pm-12.50am Channel 40
The original is still the best: Robert Shaw holds the passengers on a New York subway train for ransom; Walter Matthau is brilliant as the transport cop trying to outwit him.
MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER (2017) Wednesday 26 August 12.45-2.55pm Film Four
Family adventure in which a young girl is taken to a land populated by witches. The Japanese animation is imaginative and there is good voice work from Kate Winslet and Jim Broadbent.
THE BIG OPERATOR (1959) Wednesday 26 August 10.05-11.55pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Not the best film of the week, but perhaps the most interesting. Mickey Rooney cuts loose as a hood on a violent rampage. Shot in Cinemascope and later retitled Anatomy of a Syndicate, it’s another rarity from Talking Pictures in the Wednesday 10pm slot. Say thank you, film fans!
THE KIDNAPPERS (1953) Thursday 27 August 9.30-11.30am Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Here’s a great little film in which two young boys steal a baby, when their grandfather refuses to let them have a dog. The child actors Jon Whiteley and Vincent Winter were awarded special Oscars.
WONDER (2017) Thursday 27 August 2.30-4.45pm Film Four
A much more recent release that features an impressive performance from a child actor (Jacob Tremblay, also in Room). It’s the absorbing, and moving, story of a boy with a facial disfigurement.
BRIDESHEAD REVISITED (2008) Thursday 27 August 9.00-11.05pm BBC 4
Whilst it isn’t quite good enough to challenge the memories of a remarkable TV series, a strong cast still does the novel justice. A further, brilliant touch from the BBC: immediately afterwards, they are showing a 1960 Face to Face with Evelyn Waugh.
COVER GIRL KILLER (1959) Friday 28 August 8.45-10.30am Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Terry Bishop, who had been working on several ITC adventure series, was given the chance to direct this British B-picture and he does well. Harry H. Corbett, wearing glasses that would be the envy of Cosmo Smallpiece, is the serial killer working his way through a magazine’s pin-ups.
THE WIND AND THE LION (1975) Friday 28 August 3.00-5.25pm Channel 40
Sean Connery is the Berber chieftain (don’t worry, you’ll adjust to the Scottish burr!) who kidnaps Candice Bergen and her children, much to the annoyance of US President Teddy Roosevelt.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
Staying with Maureen O’Hara, from last week, I watched The Long Gray Line (1955) and, courtesy of BBC iplayer, The Spanish Main (1945). It must be thirty years since I saw the latter, but it was pretty much as I remembered it – good Technicolor, Ms O’Hara fine but underused, too much filmed on studio sets and Paul Henreid too colourless for an action hero (and, therefore, confirming the comparisons I was making last week). Having said that, he had a good stab (sorry!) at the main duelling sequence, to my surprise. After ‘The End’ had appeared on screen, I did then turn my thoughts to some favourite swashbucklers. Douglas Fairbanks was the first to catch the eye, and films such as The Black Pirate (1926) hold up very well. He had already played Zorro in 1920 (and some say it was his best film) and Tyrone Power followed suit in 1940; this and The Black Swan (1942) certainly established his credentials. (Guy Williams also enjoyed a lot of success as TV’s Zorro in the late 1950s; some episodes were edited together and released to cinemas.) These films always seemed better with a good villain and the best was probably Basil Rathbone. This shouldn’t surprise us, as he was actually a good fencer – apparently, his enthusiasm for the sport began when he was at Repton School. However, Cornel Wilde could top that – he was a champion fencer with the US Olympic team, before switching to acting. It’s a shame, then, that he made relatively few contributions to the genre and none that are considered classics. Not that you had to be a top fencer to convince in such a role, especially if you had been practising with trainers like the great Fred Cavens. Derring-do made Tony Curtis a star and Stewart Granger’s version of Scaramouche (1952) has one of the greatest of all duelling sequences. Even so, for my money, the no. 1 swashbuckler remains Errol Flynn, with three outright classics and another half-dozen good ones over twenty years. I’ll resist the temptation to discuss the popular TV shows here, but there were several, including Roger Moore as Ivanhoe (‘shout and cheer, adventure is here’ as the song went) and Robert Shaw in The Buccaneers. What is particularly interesting about the latter is that when Robert Shaw did similar work on the big screen, Swashbuckler (1976) was considered to be one of the worst films of the decade. Perhaps things were different once there was no need to protect a fair maiden, although fans of today’s cinema would, no doubt, say that Johnny Depp is the best! And, coming full circle, it is a shame that the likes of Maureen O’Hara, Binnie Barnes (who played the pirate Anne Bonney in The Spanish Main) and Jean Peters (who plays Bonney with considerable gusto in Anne of the Indies, 1951) were rarely asked to do more of the same. When Geena Davis, a good actor, played such a role in CutThroat Island (1995), again, the film bombed.
PS. Sorry about the lack of foreign language films here, but Fanfan la Tulipe (1952) is splendid!
Help – are we starting a new week already? We do have some good films for you, although the selection has been getting a little tougher – it’s the height of summer, of course, and we are now seeing earlier choices repeated in the schedules. However, because several major sports events are absent from these same schedules, several channels are treating us to reruns of some TV classics. This week’s prime choice has to be Season 1 of The Bridge (the first four episodes Saturday, BBC 4), the Scandinavian series which is unquestionably one of the best of the decade.
I’M ALL RIGHT JACK (1959) Saturday 15 August 6.00-8.05 pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Jack is one of the best by the Boulting Brothers’ team – Ian Carmichael and Terry-Thomas are both great, but the standout performance comes from Peter Sellers as shop steward Fred Kite.
YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974) Sunday 16 August 12.15-2.00am BBC1
Blazing Saddles notwithstanding, this brilliant spoof of the horror genre is Mel Brooks’s best film. It’s more tightly controlled and better cast, with all the characters (monster, hunchback, bride and blind hermit) present and correct.
The FAR COUNTRY (1955) Sunday 16 August 11.25am-1.30pm ITV 4 (Channel 24)
It’s not the best of the Anthony Mann-James Stewart westerns, but is still better than most. The location shooting is excellent and Walter Brennan is faultless although he is almost upstaged by John McIntire’s colourful villain, who rules the town of Skagway.
TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH (1949) Sunday 16 August 6.15-9.00pm Channel 40
This is a taut, absorbing account of US flyers in England and the intolerable pressures on those who command; Gregory Peck and Dean Jagger are both superb. MGM’s Command Decision (1948) was good also (and Clark Gable served in the war), but this has the edge dramatically.
THE FIGHTING LADY (1944) Monday 17 August 7.50-9.10am Channel 40
Some 60,000 feet of film were shot on board the Essex-class carrier Fighting Lady for this doc. It won an Oscar and the narrator, Lt. Robert Taylor, U.S.N., was always proud of his involvement.
THE GO-BETWEEN (1971) Monday 17 August 11.00pm-1.20am Talking Pictures (Ch 81)
Julie Christie was just about at the peak of her career, when she worked with Alan Bates in this splendid adaptation of the LP Hartley novel.
ONCE UPON A TEXAS TRAIN (1988) Tuesday 18 August 1.10-3.05pm Channel 40
Burt Kennedy was never a top director, but he did a nice line in comedy westerns. The pleasure here comes from watching a veteran cast, with over 1,000 credits between them, go through their paces.
BELLE (2013) Tuesday 18 August 6.55-9.00pm Film Four
Gugu Mbatha-Raw is excellent as Dido Belle, the first mixed-race aristocrat in Britain. Not surprisingly, it did rather well as a Silver Screen presentation at the Regent!
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST (1952) Wednesday 19 August 7.05-9.00pm Channel 81
This is still regarded as the best version of Oscar Wilde’s comedy of manners; at least in part because it stars Michael Redgrave and the inimitable Edith Evans.
DISTRICT 9 (2009) Wednesday 19 August 9.00-11.20pm Channel 32
District 9 was one of the best, most intriguing sci-fi parables in a long time. Aliens have landed, only to be confined to slums on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
THE BEDFORD INCIDENT (1965) Thursday 20 August 2.55-5.05pm Channel 40
Probably one of the last major features to be made in b/w, which suits the subject matter as Sidney Poitier’s journalist watches captain Richard Widmark’s nuclear war games get out of hand.
THE LOOKING GLASS WAR (1969) Thursday 20 August 9.00-11.10pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
For those of you who really like John Le Carré’s novels, this is a good chance to catch an early adaptation. Christopher Jones is the refugee on a mission in East Germany.
HOUNDS OF LOVE (2016) Thursday 20 August 11.15pm-1.25am Film Four
Here we have a nerve-shredding Australian thriller in which a serial-killer couple’s latest victim turns the tables. WARNING – it’s brutal at times and is deservedly certificate 18! Freeview première.
LADY BIRD (2017) Friday 21 August 9.00-10.30pm BBC 2
There are two premières tonight; this, the story of a Californian teenager trying to leave home to study in New York, is the easier watch. (2018-19 season, 76%.)
NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (2016) Friday 21 August 10.00pm-12.20am Channel 32
This is the more difficult watch: a psycho-thriller in which a top-notch cast plays out a series of obsessions that might be fact or fiction.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
A few evenings ago, I was thinking about which DVD to put on. Jean de Florette was in pole position, but then I had a sudden urge to watch Rio Grande again. The next day, I became aware that we were approaching the 100th anniversary of Maureen O’Hara’s birth: 17 August 1920 (just before midnight, she says in her memoir ‘Tis Herself). So, it seems timely to reflect on her career. Often referred to as the Queen of Technicolor, she was undoubtedly a star and one who could hold her own, physically, with the toughest of leading men. In her sixty or so features, she made half-a-dozen classics including The Hunchback of Notre Dame, How Green Was My Valley and The Quiet Man. And, whilst her perceived persona is one of a feisty, spit-in-your-eye Irish colleen, she could play a scene with considerable delicacy. (In Rio Grande, Ford ‘stops’ the film as she is being serenaded by the Sons of the Pioneers, so that the audience can think about what was, is and can be for her character; she carries off the moment quite beautifully.) Yet, none of her performances brought her even close to a major acting award. Why? In part, perhaps, because she was too much the all-rounder who worked too often with weaker directors (Richard Wallace or George Sherman, say, rather than William Wyler). Also, whilst she spent some time, productively, at Fox, I don’t think she was seen as being valuable enough to deserve the big build up and be given the top assignments, unlike Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland. Whilst most of us might say these also happened to be better actors, it was easier for them to dominate a scene, in some of their most acclaimed films, when working opposite Paul Henreid, Mark Stevens or Gary Merrill than with Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda or John Wayne, as Ms. O’Hara had to.
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