In a sign that the film world might be returning to some kind of normal, the Venice Film Festival was held recently. Cate Blanchett headed the jury, there was a special award for Tilda Swinton and the Frances McDormand film Nomadland won the Golden Lion. We’ll definitely be tracking that one! Closer to home, I’m delighted to say that the BBC showings of Casablanca and Doctor Zhivago were not isolated one-offs. I’d missed the fact that there is a Thursday Film Club season with a second – first?! – showing on a Sunday. This takes me back to my very happy, formative viewing years with the BBC’s High Adventure, Saturday Western, Wayne in Action and Midnight Movie seasons. I think the films to come are all going to be 5-star classics and will be commented on here!
THE DESERT RATS (1953) Saturday 26 September 7.10-9.00pm Channel 40
Sequels were virtually unheard of 75 years ago; Richard Burton and Robert Newton filmed this follow-up to The Desert Fox(1951) on a three-week schedule (including drinking sessions). James Mason cameos as Rommel and it’s all done very efficiently.
McQUEEN (2017) Saturday 26 September 9.45-11.30pm BBC 2
This is a Freeview première for the documentary on iconic fashion designer Alexander McQueen, who committed suicide in 2010 aged forty.
THE LAST WAGON (1956) Sunday 27 September 2.15-4.20pm Channel 31
Wagon doesn’t immediately spring to mind for ‘best of’ lists, but it’s really good. It is accomplished technically, looks great and Richard Widmark is splendid as Comanche Todd who helps – reluctantly – a small group of settlers, the survivors of an attack by hostiles.
NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) Sunday 27 September 4.50-7.00pm BBC 2
Also showing Thursday evening, BBC 4 (see later notes)
SNOWPIERCER (2013) Sunday 27 September 9.00-11.35pm Film Four
Following the success of Parasite Bong Joon-ho’s dystopian sci-fi thriller, set aboard a train that is home to a second ice age’s few survivors, has (rightly) attracted enhanced interest (and a TV series).
THE GIRL IN THE TAXI (1937) Monday 28 September 9.25-10.45am Talking Pictures (Ch 81)
Welcome to the first of two Freeview debuts today, both British, but poles apart. This is a light, musical farce, featuring the aristocracy, suitors and ‘correct’ marriages.
DARK RIVER (2017) Monday 28 September 11.15pm-11.05am Film Four
This was promising director Clio Barnard’s third feature. Ruth Wilson returns home to help her brother save the family farm. It is strong on character and settings, but don’t expect James Herriot!
CASH ON DEMAND (1961) Tuesday 29 September 11.20am-1.00pm Channel 40
This is a relatively unknown, but much respected, British co-feature. Peter Cushing is the bank manager whose life is about to change dramatically and works very well (again) with André Morell. Hopefully, the bank holds more than the cost of the film - £37,000.
BRITISH INTELLIGENCE (1940) Tuesday 29 September 4.45-6.00pm Talking Pictures (Ch 81)
Ha! We have a Warner Bros B-feature that uses a First World War background to warn against spies and dodgy butlers (the inimitable Boris Karloff). Only last week, this was my ‘bought years ago, still shrink wrapped’ lockdown DVD. It runs just over the hour, so perfect for tea and cake!
HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE (1965) Wednesday 30 September 12.50-3.10pm Film Four
Fear not ladies, this is a Jack Lemmon/Terry-Thomas comedy, typically 1960s (frothy, frenetic wives/ husbands/ girlfriends, often Tony Curtis or Rock Hudson). A bachelor wakes up married . . .
JESSE JAMES (1939) Thursday 30 September 1.50-4.00pm Channel 31
Tyrone Power is the famous outlaw and Henry Fonda his brother Frank; there is a fine score, glorious Technicolor and the quieter moments and action scenes mesh well. The main criticism levelled is that he is romanticised (true), but there were also genuine attempts at authenticity with location shooting near Pineville, Missouri – and research supplied by his granddaughter.
NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) Thursday 1 October 8.00-10.00pm BBC 4
Top-drawer, quintessential Hitchcock has Cary Grant the subject of mistaken identity, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason, the legendary crop-dusting scene and a climax on Mount Rushmore.
THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (1969) Thursday 1 October 10.00pm-12.15am TP (Channel 81)
Bureau is an Edwardian-period black comedy with an eclectic cast (Oliver Reed, the late Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas and Philippe Noiret). It is great fun for both cast and audience!
I REMEMBER MAMA (1948) Friday 2 October 11.20-2.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Mama is a lovingly made, exquisitely detailed (i.e. typically George Stevens) drama about a Norwegian immigrant family in San Francisco. It gave Irene Dunne a late-career hit although Cedric Hardwicke steals the acting honours. The later I Dismember Mama (1972) was quite different!
FLIGHT NURSE (1953) Friday 2 October 2.30-4.20pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Wow, this is a rarity! Set during the Korean War, Joan Leslie performs gamely as the nurse who helps to evacuate wounded troops. Allan Dwan had been directing since 1911 (some 400 films) and knew every trick in the book; indeed, he’d invented quite a few himself. Even he can’t make it a silk purse, but it was only ever intended as a second feature and money was very tight, by then, at Republic.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
A slight departure this week: inspired by the Thursday Film Club, I’ll take a brief look back at some entries in earlier BBC film seasons.
MAN OF CONQUEST (1939) Saturday 10 June 1967, 7.00pm BBC 1
Richard Dix stars as Sam Houston, the founder of Texas. It was the first time Republic Studios tried to compete with the majors and earned them three Oscar nominations. I was too young to see it then (1967, that is!) and, 50 years on, it is one of the few ‘must see’ sound westerns that I haven’t caught up with – yet!
DANGEROUS EXILE (1957) Tuesday 21 December 1971, 7.30pm BBC 1
Were it to be televised now, we could at least enjoy the colour! Apparently, it is quite a rousing swashbuckler, with a good score, in which Louis Jourdan helps rescue a young Louis XVII and takes him to Wales by balloon. Well, I’ll be looking out for it! It was directed by Brian Desmond Hurst (he had a fascinating life and career) and some of it was filmed on Cornish locations.
X THE UNKNOWN (1956) Saturday 15 July 1972, 11.50pm BBC 2
I remember my parents letting me stay up for this and it was scary! A misty, remote part of Scotland and a monstrous sludge is snacking on the supporting cast. (Leo McKern and Peter Hammond, then working on ITC adventure series such as The Adventures of Robin Hood were in there somewhere.) Dean Jagger popped over from the States to destroy it and Barry Norman’s father, Leslie, directed. On initial release, it was half of a double-‘X’ bill with a French film called The Fiends (the French classic Les Diaboliques!), but now – good grief – it is a PG! I still think it was scary . . .
THE SATURDAY WESTERN
THE LAW AND JAKE WADE (1958) Saturday 1 May 1976, 3pm BBC 2
Robert Taylor’s long tenure as a star at MGM was coming to an end, when he teamed up with Richard Widmark for this western. They make a good pairing, John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven) directs (he uses CinemaScope particularly well) and the supporting cast is a strong one. The leading actress is Patricia Owens; only eight years before, she had been a schoolgirl in The Happiest Days of Your Life, but by the mid-1950s had been given a shot at Hollywood stardom.
WAYNE IN ACTION
STAGECOACH (1939) Friday 15 January 1971, 10.15pm BBC 1
Another late night watch – these were happy days! Even back then, I knew it was a cut above the rest and, today, I still think so. In terms of rhythm, dialogue, ensemble performances and settings (sets with ceilings were quite the innovation), it is well-nigh perfect. (Orson Welles watched it 40 times in preparation for Citizen Kane.) So, it remains at no. 5 in my all-time list. We showed it at the Regent in our inaugural season (March 1989 marked 50 years since it was released) and it scored 89%. I watched it with some anxiety on the big screen – would the entrance of the Ringo Kid be as defining a moment in cinema history as Dilys Powell (if memory serves) said it was? Yes. And John Ford’s audacity in topping the legendary chase sequence, the likely climax to the film, with a shoot-out in Lordsburg, was a masterstroke.
After recommending the film Goldstone recently, I’m delighted to see that series 2 of the TV series Mystery Road, starring Aaron Pedersen as Aboriginal detective Jay Swan, starts on Saturday (BBC 4) – with the bonus of Sofia Helin (The Bridge) as an archaeologist. A reminder, too, that Sky Arts has now transferred to Freeview (Channel 11). Elsewhere, there are several classics showing this week – a true sign that autumn is on the way.
RIVER OF NO RETURN (1954) Saturday 19 September 4.45-6.40pm Channel 31
Neither director Otto Preminger nor Marilyn Monroe made many westerns; this one passes a very pleasant 90 minutes. Robert Mitchum and Rory Calhoun are very good and the scenery is superb.
I, TONYA (2017) Saturday 19 September 9.30-11.25pm BBC 2
For us, no more than a possible on the questionnaire, so this Freeview première is a good opportunity to catch it. Margot Robbie does very well as skater Tonya Harding, but it was Allison Janney, playing her mother, who vacuumed up the awards.
JIMMY: ALL BY MY SIDE (2013) Saturday 19 September 11.25pm-1.15am BBC 2
This is a well-told biopic showing how, in 1966, Jimi Hendrix left New York for London, as he set out on the road to becoming (for many) the world’s greatest guitarist. Only downside: there are few standards on the soundtrack for copyright reasons. (As with Martin Luther King’s speeches in Selma).
ICE COLD IN ALEX (1958) Sunday 20 September 12.10-2.50pm Channel 40
Alex needs little introduction (especially if you are a lager drinker): John Mills, Sylvia Syms et al try and get to the safety of Alexandria in a battered old ambulance. Director J. Lee Thompson made some really good films 1957-62; after that a decline set in and highlights were very few.
THE GUNFIGHTER (1950) Sunday 20 September 2.15-4.10pm Channel 31
Gregory Peck, as Jimmy Ringo, is superb in the title role. He moves from one austere town to another (as did William S. Hart), hoping to see his son before his past and his destiny become one.
MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946) Sunday 20 September 4.10pm-6.15pm Channel 31
What a double bill! Henry Fonda is Wyatt Earp, Victor Mature Doc Holliday and Walter Brennan Old Man Clanton. Ford admirer Lindsay Anderson, himself a director, thought that this classic depiction of wilderness v civilisation was the maestro’s best western.
DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965) Sunday 20 September 3.00-6.05pm BBC 2
Also showing Thursday evening, BBC 4 (see later notes)
THE MAGIC BOX (1951) Monday 21 September 3.50-6.00pm Talking Pictures (Ch 81)
Although it lacks historical accuracy this Festival of Britain production, with many all-star cameos, is a delight for film lovers. Robert Donat plays William Friese-Greene, the ‘inventor’ of cinema.
THE DEAD ZONE (1983) Monday 21 September 9.00-11.00pm Channel 70
It’s a shame that this Stephen King thriller about a teacher, who, after awakening from a coma, discovers he can foretell events, isn’t as appreciated as Carrie or The Shawshank Redemption.
THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932) Tuesday 22 September 1.30-2.55am TP (Channel 81)
From new-style horror to old – a big game hunter (Joel McCrea) himself becomes the hunted; co-star Fay Wray was soon working on King Kong. Several versions later, this remains the best.
THE LOST CONTINENT (1968) Tuesday 22 September 10.00-11.40pm TP (Channel 81)
It’s a quiet day, so we’ll take a peek at this off-the-wall Hammer with its sea monsters, carnivorous seaweed and, of course a left-over Spanish Inquisition! Then it was cert X, now it is cert 12.
GET LOW (2010) Wednesday 23 September 6.55-9.00pm Channel 32
Highly unusual fare: Robert Duvall is a 1930s Tennessee hermit who, after 40 years, comes to town to ask for a funeral before he dies. Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray also shine and it’s a first showing.
STALAG 17 (1953) Thursday 24 September 1.40-4.00pm Film Four
The film that won William Holden (he’s a suspected stool pigeon) his Oscar, is an offbeat POW drama that blends expertly comedy, satire and a measure of tension, as only Billy Wilder can.
DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965) Thursday 24 September 8.00-11.05pm BBC 4
Incredible as it may seem, critics have never been unanimous in their praise of this sweeping epic. I have to say, though, that on the Regent’s screen, a few years ago, it was wonderful!
FUNNY COW (2017) Thursday 24 September 11.15pm-1.20am Film Four
Not for all tastes (so it wasn’t a popular option with our members), but Maxine Peake gives a dominant performance as the northern lass looking to go into stand-up when it was ‘men only’.
MANDY (1952) Friday 25 September 12.10-2.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Mandy, the story of a hearing-impaired child, her parents and her headmaster, was very popular and well received on release. It will still charm and satisfy a modern audience.
NIGHT OF THE EAGLE (1962) Friday 25 September 10.00-11.45pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
A teacher’s wife uses witchcraft to further her husband’s career. Best known for his TV work (Jason King especially), Peter Wyngarde and the rest of the cast deliver a minor gem, genuinely chilling at times, that punches above its weight.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
We all tend to associate an actor with a particular role and believe that no-one else could possibly have done it so well. However, it is quite likely that the film’s producers didn’t see it that way. More often than not, you’ll find that several other actors were considered for the role and might even have turned it down. As I wrote last week, Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan were due to star in Casablanca (George Raft and Hedy Lamarr were also considered); here are a few more . . .
My spot checks on last week’s TV transmissions confirmed what I outlined in Random Memories. For example, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Plenty and The Bridge on the River Kwai were all shown correctly in widescreen letterbox, but The Bridge at Remagen (apart from the opening and end credits) was not – and the five minute CinemaScope short Rollercoaster was shown with black bars to the top, bottom and sides, so the desired effect was lost somewhat! Never mind, we won’t let it interfere with this week’s selection . . .
THE RED SHOES (1948) Saturday 12 September 11.00am-1.10pm BBC 2
This story of a ballerina torn between two men, (part-fairy tale, part-tragedy, in sumptuous colour), has become, deservedly, a cinema legend. It is said to be Martin Scorsese’s favourite film.
TROUBLE IN STORE (1953) Saturday 12 September 6.00pm-7.45pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
I’ve never been a fan of Norman Wisdom (although his two-hander with Bruce Forsyth in a Sunday Night at the London Palladium show was brilliant), but maybe I’ll take another look at his first hit.
MEMENTO (2000) Saturday 12 September 9.45-11.35pm BBC 2
This stunning thriller, about a man with short-term memory loss determined to avenge his wife’s death, instantly made Christopher Nolan a director to watch. He still is.
AFTER THE STORM (2016) Sunday 13 September 12.35-2.30am BBC 2
Another very good piece of work from Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda (Shoplifters); here a private detective finds it difficult to reconnect with his estranged family.
CASABLANCA (1942) Sunday 13 September 4.20-6.00pm BBC 2
A timeless classic that a lot of people would say is the best film that Hollywood ever produced. For sure, it is a perfect amalgam of happy accidents that wouldn’t have been the same with Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan. Avoid the Charles Bronson update Caboblanco (1980)!
THREE SISTERS (1970) Sunday 13 September 10.00pm-1.10am Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Periodically, in the 1960s and 1970s, cameras would film a stage production for posterity. Here it is Olivier’s National Theatre production with Joan Plowright, Derek Jacobi and Alan Bates.
I WAS A FIREMAN (US title, 1943) Monday 14 September 12.25pm-2.00pm Talking Pictures (Ch 81)
There are two good documentaries showing today. This, contemporary to events, is a fine tribute to the Auxiliary Fire Service. It was directed by the great Humphrey Jennings.
SPITFIRE (2018) Monday 14 September 9.00-10.30pm BBC 2
Looking back with the combined benefits of new and archive footage, and interviews, this documentary was good enough to be considered for bookings by southwest film societies.
BRASSED OFF (1996) Monday 14 September 11.30pm-1.40am Film Four
It’s over 20 years (1997-98 season, 92%) since we programmed this entertaining, moving story about a colliery brass band, but it is as delightful as ever.
THE SPY IN BLACK (1939) Tuesday 15 September 11.00am-12.45pm Film Four
This first Powell and Pressburger collaboration stars Conrad Veidt as a German spy, active in Scotland, who is determined to help scupper the British fleet in the First World War.
BREAKER MORANT (1979) Tuesday 15 September 5.00-7.10pm Channel 40
In plot terms, Morant is a predecessor of The Paths of Glory (1957) – three soldiers are selected for a trumped-up court martial in the Boer War. It won several Australian film awards.
CAT BALLOU (1965) Wednesday 16 September 1.00-3.05pm Channel 40
The comedy western that won Lee Marvin his Oscar; Jane Fonda is good, too. I must confess that it isn’t a personal favourite – probably because it lacks both subtlety and respect for the genre.
THE EVACUEES (1975) Wednesday 16 September 10.00-11.15pm BBC 4
Not a film as such, but a nice tribute to the late Alan Parker. Written by Jack Rosenthal, it’s about the evacuation of two Jewish boys to Blackpool. A Face to Face interview, with the director, follows.
THE BLACK ROSE (1950) Thursday 17 September 6.40-9.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Tyrone Power made two historical epics (Prince of Foxes, 1949, was the other) almost back to back; here, he’s a Saxon adventurer in the Far East. Orson Welles was the villain in both and each had a good director, and cinematographer (Jack Cardiff, working in colour, in this case). Ultimately, the scripts let them down, and so they are considered to be average, but – go on – indulge yourself!
BAIT (2019) Thursday 17 September 11.20pm-1.05am Film Four
The British critical success of last year had a good response on our members’ questionnaire, but then Covid intervened. Do watch it and, when we all meet again, tell us what you think! New to Freeview.
POOL OF LONDON (1950) Friday 18 September 6.45-8.30pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
This is a very interesting, groundbreaking, drama from Ealing Studios. The late Earl Cameron is a black docker, with a white girlfriend, who becomes involved with smugglers. It might not be a classic, but deserves 10/10 for effort!
GALAXY QUEST (1999) Friday 18 September 9.00-11.10pm Channel 30
Possibly the most fun we ever had from our Christmas films! The cast of a sci-fi TV show become the unlikely saviours of an alien race. It is done sublimely – the acting is great, it’s funny and – the clever bit – it mocks gently everything from thespian posturing to nerdy fandom, whilst respecting both source material and genre conventions (cf. Support Your Local Sheriff! ).
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
Last week’s showing of The Smallest Show on Earth has had me thinking about films set in cinemas. There are several that involve arriving, leaving or a brief view of the interior. In Footlight Parade (1933) James Cagney watches, briefly, the B-western The Telegraph Trail; the gangster John Dillinger was famously shot dead after going to see Manhattan Melodrama (1934), an event depicted in Dillinger (1973); in The Seven Year Itch (1955), Marilyn Monroe famously sympathised with The Creature From the Black Lagoon. And on television, such plot devices have been used to lend authenticity to the week’s storyline: in ‘The Townie’ from season 1 of The Waltons, John-Boy goes to see Forbidden Heaven, a 1935 Charles Farrell film; there is a partial view of the star and title above the cinema entrance and a brief clip.
However, whilst some major films have had key moments, or scenes, in cinemas (one thinks of Brief Encounter, The Purple Rose of Cairo and, more recently Mr Holmes and The Shape of Water, for example), those where the cinema itself is effectively a character, are fewer in number. Skipping quickly over Movie House Massacre (1984), I would recommend Targets (1969). The climax makes brilliant use of a drive-in theatre, as an elderly Boris Karloff tackles the new horror that is a rampaging shooter. Sherlock Junior (1924), in which projectionist Buster Keaton dreams his way into the movie, is pure genius. Alfred Hitchcock (of course) reworked Joseph Conrad’s novel The Secret Agent, so that the terrorist operates a small London cinema (Sabotage, 1936). In the wonderful The Last Picture Show (1971), the cinema (still showing Red River) is the perfect metaphor for a small, declining town in Texas in the early 1950s. The best of them all, however, is surely Cinema Paradiso (1988) which twice has had a rapturous reception from our members.
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