First and foremost, a Happy New Year from everyone on the committee and we hope that, somehow, you had a restful and pleasant Christmas. In film terms, week no. 1 of 2021 is quite promising, with a couple of very good documentaries, some premières, plus some other films of interest. Good though they are, I wouldn’t usually include the Bond films, but if you want to watch them in chronological order, this could be your chance. By the time you read this who knows where we will be in terms of lockdown, but we will endeavour to keep the weekly lists fresh and interesting.
AMAZING GRACE (2018/1972) Saturday 2 January 8.30-9.55pm BBC 2 P
The BBC is showing (without adverts!) an absolutely electrifying film of an Aretha Franklin gospel concert that was held over two nights in 1972. For much of the last 50 years, it was thought lost or unusable, but modern technology has resurrected it. How good was Ms Franklin’s singing? Well, when word of the concert got around, Mick Jagger slipped in to watch from the back of the hall.
ENTEBBE (2018) Saturday 2 January 10.25pm-12.05am BBC 2 P
We have enjoyed good performances from Rosamund Pike and Daniel Brühl over the years; here they team up to play the terrorists who, in 1976, hijacked an Air France Airbus and instructed the pilot to fly to Uganda. It presents a more downbeat study than the two made shortly thereafter.
HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962) Sunday 3 January 12.35-3.00pm BBC 2
Let’s be clear: this isn’t a revisionist ‘how the west was lost’ and wouldn’t be made in this style today. That aside, visually it is superb, has one of the best soundtracks of any western, 13 stars (plus an impressive supporting cast) and a brilliant climax atop a train. It was filmed in three-camera Cinerama, but modern restoration processes have removed the dividing lines that used to be visible.
SAVING MR BANKS (2013) Sunday 3 January 5.00-7.00pm BBC 2
Not surprisingly, Mr Banks was very popular with Lyme cinemagoers: Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney and Emma Thompson PL Travers, as they clash over the filming of one Mary Poppins . . .
MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS (1971) Monday 4 January 3.10-5.45pm Film Four
Two of our best actors of the period – Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson – combine to splendid effect in a well-mounted historical epic. Patrick McGoohan and Timothy Dalton head a strong supporting cast.
DR NO (1962) Monday 4 January 5.45-8.00pm ITV 4 (Channel 25)
I’m breaking with our established procedures here and highlighting a well-known and hugely popular film that created the idea of a global franchise. But, it’s an opportunity to reconnect with the original – and best – Bond, see how the character was moulded and developed and, no doubt, watch the entire franchise in chronological order. (From Russia with Love is on Tuesday evening; others follow.)
EVERY TIME WE SAY GOODBYE (1986) Tuesday 5 January 4.35-6.25pm Channel 33
Similarly, if you are curious to see a young Tom Hanks pre-superstardom, this fits the bill. He is a young pilot, stationed near Jerusalem during World War II, who falls in love with a Sephardic Jew. It intrigues me that, so early in his career, he was willing to chance something unconventional.
HUD (1963) Tuesday 5 January 10.00pm-12.15am Talking Pictures (Ch 81)
One of the best American films of the 1960s, from an early Larry McMurtry novel: Paul Newman is the rancher’s son and ne’er-do-well at odds with everyone and everything. Patricia Neal and Melvyn Douglas won Oscars for their acting and James Wong Howe for his superb, b/w cinematography. Paul Newman lost out to Sidney Poitier, rewarded for his role in Lilies of the Field.
A SCREAM IN THE DARK (1943) Wednesday 6 January 4.20-5.30pm TP (Channel 81)
Me thinks that TP have bought the rights to some more of the Republic Studios library! Here we are treated to a neat little murder-mystery featuring death by umbrella. Don’t expect to recognise any of the cast on this occasion. After his debut in 1937, George Sherman had directed another 40 B-westerns by 1943, so must have been pleased to see a pavement or two through the viewfinder.
I AM GRETA (2020) Wednesday 6 January 10.45pm-12.15am BBC 1 P
Of the two new films scheduled opposite each other tonight, it’s likely that this absorbing documentary will appeal most to members. The director (Nathan Grossman) gives us an intimate account of the activist from childhood to the present day.
TRESPASS AGAINST US (2016) Wednesday 6 January 11.15pm-1.20am Film Four P
Despite having two fine actors (Brendan Gleeson and Michael Fassbender) playing father and son it was another one of those near misses for LRFS, so you might like to catch it now. They are both “travellers” accustomed to a life of crime, but the son now wants his child to have a chance at something better.
SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1942) Thursday 7 January 9.05-11.20am Channel 41
Deservedly still held to be one of Hitchcock’s best thrillers; it was also the director’s personal favourite. An adoring young Charlie (Teresa Wright) meets Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) at the station, excited that he has come to stay. Surely, he cannot be the killer of rich widows from back east?
LAST HOLIDAY (1950) Thursday 7 January 7.15-9.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Alec Guinness stars as a ‘Mr Everyman’ who, having been diagnosed with a fatal illness, decides to go out in unaccustomed style. JB Priestley provided the script and it’s a rather droll, impish comedy with the expected cast of British eccentrics. In his biography on Alastair Sim, Mark Simpson posits the idea that the ‘kitchen sink’ dramas of the late 1950s put paid to this style of comedy and it is certainly worthy of debate.
DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) Friday 8 January 10.50am-1.05pm Channel 41
If a better example of film noir exists, one would be hard-pressed to name it. Fred MacMurray is seduced by Barbara Stanwyck in to murdering her husband for the insurance money; Edward G Robinson is determined to catch them. It was somewhat of a comeback for MacMurray and his ‘ordinary Joe’ persona was perfect for the sap who knew he should say no, but couldn’t.
THE WIFE (2017) Friday 8 January 9.00-10.35pm BBC 2 P
Our 2019-20 season opener (audience reaction: 84%) makes its Freeview debut this evening. Author Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) is on a trip to Sweden to collect his Nobel Prize, accompanied by his wife Joan (Glenn Close) and shadowed by a journalist who is hoping to find something salacious for his proposed biography.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
THE CLOCK IS TICKING!
As my thoughts turned to the incoming New Year and the traditional countdown that goes with it, they then had to include (of course) titles that have used ‘Times on the Clock’. What films have I seen over the years that would rise to this particular challenge?
By way of preliminaries, I would recommend The Big Clock (1948), a clever thriller in which a magazine publisher (Charles Laughton) commits murder and his editor (Ray Milland) finds that the clues point to him. Then there is tick...tick...tick (1970), Fredric March’s final cinema release, a racial drama set in a small Southern town. So, here we go:
The Dawn (1936) was, I believe, the first Irish sound feature. The sound quality is poor and the scenes static, but the topic (Fenians/the IRA) is interesting. Several films have the word ‘dawn’ in their title including The Dawn Rider (1935), a Lone Star B-western that was still popping up in UK cinemas in the 1950s.
Nine to Five (1980) was an enjoyable comedy with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton (plus the catchy hit song, of course).
Tomorrow at Ten (1962) has been appearing on Talking Pictures; Robert Shaw is a ruthless child kidnapper and John Gregson is the inspector trying to stop him. It’s worth a look!
Bomb at 10:10 (1967) – not so good is this drama featuring an American POW (George Montgomery) and Yugoslav partisans. In truth it is from the dim and distant past and that is just about all I can recall!
The word ‘noon’ features prominently: High Noon, of course, Jackie Chan’s Shanghai Noon (2000), The Man Called Noon (1973) – all westerns – and a really good British film Seven Days to Noon (1950), in which a scientist threatens to explode an atomic device in London.
12 0’Clock High (1949): Gregory Peck and Dean Jagger star in one of the best dramas about the pressures of command in wartime.
12:01PM is a clever sci-fi short from 1991. In 1993 the idea (changing events within a timeline) was expanded into a feature that is also well-regarded.
12:08 East of Bucharest was a 2006 Romanian comedy that pleased the critics.
Lunch Hour (1962) pops up from time to time; it’s a British comedy from a John Mortimer play.
The 15:17 to Paris is Clint Eastwood’s tribute to the brave passengers who foiled a terrorist attack, although the consensus is that he shouldn’t have cast the actual participants.
The Devil at 4 0’Clock (1961) – the devil is, in this case, a volcano which is erupting. Frank Sinatra is the convict and Spencer Tracy the priest helping others to escape. The critics’ response was muted, but Spence could make walking down the street significant (literally – check out an early scene in Judgement at Nuremberg).
Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (2011) seems to want to have its cake and eat it!
10 to Midnight (1983) has Charles Bronson on a violent mission again.
Midnight (1939) is a delightful comedy with Claudette Colbert: others using the word include Midnight Cowboy (1969) and an obscure film that Burt Lancaster co-directed and starred in, The Midnight Man (1974). Long-serving members might also remember the thought-provoking war film A Midnight Clear (1993-94 season, audience reaction 83%). It was Barry Norman’s enthusiastic review that first brought it to our attention.
I was quite apprehensive about the final listing of the year. Usually, there are about 2,500 films on during Christmas – how could I possibly select maybe two a day? In the end, it was easier – there is a lot of dross at this time and repeats of classics that have been covered in recent weeks! Let me add just a couple of related/interesting items. Radio 4 is transmitting That Dinner of ’67 (31 December at 2.15pm) set behind the scenes of the film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? The excellent cast includes Adrian Lester, Daisy Ridley and Kenneth Branagh as Spencer Tracy. Sky Arts (Channel 11) is showing an old, b/w comedy sketch starring Freddie Frinton called Dinner for One (also New Year’s Eve, 7.00-7.20pm). It has been shown every year in Germany since about 1963 and has enormous viewing figures. It’s still guaranteed to bring a smile!
Here’s wishing you all a MERRY CHRISTMAS and a HAPPY NEW YEAR from everyone on the committee. Let’s hope our cinemas re-open soon!
LORD OF THE FLIES (1963) Saturday 19 December 3.45-5.30pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
I first saw this adaptation of William Golding’s seminal novel at Burnley Central Library as we were studying it in school. Not all of its ideas register forcefully, but the low-key, non-professional (and non-studio) approach works in the film’s favour and creates a vivid atmosphere.
THE EAGLE HAS LANDED (1976) Saturday 19 December 5.50-8.00pm BBC 2
This perennial favourite is showing today as part of a Michael Caine evening. Based on the successful novel by Jack Higgins, he’s a German paratrooper tasked with kidnapping Winston Churchill. There’s a very strong cast and director John Sturges (The Great Escape) gave us another winner.
MY GENERATION (2017) Saturday 19 December 9.20-10.40pm BBC 2
Michael Caine is the perfect choice to present this excellent documentary, with well-chosen archive footage, on the Swinging Sixties. The prime movers, such as Twiggy, Mary Quant and the Rolling Stones, are all present and correct.
SHADOWLANDS (1993) Sunday 20 December 2.45-4.50pm BBC 2
This note-perfect movie ought to be considered one of the best of the 1990s. Anthony Hopkins (as CS Lewis) and Debra Winger (as Joy Gresham) make a superb pairing and director Richard Attenborough’s recreation of the 1950s is perfect. Mind you, as an actor, that was his decade!
THE DEATH OF STALIN (2017) Sunday 20 December 9.30-11.10pm BBC 2 P
How kind of the BBC, to unveil one of our recent successes (2018-19 season, 79%) on ‘film society evening’. If you need a reminder, it is 1953, Stalin is dead and everyone is scrambling for pre-eminence. The comedy is very sharp and very black!
VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964) Monday 21 December 10.50am-12.15pm BBC 2
One of Elvis Presley’s better films: here, he’s a racing driver determined to win the local grand prix. Ann-Margret is a breath of fresh air and the songs, choreography and photography are all above average.
FLAME IN THE STREETS (1961) Monday 21 December 10.00pm-12 midnight TP (Channel 81)
Little doubt that this was a highly commendable team effort from director Roy (Ward) Baker and actors John Mills, Sylvia Syms, Earl Cameron and Johnny Sekka, so it’s a shame that it doesn’t reach the heights of, say, A Taste of Honey. Mills is the trade unionist whose liberal credentials are tested when his daughter falls in love with a Jamaican teacher and they plan to marry.
THE ADMIRABLE CRICHTON (1957) Tuesday 22 December 11.10am-1.05pm Channel 41
This role fits Kenneth More like a butler’s white glove: when he and his lordship’s family are shipwrecked, the manservant’s fortitude and practical know-how dictate that he must – reluctantly – assume command. Lewis Gilbert turns JM Barrie’s play into a rather droll comedy.
COLLATERAL (2004) Tuesday 22 December 10.40pm-12.30am BBC 1
Even though I am not a Tom Cruise fan I rather enjoyed Collateral on a trip to the Regent. He’s a hitman who forces a taxi driver to help him and a tense game of cat and mouse follows. It helps that Jamie Foxx is an actor of equal stature and that Michael Mann is at the helm.
SCROOGE (1951) Wednesday 23 December 11.30am-1.10pm Channel 5
Christmas is almost upon us, so perhaps it is time to watch one of the classic festive films, as highlighted last week. Alastair Sim is peerless in the title role.
PHANTOM THREAD (2017) Wednesday 23 December 10.00pm-12.05am BBC 2 P
I am still in shock that, despite its 5-star reviews, Phantom Thread finished bottom in our 2018-19 season with 71.5%. Perhaps the story of an obsessive fashion designer wasn’t weighty enough, even though Daniel Day Lewis’s performance is tailored as beautifully as his frocks.
THE CHRISTMAS TREE (1966) Thursday 24 December 12.50-2.00pm Talking Pictures (Ch 81)
This is the CFF film I wrote about last week: three children hatch a plan to find a Christmas tree and take it to a local hospital. Brian Blessed pops up as a policeman.
MEET ME IN ST LOUIS (1944) Thursday 24 December 1.25-3.15pm BBC 2
Classic Technicolor musical: it’s 1903, Judy Garland sings Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and young Margaret O’Brien was to win a special Oscar.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1984) Thursday 24 December 10.00pm- 12 midnight Channel 48
If you’d like to compare notes, this is the TVM with George C. Scott portraying Ebenezer Scrooge. Of extra interest, perhaps, is that location filming was done in Shrewsbury.
COCO (2017) Friday 25 December 3.10-4.45pm BBC 1 P
Here we have an animated feature from Pixar (winner of both an Oscar and a Bafta) that combines a vivid imagination with the expected technical virtuosity. A budding 12-year-old musician strums on a magic guitar and is transported to the Land of the Dead. It’s unusual to see Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations used as subject matter, although it did feature in the opening to the Bond film Spectre and in the Rawhide episode ‘Incident of the Day of the Dead’.
EL CID (1961) Friday 25 December 6.00-9.30pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Are you still full from lunch? If so, time to wallow in an old style epic with Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren, a fabulous Miklos Rozsa score and Super Technirama 70 (we hope!) to show off Yakima Canutt’s spectacular action sequences.
CALAMITY JANE (1953) Saturday 26 December 1.10-2.50pm BBC 2
Doris Day is atop the Deadwood Stage (although Chubby Johnson – no relation – is driving the team) and Howard Keel is Wild Bill Hickok in this very fine musical. Day is really good – not just vocally, but in her timing and sheer exuberance.
DUNKIRK (2017) Saturday 26 December 9.05-10.45pm BBC 1 P
Director Christopher Nolan is very talented and his take on the 1940 evacuation has much to commend it: a clever score from Hans Zimmer, some top-notch performances and virtuoso scenes both on the beach and in the air. Myself, I didn’t care for the deliberately narrow focus – I would have preferred a more expansive view of events – but that’s nitpicking, really!
SUITE FRANÇAISE (2014) Saturday 26 December 10.50pm-12.30am BBC 4
Another film set in France in 1940; the focus this time is on a small, occupied town and on the feelings one of its citizens develops for a German officer. Margot Robbie makes an early appearance low down the cast list and it enjoyed a good first run and Silver Screen at the Regent.
GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953) Sunday 27 December 12.45-2.40pm More 4 (Channel 18)
Versatile Howard Hawks made classics in all genres – here, it’s a frothy comedy musical. Jane Russell had top-billing, but Marilyn Monroe became the bigger star on the strength of it; aided considerably by the song Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend. Can you name the sequel, though? (See below.)
VON RYAN’S EXPRESS (1965) Sunday 27 December 9.00-11.20pm Channel 41
It was popular in UK cinemas and has remained so on television ever since. Frank Sinatra is the American POW, assisted by Trevor Howard, who commandeers a train as part of an escape plan. The film is a very professional job that makes its points about endurance and sacrifice, whilst being highly entertaining. Would it (or The Great Escape or Where Eagles Dare) be made today, though? THE SEQUEL WAS: Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955).
DO YOU KNOW THIS VOICE? (1964) Monday 28 December 8.30-10.00am TP (Channel 81)
Dan Duryea kindly popped over to Britain to make a couple of B-movie thrillers (Walk a Tightrope was the other) – and they both benefitted from the delicious way in which he combined effortlessly charm and a slightly unhinged viciousness. He’s a killer who can only be identified by his shoes.
A SHOT IN THE DARK (1964) Monday 28 December 11.00am-1.05pm Film Four
The best of the Pink Panther films: Peter Sellers is now properly front-and-centre, Herbert Lom and Burt Kwouk climb aboard and William Peter Blatty (The Exorcist) was co-writer. This is the one where Clouseau goes undercover at a nudist colony – priceless.
NICHOLAS NICKLEBY (1947) Tuesday 29 December 3.55-6.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
More Dickens for Christmas and, whilst it cannot compete with David Lean’s two masterpieces, Alberto Cavalcanti gives us a solid, atmospheric production. Derek Bond isn’t right in the title role, but Sir Cedric Hardwicke is a memorably nasty Uncle Ralph.
SCREAM FOR ME SARAJEVO (2017) Tuesday 29 December 9.00-10.15pm BBC 4
Bear with me – I’m not a fan of heavy metal either – but this looks to be a fascinating, quite unique documentary of a concert that I knew nothing about. Basically, in 1994, the UN asked Bruce Dickinson and Iron Maiden if they would put on a concert in war-torn Bosnia – and they said yes.
TO CATCH A THIEF (1955) Wednesday 30 December 1.05-2.50pm BBC 2
Hitchcock directs, Cary Grant is a retired cat burglar and Grace Kelly his romantic sparring partner. It isn’t North by Northwest (which follows, if you missed it recently), but is still superior to many.
SCOTLAND YARD/EDGAR WALLACE (2017) Wednesday 30 December 6.00-8.00pm TP (Channel 81)
I cannot be sure which Scotland Yard featurette it will be, as TP have been cross-scheduling and repeating this holiday, so take pot luck and join noted criminologist Edgar Lustgarten, c.1955. If the Edgar Wallace Mystery is the series opener proper, then it will be Clue of the Twisted Candle (1960) based on a 1918 novel. Bernard Lee (‘M’ in the Bond films) is the detective solving the crime.
THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES (2004) Thursday 31 December 12.55-3.35am Film Four
If I were to pluck a film out of the air and say ‘we should have booked that one for LRFS’, this would likely be the one. Gael Garcia Bernal plays Che Guevara as a young man, travelling across Latin America in the early 1950s. It captures brilliantly the nascent idealist who unknowingly is on the road to revolution. Initially, it might not strike you as ‘a great film’ – but it is.
DEAD OF NIGHT (1945) Thursday 31 December 6.50-9.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
75 years on and this portmanteau of ghost stories from Ealing Studios remains an all-time great. The fact that there were four directors, three writers and four original authors, only adds to its richness – and those of us who have seen it, still talk reverently about “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy”.
BUCK AND THE PREACHER (1972) Friday 1 January 6.00-8.10am Channel 41
Sorry, but I had to put in a western as soon as possible! Whilst it wouldn’t feature in a ‘best of’ list, it has several points of interest. Sidney Poitier directs (his debut) and co-stars with Harry Belafonte and Ruby Dee. There are roles for TV western regulars Cameron Mitchell, Denny Miller and Nita Talbot and the story has renewed topicality. (A wagon train of ex-slaves is harassed by nightriders.) James McEachin would soon be starring as Tenafly in a strand of Universal’s Mystery Movie series.
TEA WITH MUSSOLINI (1998) Friday 1 January 1.20-3.10pm BBC 2
It’s our first chance in a little while to catch Franco Zeffirelli’s semi-autobiographical story of a young boy being ‘looked after’ by a group of eccentric and formidable women, led by Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. It is preceded by a TP segment on Dames.
MR HOLMES (2015) Friday 1 January 6.20-8.00pm BBC 2
Mr Holmes happily re-unites director Bill Condon and Ian McKellen (Gods and Monsters, 1998) for this delicate, moving portrait of the master detective in his declining years. By modern convoluted standards, the story is simple – but this adds to its charm and is infinitely preferable to some of the outrageous nonsense served up in recent years. (Dinosaurs? Really?)
WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968) Friday 1 January 9.45-11.25pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
We end the day with a personal favourite and the first 5-star cult classic of 2021! Ian Ogilvy and Hilary Dwyer are the young lovers caught up in the evil machinations of one Matthew Hopkins (a superb Vincent Price). There is a lyrical, evocative score, too, that no-one seems to mention. The director, Michael Reeves, only made three features (Ogilvy was in them all); he died of an overdose after this film had wrapped aged just twenty-four. Who knows what gems there might have been in the 1970s as ‘horror’ became more respectable and censorship lessened?
I couldn’t let the year end without mentioning some of the sad losses we have incurred in 2020:
MAX VON SYDOW – a splendid actor, particularly when working with Ingmar Bergman
KEVIN DOBSON – American actor, most familiar as Detective Bobby Crocker in Kojak
STUART WHITMAN – a constant presence in film and television from the early 1950s
JOHN SAXON – never in the first rank, but always contributing characterisations that were a little different (Enter the Dragon and Death of a Gunfighter)
JAMES DRURY – best known as The Virginian on American television
IAN HOLM – the distinguished British actor, one of several to play Napoleon
ALAN PARKER – the British director who gave us Bugsy Malone and Midnight Express
MARGE CHAMPION (101) - the noted dancer and choreographer
SHIRLEY KNIGHT – the outspoken actress who made an early impact in Sweet Bird of Youth (1962)
JILL GASCOIGNE – British actress and star of the TV series The Gentle Touch.
EARL CAMERON (102) – the distinguished actor, born in Bermuda, of stage, screen and television
BEN CROSS – the actor who came to our attention in Chariots of Fire and who worked with Peter Duffell on The Far Pavilions.
ENNIO MORRICONE – the legendary film composer
KIRK DOUGLAS (103) and OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND (104) – two of Hollywood’s greatest and most successful actors
IRRFAN KHAN – the actor who gave such a wonderful performance in The Lunch Box
DAVID PROWSE – the man behind the mask of Lord Darth Vader
BARBARA WINDSOR – born Barbara Deeks, a Carry On regular and in Eastenders for the BBC
The James Bond community has lost three of its most celebrated figures this year: HONOR BLACKMAN and DIANA RIGG (both of whom were in The Avengers on TV) and, of course, SEAN CONNERY. Mr Connery was one of the relatively few British actors whose reach was both global and enduring.
Finally, and perhaps the saddest loss: CHADWICK BOZEMAN, aged only 43. He had already earned respect for his portrayals of Jackie Robinson and the musician James Brown and a huge fanbase with the superhero film Black Panther. Everyone who knew him has said there would have been so much more. His final film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, is a must-see.
There are only two premières for us this week, but they are good ones. It is worth reminding ourselves how useful BBC iPlayer can be in this respect – a lot of the independent films that we have highlighted recently, are on this platform for up to 12 months. There is also a selection of the documentaries and a Cinema Classics section. The latter has films from the RKO library; currently, they include Citizen Kane, Sylvia Scarlett, I Remember Mama and The Thing from Another World.
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) Saturday 12 December 3.25-6.15pm Film Four
We had a great Christmas film (plus wine and cakes) a few years ago with what is undoubtedly a Hollywood classic; indeed, for many, it is Frank Capra’s best work. For me, an essential part of its success (though not financially in 1947) is the darkness of the story: George Bailey (James Stewart) is looking to commit suicide on Christmas Eve; had he lived differently, his brother would have died as a child; Mr Potter is a corrupt banker in both storylines.
THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987) Saturday 12 December 9.00-10.55pm BBC 2
There are two films showing this evening as a tribute to Sean Connery. In this one, his role as an Irish cop helping Eliot Ness take down Al Capone (Robert De Niro) won him an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor. It’s very well-constructed and acted (Kevin Costner is always reliable, as was Gary Cooper) and often exciting. I’ve always thought the 5-star reviews were a tad generous – perhaps it’s my fondness for the TV series getting in the way . . .
THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017) Saturday 12 December 9.30-12 midnight Channel 4 P
Most members know where I stand on this one – it’s a masterpiece and still my favourite film of the last five years. The performances, score, cinematography and set design are all fabulous and, for once, the special effects enhance rather than overpower the story. Despite some violent moments, it was well-received (2018-19 season, 88%) – perhaps because it has that sprinkling of magic dust that a truly creative director can add. Guillermo del Toro has since been working on a remake of the cult classic Nightmare Alley (1947) and I can hardly wait!
THE HILL (1965) Saturday 12 December 10.55pm-12.55am BBC 2
Sidney Lumet directs the second of this evening’s Sean Connery films and it contains, arguably, his best performance. He is one of five prisoners sent to a military stockade in North Africa in the Second World War. The punishments exacted by the ruthless Sergeant-Major Wilson (a brilliant Harry Andrews), including climbing repeatedly the titular hill, are brutal. The clash of wills between them is very quickly as dramatic as the physical challenge. Lumet’s previous two films had been Fail Safe and The Pawnbroker, so this metaphor for British colonialism completed a remarkable hat trick.
TO HELL AND BACK (1955) Sunday 13 December 4.00-6.10pm Channel 32
Audie Murphy was the most decorated US soldier of World War II. His autobiography had been a bestseller (and is a good read), so - unsurprisingly – it was filmed with Audie playing himself. It’s fascinating to watch the story unfold although, ironically, it is less effective than, say, Sands of Iwo Jima. This is probably down to the uninspired direction of Jesse Hibbs and the fact that it looks as though it was put together on the backlot – splicing in actual combat footage worked in Iwo Jima’s favour.
THE GODFATHER (1972) Sunday 13 December 10.10pm-1.00am BBC 2
I know, The Godfather is one of the most famous films ever made (and one of the best), but it hasn’t been on Freeview for a while . . . exemplary film-making in all respects (but especially Nino Rota’s score and the cinematography of Gordon Willis). Most of the performances are, or very nearly are, career-best, too, although I used to be a little uneasy with Marlon Brando’s ‘Method’. Mind you, who else could have done it to the same standard? Olivier possibly (but he was 20 years older than Brando) or Anthony Quinn; the actors of similar age who might have taken on the role would have been Rod Steiger, George C. Scott, Paul Newman or Charlton Heston.
SCOTT OF THE ANTARCTIC (1948) Monday 14 December 2.30-4.15pm BBC 2
If you watched Amundsen recently, then revisiting this account of our famous explorer should balance things nicely. Ralph Vaughan Williams’ music is almost as famous, John Mills is splendid and the upper lips are suitably stiff (as they would be in those temperatures).
PANIC ROOM (2002) Monday 14 December 9.00-11.20pm Channel 33
A quiet evening, but we can suggest trying David Fincher’s early collaboration with Jodie Foster. It’s a claustrophobic thriller where thieves break in, causing Ms Foster and her daughter (played by 10-year-old Kristen Stewart, who has grown up to be a considerable actor) to retreat to their safe room. Fincher’s latest film, Mank (filmed in b/w), started a limited cinema release Friday 4 December and has already garnered outstanding reviews.
KING OF KINGS (1961) Tuesday 15 December 1.45-4.20pm BBC 2
There are two contrasting Nicholas Ray films scheduled opposite each other this afternoon. Once the doyen of critics, his Biblical epic was successful at the box office (no. 7 in the 1962 US charts with $7.5m), but was less so with reviews this time (one writer later labelled it ‘I Was a Teenage Jesus’). The second offering is a 1955 James Cagney western RUN FOR COVER (2.40-4.30pm, Film Four). He’s good as the drifter/sheriff looking to prevent John Derek going to the bad – don’t be surprised, Mr Cagney raised horses and was used to riding.
GIRL IN THE HEADLINES (1963) Tuesday 15 December 8.10-10.15pm Talking Pictures (Ch 81)
After initially being titled ‘Noose on My Face’, this borderline A-feature was released on a double bill in December 1963. There are lots of twists and turns as detectives Ian Hendry and Ronald Fraser look for a model’s killer and there is an early role for Jeremy Brett.
THE COMANCHEROS (1961) Wednesday 16 December 11.50-2.00pm Channel 32
Some travel and distance anomalies notwithstanding, we have a rollicking piece of entertainment here. John Wayne is the Texas Ranger, Stuart Whitman the gambler (and wanted man) who joins him to find the hideout of Nehemiah Persoff’s renegades. Lee Marvin, as Tully Crow, shows what can be done with a supporting role and Elmer Bernstein’s score is almost the equal of his composition for The Magnificent Seven. It was no. 4 in the British box office charts for 1962 and was still getting bookings ten years later.
GIFTED (2017) Wednesday 16 December 6.55-9.00pm Film Four
I like it when a franchise actor takes on something different and does it well. Here, Chris Evans (Captain America) is a boat repairman trying to raise his niece who happens to be a genius at maths. How will things go when his custody is challenged?
FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (2015) Thursday 17 December 8.00-10.00pm BBC 4
There are two films on this evening that you probably saw at the Regent due, in part, to their local colour! First, we have Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba (I know, Julie Christie . . .) in an update of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel. It can’t match the imposing male trio of Peter Finch, Terence Stamp and Alan Bates either, but is still good on its own terms. Later, there is another showing of TAMARA DREWE from 2010 (11.25-1.10am, BBC 4) where we welcome Gemma Arterton’s newspaper columnist back to Dorset.
AN EDUCATION (2008) Friday 18 December 12.30-2.05am BBC 2
Carey Mulligan again, in one of the first films I booked after taking on Silver Screen. It’s the early 1960s and she plays a bored schoolgirl who begins a relationship with a much older man. Her nuanced performance is superb and it enhanced enormously her burgeoning career.
THE HAPPY PRINCE (2018) Friday 18 December 9.00-10.35pm BBC 2 P
Rupert Everett directs and plays Oscar Wilde; the focus – largely - is on the last years of the great writer’s life when, after his public disgrace and prison term, he sought refuge on the continent until his early death aged 46.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
RANDOM CHRISTMAS FILMS!
They have become an industry in themselves – there must be several hundred of them by now. Currently, Channel 5 seems to be showing at least three a day (The Christmas Chalet or Wedding Wonderland, anyone?). I rather think that they would test even my determination to see any and all films through to the very end!
For sure, there are some very good ones – acknowledged classics on occasion – that we all know and love. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and the inimitable Alastair Sim in Scrooge (1951) spring immediately to mind. And a popular option amongst the younger generation is to watch Die Hard (1988) every Christmas. The purpose of these ruminations, though, is to shine the fairy lights on some examples that are less well known.
Dickens on film has always been popular and the 1938 A Christmas Carol, with Reginald Owen, is good; as are more recent versions with George C. Scott and Patrick Stewart. (And just last week we were told that a lost song has been put back into The Muppet Christmas Carol!) In amongst his usual mayhem, Charles Bronson enjoyed a nice change of pace with the TVM Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus (1991). The French drama A Christmas Tale (2008), with Catherine Deneuve, is rather impressive and a film with a considerable reputation is 1983’s A Christmas Story. I like to watch the John Ford western 3 Godfathers (1948) in which three outlaws (John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz and Harry Carey, Jr.) set out for New Jerusalem with a dying mother’s baby. Some critics found it sentimental, but the acting, locations and Technicolor are excellent. There is one new release worth your time – Happiest Season. Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis make the obligatory family visit, but the family doesn’t know that the two women are in a relationship.
Last but not least, I’d like to put in a word for two very modest productions. Whilst William Holden’s 1969 feature The Christmas Tree is disappointing, the 1966 Children’s Film Foundation drama of the same name is a sweet little film. Three children decide to acquire a tree and take it to a children’s hospital ward; it might just re-appear on Talking Pictures during the festive season. It would be great, too if the 1945 film The Cheaters was televised; it must be thirty years since I watched it. An eccentric family decides to take in a ‘lost soul’ for Christmas and they learn its true value. It was just a one-off from Republic Studios with Joseph Schildkraut, a good character actor, in the lead for once. Perhaps director Joseph Kane and the cast were inspired by the fact that Paramount had originally bought it for Carole Lombard; whatever, it worked and plaudits all round.
So, HAPPY CHRISTMAS to all our members and to film lovers everywhere!
Site Design by John Marriage
Copyright © 2017-21