It saddens me to say it, but the days of the BBC showing a James Cagney or Humphrey Bogart season, or a season of classic westerns, at Christmas time, are long gone. As is being able to wallow, mince pie in hand, in a couple of dozen (free) exciting offerings during the festive break. Do we want the 1961 King of Kings at Easter and Christmas? Why not be daring and, at least, show the 1927 version (155m print, please).
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) Monday 26 December 5.30-7.30pm BBC 2
Seven is still probably the best western for those that can take or leave them: a great cast, splendid locations in De Luxe colour, several scenes to treasure and one of the best scores of any American film you care to name.
GOODFELLAS (1990) Monday 26 December 10.15pm-12.35am BBC 2
Confession time – certain films just seem to have escaped me over the years. I only caught up with De Palma’s The Untouchables a couple of years ago and I have yet to see The Usual Suspects. Ditto Goodfellas, Scorcese’s gangster classic starring De Niro, Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci. So, without adverts or cuts, tonight seems to be the right time!
1917 (2019) Tuesday 27 December 9.00-10.50pm BBC 1 P
Remember Russian Ark? Technically very accomplished – it is constructed as though Sam Mendes shot it in one long take – 1917 has a strong British cast and will grip you throughout. In the final instance, it cannot measure up to Paths of Glory (1957) or All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), but then few films can.
NO TIME TO DIE (2020) Sunday 1 January 8.00-11.05pm ITV 1 (Ch 3) P
ITV has pulled off a coup in the Christmas ratings battle, by unveiling Daniel Craig’s swansong as James Bond so soon after its cinema release. You know what the ride entails – just climb aboard!
THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS (1955) Monday 2 January 12.40-2.20pm BBC 2
This is the original to Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen’s Operation Mincemeat (2022). It is based on the true story of a scheme devised to convince the Germans that the Allies were about to invade Greece and not Sicily. Dramatically, there is not a lot of difference between the two versions – they both do what you would expect them to in their respective years of production.
FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (1957) Thursday 5 January 1.00-2.30pm Legend (Ch 41)
Now we are talking! Marshall Thompson investigates strange goings-on (in b/w, of course) at an atomic research station in Canada. The director, Arthur Crabtree, works wonders on a tiny budget and, even today, it is still quite scary!
MANHUNTER (1986) Friday 6 January 11.05pm-1.00am BBC 2
The Silence of the Lambs (1991) attracted all the publicity and the Oscars, but Michael Mann’s thriller is also very good. Brian Cox commands attention as Hannibal Lecktor. To sum up: whilst not as flashy, or frightening, as Silence, it is superior to its direct remake, Red Dragon (2002).
I was so keen to recommend The Shootist this week (a great western, one of the best films of the 1970s and my ‘desert island choice’), but ITV normally edits it for content and so it would be sacrilegious to add it! Better to buy the DVD.
SCROOGE (1951) Monday 19 December 4.10-6.00pm Channel 5
Scrooge is a 5-star classic that can be enjoyed over and over again. The set designs are superb, the pacing impeccable and we have the magnificent Alastair Sim in an interpretation of old Ebenezer that will never be improved upon. Not that he was everyone’s automatic choice at the time – George Minter, the Managing Director of Renown Pictures, had to defend his choice in print!
THE GOOD LIAR (2019) Tuesday 20 December 9.00-10.45pm BBC 2 P
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t really do justice to the acting legends who top the cast: Ian McKellen as the con artist and Helen Mirren as his latest mark. In spite of that, if you feel like settling down with a glass of something and a mince pie. . . .
HUMPHREY BOGART DOUBLE BILL (Thursday 22 December BBC 2): The African Queen (1.50-3.35pm) earned Bogie his only Oscar; Casablanca (3.35-5.15pm) remains, for many, the best film to come out of a Hollywood studio.
ATTACK OF THE LEDERHOSEN ZOMBIES (2016) Friday 23 December 11.20pm-1.00am TP (Ch 82)
What better antidote to the usual Christmas fluff could there be, especially if you like to ski? I suspect that the title says it all!
The build up to Christmas wouldn’t be the same without Jane Austen in there somewhere, as refreshing as a lemon sorbet, to cleanse one’s film palate. See the first entry below!
EMMA (2020) Saturday 10 December 6.35-8.35pm BBC 2
This recent version works very well indeed. Anna Taylor Joy is delightful as the titular heroine and Bill Nighy, Rupert Graves and Miranda Hart offer splendid support.
TOUCH OF EVIL (1958) Sunday 11 December 9.00 – 10.50pm Sky Arts (Ch 11)
I hope this is the restored 108m version, but if not it still screams ‘masterpiece’ two minutes in! Charlton Heston is a Mexican narcotics agent and Janet Leigh his wife; Orson Welles directs and plays Hank Quinlan, a slimy detective; Marlene Dietrich pops up in a telling cameo appearance and Henry Mancini contributes a great score.
Author’s note: you could gift wrap for me all the Marigold Hotel films, Quartet and Mama Mia; add Eddie the Eagle and The Phantom of the Open; throw in a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and I still would not swop you for the opening shot in this film!
A BUNCH OF AMATEURS (2022) Tuesday 13 December 10.00-11.35pm BBC 4 P
You might have caught a BBC news item, last month, on the Bradford Movie Makers. This delightful, and rather endearing, Storyville documentary takes us into their world of camaraderie (mostly!) and amateur film making. The club came into being in 1932 and has met every Monday since – what an amazing story!
By David Johnson
Chairman of Lyme Regis Film Society
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