It was announced last weekend that Cineworld are to close, temporarily, all their cinemas in the UK and US. With Covid-19 restrictions set to continue for some time it is understandable and, it would seem, a second postponement of the new James Bond film (to April 2021) was the final decider. On to the Monday morning, Radio 5, and a young presenter is musing on how strange it is that people should want to gather in a dark place and watch what is, effectively, ‘a very big TV screen’. Eegah!! [1963, one of the worst films ever made] So, where do we start . . .
QUEEN OF KATWE (2016) Saturday 10 October 1.15-3.15pm BBC 2
Katwe is the story of a young chess prodigy who, against all odds, earns the right to compete in an international tournament. Beautifully shot and a big success with members (2017-18 season, 88%).
THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962) Saturday 10 October 4.00-6.35pm Channel 31
Ford’s last masterpiece is the one where he famously re-examines and dissects the mythological west that he, more than any other director, had helped to create and invigorate.
BLUEPRINT FOR ROBBERY (1961) Saturday 10 October 7.05-9.05pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
This is a very modest production, virtually unknown, which is why I’m selecting it! It’s a heist drama starring two very familiar supporting players (J. Pat O’Malley and Robert Wilke) enjoying the extra responsibility; the director is Jerry Hopper, who gave us The Atomic City.
RAGING BULL (1980) Saturday 10 October 11pm-1.20am ITV 1
Superbly shot and edited (in b/w), it tells the story of the rise and fall of boxer Jake La Motta. Often cited as the best film of the 80s – and one of the best ever – Robert de Niro won the Oscar for Best Actor, but Scorsese and the film itself lost out to Robert Redford and Ordinary People.
RIO BRAVO (1959) Sunday 11 October 2.00-4.15pm BBC 2
Also Thursday evening, BBC 4 (see later notes) and preceded today by a Talking Pictures special.
FRANKENSTEIN (1931) Sunday 11 October 5.40-7.05pm Channel 70
The most influential horror movie ever made – and it remains one of the best. Boris Karloff, aided immeasurably by Jack Pierce’s make-up, is staggeringly good (pun intended). AND it’s double bill time! The Wolf Man, with Lon Chaney Jr in his signature role (Pierce again), follows at 7.05pm.
THE GUARDIANS (2017) Sunday 11 October 10.30pm-12.40am BBC 4
When I first saw The Guardians, I thought it was one of the best films of the year, so was very sad that it didn’t secure enough member votes. The settings are realised perfectly and the characters are extremely well-drawn; every frame carries meaning and it makes a wonderful tribute to the French women who had to endure a different war, 1914-1918.
SORRY, WRONG NUMBER (1948) Monday 12 October 2.50-4.40pm Film Four
Long before the invention of mobile phones, a bedridden heiress (Barbara Stanwyck) makes a landline call and overhears her murder being planned. The tension mounts admirably.
THE CONSTANT HUSBAND (1955) Monday 12 October 6.55-9.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
This is a less well-known Rex Harrison comedy in which he plays an amnesiac Casanova who appears to be married. Kay Kendall and Cecil Parker are good and the Technicolor is lovely.
THE RUNNING MAN (1963) Tuesday 13 October 9.10-11.15am Channel 40
In lesser hands, this story of a dogged insurance investigator on the trail of a conman, would be run-of-the-mill. However, director Carol Reed, cinematographer Robert Krasker (both worked on The Third Man), writer John Mortimer and actors Laurence Harvey, Lee Remick and Alan Bates lift it several notches.
LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL (1959) Tuesday 13 October 1.05-2.55pm Film Four
Sheriff Kirk Douglas is determined to leave town with the man who killed his wife; the complication is that he is the son of a friend (Anthony Quinn). John Sturges also made Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
THE SWIMMER (1968) Wednesday 14 October 9.10-11.05am Channel 40
A troubled businessman swims home using all the neighbourhood pools en route. It’s a metaphor for alienation and an incisive look at the rigidity of suburban mores; typically late ‘60s, but still fascinating – and Burt Lancaster is such a commanding presence it works, the odd confusion aside.
HARD TARGET (1993) Wednesday 14 October 9.00-11.00pm Channel 31
I wouldn’t normally suggest a Jean-Claude Van Damme film, but as it’s quite an exciting update of The Most Dangerous Game . . . Hong Kong action specialist John Woo, making his American debut, ensures that it is one of Van Damme’s three best films.
TIGER BAY (1959) Thursday 15 October 2.40-4.50pm Film Four
Making her debut, aged 12, Hayley Mills is astonishingly assured as the girl who helps a sailor (Horst Buchholz), on the run for murder, elude Cardiff’s police force. J Lee Thompson deserves much credit.
RIO BRAVO (1959) Thursday 15 October 8.00-10.15pm BBC 4
Growing up, I was hesitant as to how good Rio Bravo was – its construction seemed over-elaborate, mannered even, and the actors unusually relaxed. Later, I realised that these were strengths – Howard Hawks was inviting us to be a part of his group dynamic (a favourite theme), to be comfortable in their company and to enjoy the film’s many incidental pleasures. So, from its stunning Mac the Knife-style opening to its explosive ending, it’s Top Ten all the way. John Wayne is the sheriff, Dean Martin his drunken deputy (so keen was he to do it, he hired a plane after a Vegas show to go and do a screen test); Walter Brennan is as peerless as always, and Angie Dickinson an essential part of the mix. For all the participants, both before and behind the camera, it ranks with their very best work.
SUMMER HOLIDAY (1962) Friday 16 October 8.00-9.50pm BBC 4
This Friday is Musical Day! Option 1: mix a drink, open that box of chocolates and sing along in celebration of Cliff Richard’s 80th birthday. Nostalgia alert – these were the days when you could board a double-decker bus without a face mask.
WHITE RIOT (2019) Friday 16 October 10.00-11.45pm Sky Arts (Channel 11)
Option 2: in cinemas only a month ago, this is a perceptive and fascinating documentary about how punk helped to create the Rock Against Racism movement. I’m certain we have members who will watch either film – or both!
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES - (NOT SO) RANDOM FILMS
After six months of writing about films that, hopefully, have been of interest, I have decided that it is a good time to look back. So, eschewing the great classics (such as Casablanca) that we all know and love, here is a selection of the modest productions; the ones where I take extra pleasure in saying, out of the 300 or so commented on so far, ‘so pleased that I included that one’. I have limited myself to 20 titles and not used film society bookings. In alphabetical order:
GREAT SHORT FILM: THE BESPOKE OVERCOAT
TWO VERY GOOD DOCUMENTARIES: I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO and LEE MILLER: A LIFE AT THE FRONT LINE. (The latter was fascinating and instructional for me; I didn’t know her work.)
Interestingly, only five of the twenty were filmed in colour. If you missed them first time round, they will be on again – indeed, some of them have been already!
Another week of films to look forward to; incredibly, it is now six months since we began the weekly listings. Other organisations, including Sight & Sound magazine, have done similar things, but I think ours are a little more detailed (and eccentric). As we continue to endure restrictions on our lifestyles, we’ll try and keep going for, at least, the foreseeable future!
ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT IS MISSING (1942) Saturday 3 October 3.25-5.30pm TP (Ch 81)
A good example of a wartime drama that has a documentary feel to it (there isn’t a score) as, with the help of Googie Withers and others, Godfrey Tearle tries to get his crew back to Blighty.
THE DAY OF THE LOCUST (1975) Saturday 3 October 9.05-11.55pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
This is not the John Schlesinger film that springs most readily to mind, but it is only a notch below his very best work. It is an excellent exposé of Hollywood’s 1930s underbelly – so, best not to expect any Fred Astaire joie de vivre!
A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964) Sunday 4 October 12.20-1.45am BBC 2 (also Thursday, 7.30pm BBC 4)
Richard Lester’s imaginative direction ensured that The Beatles’ transfer to the big screen would be successful. John Lennon would have been 80 on the 9 October and his early death still resonates.
THE SEARCHERS (1956) Sunday 4 October 4.05-6.00pm BBC 2
Also Thursday evening, BBC 4 (see later notes) and preceded today by a Talking Pictures special.
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017) Sunday 4 October 8.00-10.15pm Channel 4
This Freeview première, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot, should be a very pleasant way to spend the evening. The all-star suspects include Johnny Depp and Judi Dench.
THE GHOSTS OF BERKELEY SQUARE (1947) Monday 5 October 4.20-6.00pm Talking Pictures (Ch 81)
If you are feeling properly nostalgic today, this droll comedy had a three-day run at the Regent from Monday 20 September 1948. Two ghosts (Robert Morley and Felix Aylmer) are doomed to haunt a house until it is visited by royalty.
HANNA (2011) Monday 5 October 9.00-11.15pm Channel 32
This helped to establish both director Joe Wright and star Saoirse Ronan, who plays a teenage assassin on a revenge mission. The settings are well-realised and the quota of thrills is high.
SALLY SALLIES FORTH (1928) Tuesday 6 October 6.00-6.35am Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
TP is showing a very rare comedy short – the UK’s first “all-woman” film production – in which young Sally becomes a maid for the day.
THE NOVEMBER MAN (2014) Tuesday 6 October 9.00-11.15pm Channel 32
Sorry, we need to clutch at straws a little this evening: to wit, a reasonable spy thriller with Pierce Brosnan revisiting his Bond-style heyday. It’s slick and enjoyable enough, but don’t dally over the plot contrivances!
DEAD RECKONING (1947) Wednesday 7 October 8.05-10.05am Channel 40
Bogie plays an ex-paratrooper who hopes to track down his buddy’s killers, helped by Lisabeth Scott. John Cromwell was one of his trusted directors and the end product is an above-average thriller.
THIS HAPPY BREED (1944) Wednesday 7 October 12.50-3.05pm Film Four
David Lean, working in colour for the first time, adapts Noel Coward’s play quite superbly. We follow the ups and downs of a family in the interwar years, 1919-1939.
THE NAKED TRUTH (1957) Thursday 8 October 12.55-2.45pm Film Four
Dennis Price is the editor of a dubious magazine who blackmails celebrities; the worms, led by Peter Sellers, Peggy Mount and Terry-Thomas, decide to turn. The result is a very funny, topical comedy.
THE SEARCHERS (1956) Thursday 8 October 8.00-9.55pm BBC 4
Welcome back to the BBC, no. 1 western! It’s Hollywood, the mid-1950s, and we have a film from a major studio where the protagonist is a racist consumed by hate, an ex-Confederate of dubious morals and an outlaw. He disrespects kith and kin, coverts his brother’s wife, is unchristian, kills the buffalo because they are a source of food, shoots the eyes out of a dead Comanche so that he cannot travel to the spirit world and is on a mission to kill his niece. And John Wayne makes Ethan Edwards a sympathetic character; it’s a truly iconic performance and remains an influential film.
THE WILD ONE (1953) Friday 9 October 7.40-9.15am Channel 40
Banned in Britain for many years, this original biker movie seems rather quaint now. It features an iconic performance (and, later, poster) from Marlon Brando as the gang’s leader and good support from Mary Murphy and Lee Marvin (even though he, like Brando, was too old).
HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) Friday 9 October 12.10-2.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
This remake of The Front Page (1931) is still the fastest comedy ever made. Buried amongst the scintillating dialogue are Cary Grant as the editor and Rosalind Russell as his star reporter. Genius!
CARRIE (1976) Friday 9 October 11.10pm-1.20am Film Four
Brilliant horror film starring Sissy Spacek as the teenager bullied in school and at home (by a splendid Piper Laurie), who unleashes her telekinetic powers on her tormentors. The Untouchables isn’t Brian De Palma’s best film, this is. In one of the quieter domestic scenes, the film showing on television is Duel at Diablo.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
I was watching the opening credits to North by Northwest and spotted the name Robert Boyle; he was the production designer on the film. When declaring that a film is a classic, we look to praise first the director, then the editor, writer, cinematographer and even the composer. However, there are those who maintain, with justification, that the most underrated of cinema artists is the production designer/art director. He, or she, is responsible for the film’s visual quality and, therefore, whether it is atmospheric and the scenes believable. It is a complex and demanding job that requires an ability to select suitable natural locations or build them in the studio – with a good team, of course. (In North by Northwest, this included a replica of Mount Rushmore.) The designer also needs to know architectural styles, graphics, costumes, lighting and camera angles and be able to visualise the bigger picture and meld everything together. Check out, for example, the award-winning work of Allan Starski and Ewa Braun on Schindler’s List (1993).
The doyen of art directors would be Cedric Gibbons who has a screen credit on some 1,500 MGM films and earned 11 Oscars and 37 nominations in the process - and designed the statuette itself. (Although it was William Cameron Menzies who worked on GWTW.) At Warner Bros, Anton Grot designed the amazing temple set for Noah’s Ark (1928) and worked on The Sea Hawk (1940), receiving a special technical award for inventing a wave illusion machine. In this country, Vincent Korda did some equally impressive work, especially on The Thief of Bagdad (1940).
Returning to Robert Boyle (1909-2010), whilst his CV might not be quite as impressive, his work was diverse and very good, even on more modest productions such as It Came From Outer Space (1953) and Buchanan Rides Alone (1958). He worked several times for Hitchcock (including on The Birds) and on Fiddler on the Roof (1971). I adore his work on The Shootist (1976) – his use of the Carson City locations and the 1901 period detail in the boarding house, Doc Hostetler’s surgery and the Metropole saloon, are exemplary.
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.
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