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Ammonite has been available to stream for a month or so now and you might have been wondering when it is due to be released on DVD. The date proposed is Monday 14 June. I would expect the initial price to be £15-£18, but someone might reduce the price – if we are lucky!
RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON (1952) Saturday 1 May 11.35-12noon Talking Pictures (Ch 81)
TP proudly presents episode 1 of its new 12-chapter serial: Commander Cody, Sky Marshal of the Universe, has to stop the evil Retik invading Earth! Alas, it is a later serial and not one of the best, although the flying scenes (re-used from King of the Rocket Men) are well-staged.
CITIZEN KANE (1941) Saturday 1 May 2.30-4.30pm BBC 2
Please refer to Thursday’s notes; today’s showing is preceded by a Talking Pictures segment on Orson Welles.
FLYING BLIND (2012) Saturday 1 May 11.55pm-1.25am BBC 1
Showing as a tribute to the late Helen McCrory – and she is very good as an engineer involved in defence work who has an affair with an Arab student. It was on the 2013 questionnaire, but didn’t earn enough votes. You might like to take a look now.
ALIVE AND KICKING (1958) Sunday 2 May 10.05am-12.05pm Channel 55
Today, we will set up a good, old-fashioned double bill! First on is a prototype (sort of) for our big success The Hundred Year Old Man . . . (2015-16 season, 89%), as three elderly ladies (Sybil Thorndyke, Kathleen Harrison and Estelle Winwood – what a trio!) escape from a home and set up in business. It is all quite charming and also marked the film debut of Richard Harris. Kathleen Harrison herself lived to be 103 and was one of the great character actors of British cinema.
TRAIN OF EVENTS (1949) Sunday 2 May 12.05-2.00pm Channel 55
There was a spate of portmanteau dramas in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Whilst Kathleen Harrison popped up in Trio (1950), her frequent co-star Jack Warner is in this one (as is a young Peter Finch). The Euston to Liverpool express is about to jump the rails – cue multiple flashbacks from some of the people on board.
ROBIN HOOD (1963) Monday 3 May 6.50-9.00pm Channel 33
Such was the excitement over Kevin Costner (and the Bryan Adams song that spent 24 weeks in the UK Top Twenty), this version of the legend was largely overlooked. A great pity because this one looks the more authentic of the two, has good action scenes and a distinguished group of actors. Patrick Bergin plays the title character.
TULIP FEVER (2016) Monday 3 May 10.00-11.35pm BBC 2 P
We were tracking Tulip Fever as a potential LRFS booking, but it seemed to have production difficulties and disappeared into film limbo. It is set in 17th- century Amsterdam and concerns the wife of a wealthy businessman who falls in love with the artist engaged to paint her portrait. On balance the film disappoints, but a fine cast that includes Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz and Judi Dench should be enough compensation to give it a whirl.
THE GHOST OF ST MICHAEL’S (1941) Tuesday 4 May 10.30am-12.10pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
St Michael’s turned out to be the penultimate Will Hay classic. It was his final collaboration with regular director Marcel Varnel and in this one he and his pupils encounter Nazi spies after their evacuation to a haunted Scottish castle.
DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS (1954) Tuesday 4 May 3.55-6.00pm TP (Channel 81)
Prior to modern cinema, this was a rare instance of a sequel – in this case, to 20th Century-Fox’s Biblical epic The Robe, which had introduced audiences to CinemaScope and been a huge financial success. The studio assigned some of its best contract players to it and Delmer Daves was a good director, so it is an entertaining, professional piece of work even though we cannot claim that it is the participants’ best.
HACKSAW RIDGE (2016) Wednesday 5 May 9.00-11.50pm Channel 32
Based on a true story, Andrew Garfield stars as Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector during the Second World War who enrolled as a medic and displayed exceptional bravery (he received the Medal of Honor). If you are familiar with Mel Gibson’s work as a director, then you will know that Hacksaw Ridge is not for the faint of heart – but it is brilliant film-making.
THE BELLS OF ST MARY’S (1945) Thursday 6 May 3.40-6.15pm Film Four
We have come up with a ‘Safe or Risk’ double bill for today! Separately or together, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope were enormously popular during the 1940s; here, a solo Mr Crosby reprises his Oscar-winning turn as Father O’Malley. Ingrid Bergman co-stars (as a nun of course) and the schmaltz is very much front and centre.
CITIZEN KANE (1941) Thursday 6 May 8.00-10.00pm BBC 4
RKO Radio took the risks and famously allowed Orson Welles to play with his new train set – and the result was a film that has frequently been cited as the best ever made, in subsequent decades. It remains an astonishing piece of work. We ran it in our 1991-92 season and members awarded it 79%, giving it 7th place for that season. Bye Bye Blues had 81% - do you remember that one? You are a tough audience to please! Still at least we were able to see it. Back in the day, an outraged William Randolph Hearst was putting pressure on the industry to the extent that, apparently, Louis B. Mayer offered $800,000 to have the negative and prints destroyed.
Tonight, it is followed by Mark Cousins’ absorbing documentary The Eyes of Orson Welles.
JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN (1943) Friday 7 May 4.00-6.00pm Channel 68
The lasting legacy of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson is, of course, in television and Supermarionation series such as Thunderbirds. Their live-action work, particularly in the cinema, is relatively scarce. They wrote and produced this sci-fi drama, however, and it is held in quite high regard. Roy Thinnes (architect David Vincent in the TV series The Invaders) is the astronaut who discovers a hidden planet that seems to duplicate everything on Earth (the original title was Doppelgänger). The special effects were nominated for an Oscar; hopefully, this gave some comfort to the Andersons, as they had recently declined an invitation to work on a Stanley Kubrick project . . .
VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1971) Friday 7 May 9.00-10.45pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Rank Distributors were very pleased with the end product – and it was indeed one of the best latter-day Hammer productions. Not only does it tick all the (oblong) boxes – central Europe, plague, sharpened incisors and a brightly-coloured finale – it also has a headier, more surreal atmosphere than usual. Adrienne Corri adds some pep as the ‘gypsy woman’.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
IT’S OSCAR NIGHT!
Now that the results of the 93rd Academy Awards are in, it seemed like a timely moment to reflect on past ceremonies. Everyone has an opinion, of course: films that we felt should have won and didn’t (and vice versa) and the same with actors and directors. For sure, there have been many instances of Hollywood playing it safe (and respectable). For example, between 1951 and 1971, twelve of the winners were epics or musicals and only three (Tom Jones, In the Heat of the Night and especially Midnight Cowboy) might be said to have been controversial choices. Hitchcock never won Best Director and you would not need many fingers to count the number of women who have won in that category (two, including this year’s). Richard Burton and Deborah Kerr were overlooked time and time again; Henry Fonda had to wait until the very end of his distinguished career; yet Paul Lukas won for Watch on the Rhine (1943), his only nomination. In 1952, the only nomination Singin’ in the Rain received in any of the major categories was Jean Hagen for Best Supporting Actress (she did not win). The western Cimarron won Best Picture in 1931, but it was another 60 years before we saw another one earn the top prize – Dances with Wolves in 1990 and then Unforgiven in 1992.
The first winner – the only silent film to do so – was Wings (1927); it still holds up well and is available on disc. Likewise, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) remains one of the great antiwar films and the other abiding memory from the earliest years would be Charles Laughton’s performance as Henry VIII. I have long thought that cinema’s greatest year was 1939. There were so many good films, but there was only going to be one winner of course – GWTW. It won several awards and they included one for Hattie McDaniel, the first black actor to win (and it was to be 1963 before Sidney Poitier won for Lilies of the Field).
Three is quite a popular number: Walter Brennan won three in five years for supporting roles, Daniel Day Lewis has three statuettes and, with this year’s success, so does Frances McDormand. And, regarding the biggest winners, there is a triple tie on 11 for Best Film (Ben-Hur, Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King). Whilst it is conceivable that, one day, a director might catch John Ford (four wins plus two for wartime shorts), with the expanded category for Best Film, it is highly unlikely that one film will win so many awards again. Hopefully, if it does happen, we will be able to watch a decent show with Best Film announced last once again – I don’t think this year’s ceremony earned too many plaudits.
Finally, if you see a statuette for sale in a shop window proceed with caution. I believe that it is only legal if it was issued before 1950 (Price Guide: the one for GWTW sold for $1.5 million some years ago).
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