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The award season proper is almost upon us with the Baftas this weekend and the Oscars to follow. It will be interesting to see if they embrace diversity – the early signs are encouraging, as Noel Clarke is to be presented with an “outstanding contribution” award on Saturday evening. This week also sees the release (in the US) of a new film Virus Shark. Yes, you guessed it – a deadly virus is transmitted by the bite of a shark! It is highly unlikely that LRFS will book it for a future season.
THE BLUE LAMP (1950) Saturday 10 April 1.50-3.35pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
This rather good British crime thriller was notable for two things (three if you include its gritty realism for the street scenes): for providing a breakthrough role for Dirk Bogarde as the young killer and for introducing us to PC George Dixon (Jack Warner) star of the later BBC TV series. And – a modest bonus – we have a brief appearance from “Two Ton” Tessie O’Shea.
THE HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL (1951) Saturday 10 April 6.35-8.30pm TP (Channel 81)
Robert Wise seems to direct every other film at the moment! The twist on the usual shadowy film noir is that the central (female) character is a refugee who has entered the US on stolen papers. Richard Baseheart is suitably ambiguous as the guardian; I saw it in a late-night slot a few years ago and was pleased to have added it to my list.
NOTE. Immediately following (8.30-9.00pm) is a Scales of Justice featurette called Payment in Kind (1967), which was co-written and directed by Peter Duffell.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN RIDE! (1972) Sunday 11 April 6.50-9.00pm Channel 25
Such was the success of the 1960 classic that three sequels followed; this was the last – and best – of them. Lee Van Cleef is very good as Chris (the leader), the set-piece climax is quite imaginative and those he recruits contain some interesting names building their careers (Luke Askew, Ralph Waite and James Sikking).
EMPEROR OF THE NORTH (1973) Sunday 11 April 10.00pm-12.30am TP (Channel 81)
Not many directors of the period were as effective as Robert Aldrich in combining hard-edged action with meaningful characters (excluding his The Grissom Gang, one of the few films from any source that I actively dislike). This is mostly a two-hander in which Lee Marvin is a hobo riding trains during the Depression and Ernest Borgnine is the conductor with an impeccable record of stopping them. And Mr Borgnine had few equals in doing ‘nasty’ with such gusto! Writer Christopher Knopf has an interesting CV – not prolific, and mostly in television, but series like The Restless Gun and Cimarron Strip rather than Gunsmoke or Bonanza. If the opportunity ever presents itself, you might also check out his TVM A Cold Night’s Death.
RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND (1965) Monday 12 April 12.30-2.15pm Channel 32
On occasion, I have highlighted cult directors and, between 1965 and 1975, Monte Hellman is probably the one who attracted most critical attention, largely on the strength of Two-Lane Blacktop (1971). Earlier, he had shot two westerns back-to-back (The Shooting was the other); both starred Jack Nicholson (here opposite Cameron Mitchell) and some critics refused to separate the two when submitting them in ‘Top Ten’ lists. This is the more straightforward one (three cowboys are mistaken for outlaws); its interest lies in how Hellman uses his material.
MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD (2003) 12 April 9.00-11.45pm Film Four
This was a very solid seafaring saga: a good director (Peter Weir), a cast headed by Russell Crowe, fine art direction and Patrick O’Brian’s Napoleonic novels as source material. It looked impressive on the Regent’s big screen, so it was a surprise that more did not follow – perhaps it just did not have the daftness of the Caribbean franchise.
BEHEMOUTH, THE SEA MONSTER (1959) Tuesday 13 April 8.00-9.30am TP (Channel 81)
Eugène Lourié was an excellent art director (he worked with Jean Renoir and Chaplin amongst others) who also had an interest in special effects. Occasionally, he turned to directing creature features – in this instance, teaming up with Willis O’Brien (King Kong) and co-director Douglas Hickox. It is decent, low-budget fun and its message about radioactive waste still resonates.
THE HOUSE ON 92ND STREET (1945) Tuesday 13 April 4.00-6.00pm TP (Channel 81)
This was one of the key American films of the 1940s, in that it ushered in a new era of documentary-style realism that, by 1950, even MGM had started to use. The story of a Nazi spy ring in New York is still robust, first-rate drama; it dispenses with major stars and actors Lloyd Nolan and Signe Hasso seize their moment.
THE HEIST (2009) Wednesday 14 April 7.05-9.00pm Channel 33
Today is the quietest day for a while, so we are reduced to one film – and the plot (the theft of some art paintings) is very familiar. However, the security guards/thieves are played by three very distinguished actors (Morgan Freeman, Christopher Walken and William H. Macy) and the lightness of touch that is brought to the enterprise is pleasing.
CAPTAIN BOYCOTT (1947) Thursday 15 April 10.30am-12.30pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
The historical events that explain how the word boycott came into general use are interesting, although the film is let down by an uneven tone. The strong cast is a very welcome one: Cecil Parker in the title role, Stewart Granger, Alastair Sim and Robert Donat in a cameo as Charles Stuart Parnell.
TOPKAPI (1964) Thursday 15 April 9.00-10.55pm BBC 4
Peter Ustinov would have been 100 years-old tomorrow and the BBC marks the occasion by showing Topkapi, the film that earned him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. It is a very good heist drama (another one, sorry); director Jules Dassin had earlier helped star Melina Mercouri win Best Actress for Never on Sunday at Cannes in 1960. They married in 1966 and were together until her death in 1994.
REBECCA (1940) Friday 16 April 2.25-5.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Hitchcock never won an Oscar for best director, but Rebecca, his first film in Hollywood, did win Best Picture. Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine make an immaculate Maxim and Mrs de Winter and Judith Anderson was never better than here, as Mrs Danvers. It is a timeless classic, of course, and had a score of 81% in our second season (1989-1990).
THE INNOCENTS (1961) Friday 16 April 9.00-11.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
The Innocents is also a great film. Whilst it has always had strong approval from some critics, it has never received quite the same approbation as, say, The Third Man or Saturday Night and Sunday Morning – yet it deserves to. There are many things to admire – performances, the aura that seems to emanate from what unfolds on screen and the evocative cinematography of Freddie Francis – but the most remarkable thing, perhaps, is that it is still unsettling and scary after 60 years.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
SOME BOOKS AT RANDOM
I am sure that you will not be surprised to discover that I have amassed a considerable number of books on cinema (and related topics) over the years.
The earliest ones I can remember acquiring would be three editions (1955, 1956 and 1959) of F. Maurice Speed’s Western Film Annual. A cousin gave these to me, when I was a child, and so began a lifelong interest in the genre. (And, yes, I still have them somewhere.) The first two specialist books I recall ordering, with my precious pocket money, would be A Pictorial History of Westerns (1972, Michael Parkinson and Clyde Jeavons) and The Films of John Wayne (1973 edition, Mark Ricci, Boris and Steve Zmijewsky). Then it was on to reference books (Leslie Halliwell’s set the standard to beat, of course), biographies from Julie Andrews to Lana Turner and Fred Zinnemann, and whatever else took my fancy.
In 2021, when there are several databases the click of a mouse away, are books still a useful tool? I believe so, and here are some I use regularly plus a few favourites . . .
It was a sad day when, about five years ago, it was announced that the internet had effectively put printed film guides out of business. The best two are the Radio Times Guide to Films and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and I still use them every week. Michael J. Weldon’s Psychotronic Video Guide is brilliant for ‘bad’ and obscure titles. Ephraim Katz’s The Film Encyclopedia covers a lot of ground and I have always valued David Quinlan’s books on actors and directors. The best two reference guides on the western, I find, are Phil Hardy’s mighty tome in The Aurum Film Encyclopedia series and Edward Buscombe’s BFI Companion to the Western. The latter also has valuable entries on the historical west.
Halliwell’s Teleguide is still useful and The ITV Encyclopedia of Adventure is very thorough, as is a later ITV publication on TV science-fiction. Richard West’s Television Westerns 1946-1978 was, for me, an exciting (and expensive) import. It is good, but a tad disappointing in that most of the entries are relatively superficial.
The passing of the actor Henry Darrow in March had me flicking through Lightning in a Bottle once again and Maureen O’Hara’s ‘Tis Herself is an entertaining read. I am also the proud owner of a signed copy of Peter Duffell’s memoirs Playing Piano in a Brothel.
A FEW FAVOURITES
The Hammer Vault is not only informative, it has some superb stills and Patricia Warren’s British Film Studios is a very through A to Z. Forgotten Horrors (with an introduction by Mel Brooks) is a splendid book on the B-films of the 1930s (mostly) that were churned out by minor American studios such as Tiffany and Chesterfield. I must own up to a fondness for topics that are a little different. Usually, the author is very knowledgeable and clearly loves his subject. Two particular favourites are Bart Plantenga’s book Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo and Simon Sheridan’s Keeping the British End Up. The latter author has a very witty style and it is a treasure trove of information on the ‘naughty’ British films that were so prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s.
Finally, and coming full circle, my absolute favourite of the last couple of years was an unexpected gift from friends – Kathryn Kalinak’s book How the West Was Sung. Subtitled Music in the Westerns of John Ford, it examines his work from that perspective – a brilliant idea and quite an eye-opener.
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