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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!
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