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The Baftas ceremony was enjoyable and, as predicted, the awards were made across a broader spectrum. The Oscars will be next! Confession time – I have thrown caution to the wind and added to my DVD collection this week. All happen to be westerns – two rare John Ford silent films (Straight Shooting, his first feature from 1917, and Hell Bent from 1918); three 1940s B-westerns with James Warren ( who had a very short career!) and The Hangman (1959); the latter is one of only two Robert Taylor westerns I have not seen and I decided it was time!
HOUSE OF BAMBOO (1955) Saturday 17 April 3.55-6.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
And here we are again with another cult director! Samuel Fuller’s forte was gritty, b/w war films (he had received the Bronze Star, Silver Star and a Purple Heart during the Second World War); however, House of Bamboo sees him working in colour and CinemaScope (and note the clever use of the latter in the robbery sequence). Robert Stack is in Tokyo looking for the men who robbed a munitions train; Robert Ryan and Cameron Mitchell are also on top form.
HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1943) Saturday 17 April 6.45-9.00pm TP (Channel 81)
In contrast, Ernst Lubitsch was an A-list director, famed for his delicate ‘golden touch’ and who, for about a dozen years, could do little wrong. This was his last great film from those years – a witty satire with playboy Don Ameche negotiating with the Devil (Laird Cregar) prior to his entry into Hades. It was one of only two films that Lubitsch shot in colour and it looks superb.
FIRST MAN (2018) Saturday 17 April 9.00-11.45pm Channel 4 P
Damien Chazelle followed his successes Whiplash and La La Land with a different kind of project – a serious nuts-and-bolts look at the first Moon landing. Ryan Gosling is excellent as Neil Armstrong and The Crown’s Claire Foy received a lot of plaudits for her performance as his wife Janet.
WESTWORLD (1973) Sunday 18 April 12.01-1.25am BBC 1
If you enjoyed the updated series on satellite TV, you might like to take in the original. It is very good – Yul Brynner is perfect casting as the robot gunslinger whose safety protocols malfunction, leading to a worrying time for those indulging in their fantasies.
AGAINST THE WIND (1947) Sunday 18 April 7.00-9.00pm TP (Channel 81)
Ealing made the occasional decent drama to complement its famous comedies, but they couldn’t quite get them to the same level. This tale of Allied saboteurs on a mission in Belgium has the required authentic atmosphere and the cast (Robert Beatty, Simone Signoret and Jack Warner) to make it work and worth your time; it just doesn’t outshine more recent treatments for the cinema and for television.
THE BLACK SHIELD OF FALWORTH (1954) Monday 19 April 11.00am-1.05pm Film Four
This is a jolly romp, set in medieval England, in which Tony Curtis is training to be a knight in (plastic) armour and his then wife Janet Leigh starts – reluctantly - to admire him from afar. Our hero’s delivery of the line “yonder lies the castle of my fodda” has kept wags in employment down the years, but is it really any sillier than Russell Crowe’s accent in the mega-budget – and ‘seriously authentic’ – Robin Hood?
HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1943) Monday 19 April 3.00-5.25pm TP (Channel 81)
If you did not have time to watch it on Saturday, here is another opportunity.
GRAN TORINO (2008) Monday 19 April 9.00-11.25pm Channel 25
Clint Eastwood directs and also dons his acting shoes again as Walt Kowalski, a curmudgeonly, ‘white and proud’ ex-soldier and retired auto worker who befriends an Asian refugee. Clint just about keeps the right side of the line in making Walt a sympathetic character and his views understandable but not acceptable.
WHO KILLED THE CAT? (1966) Tuesday 20 April 2.10-3.55pm TP (Channel 81)
I am surprised that this extremely modest ‘whodunnit’ from B-director Montgomery Tully is still around! My personal archive lists it as no. 174 which means I saw it probably in early 1976. Three elderly ladies are under threat because they stand in the way of the inheritance of a boarding house. Interestingly, Who Killed Teddy Bear (1965) occupies slot no. 184; this is American and so the sleaze quotient is higher. There must have been something about late-night programming back then!
LORD JIM (1965) Tuesday 20 April 4.10-7.15pm Channel 41
In 1965, Peter O’Toole was a big star and this adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novel was a major release. He plays a sailor accused of cowardice who, as a consequence, wanders through South East Asia looking for a way in which to redeem himself. The film may be 20 minutes too long, but the photography and supporting cast (including James Mason, Curt Jurgens and Eli Wallach) are outstanding.
IN THE LINE OF FIRE (1993) Wednesday 21 April 9.00-11.40pm Channel 33
Clint Eastwood forsook the director’s chores, on this occasion, and Wolfgang Petersen did a great job – it is one of Eastwood’s best star vehicles. He plays a Secret Service agent still troubled by his inability to save JFK, who finds that history might be about to repeat itself. John Malkovich is superb as the would-be assassin and Ennio Morricone contributes an effective score.
THE PRIDE AND THE PASSION (1957) Thursday 22 April 4.20-7.05pm Channel 41
This historical epic has not been on a Freeview channel for several years. Based on CS Forester’s The Gun, it is the story of an English officer (Cary Grant) moving an enormous cannon to attack a French fortress during the Peninsular War. Frank Sinatra and Sophia Loren also star. On balance, most students of film would say that Stanley Kramer was a better producer than director – and yet, his best ones (as a director) made bold social statements and made for superior entertainment.
THE MAN WITH THE IRON HEART (2017) Thursday 22 April 10.00-11.55pm BBC 4
Whereas Operation Daybreak (1975) centred on the Czech resistance’s assassination of Nazi ‘golden boy’ Reinhard Heydrich, tonight’s drama employs a dual focus and begins with the domestic life of perhaps the most notorious of Hitler’s henchmen. These scenes are very effective. Apparently, the original title (and the one used in some European countries) was HHhH - an acronym for Himmlers Hirn heißt Heydrich ("Himmler's brain is called Heydrich").
YOUNG AND INNOCENT (1937) Friday 23 April 1.20-3.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Whilst it is not quite in the same class as the Fritz Lang masterpiece You Only Live Once (also a 1937 release), with which it shares some themes, this is still classic Hitchcock, albeit one of his lesser ones. Derrick de Marney is accused of murder and is on the run; the delightful Nova Pilbeam believes he is innocent and helps him. It contains one of Hitchcock’s most celebrated technical achievements: a crane/dolly shot that ends in a close-up of the murderer’s eye.
NOTE: the director’s Notorious follows immediately (and contains a reworking of the technical shot described above).
PHILOMENA (2013) Friday 23 April 11.35pm-1.10am BBC 1
Philomena was hugely popular in Lyme and deservedly so. Judi Dench is, of course, excellent as the elderly Irish woman searching for the child who was taken from her many years before. Steve Coogan is also very good as the journalist who helps her in her quest and it came as no surprise that he was so brilliant in Stan & Ollie.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
SOME RANDOM HOBOES
I had forgotten that the on-screen foreword to Emperor of the North included a dedication to the hoboes who were crisscrossing the United States during the Great Depression. Earlier the same evening (11 April), Nomadland was winning three major awards at the Baftas. It brought to mind some other notable films that deal with the same themes.
The pre-Covid season at the Marine included Sullivan’s Travels (1941), a brilliant and ageless satire from Preston Sturges. Joel McCrea plays a film director who, with 10 cents in his pocket, sets out to experience the “real world” that is out there, beyond the confines of Hollywood. David Carradine delivered his best performance in Bound for Glory (1976), the biopic of dustbowl balladeer Woody Guthrie. Songs such as Hard Travelin’ and I Ain’t Got No Home became (pun not intended) a moving chronicle of those times. The marvellous Beggars of Life (1928), which I saw at the Bridport Palace – with live music – in September 2018, was one of the last great silent movies. Louise Brooks is on the run and dressed as a boy and Wallace Beery plays Oklahoma Red, the tough hobo with a streak of kindness.
This does not mean to say, of course, that all the stories were in deadly earnest, as they could just as easily lend themselves to comedy. At the beginning of the short Night Owls (1930), Stan and Ollie are sleeping on a park bench and in One Good Turn (1931) they are desperate enough to ask widow Mary Carr for a handout. (Ollie: “I wonder if we could trouble you for a slice of buttered toast?” Stan: “And while you’re at it, could you slap a piece of ham on it?”) The French classic Boudu, Saved From Drowning (1932) is still very funny and better than the American remake Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), although Nick Nolte, Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler are certainly game enough. We could, of course, write a book on ‘the tramp on film’ – and, specifically with reference to Charlie Chaplin, that has been done many times. I am sure it would strike you as ridiculous to suggest that Chaplin is undervalued (after all, his image is the most famous, and recognised, in the history of cinema), but the pendulum swung some time ago towards the technical virtuosity of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd and even, for a brief dalliance, Harry Langdon. Charlie, though, was equally adept at humour and pathos – consider, for a moment, the opening to City Lights and the ending. I have watched a lot of films over the years and I would be hard pressed to name another scene from anywhere that captures pure emotion so perfectly, as that final sequence.
As for the hobo on television . . . I must end by reminding you all of The Littlest Hobo. It was a Canadian TV series that ran for 48 episodes between 1963 and 1965 and the central character was a German shepherd dog. The actor/dog was called London and it was a shame they did not do canine Oscars. There had been a low-budget film in 1958 and the TV series was revived during the 1980s. London starred in them all, so I think it is fair to say there must have been some sons or grandsons in there somewhere!
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