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I was quite apprehensive about the final listing of the year. Usually, there are about 2,500 films on during Christmas – how could I possibly select maybe two a day? In the end, it was easier – there is a lot of dross at this time and repeats of classics that have been covered in recent weeks! Let me add just a couple of related/interesting items. Radio 4 is transmitting That Dinner of ’67 (31 December at 2.15pm) set behind the scenes of the film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? The excellent cast includes Adrian Lester, Daisy Ridley and Kenneth Branagh as Spencer Tracy. Sky Arts (Channel 11) is showing an old, b/w comedy sketch starring Freddie Frinton called Dinner for One (also New Year’s Eve, 7.00-7.20pm). It has been shown every year in Germany since about 1963 and has enormous viewing figures. It’s still guaranteed to bring a smile!
Here’s wishing you all a MERRY CHRISTMAS and a HAPPY NEW YEAR from everyone on the committee. Let’s hope our cinemas re-open soon!
LORD OF THE FLIES (1963) Saturday 19 December 3.45-5.30pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
I first saw this adaptation of William Golding’s seminal novel at Burnley Central Library as we were studying it in school. Not all of its ideas register forcefully, but the low-key, non-professional (and non-studio) approach works in the film’s favour and creates a vivid atmosphere.
THE EAGLE HAS LANDED (1976) Saturday 19 December 5.50-8.00pm BBC 2
This perennial favourite is showing today as part of a Michael Caine evening. Based on the successful novel by Jack Higgins, he’s a German paratrooper tasked with kidnapping Winston Churchill. There’s a very strong cast and director John Sturges (The Great Escape) gave us another winner.
MY GENERATION (2017) Saturday 19 December 9.20-10.40pm BBC 2
Michael Caine is the perfect choice to present this excellent documentary, with well-chosen archive footage, on the Swinging Sixties. The prime movers, such as Twiggy, Mary Quant and the Rolling Stones, are all present and correct.
SHADOWLANDS (1993) Sunday 20 December 2.45-4.50pm BBC 2
This note-perfect movie ought to be considered one of the best of the 1990s. Anthony Hopkins (as CS Lewis) and Debra Winger (as Joy Gresham) make a superb pairing and director Richard Attenborough’s recreation of the 1950s is perfect. Mind you, as an actor, that was his decade!
THE DEATH OF STALIN (2017) Sunday 20 December 9.30-11.10pm BBC 2 P
How kind of the BBC, to unveil one of our recent successes (2018-19 season, 79%) on ‘film society evening’. If you need a reminder, it is 1953, Stalin is dead and everyone is scrambling for pre-eminence. The comedy is very sharp and very black!
VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964) Monday 21 December 10.50am-12.15pm BBC 2
One of Elvis Presley’s better films: here, he’s a racing driver determined to win the local grand prix. Ann-Margret is a breath of fresh air and the songs, choreography and photography are all above average.
FLAME IN THE STREETS (1961) Monday 21 December 10.00pm-12 midnight TP (Channel 81)
Little doubt that this was a highly commendable team effort from director Roy (Ward) Baker and actors John Mills, Sylvia Syms, Earl Cameron and Johnny Sekka, so it’s a shame that it doesn’t reach the heights of, say, A Taste of Honey. Mills is the trade unionist whose liberal credentials are tested when his daughter falls in love with a Jamaican teacher and they plan to marry.
THE ADMIRABLE CRICHTON (1957) Tuesday 22 December 11.10am-1.05pm Channel 41
This role fits Kenneth More like a butler’s white glove: when he and his lordship’s family are shipwrecked, the manservant’s fortitude and practical know-how dictate that he must – reluctantly – assume command. Lewis Gilbert turns JM Barrie’s play into a rather droll comedy.
COLLATERAL (2004) Tuesday 22 December 10.40pm-12.30am BBC 1
Even though I am not a Tom Cruise fan I rather enjoyed Collateral on a trip to the Regent. He’s a hitman who forces a taxi driver to help him and a tense game of cat and mouse follows. It helps that Jamie Foxx is an actor of equal stature and that Michael Mann is at the helm.
SCROOGE (1951) Wednesday 23 December 11.30am-1.10pm Channel 5
Christmas is almost upon us, so perhaps it is time to watch one of the classic festive films, as highlighted last week. Alastair Sim is peerless in the title role.
PHANTOM THREAD (2017) Wednesday 23 December 10.00pm-12.05am BBC 2 P
I am still in shock that, despite its 5-star reviews, Phantom Thread finished bottom in our 2018-19 season with 71.5%. Perhaps the story of an obsessive fashion designer wasn’t weighty enough, even though Daniel Day Lewis’s performance is tailored as beautifully as his frocks.
THE CHRISTMAS TREE (1966) Thursday 24 December 12.50-2.00pm Talking Pictures (Ch 81)
This is the CFF film I wrote about last week: three children hatch a plan to find a Christmas tree and take it to a local hospital. Brian Blessed pops up as a policeman.
MEET ME IN ST LOUIS (1944) Thursday 24 December 1.25-3.15pm BBC 2
Classic Technicolor musical: it’s 1903, Judy Garland sings Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and young Margaret O’Brien was to win a special Oscar.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1984) Thursday 24 December 10.00pm- 12 midnight Channel 48
If you’d like to compare notes, this is the TVM with George C. Scott portraying Ebenezer Scrooge. Of extra interest, perhaps, is that location filming was done in Shrewsbury.
COCO (2017) Friday 25 December 3.10-4.45pm BBC 1 P
Here we have an animated feature from Pixar (winner of both an Oscar and a Bafta) that combines a vivid imagination with the expected technical virtuosity. A budding 12-year-old musician strums on a magic guitar and is transported to the Land of the Dead. It’s unusual to see Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations used as subject matter, although it did feature in the opening to the Bond film Spectre and in the Rawhide episode ‘Incident of the Day of the Dead’.
EL CID (1961) Friday 25 December 6.00-9.30pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Are you still full from lunch? If so, time to wallow in an old style epic with Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren, a fabulous Miklos Rozsa score and Super Technirama 70 (we hope!) to show off Yakima Canutt’s spectacular action sequences.
CALAMITY JANE (1953) Saturday 26 December 1.10-2.50pm BBC 2
Doris Day is atop the Deadwood Stage (although Chubby Johnson – no relation – is driving the team) and Howard Keel is Wild Bill Hickok in this very fine musical. Day is really good – not just vocally, but in her timing and sheer exuberance.
DUNKIRK (2017) Saturday 26 December 9.05-10.45pm BBC 1 P
Director Christopher Nolan is very talented and his take on the 1940 evacuation has much to commend it: a clever score from Hans Zimmer, some top-notch performances and virtuoso scenes both on the beach and in the air. Myself, I didn’t care for the deliberately narrow focus – I would have preferred a more expansive view of events – but that’s nitpicking, really!
SUITE FRANÇAISE (2014) Saturday 26 December 10.50pm-12.30am BBC 4
Another film set in France in 1940; the focus this time is on a small, occupied town and on the feelings one of its citizens develops for a German officer. Margot Robbie makes an early appearance low down the cast list and it enjoyed a good first run and Silver Screen at the Regent.
GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953) Sunday 27 December 12.45-2.40pm More 4 (Channel 18)
Versatile Howard Hawks made classics in all genres – here, it’s a frothy comedy musical. Jane Russell had top-billing, but Marilyn Monroe became the bigger star on the strength of it; aided considerably by the song Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend. Can you name the sequel, though? (See below.)
VON RYAN’S EXPRESS (1965) Sunday 27 December 9.00-11.20pm Channel 41
It was popular in UK cinemas and has remained so on television ever since. Frank Sinatra is the American POW, assisted by Trevor Howard, who commandeers a train as part of an escape plan. The film is a very professional job that makes its points about endurance and sacrifice, whilst being highly entertaining. Would it (or The Great Escape or Where Eagles Dare) be made today, though? THE SEQUEL WAS: Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955).
DO YOU KNOW THIS VOICE? (1964) Monday 28 December 8.30-10.00am TP (Channel 81)
Dan Duryea kindly popped over to Britain to make a couple of B-movie thrillers (Walk a Tightrope was the other) – and they both benefitted from the delicious way in which he combined effortlessly charm and a slightly unhinged viciousness. He’s a killer who can only be identified by his shoes.
A SHOT IN THE DARK (1964) Monday 28 December 11.00am-1.05pm Film Four
The best of the Pink Panther films: Peter Sellers is now properly front-and-centre, Herbert Lom and Burt Kwouk climb aboard and William Peter Blatty (The Exorcist) was co-writer. This is the one where Clouseau goes undercover at a nudist colony – priceless.
NICHOLAS NICKLEBY (1947) Tuesday 29 December 3.55-6.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
More Dickens for Christmas and, whilst it cannot compete with David Lean’s two masterpieces, Alberto Cavalcanti gives us a solid, atmospheric production. Derek Bond isn’t right in the title role, but Sir Cedric Hardwicke is a memorably nasty Uncle Ralph.
SCREAM FOR ME SARAJEVO (2017) Tuesday 29 December 9.00-10.15pm BBC 4
Bear with me – I’m not a fan of heavy metal either – but this looks to be a fascinating, quite unique documentary of a concert that I knew nothing about. Basically, in 1994, the UN asked Bruce Dickinson and Iron Maiden if they would put on a concert in war-torn Bosnia – and they said yes.
TO CATCH A THIEF (1955) Wednesday 30 December 1.05-2.50pm BBC 2
Hitchcock directs, Cary Grant is a retired cat burglar and Grace Kelly his romantic sparring partner. It isn’t North by Northwest (which follows, if you missed it recently), but is still superior to many.
SCOTLAND YARD/EDGAR WALLACE (2017) Wednesday 30 December 6.00-8.00pm TP (Channel 81)
I cannot be sure which Scotland Yard featurette it will be, as TP have been cross-scheduling and repeating this holiday, so take pot luck and join noted criminologist Edgar Lustgarten, c.1955. If the Edgar Wallace Mystery is the series opener proper, then it will be Clue of the Twisted Candle (1960) based on a 1918 novel. Bernard Lee (‘M’ in the Bond films) is the detective solving the crime.
THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES (2004) Thursday 31 December 12.55-3.35am Film Four
If I were to pluck a film out of the air and say ‘we should have booked that one for LRFS’, this would likely be the one. Gael Garcia Bernal plays Che Guevara as a young man, travelling across Latin America in the early 1950s. It captures brilliantly the nascent idealist who unknowingly is on the road to revolution. Initially, it might not strike you as ‘a great film’ – but it is.
DEAD OF NIGHT (1945) Thursday 31 December 6.50-9.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
75 years on and this portmanteau of ghost stories from Ealing Studios remains an all-time great. The fact that there were four directors, three writers and four original authors, only adds to its richness – and those of us who have seen it, still talk reverently about “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy”.
BUCK AND THE PREACHER (1972) Friday 1 January 6.00-8.10am Channel 41
Sorry, but I had to put in a western as soon as possible! Whilst it wouldn’t feature in a ‘best of’ list, it has several points of interest. Sidney Poitier directs (his debut) and co-stars with Harry Belafonte and Ruby Dee. There are roles for TV western regulars Cameron Mitchell, Denny Miller and Nita Talbot and the story has renewed topicality. (A wagon train of ex-slaves is harassed by nightriders.) James McEachin would soon be starring as Tenafly in a strand of Universal’s Mystery Movie series.
TEA WITH MUSSOLINI (1998) Friday 1 January 1.20-3.10pm BBC 2
It’s our first chance in a little while to catch Franco Zeffirelli’s semi-autobiographical story of a young boy being ‘looked after’ by a group of eccentric and formidable women, led by Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. It is preceded by a TP segment on Dames.
MR HOLMES (2015) Friday 1 January 6.20-8.00pm BBC 2
Mr Holmes happily re-unites director Bill Condon and Ian McKellen (Gods and Monsters, 1998) for this delicate, moving portrait of the master detective in his declining years. By modern convoluted standards, the story is simple – but this adds to its charm and is infinitely preferable to some of the outrageous nonsense served up in recent years. (Dinosaurs? Really?)
WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968) Friday 1 January 9.45-11.25pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
We end the day with a personal favourite and the first 5-star cult classic of 2021! Ian Ogilvy and Hilary Dwyer are the young lovers caught up in the evil machinations of one Matthew Hopkins (a superb Vincent Price). There is a lyrical, evocative score, too, that no-one seems to mention. The director, Michael Reeves, only made three features (Ogilvy was in them all); he died of an overdose after this film had wrapped aged just twenty-four. Who knows what gems there might have been in the 1970s as ‘horror’ became more respectable and censorship lessened?
I couldn’t let the year end without mentioning some of the sad losses we have incurred in 2020:
MAX VON SYDOW – a splendid actor, particularly when working with Ingmar Bergman
KEVIN DOBSON – American actor, most familiar as Detective Bobby Crocker in Kojak
STUART WHITMAN – a constant presence in film and television from the early 1950s
JOHN SAXON – never in the first rank, but always contributing characterisations that were a little different (Enter the Dragon and Death of a Gunfighter)
JAMES DRURY – best known as The Virginian on American television
IAN HOLM – the distinguished British actor, one of several to play Napoleon
ALAN PARKER – the British director who gave us Bugsy Malone and Midnight Express
MARGE CHAMPION (101) - the noted dancer and choreographer
SHIRLEY KNIGHT – the outspoken actress who made an early impact in Sweet Bird of Youth (1962)
JILL GASCOIGNE – British actress and star of the TV series The Gentle Touch.
EARL CAMERON (102) – the distinguished actor, born in Bermuda, of stage, screen and television
BEN CROSS – the actor who came to our attention in Chariots of Fire and who worked with Peter Duffell on The Far Pavilions.
ENNIO MORRICONE – the legendary film composer
KIRK DOUGLAS (103) and OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND (104) – two of Hollywood’s greatest and most successful actors
IRRFAN KHAN – the actor who gave such a wonderful performance in The Lunch Box
DAVID PROWSE – the man behind the mask of Lord Darth Vader
BARBARA WINDSOR – born Barbara Deeks, a Carry On regular and in Eastenders for the BBC
The James Bond community has lost three of its most celebrated figures this year: HONOR BLACKMAN and DIANA RIGG (both of whom were in The Avengers on TV) and, of course, SEAN CONNERY. Mr Connery was one of the relatively few British actors whose reach was both global and enduring.
Finally, and perhaps the saddest loss: CHADWICK BOZEMAN, aged only 43. He had already earned respect for his portrayals of Jackie Robinson and the musician James Brown and a huge fanbase with the superhero film Black Panther. Everyone who knew him has said there would have been so much more. His final film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, is a must-see.
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