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In March, we welcome back another classic adventure series courtesy of Talking Pictures. Craig Stirling, Sharron Macready and Richard Barrett (Stuart Damon, Alexandra Bastedo and William Gaunt) were The Champions “of law, order and justice” for one season on ITV, 1968-69. They make their return Sunday 7 March at 9pm. On the film front, there is a mini Hitchcock season on BBC 2 this weekend consisting of The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes and Suspicion.
THE SECRET INVASION (1964) Saturday 20 February 3.00-5.05pm Channel 41
There are several points of interest here: Roger Corman directs, the odd pairing of Stewart Granger and Mickey Rooney heads the cast and the story foretells of The Dirty Dozen albeit with half the personnel. It is low-budget fare, but it does use that budget well.
STRONGER (2017) Saturday 20 February 11.25pm-1.15am BBC 1
A busy Jake Gyllenhaal made this biopic after last week’s Everest and turns in another creditable performance. Here he plays Jeff Bauman, an unfortunate victim of the Boston Marathon (domestic) terrorist attack in 2013.
THE LADY VANISHES (1938) Sunday 21 February 1.35-3.10pm BBC 2
Despite the poor model work in the opening sequence (well, it was 1938 and you did not go to Switzerland for location shooting), this is quintessential Hitchcock and still one of the best films made in Britain. Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave try to discover the whereabouts of dear Dame May Whitty – if she ever existed, of course.
ISLE OF DOGS (2018) Sunday 21 February 6.05-8.00pm Channel 4 P
I enjoyed thoroughly this animated feature on one of my trips to the Radway. Set in a futuristic Japan where there is a serious outbreak of canine flu, all the dogs have been banished to the outlying Trash Island. It is intelligent, entertaining, and satirical in all the right places, and the amazing voice cast includes the late Christopher Plummer.
BRINGING UP BABY (1938) Monday 22 February 1.00-2.40pm BBC 2
Baby is a 5-star comedy masterpiece, as funny now as it was on initial release. Cary Grant is the palaeontologist up to his eyeballs in bones; Katharine Hepburn the scatty heiress with a pet leopard called Baby.
INTO THE STORM (2020) Monday 22 February 9.00-10.25pm BBC 4 P
Another commendable Storyville documentary for us tonight – in this instance, the subject is a Peruvian teenager who hopes that his developing skills as a surfer will enable him to escape his impoverished background. An opportunity to hear some Spanish again, too!
WALK THE PROUD LAND (1956) Tuesday 23 February 2.10-4.00pm Channel 32
A modest western that just passes muster as an afternoon matinee; in part because earnest almost becomes dull. It is a shame because it tries hard, and with sincerity, to tell the story of John P. Clum (1851-1932), one of the few Indian Agents to emerge with credit. Aged barely twenty-three, he took over the San Carlos Reservation on 8 August 1874. The eternally youthful Audie Murphy is, therefore, a good fit and we also have Anne Bancroft and Jay Silverheels as Geronimo; it is just unfortunate that a Hollywood domesticity sub-plot gets in the way.
A SINGLE SHOT (2013) Tuesday 23 February 9.00-11.25pm Channel 33
I am suggesting that we might take a look at this crime thriller on the basis that Sam Rockwell, who was so good in Three Billboards . . ., has the key role. He is a hunter who finds himself in peril after a woman is killed and a criminal gang decides it would like its money returned. Its box office was negligible, so few people are likely to have seen it.
MR BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE (1948) Wednesday 24 February 1.00-2.30pm BBC 2
Classic comedy no. 2 starring Cary Grant; this time, he partners Myrna Loy. They play a pair of city dwellers who decide to relocate to the country and build the home of their dreams. Modern viewers will surely recognise the situations the couple find themselves in, and a particular delight (picked out by several critics) is the scene where Myrna Loy outlines a possible colour scheme . . .
VALKYRIE (2008) Wednesday 24 February 9.00-11.20pm Film Four
Tom Cruise wears an eyepatch in this one, as a German officer who organises a plot to assassinate Hitler. It does not hit many heights, but everyone does a professional job and the events depicted have always made an exciting story.
THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER (1981) Thursday 25 February 1.00-3.05pm Channel 41
If, following my recent ramblings, you would like to check out Klinton Spilsbury’s acting (and lip-synching) now is your chance! As I alluded to in that piece, visually it is quite striking and the film does serve the legend well.
EDUCATING RITA (1983) Thursday 25 February 9.00-10.50pm BBC 4
In the evening slot today is a very popular and successful comedy drama - both on stage and on screen – that gets the best out of Michael Caine and Julie Walters. He is the drunken tutor and she is the hairdresser who enrols as a student; they both won Baftas, as did the film.
THE ANGRY SILENCE (1960) Friday 26 February 6.05-8.05pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Ah, the days of shop stewards and union action – Richard Attenborough plays a strike-breaker who is ostracised by his workmates. Bryan Forbes contributes a tidy script and Pier Angeli is rather good as the wife who also has to suffer. And Oliver Reed props up the cast list again!
NIJINSKY (1980) Friday 26 February 9.00-11.30pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
TP kindly gives us another interesting film, which few of us will have seen. Based, in part, on the dancer’s diaries, George de la Pena takes on the role of Nijinsky and Alan Bates is effective as his impresario, and lover, Sergei Diaghilev. The film also marked the feature debut of Jeremy Irons.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
We have been under the latest lockdown restrictions for some time now and one of the modest rays of sunshine has been that, courtesy of some enterprising local pubs and businesses, it has still been possible to order a takeaway. A brief scratch of the head brings to mind a few films that might be on a menu, somewhere . . .
Some of you might remember Soursweet (1989-1990 season, reaction 71%), although this well-observed study of a family starting up its own restaurant seems not to be shown at all, these days. Hamburger Hill (1987), the story of the attack on Hill 937 in the Vietnam War, does appear quite regularly, however. Submarine (2010), whilst we did not programme it, is rather a sweet film about a self-obsessed teenager. Despite its title, The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977) earned a few laughs and some decent reviews, but it is probably best to avoid KFZ: Kentucky Fried Zombies (2009). Ditto With Six You Get Eggroll (1968), Doris Day’s final film, which had a very poor reception from critics and had audiences wondering where the laughs were meant to be. Actually, thinking about it a little more, comedies plus snacks seem not to match up too well: Canadian Bacon (1995) had a rasher-thin plot about the US invading Canada; The Sandwich Man (1966) had Michael Bentine wandering through London attached to a board and showing – despite a strong cast – that he couldn’t make the transfer from television; as for fellow-Goon Spike Milligan’s TV series Curry and Chips, the less said about it the better and we will not be seeing its six episodes on network television any time soon.
Do not despair, however – if we go back several decades, we can find some really good films from top, or underrated, directors. In 1934, King Vidor (responsible for one of the best silent films, The Crowd, in 1928) gave us Our Daily Bread, an independent drama about a farm collective with a memorable climactic sequence. Stuart Heisler’s The Biscuit Eater (1940) was a touching little film about two boys who train a sickly dog to be a champion and was superior to the 1972 Disney remake. In 1942, Victor Fleming (the director of GWTW) filmed John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat with Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr and John Garfield; it didn’t measure up to The Grapes of Wrath (1940), but was a decent adaptation, nonetheless. A personal favourite is The Big Combo (1955), a tough, sleazy, scintillating crime drama that made most other genre entries seem positively benign; you might recall that I sang the praises of cult director Joseph H Lewis last year.
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