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It is always a good thing when there is a point of local (or semi-local) interest in something we are watching, as several performances of The French Lieutenant’s Woman have borne out over the years. This can be minor, or unexpected, as in the 1941 Fritz Lang film Man Hunt, when we catch a brief glimpse of a signpost to Lyme Regis. Anyway, last Saturday, I just had to take a look at The Adventures of Sir Lancelot episode ‘Maid of Somerset’. In it, the dastardly King Meliot was selling all the young, in-their-prime, male cheddar makers into slavery. He and his henchmen got their comeuppance, of course, in a cave/cold storage facility that, in colour this time, seemed to foretell of the psychedelia that was still a thousand years away. I have to say, the moment when Lancelot (William Russell) shouted “the weapons are behind the cheese” made my day!
NIGHT WILL FALL (2014) Saturday 23 January 9.00-10.20pm Channel 18
Showing to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day, this is an absorbing – at times chilling – documentary on an Allied project to record, for posterity, the Nazi atrocities and why the project was never completed.
THE WHITE CROW (2018) Saturday 23 January 9.30-11.30pm BBC 2 P
Ralph Fiennes directs Ukranian dancer Oleg Ivenko in a biopic of Rudolf Nureyev. Focussing on Nureyev’s 1961 defection to the West gives it some dramatic heft and the return of some quality premières this week is most welcome.
CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (1950) Sunday 24 January 3.45-5.30pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Perhaps inspired by the success of Meet Me in St Louis (selected last year), or (more likely) by the desire of Americans to remember a time that wasn’t so riven by conflict, from about 1946-1953 there was a plethora of early 20th-century dramas from thrillers to musicals. This is a light, enjoyable comedy in which Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy try to keep their 12 children in some kind of order.
THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS (2016) Sunday 24 January 11.35pm-1.40am BBC 2
Tom (Michael Fassbender) returns to Australia after surviving the First World War. After marrying Isabel (Alicia Vikander), they opt for the solitude of a remote lighthouse and, hopefully, a new family. Whilst it doesn’t quite do the novel justice, there are several strong performances and it looks splendid.
TEN TALL MEN (1951) Monday 25 January 1.20-3.30pm Film Four
Burt Lancaster certainly travelled the world in the early stage of his career with The Flame and the Arrow (1950, Italy), this film (the Foreign Legion) and The Crimson Pirate (1952, the Mediterranean) all making use of his athleticism and devil-may-care persona. It is very entertaining and much superior to Alan Ladd’s Desert Legion (1953) – which is on Channel 41 at 5.20, if you would like confirmation.
SCORE: CINEMA’S GREATEST SOUNDTRACKS (2017) Monday 25 January 10.00-11.30pm BBC
How wonderful is this, for lovers of film and the music written especially for them? It covers almost a hundred years and some of the very best composers including Max Steiner, Bernard Herrmann and John Williams.
RIDE BEYOND VENGEANCE (1966) Tuesday 26 January 12.05-2.00pm Channel 32
These quiet Tuesdays are becoming a habit, so we’ll select a couple of oddities today. If you used to enjoy Chuck Connors in his TV series The Rifleman and Branded, then you might like to give this a try. Flashbacks abound as he returns home and seeks vengeance on those who have wronged him. It was put together by the Branded production team; there is a little extra violence for the cinema and, typically for the period, a combination of veterans (Joan Blondell and Michael Rennie) and newcomers (Kathryn Hays and Bill Bixby) in the supporting cast.
AMERICAN ANIMALS (2018) Tuesday 26 January 9.00pm-11.20pm Film Four P
American Animals had a number of 5-star reviews on release, but any success with us would have been problematic. Ostensibly about an arts heist with actors (or not) and actual participants (or not), its blend of both fact and fiction (or not) is a challenge that could be very rewarding.
COTTAGE TO LET (1941) Wednesday 27 January 1.05-2.55pm Film Four
The first thing that might strike you is that the casting seems to be back-to-front with Leslie Banks as the scientist whose invention is under threat, Alastair Sim as the detective and John Mills under suspicion. Anthony Asquith directs reliably, George Cole is notable in his film debut and it all makes for an entertaining propaganda piece.
THE GUILTY (2018) Wednesday 27 January 9.00-10.50pm Film Four P
It’s looking like a quiet night in a police call centre, until one of the officers takes a call from an abducted woman. The bare-bones settings and the imaginative sound design help immeasurably – this Danish thriller is a real nail-biter!
THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS (2018) Thursday 28 January 8.00-9.30pm BBC 4
John Boyne’s novel was perfect for encouraging discussions of the Holocaust in schools and Mark Herman (Brassed Off) turns it into a good film. Young Bruno (Asa Butterfield, showing much early promise), the son of a Nazi officer, is curious about the neighbouring ‘farm’ and soon makes friends with a boy his own age. Whilst not a film, strictly speaking, it is followed immediately by a very good TV drama THE EICHMANN SHOW. It tells the story of how a blacklisted TV director Leo Hurwitz (Anthony La Paglia) somehow gained permission to film the 1961 trial.
SEARCHING (2018) Thursday 28 January 9.00-11.05pm Film Four P
This is a novel and clever thriller that follows a father’s investigation of his daughter’s disappearance. The conceit is that he conducts it entirely on her laptop.
ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS (1969) Friday 29 January 11.00-2.00pm Film Four
This sumptuous epic had a flamboyance that the later TV series The Six Wives of Henry VIII couldn’t match. Geneviève Bujold is Anne Boleyn and Richard Burton is the king. Whilst even an actor of his magnitude couldn’t match Keith Michell’s interpretation, he was nominated for an Oscar (again). He lost to John Wayne for True Grit, but at least had the consolation of several drinks with the winner afterwards.
FADE-IN (1968/1973) Friday 29 January 8.05-9.55pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
To end the week, we have an ultra-rare presentation! The story is routine – a film editor has a love affair with a cowboy (Burt Reynolds) whilst on location – but it is the background to it that fascinates. Some of the cast of the western Blue (1968) agreed to do bit parts, the director Allen (or Alan) Smithee is a Hollywood pseudonym used when the director disowns the final product, and it was shelved without a cinema release before appearing on American TV in 1973. The actual director was Jud Taylor who worked exclusively for television and did some decent work with Oscar winners Shelley Winters, Susan Hayward and Cliff Robertson.
YOUNG GUNS (1988) Friday 29 January 11.35pm-1.15am BBC 1
In its own way, this too was a rarity – a 1980s western that drew an audience. Its young cast, led by Emilio Estevez as Billy the Kid, caused it to be labelled a ‘Brat Pack’ western. I found it brash, vigorous and rather refreshing – and the film’s success led to a sequel Young Guns II.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
Finally, we have a peaceful transition of power and a new President of the United States. It should be a while before anyone rushes to make a film about Donald Trump (produced, directed by and starring himself, no doubt), but it won’t surprise you to learn that American presidents have been considered ‘good material’ for the silver screen. With the exception, oddly, of the early ones: revolutionary wars and such have never been good box office. (Although Anthony Hopkins has played George Washington, John Quincy Adams - in Amistad, you might remember – and then came up-to-date with Richard Nixon which must be a record!) Charlton Heston was Andrew Jackson in The President’s Lady (1953, average at best) and in The Buccaneer (1958). Ulysses S. Grant has tended to appear in his Civil War guise (as in How the West Was Won) and The Three Mesquiteers wrote to President Garfield, on behalf of some dispossessed ranchers, in The Night Riders (1939).
Abraham Lincoln is something else again, of course. Walter Huston starred in a 1930 DW Griffith film of that name (it’s okay, but stagey), Henry Fonda took on the role in the excellent Young Mr Lincoln (1939) and Raymond Massey almost made a career out of it (Abe Lincoln in Illinois, 1940 and on four more occasions). More recently, Daniel Day Lewis was awarded an Oscar for his portrayal in Lincoln (2012).
Alexander Knox took on the title role in Wilson (1944) – it was a very good film, won five Oscars, but did not bring in the crowds. We presented Hyde Park on Hudson (2012) as a Silver Screen, with Bill Murray as Franklin D Roosevelt; he was fine, but the film less so. Much better was the 1976 TVM Eleanor and Franklin; its 208m running time enabled Jane Alexander and Edward Herrmann to really do them justice. Indeed, it was so successful a sequel subtitled the White House Years followed immediately. Similarly, the year before, Give ‘Em Hell, Harry had a brilliant performance from James Whitmore as Harry S. Truman in what was, effectively, a filmed stage performance. I would also recommend Tom Selleck (the Kevin Costner of TV movies, always reliable) in Ike: Countdown to D-Day (2004), although the focus is entirely on Eisenhower during the Second World War.
President Kennedy is probably second only to Lincoln in terms of screen portrayals. Cliff Robertson, in PT 109 (1963), portrayed him doing his war service, members enjoyed Thirteen Days (2000), set during the Cuban Missile Crisis and we witnessed his assassination in Jackie. Pride of place, however, ought to go to Martin Sheen for the 1983 TV mini-series.
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