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There are very few premieres for us this week, but the BBC has extensive coverage of the snooker, so we will have to be patient for a little while. The 93rd Academy Awards ceremony takes place in the early hours of Monday morning (UK time) – and it will be a big surprise if Nomadland does not win for best film, actress and director.
JULIA (1977) Saturday 24 April 6.50-9.10pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Julia is a film that isn’t shown very often which is a great pity (I doubt that I have seen it more than once since making one of many visits to the Commodore cinema in 1978). It recounts the 1930s friendship between writer Lillian Hellman (Jane Fonda) and her friend Julia (Vanessa Redgrave), who is organising resistance to the Nazis. Nominated for 11 Oscars, it won three (including one for Ms Redgrave) and it marked the feature film debut of Meryl Streep.
THE EXCEPTION (2016) Saturday 24 April 9.00-11.15pm Channel 33
By a coincidence, we have a second drama this evening that has an interesting, Jewish story to tell. A soldier who is ordered to watch over the exiled Kaiser Wilhelm falls in love with a young housemaid. The upcoming British actor Lily James and the late Christopher Plummer register strongly; it isn’t as good as Julia, but has enough to commend it.
THE HISTORY OF MR POLLY (1948) Sunday 25 April 11.45am-1.45pm TP (Channel 81)
This adaptation of the HG Wells novel still amuses 70 years after it was made. John Mills is very good indeed as the draper in an unhappy marriage, who finds himself in various scrapes. At times, it is reminiscent of Henry Fielding but transposed to a Victorian setting.
THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT (1956) Sunday 25 April 3.30-5.30pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
I think it is fair to say that this is a film that would not be made in 2021, owing to Jayne Mansfield’s outrageous parody of her own physical self, as press agent Tom Ewell tries to make her a singing star at the behest of her gangster boyfriend. Director Frank Tashlin was renowned for his sight gags and he makes this a winning combination of a major studio satirical comedy and the new threat to teenage America, namely rock ‘n’ roll. Nearly all the 1956-59 films that featured the new craze were short, b/w and cashing in. Tashlin helped to bring the music into the mainstream by giving free rein (in colour and widescreen) to Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino and others.
STURDAY NIGHT OUT (1963) Monday 26 April 9.00-10.55pm TP (Channel 81)
All credit to TP for bringing us another rare, largely forgotten, film. The plot is a slender one – five merchant seamen on a day out in London – but it has a good mix of actors (Bernard Lee, Nigel Green, Heather Sears and Francesca Annis) and a good feeling for time and place. It is director Robert Hart-Davis’ most accessible film; for sure, Gonks Go Beat (on DVD) would not qualify! Virtually unknown then and now, his films often had imaginative camera placement and movement, but were mostly exploitation. Two of his horror films, Corruption (1968) and The Fiend (1971) are quite bonkers, but have their admirers.
THE BALLAD OF LEFTY BROWN (2017) Monday 26 April 11.10pm-1.20am Channel 32
It was never more than a long shot for a LRFS booking and it does not have the kudos of the Coen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018). However, they both contain insightful variations on western themes; in this case, it is the sidekick (Bill Pullman) who takes centre stage when his partner (Peter Fonda) is murdered. Thus, at one fell swoop, the director (Jared Moshe) upended several hundred B-westerns.
THE EMBEZZLER (1954) Tuesday 27 April 6.30-8.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
The Embezzler is a very modest production in which a bank clerk facing retirement contemplates a change in lifestyle. Between 1938 and 1958, Charles Frank appeared in over a hundred British films as a supporting actor; he must have been thrilled to have had a leading role at long last!
THE KID (2019) Tuesday 27 April 9.00-11.05pm Film Four P
Please don’t expect a great deal from yet another take on the Billy the Kid story, but at least it is a new film and has Ethan Hawke (Maudie) in the cast. My heart does sink, though, whenever I see the word ‘reimagining’ and I suspect that, dramatically, it is on a par with Buster Crabbe’s ‘inhabiting’ of the character in the 1940s.
DON’T TALK TO STRANGE MEN (1962) Wednesday 28 April 9.05-10.25pm TP (Channel 81)
Although it did not receive the same critical attention, or cause quite the same fuss, as Hammer’s Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960), it carries the same social message and builds up a fair measure of tension. The comfort settings (village pubs, red telephone boxes and nice, sensible parents) are used well and the film is worth a look.
THE CRYING GAME (1992) Wednesday 28 April 11.10pm-1.25am Film Four
Eventually, The Crying Game was recognised as one of the best, most original, films of the early 1990s – but it was American audiences who discovered it first. Neil Jordan won an Oscar for the screenplay and its astute blend of romance, politics of the day and domestic terrorism made it a welcome addition to the film society and art house circuit.
THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946) Thursday 29 April 1.15-3.20pm Film Four
There were several splendid thrillers in the mid-forties from novels by Raymond Chandler (or James M. Cain) and starring the likes of Bogart and Dick Powell. Here, Alan Ladd dons the raincoat (it was his final teaming with Veronica Lake) as Johnny Morrison, fresh from military service, who discovers that his unfaithful wife has been murdered. If it is a notch below the likes of The Big Sleep, it is probably because director George Marshall worked almost exclusively with lighter material.
SAVAGE (2018) Thursday 29 April 11.15pm-1.30am Film Four P
We are short on premières this week, so you might consider recording this Chinese action film about a cop who is after a gang of bullion thieves. Please note, though, it is a film that is light on philosophical asides and heavy on heart-stopping thrills and moments of violence.
WARN THAT MAN (1943) Friday 30 April 3.20-5.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
To all extent and purposes this was an early prototype for The Eagle Has Landed (1976) in that the plot is built around an attempt to kidnap Winston Churchill. It makes you wonder how the wartime audience reacted! At the time he made this, Gordon Harker was known best for his Inspector Hornsleigh characterisation.
RONNIE’S (2020) Friday 30 April 10.00-11.45pm BBC 4
If you lived in London fifty years ago and/or are a jazz fan, then this documentary is for you. The film has some revealing interviews and some great archive footage.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
DISCOVERING THE WESTERN
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the fact that Sky Arts was showing a documentary/discussion called Discovering Westerns on Film. It was enjoyable and, if you have an interest in the genre or just film in general, and want to have an idea as to which ones are held in high regard, I would recommend catching a repeat transmission. We have highlighted about 65% of them in our weekly listings, so there are not too many surprises and most of the titles would be familiar to you. Did I agree entirely with their choices and order of merit? No, of course not . . .
As much as I have always admired Gary Cooper as an actor, it is appropriate that only one of his films (High Noon) should make a Top 25, although his ‘Quaker western’ Friendly Persuasion is excellent and better than some of those selected. However, not a single film with either Randolph Scott or Joel McCrea was a genuine surprise - particularly since they appeared together in Guns in the Afternoon (aka Ride the High Country) and it would make my Top Five. Nor would I have chosen Winchester ’73 as the best of the James Stewart/Anthony Mann partnership. It is interesting, too, that they also chose not to include a comedy western or a modern western such as Lonely Are the Brave or (a personal favourite) the superb Bad Day at Black Rock. What should not come as a surprise to anyone, are the three chosen as representative of Clint Eastwood’s contribution to the genre or the fact that one third of the titles feature John Wayne.
Allowing for some substitutions with films that one might feel are of equal merit (or marginally better), their list is, overall, a decent one and uncontroversial. There were just three occasions when I found myself shouting ‘surely not’:
1.JOHNNY GUITAR (1954). To be fair, it was adored by French critics 60 years ago, made the ‘best of’ lists of both Christopher Frayling and Phil Hardy and in the context of doing something different with the conventions of the genre . . . no, I can’t, not a Republic western starring Joan Crawford and made all the more garish by their Trucolor process. Mind you, it does contain one of the best lines in any western, courtesy of Sterling Hayden: “I never shake hands with a left-handed draw”.
2.GUNFIGHT AT THE OK CORRAL (1957). It is entertaining, but overblown from the moment Frankie Laine starts singing the title song. It isn’t even the best film about Wyatt Earp (the one that is, makes the list as well – thankfully); I would go as far as to say that Tombstone (1993) is also better.
3.THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER (1965). Don’t get me wrong, I like the film and I must have seen it twenty times since its TV debut clashed with The War Wagon Saturday, 23 December 1972. (There was a lot of agonising that day – no VCR recorders, of course.) It just isn’t Top Twenty – and if it is, where are The Comancheros and North to Alaska?
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