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From time to time, I do ponder over why a particular film seems not to have that sprinkling of magic dust. A case in point would be The Black Orchid (1959) shown last Sunday by Talking Pictures TV. It’s not a bad film, but despite having Sophia Loren (who won Best Actress at Venice for her work here), Anthony Quinn (always interesting), Ina Balin and direction from Martin Ritt (Hud, 1963), it just doesn’t work to the level you would hope for. In this instance, the script is weak, the music sometimes very odd (more suited to a science-fiction film) and the Little Italy/tenement milieu isn’t entirely convincing. Do I regret watching it? Absolutely not: on balance, there were enough pleasures to be had including a nice ending that tied up all the loose ends.
A STAR IS BORN (1954) Saturday 24 October 1.10-4.00pm BBC 2
Also Thursday evening, BBC 4 (see later notes) and followed today by a Talking Pictures on musicals.
UNEASY TERMS (1948) Saturday 24 October 7.50-9.40pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Here’s another of those not-in-the-film guides, courtesy of TP. Michael Rennie is a private detective (quite unusual in British films) trying to solve the murder of Colonel Stenhurst in his country home.
APOSTASY (2017) Saturday 24 October 10.00-11.30pm BBC 2
The BBC’s Film of the Week. I wouldn’t go that far myself – except to draw attention to a worthy, low-key British project, which it is. It takes us into the lives of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Oldham and the family problems that ensue when one daughter becomes pregnant. We thought it was a little too ‘one note’ - dour even – for us to programme, but, to be fair, most reviews were very positive and so it is an excellent opportunity to see for yourselves.
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (2014) Sunday 25 October 12.30-1.55am BST BBC 2
This is a great way to celebrate Halloween! You are, perhaps, familiar with the subsequent TV series: a family of Kiwi vampires argue about domestic chores, whilst sucking the blood from the occasional virgin. It strikes a lovely balance between the hip, the hysterical and respect for genre conventions.
13 GHOSTS (1959) Sunday 25 October 6.55-8.30pm Channel 70
Without the benefit of schlock producer-director William Castle’s “Illusion-O”, we cannot guarantee how many ghosts will be visible! Never mind, this story of a nice American family that is bequeathed a haunted house (with treasure) should still be entertaining enough.
LOVING (2016) Sunday 25 October 10.00pm-11.55pm BBC 2
Loving is based on the true story of a Virginia construction worker whose girlfriend becomes pregnant. In 1958, this would be problem enough, but his girlfriend is also black. Joel Edgerton has built quite a CV since Animal Kingdom (2011-12 season, 72%) and Ruth Negga is equally moving.
LAW AND DISORDER (1958) Monday 26 October 4.25-6.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
This comedy is minor fare compared to the same director and writer’s The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), but it’s worth taking time out (with cake of course). Michael Redgrave is very good as the petty crook trying to explain away his life of crime.
A QUIET PLACE (2018) Monday 26 October 9.00-10.45pm Film Four
I was keen to book it two seasons ago, but we were still smarting after the failure of The Babadook! To stalk their human prey, alien invaders are totally reliant on sound. It is imaginative, really well-acted and, at times, almost unbearably tense.
HONDO (1953) Tuesday 27 October 12.50-2.30pm Film Four
“There never was a man like Hondo!” screamed the publicity. John Wayne is the cavalry scout looking to protect an Oscar-nominated Geraldine Page (her deglamourised ‘heroine’ was very unusual in a 1950s Hollywood western) and her son. Originally filmed in 3D, so feel free to duck!
THE GREAT GATSBY (1974) Tuesday 27 October 10.00pm-12.50am Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
All the major versions (1949, 1974, 2013) are pretty much on a par – interesting, good period detail, charismatic leads (here it’s Robert Redford and Mia Farrow), but not outstanding. The one to see would be the 1926 original, but, alas, only the trailer survives.
THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (1965) Wednesday 28 October 4.25-7.15pm Channel 40
An aeroplane crashes in the desert after going off course; the only possible escape is for the survivors to build another one from the wreckage. James Stewart heads an excellent cast and, as an ex-member of the Army Air Corps, must have relished the opportunity to be on board!
BEWARE, MY LOVELY (1952) Wednesday 28 October 10.00-11.35pm TP (Channel 81)
We all knew how few women directors there used to be (and still are), but Ida Lupino flew the flag more than capably. Here, she also co-stars with the always impressive Robert Ryan. It’s not unusual to hire a handyman before Christmas; unfortunately, this one is psychotic....
COVER GIRL (1944) Thursday 29 October 9.05-11.15am Channel 40
Columbia couldn’t quite match MGM’s finest but this musical is still top-notch: a Jerome Kern score, Rita Hayworth providing the glamour and Phil Silvers the comedy, and Gene Kelly given free rein to create some innovative, brilliant dance sequences.
A STAR IS BORN (1954) Thursday 29 October 8.00-10.45pm BBC 4
Each generation seems to have its own A Star is Born that is embraced lovingly by the public. I’m quite fond of the Barbara Streisand/Kris Kristofferson edition (1976), am on record as saying that Lady Gaga’s is overrated and would side with film critic Andrew Collins in saying that the 1937 film is my favourite, if not quite the best. (Although Frederic March is the best Norman Maine and there is some scintillating dialogue, in part courtesy of Dorothy Parker.) There is absolutely no doubt, however, that the 1954 version is the one that enjoys mythical status. This is down to director George Cukor coaxing one last great performance from one of the cultural icons of the 20th century, namely Judy Garland. (Here performing ‘The Man That Got Away’, ‘Born in a Trunk’ and investing so much of her real self.) James Mason had excellent reviews too – “easily the finest performance of his career” said the Daily Telegraph – but Miss Garland owns the entire film. The Oscar, though, went to Grace Kelly for The Country Girl – a travesty best summed up by Groucho Marx, who declared it to be “the biggest robbery since Brink’s”. Incidentally, no-one talks about – and few have probably seen – the very first version What Price Hollywood? which was also directed by George Cukor.
HELL DRIVERS (1957) Friday 30 October 5.50-8.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
In essence, a British riff on The Wages of Fear (1953): haulage drivers work at dangerous speeds for an unscrupulous manager (William Hartnell). With Stanley Baker, Patrick McGoohan as Red, the ruthless ‘king of the yard’, Herbert Lom and Sean Connery, it is electrifying. The director, Cy Endfield, and Stanley Baker later went on to make Zulu (1963).
TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016) Friday 30 October 11.20pm-1.40am Film Four
Let’s conclude the week with this outrageous, tremendously gripping South Korean horror film. Escaping from zombies in a park is tricky enough, but on a train....
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
It has just been announced that Gal Gadot - the Israeli actor who played the title role in the hugely successful Wonder Woman (2017) - has signed up to make a new film about Cleopatra. (Paramount Studios has won the bidding rights.) This will be the latest of several versions over the years. The most famous is the 1963 epic (and, at 243 minutes, it remains the longest) with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The view has long been held that it almost led to the demise of 20th Century-Fox. With US rentals of $26 million, it topped the box office charts; the problem was it had cost $44 million. Thankfully for the studio, The Longest Day was doing splendidly and was to have a worldwide gross of $100 million. Some of the Cleopatra sets were put to further use – cannily – for Carry on Cleo, one of the best of the series. (Who can forget the line: “Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!”?) Cecil B. DeMille’s Cleopatra (1934) has a good performance from Claudette Colbert, but Warren William (later The Lone Wolf) makes a poor Julius Caesar. Vivien Leigh was the star of Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), but it didn’t do justice to George Bernard Shaw’s play and, as a rule, is only praised for its use of Technicolor. It does pop up on Talking Pictures TV if you want to catch it. Also not a classic was Cleopatra’s Daughter (1961) with Debra Paget, one of many sword-and-sandal epics being made in Italy at that time. The rarest Cleopatra dates from 1917 and was played by legendary vamp – and probably the first manufactured star – Theda Bara. This is now a lost film (a few minutes survive) and would be a tremendous find. Happily, the 1912 Cleopatra with Helen Gardner (who also produced) is still extant.
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