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In a sign that the film world might be returning to some kind of normal, the Venice Film Festival was held recently. Cate Blanchett headed the jury, there was a special award for Tilda Swinton and the Frances McDormand film Nomadland won the Golden Lion. We’ll definitely be tracking that one! Closer to home, I’m delighted to say that the BBC showings of Casablanca and Doctor Zhivago were not isolated one-offs. I’d missed the fact that there is a Thursday Film Club season with a second – first?! – showing on a Sunday. This takes me back to my very happy, formative viewing years with the BBC’s High Adventure, Saturday Western, Wayne in Action and Midnight Movie seasons. I think the films to come are all going to be 5-star classics and will be commented on here!
THE DESERT RATS (1953) Saturday 26 September 7.10-9.00pm Channel 40
Sequels were virtually unheard of 75 years ago; Richard Burton and Robert Newton filmed this follow-up to The Desert Fox(1951) on a three-week schedule (including drinking sessions). James Mason cameos as Rommel and it’s all done very efficiently.
McQUEEN (2017) Saturday 26 September 9.45-11.30pm BBC 2
This is a Freeview première for the documentary on iconic fashion designer Alexander McQueen, who committed suicide in 2010 aged forty.
THE LAST WAGON (1956) Sunday 27 September 2.15-4.20pm Channel 31
Wagon doesn’t immediately spring to mind for ‘best of’ lists, but it’s really good. It is accomplished technically, looks great and Richard Widmark is splendid as Comanche Todd who helps – reluctantly – a small group of settlers, the survivors of an attack by hostiles.
NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) Sunday 27 September 4.50-7.00pm BBC 2
Also showing Thursday evening, BBC 4 (see later notes)
SNOWPIERCER (2013) Sunday 27 September 9.00-11.35pm Film Four
Following the success of Parasite Bong Joon-ho’s dystopian sci-fi thriller, set aboard a train that is home to a second ice age’s few survivors, has (rightly) attracted enhanced interest (and a TV series).
THE GIRL IN THE TAXI (1937) Monday 28 September 9.25-10.45am Talking Pictures (Ch 81)
Welcome to the first of two Freeview debuts today, both British, but poles apart. This is a light, musical farce, featuring the aristocracy, suitors and ‘correct’ marriages.
DARK RIVER (2017) Monday 28 September 11.15pm-11.05am Film Four
This was promising director Clio Barnard’s third feature. Ruth Wilson returns home to help her brother save the family farm. It is strong on character and settings, but don’t expect James Herriot!
CASH ON DEMAND (1961) Tuesday 29 September 11.20am-1.00pm Channel 40
This is a relatively unknown, but much respected, British co-feature. Peter Cushing is the bank manager whose life is about to change dramatically and works very well (again) with André Morell. Hopefully, the bank holds more than the cost of the film - £37,000.
BRITISH INTELLIGENCE (1940) Tuesday 29 September 4.45-6.00pm Talking Pictures (Ch 81)
Ha! We have a Warner Bros B-feature that uses a First World War background to warn against spies and dodgy butlers (the inimitable Boris Karloff). Only last week, this was my ‘bought years ago, still shrink wrapped’ lockdown DVD. It runs just over the hour, so perfect for tea and cake!
HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE (1965) Wednesday 30 September 12.50-3.10pm Film Four
Fear not ladies, this is a Jack Lemmon/Terry-Thomas comedy, typically 1960s (frothy, frenetic wives/ husbands/ girlfriends, often Tony Curtis or Rock Hudson). A bachelor wakes up married . . .
JESSE JAMES (1939) Thursday 30 September 1.50-4.00pm Channel 31
Tyrone Power is the famous outlaw and Henry Fonda his brother Frank; there is a fine score, glorious Technicolor and the quieter moments and action scenes mesh well. The main criticism levelled is that he is romanticised (true), but there were also genuine attempts at authenticity with location shooting near Pineville, Missouri – and research supplied by his granddaughter.
NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) Thursday 1 October 8.00-10.00pm BBC 4
Top-drawer, quintessential Hitchcock has Cary Grant the subject of mistaken identity, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason, the legendary crop-dusting scene and a climax on Mount Rushmore.
THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (1969) Thursday 1 October 10.00pm-12.15am TP (Channel 81)
Bureau is an Edwardian-period black comedy with an eclectic cast (Oliver Reed, the late Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas and Philippe Noiret). It is great fun for both cast and audience!
I REMEMBER MAMA (1948) Friday 2 October 11.20-2.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Mama is a lovingly made, exquisitely detailed (i.e. typically George Stevens) drama about a Norwegian immigrant family in San Francisco. It gave Irene Dunne a late-career hit although Cedric Hardwicke steals the acting honours. The later I Dismember Mama (1972) was quite different!
FLIGHT NURSE (1953) Friday 2 October 2.30-4.20pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Wow, this is a rarity! Set during the Korean War, Joan Leslie performs gamely as the nurse who helps to evacuate wounded troops. Allan Dwan had been directing since 1911 (some 400 films) and knew every trick in the book; indeed, he’d invented quite a few himself. Even he can’t make it a silk purse, but it was only ever intended as a second feature and money was very tight, by then, at Republic.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
A slight departure this week: inspired by the Thursday Film Club, I’ll take a brief look back at some entries in earlier BBC film seasons.
MAN OF CONQUEST (1939) Saturday 10 June 1967, 7.00pm BBC 1
Richard Dix stars as Sam Houston, the founder of Texas. It was the first time Republic Studios tried to compete with the majors and earned them three Oscar nominations. I was too young to see it then (1967, that is!) and, 50 years on, it is one of the few ‘must see’ sound westerns that I haven’t caught up with – yet!
DANGEROUS EXILE (1957) Tuesday 21 December 1971, 7.30pm BBC 1
Were it to be televised now, we could at least enjoy the colour! Apparently, it is quite a rousing swashbuckler, with a good score, in which Louis Jourdan helps rescue a young Louis XVII and takes him to Wales by balloon. Well, I’ll be looking out for it! It was directed by Brian Desmond Hurst (he had a fascinating life and career) and some of it was filmed on Cornish locations.
X THE UNKNOWN (1956) Saturday 15 July 1972, 11.50pm BBC 2
I remember my parents letting me stay up for this and it was scary! A misty, remote part of Scotland and a monstrous sludge is snacking on the supporting cast. (Leo McKern and Peter Hammond, then working on ITC adventure series such as The Adventures of Robin Hood were in there somewhere.) Dean Jagger popped over from the States to destroy it and Barry Norman’s father, Leslie, directed. On initial release, it was half of a double-‘X’ bill with a French film called The Fiends (the French classic Les Diaboliques!), but now – good grief – it is a PG! I still think it was scary . . .
THE SATURDAY WESTERN
THE LAW AND JAKE WADE (1958) Saturday 1 May 1976, 3pm BBC 2
Robert Taylor’s long tenure as a star at MGM was coming to an end, when he teamed up with Richard Widmark for this western. They make a good pairing, John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven) directs (he uses CinemaScope particularly well) and the supporting cast is a strong one. The leading actress is Patricia Owens; only eight years before, she had been a schoolgirl in The Happiest Days of Your Life, but by the mid-1950s had been given a shot at Hollywood stardom.
WAYNE IN ACTION
STAGECOACH (1939) Friday 15 January 1971, 10.15pm BBC 1
Another late night watch – these were happy days! Even back then, I knew it was a cut above the rest and, today, I still think so. In terms of rhythm, dialogue, ensemble performances and settings (sets with ceilings were quite the innovation), it is well-nigh perfect. (Orson Welles watched it 40 times in preparation for Citizen Kane.) So, it remains at no. 5 in my all-time list. We showed it at the Regent in our inaugural season (March 1989 marked 50 years since it was released) and it scored 89%. I watched it with some anxiety on the big screen – would the entrance of the Ringo Kid be as defining a moment in cinema history as Dilys Powell (if memory serves) said it was? Yes. And John Ford’s audacity in topping the legendary chase sequence, the likely climax to the film, with a shoot-out in Lordsburg, was a masterstroke.
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