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There were a couple of tricky moments this week when trying to write about a minimum of two films each day. Primarily this occurs because I aim to select films that we haven’t covered before and it gets a little more difficult each week! This means also that there are some very good films not included below (for example Dark River and the 1950 Broken Arrow) because we have turned the spotlight on them in previous weeks.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1940) Saturday 27 February 11.30am-1.25pm BBC 2
Definitely not filmed in Lyme Regis, but it is still recognisably Jane Austen and a welcome opportunity to re-acquaint ourselves with Laurence Olivier’s Mr Darcy and Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennet. Garson was MGM’s new star and so they pulled out all the stops (Aldous Huxley co-scripted, sumptuous art direction and costumes) and it received excellent reviews.
ONE GOOD TURN (1954) Saturday 27 February 6.00-8.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
First of all, I shall remind you that I am not a fan of Norman Wisdom. Nevertheless, this is reckoned to be one of his better vehicles. Employed by an orphanage, he tries desperately to raise money to save it from closure. The songs include ‘Take a Step in the Right Direction’ and the film was very popular with British audiences. Joan Rice co-stars; she had played Maid Marian opposite Richard Todd in 1952 and had a fairly brief, but interesting, career thereafter.
FRANTZ (2016) Sunday 28 February 1.55-3.40am BBC 2
This proved to be a good film for us in the 2017-18 season – 84% audience reaction and no 1-star ratings! You might recall the lovely use of some b/w cinematography and the gentle way in which the story unfolds.
SORRY ANGEL (2018) Sunday 28 February 10.00pm-12.05am BBC 4 P
Let’s make it a double bill of French films today! Set in the 1990s (as opposed to 1919), Jacques is a gay writer who is HIV positive; he befriends a younger man, Arthur, who is unsure of his sexuality. Whether or not they will have a future together is, of course, questionable.
12 ANGRY MEN (1957) Monday 1 March 2.50-4.45pm Film Four
Originally a TV play, and mostly set in a single room, any doubts that it might not work on a large screen were dispelled very quickly. Henry Fonda is superb as the juror trying to convince the other eleven that a man is innocent. It was director Sidney Lumet’s first film and it remains one of the all-time greats.
ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (2015) Monday 1 March 6.55-9.00pm Film Four
The obvious is a good enough reason to watch – a knowingly deadpan drama about two teens (Olivia Cooke and Thomas Mann) who become close friends after she is diagnosed with leukaemia – but there is a bonus for members. How many nods to film greats can we spot as the touching tale unfolds?
SINBAD THE SAILOR (1947) Tuesday 2 March 9.35-11.50am Channel 41
Richard Wallace directed two colour films for RKO in 1947 (Tycoon was the other). They shared some of the same strengths (good Technicolor, strong male leads, Anthony Quinn in support and some good action sequences) and, unfortunately, some of the same weaknesses (artificial-looking sets, routine dialogue – John Twist worked on both – and a lack of chemistry with the lead actresses). The saving grace here is Douglas Fairbanks Jr, who does his father proud and makes the film great fun.
BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015) Tuesday 2 March 6.16-9.00pm Film Four
Steven Spielberg was on good form here and gave us an espionage thriller that is literate, absorbing from the start and enjoyable to the end. Tom Hanks is the lawyer asked to go to Berlin to negotiate an exchange, in a role that reminded me of Gary Cooper in Cloak and Dagger (1946). It was Mark Rylance, though, that won both an Oscar and a Bafta.
BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE (1958) Wednesday 3 March 11.00am-12.40pm Film four
We have covered nearly all the Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott westerns now! Here, he rides into Agrytown on the Mexican border; it is named after a family so corrupt that they double-cross each other, and our hero soon falls foul of them. The duo only made two town-based westerns and, whilst they are the weakest of the group, Buchanan has a little more levity, the twists and turns work and the settings are realistic enough to have you brushing off the dust and ordering a shot of tequila.
BREAKING IN (2018) Wednesday 3 March 9.00-10.45pm Film Four
Shades of Panic Room in a film that is probably best viewed as the modern (souped up) equivalent of a RKO B-thriller. A mother and her children have to outwit a criminal gang after some money. The only other option is to have a quiet night, I am afraid!
LASSIE FROM LANCASHIRE (1938) Thursday 4 March 2.30-4.10pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
The bad news first – it does not star Gracie Fields and was filmed in a studio in London. The good news is that it is quite rare and the musical numbers are reasonably diverting. (Or, it might just be that I am feeling homesick.) Marjorie Browne only has four films to her name, but at least she was born in Salford!
A UNITED KINGDOM (2016) Thursday 4 March 9.00-10.45pm BBC 4
Eighty years on and British cinema, and society, had witnessed considerable change. Based on real post-war events, Rosamund Pike is excellent as Ruth Williams, a lowly clerk who fell in love with Prince Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo, also splendid), when he was studying in London. Their decision to marry caused all sorts of ructions, even involving the then Prime Minister, Clement Atlee.
RUN SILENT RUN DEEP (1958) Friday 5 March 5.00-6.50pm Film Four
No matter the director or actor, most submarine pictures tend to run aground pretty quickly. (Operation Pacific, which I watched again a week ago, being one such film.) This one is a cut above, however. Director Robert Wise shows his versatility again and Burt Lancaster was never averse to testing his mettle against an actor of equal (or greater) stature. In this case, Clark Gable who could, of course, draw on his own wartime experience.
ALIEN NATION (1988) Friday 5 March 9.00-10.50pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Alien Nation makes a most welcome debut tonight on Talking Pictures. It is a smart science-fiction movie that steps outside genre boundaries in similar vein to the more recent District 9 (2009). James Caan and Mandy Patinkin are buddy detectives searching for a killer; the difference is that the latter is a member of the alien Tenctonese race, stranded on Earth and struggling to assimilate. The theme of racial tolerance was developed further by Kenneth Johnson (no relation) for a subsequent TV series (and five TV movies) that finally came to the terrestrial channels in 1995, and made good late night viewing.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
MR LAUREL AND MR HARDY
In a recent Radio Times article, film critic Andrew Collins recounted how, as a child, County Hospital had made him howl with laughter. This mirrored my own experience growing up and is also a cherished memory with regard to my own children during their formative years. I remember showing them The Laurel and Hardy Murder Case (1930) – universally said to be one of the duo’s weakest films – and, yes, they howled with laughter. It saddens me that their films no longer appear on the BBC so as to introduce a new generation to their timeless comedy. With the exception of those few films that are unavailable or lost, I have seen nearly all the films they made together (25 features and 50-plus shorts) many times now and will still put on a DVD if I need to raise a smile. So, here are ten highlights from their two (sometimes three)-reel shorts:
1.WRONG AGAIN (1928). Hearing about the huge reward for “Blue Boy”, Stan and Ollie return it to its rightful owner; the problem is, they take the horse and the grateful owner asks them to put his painting “Blue Boy” on the piano!
2.BIG BUSINESS (1929). The entire film is the highlight – it has often been described as the best ever two reels of pure comedy. On a mission to sell Christmas trees the boys dismantle James Finlayson’s house (dear Fin). In revenge, he targets their car.
3.MEN O’ WAR (1929). Ever the Southern gentleman, Ollie attempts surreptitiously to return a pair of panties he has found in the park; enter young lady looking for the gloves which she had cleaned with gasoline earlier that morning . . .
4.HOG WILD (1930). The one where Stan and Ollie try valiantly to erect a radio aerial!
5.HELPMATES (1931). One of their best shorts (and one which we showed in our 1990-91 season, audience reaction 73%). Stan offers to help his friend clean the house before Mrs Hardy gets home – really, he should not have accepted!
6.THE MUSIC BOX (1932). This, their Oscar-winning short, is the one with a piano and a very long flight of steps.
7.COUNTY HOSPITAL (1932). Ollie is in hospital and hoping for some peace and quiet. Stan visits and brings him some hard-boiled eggs and some nuts!
8.BUSY BODIES (1933). Finally, the boys have proper jobs – in a sawmill. This means, of course, that there are lots of planks, hammers and planes.
9.GOING BYE BYE (1934). As the judge gives villainous Walter Long a life sentence, key witness Stan shouts “Aren’t you going to hang him?” Later, as Ollie answers the phone, he says politely to the caller “Pardon me just a moment, my ear is full of milk!”
10.TIT FOR TAT (1935). The only time they filmed a sequel (to Them Thar Hills) is their last classic exploration of ‘mutually assured destruction’ – this time with Charlie Hall. Charlie redesigns Ollie’s bowler (with a bacon slicer) and his nose (with a pair of electrical pliers).
It wasn’t only Stan and Ollie, of course. We must also thank James Finlayson, Charles Hall, Tiny Langford, Walter Long and all the Mrs Laurels, Mrs Hardys, vamps and ladies in distress.
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