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We can look forward to a little more cheer than usual this week – BBC 2 is running a Festival of Funny season. The half-a-dozen films include In the Loop and Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa. Fans of TV comedy shows are also catered for, with programmes on such luminaries as Caroline Aherne and Dave Allen. The day I am looking forward to is Sunday – two contrasting, but very effective thrillers, plus episode 1 of The Champions! Stay safe everyone.
THE IPCRESS FILE (1965) Saturday 6 March 1.00 2.45pm BBC 2
Harry Palmer, the spy who was the antithesis of the suave lady-killer James Bond, was clearly a breakout role for Michael Caine. Backed by a splendid John Barry score he is excellent and the character was popular enough to warrant two immediate sequels and a catch up thirty years later.
POLY STYRENE: I AM A CLICHÉ (2021) Saturday 6 March 9.00-11.00pm Channel 11
Recently reviewed with some enthusiasm by Mark Kermode, this is a very good documentary on one of the iconic figures of the punk movement. There is added interest – and authenticity – because her daughter, Celeste Bell, was heavily involved creatively in the project.
MARGIN CALL (2011) Saturday 6 March 11.20pm-1.00am BBC 1
After a year of Covid-19, the financial crisis of 2008 seems almost bland. However, the story still grips as the employees of an investment bank begin to realise that their world is about to implode. Kevin Spacey leads a strong cast that includes Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci and Demi Moore.
WANTED FOR MURDER (1946) Sunday 7 March 10.00am-12.05pm Channel 55
Eric Portman’s films (and performances) are always worth seeking out and this thriller is no exception. He is the descendant of a hangman who feels compelled to strangle young ladies in 1940s London; Roland Culver is the detective out to stop him. This film, sad to say, is not well known, but is better than a lot that are.
THE GANGSTER, THE COP, THE DEVIL (2019) Sunday 7 March 10.00-11.45pm BBC 4 P
This is an exciting debut and, in many ways, what our weekly listings are all about. It is a slick South Korean thriller about a criminal gang boss who, after a serial killer known only as “K” almost makes him his next victim, forms an alliance with the police officer who has been hoping to bring them both to book.
THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) Monday 8 March 1.00-3.00pm Channel 68
I recommended this film last year, but as it is science-fiction at its finest and we have a quiet day . . . great idea, fine special effects and, most importantly, it does not shrink (sorry) from the perfect ending.
WOMEN IN FILM: BBC INTRODUCING ARTS Monday 8 March 10.00-11.00pm BBC 4
Something different that is easily worth an hour of our time – a collection of short films by female directors (and artists) to celebrate International Women’s Day. It promises to be a very refreshing and stimulating watch!
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL GUNFIGHTER (1971) Tuesday 9 March 12.25-2.20pm Channel 32
Not quite as funny as its predecessor, Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969), but director Burt Kennedy and James Garner, Jack Elam and Harry Morgan have a ball once again. Almost all the satirical barbs find their target and, some fifty years later, I can still smile at the memory of villain Chuck Connors trying to die with his boots on!
TOMAHAWK (1951) Tuesday 9 March 5.30-7.10pm Film Four
Van Heflin was a good actor, whether in support (as in Shane) or in the lead (as in The Prowler – an excellent example of film noir). Here, he is legendary scout Jim Bridger trying to keep the peace on the frontier. It isn’t a masterpiece, but Heflin’s understated playing makes it worthwhile viewing. There is also a fleeting glimpse of Rock Hudson!
DETECTIVE STORY (1951) Wednesday 10 March 3.00-5.05pm Film Four
This is welcome timing (see below) – one of Kirk Douglas’s strongest roles, as an embittered detective who is not averse to bending the rules. It isn’t the sort of film we would normally associate with William Wyler (Roman Holiday, Ben-Hur), but he could turn his hand to anything. If the film has dated at all, it is only because there have been so many police procedural dramas since, for this remains a powerful piece of work.
THE COLOR OF MONEY (1986) Wednesday 10 March 9.05-11.35pm Talking Pictures (Ch 81)
After many years of work that contained some exceptional performances, Paul Newman finally received an Oscar for this sequel to his earlier classic The Hustler (1961). Again he plays Fast Eddie Felson, this time hoping to tutor a young Tom Cruise in the art of winning serious money playing pool. It took a while before Martin Scorsese won an Oscar, too – strange world!
THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME (1947) Thursday 11 March 7.40-9.30am Channel 41
Here we have today’s underrated gem in the breakfast slot! The story, told mostly in a well-structured flashback, has Robert Young trying to convince a jury that he really did not kill anyone. Becoming involved with three women was always going to be risky, of course. Robert Young usually played ‘Honest Joes’ and this makes for a very effective twist ending.
CARRY ON TEACHER (1959) Thursday 11 March 4.55-6.40pm Film Four
Time to have some fun and revisit our school days as they used to be (perhaps)! The formidable Hattie Jacques is wearing a mortar board, the pupils have the itching powder, and Kenneth Connor teaches science and Joan Sims physical education. (‘Are you satisfied with your equipment Miss Allcock?’ ‘Well I’ve had no complaints so far!’)
BLITHE SPIRIT (1945) Friday 12 March 3.00-5.00pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
The recent revival with Angela Lansbury is a timely reminder of the highly polished original. Filmed in colour by David Lean, it starred Rex Harrison, but it is the peerless Margaret Rutherford, as Madame Arcarti, that everyone remembers to this day.
RAISING ARIZONA (1987) Friday 12 March 7.05-9.00pm Channel 33
Although we did not book it ourselves this was one of the titles on everyone’s planning list, back in the day. An early work of the Coen brothers, Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter are the childless couple who decide to kidnap one of a set of quintuplets. An initial response might be ‘surely, this isn’t suitable material for comedy’, but the Coens have never been ones to tread the conventional path!
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
BURT versus KIRK!
As the weeks and months have gone by, I have included quite a few films that starred Burt Lancaster or Kirk Douglas. This was not planned, it is simply that they are popular with schedulers and they each appeared in several very good films. They both made their Hollywood debuts at the same time (1946), caught the attention of audiences and critics immediately, were friends, rivals, had egos and worked together on (I think) seven occasions over a period of 40 years.
So, I began to wonder which of them, on closer analysis, would come out on top? Kirk had the greater longevity, Burt won an Oscar for an actual performance, they both worked as producers . . . Having seen about 50 films made by each actor, and excluding those they made together, this is, I believe, a reasonable summary of their finest work:
1.THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS (1946) *
2.BUILD MY GALLOWS HIGH (1947) **
3.CHAMPION (1949) **
4.ACE IN THE HOLE (1951) **
5.DETECTIVE STORY (1951) *
6.THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952) **
7.20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954) *
8.LUST FOR LIFE (1956) **
9.PATHS OF GLORY (1957) **
10.THE VIKINGS (1958) **
11.LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL (1959) *
12.SPARTACUS (1960) **
13.LONELY ARE THE BRAVE (1962) **
14.TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN (1962) *
15.IN HARM’S WAY (1965) *
16.THE WAR WAGON (1967) *
17.POSSE (1975) *
1.THE KILLERS (1946) **
2.BRUTE FORCE (1947) **
3.SORRY, WRONG NUMBER (1948) *
4.CRISS CROSS (1949) **
5.THE FLAME AND THE ARROW (1950) *
6.COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA (1952) *
7.THE CRIMSON PIRATE (1952) **
8.FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953) **
9.APACHE (1954) *
10.VERA CRUZ (1954) *
11.SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957) **
12.RUN SILENT RUN DEEP (1958) *
13.SEPARATE TABLES (1958) *
14.ELMER GANTRY (1960) **
15.THE UNFORGIVEN (1960) *
16.JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG (1961) **
17.BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (1962) **
18.THE LEOPARD (1962) **
19.THE TRAIN (1964) **
20.THE PROFESSIONALS (1966) **
21.THE SWIMMER (1968) *
22.ULZANA’S RAID (1972) **
23.1900 (1976) **
24.TWILIGHT’S LAST GLEAMING (1977) **
25.ATLANTIC CITY (1980) **
26.LOCAL HERO (1983)
The conclusion I draw, is that Mr Lancaster has the edge. His European ventures were more successful and his post-1970 work is much stronger – even without interesting projects like Go Tell the Spartans making the final cut.
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