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The second week in January is a quiet one, I’m afraid – there are some good mid-range films, but nothing really exciting and just the one première. However, for those of us who are interested in what happens behind the scenes or off-camera there are two programmes to make a note of. Film critic mark Kermode begins a new three-part Secrets of Cinema on BBC 4 and, on BBC 2, Death in Bollywood is a three-part forensic dramatisation of the death of the young actress Jiah Khan in 2013. The police concluded it was suicide, but her family believed otherwise.
BLACK NARCISSUS (1947) Saturday 9 January 1.15-2.55pm BBC 2
Today’s showing is perfect timing for those who have been watching the new BBC adaptation. Aided immeasurably by superb art direction and cinematography, the film is one of the greats and much loved by Martin Scorcese. In our 1992-93 season, it had an audience reaction of 77%.
HOMBRE (1967) Saturday 9 January 6.15-8.25pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Hombre doesn’t often spring to mind when contemplating the best westerns, but it’s really good. Director Martin Ritt and star Paul Newman (Hud) team up again; he’s the white man raised by Apaches who is trying to live in both worlds and who reluctantly helps a group of beleaguered travellers. Richard Boone supplies the villainy (few did it better) and there are good roles for Diane Cilento, Fredric March and Cameron Mitchell.
TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (2011) Saturday 9 January 9.30-11.30m BBC 2
Programmed as a tribute to John le Carré, this excellent adaptation did well in Lyme. Gary Oldman plays George Smiley and the rest of the cast reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of British talent.
COLUMBO: A MATTER OF HONOR (1977) Sunday 10 January 4.35-6.05pm Channel 21
We need to be inventive today – it’s a very quiet Sunday! This is a rather neat, enjoyable outing for the famous detective: he’s asked for assistance by a Mexican counterpart, after someone is found dead at the hacienda of a retired bullfighter. Ricardo Montalban guest stars.
ROOSTER COGBURN (1975) Sunday 10 January 9.00-11.15pm Channel 32
The sequel to 1969’s True Grit is a step down, but the ‘actors’ love-in’ between John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn is quite delightful and justification enough. The colours are vivid and good use is made of the Oregon locations (especially of the Rogue River), so it’s a shame the director (Stuart Millar) couldn’t give us a better film. Another sequel was mooted, called Someday, but it was not to be. However, Warren Oates did essay the role in the 1978 TVM True Grit (A Further Adventure).
DRACULA (1931) Monday 11 January 1.00-2.30pm Channel 68
Dracula was – and remains – a hugely influential horror film. It’s a little creaky now, of course, but Bela Lugosi still mesmerises. The Blu-ray is a worthy purchase as it includes the Spanish language version. (When talkies came in, it was quite common to use the same sets, but different actors, to make foreign language versions.)
MR BROOKS (2007) Monday 11 January 9.00-11.20pm Channel 33 P
And now the modern, flipside to horror (certificate 18): Earl Brooks is a respected businessman who just happens to be a serial killer. It’s unusual that a film with an actor of Kevin Costner’s stature should take so long to make its Freeview debut, but the role was quite a departure for him and the box office returns were less than expected. I reckon it’s worth checking out!
DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939) Tuesday 12 January 2.30-4.20pm Film Four
The film that re-established Marlene Dietrich as a force at the box office: she’s the saloon entertainer singing See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have and James Stewart is the sheriff who doesn’t like guns. The result is a rollicking comedy western that hasn’t aged and set the template for the likes of The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1958) and Blazing Saddles (1974).
AFTERMATH (2017) Tuesday 12 January 9.00pm-10.50pm Channel 33
We have another instance of an actor, this time a bearded Arnold Schwarzenegger, trying something different. His wife and daughter have been killed in a plane crash caused by human error and he is struggling to control both grief and anger.
SWORD OF SHERWOOD FOREST (1960) Wednesday 13 January 3.15-4.55pm TP Film Four
The enormous success of The Adventures of Robin Hood TV series encouraged Hammer to join forces with Richard Greene and make a feature in colour (and Megascope!). Whilst not a classic, I’m not sure that Russell Crowe did any better and it’s an enjoyable afternoon matinée. Peter Cushing and Oliver Reed add some class and the plot unravels competently – and this is surely the only film where Bawtry is central to it!
MRS BROWN (1997) Wednesday 13 January 9.00-10.40pm BBC 4
It’s been a little while, perhaps, since we had occasion to enjoy Judi Dench’s performance as Queen Victoria. The real surprise was Billy Connolly, who more than holds his own as Her Majesty’s gillie and confidant. Amazingly, Richard Pasco, who played the Earl of Newark in Sword of Sherwood Forest, pops up in this one too!
LEASE OF LIFE (1954) Thursday 14 January 6.35-8.25pm Talking Pictures (Ch 81)
Robert Donat’s battles with chronic asthma reduced him to starring in just three films in the 1950s; this is the middle one. He gives a delicate, shaded performance as a Yorkshire vicar with only a year to live.
WHISKY GALORE (1949) Thursday 14 January 10.00-11.20pm BBC 4
Thankfully, not the recent remake but the Ealing original. Hebridean locals are delighted when a ship runs aground and they discover its cargo is whisky. A repeat of Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema, on British comedy, follows.
MINISTRY OF FEAR (1945) Friday 15 January 1.15-3.00pm Film Four
Not televised for a while and a film I have seen only once; my recollection is that the Hollywood recreation of wartime London is effective, and Ray Milland is convincing as the mental patient attempting to unravel an espionage plot. Whether Graham Greene would recognise his novel, is another matter!
THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS (1955) Friday 15 January 5.00-7.10pm Channel 41
Another wartime spy story, but this is based on true events: a corpse with ‘secret’ papers is used to convince the Germans that Greece, not Sicily, will be the point of invasion. It’s a solid, rather than exceptional drama, but has a decent cast, colour and CinemaScope.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
OBITUARIES PART 2
I do try hard to be balanced across genders, genres and other film-related topics when writing about them (honest). However, I do pause for thought occasionally to see if my own predilections create an imbalance. Out of the 22 obituaries I listed at the turn of the year, 15 were male so I’ll make up for that here:
LUCIA BOSE – a respected Italian actor who worked with both Antonioni and Luis Buñuel.
LORI NELSON – the Universal starlet who didn’t really surmount an early appearance in Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair (1952), but who then at least had ten busy years in film and on television.
RHONDA FLEMING – vied with Maureen O’Hara as the Queen of Technicolor. Hers was a strange career. She made early appearances in Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) and then in two impressive examples of film noir, namely The Spiral Staircase (1946) and Out of the Past (1947). Then of the 40 films she made after 1950, only three would really rate a mention: Inferno (1953) with Robert Ryan, Fritz Lang’s While the City Sleeps (1956) and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral the following year. She later did a lot of work to support women with cancer.
BABY PEGGY (DIANA SERRA CARY, aged 101) – who must surely have been the last surviving silent film star in such fare as the 1924 Captain January.
HILARY DWYER – she had an ‘and introducing’ credit in Witchfinder General (1968), the cult classic that TP televised on New Year’s Day. Like Lori Nelson, she was active for about 10 years (including a recurring role in the TV series Hadleigh). Later she became a producer under her married name, Hilary Heath. She died from Covid-related complications.
LINDA CRISTAL. I make a reasonable job (I think!) of keeping up-to-date with film news, so I was shocked to discover that I had missed the news of her death in June 2020, as I had followed her career over the years. She was born Marta Victoria Moya in 1931 in Buenos Aires. (Some sources say 1935, but it was quite common for publicists to remove a year or two.) Her mother was French and her father Italian; after their deaths (probably by suicide), Ms Cristal made some films in Mexico before making her American debut opposite Dana Andrews in a weak western, Comanche (1956). She then began to build up some experience in English speaking roles and won a Golden Globe in the Most Promising Newcomer category for The Perfect Furlough (1958). She displayed a quite touching sensitivity in both John Wayne’s The Alamo (1960) and John Ford’s Two Rode Together (1961), but then the roles dried up; in part because she lacked confidence and turned down parts she should have accepted. One she did say ‘yes’ to was the role of Victoria in the successful TV series The High Chaparral (1967-71), for which she won a Golden Globe and which is still being shown today. Thereafter her career declined, although she did appear in a Mexican series El Chofer and one in her native Argentina, Rossé.
Finally, you might remember us listing a film called The Kidnappers (1953), directed by Philip Leacock. The child actor JON WHITELEY was awarded a special Oscar and was clearly a natural performer. Rather than pursuing a career in the cinema industry, he later went to Oxford and became a hugely respected art historian and curator. He died in May 2020, aged 75.
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