Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Black Mirror: The National Anthem (2011)
Twist in the tail
This has to be one of the most eye-opening pieces of TV I've ever watched. The premise is shocking to the point of unbelievability but a whole lot easier to accept now that the life-imitating-art story of ex-P.M. Cameron's university capers with a porker has come to light. Basically, a young Prime Minister, with similarities to let's say Tony Blair or the afore-mentioned then P.M. in waiting Cameron is woken up by the shocking news that the popular princess of the day, with similarities to let's say Princess Diana, has been kidnapped apparently by terrorists whose sole demand for her release is that said P.M. must commit a sex-act on live T.V. with a pig.
It's realistically shot in almost real-time, with social media fanning the flames as the story spreads, augmented by "Breaking News" CNN / Sky News-type television updates making more tense the looming four o'clock deadline for the P.M.'s moment of truth. Behind the scenes, every possible way-out is gradually closed down to him and the fantastical finale proceeds with the twist in the tale (or should that be tail?) as the truth is revealed, in the process making sense of subtly inserted seemingly unrelated trivial premonitions in the lead-up.
As a commentary on celebrity culture, the eroded public perception of the status of politicians, the limits of censorship and just what people will and won't watch on their TV screens it's savagely on point, even more so today with ever more invasive reality TV shows given ever more network time.
A piece like this couldn't work unless two vital factors were in play, firstly that it's played arrow-straight by all the actors and also that's there's leavening humour inserted too. Both these boxes are positively ticked leaving the only really exceptionable segment being that where a female reporter has to sex-text images of herself to one of the P.M.'s insiders to get an exclusive. I wasn't totally convinced by the last scene either showing how the P.M and his wife were coping one year on as I didn't think it added anything to the story.
That said, I watched it with one jaw gaping and the other laughing at what I was seeing. This really does feel like it's pushing at the limits of television political comedy but rather like the depiction here of tge various representatives of the British public unable to resist tuning in to watch, just you try and look away from this one once you've started.
Blinded by the Light (2019)
Springsteen For Hitler In Luton
Well, my own introduction to the music of Springsteen took place in 1978 in a long since closed record shop called "Graffiti" in the centre of Glasgow when I was 17 or so. At the time, my taste for classic rock was already established but I was also excited by the punk / new wave sound which was getting played on the radio and hitting the charts. I think I knew the song "Born To Run" but other than some keen music journalists and those that had seen his celebrated London Hammersmith gig in 1975, I'd hardly heard of Broooce. He was nowhere on the U.K. charts and besides hadn't made a record in three years. Then, in that shop, they started playing the newly released "Darkness On The Edge Of Town" album and I did something I've never done before or since, I walked up to the sales counter on impulse and bought it there and then. So I do get the premise of this British-made film about how an ambitious and talented young Pakistani boy, a budding writer, feeling trapped in dull-as-dishwater 1980's Luton in the middle of the grey, depressing Thatcher years when unemployment hit record levels, coping with his over-strict, traditionalist father, struggling to express himself in his writing and also to get himself a girlfriend, could find a release in Springsteen's heartfelt tales of ever-hopeful "losers...pulling out of here to win" to borrow from "Thunder Road".
Young Viveik Kalra plays the growing lad Javed in question who finds a sympathetic rallying call echoing to him all the way from Asbury Park, New Jersey, for all his mixed-up teenage emotions once another superfan Sikh schoolmate introduces him to The Boss's music. The film tugs hard at the heartstrings as the son is pitched against his overbearing father, falls out with his best mate, a white kid a few doors down for whose synth-pop band he knocks off song lyrics in his spare time, ditto his Clare Grogan-lookalike, politically conscious white girlfriend while also contending with the ominous presence of the overt right wing racism of the National Front, who were then on the march.
Of course, everything ends happily with Javed getting the girl, patching it up with dad and even winning a trip to a college in New Jersey, right on Springsteen's doorstep, but along the way, there's plenty of teen angst and humour too, whilst in the background almost every track Springsteen cut between 1973 - 1985 is heard in some way, shape or form.
Sure the film could perhaps have made bigger statements against the vile politics of the National Front, said something bigger about Sikh / Muslim relationships or taken more of a stand against arranged marriages in the Pakistani community to mention just three background themes worthy of deeper inspection, but I readily appreciate that as a family entertainment feature it wasn't going to end anything other than happily and while cliche and over-sentimentality do occasionally get a look in, especially at Javed's prize-acceptance speech at the end, which handily reconciles him to his old dad, there are also welcome interjections of humour, like when he and his mate hijack the Tiffany and Debbie Gibson-loving school dee-jay's playlist to blast out "Born To Run" and especially his meet up with new girlfriend Eliza's Conservative parents caricatured as Basil and Sybil Fawlty types.
Despite the sometimes uneasy mixture of laughs with social commentary, I found the film easy to watch, hard to dislike and nicely played by the talented and enthusiastic young cast, all of whom were new to me. While the lyrics of say the Clash or Sex Pistols spoke out more to my 17 year old self, Springsteen's music was in the ether too and I'm confident the man himself would have approved of the way his music is portrayed here, although it will probably help enjoyment of the feature if you're also a fan of his.
This "Twilight Zone" episode, while it concerns a group of American astronauts, is more an examination of human stress under duress than the more usual other-worldly, sometimes supernatural fare otherwise depicted on the show. This might make it one of the least "Twilight Zoney"-entries but it still packs a reasonable, if slightly predictable twist at the end, which itself arguably anticipates the famous climax at the end of the "Planet Of The Apes" movie which came along later in the decade.
Whilst I couldn't imagine the U.S. space programme putting as many as seven men into orbit in the first place or any of these normally highly trained individuals going space-happy like Dewey Martin's ruthless and selfish character does, the story moves along methodically but surely to its surprising and bathetic conclusion.
Aptly shot on location in the Hollywood hills , probably at not much cost, and well acted by its three leads, this satisfying character study of grace under pressure made for another rewarding outing in the Zone.
The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935)
Coop sets the Tone
A vintage Hollywood actioner which throws together three British soldiers in the mutinous Victorian-era Indian Raj and examines in an entertaining way themes of camaraderie, bravery and father and son relationships in the process.
Gary Cooper is the experienced, regimental sergeant, who can read his crusty old commander, played by Guy Standing, like a book but whose routine is interrupted with the arrival of two new recruits who are put under his charge. The first one is the coolly experienced, if flippant Franchot Tone, the other, baby-faced 21 year old greenhorn Richard Cromwell, who just happens to be the son of Standing. Cromwell's character has crossed the continent to prove his manliness to his remote, career-soldier widower dad but dad is scrupulously determined not to show any favouritism to his boy.
We see these relationships play out as the film progresses through scenes both melodramatic and humorous which will determine the actions taken by the three soldiers at the film's climax. The humour principally lies in the initially testy tie-up between Cooper and the constantly irritating Tone while the melodrama comes from their witnessing the difficult father-son act being played out in front of them by Standing and Cromwell which eventually sees them rebel against the commander's dispassionate orders and seek to rescue Cromwell who has been captured by the scheming if remarkably well-spoken Indian overlord out to expel the occupying Brits.
It all builds to an explosive climax where sacrifices are made, honour restored and reconciliations effected. I don't know why Cooper's character was made to be part-Scotch (how we Scots hate that descriptive term!) or given a pencil-thin moustache but he carries the film as its moral compass and active conscience. He interacts well with Tone's more devil-may-care character although by the end they're unsurprisingly both singing from the same hymn sheet. I've read that young Cromwell was briefly a heartthrob of the day and he's fine too as the eager-to-please if wilful son, who is tested above and beyond his own limits.
I enjoyed in particular Tone's snake-charming encounter with a cobra and his and Cooper's frequent use of a coin-toss to settle their disagreements but could certainly have done without the pig-sticking sequence which is as ugly to witness as its description makes it sound.
Cooper was to return a few years later in another "brothers-three" yarn, the better-known "Beau Geste" but if you can put aside the colonial politics, this stirring movie, excitingly directed by Henry Hathaway, is well worth catching.
We Gotta Get Out Of This Place
For most of its running time this episode of the Twilight Zone seems more run of the mill, even dull, compared to other episodes. Two employees at a top secret government manufacturing facility, one a scientist, the other a test pilot, are secretly planning to quit the planet with their families, on board a spacecraft they plan to commandeer. The inside word is that there will be mutually assured destruction in 48 hours and they've decided to make a break for it. However both men are on the radar of the vulture-like security man played by Edward Andrews, who suspects their ultimate plan.
As the minutes of the episode go by there's only a little tension as the two families finally make it to their rendezvous, only to be met by Andrews whose suspicions have proven to be right, but again you're wondering what the ultimate point of the story is, only for all to be revealed in the last seconds, in a neat twist.
Apart from Andrews as the escapees' creepy pursuer, I found the acting in this episode to be a little stiff and awkward and as indicated, it's quite slow moving until the big reveal at the end, although there is a clue to the outcome in the show chapter's title.
All in all, this is a quietly effective Cold War parable, eerily prescient in its first twenty minutes of the real life paranoia surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis of just a few years later.
Gunga Din (1939)
I've read somewhere that this was the second most successful film at the American box office in the acknowledged watershed year of 1939 and can see why that would be so. It's a good old-fashioned crowd-pleasing blockbuster mixing adventure with humour and a starry cast with exotic locations. One can certainly see its glaring faults today but it was made in a completely different era from now and I guess allowances have to be made.
I deliberately read beforehand Kipling's poem on which the movie was based and certainly the film stays true to its ethos. Yes, both Sam Jaffe as Gunga Din and Eduardo Canelli as the Kali guru are obviously in objectionable blackface but there are compensations elsewhere in the panoramic camerawork, populous crowd-scenes and action sequences.
The adaptation here uses the tried and trusted "Take three guys..." template of "The Three Musketeers" "Beau Geste" or, most closely "The Lives Of A Bengal Lancer" by taking three inseparable army buddies and transplanting them to the Indian Raj at the time of the Thuggee rebellion. Cary Grant is the goofy, harum-scarum Sgt Cutter, Douglas Fairbanks Jr the milder, more strait-laced Sgt Ballantine, just about to be manoeuvred into marriage by Joan Fontaine and Victor McLaglen is the tough, gruff Sgt MacChesney.
I personally found the horseplay between them to be a bit forced at times. Cary gets to talk in his native Cockney and even answer to his Christian name by birth at one point but I did think he overdid the mugging and clowning which could have been reined in somewhat. McLaglen does what he always does, in his usual big bluff manner but again I think he's allowed to overdo it. That just leaves ordinary average Fairbanks Jr, usually the butt of the other two's merry japes, but who for me fails to really project anything approaching personality. I did however appreciate director Stevens depicting the real-life character of Kipling to help top and tail the movie but overall, I appreciated this movie a bit less than I thought I would.
If you enjoy it more than me, you're a better man (or woman) than I am.
Although directed by the commendable John Brahm who did such a good job of the earlier "Judgement Night" "Twilight Zone" entry, this particular episode didn't really come off for me. We're introduced to a low-life character with one ability, that to change his appearance just by concentrating. We see him roll into town and pick two recently deceased individuals to impersonate, one a nightclub musician with an adoring female singer still mourning him and the second, a petty gangster owed a big score by his old boss who thought he'd had him executed.
Well, sure enough. he gets the girl and collects the hot money but, forced to escape the gang boss's pursuing muscle by quickly taking on the face of a boxer from an old poster in a darkened alley, he jumps from the frying pan into the fire by encountering by chance his latest identity's real father who's never forgiven his errant son for running out on him, his mother and the fiancée he jilted. Just when it looks as if he's about to safely skip town, fate catches up with him when he learns the depths of a scorned father's resentment towards a disowned son.
I just felt the narrative this time was too implausible and found plot holes, such as why he didn't just revert to his own face when cornered by the gang chief's henchmen rather than adopt a new face and then there was the massive coincidence of him adopting the persona of a stranger, who also turns out to be a heel and who just happens to bump into his old man around the corner at that very moment.
For me, the only real interest in this sub-standard tale was a brief appearance by Ross Martín, later of "The Wild Wild West" as the face of the nightclub singer. Otherwise this was one of the few low-lights in an otherwise stellar series.
The Twilight Zone: Judgment Night (1959)
Damn the torpedoes!
I've lately watched three vintage 1940's Hollywood movies directed by this "Twilight Zone" episode's director John Brahm and very good they all were, each of them were tense, atmospheric thrillers which made him a good fit for this tense, doom and gloom mini-drama.
Set in 1942, a German officer turns up on a British boat which has become detached from its convoy on the cold, dark, foggy sea. He sits down and begins to engage with the boat's crew and passengers but has trouble recollecting who he is and how he got there. He also has a sense of impending dread which gradually dawns on him as the journey progresses but is confused further when amongst his personal effects he discovers a German Navy captain's cap bearing his name inside which only adds to his disquiet.
Finally he realises too late that the ship is fated to be torpedoed by an enemy U-Boat and is shocked into full remembrance only at the climactic moment when he looks across at the submarine to see the "Fire!" command given by its commander, without any kind of humane warning given to the target boat to stop or abandon ship. Only then do we learn his own decisive part in the tragedy and the resultant impact on him from that moment on.
I really enjoyed the direction of this episode. You can see the dripping condensation on deck from the night mist, there's a chilling moment as the German officer tries to rouse the boat's passengers only for him to confront grouped like a still photograph of them below deck, facing him like a silent, accusatory jury and then the seeming doppelgänger conclusion are all telling touches inserted by a capable helmsman as Brahm.
Future Avenger John Steed Patrick MacNee is noticeable in the cast of one of the more darkly entertaining entries in this constantly imaginative series.
The Twilight Zone: What You Need (1959)
Another neat "Twilight Zone" episode which shows the truth of the phrase "be careful what you wish for". It stars veteran Hollywood character actor Ernest Truex as a mysterious "little old man" who peddles his wares out of an old suitcase to members of the public who have a personal need in their lives which he magically resolves by passing them free of charge a small seemingly useless item from his case, which then turns out to be a life-changer for the recipient.
Unfortunately, he crosses paths with avaricious waster Steve Cochran who witnessed these acts and their outcomes and wants a piece of the action so he threatens Truex for his own gift and sure enough, immediately profits from its use. However his greed prompts him to seek out Truex again seeking more reward but he ends up going to the well once too often and getting his just desserts in the end.
Truex shines as the twinkling-eyed peddler in this mildly Capra-esque, entertaining morality tale.
Countdown to Zero
For me, one of the more memorable episodes of the original "Twilight Zone" episodes was this, for the time, topical tale regarding the fate of three astronauts who have just had a death-defying return from a space mission where even after falling out of communication with Ground Control for a day, they miraculously get back to earth alive and apparently well. That is until one of them, Charles Aidman, starts to experience a strange feeling of not belonging and that he will soon disappear from existence. Sure enough, when out for a drink with fellow traveller and best buddy, Rod Taylor, best known for his lead role in Hitchcock's "The Birds" three years later, he goes missing right in front of his mate's eyes. Not only that but the people round about Taylor now act as if he had never been there in the first place.
Taylor then goes almost crazy trying to find out what has just happened, contacting their commanding officer, his girl and finally the third astronaut in hospital, played by a young Jim Hutton who I remember best from the short-lived 70's TV series "The Ellery Queen Mysteries", but none of them can now remember ever knowing the missing man. It's not long though before the baton is passed to Hutton as two becomes one...
Whilst I didn't quite get why the spacemen's existences had to be wiped out completely, this was a particularly cleverly written and executed episode with the disappearance of the three men almost following a launch countdown echoing their occupations. I especially liked the way the newspaper headline announcing the men's return from their mission kept changing as events gathered pace.
From a story written by series stalwart Richard Mathieson and a teleplay by Rod Serling, this was a classic head-scratching "Twilight Zone" episode, neatly dispatched, as ever, in under 25 minutes.
Roxie Hart (1942)
Moxie Roxie Socks 'em in the Dock
Fun and entertaining if hardly P.C. comedy with Ginger Rogers confirming her light comedienne credentials away from her dancing partnership with Fred Astaire. She ironically plays a dancer who returns home to find her weedy husband has shot a man dead. As the amusing newspaper headlines introducing us to the Chicago setting for the movie immediately after the cartoonish opening titles make clear, themselves bearing the legend that the movie is dedicated to all the beautiful women in the world who have shot their men full of holes out of pique, (one headline reads "Not Guilty verdict in case of blonde who shot friend six times accidentally") it seems whenever a capital crime is committed by a woman she invariably gets off, giving the gathering press-pack an easy way to fill their front page.
It's not long then before Roxie, with her sassy personality, redhead perm and shapely legs is doing a deal with crafty lawyer and occasionally crazy-haired Adolphe Menjou to take the blame for her milksop husband's crime and hopefully make them a fortune in the process, assuming she gets off, of course. When soon after she's imprisoned and the media circus starts to gather around her, a gun-toting Bonnie Parker-type (who's actually a ringer for the more familiar straight-haired blonde Ginger we remember) is put in the same prison as Roxie, the press gather around the new attraction, putting our anti-heroine in the shade, until she comes up with the idea that she's pregnant to garner public sympathy and get her name and picture back on the splash pages.
With a running time of barely 75 minutes, this Nunnally Johnston adaptation of a hit play, directed by William Wellman has lots of funny moments, like the presiding judge who photobombs every picture taken of Roxie in court, a catfight between Roxie and a jealous, more upper-class female inmate, set to a soundtrack of squealing cats, the droll spoof with modern resonance of her trial being sponsored by a medical supply company featuring the dullest-voiced announcer on the planet and a fun scene in the jail where everyone, however reluctantly, follows Roxie in dancing the Black Bottom.
Rogers sparkles in the title role, even getting to dance a couple of times just in case there was any doubt as to her Terpsichorean capabilities, although mostly she's required to display her legs for all the men to ogle, especially the male jurors. Phil Silvers gets a small part as an excitable photographer although unfortunately he's given an off-colour gag to crack.
Easily identifiable as the template for the "Chicago" musical and movie many decades later, this is fast-paced vintage comedy which if you can tolerate the sexism of the times, makes for an amusing film.
The Twilight Zone: Blurryman (2019)
Some grey areas
I'm using the last episode of this remake of the iconic "The Twilight Zone" to review the whole series. I'm concurrently working my way slowly through the original black and white series produced by Rod Serling so it was interesting to compare the two.
I do like that the 2019 version retains the original title font, theme music and the introductory and closing narration. The choice of acting talent and production values of the show are high and the new episodes are normally at least fifteen minutes longer. However I think the latter point works against the show's effectiveness as the shorter running time of the original tended to make the stories being told punchier and faster-paced.
Many have commented here on the reboot's political agenda and certainly a few of the episodes put polemic over thrills, I'm thinking particularly of the episodes with the racist policeman terrorising the black mother and her son, the one where an all-American housewife and mother was abducted from her family, the too-obvious Trump satire which puts a kid into the White House or the one where a form of man-rage in a small town apparently attributable to a meteorite storm turned out to be nothing of the kind. Some were just slow and boring like the sub-2001 episode about the tensions aboard a mission-to-Mars rocket crew, the series opener concerning an aspirant comedian whose act in the telling seems to edit out significant people in his life or the show featuring the arrival at Christmas time of a mysterious stranger at an Alaskan police station.
That really just leaves the ones that I did like such as the remake of the famous "Nightmare At 30000 Feet" episode starring Adam Scott, the Chris O'Dowd-starrer concerning a haunted gun and the series closer, a thoughtful, daring existential story within a story, which broke the fourth wall throughout and sought to link up the preceding episodes with an ominous-seeming "blurry-man" whose identity I guessed before the reveal. I also really liked the time-shifting premise of the "Replay" episode but as stated it overdid the right-on P.C. anti-racism message. It made me think of the Rosa Parks episode from the last Dr Who series which brilliantly and more daringly took on a similar subject.
I agree with others that few if any of these new episodes will live as long in the memory as many of those from the Serling era but i saw enough to persuade me to watch the second series which I see has now been commissioned.
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
Centre Court Love Match
I like Hitchcock's story that members of the public later believed that he and not Billy Wilder had directed this grand, suspenseful courtroom drama based on Agatha Christie's successful stage play. Perhaps one could imagine Hitch making slightly more of the climactic scenes in the courtroom both as and after the verdict is brought in but I doubt he could have got much better performances out of old stagers Laughton and Dietrich as maestro Wilder conjures here.
I gather that the original play was staged entirely in the courtroom requiring Wilder to open out the action and let some air into the slightly fustian drama. I agree with those who believe that Tyrone Power's Leonard Vole character should have been played by a younger actor, especially when at one point it's mentioned that Deitrich's character, as his wife, is much older than him. It probably didn't help that Marlene herself was fresh out of plastic surgery and also employing "tape lifts" to pull her skin tighter to make her appearance seem younger. I also found Power's playing to be a bit on the melodramatic side although one could argue that this was required of his part as an important element in his scheming.
Given the Christie connection and the famous publicity at the time about cinema audiences being sworn not to reveal the ending, I must admit I was always trying to get ahead of the action and while I did get guess the main plot twist, I must admit I didn't detect either the means by which it was carried out or the immediate aftermath of the revelation at the film's climax.
Tautly directed by Wilder and with excellent star turns by Laughton and Deitrich, (who almost inevitably is contrived to show just one of her legs, I wonder was it in her contract?) with a fair smattering of leavening humour between Laughton and his real life wife Elsa Lanchester who plays with relish the part of his fussy nurse (just get a load of those Bermuda shorts!), this was fine, if slightly old-fashioned Hollywood entertainment, certainly if you compare it to the likes of contemporary films by directors like Kazan, Zinnemann or Preminger. There are no cinematic boundaries being pushed here (compare it to Preminger's courtroom drama "Anatomy Of A Murder", for example) just solid film-making by all concerned and to paraphrase Paul McCartney's song, what's wrong with that.
The Capture (2019)
I enjoyed all six episodes of this BBC tech-thriller which centred on the manipulation, for good and bad, of video footage by a process called correction. The human at the heart of the story is soldier Sean Emery who right at the start sees his conviction for shooting in apparent cold blood a defenceless individual while on tour in Afghanistan, overturned when video evidence miraculously emerges supporting his defence. This news breaks almost at the same time a terrorist cell is convicted of conspiracy to bomb U.K. again on newly discovered video evidence.
However no sooner is Sean released when he's back in trouble again as after celebrating his freedom, he apparently abducts and later just as apparently kills his defending female barrister, again on the strength of what looks like conclusive CCTV video evidence which seemingly catches him in the act of assaulting the missing woman as she's getting on a bus. The only thing is he knows is that he didn't attack her, despite appearances. On his case almost immediately is Holliday Grainger's D.C. Rachel Carey an ambitious detective romantically involved with a married superior officer who specialises in surveillance and has connections to the higher and more secretive echelons of the security services both here and America. What follows is a tense, if sometimes hard to follow sequence of events much of it contradicting the truism that the camera never lies. Given the proliferation of CCTV cameras everywhere in the country (at one point it's claimed that the only places with no video cameras allowed are public toilets and courts of law), the thought that these images can be manipulated strikes hard at the general public's civil liberties and raises the age-old question in situations like this of who's watching the watchers.
With many a head scratching moment and lots of tension as Detective Carey closes in on what may or may not be the truth, this was superior if slightly hard to fully believe drama. Grainger as the rebellious, inquisitive, pursuing cop and Callum Wilson is the troubled soldier whose concept of reality loosens in the face of clear video evidence which indicates he carried out a crime he can't recollect committing.
This was state-of-the-art fast-moving entertainment requiring a lot of concentration to keep up with and make sense of the events depicted. I think I fell behind more than once but reckon I just about caught up in the end when Carey makes a career choice which might just indicate there may be more cases for the "observation squad" to crack.
This was the best contemporary thriller on the channel since probably "Bodyguard" ' and like I said above I'd certainly be interested to follow Rachel's progress in this very underground very secret service department.
Boys Town (1938)
Boys Town Gang
Normally I'm a big fan of social commentary features from vintage Hollywood. Often including priests in the cast as some sort of moral compass or bell-weather for troubled individuals to tap into or rub up against as appropriate, depending on how their characterisations are handled, they can either add to or subtract from the bigger picture. I've just lately watched two old contemporary features featuring sub-plots with prominent priest parts where both see the Father mentoring rebellious youths, one the classic James Cagney / Pat O'Brien gangster film "Angels With Dirty Faces", the other, "San Francisco" in fact co-starring Spencer Tracy in what looks like a dry-run for his extended part here.
In this film though, it's all about the Father and his adopted sons, the homeless, sometimes delinquent youths who come to populate the self-reliant and sufficient community he builds for them called "Boys Town" (wonder what happened to the girls, or the black kids come to that?). While I appreciate the story is based on the real life Father Flanagan, I'm afraid I found this movie just too sentimental and cloying to appreciate.
I see that Tracy won the Oscar for leading actor in this part, just as he had for the supporting actor role in the near-identical part mentioned above in "San Francisco" but really other than mostly look alternately beatific and pious, I'm not sure he's working too hard here. Mickey Rooney is the bad boy who becomes the Father's big test subject, sent to Boys Town by his too-far-gone older gangster brother to stop him going down the same rocky road as him. Mickey, as was his wont in his early roles, it has to be said works way too hard in his part. There's also a Tiny Tim child character who will either have you reaching or retching into your handkerchief, for me I'm afraid it's the latter.
A huge commercial hit on initial release and as stated, recognised by the Academy into the bargain, it's rare for such a film to miss with old sentimental me but I really found it toe-curlingly cliched and difficult to swallow.
Forgive me Father, if in so doing, I have sinned.
The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)
The cat that got the scream
I came to this movie after watching two earlier Roger Corman / Vincent Price Gothic-style chillers, based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe, the very good "Pit And The Pendulum" and classic "The Masque Of The Red Death". This in fact was the last of six collaborations between director and actor and perhaps it was the right decision on the evidence here.
Despite having some memorable moments, "The Tomb Of Ligeia" definitely shows signs of sag. The subject of live interment had been done better in "Pit...", the sight of an attractive woman in flowing robes wandering around a haunted mansion was a feature of "Masque..." and of course even Price's turn as a disturbed lord of the manor was starting to pall at this stage.
Set in the U.K. countryside with a largely British cast, the film takes quite a while to really get going with most of the action crammed into the last half hour or so. The strange, eye-catching scenes mentioned above include a nightmarish transformation of a bouquet of white flowers to a bloody fox, and Elizabeth Shepherd's Lady Rowena pouring blue candle wax onto her evening meal.
Price, for once without facial hair and sporting a short haircut too is this time at less than his best as the widower Verden Fell still obsessed with the death of his first wife and the rest of the cast struggle to compensate. I'm no cat lover so the apparent possession of a black cat by Mrs Fell the first for much of the film didn't much excite me either. The unoriginal ending with everything going up in flames yet again brought to a close a rather underwhelming feature not quite up to the standard of previous Poe-derived films made by Corman and starring Price.
The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
Better Dead Than Red
I seem to remember watching this film at a young age and it leaving a vivid impression on me. Even as I see now that Corman borrowed the image of Red Death from Bergman's "Seventh Seal", the fact that this one spoke and was filmed in luminous red made it seem all the more haunting.
While for me that remains the most memorable aspect of the movie, there are several other elements which combine to make it such an entertaining and rewarding watch. Possibly most crucial is the camerawork of the young Nicolas Roeg, who begins his obsession with the colour red right here and which would reach its zenith in his own "Don't Look Now" but Corman as director too as ever packs a lot into his ninety minute running time.
Once again he freely adapts an Edgar Allan Poe short story into a memorable Gothic chiller, this time moving his production team to England which appears to make his film budget go much further as evidenced by the larger cast and more elaborate sets. Vincent Price for once reins in his performance and is the better for it as the corrupt and corrupting, devil-worshipping Prince Prospero. Jane Asher with her titian hair doesn't have to do much more than look fearful but another Corman stalwart Hazel Court gets a prominent part and a grisly death as Asher's rival for Prospero's attention. Another memorable sub-plot involves Skip Martín as the court dwarf who never forgets a grudge and accordingly serves up a separate gorilla-sly fate to one of Prospero's acolytes for disrespecting his young dancer protege.
Still, it's those images of the Red Death with its urbane voice, sitting playing cards by a tree, then later drifting soundlessly from room to room in Prospero's castle turning bacchanalia into a dance of death or the closing scene of the world's different pestilences on the march all handily colour coded, which resonate long in the memory.
A film of enduring beauty and style with a crimson sting in its tale.
Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
Sins of the father...
Irresistible slice of schlocky Gothic high camp from Roger Corman featuring Vincent Price as the tortured mediaeval Spanish nobleman driven to distraction in his forbidding castle after the recent death of his adored lovely young wife. Living with him is his sympathetic sister and a male and female household attendant, when along comes his late wife's brother, unconvinced by the reports of her death and suspicious of Price's Nicholas Medina's part in her demise. Also on the scene is Price's friend, handsome Doctor Leon who was the one who pronounced Elizabeth dead in the first place and so the scene is set for a vintage haunting as signs and sounds of the deceased woman start to manifest themselves to all and sundry but in particular to Nicholas.
To attempt to remove all doubt, a decision is made to check Elizabeth's tomb where a shocking discovery recalls to the anguished widower's already fevered mind how his father, a member of the Spanish Inquisition (not the Spanish Inquisition!) years before put to death his own brother and wife in the same tomb when he discovered their affair, literally locking and leaving his wife (Nicholas's mother) to her doomed fate. It all ends in a grandly staged sequence with an insane Price putting into operation the title apparatus with a solitary silent witness to the dastardly deed.
Price is wonderfully hammy throughout, rolling his eyes to the heavens and fainting all over the place as he is drawn ever deeper down into his nightmare. Ably supported by the small supporting cast, director Corman effectively ratchets up the tension with a number of exciting shock-horror moments, imaginative monochrome dream-sequences and ends the film on a memorable lasting image. The art and set designs are excellent as was the atmospheric musical accompaniment making this a high-quality entry in the Poe adaptation stakes, one to which the director and lead actor would profitably return in succeeding years.
The 1934 cartoonist creator of Colonel Blimp David Low described the old jingoistic reactionary as stupid but nice and was effectively satirising outdated and out of touch approaches to war and soldiering. It's very easy of course to consider the viewpoint of any older person as past its time and certainly the Archers writing and production team of Powell and Pressburger achieved that in this wartime feature but they went deeper, looking to find the humanity in the old blowhard and presenting his journey from being a youthful adventurer to staid museum piece over the course of his life. Being a military man through and through, his life is signposted with his participation in three increasingly bigger wars, the Boer War of 1902 and the succeeding world wars of 1918 and 1939. Along the way we see how he came to grow his walrus moustache and become so corpulent and yes, he can and often does seem like a figure of ridicule but by the end he has at last faced up and at least some degree, welcomed modernity be it ever so distasteful to him.
Churchill apparently wanted to ban the film without ever troubling to see it, although perhaps old Winnie was just worried the film public might confuse himself with this other rotund, balding war veteran. Other organisations of the time also sought to block the film's release, which implies that the film's message was too subtle for the hard-line warmongers seeking recruitment propaganda instead.
Roger Livesey is excellent in the three dramatised stages of Blimpy Clive Wynne-Candy's life. Rounding out his character, we observe how he interacts with key people in his life, starting with his dimwitted but devoted batman John Laurie, who ironically in the film joins the Home Guard Candy commands, decades before he joined the cast of the evergreen BBC TV comedy "Dad's Army" as a gloomy member (catchphrase "We're all doomed") of Arthur Lowe's troop of hapless veterans. Then there's Anton Walbrook as the German officer Candy duels with early in the film but with whom he forms a lifelong if sometimes chastising friendship. Wallbrook gets an extended soliloquy explaining how he became a refugee escaping the Nazis which he delivers beautifully and resonantly especially considering the continuing proliferation of refugees today. Finally there's Deborah Kerr in her breakout role as the woman in Candy's life, or make that women in Candy's life, as we see her in three separate parts as firstly the girl he loses to Wallbrook and then in succeeding likenesses of her in later years.
Stylishly directed in glowing colour, Powell contrives some imaginative scenes to froth up the narrative, like the machine-gun technique he uses to demonstrate Candy's admittedly repugnant big-game hunting pastime or the dreamy way we enter into the extended flashback sequence in of all things a Turkish bath.
Made right at the heart of World War Two, "Colonel Blimp" is an artful and subtle rallying call against Nazism as well as being a deliberate leave-taking of an outdated way of life necessary if the country was to win the battle for freedom and democracy.
Deep Water (2019)
Highly contrived to the point of ridiculously unbelievable 6-part ITV drama set in the beautiful looking countryside of Lake Windermere. The plot is basically "take three girls", all friends on the face of it, who will see their marriages as well as their friendship tested up to and beyond their limits as ever more unlikely events occur in their lives.
So let's take Anna Friel's character first. A struggling mum, who works as a dog-walker, forever wearing either dress-down dungarees or jeans and a Fair Isle jumper, she appears at first to be happily married to her Scots-born husband with their two kids. But no, it seems that Anna harbours feelings of inferiority and being taken for granted so that when she's invited with her husband to a posh party in a big fancy house by her well-to-do friend, she gets a chance to put on a posh frock and feel a bit glam for once. Then, while husband is getting sloshed downstairs, she has sex in the bathroom upstairs with her friend's sister's husband, so that afterwards she can now add shame and guilt to her growing list of neuroses.
Then take said well-to-do friend, Rosalind Eleazor, living in said big house, married with two children, whose husband has previously run off with the au-pair. Her son wears an eye patch, appears to be in delicate health and seems withdrawn and troubled while her daughter by contrast seems like 15 going on 35. Her marriage is obviously in trouble and she is desperate to get her husband back. Then the daughter goes missing, after Friel forgets to collect her from school for a sleepover (piling more guilt on the hapless Friel) starting a full-scale girl-hunt but which seems to bring the concerned husband / father back to the estranged wife at least for a time.
And finally take Sinead Keenan, a really struggling mum of one, with a husband who has a gambling addiction. They're one step away from the bailiffs as her hubby can't hold down a job and she can't make enough from her massage business. That is, until a wealthy, Porsche-driving, handsome client rocks up and offers to pay her handsomely for no-commitment occasional sex. Naturally she resists but when she's about to see her house repossessed and her well-off brother refuses to bale her out this time, she caves, but just as a one-off of course, to get her on her feet. That is until hubby caves, takes the found cash with which she's about to pay off their debts and blows it at the bookie's. So she caves again to the rich caveman, having sex with him at her office, although unbeknownst to her they're being filmed in the act by her sleazy young male receptionist whose price of silence is a private session with her too.
It all goes on from there, involving along the way Keenan's girl-friend neighbour next door, the local cop, pining for her ex-girl-friend but who leads the investigation for the missing girl as well as child-minding for Keenan when she's out with her paying hunk.
This bizarre mix of sex, guilt, and shame was all over the place redeemed by neither a realistic or even connected narrative or convincing acting. Some people might enjoy this countryside romp with its vague tag-line that the rich have as many problems in their lives as the poor but really I just found the plot jumps ludicrous to the point of laughable and ended up seeing it through to the end not because I was even remotely interested in the so-called characters' lives but just really to get to the end.
Got there in the end
I reviewed Gotham early in its run and see that I gave it only 6 out of 10 at that time. I wasn't sure then about a series in Batman's city without old cape and cowl nor was I sure about Jim Gordon's ability to hold the series together as the central character. I did also say however that I would stay with it and now 100 episodes on and at the end of its five year run I'm more than happy to positively re-evaluate my previous opinion.
Those of us who stayed with the show will have seen the benefit in its retention of its main cast for the full run (let's just leave Poison Ivy's transformations out of this, okay) letting us get to know the characters as they developed as well as appreciating the acting behind them. In this there was no one better in my opinion than Robin Lord Stewart as the Penguin, who stole his scenes as easily as his character did bank bullion and high office, although the portrayals of the Riddler and Joker weren't far behind. I wasn't quite as taken with young Catwoman, who was missing the feline grace of Selina Kyle and in the broader scheme of things wish that Scarecrow and especially Two Face had made bigger appearances in the show. That said, it was pleasing to see appearances by throwback lesser villains like Ivy, Mad Hatter, Solomon Grundy and even in the last series Clayface. One character I hated though was Jada Pinkett-Smith's artificial and unconvincing creation of Fish Mooney who thankfully didn't stay the course. Smith just seemed like a marquee-name production indulgence to me.
Besides her, other women played bigger and better-written parts in the show too, apart from the on-off Bruce and Selina mutual attraction, there were great turns by Erin Richards as Jim's first love turned gangster Barbara Kane and his second, more enduring love Dr Lee Tompkins. Nice to think that Ben Shepherd as Gordon and Morena Baccarian as the doc hooked up in real life and now have a child of their own. Shepherd in the pivotal role of Gordon, while he never once looked like the young commissioner, grew into his part abetted by Donal Logue as the slovenly but loyal detective Harvey Bullock.
And then there was young Bruce Wayne (with his ever-loyal, army-trained butler Alfred) a growing presence throughout who we finally saw grow to maturity in the final episode. About that final episode, which really was a near-perfect send-off for the show, where we finally got our green-faced Joker, Pengy and Nygma continuing their wonderfully entertaining bromance, a grown up slinky-sexy Catwoman and yes, a first and last look at the Caped Crusader.
With only few reservations, I thoroughly enjoyed pretty much the whole run and really just wish DC's movie division would hand big-screen Batman to the show-runners here to transform and reignite the ailing screen-life of our favourite masked manhunter.
New York, New York (1977)
Sax and violins
Scorsese's "New York New York" failed at the box office and still appears to divide viewers today. I myself always consider it alongside Coppola's "One From The Heart", an even bigger commercial flop made a few years later, another example of a big name director indulging a love for old-time Hollywood with a highly stylised personal homage. Unlike many however, it seems, I love both movies even as I appreciate I'm probably falling for style over content as it's undoubtedly the look of the films more than the story or characters which I'm savouring.
Right from the start, with the recreation of the VJ Day celebrations in New York, Scorcese goes large with his colour scheme, crowd scenes and set design as we're introduced to De Niro's decommissioned Jimmy Doyle character, out to get laid after throwing his army uniform out the window and donning a garish Hawaiian shirt, now throwing himself at eventual target Liza Minelli's Francine Evans in a fashion some might call persistent and others today harassment. He's a saxophone player, she a singer and the movie that follows shows the ups and downs of their relationship and the downs and ups of their career aspirations.
The problem for me is that De Niro's character is such an unremitting heel and asshole and that it takes over two and a half hours for his karma to come round as he shouts and screams at Minelli throughout, embarrasses her in public, puts his own ambitions before hers and goes full sub-snake-belly by sleeping around when she falls pregnant. Minelli's character is naturally much more sympathetic which guides the viewer to decide whether she could possibly excuse her man's boorish behaviour on the grounds of artistic temperament, although from where I'm sitting it's an easy call.
The two leads are almost never off the screen although I wasn't completely won over by their chemistry. De Niro certainly convinces when he's playing the saxophone, Minelli even more so when she finally gets to sing, making the musical numbers, be they De Niro playing hot jazz at the Harlem Club with a black combo, or Minelli's mega-production "Happy Endings" among the highlights but the constant bickering between the loutish Jimmy and put upon Francine does wear a little after the first two or three times.
No, forget the characters, what I'll remember most about the movie are the imaginative colour-saturated sets (and De Niro's similarly day-glo suits), the brilliant recreation of post-war New York and the terrific Kander and Ebb songs, including "The World Still Turns" and of course the title number which old blue eyes hijacked away from Liza a few years later.
Bloated and over-indulgent it may be but "New York New York" is an ambitious, imaginative movie which if it occasionally reaches too high and doesn't work on every level, always reminds me every time I watch it why I love movies in the first place.
I Know Where I'm Going! (1945)
...but not what I'm doing...
Wendy Hiller is the headstrong bank manager's daughter who during the war engineers a marriage with an older, wealthy man she clearly doesn't love. He's arranged an expensive wedding at his expense on the fictional Scottish island of Killoran where he is awaiting her arrival for the ceremony. On the rail journey north however she encounters a charming middle-aged Scotsman closer to her own age who she learns is actually the laird of the island on leave from army service and who has rented out his home to her waiting fiancé for the rich man's wedding.
However, circumstances bring the laird and the bride-to-be increasingly together where a mutual attraction unsurprisingly develops as well as placing her into situations where she meets, observes and interacts with the island populace and learns that money as well as not being everything in life, certainly can't buy you love. A Highland ceilidh, an old castle curse and a gathering typhoon at sea are important plot points along the way before Hiller's Joan Webster must decide whether to follow her head or heart to find lasting happiness.
This is a charming, if quaint early production by Powell and Pressburger and even if there is a healthy dollop of cliche and sentimentality in the plotting and some of the characterisations, their joint skills in story-telling, scene-setting, cinematography and coaxing fine performances by their cast carry them through.
I like that neither Hiller or her romantic interest Roger Livesey are in the first flush of youth which helps ground the movie and stops it flying away into greetings card banality. Some of the location shots make too obvious use of back projection work especially during the climactic storm scene but elsewhere the camera catches the Western Isles in all their native, rugged beauty.
Besides Livesey and Hiller's strong leads I liked Pamela Brown as island girl Catriona who is wise beyond her years and 60's music fans should watch out for Petula "Downtown" Clark in one of her early child-actor roles as Cheril. The Archers would go onto even better things from here especially when they added colour to their palette but they too obviously knew where they were going and this likeable film proves it.
Lord and Lady Muck
Charming and amusing British pre-war production of Shaw's celebrated play starring Leslie Howard and "introducing" Wendy Hiller in the lead roles of the indomitable chauvinist Professor Henry Higgins and impoverished, uneducated Eliza Doolittle. Of course, Shaw being Shaw (indeed the great man himself was involved personally in the production) there's more to the film than just posh-meets-poor comedy. As well as a battle of the sexes, we're presented with class warfare and almost unbelievably at the end, the most unlikely of love stories.
There are plenty of amusing situations and lines sprinkled throughout although probably the most famous part when Eliza spectacularly drops her haitches in high society is held back and highlighted to better comedic effect in the later musical remake "My Fair Lady". Otherwise nicely paced from the outset, the movie's only other missed beat is with the unnecessary gentrification of Eliza's not so dear old dad, but I suspect that was unavoidably in the writing.
Howard is fine as the stuffed shirt Higgins and Hiller finer still as the initially gauche and vulgar flower girl who not only transforms into the lady Higgins sets her out to be but also into a woman which he didn't count on.
Although still stagey in its execution, this adaptation of the Galatea legend is winningly realised and well worth a butchers for those who might otherwise only know the story from "My Fair Lady".
The Dark Mirror (1946)
Not sure myself how much use a dark mirror would be to anyone, but anyway here's a hoary old Hollywood melodrama / noir with Olivia De Havilland working twice as hard for the money as single twins Ruth and Terry who still live together and conveniently often do that twinny thing of wearing the same clothes. Director Robert Siodmak helpfully has them wear either a huge pin or necklace bearing their names, you know just in case either one of them wakens up thinking they're the other one but more obviously to help the viewer identify which is which until it is plain enough through characterisation.
You see, there's been a violent murder attributed to one of the two but back in the days before DNA, each sister is the other's alibi and of course the guilty one isn't going to confess. It seems that one of them suffers from extreme jealousy of the other's more amiable personality, especially when it comes to attracting men, while the good one suffers from a guilt complex secretly built up by the manipulative bad one.
For all the talk of the significance of mirrors as the narrative unfolds we're never actually told why they trigger the reaction they do in them both as I kept waiting for an explanatory flashback like for instance in "Spellbound". Still Siodmak often has one or both Olivias positioned in front of one reinforcing the idea of split personalities and one being the evil reflection of the other. It must be said that he handles the split-screen photography deftly and you're actually more aware when he does resort to the artificial use of a back facing double as at other times you're so convinced there are two separate presences of the sisters when they both fill the screen.
While the plot is cliched and far-fetched right up to the somewhat predictable climax, it's undoubtedly stylishly directed and carried off in the main by De Havilland even if she goes slightly overboard near the end. Lew Ayres convinces as the smooth psycho-analyst who becomes the women's next battleground and Thomas Mitchell is fun as the one-step-behind detective cold on the sisters' trail.
In the end I probably enjoyed the set ups and special effects more than the acting or story but as twin-flix go, this was still pretty enjoyable.