Yesterday was one of those days that makes blogging really worthwhile. At the beginning of the year I posted a piece about my days working at Columbia Pictures offices at Film House, 142 Wardour Street in London between 1962 and 1968. One of my colleagues then was a man named Ernie Raymond and yesterday, after forty years, I was able to speak on the telephone to his son, Neil. We were able to share a few memories and hopefully I will be able to put Neil in touch with somebody else who remembers his dad. Neil had read my piece on this blog and decided to make contact to see it I knew his dad. He is a big movie fan so hopefully we might see a comment or two in the Fleapit.
Sunday, 29 June 2008
Saturday, 28 June 2008
,If you catch this movie on DVD it will probably be under its re-release title, THE SCAR, and it is also known as THE MAN WHO MURDERED HIMSELF. Under any title it's a pretty good movie. An atmospheric film noir featuring an unusually unsympathetic Paul Henreid as an educated career criminal who gets out of prison and gathers his old gang together to rob a mob controlled casino. Of course, it all goes horribly wrong and one by one the gang are hunted down until only Hendreid is left. By accident he learns of a psychiatrist who is his physical double and he sets out to assume his identity. Of course there is much more to it than that and the film has a keen sense of character observation - particularly in the case of the psychiatrist's secretary played by Joan Bennett (who surely deserves a chapter to herself in the history of Film Noir) and a lovely cameo from the ever excellent John Qualen. As with Lawrence Tierney in THE HOODLUM Henreid eschews audience sympathy almost completely - almost, because there is a brief scene involving a cleaning lady where his humanity shows through. It is an unexpected moment in the film and as well as being both revealing and touching it is a nice comment on human nature in general. HOLLOW TRIUMPH is directed by Steve Sekely who seems to have done little of note and today is probably best remembered for the 1960's sci-fi film THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS which wasn't very good. Who knows ? There may be another gem lurking out there in the valley of forgotten films. Rating ***
Friday, 27 June 2008
Thursday, 26 June 2008
Monday, 23 June 2008
It is discovering movies like this that makes trawling through the products of Hollywood's underbelly really worth while. This is a neat little film noir directed by Norman Foster. Foster's place in film history seems to rest (somewhat unjustly) on JOURNEY INTO FEAR where his perfectly adequate direction has been overshadowed by the presence of Orson Welles. Foster's more representative work would seem to be far lighter as with his work for Disney such as the very successful DAVY CROCKETT, KING OF THE WILD FRONTIER and his later TV episode work - although, intriguingly his later career includes the wonderfully entitled DEATHSHEAD VIRGIN. But, back to WOMAN ON THE RUN, which is written by Alan Campbell who was Mr.Dorothy Parker. It starts atmospherically with a man out walking his dog late at night in San Francisco. He stops to light his pipe and witnesses a shooting and is nearly shot himself by the killer. Knowing that he could identify the killer and become a target himself he goes on the run. His estranged wife (a lovely turn from Ann Sheridan) sets off in pursuit and is herself tracked by a detective and a reporter....and the killer. The first half hour or so has a real noir look to it with lots of shadows and angled photography and then the film settles down to some fascinating locations work in 50's San Francisco and a finale set in a fun fare with two dramatic rollercoaster rides, the second of which is a truly surreal montage. As well as Miss Sheridan the rest of the cast is top notch with Dennis O'Keefe as the reporter, Robert Keith as the cop and further down the cast there is John Qualen as a timid store clerk and Victor Sen Young as a Chinese cabaret dancer (honest!). The script is sharp with some really snappy repartee, especially between Sheridan and Keith and when the film chooses to reveal the identity of the killer it comes as a genuine surprise...well, it did to me. Definitely one to seek out. Rating ***
This is not so much a review as an appreciation. THE HOODLUM was directed by Max Nosseck who had steered actor Lawrence Tierney through his most famous film, DILLINGER, a few years before. Tierney is perfectly cast as sociopath Vincent Lubeck (it is pointed out at the beginning of the film that Lubeck's only redeeming feature is that he hasn't murdered anybody yet!) who is paroled from prison and proceeds to seduce his brother's girlfriend and plan a bank robbery. Nosseck's direction is pretty routine but Tierney's performance is something else. If, indeed, it is a performance as Tierney was pretty much a sociopath himself and one of those fascinating actors who never seek a second of audience sympathy. As in DILLINGER, Tierney is totally unredeemable (check him out in Robert Wise's classic BORN TO KILL for another great performance - not to mention his performance in Tarantino's RESOVOIR DOGS) a role that he seemed to have played in reel-life in a series of brawls both in and out of bars and threatening and intimidating film crews and fellow actors until the line between the real and reel was almost totally blurred. Rating *** www.eddiemuller.com/tierney.html
Saturday, 21 June 2008
Thursday, 19 June 2008
MADADAYO! is the last film of the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. It is a deceptively simple film based on the retirement years of a real-life teacher named Hyakken Uchida (beautifully played by Tatsuo Matsumara) and his relationship with his ex-students and his friends...and his cat, Nora. The style is simple and the story touchingly told but, perhaps because it is the master's last opus one cannot but help but make comparisons with Kurosawa's life. Did he know it would be his last film ? Probably, which makes this reflective film even more touching. I wouldn't want to read too much into it but while watching I was forcibly struck by the thought that the grief shown by Uchida when his beloved cat just up and leaves him for no apparent reason, perhaps, has its origins in Kurosawa's famous split with his star and protege, Toshiro Mifune. But, maybe that is just my over active imagination. I have no real need to recommend this film (although I do, unreservedly) because if you are a Kurosawa admirer it is essential viewing. It is more personal than other late works like KAGEMUSHA and the mighty RAN so it is perhaps a more poignant film to bow out with. Rating **** P.S. The title translates literally as "Not Yet!" and refers to the Japanese children's game of hide and seek and although the cry is obviously used symbolically about old age in the film, it's true significance becomes clear in the film's final scene.
Tuesday, 17 June 2008
When Robert Aldrich's ATTACK! was shown at the Cannes Film Festival the American Ambassador left the theatre, refusing to sit through a movie that shows American soldiers betrayed by their own officers. Since then we've had Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq and the film seems even more topical than when it was first released. In the ten years following World War Two Hollywood made a whole series of what have been called "patrol movies" - A WALK IN THE SUN, MEN IN WAR, STEEL HELMET, FIXED BAYONETS, EIGHT IRON MEN and ATTACK! For me Aldrich's film is one of the best American films of the 50's. I was young when I first saw it and it's imagery has stayed with me ever since, helped along by at least half a dozen viewings since, none of which have reduced the power of this movie. The basic story is of a soldier who sees some of his men slaughtered because of the cowardly indecision of his commanding officer. He promises that if it happens again he will kill the officer. It happens and the soldier symbolically (as surely as Lee Marvin did in POINT BLANK) claws his way back from death to exact his revenge. The film is adapted from a play Aldrich's direction and the carefully framed cinematography help one forget this. Performances are top notch with three real-life war heroes, Jack Palance, Eddie Albert and Lee Marvin taking the leads with more than adequate support from William Smithers (who really deserved better parts after his pivotal performance here), Buddy Ebsen, Robert Strauss and Richard Jaekel. Strother Martin has a small role right at the beginning. This is a powerful film and a perfect companion to Aldrich's other play adaption, THE BIG KNIFE, also starring Palance. Palance was, as illustrated by ATTACK!, a great actor and was sadly given few roles worthy of his talents after the 1950's, too often being relegated to low budget horror films and villains (however enjoyable a Palance villain may be) in Spaghetti Westerns. Rating *****
Monday, 9 June 2008
I'm pretty sure that WAGES OF FEAR was the first foreign language film I ever saw. This must have been on it's general release in Britain (I believe it was the first sub-titled film to recieve a circuit release) so I would have been seven or eight. I think my mother was quite surprised to hear the actors speaking French and I recall she was very surprised by the scene where the drivers urinate at the side of the road. I don't think I was put off by the sub-titles and certainly the imagery has stayed with me over the years. I've seen the movie a couple of times over the years but in less than ideal circumstances. Seeing it again, the film has lost none of its power. The basic plot tells of four men who are hired to drive trucks full of nitroglycerin to a drilling camp to help put out an oil fire. The mountain roads are treacherous and the lorries unfit for the task. Around this the director, Henri-Georges Clouzot embroiders a rich tapestry. The drivers of the trucks are down and out no hope losers trapped in the purgatory of a one dog South American town, scratching out a living in anyway they can to pay for drinks and grubby rooms. You can almost smell these sweaty, unwashed characters as Clouzot carefully builds his picture of a hell on earth to explain why the men jump at the chance to drive the trucks - its not only for the money, it's a sort of redemption. There is a very interesting relationship between the two main characters, played by Yves Montand and Charles Vanel, which seems to have a homo-erotic element - certainly they seem to be flirting with each other (when they first meet Montand thinks Vanel has money) and there is a stand off in the cantina between Vanel and Montand's rejected room-mate. This is all very subtle and Montand is also shown as having a romantic interest in the cantina waitress (Vera Clouzot) although he seem unconcerned when she is obviously being used by her boss for sex. Later Clouzot dresses up on her afternoon off to please Montand who seems torn between going with her and his new friend. At this point Vanel throws a jealous tantrum. The driving scenes remain just as suspenseful as ever and certainly have not been eclipsed by either of the remakes (a cheap and cheerful B-movie by William Witney and a big budget disaster by William Friedkin). WAGES OF FEAR is one of the iconic French movies of the Fifties and one of the best suspense films ever. Notable in the supporting cast is the German actor Peter Van Eyck. Rating *****
Thursday, 5 June 2008
TOPKAPI is a joy. Directed by Jules Dassin who made the classic RIFIFI which became the template for just about every heist movie made since. Yet TOPKAPI is a very different kettle of fish. Where RIFIFI was a gritty, realistic film noir set in a real world, TOPKAPI is a fantasy and Dassin introduces his main characters - Melina Mercouri and Maximilan Schell almost as characters in a cinematic fairy tale with Mercouri first seen talking directly to the camera framed in a halo of flickering coloured lights. Robert Morely is a modern magician working with eccentric technology and only with the introduction of the character played by Peter Ustinov does Dassin begin to ease his team of thieves into a reconizably real world. The tone, however, doesn't change and while the heist itself at Istanbul's Topkapi museum is both thrilling and suspenseful, the film is about as far from RIFIFI as you can get. One of the measures of Dassin's success is that just as so many films emulated RIFIFI everytime a film robber attaches him or herself to a wire in, say, OCEAN'S ELEVEN (2001) or ENTRAPMENT(1999) they are consciously or unconsciously evoking TOPKAPI. Wouldn't you just know that a remake is on the cards starring Pierce Brosnan. Rating ****
Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Kenji Mizoguchi is on of my favourite Japanese directors and I have waited a long time to see this film. The Masters of Cinema series have done a wonderful job in finding a beautiful print of a film that has only been available on VHS in substandard copies. Reading about the film on Imdb I had geared myself up to watch a masterpiece so I felt a little let down when I realised that the film was having little emotional effect on me and I felt not real empathy with the characters however much I tried. Was it me ? Imagine my surprise when viewing the introduction to the movie by critic Tony Rayns to learn that Mizoguchi hadn't really wanted to make the film which was an assignment from the studio and further more one that was inherited from another director. On top of this Mizoguchi had split from his lover and regular leading lady and rowed continually with his egotistical leading man whom he considered far too old for the role. So, while this tale of doomed love is a perfectly adequate film by any standards it was not a happy experience for its highly acclaimed director. Performances are generally very good and all the technical credits are first class but the film lacks an extra spark. The original title translates as "A story from Chikamatsu" Chikamatsu being a very famous dramatist from Japan in the 17th Century although his reputation has never really gone beyond his homeland. The film, which takes certain elements from an earlier version of the story tell the story of a love between the wife of a rich printer and one of his employees and how they suffer for their indiscretion and the consequences for all around them. As I have said I found it less involving than other Mizoguchi films I've seen (notably UGETSU MONOGATARI and THE LIFE OF OHARU) but if you admire the director at all then you will want to see it.
Tuesday, 3 June 2008
Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum), sometime Private Eye, returns to Japan after many years to try and rescue the daughter of an old wartime buddy (Brian Keith in a dodgy wig) who has been kidnapped by yakuza gangsters. Kilmer has history in Japan with an ex-yakuza whose sister Harry had helped (and lived with) the end of the war and who despite his resentment of Kilmer feel obligated to him. It is to this man, Tanaka Ken (played by Japanese star Takakura Ken) that Harry goes for help. Reluctantly Tanaka Ken "picks up the sword" again. The girl is rescued but Harry soon learns that he has been a pawn in a much more complicated game. Director Sidney Pollack (who took over the project from Robert Aldrich) brings a real sensitivity to the relationship between Harry and the Japanese family and brings out the film's theme of two contrasting cultures. Mitchum is at his very best in this film and Takakura Ken (whose only other English language film to my knowledge was Aldrich's TOO LATE THE HERO) perfectly compliments him - two men who don't particularly like each other striving to work together and cemented by completely different understandings of duty, loyalty and obligation. According to director Pollack the original script by Paul Schrader based on a story by his brother Leonard was a much less complicated martial arts story until he (Pollack) brought in Robert (CHINATOWN) Towne to flesh it out. The action scenes have an authentic chaotic feel to them and the climatic final assault on the yakuza headquarters is an all time classic. Rumour is that the film will be remade next year...oh dear, Hollywood continues to eat its own children. Rating ****