Back in the early 1960's one of my favourite historical novelists, Henry Treece, wrote a wonderful novel called The Green Man which told the tale of Hamlet based on the old legend rather than the Shakespeare version. I always thought that would have made a good film so when I heard of the existence of this film which takes its plot from the Saxo Grammaticus version of the Hamlet story, I couldn't wait to see it. It receives several rave reviews on the IMDb but, sadly, it didn't work for me. Given that the film stars Christian Bale, Helen Mirren, Gabriel Byrne, Brian Cox and Tom Wilkinson, one would be forgiven if for doubting my judgement but for me the film fails on several levels. The acting is simply dull with the more than impressive line up of talent going through the motions with an obvious lack of enthusiasm.The direction by Gabriel Axel is poor and the dialogue banal in the extreme. Overall the film totally lacks the real passion that the story cries out for. Instead it gets all the conviction of an amatuer dramatics production. Dull, dull, dull. Rating *
Saturday, 30 May 2009
It is hard to believe that both Roger Corman's THE WILD ANGELS and THE TRIP were banned in England and back in 1967 I had to join Derek Hill's cinema club to see them. As a Corman devotee at the time who thought the great man could do no wrong I kind of liked them. Seen today they are both not only not very good but a bit embarassing. Like many films that were considered "hip" at the time they have not aged well. This even applies to EASY RIDER and that film is a couple of notches above THE WILD ANGELS. The plot is virtually non-existent. A gang of motorcycle freaks set out to bury one of their kind who was killed during a pursuit by the cops. They break up the church and their leader realises that their way of life is pointless. And that's about it. If you are a Corman fan there are a few things that just about make it watchable....Dick Miller as an oilman, watching Bruce Dern steal the films as a a strangely flexible corpse, Frank Maxwell as the preacher and if you look closely at the climax of the film you might spot a very young Peter Bogdanovich as one of the townsfolk (the only one with dialogue) and another performance by my favourite, Barboura Morris (Corman's regular innocent bystander) - remember her lovely bit with Fonda in the launderette in THE TRIP? It ain't a patch on Laslo Benedek's THE WILD ONE with Brando and Lee Marvin strutting their stuff through similar territory twelve years earlier. Rating **
Thursday, 28 May 2009
Just learned of the death of pretty and talented Jane Randopph who starred in Val Lewton's classic chillers CAT PEOPLE (1942) and CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944) as well as two excellent film noir for Anthony Mann, RAIL ROADED and T-MEN (both 1947). Jane retired from the screen after appearing in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1947) and moved to Europe with her Spanish husband.
Jane Randolph 1915 - 2009
Sunday, 24 May 2009
Tarzans may come and Tarzans may go but for a whole generation Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller was Tarzan. We believed he was Tarzan (even when he got a bit paunchy) and more importantly he believed he was Tarzan. There may have been other good Tarzan's but for me and a lot like me, Weissmuller was - and still is - the main man, the daddy, the head honcho, numero uno. I recently purchased all twelve films in the MGM series and over the last few months have been dipping into them. The first three films - TARZAN THE APEMAN, TARZAN AND HIS MATE and TARZAN ESCAPES are the best. Despite the often badly matched animal footage, they move quickly and have lots of action and, furthermore, the relationship between Tarzan and Jane has a delightful purity and innocence (along with a genuine erotic charge)....highlighted by the wonderful nude swimming sequence (Jane is naked, not Tarzan) in the second film. Later films in the series which had Tarzan fighting nazis became very formalistic but in TARZAN'S NEW YORK ADVENTURE (sixth in the series) there is still a lot of invention on show. Tarzan's adopted son, Boy, played by Johnny Sheffield (who went on to get his own series as BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY) is kidnapped by dastardly animal trapper, Charles Bickford and flown to New York to perform with wild animals in a circus. Tarzan and Jane soon pack up their loin cloths and with the help of some gold nuggets, a friendly consul and a frustrated Chinese tailor, are soon catchin the clipper to the Big Apple. Of course, they take Cheetah the Chimp along for comedy relief although for once Tarzan himself gets a few laughs as he copes with "civilization" - I liked the scene where Tarzan steps in the shower with his suit on! There are some nice touches in that Bickford's original accomplices (played by Paul Kelly and Chill Wills) actually side with Tarzan and there are some interesting location shots of 1940's New York during Tarzans exciting escape from the authorites to be pursued across the rooftops. Virgina Grey turns up as Paul Kelly's girlfriend and there is a comedy cameo from (uncredited) Mantan Morland and even Elmo Lincoln (the screen's very first Tarzan) has a cameo as one of the circus roustabouts. Richard Thorpe keeps things moving admirably. Rating ***
Friday, 22 May 2009
When anybody looks at the film career of Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, there is one aspect of his career that is usually overlooked. His is remembered, as a director, for his early films such as THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, ROMEO AND JULIET, BROTHER SUN SISTER MOON and, of course, his famous television JESUS OF NAZARETH but, while these are interesting in their own way, his work as a director of opera films for both big and small screens is largely overlooked by anybody not interested in opera. Here, Zeffirelli turns his attention to the duo of one act opera's known collectively as "Cav & Pag", usually performed together because of their short running times. I just so happens that CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA by Mascagni is my all time favourite opera so I'm both prejudiced in favour of and liable to be very critical of any production (I once walked out of a theatre production which I though was rather tatty) but, Franco does not put a foot wrong. For the most part the the director eschews the theatricality of the opera house and opens the story out for a full dramatic film production made on location in Sicily in the village of Vizzini.. CAV's story tells of ex-soldier Turiddu whose affair with the wife of a local wagon driver is exposed by his ex-lover, Santa. Being Sicily this means blood must flow - indeed, CAV was used as a recurring motif in Francis Coppola's THE GODFATHER PART 3. This is very much the Sicily of THE GODFATHER, all flat caps, earthy peasants, ruined mountain top villages and religious processions. For his singers, Zeffirelli, as one might expect, has the very best with the three main roles sung by Placido Domingo, Yelena Obraztsova and Renato Bruson. In the very important supporting role as Turiddu's mother is the wonderful Fedora Barbieri. With Leoncavallo's PAGLIACCI a different tack is taken and, perhaps because of the theatrical theme, Zeffirelli embraces the stage setting at La Scala for his tale of the elderly clown (Domingo in fantastic form) cheated on by his wife (a performance of raw sexuality by Teresa Stratos. The climax when theatre and reality begin to merge with terrifying results is powerful stuff indeed. The singing in both films is, of course, superb. Rating ****
Thursday, 21 May 2009
Jesus Franco is a machine that produces shit and here he is working as efficiently as ever. This is a really sad affair. It is virtually a silent film inasmuch as there is hardly any dialogue - a few screams, some grunts and a voice over or two - oh yes, and a cabaret song! Script and direction are non-existent which renders most of the goings on totally incoherent. Rainer Von Frankenstein revives his monster and then sets about reviving Count Dracula himself. This is all so bad it isn't even funny. Howard Vernon plays Dracula as if, having seen the scribble that passed for a script, he went into catatonic shock. But Vernon has nobody to blame but himself. This is a man who worked with Michael Powell, Fritz Lang and John Frankenheimer and who somewhere along the line sold his soul to the devil in the form of Jesus Franco and now, for his sins, he languishes in Movie Hell. Even sadder is the case of Dennis Price who began his career in the lofty heights of such British classics as KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS. Here Price is Dr.Frankenstein...poor Dennis, his addictions and predelictions had obviously caught up with him by the time he made this - a period when he was accepting anything to pay the bills - and he looks barely conscious of his surroundings and in serious danger of falling over. There is no pleasure to be had here even for the most jaded of fans. Rating *
Sunday, 17 May 2009
Ioan Gruffud as William Wilberforce
AMAZING GRACE is a biography, not of John Newton who wrote the eponymous hymn and whose life story is certainly worthy of a film, but of William Wilberforce, the Member of Parliament the led the fight for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. The film is very good but I continually had the feeling that it had been cut down from a film that was originally longer. Wilberforce is one of the great - and genuinely good - men of English History and his passion and dedication for his cause (he also campaigned against cruelty to animals) is ably conveyed by Ioan Gruffud. The rest of the cast is exceptional with the wonderfully named Benedict Cumberbatch as Wilberforce's friend William Pitt the younger, Michael Gambon as Charles Fox and Rufus Sewell as the great abolitionist Thomas Clarkson (not depicted with total historical accuracy) and, best of all, Albert Finney as the aforementioned John Newton, the ex-slaveship captain who became an Anglican priest and a fierce opponent of the Slave Trade as well as writing some of the greatest hymns, including the one which gives the film its title. Newton is depicted as a man "haunted by 20.000 ghosts". Directed by Michael Apted. Rating ***
"I was blind but now I seee"
Albert Finney as John Newton
Tuesday, 12 May 2009
I actually saw FIVE GUNS WEST - Roger Corman's first credited work as a director - when it was origally released but recall nothing of the plot from that first viewing. I did catch up with it again about ten years back but my memories are very slight. Seeing it again it turns out to be an adequate low-budget Western. The plot prefigures Aldrich's THE DIRTY DOZEN with five condemned Confederate Prisones being pardoned to go on a mission for their Union captors. John Lund is o.k. as the leader whose secret is not hard to figure out and there is a nice performance by Touch Conners (later to gain fame in TV shows like TIGHTROPE and MANNIX with a name change to Mike Conners. Corman regular Jonathan Haze over acts like mad as usual and Dorothy Malone is the ranch gal whose presence is a catalyst to the group. Nothing special but Corman completists won't care. All in all it reminded me of a low budget, lack lustre version of Budd Boetticher's Randolph Scott Westerns. Rating **. Jonathan Haze turns up again as another mixed up character in GUNSLINGER made a year after FIVE GUNS WEST. Starring the reliable John Ireland, GUNSLINGER, is more off - the - wall than the first film as it features Beverly Garland as the widow of a murered sheriff who grabs a six gun at her husband's funeral and guns down one of the mourners before pinning on the lawman's badge and cleaning up the town. Another nice twist is that the saloon owning villain (a standard character in B-Westerns) comes in the shapely form of Allison Hayes. Other pluses are a woefully inept and under choreographed set of chorus girls and an ending that echoes the final shootout in the vastly superior DUEL IN THE SUN. Rating **
Saturday, 2 May 2009
Here's a bit of fun if you have a hankering after the horror films of the 1970's. The reviews are short but are linked to longer reviews elsewhere - their piece on Vincent Price's MADHOUSE links to my review in the Fleapit. Thanks to Nicole for sending this to me.