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1. Plenty of the movies I see are so obscure it finally dawned upon me that I really ought to describe some of them for the benefit of other researchers.
2. Having hit the age of 60 I can tell that my recall of films I've just seen is developing a shorter and shorter half-life; and therefore feel that it will from now on be wise to set down any impressions worth recording fairly promptly.
A Woman's Hair (2005)
A Hair-Raising Tale
A sweet little anecdote from Ireland about the pleasure of combing long hair, when a young waif rescues a woman who's own hair has frozen to the ground in the winter cold, and they bond as she comes it out as it dries out.
The Counterfeit Plan (1957)
Surprisingly Sober Crime Drama
The mood of this subdued little British crime film with American leads Zachary Scott and Peggie Castle is remarkably close to that of Melville's 'Bob le Flambeur'. It's photography (by Phil Grindrod) and sound recording in and around Mervyn Johns' palatial country home presumably deliberately has the feel of a documentary about it; although Melville would not have deigned to employ such an emphatic musical score (let alone the main theme from 'Plan 9 from Outer Space', which we hear as the pressure rises towards the end!). As in Melville, both the police and the crime bosses are similarly laconic as they go about their business.
Contains an Interesting Record in Technicolor & Technicope of the Young Harry Secombe Singing 'Nessun Dorma'...
...and of Covent Garden as it looked in 1957. But that aside this was a wholly misconceived last gasp to come from Michael Balcon at Ealing Studios, following their earlier equal but different failure at making a film star of Benny Hill in 'Who Done It?'
'Who Done It?' - which had been directed by Basil Dearden and produced by Michael Relph - had been a throwback to both Dearden & Ealing's slapstick comedies of the pre-war and wartime period. 'Davy' by contrast marked the first of several attempts over the next few years to launch popular British TV comedians on the big screen in Technicolor; but also remained one of the least successful. First-time director Relph (whose father George plays 'Uncle Pat') seemed overwhelmed by the wide screen, which drains the life from this expensive folly's attempts to try for pathos, in the face of a surprisingly poor script from veteran comedy writer William Rose which would probably have worked better if less elaborately produced.
The Gentle Trap (1960)
Johnny on the Spot
The title suggests a romantic comedy, but it generally proves yet another bleak, nihilistic little British crime film set in pre-swinging London in which almost everyone is looking after number one while a rather unendearing petty crook finds himself out of his depth and as usual learns that Crime Does Not Pay.
You never knew during his later years whether Richard Burton was going to just walk through his part with a faraway look in his eyes and simply collect his cheque or pull his finger out and actually give a performance worthy on his reputation; and this is one of those occasions when he's actually rather good.
A sort of cross between Hitchcock's 'I Confess' and Sidney Lumet's 'Child's Play', in which the unlikable central character is mischievously manipulated as in scriptwriter Anthony Shaffer's earlier classics 'Sleuth' and 'The Wicker Man', it becomes more confusing and less interesting as it progresses. Basically a two-hander for much of its duration, Billy Connolly, Andrew Keir and Brian Glover, along with most of the rest of the supporting cast are given remarkably little to do, adding even more to the disjointed feel of the thing (consolidated of course by its fitful release record over the decade that followed).
Girl in the Headlines (1963)
Murdered Model's Mystery Life
Based on a 1961 novel by the actor Laurence Payne called 'The Nose on My Face' this enjoyable little murder mystery with an interesting cast - most of them still relatively young - and shot on familiar London locations seems on the surface charmingly old-fashioned (everybody is so immaculately dressed, and ball-point pens were still sufficiently novel for one to be an important plot point).
Yet the the victim is described as "a little nympho...without morals or scruples of any kind" who came to London to have "an operation" after getting pregnant by her mother's fiancée. "Reefers and" "cocaine" are also mentioned by name and a character is stabbed to death in what is obviously a gay club. Incredibly this only carried an 'A' certificate in 1963, which shows how rapidly times were then changing.
Like Inspector Morse, Ian Hendry (who was still young and dashing then before his drinking got the better of him) as the detective drives a Bentley and knows his opera. Coincidence?
It's hard to believe that nearly twenty years separate this movie from the similar 'Contact' (1997), which was in turn predated by even more years by 'Solaris' and 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'; from which 'Arrival' recycles the plot developments of the later stages of the latter and the protoganist's emotional baggage and benign manipulation by aliens in the former.
Amy Adams is always worth watching and it's worth sitting through the garrulous main body of the film for the ingenious surprise at the end of the film following a period of mounting tensions between the superpowers (in which America is reassuringly portrayed as the less bellicose of those interested parties that possess nukes).
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
The Spell is Lifted
Another children's classic gets the Tolkien treatment at ponderous and inordinate length with excessive use of steadicam, slow motion and far too much swordplay (hardly any of it by Snow White herself until she finally gets into armour at the conclusion).
The transformation of Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins et al into dwarfs is convincingly and unobtrusively done, but as usual the special effects team is allowed to run away with the rest of the film too.
A cursory glance tells you that Kristen Stewart does not have skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood or hair as black as ebony; while Charlize Theron remains too blonde to properly chill the spine as the Wicked Queen.
The Headless Ghost (1959)
Strange Goings on Inside the Castle
I was impressed at the good grace with which the Earl of Ambrose (Jack Allen) took the impertinence shown by a brash young American visitor in suggesting that claims of the castle being haunted were just 'mularkey' cooked up to draw in the punters; especially as the little oaf doesn't even inquire if he's ever actually seen any ghosts himself.
Despite the whimsical title sequence, the racy exotic dance by Josephine Blake that accompanies the ghostly banquet and a fairly gruesome moment involving a snake (plus the fact that on its original release Anglo-Amalgamated paired this film with the incredibly nasty 'Horrors of the Black Museum', also scored by Gerard Schurmann) belied my initial expectation that this would be a children's film.
The rather grand castle set looks as if it was left over from an earlier production, and the torches in wall mounts left burning overnight would probably even in 1959 have been in breach of fire regulations.
Charley Moon (1956)
The 9 Year Old Jane Asher
Based on a 1953 novel by Reginald Arkell, this elaborate Eastmancolour (sic) vehicle for the up-and-coming young Max Bygraves takes a remarkably jaundiced view of show business; both for those bumping along the bottom like Dennis Price (himself at the time at a low point both personally and professionally) and for those like Charley Moon that make it to the top only to find themselves surrounded by flatulent bores and hangers on.
The highly stylised theatrical musical numbers staged by Vida Hope are pointedly bookended by idyllic scenes shot on location in the pretty little village were he rejoins girl next door Patricia Driscoll. The other women - Shirley Eaton (much later reunited with director Guy Hamilton in 'Goldfinger') and Florence Desmond - both appear only briefly and are depictly as shallow and fickle; the strongest impression being made when the film is nearly over by a nine year-old Jane Asher.
The Old Dark House (1963)
A William Castle-Hammer Production
Having already remade 'Frankenstein', 'Dracula' and 'The Mummy', Hammer continued during the early 60's working their way through Universal's back catalogue of classic horrors with 'The Phantom of the Opera' until they hit the snag with their plans to remake 'The Old Dark House' that the rights had already just been acquired by William Castle.
However, Castle was amenable to co-producing the film with Hammer and in the spring of 1962 arrived at Bray to shoot the new version with a script by Robert Dillon under his arm very loosely based on the original (there is no Sir Roderick, for example, and it's been turned into a whodunnit in which the murderer - in a typical Castle 'twist' - predictably turns out be the least likely possible candidate) and the American TV comedian Tom Poston (later a familiar face as the landlord in 'Mork and Mindy'), who had just starred for Castle in a film called 'Zotz!'.
In black & white from a script by Jimmy Sangster, Hammer might have turned in an interestingly creepy version in the vein of their psycho-thrillers like 'Taste of Fear' and 'Paranoiac'. But Castle decides to send the whole thing up in Technicolor! The end result is a travesty of James Whale's original but - as befits Charles Addams' whimsical opening titles - can be enjoyed like an episode of 'The Addams Family' or 'The Munsters' in incongruously vibrant colours.
Hammer's hand is only really evident in Bernard Robinson's excellent set, the cast consisting of English eccentrics most of whom are making their only appearances in a Hammer film, with Fenella Fielding in eye-catching primary colours in a role that anticipates her more famous appearance a few years later in 'Carry On Screaming'.
Psyche 59 (1964)
Awe Inspiringly Pretentious
Obviously based on a novel (and on a novel by a woman too)! I saw this film on TV forty years ago and remembered only the menacing conversation the heroine has with her mother, but that was sufficient to make me want to take another look at it again.
Having enjoyed enormous critical acclaim a couple of years earlier with 'A Cold Wind in August', Alexander Singer blew all the clout he'd gained with that freak success in this elaborate, breaktakingly pretentious folly about the love lives of the fabulously wealthy; and found himself condemned to spend the rest of his career in television. But 'Psyche 59' has awarded him the last laugh, it exists!!
A weird hybrid of 'The Miracle Worker' and 'The Pumpkin Eater' (both of which ironically starred Anne Bancroft, who replaced Patricia Neal when she nearly died following a debilitating strike while filming '7 Women' in 1965, barely a year after she'd won an Oscar for 'Hud'). Had Ms Neal died this film would probably be better remembered today, and it would certainly make it an even more vivid experience to watch than it already is. She wears a succession of fabulous outfits devised by Julie Harris plus a pair of those chic sunglasses that blind people always do in the movies, the photography by Walter Lassally is stunning, and the restless score by Kenneth V. Jones creates a similar mood to that his music lent soon afterwards to Roger Corman's 'The Tomb of Ligeia'. Definitely a film to be watched at least once.
The Beauty Jungle (1964)
Local Girl Makes Good
The British cinema had recently been cautiously dipping a toe in the salacious when veteran director Val Guest showcased former child star Janette Scott's transformation from an unspoiled young brunette into a glamorous swimsuited blonde in Eastmancolor & CinemaScope (with appropriately trashy music by Laurie Johnson) for this fascinating reminder of that long ago era when Britain was finally losing its inhibitions following the Lady Chatterly trial and the Profumo Scandal. (As well as of Ian Hendry as a dashing young blade before his drinking prematurely aged him.)
Miss Scott remains, however, an innocent abroad, and a more interesting film might have been one that concentrated on the two seasoned contest regulars played by Jacqueline Jones & Jackie White we see earlier on to whom this is just a living; although that might have deprived us of the fantastic ending in which the impact is revealed that big sister's corruption has had on her bright-eyed kid sister.
Don't Panic Chaps (1959)
Hell in the Adriatic
Having just made two extremely grim war movies ('The Camp on Blood Island', followed by 'Yesterday's Enemy') it probably came as quite a relief for Hammer Films to make this innocuous little pacifist comedy set in the Adriatic, which the exceptionally fine summer weather of 1959 probably helped them get the location work on Chobham Common in the can so quickly and bring the whole production in for a mere £75,000. (Plenty of the imdb's own plot synopses spoil their own plots, and both Dennis Price and then Nadja Regin make their 'unexpected' appearances quite late in the film; particularly Ms Regin.)
Hammer Films has in the past been criticised for its racial insensivity in casting the likes of Christopher Lee as a Chinaman in 'Terror of the Tongs', but here we get Dennis Price making no attempt at an appropriate accent (we're told that he went to Oxford), supposedly playing a German officer; later followed by a Serbian actress playing an Italian. (The film also contains a degree of explicit nudity we wouldn't see again in a Hammer Film until the 1970s; too bad it's George Cole rather than Nadja Regin!)
The Monkey's Paw (1948)
"There's Someone at the Door..."
A once-in-a-lifetime cast includes late appearances by Milton Rosmer and Hay Petrie (the former soon retired and the latter soon died) and early ones by Sydney 'Taffler' (sic) and Alfie Bass. A young Megs Jenkins is ironically made up to look older than she did in the seventies; while Michael Martin Harvey, who here plays your friendly neighbourhood poacher, was promoted by director Norman Lee the following year to the lead in 'The Case of Charles Peace'.
It looks good, and passes it's short running time agreeably enough. But as several previous reviewers have already noted devotes very little time to W.W.Jacobs' spine-chilling short story itself (not so long ago 'South Park' parodied it beautifully), clutters up the story with a gratuitous flashback structure, and even adds a little coda having finally given us the famous final act, just in case we'd found it all a bit too scary!
A Late Quartet (2012)
Unleash Your Passion!
Plenty of artistic temperament is on display as an excellent ensemble cast tackle the tensions within a string quartet in the face of the impending retirement of their cellist (Christopher Walken) due to the encroachment of Parkinson's Disease (which turns out be just one of their headaches).
The piece they're presently working on, Beethoven's Op.131, provides a suitably soulful backdrop to the proceedings.
Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
Somebody Involved in This Version Had Done Their Homework
I guess it was Jimmy Sangster (writing as 'John Sansom') who actually watched or read about the earlier versions of 'Dracula' by F.W.Murnau and Tod Browning, since this version by Hammer repeats the wonderfully creepy shot of Max Schreck driving the stagecoach in 'Nosferatu' (itself reprised with Lugosi in Browning's version), this time with Philip Latham as 'Klove' in a big floppy hat in the driver's seat; and Thorley Walters as 'Ludwig' in an asylum eating flies is obviously Alexander Granach and/or Dwight Frye as Renfield in Murnau's & Browning's versions...
Mr. Winkle Goes to War (1944)
Hail the Conquering Hero
Plainly aimed at waverers during World War II, this is a strange credit for screenwriter Waldo Salt, blacklisted in 1951 before (much) later bouncing back with his Oscar-winning scripts for 'Midnight Cowboy' and the anti-Vietnam 'Coming Home'.
Considering the title, it takes Wilbert Winkle (a name that sounds remarkably similar to Wendell Willkie, one of the few Republican interventionists prior to Pearl Harbor) a surprisingly long time even to get posted to duty in the Pacific; and he actually pesters those in charge not to give him the desk job for which he's obviously best suited but on the front line.
When at the start he approaches his boss to tell them he's quitting his job, we assume he's doing so to join the army. But No, he's actually setting up his own shop, in the face of fierce opposition of his harpie of a wife, Ruth Warrick. Then his call-up papers arrive, and despite being obviously way too old and obviously physically unfit somehow gets through basic training with a very middle-aged looking unit including Robert Armstrong and Sergeant Richard Lane; whereupon almost by accident he lays waste with a mechanical digger to a whole platoon of machine-gun wielding Japs and returns a hero and to the arms of his now-proud wife.
Twice Round the Daffodils (1962)
Call for Nurse Beamish
'Carry On Nurse' had been the top British moneymaker of 1959, but 'Twice 'Round the Daffodils' is far from the "Carry On in all but name" it is usually claimed to be - and was originally promoted as - despite the presence of Kenneth Williams (who's actually rather subdued here). The 'naughty' digressions like Jill Ireland clambering through a window in her drawers and Donald Sinden's roving eye actually go jarringly against the grain of most of the rest of the film.
Based on a play called 'Call for Catty' by Patrick Cargill (who had just appeared in 'Carry On Regardless') & Jack Beale that producer Peter Rogers had owned for several years and had wanted to film when he had to make 'Carry On Nurse' instead'; it's obvious from the opening credits accompanied by Bruce Montgomery's soaring score that this is a completely kettle of fish more akin to the 'Sanatorium' episode of 'Trio' (1950).
When I recently spent two months in hospital being treated for a stroke, I often thought about this film, and how soul-destroyingly boring hospital life must have been without the iPad my sister supplied me with. Everybody in this film looks far too healthy, the interminable nights and the tedium and melancholy of the days is suggested only by Kenneth Williams' desperation for a chess partner; and while going to the toilet isn't overlooked, and is here treated as a subject of mirth, it looms large in your calculations if you're stuck in bed all day.
To return to the credit sequence, Amanda Reiss as Nurse Beamish (referred to only as 'Dorothy' in the cast list) is listed right at the bottom of the cast despite featuring prominently and touchingly throughout the film itself.
Night Was Our Friend (1951)
The Night Wanderer
Ten years before the immortal 'Konga' Michael Gough had already returned home psychotic after crashing his plane in the jungle in this bizarre little melodrama whose title quotes 'The Aeneid', adapted from his own play by Michael Pertwee (who plays one of the jurors).
A lot happens in barely an hour's running time - although most of it we are told about rather than actually shown - and because it is framed in flashback we know much of what is going to happen but not how it will come to pass. The final rabbit pulled out of the hat to provide the 'surprise' conclusion is a surprise only to the audience, not the characters, since we've been deliberately kept in the dark about its existence right up to the rather abrupt conclusion.
River Beat (1954)
In the Shadow of Tower Bridge
Oscar-winning cameraman Guy Green turned director with this typical fifties police procedural which justifies its title by beginning and ending with chase sequences vividly shot on the Thames around Tower Bridge.
In between it ambles nonchalantly through various scenes depicting Inspector John Bentley chatting with his sidekick in his office and American visitor Phyllis Kirk constantly inconveniently finding diamonds in her possession when being searched until she and Bentley join forces to clear her name and foil the bad guys in time for the final clinch. The End.
Broken Journey (1948)
"Take Us Away from Here!!"
Enjoyable retread of an archetypal situation generally traced back to 'Five Came Back' in 1939 and best known these days for 'The Flight of the Phoenix'. The British stiff upper lip isn't much in evidence as this lot squabble amongst each other on top of a mountain on which they've crashed in the Alps, which makes an interesting change. (Top-billed Phyllis Calvert also wears her hair far longer and looser in the early scenes than one is used to seeing air hostesses in the movies.)
La spada del Cid (1962)
"All I Have Left is My Throne!"
The usual stuff about the rightful heir to a throne come to overthrow the usurper, when he is finally presented with the sword left behind by 'The Cid' (as he is referred to throughout) and crowned King of Catalonia.
The women as usual are entirely marginal to the scheming & swordplay which occupies most of the film's running time; although this film will ironically only be known to the few people who have ever heard of it because the second female lead is Dianiela Bianchi - whose next film was 'From Russia with Love'. It's a nothing part, however, and a much stronger impression is in fact made by the late Eliana Grimaldi in the even more marginal role of a lady-in-waiting called Bianca, who gassed herself before the film was released.
S.O.S. Titanic (1979)
"God Went Down With the Titanic"
Shot at Shepperton on a TV budget. Numerous familiar British faces, including a relatively young Helen Mirren, flit in and out of this good, straightforward account of the Titanic disaster along with several Irish actors below stairs, including a remarkably young and dashing Gerard McSorley (who I first encountered nearly twenty years later in an episode of 'Father Ted') as the nearest equivalent in this version to Leonardo DiCaprio in the 1997 epic.
David Warner had an exceptionally demeaning supporting role in James Cameron's later travesty, but is here soulful and sympathetic as real-life survivor Lawrence Beesley (1877-1967), who was entirely omitted from Cameron's version, but whose burgeoning romance with Susan Saint James gets the most screen time in this version and is far more interesting and touching to follow than the egregious scenes between DiCaprio & Kate Winslet which eat up footage in the remake.
13 East Street (1952)
"A Copper? I Thought You Were Respectable!"
An early Berman & Baker production before they went into TV enhanced as usual by Baker's excellent photography and by vivid use throughout of London locations.
(SEMI-SPOILER COMING: Most of the reviews of this film - and even the IMDb's own synopsis & cast list - reveal the central plot development, which is itself revealed in the film itself after only twenty minutes and recently used in 'White Heat'.)