Detective, Noir, Unsung Classics

Unsung Classics 8: Woman On The Run (1950)

I came across this Noir gem purely by chance a few days ago. It came up as a recommended purchase after I had bought another Noir film. I had never heard of this one before, but I really loved the sound of the story. I also really like Ann Sheridan(who is the star of the film) and so I just had to have it. Having watched this yesterday, I can report that this certainly was money well spent. 

Woman On The Run is quite a unique Noir film. Originally titled Man On The Run, the title was changed to what it is now, and the focus was taken off of the pursued man on the run, and shifted instead onto his wife.  I think this change really helps the film. Such stories would usually focus on the man who has gone into hiding, by shifting the focus away from him, the film becomes an out of the ordinary depiction of this type of story.

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Ann Sheridan as Eleanor. Screenshot by me.

The film is also notable for having a female lead. It was pretty rare for a woman to have the main lead role in a Noir film; women certainly get big and interesting roles in these films, but the main character generally tends to be a male.

I found it very interesting for the focus of the film to be on Sheridan’s character. Sheridan also co- produced the film. Her character is one tough and independent gal. I wish she had been given more roles like this.

I really like how the marriage depicted in this film is far from ideal, and it is also far from what marriage was expected to be during the 40’s. I also dig how Ann’s character doesn’t cook for her husband. When asked what the couple do for food, she coolly replies “we eat out.” This gal is not content to sit at home cooking a three course meal for her man.  Good on her, is what I say! The two married characters have also fallen out of love, they tolerate one another, but have no interest in, or any desire for each other any more. The only thing keeping them together is their shared love for their pet dog, and the fact that their shared life is comfortable and tolerable.

Sadly this film isn’t one that is all that well known today, and there were quite a few years where it wasn’t known about at all. It is also a film that we recently came very close to losing forever. In 2008 a huge fire burned down part of the Universal Studios lot, in the process there were also a lot of films destroyed that were stored in the film vault there.

The print of Woman On The Run was among the films lost in this blaze. The interesting story of how a copy of the film came to be found and restored is included in a booklet with the Blu-ray release of the film. It is an amazing story, and I for one am very grateful that this film was able to be restored. The film is shot out on location in San Francisco. The locations used are less well known areas of the city and the focus isn’t heavily on landmarks.

The film tells the story of Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott). He is out at night walking his dog. While doing so, he witnesses a gangland execution. The killer spots him, shoots at him, and then drives off. Frank is unharmed and calls the Police. The cops ask him if he can identity the killer, he says that he can. The cops immediately want him in protective custody, but he doesn’t like the sound of that, so he makes off into the night to take a chance looking after his own back.

 

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Inspector Ferris and Eleanor. Screenshot by me.

Inspector Ferris (Robert Keith) persuades Frank’s wife, Eleanor (Ann Sheridan)to help them look for him. She is wary of leading them to him in case the gang should get to him if the Police get him to testify at the trial.

Teaming up with the charming and determined reporter Danny Legget(Dennis O’Keefe), Eleanor sets out to look for her husband. Legget will keep his silence as to Frank’s location in exchange for an exclusive interview with the couple. There are a couple surprising twists late in the story, which lead to a thrilling and suspenseful finale at an amusement park.

This is a very good film and it is one in which the characters and actors are the real stars. There is some very funny dialogue throughout the film. The wisecracks being thrown back and forth between O’Keefe and Ann Sheridan are class. I also love the dialogue and scenes between Robert Keith and Ann. I love how Eleanor and the Inspector rub each other up the wrong way, but they both come to develop a mutual respect for one another and even start to like each other.

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Danny and Eleanor in the city. Screenshot by me.

Ann Sheridan is very good as the tough woman who discovers herself falling back in love with a man she thought she was over. Dennis O’Keefe is a highlight in the film, I think this is one of the best performances he ever gave.

I really like how Dennis conveys Danny’s growing feelings for Eleanor to us. Robert Keith (father of Brian Keith)steals all the scenes he is in, I love his character and the way he delivers his lines.  

The film clocks in at 1 hour and 18 minutes, but boy does it manage to pack a lot in during such a short space of time. This one reminds me a bit of The Narrow Margin, with both films being compact Noir films that pack quite a punch, and have a gripping story.

My favourite scenes are the following. The skylight sequence between Danny and Eleanor. The finale in the amusement park. Ferris speaking to Eleanor for the first time and looking around her apartment. Danny and Eleanor escaping a Police officer tailing them.

This film also contains a very funny exchange between a drunk woman and Eleanor. It’s one that is funnier when you see it, rather than when you read the dialogue.

Woman:”Say, why don’t you wear a hat?”

Eleanor: “I look funny in hats”

Woman: “You’re not wrong!”  Haha.  🙂

Cracking little flick that deserves to be much better known. Do you love Film Noir? Then this is a film for you.

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Second World War, Thriller, True Story

Hangmen Also Die! (1943)

On the 27th of May, 1942, the high ranking Nazi General, Reinhard Heydrich was severely injured during an assassination attempt on his life by members of the Czech resistance in Prague. Heydrich died from his wounds on the 4th of June that same year.

His death saw brutal reprisals brought against the Czech population; with thousands of people being killed, or being deported to camps where they would later die. Details of what happened to the brave resistance members who were responsible for his death can be found by searching for Operation Anthropoid on the internet(I must warn you that it does not make for easy reading).I admire their bravery, and I was very shocked at how brutal their end was.

I have only recently become aware of this vile man and his assassination thanks to the recent film, Operation Anthropoid(the code name given to Heydrich’s assassination plot). Reading up about this event, I have been really surprised that I had never been aware of any of this before. Heydrich was one of the main architects of the Holocaust and he was an all round real nasty piece of work. Some of his nicknames included The Butcher and The Hangman.  

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Heydrich in the opening scene. Screenshot by me.

The year after Heydrich’s assassination, the German director Fritz Lang (who became an American citizen in 1939) made a film about this event and its brutal aftermath. I only became aware of Lang’s film recently, and when I saw that it was being released on Blu-ray, I jumped at the chance of being able to watch this film. It arrived a few days ago, and I have to say that I am so impressed with the film. I’m also very impressed with the visual quality of the Blu-ray release.  

For a film made in the 1940’s, Hangmen Also Die! is a surprisingly violent, gritty, and very dark film. There are several scenes in this that I’m really surprised got past the censors; scenes such as the taxi driver who commits suicide before he can be taken in for torture, the execution sequence near the end, the badly beaten man being dragged through Gestapo headquarters, and the murder of a main character near the end of the film. Of course it’s good these scenes were included because they help to bring home the terrible reality of life under Nazi rule.

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Masha is interrogated. Screenshot by me.

This film is also one of the best films about a resistance movement that I have ever seen. I love how the resistance live right under the noses of those who seek them, yet they move around freely in the city invisible to those who seek them. Their group seems to exist separately from everyone else; they communicate by looks and gestures in public that only they can understand.

So under everyone’s noses these people are planning and carrying out operations without being noticed. They are like a ghost community living and working alongside the community that everyone sees and experiences every day.Lang’s film is suspenseful, tense, moving, and downright scary at times. It also captures mans inhumanity to man, and Lang also does a good job of showing us how much courage it takes to stand up to oppression and cruelty.

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Dr. Svoboda and Dedic discuss their resistance plan. Screenshot by me.

In this film we see that members of the resistance are not only those who belong to a resistance group and carry weapons and carry out operations. Resistance members can include anyone who goes against the rules of the oppressors; this could be remaining friendly with people who everyone has been told not to associate with, or in refusing to name somebody to the authorities.

The film is a rather fictionalised version of the real events, but it certainly succeeds in capturing the horror, the violence, and the bravery that surrounded those events.  Lang lets the actors do the work in this film, they bring these characters to life (both the heroes and the villains)and they all get their chance to shine (even actors in very small roles)and they all succeed in conveying to us how the courage of ordinary people making a stand can have an impact. This story is a human story and Lang shows us the best and worst of humanity. The film was written by Lang and the celebrated German playwright and screenwriter, Bertolt Brecht. This film would end up being Brecht’s only successful Hollywood film.

The cinematographer working on this film was the legendary James Wong Howe, and he uses his camera to create a mood and atmosphere that is reminiscent of Lang’s German expressionism films of the 1920’s. This film also serves as a good example of a film that is a mix of German Expressionism and American Film Noir. I love the shots where he films the shadows on the walls cast by torturers questioning and hurting people. I think my favourite shot in the film is the man coming into the jail cell carrying a whip, we only see his shadow on the floor but the image shocks, we don’t need to see the act of brutality that will follow to be horrified by the inference of it.

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                       Two of my favourite shots in the film. Screenshot by me.

The film focuses on the search for Heydrich’s assassins, and also for the people who are hiding them from the Gestapo. Interestingly the assassination itself is not shown in the film. I think this was a good choice because it shifts attention away from Heydrich and focuses instead on the men and women who stood up against him, and against what he stood for and represented.

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Svoboda helps the injured Dedic. Screenshot by me.

Dr. Svoboda (Brian Donlevy)is the assassin of Heydrich, he flees the scene of the crime and goes on the run. He is seen going into a building to hide by Masha Novotny (Anna Lee). Masha deliberately misleads the pursuing Nazi soldiers as to where he is. He remembers this kindness. The Gestapo’s investigation into the assassination eventually lead them to Masha’s door.

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Masha and Svoboda are cornered by Gruber. Screenshot by me.

When hundreds of hostages, including Masha’s father, Professor Novotny (Walter Brennan), are taken prisoner by the Nazis and sentenced to death, Svoboda must wrestle with his conscience to decide if he turns himself in or lets these people die. Gestapo investigations are being run by the cunning Inspector Gruber (Alexander Granach)and he is fast closing in on Svoboda. He also has help in locating the Czech resistance, thanks to his double crossing informant Emil Czaka (Gene Lockhart).

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Some of the hostages. Screenshot by me.

The film becomes a cat and mouse game between the resistance members and the Gestapo. Time is running out for the hostages, people are being murdered, tortured, and betrayed, and these horrible events show no sign of stopping. The resistance have a cunning plan up their sleeve, it is one that will paint someone else as being the assassin, rather than Svoboda.

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Jan questions Masha. Screenshot by me.

If there is a downside to this superb film, I would say it lies with some of the casting. The casting is a somewhat mixed bag for sure. I think this film would have been better had they cast German or Czech actors in the lead roles, it would have added a great deal more authenticity for sure. Brecht had hoped that they would cast German speaking actors, but in the end it was decided they would go with a mix of American and German actors.

Brian Donlevy strikes me as an odd casting decision. He has never been an actor I’ve liked, and he often strikes me as being rather wooden in many of his roles. He isn’t too bad here, but he does come across as quite unemotional and calm, which I doubt would be the case for his character when he was on the run in fear of his life. As the film goes on I think his performance improves somewhat, but during the first part of the film he isn’t all that great.

Anna Lee also starts out as not being that impressive, but then she gets much better as the film goes on. She is very convincing as the frightened young woman who finds an inner strength, and the courage which enables her to do her bit in standing up against oppression.

When I saw Walter Brennan’s name on the opening credits, I thought to myself what a very strange casting choice for this film. Brennan is a very good actor, but his screen persona didn’t really strike me as one that was really going to fit this story. How wrong I was! He is excellent as the professor and I was pleasantly surprised to see him deliver one of the best performances in the film. His very famous voice sounds quite different here to how it usually sounded. He is excellent as the quiet, gentle, and dignified man who accepts whatever the Nazis do to him because he knows it will show them up as the monsters they are.

Lionel Stander has a small role and I’m afraid to say that his distinctive voice will take you right out of the film, he just sounds so bizarre and out of place here.

Jonathan Hale is excellent as Dedic, the highly experienced leader of the resistance movement. He steals all the scenes he is in. Hale makes his character strong, calm under pressure, and also someone who is a reassuring and strong presence.

Reinhold Schunzel is creepy, sadistic and completely over the top as the Gestapo chief who enjoys his job a little too much. He sits there playing with the people he is about to torture, cracking his knuckles and giggling, while adeptly tripping people up in their stories and catching them out in lies.

Hans Heinrich von Twardowski is very memorable in his small appearance as Heydrich. He conveys the power and arrogance of this man perfectly, and he makes us see why he was so hated and feared.

Dennis O’Keefe is very good as Jan, who is Masha’s boyfriend. He plays his character as someone we are never really sure about, can he be trusted, will he turn on his girl to save himself? This character is also quite heroic and likeable.

Gene Lockhart delivers a standout performance as Czaka, the man who pretends to be one thing and who is actually another.

Alexander Granach delivers the performance of the film for me. He steals every scene he is in as the watchful and tough inspector. He guzzles down beer after beer with seemingly few side effects. I think his haircut would not have looked out of place in 1980’s Britain.

My favourite scenes are the following. Masha and her father saying goodbye in the cell. The people in the cinema rebelling against the Nazi soldier. The hostages reading and memorising a poem about resisting. Masha cradling the beaten old woman in the torture cell, in silhouette we then see a Gestapo officer walk into the cell carrying a whip, we don’t need to see more to know what is about to happen to these two women. Flowers being laid on a mass grave following a mass shooting. The betrayed resistance members giving their betrayer a piece of their mind. The lipstick mark scene and the fight that follows on from that. Svoboda and Masha acting out a conversation for the Gestapo bug hidden in the apartment.  Svoboda deliberately spilling red wine to cover up a bloodstain.

This is a cracking film. I think it is one that really does deserve to be much better known by classic film fans today. I’d say that this is one of Lang’s best films. He manages to capture the best and worst of humanity in this film, and he creates a dark and gloomy atmosphere that stays in the mind long after the film is over. This one is also very remarkable given the fact that it was made so soon after the real events, it is also very frank for the time in its depiction of the violence and horror of the Nazi regime.

It is a somewhat depressing film, but there is certainly a glimmer of hope and happiness at the end. I think that this ending was included to boost the morale of people watching this. This would hopefully have served as a lesson to ordinary people in how they could fight these monsters who were invading their homes, and who were trying to destroy cultures as they moved around Europe.

What are your thoughts on the film?

 

 

Blogathons, Drama, Oscars, Page To Screen, Romance

The Greta Garbo Blogathon: Grand Hotel (1932)

Greta Garbo blogathon

Crystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood is hosting this blogathon all about Greta Garbo. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

Greta Garbo, or just Garbo, as she was so often referred to as, was quite simply one of the most intriguing and talented film actresses that there has ever been. Her face spoke volumes. Greta was also an actress who really never needed any dialogue because  she could convey what the audience needed to know through looks and emotions alone.

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Greta as the ballerina. Screenshot by me.

Greta Garbo was perfectly suited to the Silent era style of acting, her face and eyes were her words; yet Greta was also something of a rarity in that her style of acting fit the talkie era too.

Where many of her fellow Silent stars failed to make the transition to the Sound era, Garbo not only succeeded to successfully make that major transition, but she also retained the same level of fame and acclaim that she had enjoyed in the Silent era. That is a pretty remarkable achievement when you think about just how many stars from the Silent era saw their careers destroyed by the coming of the sound era.

The only other actress I can think of who compares with Garbo for being able to make audiences so completely feel their emotion through the screen is Ingrid Bergman. Both let their faces and emotion speak for them. When you watch their films you do so to see those extraordinary faces in action.

A very private and shy woman in real life, the Swedish born Greta Garbo retired from acting and public life in 1941. Her screen persona (often a strong and independent woman)is still famous today. Greta Garbo was one of the all time greats and she continues to fascinate today. I first saw her in the tragic romantic drama, Camille, she broke my heart in that and I have been a fan of hers ever since.

For this blogathon I’m writing about Grand Hotel. It is in this film that Garbo utters that famous line which has since become her catchphrase – “I want to be alone”. That line may as well have come from Greta herself, as she also wanted to be left alone to live her own life as a private citizen.

The film is directed by Edmund Golding, produced by Irving Thalberg, and it is based upon the 1929 novel by Vicki Baum. The novel was inspired by Baum’s time working as a maid in a hotel.

When I first saw Grand Hotel,it led me to feel very differently about both Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford. I thought that Greta overacted in her role, I also felt that there was something rather artificial about her performance. This reaction really surprised me. I had been so impressed with the other performances of Greta’s that I had seen up to this point. 

It took me a couple of more views to appreciate and actually understand Greta’s performance here. Her character in this film is a prima donna, her actions and gestures are completely exaggerated, everything that she does is done purely to attract the notice of others.  Greta captures that sort of personality perfectly in her performance here. Her performance is over the top because that is exactly what her character is like. When you watch her with that in mind, I do think you really begin to appreciate just how good a performance it really is.   

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Miss. Flaemmchen and the Baron. Screenshot by me.

I also found myself really liking Joan Crawford in this film. That was surprising to me because she wasn’t an actress who I had liked very much up to this point. This film made me appreciate her a great deal more as an actress, and while I still can’t say she is a favourite of mine; I have certainly developed a great deal of respect for her as an actress.

I think that Joan was at her best in films made during the 1930’s, and I think that she comes across to me as being much more natural in these early films than in many of her later ones.

Grand Hotel was one of the first all star films. The actors who appeared in this were among the biggest names of 1930’s cinema. I can well imagine that audiences at the time must have been so excited to see all these big stars together in one film. Greta Garbo was probably the biggest star in the film, other big names in the cast include the Barrymore brothers (John and Lionel)and Joan Crawford.

Berlin, in the 1930’s. If you are after a swell place to stay when you’re in the city, you need look no further than The Grand Hotel. It’s luxurious, modern, and is a very popular establishment. You never know just who you will run into while you’re staying here.

Greta Garbo plays Grusinskaya, a shy and acclaimed ballerina who is staying at the hotel while she performs on stage in the city.

John Barrymore plays Baron von Geigern, a kind and good man, who has unfortunately squandered his fortune and now has to resort to playing cards and being an occasional thief in order to support himself. The Baron is planning on stealing Grusinskaya’s jewels, but he doesn’t plan on falling in love with her, or for her to return his feelings.

Lionel Barrymore is Mr. Kringelein, a loveable, weary, gentle and sick man, who is looking after himself for a change. He befriends the Baron and (possibly for the first time in his life)has a lot of fun.

Joan Crawford plays Miss. Flaemmchen, an outgoing and ambitious stenographer who has been hired to work for a guest in the hotel. She befriends the Baron and Mr. Kringelein, and she falls in love with the Baron. He has great affection for her, but his heart is with the ballerina. Mr. Kringelein also develops great affection for the young woman, and there is a possibility that he has fallen in love with her too.

Wallace Beery plays Director Preysing, a wealthy, tyrannical, and hard hearted industrialist, who hires Miss Flaemmchen to assist him as he closes an important deal at the hotel. He is also the employer of Mr. Kringelein.

Lewis Stone plays the hotels doctor, Otternschlag, a dignified man who was terribly disfigured during WW1.

Jean Hersholt plays the dedicated and overworked hotel manager, Senf. He is eagerly awaiting news of his wife, who is about to give birth to their child.

Rafaela Ottiano plays Suzette, the devoted and demure ladies maid to Grusinskaya.

These characters will all interact with one another during their stay at the hotel. Hearts will be won, hearts will be broken and lives will be forever changed. This will be one hotel stay that will never be forgotten by any of our characters.

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The Baron and the ballerina share an intimate moment. Screenshot by me.

It is the characters that give this film its heart and soul. We are made to feel for them deeply as the film goes on. We want the best for them, and we come to care about some of them very much indeed. I like that they all come across as believable and very real people, they are filled with flaws, quirks, and shades of light and dark. It is the characters that draw me back time and again to this film.

My favourite characters in this are the Baron, Miss Flaemmchen and Mr. Kringelein. I love the bond that slowly develops between their trio, and some of the funniest and most moving scenes in the whole film feature these three. 

I also have to say how much I love it when the Baron calls Flaemmchen “funny one”. The Barrymore brothers and Crawford all do such a terrific job of making their characters affection for one another seem completely genuine. We completely believe and feel their emotional connection.

The Baron in particular is the films heart. He is the character who connects the most with all the others. He brings happiness and also a sense of security into the lives of Flaemmchen, Grusinskaya and Kringelein. What happens to him later in the film is shocking, disturbing and heartbreaking.

John Barrymore is certainly at his best in this role, conveying a weary, decent and gentle soul forced to do something morally wrong in order to survive. This performance has become my favourite from among John Barrymore’s many films.

The characters I feel the most sorry for are Kringelein, the Baron and Grusinskaya, they are each a sad person in different ways, and they all suffer a great deal of pain and heartbreak as the film goes on.

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The loveable Kringelein. Screenshot by me.

My favourite scenes are the following. The Baron meeting Flaemmchen for the first time. The entire sequence in the bar. The scene between Flaemmchen and Mr. Kringelein where she says she will stay with him(this never fails to make me go teary). The Baron comforting a distraught Grusinskaya. The introduction sequence. The phone ringing in the Baron’s empty room and we see his dog waiting on the bed for him to return.  😦  Grusinskaya not being told the truth about the Baron at the end, but deep down inside herself we see that she appears to know something is very wrong.

This one is a real character piece and I think that the story gives all the actors their chance to shine at some stage of the film. The cast all deliver solid performances. I think the Barrymore brothers, Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford deliver the best performances in the film.

Despite the good story, the memorable characters, and the many stars which appear within it; I do think it is fair to say that it is Greta Garbo who has become the best remembered part of this film. 

Greta’s role in this film is the one that has become the most famous out of all of her screen work I’d say. As the decades have passed us by, the name of Garbo, and the title Grand Hotel have become forever linked to one another.

           Some facts about the film.

  • Buster Keaton was the first choice for the role of Kringelein. I would love to have seen him get the chance to play this more serious and tragic role. While it is intriguing to imagine Keaton in the role, I do think that in the end the right casting choice was made with Lionel Barrymore.

 

  • The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It wasn’t nominated for, and nor did it win, any other awards in any of the other categories.

 

  •  John Barrymore and Greta Garbo were very nervous about working alongside one another in this film. When they eventually met they both ended up getting along really well. 

 

  • Buster Keaton wanted to make a parody of this film with himself playing Kringelein. It would have been set in a New York flophouse, and it would have starred a number of other comedians in the key roles. I would so love to have seen this.

 

Any other fans of Grand Hotel? Please leave your comments below. What do you think of Greta Garbo in this film?

 

 

British Cinema, Drama, Noir

It Always Rains On Sunday (1947)

This film is one of the best screen portrayals of everyday life in post World War Two London that there has ever been.  We see the grime, the claustrophobia, the boredom, the frayed tempers and the nosy neighbors. Part Noir thriller, and part superb character study, this  flick came out of Ealing Studios during their grittier and darker period in the 1940’s.

The film is interesting visually because photographer Douglas Slocombe shot it out on location in and around the streets of London. This choice certainly gives the film a great deal of realism, and it really helps to add atmosphere to the film. We see the cramped and busy city streets, and the somewhat calmer residential streets. It’s like being there with the characters. 

Rose Sandigate is a London housewife whose dull Sunday morning is turned on its head by the arrival of her former sweetheart Tommy Swann(John McCallum). Tommy has been in prison for years and has escaped; he is now on the run and is being searched for by the police in a manhunt led by the highly experienced, observant, pipe smoking Detective Fothergill (Jack Warner).

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Rose and Tommy have a talk. Screenshot by me.

Rose hates Tommy for having left her, but she won’t turn him over to the cops, and she will try and offer him what little help she can (shelter, food and money). The trouble is Rose is now married to George (Edward Chapman)and is the mother to her own son, and to her two stepdaughters, Vi and Doris. Her family are in and out of the house and she must try and hide Tommy from them, her neighbours, and from the police.

The escape of Tommy isn’t the only story of the film though. There are several other stories being told, and the paths of some of the other characters in those stories end up connecting with Tommy Swann later in the film. There’s the three criminals who are trying to flog stolen rollerskates, the reporter who is also trying to find Tommy, and the crime boss who Doris’s boyfriend wrongly assumes fancies her.

We also follow Rose’s two stepdaughters Vi (Susan Shaw)and Doris (Patricia Plunkett) and their love lives. We also see the antagonism they (more so Vi)have towards Rose. Interestingly Vi and Rose are both quite similar in that they are strong and determined women, and they both fall for a guy who breaks their heart; in Vi’s case it is the suave, married musician and music store owner Morry (Sydney Tafler). Vi and Rose have more in common with one another than they’d like to realise.

This film is thrilling, suspenseful, funny and quite realistic. There are strong characters and performances to enjoy throughout.

The standout performance is Googie Withers as Rose. She perfectly captures this woman’s boredom and her unleashed excitement when the situation with Tommy makes this Sunday one she’ll never forget. Rose is on edge throughout the film, struggling to control her temper when she argues with Vi, struggling to ignore her feelings for Tommy, and struggling to endure the dullness of her life as a housewife.

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Vi. Screenshot by me.

I think that Susan Shaw makes quite an impression in the film. She is excellent as the glamourous Vi. Shaw shows us that this woman is tough and also easily hurt. Shaw had a tragic life, she married the popular actor Bonar Colleano, and became an alcoholic after he was killed in a car crash in 1958. A sad life and end for a very promising actress.

Sydney Tafler is excellent as Morry. He steals every scene he is in as the man who cheats on his wife, but who wrongly assumes she doesn’t know when she actually does. This leads to him rather amusingly finding out he is wrong in that. He breaks a lot of hearts, and doesn’t give it a second thought. What a cad!

I like how the film shows how the family have frayed tempers because they live in such a cramped environment and have little privacy from one another. This would have been the reality in many homes at the time. The film also reflects the dullness of everyday living and the excitement that beckons from living in the city, or from living your life outside of the norm.

The film also shows us the two sides of criminal life. There’s the money and nice times when the criminal succeeds, and there is also the imprisonment and heartbreak when they fail and are caught and punished. This is reflected in the exploits of the gang trying to flog their stolen skates, and in Tommy, who literally embodies what happens to a criminal when they are caught and punished. In the film Tommy is shown to have been severely flogged while in prison. He has come out a scared, broken and desperate man. Hopefully his situation may have served as a wakeup call to anyone in the audience who thought crime pays.

I think this film also highlights that it is women who so often are left to pick up the pieces, and to suffer great emotional pain when their men go and do something stupid (be it crime or cheating). The women take that pain and use it to make themselves stronger, as that is the only way they can go on after what has happened.

The film also makes Rose an interesting character, she is shown as a married woman who still has feelings for her ex, and there is a scene where it is pretty strongly hinted that they have sex in her bed! Also the rather shocking decision she makes near the very end of the film is also interesting; I think that it must surely have shocked quite a few people morally at the time of release.

This choice Rose makes adds even more darkness and despair to a film already swimming in both of those things. Interestingly though Rose does get some happiness at the end, which goes against what usually happened to characters like her, especially if they made the decision she did at the end.

Interestingly the rain itself becomes almost like a character in the film, and one part of the music by Georges Auric sounds just like the patter of raindrops as they fall, which I think is very clever and adds so much to the film.

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Googie Withers as Rose. Screenshot by me.

This was one of Googie Withers best film roles, and sadly it was to be the last film that Googie would make for Ealing Studios. 

She continued to make films elsewhere though. She and John McCallum fell in love while they made this film and they got married the following year. They moved to Australia in the 1950’s and they stayed married until John died in 2010. Googie died the following year.

This is one of the best British films, and I think it does such a good job of portraying the post war life. It has become a great favourite of mine, and when I’m in the mood for a well acted British Noir this is one I turn to.

I like how many of the characters actions, gestures and words give the film a strong dose of authenticity and realism. One of my favourite examples of this is the scene with Hermione Baddeley as a landlady interviewed by the police; she is so disdainful and walks away from them yawning and scratching her bum. It’s the little moments like this that bring characters to life and make a film or series more realistic.

I also like how the people in this film are relatable and ordinary, they are not rich or doing things that most people at this time would never have been able to afford to do.

My favourite scenes are the following. Rose and Vi’s argument and fight about the bedroom door and the mirror. The entire sequence at the railway yard. The inspector speaking to the three men in the pub. The opening scene where Doris has to make breakfast, and the family all start to get up and get ready. Tommy and Rose’s first meeting in the air raid shelter. The flashback sequences showing us Tommy and Rose’s romance.  The two boys blackmailing Morry in return for their silence about seeing him with Vi. The ending.

Any other fans of this one?

 

Personal, Silent Film

Appreciating Silent Films

Regular readers of this blog will know that I love me some Silent cinema. I’m very sad to have to say that it was not always thus though. I saw my very first Silent film in my mid teens, it was shown in a film class at college. That film was Metropolis.

Before seeing this film I was already a huge fan of classic era films, but I had never had the slightest interest in seeing those strange films in which nobody speaks. When this film started playing, there I was, still stubbornly convinced that there was no way this was going to be for me.

Then something happened, it is something that I can’t really describe. I just became fascinated by the images I was seeing on the screen. I was so impressed by the scale of the sets, with the overall look of the film, and with the unforgettable depiction of the future. Before I knew what was happening there I was actually enjoying a Silent film.

I have to say that while Metropolis has never become a favourite of mine, I do admire it a great deal, and I do enjoy it when I watch it. It will always have a special place in my heart for being the film that made me a fan of Silent cinema.

From that point on I started to watch more Silent films. Then I started to laugh at myself for having held off seeing these films for so long. Why had I been so hesitant about checking these out sooner?

I think that Silent films are incredible. Remember that all the stunts in these were done for real, all the special effects were done by hand(no CGI here thank you), even the editing was all done by hand.

 

I also think that many of these films are like art brought to life. Due to a combination of beautiful costumes, colour tinting, uniquely designed title cards, lavish sets etc, these films become like moving paintings. They look so different to sound films.

When you see these films today and you know that what you see was all done by hand, it just blows you away. The stunning, jaw dropping visuals in these films are leaps and bounds beyond anything CGI gives us today. The directors and film crew working at this time were so innovative, and their fearlessness in exploring new and exciting ways of making films, or in creating film effects is admirable.

I also like the different acting style. Yes, when viewed by us today it looks theatrical and can be strange to get used to if you’re new to it; however the acting in these films is all about the actors conveying emotion, and in doing so making us feel their pain or joy. These actors do not need dialogue because they have the ability to convey to us what’s going on through expression alone.

Music is important in these films. You see despite there being no dialogue, these films are not actually totally silent. There is music playing throughout these films, and the scores are amazing, they capture the mood and atmosphere of the films and become almost like another character in them.  I would love to go to a silent screening that has a live orchestra accompanying the film. Has anyone ever attended one of these? What was it like?

New To Silent Cinema?

Have you yet to dip your toe into the ocean of Silent cinema? What are you waiting for? Please don’t be afraid of these films. Pick one to watch and give this different film style a chance. Don’t simply dismiss these films as being old, outdated, or weird when you have never actually watched one.

If you don’t try these films you will not only miss out on stunning visuals, powerful stories, and memorable characters, but also on some terrific actors. People like Lon Chaney Sr, Douglas Fairbanks Sr, Lillian Gish, Louise Brooks, Rudolph Valentino, Buster Keaton, Clara Bow and so many others. You’ll also miss out on directors like F.W Murnau, Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, D.W Griffith and Cecil B. De Mille. 

Where To Begin?

You are going to watch your first Silent film, but you don’t know which film to see first. I would say pick something that is from your favourite genre. Don’t immediately try one of the very long feature films like Metropolis for example. You may get lucky as I did, and end up really enjoying your first Silent, even if it is a long feature, but on the other hand you may well end up getting bored and will be more likely to continue avoiding these films. So I’d say that you should maybe try something that appeals to your tastes before checking out other types of Silent films.

 

A good place to start is to try a comedy short. If your going to do that I would heartily recommend the films of the legend that is Buster Keaton (seen on the DVD cover above). This comic genius made both comedy film shorts and feature films. He was the master of physical comedy, and had perfect timing. He also performed some of the most jaw dropping film stunts ever captured on film. If you like comedy you can’t go wrong with Buster’s work. Charles Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, and Harold Lloyd’s films are also highly recommended to comedy fans.

If you are interested in seeing the famous stunning visuals, epic running time, or visual trickery of Silent films, then these films are ones that I would highly recommend that you watch: The Phantom Carriage (1921), Battleship Potemkin (1925)The Thief Of Bagdad(1924), Orphans Of The Storm (1921),Ghosts Before Breakfast (1928), A Trip To The Moon (1902), The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920), Metropolis (1927),The General (1926),Nosferatu(1922) and The Man With The Movie Camera (documentary, from 1929).

The following are three feature films that I love a great deal. I think they are all lovely films, and they are all very easy to get into. I’d recommend them all as good starting places for people new to Silent cinema.

 

1- Shooting Stars (1928) This British Silent is a behind the scenes look at filmmaking. It follows three actors, and is funny, suspenseful and very moving. I think this film was the first to show audiences what goes on behind the scenes and how shots are achieved. We see how the screen fiction is achieved and made believable. You can read my full review of this film here.

2The Artist (2011) This film has introduced a new generation to Silent films. It is a charming, funny, and also a very moving look at the fleeting nature of film stardom. This is a beautiful homage not only to the Silent era, but also to films such as A Star Is Born and Singin’ In The Rain.

3- It (1927) No killer clowns to be found here. Instead this is an enchanting story about a shop girl who falls for her wealthy boss. This is the film that showed the world the star quality of the great Clara Bow. Clara is a great favourite of mine, and she is notable because her acting style still feels modern and very natural when viewed by us today. 

I could go on and on about Silent cinema, but I don’t want to bore you all.  🙂  I hope that I have piqued your interest in these films if you have yet to check out Silent films. Let me know how you get on if you decide to check out Silent films for the first time.

If you are already a fan I would love to hear from you. How did you become a fan, what are your favourites? Did you put off seeing them for ages?(like me). I sometimes feel like an oddity because I’m 29 and don’t know anyone else my age who loves these wonderful films. Is there anyone else out there of a similar age who loves Silent films?

 

 

 

Coming Of Age, French Cinema, Second World War

Forbidden Games (1952)

The innocence of our childhood is something that we sadly fail to retain as we grow older. We often look back to our childhood years and yearn for that time of innocence and simplicity again. I think we have this yearning because our early years were (in most cases) far simpler, and we did not understand the horror and pain of the adult world.

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The children at the bedside of a dead man. Screenshot by me.

Rene Clement’s haunting, beautiful, and deeply moving coming of age story captures this period of childhood innocence perfectly. His film also captures this idyllic time being shattered. He does a good job of depicting a moment (that must come to us all)in which the children lose their childhood innocence and finally see and enter the adult world. The film reminds me quite a bit of Whistle Down The Wind, and I think that if you enjoyed that film, then you’ll enjoy this one too.

This film is a war film that is notable for focusing not on the soldiers and battles, but on the ordinary people caught up in the war who have to carry on living in a war zone. It is rare for war films to focus on the toll on civilians during wartime, so it’s nice to see this one focusing on that a bit.

The opening sequence of the film shows an air strike, and it shows us just how quickly and randomly people can be killed in war. Showing all of this from a child’s perspective gives the sequence even more power in my opinion, as the horror and confusion of the moment is heightened.

                              Brigitte Fossey and Georges Poujouly. Screenshot by me.

Brigitte Fossey and Georges Poujouly give two of the most natural and moving performances in film history. The fact that they were both so young when they starred in this really makes their performances all the more remarkable to me. 

I think they both really deserved some kind of award for their work here. They both make your heart break as we watch what they go through, especially during the last few scenes of the film.

The film is set in France, in 1940. The Second World War is raging and people are being killed. Paulette (Brigitte Fossey)is a young girl who is fleeing into the countryside with her parents, and her pet dog, Jock. A German air strike instantly kills her parents and also injures Jock, who soon dies from his injuries.

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Michel and Paulette meet for the first time. Screenshot by me.

Confused and traumatised, Paulette wanders along a riverbank carrying her dead dog in her arms, and as she walks she ventures deeper into the countryside. She is found by Michel (Georges Poujouly)a slightly older child who is the son of a poor farmer. His family take in Paulette and they try and care for her. Paulette has no concept of death and doesn’t understand what has happened to her parents and dog. We see her try to make sense of world without them in it.

Paulette and Michel develop a strong bond and become inseparable. Paulette is obsessed with death and she and Michel try and leave the reality of their world behind. They retreat deeper and deeper into their own little world, and they build a graveyard in which to bury the bodies of dead animals (including Paulette’s beloved dog)that they come across.

The pair steal and make crosses to use as headstones. Michel doesn’t fully understand that stealing is wrong, but you can see he sort of knows he shouldn’t be doing it; Paulette on the other hand has no idea whatsoever that what they are doing is wrong and she doesn’t understand the anger and annoyance of the adults when they discover the children are to blame.

I like how the children see all life, not only human, but animal too as being sacred and meaningful. The pair feel that animals should have graves and be remembered when they die just like humans. I also like how kind and compassionate the children are shown to be, whereas the adults are mostly depicted as being angry and selfish. Michel’s parents have moments where they are kind and tender but they are few and far between.

                                    The animal graveyard they build. Screenshot by me.

I always think this film is telling us that we take life more slowly and feel things more deeply when we are children. Quite why we lose that nobody knows, but it is a sad fact of life that we end up becoming hardened and less inclined to see the wonder in our surroundings as we age.

This is a film that stays with me long after it’s finished. This is a film that gets into my heart and soul, I feel with and for these two children and I get angry and upset every time I watch because of what happens at the end. If ever there was a film that I wish had a different ending it would be this one. Having said that though, this ending is certainly realistic and shows that something has to happen to us all to spur us into our adulthood. If only in this case that something didn’t have to be quite so sad and cruel. 😦  The ending to this film makes me cry each time I watch.

Interestingly the Blu-ray I own includes an alternative opening and ending. These alternative sequences show Brigitte and Georges sitting by a river reading a story (the book that appears in the opening credits)and we understand that Paulette and Michel are just fictional characters. These sequences have a dreamlike or fantasy look about them, and I guess they serve to make the film less upsetting. I think not featuring them was the correct choice though as the emotional impact of the ending is what makes this film both powerful and unforgettable. It’s nice to see these sequences though.

My favourite scenes are the following. Michel with the owl at the end of the film. Paulette’s first night in her new home. Michel helping Paulette not to be afraid of the dark. The fight in the graveyard. Paulette walking through the country carrying Jock. The first time we see the completed animal grave. Michel trying to catch the escaped cow.

I consider this to be one of the best coming of age films there has ever been. The acting is excellent, the music is beautiful and the story is one that you don’t forget in a hurry. I’d say this is one of the best French films ever made. What are your thoughts on this film?

I am entering this into Thoughts All Sorts Foreign Language Film blogathon, being held July 2018. Click here to read all the entries for this blogathon.

Thriller, Tributes To Classic Stars

The Third Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon: To Catch A Thief (1955)

Grace Kelly blogathon

Virginie over at The Wonderful World of Cinema is hosting this blogathon about Grace Kelly. Be sure to visit her site to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

Grace Kelly was many things in her life, and she has come to mean different things to different people. She has become a fashion and beauty icon over the years. She also famously went from being a fairly ordinary American woman to becoming a real life Princess in 1956, when she got married to Prince Rainier of Monaco. Many people have since come to know Grace through her work and life as a Princess.

Most of us have come to know Grace and are fans of her through her work as a film actress. Grace was a very good actress, and while I personally think that she perhaps wasn’t the best actress of her generation, she was without a doubt certainly a very good one. 

Besides being talented, Grace also had that magical star quality so necessary for a successful screen career. Grace shone when she was on screen, she has that effect which means you can’t take your eyes off her when she is on the screen.

I like how Grace often portrayed a vulnerability in many of her characters. Her characters would often put up a tough façade, but in reality they were women who could be easily hurt, or were women who felt things deeply. Grace portrayed all this so well through her eyes and expressions.

Alfred Hitchcock was the director who gave Grace the film roles which brought her great fame, and forever cemented her screen image in the minds of audiences. Hitchcock knew how to use Grace to best effect on screen. Through her collaboration with Hitch, Grace’s screen image changed from cool, demure, vulnerable and gentle love interest, to strong, sexy, elegant and confident leading lady.

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Grace looking beautiful and elegant as Francie. Screenshot by me.

Hitch also played around with Grace’s aloof and cool persona. He gave her roles that played up that image, but then showed us that underneath that perceived image she was very different, and she could be warm, feisty, sensual, sexy and very human too.I’m writing about the third and final film that Grace made with Hitchcock.

That film is To Catch A Thief. The film was made in 1955, and it was shot out on location in the South of France and in Monaco (soon to be Grace’s future home).

This film may lack the suspense of the majority of other Hitchcock films, but it certainly features some interesting characters, lots of innuendo (just how did some of this make it past the censors!)beautiful costumes (especially those worn by Grace)and the photography of the stunning locations is truly a pleasure to look at. 

This is a film that I love quite a bit. It isn’t a traditional Hitchcock film in terms of its content and visual style, but the sexual innuendo and the developing relationship between Grace and Cary Grant’s characters is classic Hitch for sure.

Grace looks truly stunning in this film. She is at the height of her beauty here, and she gets to wear some of the most beautiful and elegant gowns I’ve ever seen. I especially love the pale blue evening gown she wears in the hotel restaurant. Edith Head truly outdid herself with her costume designs for this film.

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Francie takes John out for a drive he won’t forget. Screenshot by me.

I love how Grace plays her character Francie. This woman is in control of everything she does and she very well knows it. She is strong, sexy and really oozes confidence and determination. She can also be wild and uncontrollable which really gives her an air of danger at times.

I love the car chase sequence, where Francie’s fast driving really scares John as he ends up becoming a helpless passenger. Francie also plays with John(like a cat would with a mouse)but he gets wise to her games and he plays with her right back (cue some classic banter between the two).

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John Robie hides up on the roof. Screenshot by me.

A series of jewel robberies are taking place across the French Riviera. The robberies bear a strong resemblance to the work of the notorious jewel thief known as The Cat.

The real name of The Cat is John Robie (Cary Grant)and he knows very well that he is not the current thief. Once he is alerted that someone else is thieving using his signature style, he sets out to catch the culprit himself and to clear his own name.

John soon begins to receive threats on his life. John also has to deal with the beautiful American heiress, Francie (Grace Kelly)and her mother Jessie (Jessie Royce Landis)who are on holiday in Cannes and befriend him. John and Francie have an instant attraction, but John grows suspicious of her when she asks too many questions about thieving, and especially when she claims to know he is the famous cat burglar.

John also has issues with some former friends/colleagues from the French Resistance. He also has to deal with Danielle (Brigitte Auber)who is a local girl he has known for years, who has a huge crush on him.

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John Williams as the insurance man who teams up with John Robie. Screenshot by me.

John enlists the help of an insurance man (John Williams)to set a trap for the thief. Together they create a list of the most wealthy jewel owners in the Riviera. Who can John trust? Just who is The Cat?

This film is less about its plot, and instead is more about the beautiful locations, and also the sexual tension and desire between Francie and John. Cary and Grace have incredible chemistry with one another, their innuendo laced dialogue is truly shocking in places, just how did some of those lines( especially the one about a week at Niagara Falls) even get past the censor?

I didn’t see the identity of the copycat thief coming until it was revealed. Having said that though this revelation just lacked a big shock for me. I think the film would have been more exciting if Francie had been revealed to be the burglar. It would have placed John in a predicament as to whether he should hand her in, or if he could attack her back if she attacked him.

When I first saw this film I was convinced that it would be Francie who would be revealed as the copycat thief.  Having said all that I think that reveal would have been too obvious given how Francie acts earlier in the film.

An enjoyable film that is beautiful to look at. In this film we get to see the wealthy and the beautiful having fun in a beautiful place. It makes us dream that we could have such a life too. Be sure to see this film on Blu-ray to see it looking clear and to see the colour photography at its most stunning.

Grace and Cary are both superb here and the rest of the cast all deliver solid performances too. Jessie Royce Landis is hysterical as Francie’s mother who develops a crush on John herself.

The beach sequences always make me want to visit the beach, and I envy Grace every single time I watch this because of the gorgeous outfits she gets to wear throughout the film.

This one is certainly worth a look for fans of Grace, Hitchcock and Cary. It’s not the best Hitchcock film, but it’s certainly not the worst either.

My favourite scenes are the following. John and Francie sharing a kiss at her hotel room door. The fireworks and jewels scene between John and Francie. Francie and Danielle’s rather catty conversation out on the sea float (I love Cary’s facial expressions during this scene, it is so funny).

Any other fans of this film? What are your thoughts on Grace’s performance here?

    Here are my five favourite Grace Kelly films.

1- High Society

2- To Catch A Thief

3- Rear Window

                                                                   4-The Country Girl

                                                                  5-The Swan

 

 

Detective, Page To Screen

Walking The Beat: The New Centurions (1972)

Dixon Of Dock Green this film sure isn’t. This film gives us a frank look at the reality of policing the streets, and it throws us headfirst into the dirt, pain, and the horror of the streets of 1970’s Los Angeles. This is a warts and all portrayal of the reality of police work, it’s not a pretty job and it is always dangerous.

At the time this film was made and set, the days when a copper could simply defuse a situation just by walking around the corner were sadly long gone. In America an increase in prostitution, gun crime and violence meant that policing the beat was more dangerous than it had ever been.

The film is directed by Richard Fleischer, has a screenplay by Stirling Silliphant, and music by Quincy Jones. The film is based upon Joseph Wambaugh’s 1971 novel of the same name. Wambaugh was a serving LAPD cop when he wrote the book. His experience of the job meant that the novel was a very realistic portrayal of the Police department.

The realism and authenticity of the novel is carried over into the film. The films technical advisor was Richard E. Kalk, he was also a serving officer and he was Wambaugh’s police partner.

This is one of the best films about patrolling the beat ever made anywhere in the world in my opinion. George C. Scott is utterly ferocious here as Kilvinski, the tough, older, wiser and more experienced police officer mentoring a young rookie called Roy.

Kilvinski has seen it all during his years on the force. Nothing surprises him anymore. No form of violence shocks him to the core as it once might have; it still affects him of course, but he has learnt to hide the disgust and horror. He’s tough but fair, and he certainly does his best to help those in need when and where he can.

The film is split into a series of incidents involving Kilvinski and several other officers.

 

We follow three young rookies. They are all very keen men, and they are all determined to bring law, order and justice to the streets that they will patrol. They are Roy (Stacy Keach),Sergio (Erik Estrada)and Gus (Scott Wilson). These men are each paired with a senior officer who will partner and support them while they get settled in. Gus is partnered with Whitey (Clifton James), Sergio with Galloway (Ed Lauter) and Roy with Kilvinsky.

There is a documentary look to the film which helps to make it come across as being very realistic. We are made to feel as though we are out there patrolling the streets with these officers, and feel like we are encountering and getting to know the villains and victims along with the police officers.

This film is both shocking and violent. It is also extremely bleak. It shows us that these officers can face death at any time from anybody. We also see that this job emotionally destroys the men and women who do it, they seldom remain the same as they were when they joined the force. It’s not just the dead officers whose photos hang on the station wall who pay the price, every single person on the force pays some kind of price for their service.

The film also shows us that for some on the force the job is literally all they have. If they retire, or if they have to leave for other reasons, it can be near on impossible for them to have a meaningful life away from the force.

The film also shows the effect that a police officers career can have on their family. The families of these officers are victims too, they also end up paying a heavy price for supporting their loved one in their job.

We see that the cops spend more time on the job and sadly their family then often begin to come in second place to the job. Jane Alexander is excellent as Fehler’s wife Dorothy. She has to watch the job create quite an impact on their personal life and she struggles to accept that change.

The entire cast give superb performances with special praise going to Scott. He was famous for being able to portray pent up rage, and for flipping into all out anger in many of his films. Here he gets to unleash the famous Scott screen rage on several occasions.

A scene that will stay with me forever is when one of the rookies is chasing a robbery suspect in the dark, somebody runs at him and he shoots them, when he gets closer he sees it’s the father of the robbery victim. This man had come out into the alley to look for the suspect too. When the officer sees what he has done he breaks down, and he looks so haunted, it’s a powerful moment for sure.

My favourite scenes are the following. Kilvinsky comforting Dorothy at the hospital. The officer briefing his men at the start of the film ( I love the banter between the guys in this). The shoot out in the bank car park. Kilvinsky and Roy getting a group of prostitutes off the street(this is a very funny sequence and I think it’s nice that there is a lighthearted moment in an otherwise serious and bleak flick). Kilvinsky and Sergio speaking to a despicable landlord, and Kilvinsky then giving this a guy a piece of his mind. Kilvinsky explaining his laws.

If you didn’t respect the police before seeing this, then I would seriously hope that seeing this would change your mind. These men and women risk their lives for us, the job takes a huge toll on them and on their personal life, and they often get very little reward for their sacrifice and hard times.

This flick tells it like it is, and it sure isn’t pretty. The story is gripping and the characters believable. It is the performances that draw me back to this one again and again. The actors playing the rookies all do a superb job of showing their personalities change as they get their eyes opened to the realities of the job. Scott steals all the scenes he is in, and his character really becomes the heart of the film.

This is one of my favourite films about police officers. I also think it is one of the best films of the 70’s, and it deserves to be more well known today. See this if you enjoyed Dirty Harry and Law and Order (TV series).

Any other fans of this one? Please leave your thoughts on this film below.

British Cinema, Second World War

Ice Cold In Alex (1958)

I don’t know about anyone else, but I sure do love a good survival against the elements film. Ice Cold In Alex is one of the very best. You can practically feel the heat of the sun, feel the trickling drops of sweat, smell the sweat, and feel the raging thirst being experienced by all the characters.

Ice Cold In Alex is directed by J.Lee Thompson, the film is based upon the novel by Christopher Landon. Landon joined T.J Morrison in writing the tense and gripping screenplay for the film.

There’s some fine camera work on display here provided by Gilbert Taylor. The way this one is shot gives it an almost documentary look, and I think that it adds greatly to the realism of the story. The film was shot on location in Alexandria, and I do think that was the perfect decision, as you just can’t beat filming out on location for these types of films.

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The group trapped in the desert. Screenshot by me.

I like how this film isn’t really your typical war film. It is more of a character study than most WW2 flicks are. These characters are caught up in the war, but are not really taking part in it, as they are mostly seen moving through conflict zones or away from them. 

This one is more about what war does to those caught up in it and how you survive in such situations. It is also one of the best survival stories ever filmed in my opinion.

Our characters must endure insane levels of heat, and a serious lack of water and food. They find they must put aside their differences so they have a chance at surviving.  Their ambulance becomes their home and shelter, but it too becomes difficult to endure when it breaks down, or when the inside of it really heats up during the day making it unbearable for the passengers.

I also think the film was quite ahead of its time in showing John Mills character as suffering from the issues he does. He’s alcoholic and suffering trauma from his time as a prisoner.

It’s rare to see either of these issues depicted in war films made during or just after the real events. I think that the inclusion of this helps to make the character even more relatable in a way, as we can see he is suffering and fighting against himself to stay strong and in control. It also brings home the realities of war to us, people never come out of war how they went into it.

Ice Cold In Alex begins in the searing heat of Tobruk, Africa in 1942. Rommell’s desert campaign is at its height. Nervous and boozy ambulance driver Captain Anson(John Mills)is ordered by his commanding officer to take his ambulance, affectionately known as “Katy”, and head over to Alexandria.

Anson is joined by his loyal mate Tom Pugh(the hugely underrated Harry Andrews)and two young nurses Diana Murdoch(Sylvia Syms)and Denise Norton(Diane Clare). The nurses were left stranded when they were fired on during an evacuation attempt at the harbour.Anson is suffering from PTSD and alcoholism. He was recently captured by the Germans, he managed to escape, but his escape forced him to walk through the desert for a couple of days without water, and he is now reliant on alcohol to steady his nerves. When their convoy is attacked, Anson must try and find a way to stay sober so he can find a way of leading them all to safety.

Things get complicated when the group are attacked by Germans and they pick up a stranded African soldier, Captain Van Der Poel(Anthony Quale)who they begin to suspect of possibly being a German spy. Anson also has problems of a different nature, when he slowly begins to realise that Diana is falling in love with him, and that he shares her feelings and desires.

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Anson. Screenshot by me.

 

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Van Der Poel. Screenshot by me.

 

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Pugh. Screenshot by me.

As the danger increases and the desert temperature gets hotter and hotter, our characters are tested in every way possible. Tempers are lost, courage is shown and a strong bond is forged.

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Anson and Diana share a moment. Screenshot by me.

The story is superb and it is filled with so much tension that it really keeps you on the edge of your seat. As good as the story is though I think it’s fair to say that it is the performances and characters that are the real highlight here. 

We become so caught up in the story that we become very connected with these characters, and they all come across as being quite believable and very real individuals. We feel for them and we fear for them.

I particularly love the growing attraction and bond which develops between Diana and Anson. I think Sylvia and John both do a terrific job of conveying the sexual tension and growing emotional attachment between their characters. 

Mills is perfect as the brave and cynical Anson, slowly snapping under the intense pressure and trying to stay off the alcohol. I consider his performance here to be the best he ever gave. Mills conveys so well the emotional and physical strain this mission is placing on Anson.

We can see the desperation in Anson’s eyes, you can feel his increasing desire for a drink to calm himself growing and growing. Most important of all Mills shows us that this man is almost at breaking point, when he snaps, it won’t be a pretty sight. I think it is such a shame that Mills never again got a role quite like this one. This is such a shame as he gets to show here what a truly gifted dramatic actor he really was.

There’s excellent support from the rest of the cast. Anthony Quale, as the strong, quiet, and enigmatic Captain Van Der Poel. I’ve never been a big fan of Quale, but I think he is excellent here and this is one of his best performances for sure. He keeps you guessing as to his characters motivation and loyalty.

Andrews is perfect as the gruff, no nonsense Tom Pugh, a seasoned veteran he focuses upon the task in hand and nothing else. This character is calm under pressure and is someone you’d want around in a crisis.

Sylvia Syms is excellent as Diana, the young woman with a cool head on her shoulders, who must overcome her own fears to stay strong in order to survive. I like how she acts tough, even during times when she could have just crumpled and broke down. The growing attraction between Anson and Diana is believable and both Mills and Syms convey their characters growing attraction perfectly.

Highlights include a nail biting walk and drive through a live minefield(which was an improvised sequence by the director).Van Der Poel getting trapped in a swamp. The famous ending in the bar, which of course gave us that famous TV advert for lager.

When I’m in the mood for a film filled with strong performances and a realistic and tense story, then this is a film that I always take down from the DVD shelf. No matter how many times I watch this it never fails to impress me, or to have me on the edge of my seat in fear for the characters (even though I know what’s going to happen to them. 🙂 ) A real British classic.

My favourite scenes are the following. All of the group trying to push the ambulance up a steep sand hill. The final conversation between Diana and Anson in the ambulance, where so much is said in what is unsaid. The minefield sequence. The group burying a fallen comrade in the middle of the desert and taking a moment to quietly remember them.

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A beer worth waiting for. Screenshot by me.

I own this one on Blu-ray and the picture quality is first rate. It’s so sharp and clear, and it looks very impressive visually I’d say that’s the best version of this film to get your hands on if you want to watch it.

Fun fact about the film. Real alcohol had to be drunk in the bar sequence. None of the alcohol substitutes could get the look and froth of a real freshly poured pint. Several takes had to be done, and in each one Mills had to down a full pint. He ended up getting very drunk and had to go to his trailer to sleep it off! There are worse days to be had at work I suppose. 😉

Any other fans of this one?