Blogathons, British Cinema, Films I Love, Page To Screen

The David Lean Blogathon: Oliver Twist(1948)

David Lean 1This is my entry for my David Lean blogathon being held next Friday and Saturday. I can’t wait to read all of your entries. There is still time to sign up and join the fun if you haven’t already done so.

For this blogathon I have decided to write about Oliver Twist. This is a film that I consider to be David Lean’s best directorial effort after Lawrence Of Arabia. Everything about this film is stunning. You can really see David Lean’s attention to the smallest of details in every single shot in this film.

I don’t use the word masterpiece very often, but I think that this film undoubtedly qualifies as being one. The film is very dark and bleak and Lean sensibly doesn’t shy away from showing us just how brutal and terrible the time period the film is set in was.

Despite its immense level of bleakness, there are however some wonderful moments of humour to be found in this film. There are also some terrific Dickensian character names to enjoy. 

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Oliver asks for more food. Screenshot by me.

David Lean is my favourite British film director. He was a master of his craft and I like that he put such care and attention into even the smallest details and scenes appearing in his films. If I ever had to list a handful of directors who I consider to be the greatest to have ever worked, then David Lean would be right near the top. 

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One of many stunning shots seen in the film. Screenshot by me.

I like David Lean so much because he was able to perfectly balance intimate human stories, against epic and visually stunning backdrops. In Lean’s films the characters always come first and he doesn’t rely on effects or use intrusive editing. 

David Lean made many fine films in his career. Some of his best work was completed in the 1940’s. In this decade he made two films which were adaptations of Charles Dickens novels; the first film was Great Expectations(1946), and the other was Oliver Twist(1948). Lean was able to recreate the Victorian era so well in both of these films. 

I love how in Oliver Twist, Lean manages to capture the great hardships faced by the poor and working classes in Victorian era Britain. This film perfectly captures the grime, the poverty and the outright misery of the time. It also conveys to us the gaping class divide of the time; with the poor starving and living in utter squalor, while the rich ignore their plight and gorge themselves on delicious food and live in luxury. 

                          Hungry boys watch the workhouse staff eating. Screenshot by me.

This gaping divide and lifestyle of the different classes is perfectly captured in a scene at the workhouse. Some of the boys are watching the staff of the workhouse tuck into a huge roast dinner. Those who live in the workhouse only get a small bowl of gruel and a piece of bread each day.

If the poor steal to enable them to get food they are severely punished and looked down upon by the rich and by the law. No matter what they did, the poor living in this era just couldn’t get a break. Dickens novel and this film give a face to poverty, to suffering and to injustice. 

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Oliver giving a face to the nameless children living in poverty. Screenshot by me.

I think it was a genius idea for Dickens to make Oliver a child.

Even though the story is set in a time when children tended to grow up psychologically more quickly than they do now, the amount of horrible and unjust things Oliver endures make the reader and viewer angry about these things happening to Oliver.

As readers, Dickens makes us fear for Oliver and become protective of him as the story goes along. In turn this then makes us think about the real children who lived this life during the Victorian era.  Oliver may well be a fictional character, but he represents all the real children of this time who lived in poverty, who were forced into child labour, and who often died long before their time of disease or injury. David Lean’s film manages to have the same effect on the viewer in my opinion.

I consider this film to be the best adaptation of Oliver Twist that has ever been made. It is so good precisely because it makes you feel that you are there in that miserable time period suffering right alongside Oliver.

David Lean also makes sure his film sticks very closely to the book, and while it doesn’t manage to capture everything found in the book, it certainly does a better job of it than most other adaptations have managed to do. My only big issue with this film is that I don’t think that the character of Nancy is given as much screen time as in other adaptations, but Kay Walsh who plays her does her best to make Nancy’s appearances memorable. Kay also conveys Nancy’s strength and determination quite well. 

I also love this film so much because it contains some of the most striking and unforgettable images in film history. Many of David Lean’s films contain such moments, but in this film, almost every single shot is like a work of art and so many of the scenes are hard to forget. The cinematography in this film is by Guy Green, who had won an Oscar for his work in Lean’s Great Expectations.

Guy would later go on to become a film director himself; two of the most notable films that he directed are A Patch Of Blue and The Angry SilenceGuy worked wonders on the cinematography side of things on Oliver Twist.  

The opening scene of this film is a total work of art. Oliver’s heavily pregnant mother is struggling across the rain swept moors at night to get to a workhouse. During her journey she goes into labour. Right away this scene shows us how difficult and harsh this time period is. 

Each time she gets a contraction the pain coincides with a flash of lighting, or with a thorny branch swaying and shaking in the fierce wind. I think that these images of the storm and branches symbolise the agony of her labour pains.

Part of the opening scene. Screenshot by me. 

The lighting in this sequence is incredible throughout. The sequence ends with this woman collapsing at the workhouse gate and being brought inside to give birth. The camera then cuts outside to show us later that night, a time when clearly the storm has ended but it is still dark outside.

A cloud slowly moves across the sky and splits in two. When it does this it looks to me like a pair of open legs; the moon then slowly emerges from between the split cloud, and when it does so, we hear the cries of the woman’s baby as he emerges into the world. I love this moment so much because of how the cloud imagery symbolises Oliver’s birth. 

Oliver Twist (John Howard Davies)is the baby who is born that night. His mother dies not long after she gives birth. Oliver is raised in the workhouse and endures a miserable life under the control of the pompous Mr. Bumble(played by a scene stealing Francis L. Sullivan), and the short tempered Matron (Mary Clare).

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Oliver meets Dodger. Screenshot by me.

One day, after having had the cheek to ask for more food, Oliver is sold to a local undertaker to work in his shop.

After being treated appallingly there, young Oliver decides he has had enough of this life and so he runs away to London. 

When he gets to London, he meets the skilled young pickpocket, The Artful Dodger (Anthony Newley). Dodger takes him to Fagin (Alec Guinness), an old thief who trains young boys in the art of theft, and gets them to bring him things they have stolen in return for a roof over their heads and food on the table.

Soon Oliver feels welcome and happy with this group. He quickly settles in and is accepted as one of the gang. On his first time out on a pickpocket job with Dodger, Oliver is wrongly accused of stealing a wallet. The wallet is actually taken by Dodger who manages to run away and not get caught. 

The owner of the wallet is the kindly, wealthy gentleman, Mr. Brownlow(Henry Stephenson). He takes pity on Oliver and after a witness to the theft clears Oliver of any wrongdoing, Brownlow takes Oliver home and looks after him. For the first time in his life Oliver knows real love and kindness.

I’m sure most of you reading have seen this film or read the book, but if you haven’t done so, please turn back now because there are some major spoilers ahead!

Sadly Oliver’s new found happiness doesn’t last and he is kidnapped by Fagin’s dangerous associate, Bill Sykes(Robert Newton)and Bill’s kind-hearted, prostitute girlfriend, Nancy(Kay Walsh, who was married to David Lean at the time this film was made)due to them and Fagin being anxious that Oliver will give them all up to the Police.

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The fearless Nancy. Screenshot by me.

Nancy is wracked with guilt over bringing Oliver back, and she bravely risks her own life to try and set Oliver free from this life of misery and crime. Nancy tries to get Oliver back to Mr. Brownlow and she pays for this with her life when she is discovered by Bill and he murders her. 

The murder of Nancy is one of most powerful scenes in the whole film, and it manages to be horrific and chilling without us ever seeing the murder graphically depicted. The yelping and shaking dog trying frantically to escape the room as Nancy is murdered is unforgettable. The dogs noises are mixed together with Nancy’s screams, and combined together those noises make for a sound that chills you to the bone.

                               The aftermath of Nancy’s murder. Screenshot by me.

I like that Lean shows us Bill’s slowly dawning realisation to what he has just done. His eyes dart around the room when he realises he has killed Nancy. Bill’s eyes focus on Nancy’s possessions, and they land upon things that remind him of their shared life together; such as their double bed and her dressing table. As he looks around the room, we see that Bill is absolutely horrified at what he has gone and destroyed.

The great tragedy is that Bill certainly was a violent and nasty piece of work but he genuinely loved Nancy and she loved him. When Bill kills her he also murders any possibility of himself ever being able to be redeemed. He instantly regrets his actions and he realises that he can’t alter what he has done. This sends him mad with grief and remorse. 

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The kind Mr.Brownlow and Oliver. Screenshot by me.

Despite how bleak the film is there are some kind and decent characters to be found in it.  Mr. Brownlow shows us that not everyone in the upper classes was indifferent to the suffering of the poor, and he is a genuinely kind and gentle man.

Nancy retains her sense of morality despite living among thieves and criminals, and despite having done some bad things herself. Nancy can’t stand to see the innocent Oliver get drawn into this life, and so she tries to save him from having to live this way.

The old woman at the workhouse who stole Oliver’s mum’s necklace has a conscience, and she tries to make things right before she dies(only to be betrayed afterwards by the matron).  The film also shows us that some people get drawn into a life of theft because they have no other choice. When someone is homeless, jobless and starving, if nobody will help them when they ask for help politely, what choice is left to that person other than to steal to get some money for food etc?

The actors all deliver solid performances. I like that even the actors who appear very briefly get their chance to really shine.  There are also many standout performances from the main cast.

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Robert Newton as Bill Sykes. Screenshot by me.

Robert Newton delivers one of his finest performances as the terrifying master thief, Bill Sykes. I’m always torn between Robert and Oliver Reed when it comes to considering who played the best Bill Sykes on film. I think Oliver plays the scariest and most sinister, but Robert managed to be scary and still convey how sharp and observant Bill was, and he also convinces us that his Bill genuinely loves Nancy.

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Alec Guinness as Fagin. Screenshot by me.

Lean regular Alec Guinness pulls a Lon Chaney Sr and is unrecognisable beneath heavy makeup as Fagin. Alec’s portrayal is not as fun and loveable as Ron Moody’s in the musical Oliver. Alec makes Fagin sordid and cunning. There was some controversy over Alec’s performance and over the Fagin makeup (especially the large nose) because some people thought the portrayal of this character was anti-semitic. 

John Howard Davies is all sad eyes and innocence as Oliver Twist. John delivers an excellent debut performance here and he would continue acting during the 1940’s and 50’s. He later became a producer and was the man behind the British TV comedy hits Fawlty Towers and The Good Life.

Oliver Twist is one of Lean’s finest films, and I think it could serve as a perfect example to young filmmakers on how to balance story, characters, performances, and visuals to create a film which will stand the test of time and wow audiences from any era.

What do you think of the film?

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Blogathons, British Cinema, Horror

The Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon: Hands Of The Ripper (1971)

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When I saw that Gill from Realweegiemidgetreviews and Barry from Cinematic Catharsis were hosting this horror blogathon, I jumped at the chance to be able to take part because I do love me some Hammer Horror films. Be sure to visit both of their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

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Anna in murderous mode. Screenshot by me.

I have decided to write about a film that I consider to be one of the most underrated Hammer Horror films ever made, that film is Hands Of The Ripper.

On paper the plot of Hands Of The Ripper seems like it just shouldn’t work.

The plot frankly does sound quite ludicrous, but when you watch the film you find that it actually does work. This film is also one which really surprised me when I first saw it. I didn’t expect to end up watching a horror film that moved me just as much as it scared me.

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Dr. Pritchard gets a fright. Screenshot by me.

The film is also interesting because it is an interesting mix of slasher film and psychological thriller,and it is also a real character piece and a beautiful Edwardian costume drama to boot.

The film offers plenty of gore for horror fans who like slasher films, and it also offers a very creepy atmosphere and supernatural element for those of us who prefer that type of horror instead. 

I especially love the psychological angle to the film, as we see the main characters strange and frightening behaviour get studied and picked apart. 

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The innocent Anna. Screenshot by me.

The poignant lead performance by Angharad Rees is something else that makes this film more than your average horror flick. Angharad’s performance is one which lingers in the memory long after the film has finished.

She gives her character such vulnerability and innocence that you really feel for her and want her to be safe and happy. We even feel protective towards her character even after we have seen the horrible things of which she is capable. I like how she manages to convincingly convey Anna’s gentle nature and her transformation into a deranged killer. 

The film is directed by Peter Sasdy, who had directed several other films for Hammer before this. The film begins  in London, on a foggy night in 1888. Notorious serial killer Jack The Ripper has just claimed his latest victim. Jack was seen carrying out the foul deed and some locals are pursuing him. Jack evades the crowd and lets himself into a house on a street in the upper class part of the city. When he goes inside we then see that he is a married man with a young daughter who is called Anna. 

Jack murders his wife and this terrible act is witnessed by his very young daughter, as she sits in her playpen watching her parents. The film then moves forward several years later and we meet the now grown up Anna(Angharad Rees)who is being used by Mrs. Golding(Dora Bryan) as part of a fake medium scam, and the poor girl is also being pimped out to older men by this woman who is supposed to be looking after her!

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Pritchard finds Anna after an attack. Screenshot by me.

We quickly learn that Anna is also a very troubled young woman who is possessed by the spirit of her dead father. Whenever she sees flashing lights or if she gets kissed, Anna goes into a trance, and her father’s spirit then takes over her and through her the ripper murders whoever is near Anna at the time.

The savagery in these attacks and the amount of physical strength required to carry them out makes it doubtful that a woman could have done this, but it seems like Anna alone has actually carried out these murders. After the murders Anna doesn’t remember anything and genuinely has no idea what she is supposed to have done. 

One night Mrs. Golding sets Anna up with a gentlemen client, Anna snaps and kills Mrs. Golding, impaling her body on a bedroom door. The client runs out into the street and claims that Anna committed this murder.  Dr. John Pritchard(Eric Porter), a middle aged psychologist goes inside and discovers the body and also Anna who is an almost catatonic state.

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Pritchard tries to help Anna remember her past. Screenshot by me.

Dr. Pritchard believes that Anna is the killer, but he doesn’t believe that she is consciously responsible for these murders.

He arranges for her to move into his home/medical practice and there he studies her and tries to unravel the mystery surrounding this young woman; a woman who is seemingly so sweet, gentle and innocent.

It also becomes pretty clear to us that he is falling in love with Anna as he spends more time with her.  Can he find a way to help Anna? Can Anna ever escape her murderous father’s influence? Watch and find out.

The film is quite graphic in its depiction of the various murders. The film also has a very sleazy undertone running through it. There are some very sexually suggestive scenes such as the situation in Mrs. Golding’s house, Pritchard standing watching Anna having a bath(shocking behaviour from an Edwardian gentleman), and the scene where Anna is seduced by a prostitute who is after some pleasure for herself on a night when business is slow on the streets. There’s also a memorable scene where Anna ends up in the Police cells, and she is surrounded by vicious prostitutes and tough women who treat her despicably and turn their rage and scorn upon her. 

I also really like how this film depicts that there were two very different ways of life at this time existing right alongside one another; one was the idyllic and beautiful life enjoyed by the upper classes, money was no object and comfortable, large homes and nice clothes were in unlimited supply. The other life was the poverty riddled one endured by the working classes; a life filled with endless hardship, misery and great pain. 

I love the characters in the film and I find Dr. Pritchard to be a very fascinating character. He shows such compassion and understanding towards those with psychological or mental issues, but he seems disgusted by the blindness of his son’s fiance, Laura (Jane Merrow).

I find his attitude towards Laura to be very interesting indeed, when she is near him he acts awkwardly and seems repulsed by her presence, does he feel her loss of sight makes her unsuitable for his son? Or does the fact that her disability is physical disturb him?  In the Victorian and Edwardian era physical and mental disability were very much taboo subjects and able bodied people wanted disabled people out of sight and mind. Maybe Pritchard’s attitudes towards Laura simply reflect the attitudes of his time, but that doesn’t explain why he is so sympathetic to the mentally afflicted and seems so awkward around Laura. Maybe I’m reading too much into it and he perhaps doesn’t like her due to her personality, but there is certainly an awkwardness in the way he acts around her. 

Pritchard also covers up some of Anna’s murders, thereby making himself complicit in those terrible acts. Why does he do this? If this were any other patient of his I doubt he would do such a thing. I think he falls for Anna and feels like he should protect her due to the failure of the other adults in her life to look after her. He risks a great deal for Anna. His relationship with Anna is also endlessly fascinating as it is a mix of fatherly affection and sexual desire. From a professional point of view its also very clear that he has gotten much to close to Anna and is getting much too personally invested in her case.

I highly recommend this film to Hammer fans and to anyone who likes their horror films a little different from the norm. Eric Porter and Angharad Rees both deliver excellent and poignant performances. This film also features much more character development than some of the other Hammer films. The music by Christopher Gunning is suitably atmospheric and is very beautiful and moving too. The murder sequences are still shocking and creepy in comparison with similar scenes found in modern horror films. 

My favourite scenes are the following. Anna and Pritchard talking with the genuine psychic. Laura meeting Anna. Pritchard helping Anna down the stairs after he finds her standing at the top covered in blood. Mrs. Golding’s murder. The scene at the wedding rehearsal where Pritchard asks Anna why she is crying. The tragic finale. 

What do you think of this film?

 

Blogathons, British Cinema, Films I Love, True Story, War

The Marvellous Michael Caine Blogathon: My Five Favourite Michael Caine Performances

caine3Realweegiemidgetreviews is hosting this blogathon all about Michael Caine. Be sure to visit Gill’s site to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

Michael Caine is one of my favourite actors. He is someone who I have grown up with, and he is someone whose work I always try and make time to watch. I first saw him in The Muppet Christmas Carol and I’ve loved him ever since.  

He is an actor who I think is always worth watching, sometimes he has appeared in some really terrible films (yes, I’m looking at you The Swarm and Jaws The Revenge)but he is usually always watchable. I think he has got even better as he gotten older to be honest. 

The following are my five favourite Caine performances. I’m not claiming that these are his best performances. These are simply all performances and films of his that I really love. 

 

1- Zulu (1964) 

This British war classic is the film which really made me a fan of Michael’s. This is not only a cracking film filled with terrific performances, but it is also the film that got Michael noticed by audiences and critics.

Michael has the difficult task in the film (which he manages so well)of making us both hate his character, and then start to like and respect him, until eventually he has become one of the characters we are really hoping survives. He goes from being arrogant and annoying,to being capable and calm under pressure, to being battle fatigued and desperate.  I love the growing bond between his character and Stanley Baker’s. Starting off as opposites and rivals these two men soon become very important to one another, and they see each other in a different light as their hostility towards one another melts. 

 

2- Miss Congeniality (2000)

This hilarious film sees Michael as a Henry Higgins type character. He plays the fussy make up artist who has to help a seriously unglamorous FBI agent (Sandra Bullock)become a pageant beauty for an undercover assignment. He has to turn her into a lady.

He is hysterical here filled with disdain and possesing an acid tongue one moment, and then turning kind and loveable the next. Michael looks like he is having great fun in this film too and that just helps to make it funnier I think. I love the restaurant scene where he is watching Sandra’s character eat,you can see how repulsed and fascinated by her he is. So funny.

 

3- Batman Begins (2005)

I think that Michael was perfectly cast as a tougher and more worldly screen version of Alfred Pennyworth. He captures Alfred’s great love and loyalty for his master, the caped crusader Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale).

Michael’s Alfred is a war veteran. I think you can believe that he was made Bruce’s legal guardian because he could protect him should the need to ever arise. Michael makes his Alfred tough, funny, sharp, loyal and resilient. I think this film is very good and that he stole all the scenes he was in. Whenever I watch this, I really enjoy the film, but I am always waiting for the scenes I know he appears in. 

 

4- Educating Rita (1983)

Michael is both funny and moving here as the teacher who has lost the will to teach. Into his life comes a young woman called Rita (Julie Walters). She is desperate to learn from him. Teaching her, and seeing her knowledge grow, really makes him very happy and he feels of use again. As they spend more time together he begins to fall in love with her and also grows to love life again and becomes a happier person.

Michael’s performance here is all in his expressions and eyes. It’s a complex character he is playing and he does a fantastic job of letting us see what this guy is feeling and going through. This is a film that I return to again and again, and each time I do, Michael’s performance never fails to have me laughing one minute and tearing up the next. 

 

5- The Ipcress File (1965) 

Michael plays a more realistic secret agent than James Bond. Michael is Harry Palmer, a spectacle wearing British agent who has to find out who is brainwashing some scientists. He is torn between knowing who to trust and gets caught up in something far beyond his control. Michael shows us here that brainy men can be just as sexy as men of action. 

Harry Palmer is the anti Bond and Michael plays the role so well. This guy lives modestly, and cooks his own food. His job is more about observation and being watchful, rather than shooting his way to the answers. Michael is so cool in this flick, and he oozes class and style. I never get tired of watching this film. 

 

What are you favourite Michael Caine films and performances? I’d love to hear what you think of the films I chose. 

 

 

   

Blogathons, British Cinema, Drama, Films I Love

The Free For All Blogathon: This Happy Breed (1944)

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Theresa over at Cinemaven’sessaysfromthecouch is hosting this blogathon. We have all been allowed to write about any topic we want, just as long as it is film related.

Click on the link below to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.

https://cinemavensessaysfromthecouch.wordpress.com/2018/01/05/the-free-for-all-blogathon/ 

I’ve decided to write about David Lean and Noel Coward’s film This Happy Breed. The film focuses on a working class/lower middle class British family. The film takes place between 1919 and the start of WW2. The film is based upon Noel Coward’s 1939 stage play of the same name.   

I think that this film really honours its stage bound beginnings. There are a large majority of the films scenes which take place indoors, and there is an almost claustrophobic feel about the film as the camera makes it seem as though we are in that house with this family.

The film also has many external sequences too. This is also a film where the actors are allowed to carry the film and are our main focus. Personally this is the sort of filmmaking I prefer. Give me films like this any day,rather than those where effects carry the film and the story and characters are sidelined. 

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The decent Frank. Screenshot by me.

David Lean is one of my favourite film directors. I like him so much because he was one of the few directors who was able to make films which were both epic and intimate. Not every director can pull that off, but Lean certainly had the knack. 

Lean knew how to get the balance between the intimate and the epic just right in his films. I think that this particular film is one of the best examples of his ability to be able to meld those two things together. 

This Happy Breed is an extremely intimate character study set against an epic backdrop of the historical change in Britain during the first part of the twentieth century. This film is also notable for being Lean’s first solo outing as a director.

David Lean first got into the British film industry in the late 1920’s, and he worked as a film editor for many years. In 1942 he teamed up with Noel Coward to co-direct In Which We Serve. The pair would go on to work together again on three other films – This Happy Breed, Blithe Spirit and Brief Encounter. With these films, the talents and abilities of David Lean became abundantly clear to audiences and critics alike. 

I really love This Happy Breed for several other reasons too. I love this film because when I watch it I always feel as though I am watching the life and experiences of a real family. It’s like I am there in that house with these people. Setting the film in a house also makes us in the audience the direct witnesses to the private life of this family. I think that in a way we in the audience become the walls of the house, (remember the old saying “if walls could talk”?) as we bear witness to what happens to this family as the years pass them by. The house also becomes another character in the film and the house set really comes across as though it is a real lived in home. 

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Frank and Bob. Screenshot by me.

I also love the film because Robert Newton and Celia Johnson’s characters remind me so much of my grandparents. Grandad was just like Newton’s character is in the film, he was a quiet man who didn’t speak all that much. When he did speak it was because he had something very meaningful to say. He loved his family and his garden more than anything else. 

Grandad never spoke to us (not sure if he ever spoke to Gran about it either)about his war service (he served in WW2) but he regularly met up with Bill who was his best mate. He and Bill had served together and they would meet up pretty much every weekend.

Much like Stanley Holloway’s character does in this film, Bill would speak quite openly and regularly about what he and granddad had been through in the war. I actually learnt so much from him. His stories made me admire his and my granddad’s courage so much.

I wished then that I had fully understood the importance of what granddad had been a part of when he was alive. If I had known, I would have asked him so many questions (whether he would have answered me is of course another question) and told him thank you for what he did. 

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Celia Johnson as the strong willed Ethel. Screenshot by me.

My Gran was just like Celia Johnson’s character is in the film. She was house proud, strong, and she was also one of those people who you thought would always be there. She never wanted to appear weak, nor did she ever want to waste time.

She adored my granddad, and to him she was a queen whom he was extremely protective of. Their love for one another was very evident, he was always quick to tell her if he thought she was doing too much. I lost my gran over a year ago now.   

I am sure I can’t be the only one who watches this film and is reminded of people who they know or knew in real life. As well as making the characters come across as realistic, I also think that Lean’s film captures the determined and unyielding personalities of the generation who lived at that time. They had it tough, but they didn’t let it break them. Instead they used their experiences to make themselves stronger and made sure they cherished what they held most dear.  

The film begins in 1919. The pointless slaughter of the Great War has just ended. An entire generation of men have been wiped out. The scarred survivors of the trenches are coming home to their loved ones. These men just want a quiet, steady life with their loved ones and need time to readjust and live a normal life. This film follows the experiences of the Gibbons family.   

 

The film begins with the family moving into a new house in the suburbs of London. the mild mannered Frank (Robert Newton), his steadfast wife Ethel (Celia Johnson), their three children – quiet and dependable Vi (Eileen Erskine), hugely dissatisfied Queenie(Kay Walsh) and the idealistic Reg(John Blythe).

Also moving in are Ethel’s mum (Amy Veness) and Frank’s hypochondriac sister, Sylvia(Alison Leggatt), these two squabble something fierce and provide the comedy of the film. The family also bring with them their tabby cat, Percy. Frank is delighted to find a friend living nearby, a former comrade from the trenches called Bob (Stanley Holloway).  

We follow this family and their friends through their good and bad times. We see them experience the turbulent events of the next twenty plus years. Events depicted in the background include – strikes, the rise of Hitler, changes in British government and monarchs, the depression, changing fashion and music, and the ever growing threat of another world war.

Stanley Holloway provides strong support as Frank’s loud and fun best friend Bob. John Mills is kind and dependable as Billy, the boy who loves Queenie with all his heart and soul. 

If I have any criticisms of this film it is that perhaps the family are shown to be a bit too happy with their lot, even when enduring times of great stress and pain. They rarely complain about what they are enduring. I know this depiction plays into the whole stiff upper lip thing, and that it gets across the strength of this generation. I am certain though that people in this time must have had plenty of bad days, where getting up and facing their tough times head on was a real struggle for them. I don’t think they were as uncomplaining and accepting as they are depicted as being here.   

I also really wish that some sequences had lasted longer- such as the family day out at the Great Exhibition and the wedding day sequence. I also wish there was a bit more focus upon the aftermath of Frank and Ethel receiving the news of the death of someone very dear to them.

I also wish that the film itself had a much longer running time. This is one of those films that I never want to end and am always disappointed when I rewatch this and it ends so quickly (it’s barely two hours long).

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Queenie shows off her dancing skills. Screenshot by me.

I also think that John Mills and Kay Walsh (although both delivering excellent and moving performances)were far too old for their respective roles. I do think that Kay was superb in her role of the young woman who feels trapped in her life and class. Kay really does make me feel Queenie’s desperation to escape her current situation and move on to something better.

Despite those minor complaints this film really is very good indeed. There are strong performances from all in the cast. I think Robert Newton delivers the standout performance in the film.

If you are only familiar with Robert as the over the top Long John Silver, then you should really check him out in this flick. His performance is extremely subtle and quite touching. Watch his eyes and his face in this because they sure speak volumes. Robert brings Frank to life and makes him utterly believable.  

Fans of Lean’s work will have fun noticing Kay Walsh and Robert Newton play father and daughter here. Just four years later they would go on to play the ill fated lovers Bill and Nancy in one of Lean’s finest films, Oliver Twist

I also love the depiction of the marriage between Frank and Ethel. These two stay with each other through thick and thin. They clearly adore one another and Robert and Celia make us believe that they would be lost without one another. This couple accept each others flaws and they cherish every moment they have together. This is a marriage that is very rarely found nowadays. These days people are so often out the door at the first sign of any difficulty. I like that these two remind us that a good marriage is one that is worked at and is valued.  

I also really adore Queenie and Billy’s relationship. Queenie comes across as someone who is above her class, she wants to be something other than ordinary, and she can’t see a good thing (Billy)when it is right in front of her. I love how Billy waits for her to come to her senses and doesn’t judge her.  

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Billy arrives home. Screenshot by me.

My favourite scenes are the following. Frank and Ethel receiving some terrible news about Reg (this scene serves as a masterclass in how to convey shock and grief without going over the top. It also shows that quite often the best thing is for the camera to simply remain still and capture the actors performances, these performances will tell the audience all they need to know.) Frank saying he doesn’t care what happens to him as long as he has Ethel. Billy bringing Queenie back to her parents. The family arriving at their new home and starting to clean the place up and unpack. Frank and Reg talking about their opposing views about the General Strike. Frank, Vi and Sylvia talking about Chamberlain declaring “peace in our time”. Frank, Bob and Ethel saying goodbye. Queenie leaving a letter to her parents. Queenie dancing.

What do you think of this film? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

British Cinema, Drama, Films I Love, Page To Screen, Romance

The Wicked Lady (1945)

There are not enough words for me to be able to use to describe how much I love this Gainsborough Studios melodrama. There is something in this film for everyone to enjoy – adventure, romance, passion, danger, suspense and an impressive recreation of Regency era home interiors and clothes.

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Margaret Lockwood as Barbara. Screenshot by me.

Plus the film has Margaret Lockwood. Margaret was the best bad girl in British cinema history.  I think Margaret really shone in the Gainsborough films of the 40’s and this particular film features one of her finest screen performances.

The way she played her roles in these films means that audiences love to hate her, and they also really don’t want her character to leave the film. 

Is it just me or does anyone else look at Margaret and think that someone blended Vivien Leigh and Hedy Lamar together to make one woman? It’s crazy how much Margaret looks like both of those women. 

As well as being a very enjoyable film, I also find it very interesting to watch. The character of Barbara and the choices she makes show her to be frustrated with her life, and also with the restrictions placed on her life because of her gender.  At the time the film is set, women were seen as nothing more than objects of pleasure for their husbands and were expected to bear children and run the family home.

Independence and going against tradition was heavily frowned upon where men were concerned. Where women were concerned it was unthinkable that they would even consider living a life outside of what was expected of them. 

Barbara wants so much more than to simply be a wife. She wants to do her own thing and to have adventure and excitement. I think that the life she turns to during the film offers her escape from the restrictions she faces as a woman. She can be free when she rides the highway and takes charge of the dangerous robberies she sets up.

I personally find her choice to take control of her life to be quite admirable really, she is an individual in an era riddled with conformity and control. There is nothing worse than being told to live a certain way when that way is not the truth of who you are.

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Barbara longs for an escape from her life. Screenshot by me.

Barbara is such a strong and fun character. The way Margaret plays her has you rooting for her even when she is doing pretty awful things. It’s true that she doesn’t repent the things she does, but then why should she? She is now living the life of a man in many respects, and you don’t see men of the time apologising for their actions.  After all Jackson continues to be liked and admired by many of the lower class locals, despite being a thief and a real rogue (they even like him when he is accused of killing someone).   

I also like how the film shows the double standard applied to women when it comes to sex outside of marriage. Men at the time were free to have affairs and nobody blinked an eyelash, but the second a woman took a lover she became a tainted whore who must be punished. Double standards much? 

The Wicked Lady is based on the novel by Magadalen King-Hall. The unmistakable attractions here are Margaret Lockwood, the beautiful Regency era gowns, and James Mason’s deadly and fascinating love interest. 

On a peaceful country estate in England all is going well for the kind Caroline(Patricia Roc).She is due to marry handsome landowner Sir Ralph Skelton(Griffith Jones). The pair adore one another. Ralph is a rare decent chap in an era when the upper classes were indifferent to the suffering and living conditions of the lower classes. Ralph is liked and respected by his tenants and he is a very kind man. 

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The gentle Caroline. The complete opposite of Barbara. Screenshot by me.

All is idyllic until Caroline invites her cousin. Barbara Worth(Margaret Lockwood)accepts her cousins invitation, but when she arrives she falls in love with Ralph and seduces him. The heartbroken Caroline(although believing his change of heart to have been all his idea)lets him marry Barbara instead. 

Soon though the restless Barbara becomes bored and completely fed up with her dull family and friends. She takes to the road one night disguised as a Highwayman and steals some jewels.

Going back to the same place again another night, she ends up meeting the notorious Highwayman, Captain Jackson(James Mason).Mistaking her for a man at first, Jackson warns her to stay away from his route. He soon discovers her secret and falls in love with her. Barbara is soon leading an exciting dual life which soon turns deadly after she kills a guard on a coach. 

Soon Barbara finds her exploits are catching up to her when one of her husband’s servants, Hogarth (Felix Aylmer)tells her he knows of her double life. Barbara must think of a way to silence this man and keep her secret safe.  Barbara also soon finds another man in her life, the dashing Kit (Michael Rennie)who longs to be her man.

This woman sure doesn’t lead a dull life! 😉

Margaret and James have great chemistry throughout the film. I think they do a terrific job of convincing us that they are two people addicted to the thrills and danger of highway robbery. They also revel in the passion and excitement of their physical relationship.  

I really like how James makes quite an impression despite having a fairly small amount of screen time. He makes Jackson sexy, rough, bold, cruel. He also makes you believe that if you cross him he will not be a man to take betrayal easily. 

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Captain Jackson. Screenshot by me.

Patrica Roc oozes decency as the gentle Caroline. She has an almost saintly quality about her. She serves as a stark contrast to the more earthy Barbara. I like how Patricia plays the role and keeps our sympathy for her. The characters of Barbara and Caroline remind me a bit of Scarlett and Melanie in Gone With The Wind

Felix Aylmer is terrific as the religious servant, Hogarth. Aylmer was always a real scene stealer and his performance here is no exception. 

Griffith Jones and Michael Rennie sadly don’t really get used to their full potential. Neither of their performances really linger in the memory as much as the other performances do. Both do convince as kind and decent men though.

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Ralph. Screenshot by me.
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Kit. Screenshot by me.

I love how risqué the film is too. Some of the dialogue and scenes between Barbara and Jackson make it very clear that they are lovers and that she loves it when they are together.

This film also caused the censors over in the states to have a fit because of the low-cut dresses of the women. Many scenes had to be reshot before the film could be shown there. How stupid is that?! These dresses were accurate for the time period for goodness sake. I’m not a fan of the film censor at the best of times, but that decision really takes the cake in my opinion. 

If all of the above were not enough for you to enjoy, there are also a number of old guys sporting some truly awesome wigs and moustaches to make you giggle.  🙂 

My favourite scenes are the following. Barbara and Jackson by the lake. Barbara and Kit on the bridge. Barbara locking her door and changing clothes looking totally excited to be able to sneak out to the highway. Caroline and Kit on the iced over Thames. 

The film is hugely enjoyable and tackles some interesting things too. This one is much more than simply a costume film. I wish it were better known today. 

If you haven’t seen this it comes highly recommended by me. What did you think of the film if you have seen it?

 

 

British Cinema, Noir

Brighton Rock (1947)

In 1947, two films were made on opposite sides of the Atlantic ocean. One film starred Richard Widmark, and the other one starred Richard Attenborough. The performances of these two men in these films would set both of them onto the path to stardom.

Widmark and Attenborough’s performances in these films also showed us the full extent of their acting talents. They both played characters who were equally scary, evil and real nasty pieces of work. Widmark’s film was Kiss Of Death (this was also his film debut). Attenborough’s was an adaptation of a 1938 novel by Graham Greene. The film was called Brighton Rock. It has since become regarded as one of the best British films of the era. It is also a cracking British Noir.

The realism of the actors performances coupled with the fact that Brighton Rock was shot on location in Brighton, all helps to give this film an extremely authentic look I think. I also love the grimy and gritty look that the film has about it.

America was leading the way in Film Noir at the time this film was made, and some would say the US was leading the way in film making in general in the 1940’s. Over here in Britain we were also making some films that could easily rival, and in some cases surpass, those films coming out of Hollywood. This is one such film.

Unlike the American filmmakers who were hampered by the Breen Office and the Production Code, British filmmakers of the time tended to be able to get away with showing more violence, or alluding to things like sex and violence in more detail on screen. This film is one which is greatly aided by being able to show and insinuate more than American films featuring a similar story would probably have been able to.

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Pinkie. Screenshot by me.

Growing up in the 1990’s, I was so used to seeing Attenborough as the kindly grandfather figure on screen that I found it to be quite a surprise to catch him in this film and see him playing such a violent, heartless, wannabe gangster. I think his performance in this film is right up there with his terrifying performance in 10 Rillington Place. It really is one of his very best performances.

As the violent Pinkie, Attenborough is edgy and he conveys a barely repressed rage that is just waiting to be unleashed. He steals every scene he is with his expressions alone. His youthful appearance works to the films advantage I think, as it makes Pinkie’s acts of violence seem all the more shocking when they occur. 

The film was produced by the Boulting brothers. The film was co-written by Graham Green and Terence Rattigan. John Boulting directed the film. The Boulting brothers were identical twins who worked on a number of British films including: Thunder Rock, The Magic Box, The Family Way and Seven Days To Noon.

The body of a man called William Kite is discovered in a gravel pit. Kite was the leader of a local gang. The Police believe he was killed by a rival gang after speaking to a newspaper reporter called Fred Hale (Alan Wheatley). Hale wrote a crime expose piece which led to Kite’s name being published.  

Pinkie Brown (Richard Attenborough), the baby faced and youngest member of the gang assumes Kite’s position as leader of their gang. Pinkie is aided by the ice cold and loyal Dallow (William Hartnell), the ageing but loyal Spicer (Wylie Watson), and the giggling  Cubitt(Nigel Stock).

Pinkie and his men go after Hale to kill him for what happened to Kite. They catch up to him aboard a horror train ride on Brighton Pier. This stunning sequence is a highpoint in the film and is truly unforgettable. The horror imagery in the ride is very scary and the lighting is superb and used to great effect.

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Ida. Screenshot by me.

Hale’s death is ruled a suicide. Ida Arnold (Hermione Baddeley) doesn’t believe that for one moment. Ida knew Fred and she was with him just before he got on that ride. She isn’t afraid to put herself at risk to find out the truth. Ida sets out on her own to do some investigating to get to the truth.

With Ida sniffing around, rival gangs causing trouble, and the Police keeping an eye on what’s going, Pinkie becomes more and more paranoid and violent. He also soon becomes as big a threat to his friends as he is to his sworn enemies. 

Naïve young waitress, Rose (Carol Marsh)is a potential witness to Pinkie’s crime. To shut her up and keep an eye on her, he woos her and then marries her. She is a very innocent and fragile woman, and as the film goes on she seems to be heading ever closer to a breakdown. Pinkie treats her like rubbish. He makes a mistake in not heeding the warning he gets from Dallow about not mistreating Rose. 

The performances in this are excellent. Attenborough goes full psycho and is utterly chilling as Pinkie. If you have never seen Richard Attenborough play evil before, then you really need to watch this film. He makes us see that his character wants to be number one, and he wants this at the expense of all else. He craves power and he enjoys violence. He also doesn’t seem to care who is on the receiving end of his violent outbursts. This man is a cold hearted thug.

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Dallow. Screenshot by me.

William Hartnell (the first Doctor Who)steals all the scenes he is in as Dallow. Hartnell often played heavies in British films, his performance here is one of his very best I think. He more than convinces as a hard man who has a moral code when it comes to treating women. He too is a nasty piece of work, but he takes no pleasure from what he does, he does it because it’s a job and it’s what he is good at. Deep down he is actually not all bad.

Hermione Baddeley was one of the greates character actresses of the classic era. In this film I think she may well have been given her best role. I think it’s a real shame she didn’t get more substantial roles.

As Ida, she is loud, outgoing, funny, strong and very determined. I like how she is really the hero of the film. I think it’s nice to see an older woman get such a strong role in a film too.  

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Hale. Screenshot by me.

Alan Wheatley is memorable as the terrified Hale fleeing for his life. He more than convinces as the terrified and desperate man on edge, running away from Pinkie’s gang with all the speed that his legs can muster. Wheatley had the sharp and thin features that I think would have made him the perfect choice to play Sherlock Holmes. He was a fine character actor and is terrific in this film.

Carol Marsh makes you want to yell at her character, to shake her out of her wide eyed adoration of the vile Pinkie. She is so naïve and very easily led. Marsh does a superb job of playing this girl who refuses to accept that Pinkie is all bad. She is something of a doormat, but you can’t help but feel sorry for her anyway. There is a childlike innocence about her. 

The book (which I’ve yet to read)apparently had more religious overtones than the film and was full of Catholic guilt. The film doesn’t focus so much on that, but there are a couple of moments where this can be picked up on if you’re looking for it. Religion also rather heavily features in the unforgettable ending scene. 

This is a thrilling, engrossing and a gritty flick that is a real character piece. Everyone in the cast gets their chance to shine.  

My favourite scenes are the following. Ida questioning Rose at the café. Dallow warning Pinkie not to touch Rose. The finale on the pier. Hale meeting a terrifying end on the ghost train ride. Ida and Hale meeting in the bar. Pinkie making a recording of his voice to Rose and in it telling her just what he thinks of her. Dallow telling Rose that she should ask Pinkie for some new clothes. The final scene with the message on the record.

The film was remade in 2010. The remake sadly pales in comparison to this one. Why oh why do people keep insisting on remaking classic films? Most of the time the original is way better than the remake, so why bother doing it? I recommend you stick with this version and enjoy a cracking example of British cinema at its very best. 

What are your thoughts on 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?

 

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?

 

British Cinema, Horror

The Devil Rides Out (1968)

The Devil Rides Out is a British horror film which offered the horror film legend Christopher Lee a rare chance to play the hero on screen. The film is based upon the novel of the same name which was written by Dennis Wheatley, and which was published in 1934.

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Part of the protective circle sequence. Screenshot by me.

Whether or not you believe in the supernatural, I think that it simply cannot be denied that the Devil and Satanism are two things guaranteed to chill the blood of any sane person. This film taps into the fear, the horror, and the revulsion that both of these things make people feel.

I consider The Devil Rides Out to be one of the best horror films to ever come out of Hammer Studios. Unlike many of the studios other films, this one doesn’t rely on blood and shocks to be scary; this film is much more intent on slowly building up the tension and is more concerned with making you feel uneasy as the film goes on. This film is also one guaranteed to make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. 

I love the film for how creepy it is. There are many scary moments throughout the film, with the unforgettable protective circle sequence being a real standout. The sequence where the cult call up the Devil himself is also very frightening and quite unnerving to watch.

I also really love the film for Christopher Lee’s superb performance as the badass Duc de Richleau; this character really screams out for a sequel or film series just like a certain Professor Quatermass received. Christopher totally makes you believe that the Duc knows all about good and evil, and that he is also able to understand, challenge, fight and defeat evil.The role of the Duc was also one of Christopher Lee’s personal favourites from amongst his own work.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I for one would have loved to have seen the Duc and his friends fight the forces of evil again in future films, or maybe in a TV series. 

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Rex, the Duc and Simon. Screenshot by me.

Christopher is an intense presence throughout the film and he makes you (and the Duc’s companions in the film)feel safe and secure when the Duc is on screen.

The Duc is a real badass throughout the film; whether he is standing up to evil and fighting it with the powers of good, or whether he is punching bad guys whenever they get in his way. The Duc sure  knows how to handle himself and he will do whatever it takes to protect his friends and family.

The film opens in England in 1929. The suave Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee) is very concerned about his young friend, Simon Aron (Patrick Mower). Simon has fallen in with a bad crowd and he has been persuaded by the sinister Mocata (Charles Gray) to join a Satanic cult. 

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The Duc and Rex witness a terrifying event. Screenshot by me.

With the help of his other friend, Rex (Leon Greene), the Duc races against time to save Simon. Soon this trio are being pursued by the forces of darkness. The three friends must also fight to save the soul of the fragile Tanith (Nike Arrighi), a young woman who is also about to lose her soul to the Devil thanks to Mocata’s influence over her.

The cast are all solid with Christopher Lee delivering the standout performance. Christopher, Patrick Mowe and Leon Greene all make you believe and feel the bond of friendship that exists between their three characters(they fought in WW1 together and have been friends ever since, and the Duc has been a father figure to Simon ever since their time fighting in the war.)

Leon does a good job of conveying his characters growing belief and acceptance of the otherworldly forces he keeps encountering. Patrick does a good job of making Simon likeable and showing his struggle against the evil he is being forced into being a part of.

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Charles Gray as Mocata. Screenshot by me.

Charles Gray is downright scary as the main villain of the film. Gray plays a Devil worshipper and Satanic cult leader who can bend people to his will. This man is not someone to let your guard down around. 

Nike Arrighi is an actress who I was unfamiliar with before seeing her performance here. I think that she does a fantastic job of portraying the fragile and easily manipulated Tanith. This character is very vulnerable and she makes you feel quite protective towards her.

Paul Eddington and Sarah Lawson provide solid support as the Duc’s niece and her husband respectively. They are two ordinary people who get caught up in utter horror. My only issue with the casting of Sarah Lawson is that she looks a bit old to be playing Christopher Lee’s niece.

My favourite scenes are the following. The Duc and Rex discovering the truth about the telescope room.  The Duc hypnotising Simon to wean him off the influence of Mocata. Rex chasing Tannith, only to have his windscreen become mysteriously obscured. The protective circle sequence.

A creepy film filled with many memorable moments. Who can forget the Angel of Death riding through the house? Or seeing the Devil called up in the woods?

This is perfect Halloween viewing. Just don’t watch it alone! Any other fans of this film? I highly recommend this film if you’ve never seen it.

 

 

 

 

 

British Cinema, Drama

The Chalk Garden (1964)

This is a film that I never get tired of seeing, it is filled with excellent performances from everyone in the cast, and features some very memorable characters. This film is all about human emotions,  damaged people and the secrets we harbour. This is one to check out if you enjoy watching fine acting.

It was a few years ago when I first saw this film, I was completely blown away at the time by the performance of Hayley Mills. She still impresses me each time I watch this one.

 

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Laurel. Screenshot by me.

Hayley at this point in her career had been acting for several years, and she had always been very natural on screen. I think she truly outdid herself in this film though. Hayley perfectly captured just how emotionally messed up and defensive her character, Laurel is. Hayley steals every scene she is in, often with just a look or by her body language in scenes. Laurel explodes with long contained pain and anger several times during the film, and Hayley makes you feel every tear shed, every scream and every angry word.

 

Hayley lets us see that deep down though Laurel is just a little girl desperate to be loved. Laurel puts up a defensive front to protect herself. I’m also fascinated by the behaviour of her character, and how this girl finds weakness in others and hurts others so that she can feel like she is in control of some aspect of her life.

The Chalk Garden tells the story of Laurel (Hayley Mills), who is a deeply troubled teenager. Laurel has scared away a succession of governesses, after she drove them to their wits end. Laurel does things to shock and scare people, she also makes up stories (sometimes half truths)and has a nasty habit of prying into the lives of those around her.

 

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Miss Madrigal. Screenshot by me.

The latest governess to take charge of Laurel is Miss Madrigal (Deborah Kerr) she is an enigmatic, no nonsense woman, and she sees straight through Laurel’s troubled exterior to the damaged girl beneath. Laurel’s father is dead, and she is estranged from her mother (Elizabeth Sellars)who she blames for her fathers death. Laurel lives with her elderly grandmother (Edith Evans) and the loyal and compassionate family butler, Maitland (John Mills).

 

Maitland cares for Laurel and her grandmother very much, and he can also see straight through Laurel’s actions and behaviour to the fragile girl inside. Laurel’s bad behaviour and needling don’t affect Maitland anymore as he has grown used to her. He offers Miss Madrigal support and guidance in how to deal with Laurel.

Miss Madrigal also takes charge of the garden of the home (the chalk garden of the title)to see if she can bring it to life (much the same as she must do with Laurel).

Laurel begins to suspect Miss Madrigal is not all she seems. Soon a damaging revelation will emerge which makes Laurel see the consequences of her own actions and behaviour.

I love watching the slowly developing bond and trust grow between Hayley and Deborah’s characters, the growth and change in their relationship is beautifully portrayed by both actresses. At first Laurel is openly hostile towards her, then she begins to like her, then she becomes fascinated by her. Madrigal knows the only way to reach Laurel is to be honest with her, and she knows better than to try and forcibly change the girl.

 

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Maitland. Screenshot by me.

I also love the growing bond between Maitland and Madrigal. It is inferred that he admires and likes her, and that he is possibly falling in love with her. Madrigal certainly likes him but it’s not clear if she would ever open her heart to him. I love all the scenes between John and Deborah and I think they worked very well together.

 

My favourite pairing in the film is Laurel and Maitland. Hayley and her father John Mills made several films together in which they co-starred alongside one another, this is my favourite of their screen pairings. I love the bickering between Maitland and Laurel. I also like how Maitland knows Laurel’s secret. What is her secret? She is just a lonely and sad little girl, she acts older than her years, and she acts mean and tough, but she is really anything but. Maitland knows this fact long before others do and he sticks with the girl and supports her as he can.

I love the scene where Maitland catches Laurel talking to her doll. She is so disgusted that he sees her in a (in her view)vulnerable and weak moment; Maitland knows all too well that she thinks that, you can tell by the way he looks at her throughout this scene. It is a touching moment when you see Laurel (for the first time)as just a lonely child.

While it is Hayley who steals all the scenes, the adults in the cast are equally brilliant too.

Deborah gives one of her best performances here, as a woman harbouring great pain and troubles of her own. Deborah’s performance is all in the eyes and in what is not said aloud, as much as in what is said. She makes Madrigal strong and really piques your interest about this woman and her secrets.

Edith Evans is very good as the strong woman who is at odds with her own daughter  and granddaughter. In Madrigal she finds someone who challenges her and tells her a few home truths.

John Mills is marvellous as the quiet and wise Maitland. No fool and no pushover, this guy doesn’t take Laurel’s mean temper lightly, but he lets her get at him because he knows she needs to vent and take things out on someone. He puts up with what she does to him, but he won’t stand idly by and see her do the same to Madrigal.

Elizabeth Sellars doesn’t have much to do as Laurel’s elegant, absentee mother, but she lets you feel her characters frustration and anger with her own mother in a key scene.

The great Felix Aylmer appears briefly as a man who knows the truth about Madrigal. Aylmer was one of the great British character actors and it really is a treat to see him here.

My favourite scenes are the following. The doll scene. Laurel and Madrigal painting up on the cliffs. Maitland and Madrigal’s talk in the Library. Laurel breaking down on the beach. All the scenes between Maitland and  Laurel. Madrigal and Laurel playing tennis and playing the question and answer game. Laurel stuck in the tree. Maitland buying Madrigal a bolt for the door. The revelation about Madrigal.

I consider this to be one of the best British films, and it’s certainly a real gem in the careers of  all of the cast members. Any other fans of this one? I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it.

 

British Cinema

Unsung Classics 7: Mandy (1952)

Mandy was directed by Alexander MacKendrick. The film was produced by Ealing Studios.This one is a real gem, in addition to being a very good film, it also serves as an extremely educational experience for people who don’t know that much about deafness.

The sequences set at the deaf school were filmed on location at the Royal School For The Deaf, which is in Manchester (it is now called The Seashell Trust). The film features strong performances from all in the cast, and it is a very moving and uplifting film showing people that there is hope out there during tough times.

    Mandy Miller as Mandy. Screenshot by me.

The film also features one of the best performances by a child actor (Mandy Miller) that I have ever seen. Mandy is such a natural young actress and she conveys so much in this film with her expressions and eyes alone. The fact that she is so young and can convey so much emotion in such a natural way is impressive. Mandy wasn’t in very many films and I think that is a real shame and a loss really, she was a very gifted young lady.

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Searle helps Mandy to communicate. Screenshot by me.

The film also does so much to highlight that people who are deaf are just like the rest of us. If taught and supported properly, they can communicate, cope and live perfectly normal lives.

At the time of this films release illness and disability still had a great deal of a stigma attached to them. Issues such as deafness were swept under the carpet so to speak. People didn’t want to know about such things. Shame on them I say, disability is not catching!

I also really hope that people who saw this film back at the time of release came to understand that deaf people(and anyone else with a disability for that matter)are just as normal as anyone else. I also hope this film helped educate people more about the condition of deafness.

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Mandy and her mum. Screenshot by me.

The film focuses on a family who are affected by deafness. At first glance Mandy(Mandy Miller)seems like any other child her own age, she is, except for one slight difference though. Mandy was born deaf.  

Mandy’s loving parents Christine and Harry(Phyllis Calvert and Terence Morgan)raise her at home, because she is mute and can’t communicate with her family or anyone else as she has no concept of language.

As she gets older, Mandy becomes hard to control and becomes a danger to herself. Mandy withdraws into herself and doesn’t understand the dangers surrounding her in everyday life.

Eventually Mandy is taken to a residential deaf school, which is run by the progressive teacher, Dick Searle (Jack Hawkins). Here Mandy can at last make friends, and she can finally learn how to communicate in a hearing world.

The growing friendship which develops between Christine and Searle as they bond while helping Mandy, could so easily have developed into a romance, but it doesn’t. This relationship is touching and is well conveyed by Jack Hawkins and Phyllis Calvert.

The film also does a good job of showing the strain that can sometimes exist in the lives of family members of people with disabilities. The parents in the film are loving and devoted, but they know that Mandy needs professional help and that help is something they are not equipped to give. Dealing with her condition and with her going away to school sadly places a strain on this couples marriage.  

All the adults do a good job here, but they are essentially in supporting roles. Mandy Miller is the real star of this one.

I think that Jack Hawkins is excellent as the gruff teacher who doesn’t act in a conventional way. Searle doesn’t care about manners etc, he just wants to help the children and do a good job as a teacher. This attitude makes him disliked by the schools governing board. He’s the man for the job though, and he will help no matter what they say.

An uplifting, moving and very interesting film that raises awareness about deafness.

Please leave your comments on the film below.

 

 

British Cinema, Detective, Thriller, True Story

Robbery (1967)

In August, 1963, the British public could talk about only one thing over their bacon, eggs,toast and orange juice. The topic of the day was a robbery. Not just any robbery though. Oh no, this robbery was considered to be the robbery to end all robberies.

Early in the morning of the 8th of August, 1963, sixteen men had held up a Royal Mail train on its way down from Glasgow to London. They boarded the train while it was stopped on a bridge. They severely injured the trains driver, Jack Mills by hitting him with a metal bar, and then they made off with all the cash on board. The grand total they got away with? £2.6 million. At the time this was the largest money robbery in British history.

Several of the gang were eventually caught and a trial was held in 1964. Two of the gang, Ronnie Biggs and Charlie Wilson, escaped prison in daring prison breaks, and they and many others in the gang lived abroad for decades. The case is well known here in the UK, but if you’re not familiar with it you can find more about the case, trial, and the gang members themselves online.

The robbery and what happened afterwards sounds like it’s a plot straight out of a film. Fact can be stranger than fiction though, and that is certainly true in this particular case.

It proved too much of an opportunity to pass up on, and so in 1967, production began in the UK on a film based upon the robbery. It was a rather fictionalised account and peoples names were changed etc, and it didn’t end quite how the real life event did either.

The film was directed by Peter Yates (who would go on to great fame as the director of Bullitt), and it was produced by Stanley Baker and Michael Deeley. Baker would also star as the leader of the gang aiming to rob the Royal Mail train of its cash. The films electrifying score was by Johnny Keating, and his music adds so much atmosphere to the film.

 

Robbery is a tense, gripping and gritty flick. It has you on the edge of your seat throughout and I think it has a very realistic look to it. I also like how the Police are not shown as idiots or the enemy here as is so often the case in films mainly focusing on the criminals. Also we don’t really (well I didn’t anyway)feel like we should be fully on the side of either the cops, or of the criminals, the depiction of what both sides did and went through is well balanced I think.  We can envy at the audacity of the plan, and the fact that it works, but we don’t forget these are criminals, nor that the Police have to (and should) do their job to get them.

The first fifteen minutes are some of the most tense I’ve ever seen in a film. The film opens with four criminals setting up a robbery in broad daylight. They set up a gas canister in the car of a man who has a briefcase handcuffed to him. The gas is set to go off at a certain time, it does so knocking out the driver and the man with the case, and causes the car to crash. Three of the gang in a stolen ambulance take the two men out of the car and drive off. In the ambulance they remove the case and some diamonds.

They abandon the ambulance and get into a getaway vehicle, they are spotted by coppers in a passing car who are on the look out for the stolen ambulance, thus begins one of the best car chases in film history. The Police pursue the robbers car at high speed, as the gang try and evade capture. Filmed out on location in and around London streets, this chase had me on the edge of my seat, peeking through my fingers. In some ways this can easily be seen as the warm up for Yates film Bullitt(which features another brilliant car chase.) The bit where the gang get nearer to a London school crossing is edge of your seat stuff.

The film sees Paul Clifton(Stanley Baker)get a crew together to help him rob a Royal Mail train. Clifton has thought every possibility through, and is leaving nothing to chance. He doesn’t bet on the determined Scotland Yard Detective George Langdon (James Booth). Langdon gets to hear interesting info from some of his informers which alerts him to the fact that a big job is about to go down. Langdon and fellow colleagues set about trying to uncover what the job is, and do their best to capture the criminals.  

Solid performances can be found throughout by some of the best character actors in British film history.

Stanley Baker is excellent as the tough criminal mastermind who you wouldn’t want to mess with. James Booth (Baker’s co-star in the classic war flick Zulu)steals every scene he is in, as the copper determined to get the gang. Barry Foster, Clinton Greyn, Frank Finlay, George Sewell and William Marlowe all impress as members of Clifton’s crew. Joanna Pettet has a small role as Clifton’s stylish wife, she doesn’t get much to do here, but she does make an impression when she is on the screen.

My favourite scenes are the following. The opening car chase. Frank Finlay’s character being rescued from the prison yard. The line up, where the schoolteacher identifies the man who was driving the speeding car. Clifton’s wife asking him why he has a gun. The train robbery sequence. The discussion at the football match. I also really love the opening title sequence, where the names and credits go backwards, giving us the impression that the train is passing them by.

This is a realistic and thrilling crime film inspired by a incredible true story. I’d also like to say that fans of vintage British cars will be in for a real treat, this film is full of old cars that are sure to bring back happy memories for car lovers.

I highly recommend you see this one on Blu-Ray to see it looking at its best. The Network Blu-Ray release also has lots of very good extras to enjoy, including an interesting interview with Stanley Baker.

Any other fans of this film? Please leave your comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

British Cinema, Second World War

Went The Day Well? (1942)

Quite simply this is one of the best films ever made at Ealing Studios. This film was a rare none comic film from this studio which was best known for its comic output. The film looks at how we act under pressure and threat. It also shows us that we can all make a difference in such circumstances.

For a film from the 40’s, Went The Day Well? contains some extremely graphic and dark scenes. If you’re after a war film that doesn’t shy away from its grim realities, this is one for you to seek out.

The following are just a few of the dark and grim scenes in the film. There’s the scene where a woman murders a German soldier, and in turn she is murdered by his colleague. The scene where members of the home guard are gunned down on the road. The scene where a woman is slapped for not obeying instructions. There is also the scene where the Vicar is shot to death in his church.

One of the most shocking (and for me the most unforgettable)scenes comes near the end of the film. A live grenade is thrown into a room full of children, an older woman notices it, and without a moments hesitation she grabs it and runs from the room with it, only to be blown up.

The body count in this film is very high. Both British and German characters are killed throughout, leading to the battle for the village in the films final minutes. Uplifting WW2 morale this film sure isn’t!

 

The film is based on a story by Graham Greene. I’d say that the film no doubt served as a reminder to British people at the time to remain vigilant to the possible invasion of the enemy.

Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Went The Day Well? tells the story of a group of German paratroopers who seize control of the British village of Bramley End. Some of the villagers make an heroic stand against the soldiers, and they try and get word to neighbouring communities of the arrival of the Germans.

Unbeknown to the villagers one of their own is a German sleeper agent. Leslie Banks plays the double crossing Oliver Wilsford with relish. Wilsford is despicable having no qualms about happily ending the lives of people he has lived amongst for years.

As well as a superb story to keep you on the edge of your seat, this film  also has a cracking cast to enjoy.

Marie Loher is excellent as the heroic Mrs. Fraser.

C.V France is perfect casting as the steadfast Vicar, a man willing to risk his own life instead of bowing beneath the jackboot.

Valerie Taylor is Nora, the Vicar’s gentle daughter who will do the unthinkable and resort to violence.

Harry Fowler is George, a young boy who will risk his own life to alert neighbours to the invasion.

A very young Thora Hird is memorable as Ivy. She is shown happily dispatching Germans off with her shotgun.

Muriel George is Mrs. Collins, the brave postmistress who gives a side order of hatchet with her sausages and mash.

A young David Farrar impresses as an ice cold German soldier casually threatening to kill the village children.

The film interestingly depicts everyone in this community working together for the greater good. Whether they be rich or poor, old or young, male or female; the villagers come together and work as one to defeat the enemy.

I also like how for most of the film it is the women who come up with plans of escape, or come up with ways of warning the outside(the eggs with a message on for example). The film also offers some very strong female roles, and shows that the women can be just as brave and capable(if not more so)as the men can.

This is one of my favourite war time films, and it is a film that I consider to be one of the best British films ever made. I also wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this film influenced The Eagle Has Landed.

Highly recommended if you’ve never seen it. If you have, please leave your thoughts below.

 

British Cinema, Romance, Unsung Classics

Unsung Classics 2: The Passionate Friends(1949)

 

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Mary and Steven in Switzerland. Screenshot by me.

Continuing on with the unsung series. Today I’m focusing on this British romantic drama, starring Trevor Howard, Claude Rains and Ann Todd. I find it so hard to choose just one film as my all time favourite, but if I had to choose just one, I really do think this film might well be it.

If you think that H.G Wells only wrote science fiction,  then you really need to think again. In 1913, his novel about adultery, called The Passionate Friends was published.

This film written by Eric Ambler and directed by David Lean is based upon Wells’s novel(I’ve never read the novel, but from the write up I’ve found online, I think I’d be better off sticking with the screen adaptation as the original story doesn’t actually sound like my cup of tea. I may check it out at some point if I ever come across it.)

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Ann Todd as Mary. Screenshot by me.

Mary Justin(Ann Todd)is married to Howard Justin(Claude Rains), a much older man who is very wealthy. At a New Years Eve party Mary runs into her former lover Steven Stratton(Trevor Howard)and discovers that she still has feelings for him. The pair strike up a friendship but neither can deny their romantic attraction.

Howard discovers their affair and he puts an end to it, or at least he thinks he does. Nine years later in a Swiss hotel, Mary and Steven meet again and once again can’t deny their feelings. Mary has to choose which man she will stay with.

 

Not only is Mary torn between two different men, but she must also choose between two different types of love, the physical and the emotional. Steven is passionate, tender and expressive; whereas Howard is more reserved, gentle, and very set in his ways. Both men love her very much, but with which man (and type of love) does she find herself happiest?

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Trevor Howard as Steven. Screenshot by me.

In many ways this film mirrors Lean’s earlier classic Brief Encounter. You could almost view this film as the sequel to that, with Howard appearing in both(and as a doctor in both), the dull but loving husband, and a woman torn between one life and another. Both films even contain a scene at a train station where a main character contemplates suicide. Both of these sequences contain a shot of a bright light glow on the face of the actor. 

Ann Todd is superb as the young woman struggling against her own feelings and not really wanting to hurt either of these men, but knowing whichever choice she makes will end up hurting one of them. Todd was married to David Lean and appeared in several of his films, she is an actress who deserved many more film roles.

She is a very expressive actress and in this film she doesn’t need words in most scenes as her face tells us all we need to know(particularly during the tube station finale.)

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Claude Rains as Justin. Screenshot by me.

This features my favourite Claude Rains performance, as the man who knows what is going on under his nose, doesn’t like it but no matter what can’t give up the woman he loves. He makes us really feel for Justin and makes him likeable, which makes the situation even more poignant all round. I especially love him in the scene where he confronts Mary and Steven and they realise he knows about them; Claude owns that scene and makes it quite funny.

 

Howard is very good as the outgoing, earnest younger man, who is desperately trying to start again with the woman he loves. I love him in the scene where Steven and Howard have a confrontation at Howard’s home, and in the scenes in the Switzerland.

There is some gorgeous and interesting photography in this and beautiful scenes of the Swiss lakes and mountains.

My favourite scenes are the following. The New Year’s Eve party.  Justin’s outburst at Mary, which then leads us to the unforgettable finale. The entire sequence in Switzerland.

The ending isn’t one you forget in a hurry and it is very moving and suspenseful. This is a film that deserves a great deal more attention. Highly recommended. If you happen to be a fan of this one, please do share your thoughts.

 

British Cinema, Romance

Brief Encounter (1945)

 

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Alec takes the grit from Laura’s eye. Screenshot by me.

Brief Encounter is an intimate romantic drama focusing on two married people who are torn between following their desires and not wanting to hurt their spouses. It is a film that has long held a special place in my heart.

 I love that these two characters have an inner decency which makes them not fully give in to their feelings, however much they actually want to be able to do so.

Brief Encounter has been imitated many times since: Falling In Love, The 7.39(TV), and even a direct remake starring Richard Burton and Sophia Loren. Although all enjoyable films none of these will ever come close to this original version in my opinion.

Laura(Celia Johnson)and Alec(Trevor Howard)meet at a railway station, and they keep running in to one another in the days that follow. A friendship develops which soon becomes something more. The catch is both are married to someone else, and neither wants to hurt their spouse. Neither can deny their growing feelings though and they will both have to decide whether to begin a relationship or not.

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Alec and Laura enjoy a happy moment. Screenshot by me.

We feel for Laura and Alec so much and because they resist their growing feelings this makes them even more sympathetic because they can’t deny the attraction, but they will not just go straight ahead and act on it either. If they had fell into each others arms and ran off together, then I highly doubt that this film would be getting discussed so much today.

It is the realism and bittersweet quality of the film which has made it a classic in my opinion. If this had been made in Hollywood, I don’t doubt that there would have been a happy and very romantic ending. While that ending would certainly have pleased audiences and fed in to the romantic ideal of a happy ending, it just wouldn’t have been realistic. In real life people don’t begin love affairs so easily and such relationships can also be very painful and messy. I also like how the films depiction of Laura and Alec’s meetings and growing feelings never feels contrived; their meetings and developing bond throughout the film feels real and believable.

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Celia Johnson as Laura. Screenshot by me.

Brief Encounter is directed by David Lean and it is based upon Noel Coward’s stage play, Still Life(which was set entirely in a railway waiting room). Lean decided to expand the action beyond the train station, and in the process he gives us glimpses of Laura’s home life with her loving and slightly dull husband (Cyril Raymond), and also shows us meetings in town between Alec and Laura.

In many scenes this film could almost be seen as a Silent film. There are many moments where the camera is close in on Celia’s face and we hear her characters thoughts, fantasies, desires in a narration; while all this is going on Celia has to also express what we hear through her expressions, and she does so expertly.

There is also another prominent couple in this film, Albert (Stanley Holloway) and Myrtle(Joyce Carey)the station master and station café manager; they enjoy an open, flirtatious relationship, whilst never seeming to ever become a couple (like Alec and Laura). These scenes also serve as some comic relief in an otherwise serious and emotional story. Margaret Barton is also good as the young café assistant(I believe she is now the only surviving cast member.)

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Alec and Laura discuss their growing feelings. Screenshot by me.

My heart breaks for Alec and Laura every time I watch this. It is obvious that they would be good for one another, and it seems to us that they genuinely do care for each other. I admire their moral strength though in not giving in to their hearts desire, that only makes me like them and pity them more. 

Can you imagine how hard it must be to give up what you want most, and just walk away and carry on as normal? That takes some real strength and determination, not everyone can be so strong in life.

The use of Rachmaninov’s music was an inspired choice I think. Today that music and this film are inseparable in many peoples minds. The music fits the film perfectly.

My favourite scenes are the following. Their cinema visits. The scene in the flat. Laura’s fantasy in the train window. The first(and as it turns out) final scene in the café and the “you know what’s happened, don’t you?” scene.

I love this scene for the story and performances, but I also enjoy watching to see a bygone era. This is the England of steam trains and to our modern view some extremely cheap prices for everything, from food to cinema tickets.

A bittersweet love story that stays with you long after the film has finished. I have no doubt that this film will continue to be effective for audiences for as long as film survives. I think that is a testament to the abilities of Lean, and also to all the cast and crew who worked on this film.

Please share your thoughts on this timeless love story. Never seen it? Get a copy of this and enjoy this deeply moving film. Be sure to see it on Blu-ray to catch it looking at its best.

British Cinema, Horror

The Innocents (1961)

For me this is the greatest British horror film. Whenever I think of haunted houses, or of ghosts wandering about amongst the living, this is the film which first springs to my mind. 

This film has such a spooky and unnerving atmosphere about it. The cinematography and lighting add a great deal perfectly creating an unsettling and eerie look to every scene. The period set design is the icing on this horror cake because it really looks like a real home of the period.

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Miss Giddens goes in search of ghosts. Screenshot by me.

I happen to think that spooky old houses are really the best locations to set horror stories in. Think about it for a second. You have creaking floorboards, very old houses, flickering candles and plenty of dark corners; add the possibilities of spirits messing with you and you have got yourself one very creepy situation indeed. 

The Innocents is based upon the Henry James novel, The Turn of the Screw. It is a very creepy, and claustrophobic film. I think that it makes for perfect viewing on a dark night, or on a dark and stormy afternoon.

The film is directed by Jack Clayton, it has photography by Freddie Francis, a screenplay by William Archibald and Truman Capote, and has some truly eerie and atmospheric music by Georges Auric.

From the very beginning this film intrigues the viewer and is highly unsettling. The opening film logos and credits are accompanied by an eerie song that sounds like its straight out of the Victorian era. Birds can be heard chirping on the soundtrack and we also hear the whimpers of a woman.

We then see a distraught woman (who we later learn to be Miss Giddens), her hands clasped together in prayer. We see she is deeply distressed but we have no idea why or what is going on. I think this is such a good way to open the film as it sets up the tone and atmosphere of the film right away,  and it also really makes you wonder about what you are seeing.

The young and much repressed Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr)becomes the new governess to adorable siblings Flora and Miles (Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens). As time goes on she begins to suspect that the two children are being possessed by the souls of two dead former servants Quint and Miss Jessel(Peter Wyngarde and Clytie Jessop.)

Miss Giddens notices that the siblings behave very oddly and seem to be aware of things that nobody else is aware of. Miles acts very much like an adult in the way he speaks and behaves. There is just something not right about him at all and he acts in a very creepy manner.

For one so young, Martin Stephens very adeptly conveys a wisdom and worldliness way beyond his years, and he does so in a very unsettling way indeed. In my opinion Martin delivers the most unsettling child performances in film history (the little boy from the original Omen film comes in a close second). Martin is especially excellent in the scenes where Miles talks to Miss Giddens in the way a man who was her lover would do, these scenes are very strange and he makes you believe he is possessed by an older man. Weird stuff.

                                  Creepy siblings Miles and Flora. Screenshot by me.

Miles and Flora seem to be almost telepathically linked. The siblings seem to communicate with one another through a series of glances and expressions which convey to us that there are secrets between them known only to them. Their weird behaviour only adds even more creepiness to the proceedings. Miss Giddens then begins to see ghosts around the house. Or does she?

It is precisely this ambiguity regarding the ghosts that makes this film so effective I believe. You can view the occurrences in the film in two ways – either Miss Giddens really does see the ghosts, and the children really are possessed or else Miss Giddens is suffering a mental breakdown and is imaging the whole thing. Either scenario is terrifying and whichever you believe(I actually believe that it is a combination of both)is scary and makes the ending shocking and sad.

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The ghost in the lake. Screenshot by me.

Personally I think that the children were corrupted by the things they saw Quint and Miss Jessel do together, so what they witnessed has affected their behaviour.

Quint and Miss Jessel were also the only companions the children had ever known, so they now try and imitate these adults even after their death. In a way their imitation of the deceased means that they are bringing these people back to life, isn’t this another form of possession?

Miss Giddens hears about the dead servants and begins to fear them and their supernatural influence. She then begins to see them.

I think she really does see these horrors, but whether they are actually real ghosts or just her fears manifesting I wouldn’t like to say, to her though they are certainly real apparitions.

This is the type of horror film I like best. It is one where you’re not sure if you just glimpsed something in the corner of your eye, or if something just brushed past a character causing a candle to flicker. I much prefer psychological horror to gore and this film certainly makes you think and it is one that really creeps me out every time I watch it.

I think that Deborah gives one of the very best performances of her entire career here. She captures this woman’s growing fear and paranoia. She starts off portraying her as an eager, shy and happy woman. By the end of the film we see her as a broken, terrified and extremely unstable woman.

I think it is a real shame that Deborah never again got another role like this. She does such a terrific job of conveying Miss Giddens growing fear and obsessions. As the film goes on she looks more and more paranoid, worn out, ill and nervous.

The children are excellent and deliver performances far beyond what most child actors could deliver. The fact that they manage to be creepy, unsettling and adorable all at the same time says a great deal about their acting abilities.

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Megs Jenkins as the housekeeper who doesn’t understand what is going on. Screenshot by me.

Megs Jenkins is very good as the kindly housekeeper who adores the children. Megs conveys her characters great difficulty in believing any of what Miss Giddens says, but also being powerless to undermine her and her authority within the house. 

Beautiful costumes, a stunning garden location (Sheffield Park Gardens)and a gothic atmosphere all combine together to make The Innocents a must see horror film.

My favourite scenes the following. The ghost of the lady appearing in the middle of the lake. Miss Giddens first walk around the beautiful gardens. The conversation between Miss Giddens and Miles, where she becomes convinced that he is possessed. The scene where Miss Giddens walks around the corridors with a candle hearing laughter. Quint’s appearance in the windows.

Are you a fan of this film? Please leave your thoughts below.