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 40’s.

The film is interesting because Douglas Slocombe shot 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.

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).

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.

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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 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.

Susan Shaw 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.

This was one of Googie Withers best film roles, and sadly it was to be the last film that Googie would make for Ealing. She continued to make films elsewhere though. She and John McCallum fell in love while they made this film and they were married the following year. They moved to Australia in the 1950’s and 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 its 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 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?

 

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

I own this one on Blu-ray and the picture quality is first rate. It’s so sharp and clear and looks very impressive. I’d say that’s the best version of this 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, as none of the 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)

October has now arrived. The nights are getting darker earlier, autumn leaves are falling all around us, and for those film fans amongst us there will be many hours of viewing taken up with watching horror films. I’m hoping to be able (work permitting)to review a few of my favourite spooky films for you.

I’m starting off with a British horror film which offered the horror icon Christopher Lee a rare chance to play the hero on screen. That film is The Devil Rides Out. The film is based upon the novel of the same name by Dennis Wheatley.

Whether or not you believe in the supernatural, I think that it simply can’t 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 you 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 their other films, this one doesn’t rely on blood and shocks to be scary. This film is more intent on slowly building up tension and in making you feel uneasy. This film is one to make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end and it is a horror that I find really messes with your head.

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I love the film for how creepy it is. There are many creepy moments throughout the film with the protective circle sequence being a standout. The sequence where the cult call up the Devil himself is very frightening and 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 like a certain Professor Quatermass received. Lee totally makes you believe this man knows all about good and evil, and that he is also able to understand, challenge, fight and hopefully defeat evil. I for one would have loved to have seen the Duc and his friends fight the forces of evil again in future films. The role of the Duc was also one of Christopher Lee’s personal favourites from amongst his own work.

Lee is an intense presence throughout the film and he makes you (and his companions in the film)feel safe and secure when the Duc is around. 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 suave Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee) is very concerned about his 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.  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. They 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.

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

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

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 she does a fantastic job of portraying the fragile and easily manipulated Tanith. This character is very vulnerable and she makes you feel 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 Lawson is that she looks a bit old to be playing 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? 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? If you’ve ever read the novel (which I have yet to do)how does  it compare with the 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.

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.

Photo0167The 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.

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.

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, and 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 Schools For The Deaf in Manchester (now called The Seashell Trust).

The film features strong performances from all in the cast, and it is a beautiful film showing people that there is hope out there during tough times.

 

Photo0154The 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.

The film also does so much to highlight that people who are deaf are just like the rest of us. If taught and helped properly, they can communicate, cope and live perfectly normal lives. At the time of the films release, illness and disability still had much 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.

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. Mandy has one slight difference though, she was born deaf.

Mandy’s parents Christine and Harry(Phyllis Calvert and Terence Morgan)raise her at home. Because she can’t speak to them, she is mute and can’t communicate with her family or anyone else, as she has no concept of language. As she gets older, she 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 learn how to communicate in a hearing world. The growing friendship between Christine and Searle, that so easily could have developed into a romance, is touching and well conveyed by Hawkins and Calvert.

The film also does a good job of showing the strain that can 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. Dealing with her condition and with her going away to school places a strain on the marriage.  

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

Jack Hawkins is excellent as the gruff teacher who doesn’t act in a conventional way. He 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, 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, severely injured the trains driver, Jack Mills by hitting him with a metal bar, and 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 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 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.

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.

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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, Tributes To Classic Stars

Your Favourite Vivien Leigh Film Performances?

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Vivien has long been a favourite of mine. Much more than simply being enchanting, delicate and beautiful; Vivien could make your heart break for her characters one moment and get you cheering for them in the next. On screen she could be fragile, gentle, strong and fearless, and whatever she appeared in she always stole each and every scene she was in.

Despite her incredible acting talent, Vivien actually only ever starred in 20 films. She also enjoyed huge success in the theatre, and she was one of the most acclaimed actresses of the British theatre. I only wish she had starred in more films.

Which of Vivien’s performances/films are your favourites? I love the following the most.

1- Waterloo Bridge (1940) This tale of love and tragedy is set in London during WW1. Vivien plays a young ballerina who falls in love with a British officer (Robert Taylor), only to descend into heartbreak and poverty when she receives tragic news. There is a twist that will have you sobbing. A beautiful and moving love story. Vivien makes your heart break for this woman, and we are all left wanting the best for her. I like how Vivien makes you feel how torn up is she is in her mind, wrestling with her conscience about the choice she has made.

2- Gone With The Wind (1939) This is the first film of Vivien’s that I ever saw. I have been a fan ever since I first saw her performance here as the defiant Southern belle. As the flirtatious and defiant Scarlett, Vivien is a force to be reckoned with. As she falls in love and lives through the American civil war, Scarlett earns our admiration for her courage and strength in the face of extremely trying times.

3- That Hamilton Woman (1941) Vivien is excellent here, as the real life Emma Hamilton, the outgoing mistress of the heroic Lord Nelson. This film focuses on their famous affair, and it sees Vivien acting alongside her husband Laurence Olivier.  This is one of my favourite romance films and it is one I wish had been longer (although I’m very happy with what we got.)

I think Vivien gave her best performance as the fragile, and quite delusional Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire. I think she truly deserved her Oscar for that one.

I’d love to hear from you. What are your favourite Vivien Leigh films?

British Cinema, True Story

A Night To Remember (1958)

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On this day, in April 1912, the White Star Line passenger ship R.M.S Titanic hit an iceberg in the middle of the North Atlantic. In just a couple of hours this luxurious ship on her maiden voyage had sunk. 1523 passengers and crew perished in the freezing sea that night. There were only 705 survivors.

In the years following this disaster there have been many other shipping disasters, but even now, over 100 years later, the Titanic disaster is still the most famous of them all. Why is that?

I would say it’s due to several things. The ship was on her maiden voyage. The Titanic had been marketed as being unsinkable, and was the biggest and most luxurious ship afloat at the time; this disaster was unthinkable really because of all of that.

So many of the men aboard bravely went to their deaths after giving women their place aboard the lifeboats. There were also several moving stories such as the band playing as the ship sank from under them, trying desperately to calm frightened passengers with music. Mr and Mrs Strauss choosing to die together rather than be parted etc.

There were too few lifeboats aboard to save everyone. The ones that were aboard were not filled to capacity. This is one of the most shocking parts of the whole disaster for me.

Roy Ward Baker’s 1958 film is based on Walter Lord’s non-fiction novel about the sinking. Lord spoke to Titanic survivors at length, and he published their accounts in his 1955 novel A Night To Remember.

For me Baker’s film is the best screen depiction out there about this disaster. It accurately captures the behaviour of people on the night, and details the horrors of the sinking. James Cameron’s 1997 film was pretty accurate in terms of recreating the ships opulent interiors more so than this film, but Baker’s film makes us feel like we are there on that cold April night. It does a great job of capturing how frightening and chaotic the sinking was.

Interestingly the film depicts the ship as going down in one piece. Several witnesses claimed this was what happened. When Robert Ballard found the Titanic wreck in 1985, the ship was on the seabed in two pieces.  We’ll never know for sure if it broke above the surface or when it hit the seabed, we only know that is in two pieces now. For anyone who believes it broke apart above the surface, try and remember that this film was made before the wreck was discovered and was based on witness testimony.

A Night To Remember focuses on the experiences of several passengers and crew. We follow the ship from her launch in Southampton, out to France and Ireland, and then out into the Atlantic on to New York.

The character we follow the most in this is Second Officer Charles Lightoller(Kenneth More). This is one of my favourite films featuring More, and he is excellent as the proud and heroic officer trying to save lives and keep panic from spreading as the boats are lowered. For the first half of the film More is really just in a supporting role, as the film goes on he becomes the main focus.

There is an incredible cast of British talent in this. Standout performances for me are Kenneth More, Michael Goodliffe(as ships builder Thomas Andrews) , Anthony Bushell (as Captain Rostron, the Captain of the rescue ship The Carpathia),Ralph Michael(as Mr. Yates, a gambler) , Kenneth Griffith (as wireless operator John Phillips)and Laurence Naismith(as Captain Smith).

A young David McCallum has a supporting role playing wireless operator Harold Bride. James Bond fans should keep their eyes peeled for Desmond Llewelyn(Q)as a steward in the steerage section.

I think Goodliffe gives the best performance as the devastated Mr. Andrews. In the scene where Andrews calmly awaits his fate, Goodliffe has this haunting look on his face that makes you realise that Andrews has mentally removed himself from the current situation(he is there in body, but in mind he has long gone.)Anyone else catch that he is staring at a painting entitled Approach To The New World? In his situation that title could be seen to refer to the possibility that an afterlife may await him next.  Goodliffe is a much underrated actor, and I think A Night To Remember is his finest screen hour.

Several scenes in this always make me cry every time I watch. The passengers at the stern as the ship sinks who start praying in different languages. The old steward finding the little boy and realising they are most likely going to die(as the ship sinks he hugs the boy and says “we’ll find mummy, we’ll soon find her”). Mr. Andrews persuading the young honeymoon couple to get to a lifeboat or jump overboard. The band playing on as the ship sinks.  Mr. Andrews pleading with a young stewardess to put on a lifejacket. Mrs Strauss refusing to leave her husband and get into a boat.

One of the saddest scenes focuses on a first class couple (Honor Blackman and John Merivale)saying goodbye as she gets into a lifeboat with their children; the father (having had the truth of the situation from Mr. Andrews)knows he is more than likely never going to see his beloved family ever again. I love the look on Merivale’s face as he plays that scene, you know he is scared and brokenhearted.

A powerful depiction of courage and tragedy. This film is my favourite of all the films out there about this disaster, and it has many moments that I have found hard to forget, such as the young couple killed by the falling funnel, Andrews preparing himself to die, Ismay(Frank Lawton) breaking down in the lifeboat after the ship has sunk, the baker getting drunk to try and protect himself from the effects of the cold water, and the passengers at the stern praying and screaming.

My favourite scenes are the following. The steerage passengers playing football with the chunks of ice from the iceberg than landed on deck. Ismay in the dining room demonstrating how steady and secure the ship is, only for a woman to knock the table and shake everything.  Lightoller trying to persuade the gambler to join him on top of the collapsible boat, only for him to swim off. Andrews speech to the young honeymoon couple. Molly Brown(Tucker McGuire) in the lifeboat saying “you get fresh with me son, and I’ll throw you overboard!”. The Titanic leaving Southampton. The passengers praying on the stern. Mr.Yates passing a young woman getting into a lifeboat a letter from him for her to mail to his sister. Murdoch’s(Richard Leech) accusatory look to Ismay when Murdoch sees him sitting in a lifeboat.

An excellent film filled with many excellent performances. I highly recommend seeing the Blu-ray version of this, the picture is so clear that it looks as though it had been made today.

I think it’s a testament to Roy Ward Baker that his film about this disaster is the one that I return to again and again. I do like Cameron’s film, but Baker’s version got me interested in the real disaster itself and his version has a more realistic look to it. I highly recommend seeing both films though.

R.I.P to all the Titanic victims.

Any other fans? If you’ve never seen it I highly recommend it.

 

British Cinema, Second World War

Went The Day Well? (1942)

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Quite simply, this is one of the best films ever made at Ealing Studios. This film was a rare none comic film from a studio that 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. For instance, 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, 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.

The film is based on a story by Graham Greene. 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.

This film has a cracking cast to enjoy.

Marie Loher is excellent as the heroic Mrs. Fraser.

C.V France is excellent as the steadfast Vicar, 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 of warning the outside(the eggs with a message on for example). The film also offers some very strong female roles, and shows the women to be just as brave and capable(if not more so)as the men.

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

The Edge Of The World (1937)My first viewing of this early Powell film.

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This is a film I have wanted to see for quite a while. I saw it was available on Blu-ray, so I bought it to add to the ever growing film collection. I’m very glad to have this one.

In the 1930’s, the island of St Kilda(in the Hebrides)was evacuated, this followed years of poor crops, illness and mass emigration by many residents. Generations of a community that had lived away from the mainland of Scotland came to an end. The island is now the property of the National Trust.

British director, Michael Powell heard of this story and was fascinated by it. He was inspired to make a film about island life and to look at the struggle of surviving in harsh weather.

Teaming with American producer Joe Rock, Powell set out to try and get permission to film on St Kilda. Sadly permission was refused, but the islanders of Foula(a small island in the Shetlands)welcomed Powell and his crew with open arms. Many of the islanders appeared in the film and the island itself is still inhabited today.

As an extra on the Blu-ray, there is a documentary from the late 70’s, featuring Powell and lead star, John Laurie returning to Foula and meeting islanders they befriended and their families. I loved watching this and it was a treat to see Foula in colour(the film is in black and white.)

The film opens with Andrew Gray(Niall MacGinnis)taking a young couple(Michael Powell and Powell’s then wife, Frankie)to the now uninhabited island of Hirta. As he takes them ashore we find out he used to live their years ago, and in flashback we see what life was like back then and what led to the island being evacuated.

We see that islanders were torn apart as to whether they should remain despite failing crops and a lot of their young people leaving by choice for the mainland; or whether they should stay on the bit of land they know as home and make a go of it.

Andrew was for staying. His best friend Robbie Manson(Eric Berry)wanted to leave and Andrew’s fiancé(and Robbie’s twin sister) Ruth(Belle Chrystall)wanted to stay.

Personal tragedy makes Andrew change his mind and leave.

This film proves why filming on location can be an asset for a film or series. The photography and locations are beautiful, and the real island makes a real impact, with it’s towering cliffs, coves and windswept hills. The island becomes as much a character in the film as the actors do.

I really enjoyed this one, but I do have a couple of issues with it. Firstly I feel this is far too short, it clocks in at just over 1hr 14mins.

I think we could have done with more character development. I didn’t find myself caring too much about the central trios arguments and damaged relationships, because I hadn’t seen their relationship grow. I think Powell should have filmed some childhood sequences where we see why this trio are so close and then move onto the scenes that begin Andrew’s flashback at the beginning.

I also think that besides John Laurie(superb as the gruff Peter Manson, the leader of those wanting to remain)not many of the cast members get their chance to shine. Peter, Andrew and Ruth are the only characters who get much development and that is a real shame. I would have liked to have seen more of Finlay Currie in particular as Andrew’s dad, James Gray.

Those complaints aside, I really enjoyed this film very much. It’s very moving in places and gives you a good glimpse into an isolated communities way of life. It’s a very good film and being filmed on location adds something extra special to it; you can almost feel the wind blowing your hair and feel the sea spray on your face.

There is a very impressive shot at the beginning, where Andrew literally sees the ghosts of his past walk past him when he arrives on the island. This was very well done and makes quite an impression.

There’s some beautiful music, and an almost documentary look to the film. I was quite impressed with Belle Chrystal, she is an actress who I’ve never heard of before this and I’m going to see if she appeared in anything else.

Well worth a look for fans of Powell. Anyone else seen this?