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. 

 

 

   

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Blogathons, British Cinema, Drama, Films I Love

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

free-for-all-blogathon-banner

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.   

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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 him 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 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.  

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Jackson and Barbara share an intimate moment by the lake. Screenshot by me.

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 great 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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Rose takes a break from housework. 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)

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.

 

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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, 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. 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.

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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, 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!

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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

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?