Skip to main content

The food will be good. And the prospects... unlimited.


The League of Gentlemen
(1960)

Mercifully, this is far from Extraordinary. Jack Hawkins (Colonel Hyde) assembles a gang of ex-army criminals to rob a bank (which, when it eventually occurs, is impressively-staged and convincingly speedy), taking in an army supplies base along the way.  The real pleasure is in the character interactions and casting, so the early stages are probably the most enjoyable part of the film (Hawkins putting each member in their place as they enjoy a hearty meal at his expense is a highlight).

Besides Hawkins, the standout turn comes from Nigel Patrick as the louche Major Race (continually referring to Hawkins as "Old darling"). The team also comprises Sir Dickie Attenborough (amusingly cast as a wide-boy lieutenant, following on from Private's Progress no doubt), Terence Alexander and Bryan Forbes (who wrote the screenplay and whose missus Nanette Newman, unsurprisingly, pops up in the bath). Hawkins apparently underwent cancer treatment during filming, and his voice certainly doesn't sound its best at points.

The aspect of the film I found most surprisingly is its frankness over sexual matters; Newman's character is upfront over her infidelities and disinterest in her husband ("You've had your porridge this week"), and on catching her with another man Alexander turns and leaves after paying him some money for his trouble. Captain Stevens (Kieron Moore) works as a masseur and a blackmailer references all the young men coming to his flat (It takes "all sorts to make a world"). When Hyde is going through the roll call of the men's indiscretions he notes that Stevens was a follower of Moseley and then was forced out of the army for "catching the odd men out" (appearing to draw an association between repressed homosexuality and fascism). When Attenborough's Lexy is put in the same room as Stevens, the latter comments "Like being back at school", to which Lexy replies, "I sincerely hope not".

Roger Livesey's "Padre" Captain Mycroft was prosecuted for "gross indecency in a public place" (when asked if he has ever attended Billy Graham ministries, he replies "I always went forward"). Race continually makes suggestive remarks ("You'd be surprised where my caravan has rested", "One gets into terrible habits at the YMCA") while Hyde himself has not seen his wife in years, and refers to her as a bitch when glancing at her portrait (in the novel Hyde is explicitly referred to as gay). The portrait is of Deborah Kerr from The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (another Powell link). And then there's an Oliver Reed cameo, mincing his heart out as a performer in Babes in the Wood who gets the wrong room.

Director Basil Dearden made Victim the following year, the premise of which picks up on the plight of Stevens; a gay man being blackmailed over his sexuality. The director had started out on Will Hay features (including The Black Sheep of Whitehall and The Goose Steps Out), Dixon of Dock Green inspiration The Blue Lamp and, just prior to this, race relations picture Sapphire. He would continue to do interesting work over the next decade, until his premature death in a car accident in 1971 aged 60.

If the crime doesn't pay ending is a predictable consequence of the era in which it was made, the ease with which this transpires is a disappointment. I suppose you could suggest that, because the operation is timed with such military precession, it's appropriate that it should go awry due such a minor detail. But I hoped for something a little more worthy and intricate to mirror all the effort put in.

Still, it's interesting that issues of class and rank are firmly supplanted by solidarity in the final shot. Hyde exerts a level of discipline among the ranks that suggests he cannot help playing at soldiers (it's the only life he knows) but he is adamant that everyone gets an equal share, as it's the only way to ensure loyalty. His greatest concern is betrayal so it's also his greatest relief (beyond even getting clean away) when this doesn't transpire. Even the mock company bears the signs of a socialist ethic ("Co-operative Removals Limited").

Besides Livesey, another Michael Powell veteran appears in at the film's climax. Robert Coote nearly steals the show as a silly old duffer and ex-army man who shows up at Hyde's door at an inopportune moment. He proceeds to get progressively more plastered and raucous for the next five minutes.

Cary Grant was offered the lead, and it was apparently written with him in mind, but it’s hard to imagine it not transforming into a much less intriguing movie if he had starred. As it is, it really feels that it is poised on the cusp between the ‘50s and the ‘60s. With Grant’s involvement it would surely have been firmly positioned in an era that was gone.

****

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I don’t need to be held together, I’m fine just floating through space like Andy.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (2017)
Or, to give it its full subtitle, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – The Story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton. Carrey’s in a contradictory place just now, on the one hand espousing his commitment to a spiritual path and enlightened/ing state, on the other being sued in respect of his ex-girlfriend’s suicide and accompanying allegations regarding his behaviour. That behaviour – in a professional context – and his place of consciousness are the focus of Jim & Andy, and an oft-repeated mantra (great for motivational speeches) that “I learned that you can fail at what you don’t love, so you may as well do what you love. There’s really no choice to be made”. The results are consequently necessarily contradictory, but always fascinating.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

No, by the sky demon! I say no!

Doctor Who The Pirate Planet
I doubt Pennant Roberts, popular as he undoubtedly was with the cast, was anyone’s idea of a great Doctor Who director. Introduced to the show by Philip Hinchliffe – a rare less-than-sterling move – he made a classic story on paper (The Face of Evil) just pretty good, and proceeded to translate Robert Holmes’ satirical The Sun Makers merely functionally. When he returned to the show during the ‘80s, he was responsible for two entirely notorious productions, in qualitative terms. But The Pirate Planet is the story where his slipshod, rickety, make-do approach actually works… most of the time (look at the surviving footage of Shada, where there are long passages of straight narrative, and it’s evident Roberts wasn’t such a good fit). Douglas Adams script is so packed, both with plot and humour, that its energy is inbuilt; there’s no need to rely on a craftsman to imbue tension or pace. There is a caveat, of course: if your idea of Doctor Who requires a straig…

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

This place sure isn’t like that one in Austria.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Brawl in Cell Block 99 is most definitely cut from the same cloth as writer-director-co-composer Craig S Zahler’s previous flick Bone Tomahawk: an inexorable, slow-burn suspenser that works equally well as a character drama. That is, when it isn’t revelling in sporadic bursts of ultraviolence, including a finale in a close-quartered pit of hell. If there’s nothing quite as repellent as that scene in Bone Tomahawk, it’s never less than evident that this self-professedchild of Fangoria” loves his grue. He also appears to have a predilection for, to use his own phraseology, less politically correct content.

We’re not in a prophecy… We’re in a stolen Toyota Corolla.

Bright (2017)
(SPOILERS) Is Bright shite? The lion’s share of the critics would have you believe so, including a quick-on-the-trigger Variety, which gave it one of the few good reviews but then pronounced it DOA in order to announce their intention for Will Smith to run for the Oval Office (I’m sure he’ll take it under advisement). I don’t really see how the movie can’t end up as a “success”; most people who have Netflix will at least be curious about an all-new $90m movie with a (waning, but only because he’s keeps making bad choices) major box office star. As to whether it’s any good, Bright’s about on a level with most of director David Ayer’s movies, in that it’s fast, flashy and fitfully entertaining, but also very muddled, mixed-up and, no matter how much cash is thrown at it, still resembles the kind of thing that usually ends up straight to video (making Netflix his ideal home).

This is how we do action in Uganda.

Who Killed Captain Alex? (2010)
Uganda’s first action movie”, Who Killed Captain Alex? is a cheerfully ultra-low budget, wholly amateur picture made by Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey. It’s the kind of thing you and your mates would make and (rightly) expect no one else to ever watch (aside from a few hundred hits on YouTube). But stick a frequently hilarious running commentary over the top from VJ (video joker) Emme, and it this home-ish move takes on something approaching the spoofy quality of What’s Up Tiger Lilly?

Nothing in the world can stop me now!

This is not going to go the way you think!

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
(SPOILERS) The most interesting aspect of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, particularly given the iron fist Lucasfilm has wielded over the spinoffs, is how long a leash Rian Johnson has been granted to tear apart the phonier, Original Trilogy-lite aspects of The Force Awakens. The resulting problem is that the areas where he’s evidently inspired are very good (almost anything Force related, basically), but there are consequently substantial subplots that simply don’t work, required as they are to pay lip service to characters or elements he feels have nowhere to go. The positives undoubtedly tip the balance significantly in The Last Jedi’s favour, but they also mean it hasn’t a hope of attaining the all-round status of IV and V (still the out-of-reach grail for the franchise, quality-wise). Which is a shame, as thematically, this has far more going on, handled with far greater acumen, than anything in the interim.