Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from September, 2020

All you’re interested in is having fun with windmills and hotel bathroooms.

Foreign Correspondent (1940)
(SPOILERS) There are two basic problems with Foreign Correspondent, conspiring to make what could have been a top-flight Hitchcock only second rank. The first is the vague and unconvincing MacGuffin, not simple and graspable enough to put one’s faith in and roll with and thus making the narrative rather obviously deficient between set pieces. The second is Joel McCrea’s lead. McCrea’s likeable enough, and would pair effectively with Preston Sturges a couple of years later, but he manages to inject little sense of urgency into the proceedings. Indeed, during the second half, you’d be forgiven for mistaking a much smoother, more confident, upwardly motivated and action-orientated supporting player for the main protagonist.

He was constipated with pulp, and now it was coming out, all over me.

Pulp (1972)
(SPOILERS) Pulp has undergone something of a reassessment since its initial release, to a resoundingly underwhelmed response from audiences and critics alike. Some have even suggested it’s on a par with Get Carter, Mike Hodges and Michael Caine’s classic collaboration from the previous year. This is very much wishful thinking. Pulp isn’t a bad movie by any means, but it’s a pastiche doodle of detective fiction, never quite as clever or spry as it thinks it is, so leaving the viewer shrugging at it as much as Caine’s protagonist Mickey King does throughout when confronted by a succession of oddball – but never truly outrageous – incidents.

I’m going to sit in the car and whistle Rule Britannia.

Get Carter (1971)
(SPOILERS) Inspiration to a generation of pretenders, the likes of the Ritchies and Vaughns. It’s curious to see Get Carter’s Wiki-page suggesting its reappraisal as a classic was down to the likes of of these two and Tarantino, as I recall it being held in esteem before that. I think the real distinction comes in the shift in its reception; before their input, it was regarded as respectable but nasty, and the latter took the most emphasis. After the revellers in nu-gangster violence were through, Get Carter became nasty but cool, the latter taking the most emphasis.

And there is a coolness here, in the stark, grim Newcastle location and the haunting twilight jazz psychedelia of Roy Budd’s (actually very sparsely used, but the soundtrack album is a must) maximum harpsichord score. And Caine, with his 70s overgrowth of hair and three-piece suits, strutting through the milieu and paying deference to anyone. Mostly, the coolness is in Caine’s Carter, unapologetic and unsw…

Doubleplusgood, eh?

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)
(SPOILERS) Basil Radford finally delivered the Orwell adaptation we all deserved. But was it, perhaps, just a little too reverential? It’s no coincidence that Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1984 ½), released the following year, entirely eclipsed Nineteen Eighty-Four while dealing with many of the same themes (albeit taking its swipes more satirically by way of an attack on the suffocating bureaucratic state). Radford’s film deliberately delivers an Orwellian future as seen from the era of the novel’s release, give or take the odd helicopter, and is visually striking in its desaturated lack of glory (courtesy of ace DP Roger Deakins) as well as nigh-on perfect in its casting, but the take away is that it’s all a little dry and sterile.

There’s a solid argument to be made that this is in the nature of the cold, harsh, grim regimentation of the text itself, but I do wonder if Radford, who would go on to be both derided (for White Mischief) and praised (for Il Postino) m…

Nothing is ever hidden from the Thought Police.

1984 (1956)
(SPOILERS) Michael Anderson’s 1984 was released in the same year as his big shot at Oscar glory, Around the World in 80 Days (it won Best Picture, but Anderson, never exactly an auteur, missed out). It’s a close-run thing as to which adaptation is more lightweight. Anderson’s dystopian vision, “freely adapted from the novel by George Orwell” by William Templeton (he also wrote the Studio One teleplay three years earlier) and Ralph Gilbert Bettison, tends to the dreary rather than the terrifying, and its impact is further diminished by a couple of sore thumb leads.

Narration: This is a story of the future – not the future of spaceships and men from other planets – but the immediate future.

Well, Jan Sterling is “okay” as Julia but much too striking to bear any resemblance to her novel counterpart. Edmond O’Brien is particularly unsuitable as Winston Smith, though. Dorian Lynskey comment of the “two badly miscast (and inexplicably American) leads” and in O’ Brien’s case, more th…

Two Minutes Hate can be quite exhausting.

BBC Sunday-Night Theatre: 1984 (1954)
(SPOILERS) The BBC’s relatively quick-off-the-marks adaptation – just not as quick as Studio One in Hollywood’s – of Orwell’s novel roused some vitriolic responses at the time. It’s hailed by many as still the best screen version of 1984. Coming to it soon after a read of Nineteen Eighty-Four, however, I found it generally lacking, despite being buoyed by several strong performances and a diligent approach from Nigel Kneale.

As told by Dorian Lynskey in The Ministry of Truth, this version’s broadcast led to hundreds of viewers complaining to the Beeb about its “unusual amount of sex and violence”, abusive calls to Cushing, death threats to director Rudolph Cartier and the Daily Express headline “A Million NIGHTMARES”. It also saw a huge increase in sales of the novel, a Goon Show parody (Nineteen Eighty-Five) and “reinforced the novel’s political importance” albeit it was commonly misinterpreted as “anti-socialist propaganda”.

Cushing is suitably gaun…

We are the dead, my darling.

Studio One in Hollywood: 1984 (1953)
(SPOILERS) The first screen adaptation of George Orwell’s novel, extremely truncated but hitting the general points. Essentially a televised play, Paul Nickell’s production of 1984 is both rudimentary and perfunctory, while Eddie Albert, if he isn’t quite the hulking misstep that Edmund O’Brien would prove three years later, is an entirely vanilla, lightweight Winston Smith.

Narrator: What happens to the people in this story might happen to us. Might happen to you. if we should ever relax in our fight for freedom. If we should ever allow any individuals or group of individuals to reduce our freedom of thought, our freedom of speech, our freedom of religion, then what happens to these people in this story could happen to us.

William Templeton would be co-credited as writer for the Michael Anderson feature, and the introductory tracts in both cases are very similar. It might seem like idle, regurgitated any-warnings and portents, but in fairness, this is…

Well, I can’t ask ‘em all if they twitches, can I?

Young and Innocent aka The Girl Was Young (1937)
(SPOILERS) An enjoyable enough Hitchcock innocent-man-on-the-run escapade in the vein of his earlier The 39 Steps, but Young and Innocent isn't nearly as notable or consummately engaging. Part of that is down to the ho-hum leads. Partly, it’s down to a less spirited screenplay from Edwin Greenwood (The Man Who Knew Too Much), Charles Bennett (several Hitchs of the period, including The 39 Steps) and Anthony Armstrong, liberally adapting Josephine Brat Farrar Tey’s novel.

Of the leads, one could actually quite easily imagine innocent Derrick De Marney playing a psychopath. And it doesn’t help that his Robert Tisdall appears positively cheerful about being accused during the first half of the movie (even when this is addressed – told his situation isn’t funny, he replies “No, but I can laugh because I am innocent” – it doesn’t really pass muster).

Nova Pilbeam (great name) is better as Erica Burgoyne, at least during the first half, comin…

He’s the quietest, most harmless, home-loving person.

Sabotage aka The Woman Alone (1936)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock adapts Joseph Conrad (The Secret Agent) in another fruitful collaboration with playwright and screenwriter Charles Bennett. The result is shorn of any overt political leanings – Oscar Homolka’s cinema owner is acting for an unknown foreign power with undefined goals – thus making all the more room for the director to crank up Sabotage's suspense of suspicion, concealed identity and, in the shocking centrepiece, whether and where and when a bomb will go off.

Hitch claimed to be dissatisfied with the result, although one might argue he was prepped to be negative by Truffaut’s dislike for the film. Contrarily, Pauline Kael suggested it “may be just about the best of his English thrillers”. It isn’t quite that, for several reasons relating to plot, motivation and character, but neither are its failings necessarily those admitted to by Hitch.

He and Truffaut made a big thing of the (mis) casting of John Loder as heroic detective serg…

Your musical acumen is most impressive.

Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)
(SPOILERS) Bill and Ted’s remissness has led to existence itself hanging in the balance, fiddling while the universe goes to pot. The duo are much like us, basically, ignoring the inexorable inevitable creeping up on them until it seems like it’s too late. It would probably be a stretch to accuse Bill & Ted Face the Music of predictive programming, given its long gestation period. But then again, this is a movie where the saviours of everything turn out to be women rather than irredeemably useless white men. And their lives’ “work” culminates in 2020, after which nothing will be the same again. As one of the few movies actually released in cinemas this year, it can’t help but invite a spotlight on any such elements. Whatever may or may not be the case with Bill and Ted Face the Music and the larger picture, it’s an infectiously uplifting experience. Writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon have lost none of their touch and don’t waste a moment of th…

Doctor, eh? You’re not in the best of shape yourself, though, are you?

Doctor Who  Season 26 – Worst to Best
I’m not a big Seventh Doctor fan. For me, Doctor Who pretty much ended with Season 23 (and not because it was awful: see here). Yes, there have been a few nu-Who reprieves (mostly notably Matt Smith’s first season), but the McCoy era flaunted an abundance of sins, from a lead who wasn’t up to snuff, to a script-editor messaging his social conscience wrapped in a breeze block (or bilge bag), to production values that made any given earlier era look absurdly lavish in comparison. And then there was the “masterplan” (which at least lends Season 24 a rather innocuous and relatively inoffensive quality by contrast).

Nevertheless, on the occasions I do return to the era, I’m always minded to give it a fair shake. And while that resolve inevitably crumbles within minutes, under the duress of cold harsh reality, it has, at times, led to a positive reappraisal (The Happiness Patrol, and, to an extent, perhaps unfathomably, Time and the Rani). So we’ll see ho…