Gilbert Lennon 17th April 2003 – 2nd August 2019

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The world’s most charming and cine-literate cat died in my arms at 1120 today following a very short illness. Gilbert was the light of my life and accompanied me everywhere, including my travels on the internet to which he was a keen contributor and editor via this diary. I thought of a lot of things but not this. Now he is on the wild road with his brothers and sister. Vaya con Dios, amigo. You are the best of everything and Mondo Movies and I will not be right without you.

King Rat (1965)


Why are you so different? American Corporal King (George Segal) is a fast-talking wheeler-dealer stuck in Changi, a squalid Japanese prisoner of war camp near Singapore, a place so awful there is no need for walls because there is no means of escape and nowhere to go. Mired with some very proper British officers including Flight Lieutenant RAF officer Peter Marlowe (James Fox) whom he employs as a translator, as well as some Australian inmates, he  barters for everything. That includes medicine to save Marlowe’s arm from but it’s not clear why he has done so.  He has a different kind of relationship with the more obviously lower class First Lieutenant Grey (Tom Courtenay) who has contempt for him but no evidence and has his own dilemma when he realises Colonel Jones (Gerald Sim) has been stealing food supplies. He reports the matter to Colonel Smedley-Taylor (John Mills) who advises him to forget about it and assumes his silence is consent to promotion. Meanwhile King is breeding rats and persuading the guards it’s mouse-deer meat. Everyone is in a quandary when a diamond comes into the camp and the issue of who is on the side of the prisoners, the guards or the officers, decides the issue at least temporarily and then King’s own position is called into question … When do I have to kiss thee in the arse? James Clavell was a POW in Malaysia and his 1963 novel was based on his own experiences but for the cinemagoer it would have seemed as if Stalag 17 had been fused The Bridge on the River Kwai with Segal in the Holden role of the cunning spiv who really has a heart of gold (sort of) and Guinness’ treacherous misanthrope undertaken by a combination of British officers too blinkered by class and self-involved to even know when they’re eating a poor soldier’s dog. The various sub-plots, character rivalries and efforts at one-upmanship make this a broader, tougher work delving into the thorny depths of psychology and it’s wonderfully captured by Burnett Guffey’s photography – the very screen seems to be bathed in the sweat of these wretched starving men. The cultural differences are clarified when the war finally ends and Changi is liberated:  the officer asks why all the Brits are in rags and shell shocked while Segal has evidently taken good care of himself. Therein lieth the plot – the individual who rises above his circumstances, rescues people and enables their revenge. Perhaps the Biblical lesson is that no man shall profit in his own land because at the end of the day no good turn goes unpunished. There are nice supporting roles for James Donald, Patrick O’Neal, Denholm Elliott, John Standing, Geoffrey Bayldon and Richard Dawson who turns up at the conclusion. Written and directed by Bryan Forbes whose voice we hear on the radio broadcast while the immersive score is by John Barry.  The war will be over. Then you’ll get yours

Year of the Dragon (1985)

Only one Stanley White. Following the murders of Mafia and Triad leaders in NYC, Polish Captain Stanley White (Mickey Rourke) takes it upon himself to bring down the Chinese organised crime gangs. He’s breaking the long held treaty to permit the Chinese to take care of things in Chinatown. This puts him in conflict with Tony Tai (John Lone) the ruthless leader of the organisation.  It pulls his life apart with his already crumbling childless marriage to nurse Connie (Caroline Kava) collapsing altogether when Stanley falls for the charms of ambitious journalist Tracy Tzu (Ariane). Now Tony has a major shipment coming in from Thailand and Stanley engages in wire tapping for information .. This is America and it’s two hundred years old and you need to change your clocks. This sprawling portrait of the gangs of New York was much misunderstood upon its release but it lays its cards on the table upfront: it’s all in the name (changed) because NYC’s most decorated cop is an unapologetic racist Nam vet and sexist to boot. He’s launching his own tong war. Naturally Rourke plays him as a total charmer and it works:  he has the aura of death about him, his hair is as white as his adopted name and everyone around him seems to get crushed.  As written by Oliver Stone and director Michael Cimino this adaptation of Robert Daley’s novel is remarkably discreet in some areas – and lurid in others. The major love scene between Stanley and Tracy is cleverly done as they tell each other how much they hate each other and then … Her big ‘angry’ scene when he’s moved his team into her preposterously huge loft is amusing because her acting is so poor, all stiff arms like an Irish dancer. Part of the film’s issue representationally is the obvious inexpressivity of the Chinese actors, a physical trait there’s no escaping. They make up for it by killing people. Their treatment historically in the US and their unequal immigrant experience is posited against Stanley’s veteran’s hangups, something that’s used against him.  He wants to sleep with a journalist while both he and Tony decry the media’s role in the portrayal of violence and the way ethnicity is covered. Therefore there is a balance established with Tony – that’s clever storytelling. Lone is super handsome, a great suave villain to play opposite.  The lean way in which the marital story is exposed is a good hook for Stanley’s humanity and it’s the dramatic crutch that assists the outcome. The intra-Asian racism is well dramatised and horrendously violent. Class is an issue that becomes an overriding theme. The whole thing looks incredible – shot by Alex Thomson on a set (by Wolf Kroeger and Victoria Paul) in North Carolina for NYC (except for the views from Tracy’s apartment at the top of the Clocktower Building giving a beguiling view of the city’s skyline).  There’s a fascinating and intricate score by David Mansfield with echoes of phrases from The Deer Hunter. That this is a disguised western is clarified in those final scenes on the railway track. And in this wonderful mesh of genre and tradition there is an honourable way out for one man. What a way to end. Amazingly the role of White (originally called Arthur Powers – but there’s a Stanley White credited as Police Consultant!) was intended for Clint Eastwood. Both he and Paul Newman turned it down. Just as well. Only one Mickey Rourke. He’s a good cop but he won’t stop

Young Guns of Texas (1962)

 

When two men fight it’s a duel. When somebody tries to stop them it becomes a war. After the Civil War cadet Tyler Duane (Gary Conway) is expelled from West Point military academy when his brother, a Union officer, is accused of stealing $30,000 of Army payroll. He sets out on his trail encountering trouble en route. He is befriended by Morgan Coe (James Mitchum) and preacher’s son Jeff Shelby (Jody McCrea). Morgan is in love with local beauty Lily Glendenning (Alana Ladd) but her father Jesse (Robert Lowery) opposes the marriage and wants to get his hands on the stolen money. Jeff’s father Sam (Chill Wills) initially refuses to perform the wedding ceremony but relents when the youngsters plan on going to the Mission to have a priest do it after Morgan has killed the ranch foreman. Glendenning forms a posse believing Lily has been kidnapped. Then the youngsters are attacked by Apaches and find out what happened to Tyler’s brother …  This country needs this money. Then we’ll see changes.  Of interest principally for its cast, the offspring of Hollywood royalty, this is neither good nor bad enough to enter the realm of cult. It’s a fairly standard low budget oater distinguished by the use Cinemascope photography albeit it’s to no evident visual effect. There are some nice moments with Barbara Mansell as Martha Jane Canary (the real name of Calamity Jane) who washes outdoors – Always meant to put a door on this bathroom! Otherwise, no surprises except to marvel at the physical similarities (and not a lot else) between the offspring and their famous and talented fathers. It was Ladd’s final screen appearance. The title song by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter is performed by Kenny Miller.  Written by Henry Cross aka Harry Spalding and directed by Maury Dexter. Either you’re going to be an orphan or a widow?

The Secret Place (1957)

What you haven’t got you can’t lose. In East London 14-year old Freddie Haywood (Michael Brooke) has a crush on kiosk attendant Molly Wilson (Belinda Lee) who is engaged to Gerry Carter (Ronald Lewis). Gerry is a member of a criminal gang working from a car dealership where Molly’s brother Mike (David McCallum) also works. Gerry, Mike and their friend, Steve (Michael Gwynn) are planning a diamond robbery and need a policeman’s uniform. Molly asks Freddie to borrow the uniform of his policeman father (Geoffrey Keen) without telling him why. After the robbery of a jewellers in Hatton Garden, Gerry hides the diamonds inside Molly’s record player. Not knowing this, Molly gives the player to Freddie as a thank you gift. Freddie discovers the diamonds and the gang go after him to retrieve them… You men. Always taken in by a pretty face. Film editor Clive Donner made his directing debut with this startling film noir. It’s an incredible portrait of a good-natured teen’s misplaced admiration (or love) for the local beauty who’s in with a bad ‘un and dreams of escape, symbolised by the posh apartment he’s chosen for them to live in when they cash in. The potent setting of post-war London in ruins plants the conclusion in an early wide shot with scaffolding in the background – it forms the setting for the fantastic penultimate scenes, beautifully set up by cinematographer Ernest Steward. Tragic beauty Lee is terrific and Lewis is typically impressive as the gangster – how awful that he died by suicide at the age of just 53. But it’s Brooke as the youngster you’ll really remember:  this was in fact his last screen appearance, he later trained in law and was called to the Bar, renowned for obtaining compensation from the NHS for haemophiliacs who received blood transfusions contaminated with HIV. He died in 2014. Written by Linette Perry – her sole screenplay – this is a true British cult classic. You never know what goes on in a child’s heart really

 

The Running Man (1963)

You’re not in Croydon any more. Stella Black (Lee Remick) returns from the memorial service for Rex, her late husband, a pilot who died in a gliding accident. He (Laurence Harvey) is in fact alive and well and in hiding at a secluded seaside boarding house having defrauded his insurer Excelsior out of a huge sum of money for his premature death after they failed to pay out for an accident involving his airline business. Stella joins him in Malaga, Spain where he has changed his appearance and is living under the assumed name of Jim Jerome. Things start to go wrong when an insurance investigator Stephen Maddox (Alan Bates) appears to be following Stella as she drives her expensive car and enjoys the high life at a lovely hotel … He shouldn’t have married her. Adapted by John Mortimer from Shelley Smith’s novel The Ballad of the Running Man, this starts out as a sunny neo noir suspenser and turns into something quite different with a nice twist that dictates the outcome. Harvey and Remick are superb as the beautiful blonde married couple whose fate alters irrevocably and their relationship with it; while the issue of mistaken identity regarding Bates is wonderfully played out, subtly inverting the entire premise so that it rebounds with catastrophic consequences. Thanks to Robert Krasker’s cinematography (a very different experience to the kind of exploitation of locations in The Third Man) Spain looks stunning and the sinister nature of the story comes entirely from the construction and playing. Never was misunderstanding so well portrayed: everything here is lost in translation. Watch out for Fernando Rey as a policeman and Noel Purcell and Eddie Byrne have small roles in a production partly shot at Ardmore Studios in Ireland.  Directed by Carol Reed. They’ll have to put up the insurance premiums on anyone who wants to make love to you

Flashdance (1983)

It’s her social security number, asshole – she works for you! Alex Owens (Jennifer Beals) is an eighteen year old juggling two odd jobs in Pittsburgh – welding by day at a steel mill, dancing by night in a working men’s club. But she aspires to become a successful ballet dancer. Nick Hurley (Michael Nouri) is her boss and he becomes her lover and he supports and encourages her to fulfill her dream; so does her mentor Hanna Long (Lilia Skala) a retired ballerina who once danced in the Ziegfeld Follies. Her best friends are Jeanie (Sunny Johnson) a waitress and an aspiring ice skater and Jeanie’s boyfriend Richie (Kyle T. Heffner) who works as a short order cook but dreams of making it as a stand up comic and going to Hollywood. Alex is afraid to push herself when she sees that fellow competitors for Pittsburgh Conservatory of Dance and Repertory have years of training and it takes her friends’ botched efforts and a nudge in the right direction to make her take that big step towards her future … Dreaming is wonderful but it won’t put you closer to what you want. This was a cultural phenomenon back in the day and it’s the music video dream brought to life via the extraordinary backlit cinematography (by Donald Peterman) favoured by auteur Adrian Lyne, a simple plot borrowed from the backstage musicals of Busby Berkeley and the most thumping soundtrack ever dreamed up for the screen. And it is a dream, this story of a beautiful teen who fears failure but keeps on truckin’ and despite the huge warehouse loft apartment, the amazing figure and the somewhat grave demeanour, she’s oddly relatable precisely because she lacks confidence and gets around on a racing bike. Beals is a wonderfully charismatic performer who looks good in or partly out of clothes. Her casual attitude to what she wears is disarming, particularly when she takes off her tux in front of Nouri’s ex Katie (Belinda Bauer) and we see underneath is a fake shirt and it’s backless and barely there. Somehow everything she does feels empowering and sexy. There was some controversy stirred up over the fact that the dancer who (clearly!) performs the electrifying routines for Beals, Marine Jahan, was mysteriously uncredited and she called out the producers herself but it didn’t stop this going gonzo at the box office.  Super Bowl XXI made up for it when she was the featured dancer in the half-time performance. (Sharon Shapiro did the body flips but no word on any further acknowledgement). The soundtrack is by Giorgio Moroder with the songs led by Irene Cara’s What a Feeling, doing for this what her theme for Fame did for that other sassy youthful production with a dark side and legwarmers. This is what feminism looked like in 1983 and it’s hot stuff, if you ask me.  The first collaboration between producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, this fabulous fairytale was written by Tom Hedley and Joe Eszterhas from Hedley’s story and directed by Lyne, a man who clearly loves women. Don’t you understand? When you give up your dream you die

No Highway in the Sky (1951)

All boffins are a bit crackers but I suppose he’s the worst. Theodore Honey (James Stewart) is an apparently eccentric mathematician and aeronautical engineer charged with discovering what caused the crash of a ‘Reindeer’ airliner, a newly designed carrier for the Royal Aircraft Establishment. As he travels to investigate, he realises en route that he’s flying on the very same type of airplane. He believes that after 1,440 airborne hours the metal in the tail will bend and fall off, causing the plane to fall out of the sky. But he can’t persuade the captain Samuelson (Niall MacGinnis, bizarrely uncredited). Convinced it will suffer a similar accident, he deliberately sabotages it once it lands, and soon finds himself defending his sanity in an English courtroom. Fortunately, a sympathetic actress Monica Teasdale (Marlene Dietrich) and a stewardess Marjorie Corder (Glynis Johns) both believe his desire to prevent certain death and come to his defence People must be someone else’s concern – I can’t let it be mine. Stewart is cast as a kind of mad scientist, complete with a young daughter Elspeth (Janette Scott) who cares for him rather than the other way round, forgetting which of the lookalike tract houses he occupies despite living there 11 years. This adaptation of Nevil Shute’s 1947 novel is so interesting after a protracted set up simply because it expresses so much of the time in which it was made:  the post-war era, jet engine propulsion, families torn apart by WW2. And in the centre of it are two very different kinds of femininity – the international jet setter movie star played by Dietrich (who else?) and the no-nonsense, efficient and kind Johns, woman now working in the air but who has a background as a nurse, another casualty of WW2. Typecasting always works and it’s one of the pleasing oddities of this story that they’re not exactly in competition, rather both support Theodore. The fear that a plane will just … fall out of the sky is the kind of catastrophising that typifies most of our intercontinental journeys and it’s the explanation as to why this could happen that provides the drama and tension as well as characterisation – Stewart is fine as the befuddled man who nonetheless gets it right but at a cost, with terrible publicity and a potential future in the lunatic asylum. Metal fatigue can lead to mental fatigue, it seems. Lending great support are Jack Hawkins as company man Dennis Scott and Kenneth More as Dobson, the co-pilot, also uncredited, like the other pilot! Written for the screen by R. C. Sheriff & Alec Coppel & Oscar Millard, Shute probably wrote his story as a kind of purge – he had been an aeronautical engineer, involved first with the de Havilland company and then as a constructor with his own firm, the British government created a vehicle in direct competition with one of his designs which ended disastrously. He knew whereof he wrote. Directed by Henry Koster who of course directed Stewart in his previous film, Harvey, and they would work together again on Mr Hobbs Takes a Vacation and Dear Brigitte, also starring Johns. We never walked out on one of your pictures

The Passionate Stranger (1957)

Aka A Novel Affair. You see! You shut me out! Just like the others! Upper-middle-class housewife Judith Wynter (Margaret Leighton) is a best-selling author of steamy bodice-rippers. As her beloved husband Roger (Ralph Richardson) convalesces from polio and is now presently wheelchair-bound, the couple’s new Sicilian chauffeur Carlo (Carlo Justini) discovers Judith’s latest manuscript about a housewife unhappily married to a disabled man she despises and has a passionate affair with the family chauffeur. He jumps to conclusions that create increasingly awkward situations for them all as he attempts to imitate lines and scenes from her book which features a concert pianist with a jealous and disabled husband and a lusty Sicilian driver … There are stories all around you if you know where to look. There’s probably one right under your nose. From husband and wife producing and directing team Sydney and Muriel Box (who also co-wrote the screenplay) this fitfully amusing comedy has a fatal flaw – the film within a film which is made in colour and lasts more than half of the film overall is very heightened reality and played too straight:  the hilarious silent movie in Singin’ in the Rain should have been the model for this, or even the Gainsborough romances, instead it’s a bourgeois melo. Then in the return to monochrome ‘reality’ in the final third there is a slippage of tone when Carlo’s plan to imitate the book goes very wrong and a tragedy seems on the cards. It pulls back just in time but the narrative emphasis is at fault. Nonetheless it gives Patricia Dainton a delightful chance to change pace from sly Scottish-accented housemaid Emily to coquettish plotter Betty while Richardson is a grumpy old man and Leighton is a more extreme incarnation of her writer self. Megs Jenkins is a pub landlady in the film within a film. Made at Shepperton with exteriors at Chilworth in Surrey. I do not forget! I never leave you! Ever!

Diana Rigg 20th July 1938 – 10th September 2020

The glorious Diana Rigg has died. Best known as the feisty Emma Peel in that exceedingly English action TV show The Avengers she followed the lead of Honor Blackman in becoming the most tragic Bond girl of them all in OHMSS where she was Teresa aka Tracy the woman who finally made an honest man out of James (George Lazenby) even if their love was short-lived. Lazenby was dazzled by her in real life, marvelling at her driving skills when she had to pilot them through an icy rally and knew precisely how to turn the wheel at the correct place to avoid flipping. She had already made an impression by complaining in the press about not getting equal pay with her male colleagues in TV. Asked about being harassed she admitted to having experienced it as a young woman and urged actresses to treat men with scorn. Not a woman to be messed with. She was a superb stage actress where she felt most at home and had trained at RADA and first worked at the RSC but she had more than one TV series built around her, including a self-titled comedy show and more recently Mark Gatiss wrote a Doctor Who episode just for her. She made appearances in any number of series as well as maintaining a features presence. Some of her great performances were in movies like In This House of Brede, an adaptation of a Rumer Godden novel, and interestingly one of the projects she had recently completed was the new adaptation of Godden’s Black Narcissus, a prospect to savour. She didn’t fear sending herself up and played second fiddle to Miss Piggy in The Muppet Caper albeit she was ostensibly her employer. She had a great time with period crime drama The Mrs Bradley Mysteries and very recently relished being the waspishly dangerous Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones, the biggest TV show in the world.  Her daughter Rachael Stirling had a role in TV’s beloved The Detectorists and she appeared in several episodes alongside her. Magisterial in everything from Bleak House to Victoria, The Worst Witch to Hedda Gabler, A Little Night Music to Witness for the Prosecution, she is currently appearing in the reboot of All Creatures Great and Small on Channel 5 and, productive to the last, she stars in Edgar Wright’s upcoming film which gives us another reason to cheer the reopening of cinemas. What a trouper. Let’s raise a glass to her sheer magnificence. What a Dame.  Rest in peace, Diana Rigg.

The Last Picture Show (1971)

Everything is flat and empty here. There’s nothing to do. In 1951 Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges) are high-school seniors and friends inAnarene, North Texas. Duane is dating Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd), who Sonny considers the prettiest girl in town. Sonny breaks up with his girlfriend Charlene Duggs. Over the Christmas holiday Sonny begins an affair with lonely Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman) the depressed wife of high-school “Coach” Popper (Bill Thurman) who is secretly gay. At the Christmas dance Jacy is invited by Lester Marlow (Randy Quaid) to a naked indoor pool party at the home of Bobby Sheen (Gary Brockette) a wealthy young man who seems a better romantic prospect than Duane. Bobby tells Jacy that he isn’t interested in virgins and to come back after she’s had sex. Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson) bans the boys from his cafe, pool hall and cinema when they mistreat their retarded friend Billy (Sam Bottoms) taking him to a prostitute who beats him for making a mess. Sam dies while the boys are on a road trip to Mexico and leaves his property to different people, including Sonny. Jacy invites Duane for sex in a motel and eventually breaks up with him by phone, eventually losing her viriginity on a pool table to her mother’s lover Abilene (Clu Gulager). Sonny fights with Duane over Jacy  and Duane leaves town to work on the rigs out of town. Jacy sets her sight on Sonny and they elope to her parents’ fury. The war in Korea provides an escape route for Duane but there’s one last picture show on before the cinema closes down forever … Nothing’s ever the way it’s supposed to be at all. They say the third time’s the charm and so it was for neophyte director Peter Bogdanovich in this adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s novel about kids growing up in small town North Texas which he co-wrote with the author as well as wife Polly Platt, who was the production designer and collaborator with Bogdanovich on all his films. (Then he fell in love with his young leading lady Shepherd, but that’s another story). The film was shot in black and white following advice from Orson Welles, Bogdanovich’s house guest at the time (and the best book on Welles derives from this era of their wide-ranging conversations, This Is Orson Welles, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum).  The cinematography rendered by Robert Surtees is simply exquisite, the attention to detail extraordinary but this is no nostalgic trip down memory lane. The universally pitch-perfect performances exist in this very specific texture as a kind of miracle, duly rewarding Johnson and Leachman at the Academy Awards. But Ellen Burstyn as Jacy’s mom Lois has some of the best lines and delivers them with power. She and Shepherd have one amazing scene together. This is a coming of age movie but it’s also about ageing and loneliness and deception and disappointment and it’s the acknowledging of the sliding scale of desperation where the emotions hit gold. And there are juxtapositions which still manage to shock – like when Sonny looks out the window to see one horse mount another while a great romantic poem is being read in class. The realisation that Sam’s great love was Lois and vice versa. The callous way sexual manipulation is used as a casual transaction for the bored. There were controversies over scenes of sex and nudity which didn’t make it into the initial release but those parts were restored in 1992 by Bogdanovich so that the full potential of the story could be contextualised. A poignant Fordian masterpiece now firmly imprinted as an American classic.  You couldn’t believe how this country’s changed