High Society (1956)

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Not that I was looking for an excuse, I watched this again today in honour of the late Terry Wogan, whose favourite film it was. Wogan was a legendary broadcaster of wonderfully subtle and subversive acerbic wit and erudition who made radio and TV look like a walk in the park (they’re not – I know.) This is simply sublime entertainment, never mind the naysayers who prefer The Philadelphia Story. This is shot in VistaVision and glorious Technicolour, it has music by Cole Porter and Louis Armstrong, and Grace Kelly (sporting her real-life engagement ring!), Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra at the peak of their powers. Crosby duets with Sinatra on Well, Did You Evah (from the earlier show DuBarry was a Lady), and with Kelly on True Love – which gave her a million-selling single years before her friend Sinatra ever did. It was Kelly’s last big hit before her tragically early retirement. Vaya con Dios, Terry. And may this be your soundtrack.

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V.I. Warshawski (1991)

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Sara Paretsky’s novels featuring a ball-breaking feminist detective were obvious film fodder. In 85 excruciating minutes a potential franchise starring one of the era’s greatest stars was exterminated. By the time it’s over you don’t even care whodunnit. Turner’s looks were clearly altering already but this film simply put the nail in the coffin of her glorious career.

 

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

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This was one that had a lot of the evangelicals and Catholics gripping rosary beads and presumably stabbing at voodoo dolls. Martin Scorsese had long harboured an ambition to film the book by Nikos Kazantzakis and finally got the opportunity, hiring Paul Schrader, a Dutch Calvinist by upbringing, to adapt. What a spectacle of humanity it is – with some of the era’s greatest acting talents. And David Bowie as Pontius Pilate rounds out the incredible cast which includes director Irvin Kershner and musician John Lurie.  The score is notable, by Peter Gabriel.

I Remember Mama (1948)

I Remember Mama

John Van Druten’s plays were a rich source of Hollywood cinema but this one is the big sentimental favourite, adapted by DeWitt Bodeen from Kathryn Forbes’ memoir of her Norwegian mother. Director George Stevens was a pure industry man, starting as a cameraman, who had however been changed irrevocably by his experiences filming in the concentration camps liberated by the Allies. This was his first postwar film and it bears none of the cynicism/realism that would later characterise his Fifties work. A fantastic performance by screwball expert Irene Dunne supported by an excellent ensemble makes this a cherishable work of art.

Jacques Rivette 1928-2016

Celine and Julie Go Boating posterJacques Rivette

Adieu to M. Rivette, one of the great if lesser known French auteurs, best known for Celine and Julie Go Boating, the celebrated three hour epic of female friendship, magic and Feuilladesque cinematic sleight of hand. His films were little seen, some were never released, and the last, Love on the Ground, with Jane Birkin and Geraldine Chaplin, only saw the light of day in 1984. Hopefully someone will have the imagination to release his TV epic, Out I. RIP.

Out of the Past (1947)

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One of the legendary film noirs, this RKO entry is simply superb. Robert Mitchum stars as Jeff, lured from a smalltown gas pump back into the world of gangsterism by a duplicitous Jane Greer and into the trap set by Kirk Douglas. Adapted by Daniel Mainwaring from his own novel, this was also known as Build My Gallows High. Exemplary direction by Jacques Tourneur and cinematography by Nicholas Musaraca, a classic and often described as the definitive film noir with Mitchum establishing a screen persona which embellished his performing style.

Born to Be Bad (1950)

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Hardly the sort of fare you’d associate with director Nicholas Ray if you’re a newbie to his oeuvre and you won’t detect his fabled stylistic traits here. This is part of Movie4Men’s series of RKO films – a never-ending archive of noir and melodrama. Joan Fontaine plays a maneater – she steals her cousin’s wealthy fiance (Zachary Scott) then cheats on him with a novelist (Robert Ryan). Only the talents involved make this interesting:  Fontaine as the villain is a challenge to viewers who only know her from Rebecca ten years earlier while Scott is hardly up to the role of the cuckold and Ryan never gets much to do. However it’s stylishly adapted by Edith Sommer from the source novel and is entertaining, finishing on an atypically upbeat note.

Merci La Vie (1989)

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TV5 are running several films by that master of absurdity, surrealism and great camera set-ups, Bertrand Blier. This is the one where Anouk Grinberg is found in a mini wedding dress by Charlotte Gainsbourg and they cause promiscuous havoc wherever they go … If only films like this were made in English – they still wouldn’t get Oscar nominations: better by far to lock women up in rooms, have them lesbian or just dropping dead/waiting to be killed in the background of films like The Revenant and Hateful Eight where they are raped and mutilated and … saying the bare minimum. And Amy Schumer is praised for writing a film of depressing conventionality that plays like something Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey turned down ten years ago. Sigh. The shifts here are signalled by the coloured filters in each different segment, we meet the film crew and see them in action with the actors, and at the end we wonder if it was all a figment of Gainsbourg’s imagination. Funny, innovative stuff.

And Soon the Darkness (1970)

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I had no compelling reason to view a thriller involving rape and murder. However I found out after leaving northern France, where I lived for a spell, that if you were to construct a Venn diagram, I lived where two serial killers’ patches intersected. Good to know. After I had walked miles alone each day on those flat roads for want of anything better to do in a particularly challenging location (word of advice: don’t). Anyhow, this stems from the brains of Brian Clemens and Terry Nation (a man not entirely unfamiliar with Daleks) and stars two ladies who had a particular kind of fame in Britain at the time. It’s not Chabrol (one is reminded of Le Boucher however in terms of tone, pace, the strangely wordless locals…)  but I suppose it’s a brittle, effective kind of construct with decent production values and the story of two English girls on a cycling holiday tells you what you already know – stick together and NEVER trust a man in uniform. Bizarrely, an Allan McKeown gets credit for hairdressing. And yes it IS the same Allan McKeown who was one of British TV’s most prolific producers as well as being the (late) husband of Tracy Ullman. Who knew? Bizarre.

Magic Town (1947)

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I once had the distinct unpleasure of attending a scriptwriting course hosted by a sociopathic tutor who insisted that this was made by Frank Capra. It only seems like that because it was written by Robert Riskin, who was the man who more or less gave that narcissistic director the right to use The Name Above The Title, a highly ironic soubriquet, and particularly interesting if you read the magisterial biography of Riskin by Ian Scott, possibly the best ever book about a screenwriter. This is directed by William ‘Wild Bill’ Wellman, which that unpleasant woman simply decided not to hear because it did not fit into her own auteurist orientations. Maybe the presence of James Stewart as a pollster distracted her. He finds the sociologically average American town, a journalist with whom he gets romantically involved discovers he is not in fact an insurance man, she goes public and the town is made a mockery. A fascinating satire of the postwar era in the United States. And you know what, the poster tells you whose name should be Above The Title:  it reads ‘Robert Riskin’s Magic Town‘.