Trapeze (1956)

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Burt Lancaster is Mike Ribble, a disabled acrobat who walks with a limp because of a triple somersault that went drastically wrong years ago. Now he’s working as a rigger. Tino Orsini (Tony Curtis) wants to learn the triple and Ribble’s the only guy who can teach him. He doesn’t want to but his ex Rosa (Katy Jurado) persuades him to do it. The men form an act and try to crack the big time but when Italian trampolinist Lola (Gina Lollabrigida) gets between them their plans start to come apart at the seams … Vivid, colourful and atmospheric circus film directed by Carol Reed from a script by Liam O’Brien, adapting a novel called The Killing Frost by Max Catto. The screenplay was credited to James R. Webb but there were uncredited additions by Ben Hecht and Wolf Mankowitz. La Lollo makes her American debut in a starry, well-performed production that shows off Lancaster’s acrobatic skills, well documented by Robert Krasker’s photography (he was responsible for all those tilted angles for Reed in The Third Man.) Curtis is an excellent leading man, full of beauty, brio and bravery. Malcolm Arnold’s score captures the jauntiness and terror of the circus with its captivating sense of danger and daring. The bromance is great fun and La Lollo is an alluring femme fatale, as you’d expect! This was damned by the critics but huge at the box office. Quoi de neuf?!

 

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The Walk (2015)

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140 feet. A walk of pure terror and joy. What Philippe Petit did in 1974 was literally a high-wire act, a dance of death between the Twin Towers. Once he saw the photograph of them, he knew he had to do it. The first part of the film is amazingly clunky considering the origins – Robert Zemeckis is a world-class storyteller but the combination of piece-to-camera and voiceover narration with this Pinocchio-esque story of a street performer (Joseph Gordon-Levitt replete with Frawnch accent) mentored by Uncle Rudy (Sir Ben Kingsley, as he insists upon being called – so be it!) is Awkward. The real action – still with the strange narrative devices – is the caper-heist nature of the preparation in NYC:  assembling a team, getting into the buildings, the donning of disguise, the criminal acts necessary to perform this magical act or ‘coup’ as Philippe calls it. One of the great ways to put across story in cinema is process – showing us something that we would otherwise know little about, and how precisely it can be done. This replicates what we already know from Man On Wire, the documentary that also uses Petit’s memoir and boasts Petit himself in the role of narrator.  The difference here is budgetary and visionary – because ultimately we accompany him not just to the edge of the Towers but across the air that separates them – and it is sweat-inducing stuff. He goes from South to North – and then – turns back. And lies down. And comes face to face with a curious seagull. It is just extraordinary and more than compensates for the shortcomings in what precedes it. We are all on the high wire. And it seems impossible, crazy, a hallucination, although we have photographs to prove that it took place and people watched it, albeit from very far away, beneath him on the streets. There were just 140 feet separating the North and South Towers and now that they are no longer there this seems … imaginary, the dream of a madman, a matter of faith. This was a miracle that really happened. Religions have been built on less.

The Crimson Pirate (1952)

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Galleon? Check. Skull and crossbones? Check. Velvet loons? Check. Someone shouting ‘Avast’? Check. Swashbuckling? Check and check and check!!! This is one of the supreme entertainments of the studio era. Burt Lancaster is the piratical Captain Vallo operating in the Caribbean in the late 18th century. He and his men capture a frigate belonging to the king that’s carrying Baron Gruda to the island of Cobra to crush a rebellion led by El Libre. Gruda suggests they exchange the leader for a reward.  The crew say this isn’t pirate business so Vallo and his mute henchman (Nick Cravat) are sold out. The deal with Libre’s fellow rebel Pablo Murphy (Noel Purcell) falls asunder. Vallo has a gruff approach to romance with Libre’s daughter Consuela (Eva Bartok) – “What we have for each other we just have to get over!” When Professor Prudence (James Hayter) gets working on his scientific experiments to take back the island things get seriously funny. This is elegant, energetic, exuberant entertainment. It is a film for all ages, for the ages. Working from a first screenplay by blacklistee Waldo Salt, Roland Kibbee fashioned an amazing, tongue in cheek action adventure with oodles of quips to spare. Christopher Lee, who has a supporting role with the Brits (boo hiss!) said of the turn of events in his memoir,

The script started life as serious, nay solemn, but Robert Siodmak, the director, with all the sure touch of real tension behind him in The Killers andThe Spiral Staircase, took stock of the material in forty-eight hours and turned it into a comedy. It was like a Boy’s Own Paper adventure, except that Eva Bartok was in it.

— Christopher Lee, Tall, Dark and Gruesome[4]