She (1965)

 

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This Hammer adaptation of the Rider Haggard novel works because it takes it seriously and never really slides into camp territory, which the material always threatened. The performances are dedicated, Ursula Andress is so extremely beautiful and the narrative is well handled by screenwriter David T. Chantler.  Robert Day makes sure the archaeologists Major Holly (Peter Cushing) and Leo Vincey (John Richardson) the reincarnated love interest and their valet Job (Bernard Cribbins) are credibly established to include their initial scepticism about a lost Pharaonic city. The saga of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed is ultimately a tragic tale of romance, culminating in horrible self-sacrifice and immolation. Andress was re-voiced by Nikki Van der Zyl who did a lot of voiceovers for Bond girls and wound up becoming a lawyer and a painter. It was shot in Israel (which leads to a dialogue gaffe…) The handsome Richardson would be Raquel Welch’s co-star in the following year’s One Million Years BC and he was briefly considered to replace Sean Connery as Bond.  He gave up a long career in Italian films to become a photographer.  This was a huge hit back in the day and perfect entertainment for a rainy weekend afternoon.

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Happy 70th Birthday Steven Spielberg!

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We sometimes forget the people who are always there and Steven Spielberg has always been in my life, like a comfort blanket. His command of the visual language complements an extraordinary understanding of the centre of things, the emotionality, the source of humour and compassion, thrills and action. His films have made me swoon and gasp in awe, laugh hysterically, gaze in wonder and shiver in fear. He uses new technology and collaborates with great practitioners in filmmaking crafts. He creates worlds and leads us there, by the hand, and sometimes educates us. He produces films and inspires and mentors other writers and directors and has given the world the great John Williams scores and the summer blockbuster. He is at the heart of pop culture and for Generation X he is simply our guy:  Jaws, CE3K, Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET:  The Extra-Terrestrial. His sensibility may have altered somewhat as he has aged, but the audience is always crucial to his thinking:  good stories, well told and beautifully made. He is a master of all genres, pretty much and those he hasn’t directed he’s produced. Spielberg was born 18 December 1946 and we are fortunate to have him. Long may he reign.

Summer Lovers (1982)

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“They spent a Summer of Love – to the sounds of Chicago.” I was way too young to see this when it first came out but all those music videos gave me pause for thought – what about a threesome on a Greek island?! Such is the power of pop. College grad Daryl Hannah is the beautiful photographer holidaying in Santorini (and Crete, Delos and Mykonos) with long-term boyfriend Peter Gallagher and it doesn’t take long for them to be seduced by the nude bathing when he spots cute French archaeologist Valerie Quennessen on a dig and pairs up with her and utters the deathless line, It’s not you it’s me… then the ladies decide they would like to expand the arrangement. The settings are astonishing and if it’s a bit rich to describe this louche fantasy as an exploration of sexual politics, well, that’s precisely what it is, with lashings of free love to beat the band when the ladies take charge. It all goes kinda meta when Daryl says, I used to dream I was a mermaid … that would take a couple of years. She and Peter and Valerie (a princess in Conan the Barbarian) spend most of the movie partially nude if not fully nekkid so it’s not so hard to put together why they’re all in it:  what a holiday they are having. Until Barbara Rush turns up during an olive oil party to see daughter Daryl before matters domestic are fully sorted out. Just the thing to unleash your inner twentysomething libertine on a snowy winter’s day! Written and directed by Randal Kleiser, that clever fellow. He had previously auditioned Hannah for the role that Brooke Shields played in Blue Lagoon, his other isle of dreams.  If you’re in Santorini you can visit the villa they shot in which is christened for the film – it’s been a gift shop since 1987. Quennessen worked under the supervision of archaeological experts and uncovered artifacts c3,500 years old. She died distressingly young in a car crash.

The Moon-Spinners (1964)

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Classic romance based on the novel by Mary Stewart, one of my favourite writers and one to try if you like midcentury Gothic thrillers. She was huge in the Fifties and Sixties. I didn’t know about this for the longest time and was delighted to find that it starred my Disney heroine, Hayley Mills. Nicky Ferris (Mills) is a teenager spending time in Crete at a small inn called The Moon-Spinners with her Aunt Frances (Joan Greenwood), a musicologist. One day Nicky discovers a handsome young man, Mark Camford (Peter McEnery), wounded in an empty church nearby. They’ve already met at the inn and he makes a very favourable impression, the life of the party and handsome to boot. It turns out that Mark was once a London bank messenger, but he lost his job after a major jewel robbery. Tagged as a suspect, he has made his way to the inn to gather evidence against the inn’s owner, Stratos (Eli Wallach), who Mark thinks is the real jewel thief. It’s run by his unsuspecting sister played by Irene Papas. Nicky and Mark fall in love and decide to capture Stratos together.This is a rather different Peter McEnery than we saw in Entertaining Mr Sloane, which he would make several years later:  he was contracted to Disney and this is really a kids’ movie. Here he distinguishes himself by bestowing upon wonderful Hayley her first proper screen kiss. It’s not a great genre piece by any means, with much  of the villainy of the novel rendered rather juvenile in the adaptation by Michael Dyne:  but it looks great – much of it was shot on location around Elounda at a time when Greece was opening up to tourism;  it sounds good, with Terry Gilkyson’s song and the folk music enhancing a pretty soundtrack; and the cast is extremely personable. If you’re a silent movie fan there’s the opportunity to see the fabulous Pola Negri in her last feature film, as the extraordinarily wealthy Madame Habib who has a particularly charming big cat. There are also terrific supporting roles for John Le Mesurier and Sheila Hancock. All in all, a lovely way to spend your afternoon. Directed by James Neilson.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

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On a flight out of LAX more than a decade ago I found myself looking at John Rhys Davies, Sallah from this film.  I was beside myself.  This was the film that really did it for me – made me want to excavate cinema the same way that Indy looks for artefacts. It originated on a Hawaii beach, he’s named after George Lucas’ dog, and Steven Spielberg got to do the kind of action movie he’d wanted to make since falling in love with James Bond. And it has an amazing story, rooted in fact – the escapades of German archaeologist Otto Rahn and his shenanigans with the Nazi Party. Fizzing with fun, danger, crackling wit and a brilliant heroine in the shape of Karen Allen, the dreamgirl of fratboys everywhere. This was the first film I went to over and over again, wherever it was playing. I didn’t bother Davies on that flight. I found myself seated beside the neighbours of the babysitter to Natalie Wood’s family when she died in strange circumstances (around about the time of this film’s release). That is another story.

High Season (1987)

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The life of the screenwriter can be challenging, that of the writer/director even moreso, particularly if you’re a woman. Clare Peploe has mostly been associated with her husband, Bernardo Bertolucci, but she has forged her own directing signature. It has a variable imprint. This story of a hard-up photographer (Jacqueline Bisset) in Rhodes falls on its sword despite an enviable location, lovely cast and some sharp scenes.  The tone falls between stools – Bisset’s good friend Sharpie (the rarely seen Sebastian Shaw) has given her a vase that she can sell to the unscrupulous Konstantinos  (Robert Stephens) to save her house since her philandering sculptor husband (James Fox) has taken a commission from Lord Byron fanatic Yanni (Paris Tselios) to lure tourists that sets his patriotic fanatical mother (the wonderful Irene Papas) crazy. An English couple turn up – played by Kenneth Branagh and Lesley Manville – and they are the equivalent of Charters and Caldicott on holiday. Their scenes are hideously wrong. Peploe has no idea how to control them and they ruin the film’s delicacy which ultimately turns on the identity of the infamous Tenth Man. There is neither rhyme nor reason to the film’s opening sequence but hopefully DoP Chris Menges had a nice holiday.  The location photography is stunning.