Evil Under the Sun (1982)

Even in those days, she could always throw her legs up in the air higher than any of us… and wider. Private detective Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) goes to an exclusive island that is frequented by the rich and famous. Fabulous actress Arlena Stuart (Diana Rigg) has alienated her latest husband Kenneth Marshall’s (Denis Quilley) young daughter (Emily Hone); is in an adulterous relationship with married gadfly Patrick Redfern (Nicolas Clay) whose jealous wife Christine (Jane Birkin) doesn’t even want to go out in the sun; and she is probably the culprit over a very valuable jewel stolen from her former husband Sir Horace Blatt (Colin Blakeley) that Poirot was hired to locate by the insurance company when he presented them with a fake. Gossip columnist Rex Brewster (Roddy McDowall) can’t get Arlena to sign off on a tell-all biography; while theatre producers Odell Gardener (James Mason) and his wife Myra (Sylvia Miles) lost their shirts when Arlena walked off their last stage show with a fake medical cert. The hotel’s proprietress, failed actress and former rival Daphne Castle (Maggie Smith) meanwhile is still brooding over their comparative successes and her isolation from the world of showbiz. When Arlena is found murdered everyone has an alibi. Except Poirot … I have a big fat motive but no alibi. Adapted from Agatha Christie’s 1941 novel by Anthony Shaffer (with uncredited work by Barry Sandler) this takes a decidedly camp approach to the material, aided and abetted by wonderfully playful costuming, classic Cole Porter songs (arranged by John Lanchbery) and an exotic location in the Adriatic in contrast with the original’s island off Devon. It plays fast and loose with the content replacing the original’s dialogue with some very amusing wisecracks and barbed exchanges, viz. Rigg’s comment about her awkward teenage stepdaughter, She runs like a dromedary with dropsy. It’s not Christie but it is funny. Ustinov had replaced Albert Finney (from Murder on the Orient Express) in the preceding adaptation Death on the Nile and delivers a different variety of flamboyance with all kinds of nice touches and humour. It gathers itself back into the author’s original mode for the last half hour with everything accounted for in a very pleasing conclusion. Great fun. Directed by Guy Hamilton in Majorca and shot beautifully by Christopher Challis. You mean nobody did it. MM #3100

The Small Back Room (1949)

Aka Hour of Glory. Men and women are all the same when they dance.
Brilliant but tormented and alcoholic bomb expert Sammy Rice (David Farrar) works for the British government during World War II. Army captain Dick Stuart (Michael Gough) drafts him into a secret project concerning a new small land mine that German planes have been dropping over England’s beaches. But despite the ministrations of his faithful assistant and girlfriend, Susan (Kathleen Byron), Rice’s increasingly problematic alcoholism and a recent injury threaten his ability to work. When he is called, hungover, to a bomb that has cost his colleague his life it’s a life and death situation and he requires every bit of his focus to not end up the same way … You mustn’t keep a dog and bark yourself, you know. Powell and Pressburger’s post-war drama about the detailed, painstaking jobs done by ordinary – or perhaps extraordinary – men and women fighting them on the wartime beaches is a baleful psychological study of desperation. The beads of perspiration in those endless close ups of the brilliant Farrar and the sexual allegory of dance and music is wonderfully choreographed in a kind of asynchronous narrative that eventually finds its climax. The clock is quite literally ticking throughout in a story of almost unbearable tension. There are terrific supporting roles for Jack Hawkins, Cyril Cusack and an unbilled Robert Morley, playing a government minister. Adapted by Powell and Pressburger from Nigel Balchin’s novel, this is an underrated entry in the auteurist pair’s output and a true cult classic. Unmissable British cinema. It is not the prestige of a particular department that is important but men’s lives

A Man and a Woman (1966)


Aka Un homme et une femme. If I had to go through this again what would I do? Widowed script girl Anne Gauthier (Anouk Aimee) travels from her home in Paris to Deauville to visit her little girl Francoise (Souad Amidou) at boarding school in Deauville. She accepts a lift back with racing driver Jean-Louis Duroc who is a widower visiting his little boy Antoine (Antoine Sire). A friendship blossoms into romance but she can’t tell him her husband Pierre (Pierre Barouh) is dead and speaks of Pierre in the present tense, confusing their perceptions of each other. His wife Valerie (Valerie Lagrange) committed suicide when she saw him in a near-fatal accident and believed he died. But he survived. Now when he races in icy conditions on the Riviera in the Monte Carlo rally Anne watches the coverage on the radio (voiced by presenter Gerard Sire, father of Antoine) and sends him a telegram saying she loves him and he drives back north in his Mustang to see her  …  Why? Just your everyday story of a widowed script girl meeting cute with a widowed racing driver. From this slim premise evolved a glorious melodrama. Two of the most beautiful people to ever grace the earth in a romantic movie about movie-making and romance: this is how the Nouvelle Vague was repackaged and commercialised by writer/director Claude Lelouch and it was a cultural phenomenon in its day, a Palme d’Or winner at Cannes, an Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film and Original Screenplay as well as a huge box office success on both sides of the Atlantic. Shot quickly with just seven crew on a low budget, the flashy techniques were born of necessity. Different black and white film stocks were used until an American distributor contributed more money upfront enabling Lelouch to buy colour film. The old cameras used had to be covered in blankets to protect them from wintry damp – there was a lot of rain on those supposedly exotic resort locations: the antithesis of glamour. Yet did any actors ever wear sheepskin coats so well?! Trintignant was on board first and it was he who suggested Aimee as his co-star when Lelouch asked him who would be his ideal woman. They were old friends. When she closes her eyes during their scenes of radiant intimacy she paradoxically creates an even more empathetic heroine, this woman who can’t come to terms with her husband’s death.  This is always about how the mind works to permit people to fall in love in the aftermath of unspeakable tragedy. Danger underlines everything – these men who love Anne dally with it in their daily occupations. Hope is a little beyond her, the future unthinkable.  Isn’t death the ultimate subject of all art? The film’s conclusion was kept secret from Aimee:  that’s real surprise registering on her gravely luminous face. The score by Francis Lai is simply unforgettable. It was written before the production commenced and Lelouch used playback during the scenes to inspire the performers who where encouraged to improvise their dialogue. Lelouch said of working with Trintignant: I think Jean-Louis is the actor who taught me how to direct actors. We really brought each other a lot. He changed his method of acting while working with me, and I began to truly understand what directing actors was all about, working with him. I think the relationship between a director and actor is the same relationship as in a love story between two people. One cannot direct an actor if you do not love him or her. And he cannot be good if he or she does not love you in turn.  How astonishing has Trintignant been in the evolution of contemporary romantic dramas? Starting with And God Created Woman, A Man and A Woman, through Amour, he is the cornerstone of how we perceive the male psyche from the 1950s onwards. He will celebrate his 90th birthday December 2020. Co-written with Pierre Uytterhoeven. Not just a film, this is a landmark in cinema. If you ever find yourself in Deauville you can book into the suite named for the film at the Hotel Barriere Le Normandy. Some Sundays start well and end badly

From Here to Eternity (1953)

You should know that in the Army it’s not the individual who counts. 1941. Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) is transferred to Schofield Barracks on Hawaii where his commanding officer Captain Dana Holmes (Philip Ober) promotes boxers but Prewitt blinded a man in a fight and won’t co-operate. He is bullied until Sergeant Warden (Burt Lancaster) suggests he is given extra duties but gets hazed by non-comm officers. Supported by friend Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra), the men go carousing to a private club where Prew falls for Lorene (Donna Reed), a ‘hostess’. Maggio gets into a row with stockade Sergeant ‘Fatso’ Judson (Ernest Borgnine) but Warden intervenes. Warden begins an affair with the neglected wife Karen (Deborah Kerr) of Captain Holmes whose promiscuous reputation hides a tragedy. Maggio leaves guard duty and gets atrociously drunk, ultimately leading to a sadistic beating from Fatso which kills him. Prew decides upon revenge on the eve of Pearl Harbour … A man don’t go his own way he’s nothing. Despite some decidedly uninspired directing from Fred Zinnemann, this tightly scripted adaptation of James Jones’ classic novel by Daniel Taradash skirts a fine line between outright travesty and censor-baiting in a bid to stay more or less faithful to the themes and the melodramatic aspects are saved before the concluding scenes when the Japanese bombers arrive. Clift gets the best of the pithy truisms, which fits the story’s construction, given that he and Sinatra are the doomed pair who have to make the tragic sacrifices and both give stunning performances. The entire cast shines and there are many great scenes, with the usual one on the beach with the crashing surf between Kerr and Lancaster excerpted as an instance of classic Hollywood romance but it’s one with an undertow of sadness, The first-rate expressive acting is what makes this special.  A man should be what he can do

The Lighthouse (2019)

 

Bad luck to kill a sea bird. Two lighthouse keepers Ephraim Winslow akaThomas Howard (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Defoe) try to maintain their sanity while living on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s. A storm strands them on the remote location and they turn on each other …  Tall tales. A two-hander co-written by Max Eggers with his brother, director Robert, leaving only Poe’s title from what was originally supposed to expand on his short story, this is verging on the unwatchable, an overly long student short truly better talked about than seen.  And I don’t want to talk about it. This makes you feel like you’re there and not in a good way. Exhausting, with these big performances and the  often impenetrable maritime lingo. Good grief. But it’s over now. How long have we been on this rock? Five weeks? Two Days? Where are we? Help me to recollect

Very Ralph (2019) (TVM)

Susan Lacy’s superb documentary about fashion designer Ralph Lauren is many stories. It’s about a Jewish boy who had an uncanny ability to put clothes together but lacked his artist father’s painting talent. It’s about a little guy at school bullied for his unfortunate surname, Lifschitz: it was his brother John who persuaded him they should both alter their names to Lauren. Even as a young man I had a story.  It’s about a tie salesman in NYC in the early 1960s noted as a stylish man about town who eventually decided to design his own ties with the assistance of his wife Ricki and her Viennese-immigrant parents from their tiny cold water apartment with the El running overhead:  It was like a movie just like Barefoot in the Park. It’s about Bloomingdales backing him.  It’s about how he came close to losing everything, very early. It’s about his close knit family. It’s about a soft-spoken man with a speech impediment who couldn’t very well call his line Baseball if he couldn’t even say it so he hit on Polo. It’s about the man who revolutionised men’s fashion by adapting Savile Row custom tailoring while letting women look like women – or more precisely, like his wife Ricki – a tomboy, a jock, an elegant woman. He hired Bruce Weber to shoot ‘movies’ for his photoshoots because he gave him the natural style that he wanted without involving agencies. It’s about the movies he grew up adoring and the things he likes – military, safari, western, English riding. The rap and hip hop community adapted his look. He allowed models be themselves.  He’s the first designer to go into homeware, The rest? Why not let the cast of admirers and fashion mavens tell us:

I had the eye and I didn’t know where it came from

You are always aspiring

My vision is what my wife looks like

He wanted to tell stories

He gives them the whole package

I thought of him as a cultural force

The eye of the outsider – that’s what Ralph has

I just think that he loves women in a way that other designers don’t – he celebrates women

He taps into a longing – for belonging

He understands icons because he is one

He’s timeless but he’s definitely living in the now

Sometimes you have to fulfill your dreams to know what the real dream is about. The real dream is family, children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portrait of a Lady On Fire (2019)

Portrait of a Lady On Fire

Aka Portrait de la jenue fille en feu. Will you be able to paint her? Painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is instructing a class of art students in Paris. They ask her about the origins of a painting and she reminisces: France, 1770. Marianne is commissioned to do the wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) a young woman who has just left the convent and is at home on a remote island off the coast of Brittany. She is a reluctant bride to be and her mother the countess (Valeria Golino) wants Marianne to paint her portrait in secret for an arranged marriage to a nobleman suitor in Milan whose visual approval is required. The last male artist failed in his mission and Marianne must study Héloïse without her knowing. Marianne accompanies her on her daily walk under the pretence of being her companion but observes her carefully and paints her secretly. Is that how you see me? When she reveals her identity and Héloïse dislikes the portrait Marianne destroys it, to the rage of the countess who goes away for a while as long as Marianne agrees to do another portrait, this time with her subject’s full co-operation. He doesn’t make the lover’s choice, but the poet’s. The women fall in love and Héloïse reads Orpheus and Eurydice by firelight to Marianne and Héloïse’s servant, Sophie (Luàna Bajrami) whose pregnancy the women help to end. As Marianne finishes the portrait and the countess is returning they must accept what happens next … Your presence is made up of fleeting moments that may lack truth. French writer/director Céline Sciamma’s historical romance is stately, elegant and well framed:  this is a picture of female solidarity and love, grounded in the most obvious of ideas – the female gaze in a patriarchal world – in a film about looking and perception. We are going to paint. This is about turning around and acknowledging and engaging with what you see – and making a choice. The performers look and watch and are passive aggressive as society dictates they must be with their taboo affair, illuminating each other’s lives in secret. How people see each other has rarely been so truthfully portrayed. A profound, at times magical, meditation on what it means to be a woman, this is beautifully and carefully staged, with nothing excessive or ornamental and driven by stunning performances. The digital cinematography by Claire Mathon is so exquisite there are candlelit scenes you will want to reach out and touch and hang on your wall. This show and tell is far from still life. If you look at me, who do I look at?

Play Misty for Me (1971)

Play Misty for Me large

You ever find yourself being completely smothered by somebody? Popular late night radio show host Dave Garver (Clint Eastwood) at jazz station KRML becomes restless in his relationship with artist girlfriend Tobie Williams (Donna Mills). Impulsively, he goes out and has a one night stand with Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter) a woman he meets at a nightclub. Afterwards he finds out she was not an anonymous hookup, but an obsessive fan who has been calling in repeatedly to request he play the Errol Garner song Misty. Garver soon discovers extricating himself from Evelyn will be no easy feat as she insinuates herself into his life, showing up everywhere and becoming increasingly deranged. He seeks help from policeman Sgt McCallum (John Larch) only realising at the eleventh hour that Tobie may be in danger... Do you know your nostrils flare out into little wings when you’re mad? It’s kinda cute. Eastwood made his directing debut with trusted mentor Don Siegel by his side and playing Murphy the bartender at a local joint in the town where he lived, Carmel-by-the-Sea in Northern California, a locale made look even more beautiful by the skilled cinematography of usual Eastwood DoP Bruce Surtees. The screenplay was written by Jo Heims, a former model and dancer, while Dean Riesner (from Dirty Harry and Coogan’s Bluff) polished it;  with the idea for a girlfriend, Tobie, coming from editor Sonia Chernus. It’s a clever and lean premise, brilliantly executed in the economic style we have come to know as Eastwood’s particular stamp. He uses his local knowledge to establish a keen sense of place, with a variety of shots giving us a good idea of the geography of this stunning town, the gorgeous sunlight steadily accreting to create a form of terror all over Monterey County. The tension is marvellously sustained with expert use of the jazz soundtrack (and the local music festival) creating more suspense with Roberta Flack’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face used for a romantic mood. (The song’s exposure turned it into a Number One hit.) Walter was Eastwood’s first choice for Evelyn following her appearance in The Group a half dozen years earlier, and we believe her to be so much of a threat that she can do absolutely anything to impose her will; while Mills acquits herself very well as the only stable character in this unwitting love triangle. She had played opposite Burt Reynolds in an episode of his show Dan August and he recommended her to Eastwood. He looked at rushes and hired her without even meeting her. Eastwood is excellent here, completely believable as a man of a certain age who is selfish and unaware and still thinks he can hit it big in the city yet has to bide his time reading poetry late at night to a devoted small town audience. A great first film.  I did it because I LOVE YOU!

The Spanish Main (1945)

The Spanish Main

Consider yourselves not so much my prisoners, but my honored guests. It would please me if you were to recommend my piracy to your friends when you return home. Dutch sea captain Laurent van Horn (Paul Henreid) is shipwrecked off the coast of the Spanish settlement of Cartagena with a boatload of refugees seeking freedom in the Carolinas. After being held and sentenced to death, Van Horn and his crew manage to escape. Five years later, Van Horn has established himself as the mysterious pirate known only by the name of his ship: The Barracuda. After infiltrating the vessel ferrying her to her wedding, they capture Contessa Francisca (Maureen O’Hara) daughter of the Viceroy of Mexico, who has been arranged to marry the corrupt governor Don Juan Alvarado (Walter Slezak) whom she has never met. Wishing to avoid further bloodshed aboard the escort ship, Francisca offers to marry Van Horn if he will spare the escort, to which he agrees. Over time Francisca and Van Horn become attracted to each other and set out to defeat the villainous governor Don Juan Alvarado and treacherous pirates Du Billar (John Emery) and Captain Black (Barton MacLane) raising the hackles of pirate Anne Bonney (Binnie Barnes) who has her heart set on Laurent … All I ever hear from you is that every golden minute has 60 golden seconds. Why does it have to have 60 golden seconds? Why can’t it have 30 golden seconds? And why do they have to be golden? Why can’t they be silver? Actor Paul Henreid was not an entirely happy camper at Warners eternally cast as the suave leading man and would go on to become a director (famously directing co-star Bette Davis in not one but two roles – she plays twins in Dead Ringer). He started out directing in TV, working extensively for Alfred Hitchcock after he was blacklisted for speaking out against HUAC. He wrote up a treatment for this swashbuckling pirate yarn and brought the project to RKO where they hired Aeneas MacKenzie to write another treatment then George Worthing Yates to write the screenplay which Henreid hated. He then hired Herman J. Mankiewicz to rewrite the adventure story. There was some to-ing and fro-ing with the cast, notably with O’Hara who was going to be replaced by Laraine Day. That wasn’t the end of the issues as the script called for a slave revolt and the burning of Tortuga but RKO refused to pony up the money and Henreid’s agent Lew Wasserman advised him against funding it. So the ending changed, so upsetting Mankiewicz he wouldn’t write it. Despite that this is a fun outing with Slezak spouting witticisms like there’s no tomorrow. This is a beautifully made production, shot by George Barnes in a thrilling range of colours, with a memorable score by Hanns Eisler and it’s all done with that delicate attention to performance and detail by that great romantic director, Frank Borzage,  The Spanish Main – cruel, oppressive and ruthless, where power alone was a man’s single title to everything he held dear, including his very life. It was, thus, a cruel fate that a peaceful Dutch pilgrim ship should be driven there by torrential waves – and crash upon the rocks immediately outside Cartagena, its most remorseless citadel.

White Hot: The Mysterious Murder of Thelma Todd (1991) (TVM)

White_Hot_The_Mysterious_Murder_of_Thelma_Todd

Just what this town needed – another gorgeous skinny dumb blonde. Los Angeles, 1935. When beautiful movie star Thelma Todd (Loni Anderson) is found dead in her car at the age of 29 it’s initially put down to suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning but Assistant DA Louis Marsden (Scott Paulin) hears her distraught mother Alice (Lois Smith) screaming, For God’s sake, what’s the matter with you? Don’t you know a murder when you see one? He pursues it with the supposed help of the DA in Los Angeles Buron Fitts (Dakin Matthews) and questions the people in Thelma’s life, putting together a picture of her as an actress but also the proprietress of Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe at the beach where all Hollywood society likes to dine and which might hold the clues to her violent demise. He unspools stories that eventually reveal her ex Pat DiCicco (John O’Hurley) drove her into the arms of notorious Mafioso Lucky Luciano (Robert Davi) who wanted to use a room at her restaurant as a casino to blackmail the studio heads …… I want to buy you everything you ever wanted. A Rashomon-like approach to this Hollywood biopic pays dividends in this adaptation of the book Hot Toddy by Andy Edmonds, as Matthews pursues witnesses to a likely murder. As he questions her one-time married boyfriend Roland West (Lawrence Pressman) and business partner whose wife is putting up the money for their joint venture in a restaurant; Thelma’s mother; her movie sidekick Patsy Kelly (Maryedith Burrell); her ex-husband DiCicco (The Glamour Boy of Hollywood as this putative gangster associate and cousin of James Bond producer Cubby Broccoli was known); and Lucky Luciano’s henchman – we get a ripe picture of movie town and all the power players, locating the real people behind the silver screen at a time when the Mafia had most of the studios by the short and curlies via the unions. Smith gets some pearls to deliver as Thelma’s mother, a woman who finally shuts up when she realises the DA’s office is putting together the real story and her life could be at stake too. Todd is a name that’s little remembered now but she was a brilliant comedienne, enjoyed stardom (known as The Ice Cream Blonde) and as well as a lot of Hal Roach (played here by Paul Dooley) comedies (particularly with Queen of Wisecracks Kelly) she played opposite the Marx Brothers in Horse Feathers. Anderson might be a tad old for the role but it’s a spirited performance of a woman who apparently barely slept, surviving on a cocktail of diet drugs, uppers and champagne, high on life and longing for true love, eventually stepping way out of her league. It’s a loose interpretation of what is known, but it’s beautifully shot by Chuck Arnold with fantastic set design by Donald Lee Harris and Lee Vail, with simply gorgeous costumes for Anderson by Heidi Kaczenski (apparently most of the clothes were leftovers from The Untouchables, designed by Giorgio Armani). There’s a period-type score composed by Mark Snow, adding to the atmosphere of this impressive TV movie, directed by veteran Paul Wendkos. Adapted by Robert E. Thompson and Lindsay Harrison. Look out for an uncredited Ann Turkel as Gloria Swanson – coincidentally, Turkel’s mother’s name is Thelma!  Incredibly, this was broadcast as a double feature with Anderson doing headlining duty in The Jayne Mansfield Story too.  I understand the only basic law of human nature – love talks, money walks