Carrie (1952)

Everybody’s a stranger until you meet ’em. Beautiful young Carrie Meeber (Jennifer Jones) travels from her small hometown to live with her married sister Minnie (Jacqueline de Witt) in Chicago in the 1890s, On the train she meets well-off travelling salesman Charles Drouet (Eddie Albert). When she loses her job in a sweatshop, she reconnects with the charming and smitten Drouet because she needs a new job to pay $5 board to her Swedish brother-in-law Sven (Robert Foulk – uncredited) but she becomes Drouet’s mistress and is now a kept woman. When Drouet’s friend middle-aged restaurant manager George Hurstwood (Laurence Olivier) falls in love with her, complications ensue. He hasn’t told her he’s married albeit unhappily to a controlling social-climbing wife Julie (Miriam Hopkins) and to escape his marriage (and two children making their way in society) he has to commit grand larceny in his office. As he and Carrie make a life together in New York his circumstances worsen and she is none the wiser as to why he cannot work. Then she tells him she’s pregnant and their financial problems threaten to overwhelm them when he reads in the newspaper that his newly married son is arriving from his honeymoon and Carrie sees an opportunity to improve their situation leaving him to his own devices while she blags her way to an acting career … You’ve got to pay the fiddler in this world. Theodore Dreiser’s realist novel Sister Carrie is adapted by Ruth Goetz and Augustus Goetz for the screen and becomes a typically beautiful William Wyler production – grave, melancholy and immensely moving. Not least because Olivier gives a truly magnificent performance as a man undone by desire and love, brought low by a woman so much younger and more naive. When he declares, This much happiness I’m going to have, you know his sacrifice will bring him down. He is enormously sympathetic, his acting horns drawn right in, probably because with Wyler he was never going to be able to indulge the grand theatrics of old: they had already worked together on Wuthering Heights and the mannered actor in him had been brought to book then by a director who knew just how much he needed from him, and how much storytelling he could do with the camera. And here the camerawork by Victor Milner is supreme, framing every emotional beat with just the right amount of distance and shot size, emphasising different perspectives and roles, juxtaposing possibility with imminent disaster, not least in those wonderful train scenes. Jones’s lack of technique somehow works to the advantage of the story: as her professional acumen improves, so does her control of the narrative: when she sees her ill and bedraggled husband again, and asks, Did I do this? it is simply heartbreaking. Their mismatched yet overwhelming love for one another contrives to make this one of the great unsung melodramas. The casting of Hopkins, who had also worked with Wyler (These Three), and Albert, is perfect, their character notes bringing solidity to an otherwise unbearable tragedy. It’s a sad story but I’ll keep it strictly commercial

Scarlet Thread (1951)

An East End spiv. A 1950s wide boy with cinema accent. Petty thief Freddie(Laurence Harvey) likes to talk jive in an American accent in London’s Soho where he hangs out trying to impress the ladies. He joins forces with suave gangster Marcon (Sydney Tafler) to commit a jewel heist in the University town of Cambridge with (Harry Fowler) driving their getaway car. But loses his never, fires his gun and the victim, an elderly man gets dragged away in the car. When the men are chased through the streets of Cambridge by students they take refuge in the garden of the Master’s house and are greeted by his daughter Josephine (Kathleen Byron) who takes them for graduates and invites them in. Marcon introduces himself as an old student – Aubrey Bellingham – and passes himself off to a visiting vicar but Josephine’s romantic interest Shaw (Arthur Hill) is suspicious and then her aunt (Renee Kelly ) arrives – the woman the men ran into as they escaped their pursuers. And womanising Freddie then takes a fancy to Josephine, then it transpires the man he shot was her father – and the radio news reports the man has died … This university is packed with young men who talk in inverted commas. Lewis Gilbert’s early noirish film provides a great opportunity to see a callow pulpy youthful Laurence Harvey, learning which side of his face was more photogenic and doing the old cheap romance thing with (bizarrely enough) charismatic Byron, she of Black Narcissus with the crazy lipsticked mouth – and the clue to his real British identity recalls that film. How bizarre it is to see these gangsters come a cropper in the rarefied setting of Cambridge University, chased by students in flapping gowns. There’s some genuinely interesting cinematography by Geoffrey Faithfull – over the shoulder tracking behind Tafler (Gilbert’s brother-in-law) and Harvey after the heist goes wrong; point of view shots in the getaway car piloted by Harry Fowler alongside a policeman on a motorbike making good use of the rear view mirror as he sweats at the wheel. The contrast between these surprising crims and the fish out of water setting is jarring but also pleasing, the early Soho scenes with Dora Bryan and the presentation of Harvey as spiv quite fascinating. Not great but it is has its moments, not least when Harvey’s mask (and fake American accent) slips and Tafler’s act as the ancient graduate is very convincing. Adapted by A.R. Rawlinson and Moie Charles from their play. You dance too well. It makes me think of all the women you’ve danced with

Kings of the Road (1976)

Aka Im Lauf der Zeit (In the Course of Time). How do you live? While travelling his route along the rural border between East and West Germany, solitary film projector repairman Bruno Winter (Rüdiger Vogler) meets depressive paediatrician and linguist Robert Lander (Hanns Zischler) when the latter attempts suicide by driving his car into a shallow lake following the breakup of his marriage. The two form a genuine friendship as Robert accompanies Bruno on the road to fix equipment in deserted and dilapidated cinemas. They discuss the decline of German film, the hegemony of America culture and their challenging relationships with women. Robert stops at his home where he discusses his unhappiness about his mother’s death eight years earlier with his printer father (Rudolf Schundler) whom he believes disrespected her. Bruno and Robert then encounter a third man (Marquard Bohm) whose wife drove their car into a tree the night before. They stay with him until the repair service turns up. Bruno decides to break off from his work to go to his childhood home on the Rhine and he and Robert take a motorbike with sidecar and a boat to get there but Bruno cannot bring himself to spend the night in the house. They return to the border where they ultimately part ways, with Bruno from his truck watching Robert on a train as their paths cross on the railway line. Then Bruno talks to a woman (Franziska Stoemmer) whose father refuses to screen new films at his cinema because he believes modern work exploits people … For the first time I see myself as someone who’s something in a certain time and that time is my history. Perhaps the quintessential Wim Wenders film, this road movie is an inky black and white portrait of the psychological state of Germany thirty years after the war, which has never really ended in its impact – empty roads, filled with signifiers of a depressed and separated nation and a people whose heads are singing along to American songs while contemplating suicide. The film ends at a border sign. For Wenders this is both an American-style film filled with air and space and music and occasional political references (including a funfair’s cigarette lighter made from a cast of Hitler’s head); and a conversation about the boundaries between geography and cinema, a dialogue about the colonising of the German consciousness, which he allows a character to state explicitly. This reflexive iteration gives the form a new European stamp, bringing it all back home, accidentally on purpose, colonising the ultimate American film form. In the end, film yields to the reality of geopolitics with American-ness a permanent inhabitant even if the troops are mostly dispersed and the Soviets are entrenched, at least for the time being. They are out of sight except as newspaper headlines. Hearts and minds:  the perverse antithesis to tourism as the uninvited guest lingers in ways that cannot be explained, only imagined. There are things that might shock, such as when Vogler defecates in the open air (an image that once seen is never forgotten) and the general sense of masculine despair. The third of Wenders’ road trilogy. Shot by Robby Muller with music by Axel Linstaedt. The Yanks have colonised our subconscious

Silver River (1948)

I’ve got news for you – I think you’ve just gone into the gambling business. Unfairly cashiered from the Union Army Mike McComb (Errol Flynn) heads to Nevada and after running some card games gets into the silver business following an encounter with Georgia Moore (Ann Sheridan) whose husband Stanley (Bruce Bennett) is a mining engineer convinced that the nearby hills are full of silver. McComb lets him go out to the territory despite knowing the Shoshone Indians are on the warpath and his lawyer Plato Beck (Thomas Mitchell) cannot persuade him of the wrong he is doing – McComb is smitten with Georgia. By the time guilt overwhelms him he is too late to save Moore and ends up marrying Georgia and getting rich off the proceeds from the mine. His bank is using vouchers from the miners but when Plato shows up drunk at a housewarming dinner and tells the truth about McComb’s faults, the townspeople end up taking their savings from the bank, rival owners open other mines and he loses everything … His name marks our schools and our banks – and one day, maybe, our finish. Raoul Walsh liked both Flynn and Sheridan and this has a fantastically sparky script by Harriet Frank adapted from a story by Stephen Longstreet. He was a friend of Flynn’s and knew that by 1947 the star’s looks and acting were deteriorating, mainly from drink, possibly drugs and definitely from the financial and marital hurt inflicted by some wives. He says that both Flynn and Sheridan were drinking heavily on set and that director Raoul Walsh told him, ” ‘Kid, write it fast. They’re not drinking.’ It soon became clear that they were even if we didn’t see how. [Later on set] I went over and tasted the ice water. It was pure 90-proof vodka.’ ” What a shame. Because there are some great lines and exchanges here and the performances by the leads are sluggish, muted and dead on arrival for most of the film. The humour and ribaldry are fine, it’s the delivery that’s the issue. The irony that it’s about a man whose ability to lead is ruined by some intrinsic flaw cannot have been lost on Flynn. The references to King David, Bathsheba and the serpent’s egg by Mitchell are very clear Biblical analogies that point this up as a morality tale. What might have been, alas, in a film that is rather stillborn from such a paradoxically lively cast and a gifted director. Don’t let’s have a lynching

They Died With Their Boots On (1941)

You get him fighting and there isn’t anything he won’t do. George Custer (Errol Flynn) gets into trouble on arrival at West Point and when the Civil War breaks out he is at the bottom of the class but he is beloved by all his colleagues bar Ned Sharp (Arthur Kennedy). He falls in love with Libbie Bacon (Olivia de Havilland) and becomes acquainted with General Winfield Scott (Sydney Greenstreet) who places him in the 2nd US Cavalry where he performs heroic deeds after disobeying orders. Then a mistake in orders has him made a Brigadier General and he commands the Michigan Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg. He is more or less retired and drinks too much. Now his wife, Libbie petitions Scott to have Custer placed back in action and he is sent to the Dakota Territories where he is confronted by the Lakota tribe led by Crazy Horse (Anthony Quinn). He gives his word that they will keep the Black Hills, their sacred home, but finds Sharp running the fort’s trading post and saloon and plotting with business men to start a gold rush that will bring fabulous wealth to an elite. When Custer finds out, he is court martialled … I don’t want a medal. I just want a beef steak and a bottle of bourbon. One of the greatest films of classical Hollywood, this plays fast and loose with history but somehow the smart writing gets to the essence of the story – this is one of the wittiest, most exuberant films, with Flynn at his most beautiful, all flash, dash and flamboyance as the man who sympathises with Crazy Horse and the cause of the only real Americans in the vicinity. His meet cute with de Havilland is for the ages and the inscribing of every stage of their relationship is beautifully achieved by writers Lenore Coffee, Aeneas Mackenzie and Wally Kline. The screenplay is supreme – there isn’t a wasted witticism or action, every scene cleaves to the driving forward of Custer’s character which climaxes at Little Big Horn. And what a characterisation by Flynn – you can’t take your eyes off him, whether in his garish cadet’s gear, climbing up onto the porch of de Havilland’s house to woo her despite having insulted her father, or leading the loyal troops who would follow him anywhere. This is funny, smart and moving. It may not be accurate but it is true. Simply sensational. Directed by the legendary Raoul Walsh. There’s something about that fellow I like

Operation Amsterdam (1958)

Gentlemen, the noise you can hear is the German Army. Summer 1940. British army officer Major Dillon (Tony Britton) leads a dangerous commando-style raid with diamond dealer Jan Smit (Peter Finch) and expert Walter Keyser (Alexander Knox) to Amsterdam to prevent valuable industrial diamonds falling into the hands of the invading Germans. When they reach port Jan stops Anna (Eva Bartok) from driving her car into the water after she realises she’s put her Jewish fiance’s parents on to a small craft just bombed by the Nazis. He persuades her to take them to Amsterdam where he asks his father Johan (Malcolm Keen) to get his colleagues to allow them bring their jewels to London for safe keeping by the British Government. While the men enter negotiations, Anna pays a visit to Colonel Janssen (John Le Mesurier) and informs on her latest acquaintances, promising to monitor them and she returns to the men as they attempt to plan an expedition to crack a safe and avoid setting off an alarm. They play cat and mouse with the Dutch Army, never sure of who’s collaborating with the invading forces … We’re trying to beat the clock and the Germans. Every second counts. From the opening voiceover informing us that this incident doesn’t even exist in wartime records through the nailbiting heist scene in the bank, this is a documentary-style race against time WW2 drama with a possible femme fatale, fifth columnists and Nazis breathing down the necks of our men on a mission. And they still need permission to board the boat home. Bureaucracy has no respect for heroes. Finch is as good as he ever is as the dashing, daring Dutchman and the late Britton has the role of his career – he finds out just how hard it is to kill a German soldier along the canals, sweat bedevilling him as his eyes dart around seeking safe harbour. And you never know where you are with Bartok – she’s convincing as the woman under pressure. And wouldn’t you know it there’s Melvyn Hayes to help them save the day. An intriguing premise from David E.Walker’s novel Adventure in Diamonds adapted by John Eldridge and director Michael McCarthy. Nicely shot by Reginald Wyer (with second unit work by Sidney Hayers) in a near-empty Amsterdam where hidden ears are always cocked for the rat-a-tat of gunfire as the Germans approach. We’ve all had a busy day

Come Back, Little Sheba (1952)

You and Marie are nothing but a couple of sluts. Twenty years after their shotgun marriage, their child dead and their little dog lost for months, dowdy Lola Delaney (Shirley Booth) rents out a room in the house she shares with her recovering alcoholic husband, chiropractor Doc (Burt Lancaster). The pretty college student Marie Buckholder (Terry Moore) does life drawings in the living room of track star jock Turk Fisher (Richard Jaeckel) and Lola enjoys watching them fall in love. Their carry on aggravates Doc who infers that they are engaged in sexual shenanigans despite being told that Marie is engaged to someone else. He compares Lola to Marie and his obsession ultimately drives him back to the bottle despite his two year membership of Alcoholics Anonymous which had got him back on track … I can’t spend my time kissing all the girls. Booth was recreating her acclaimed stage role (and it won her an Academy Award in her screen debut at 54) and Lancaster gives a great, mature performance in a William Inge play that reads like a suburban take on A Streetcar Named Desire: just how big is this house and how long is this woman going to stay in the spare room? Adapted by Ketti Frings, Lola is slatternly and useless but enormously endearing, Doc is remote and difficult but somehow admirable. His paranoia is not far from the surface and peppy Marie gets under his skin. His concealed passion destroys his resolve but Lola treats Marie like a daughter, unaware of his conflict until she opens the cupboard to make cocktails. He has never forgiven her for the forced marriage that stopped him training as a proper doctor and then Lola lost the baby. When his pent-up violent anger finally erupts it’s shocking. It’s a persuasive picture of long-festering marital resentments, fixation on the brevity of youthful beauty and loss and a signature film of kitchen sink realism. Directed by Delbert Mann. Alcoholics are mostly disappointed men