All For Mary (1955)

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If Florence Nightingale had ever worked with her she’d have blown out her lamp. Debonair soldier Clive Morton (Nigel Patrick) and clumsy Humphrey ‘Humpy’ Miller (David Tomlinson) are bachelors holidaying separately at a Swiss ski resort.  They have nothing in common except that  they both fall for the hotel proprietor’s daughter Mary (Jill Day).  Humpy’s secret weapon, in the battle for Mary’s affections is his former nanny Miss Cartwright (Kathleen Harrison) who arrives to take charge of the pair as they are quarantined with chicken pox in the hotel attic … Anodyne but very picturesque adaptation of the titular stage play by Harold Brocke & Kaye Bannerman, by Peter Blackmore and producer Paul Soskin with additional dialogue by Alan Melville. It’s fairly typical of its era, a combination of coy, heavy-handed and mild, with two perfect exponents of their types in the amusing male leads and Harrison getting a nice showcase.  Leo McKern is somewhat miscast as a Greek tourist. This is mostly distinctive for its colour cinematography shot on location by Reginald H. Wyer and the fact that it was directed by Wendy Toye. She is one of the very few British women directors of the era and started out as a dancer and choreographer with a long and prolific career directing theatre and opera as well as early film collaborations with Jean Cocteau, the Crazy Gang and Carol Reed and then making award-winning shorts. If you can find a copy of her Cannes-winning film The Stranger Left No Card, do.  It’s terrific: she made a different version of it (Stranger in Town) for Anglia TV’s Tales of the Unexpected in 1981. And wouldn’t we all have loved to see her Broadway production of Peter Pan starring Boris Karloff.  When she appeared on BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs she chose as her luxury item framed Ronald Searle drawings. Fabulous. She died 27 February 2010, almost exactly 9 years ago, aged 92. She deserves to be better known.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

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Are you sure I don’t look like a dick?  With their headquarters destroyed by missile strikes launched by power-crazed international drug dealer Poppy (Julianne Moore) and the world held hostage, members of Kingsman find new allies when they discover a spy organization in the United States known as Statesman. They’ve been holding a lepidopterist (Colin Firth returns as Harry) in their Kentucky distillery (a cover) since he got shot in the head a year previously and appears to be suffering from retrograde amnesia. He thinks he’s a butterfly collector and has no recollection whatsoever of being a spy. In an adventure that tests their strength and wits, the elite secret agents from both sides of the pond band together to battle Poppy and save the day, something that’s becoming a bit of a habit for Eggsy (Taron Egerton) … I’ve never considered genocide especially ladylike. With its retro stylings (London gentleman vs. Fifties-obsessed villainness), drink vs drugs, its nod to Michael Caine’s heyday (those spex), cute dogs, a meet-the-parents scenario, bombs and ultra-violence there’s something for everybody in this comic book sequel. Channing Tatum joins in the fun as the cowboy on a mission, with Jeff Bridges heading up the allied US spy gang and Mark Strong back as Merlin accompanying Egerton (with that awful white-Londoner-doing-black-argot shtick that is SO irritating) doing the superspy thang. Then there’s Poppy’s predilection for human burgers and kidnapping celebrity musicians. It’s cheeky, rude and fun. Somewhat. Not to throw rain on the parade, it’s a shame that writers of such creativity as Jane Goldman and (director) Matthew Vaughn don’t do something properly challenging instead of rehashing this nonsense. That’s two and quarter hours of my life gone in an exhausting tribute to special effects and let’s face it, this isn’t Lawrence of Arabia. Sigh. Hey, hey, Elton. Language. Okay, well, as fabulous as your catalogue is, I think I want to hear some Gershwin

G.I. Blues (1960)

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There is no need to borrow a baby to get into my apartment.  You underestimate your attraction. Stationed in West Germany with the American military, soldier Tulsa McLean (Elvis Presley) hopes to open up a nightclub when he gets out of the army. He lacks the capital for such a venture, but a chance to raise the cash comes his way through a friendly wager with his colleagues. Local dancer Lili (Juliet Prowse) is a notorious ice queen, and Tulsa bets everything he has that a friend of his, Dynamite (Edson Stroll) can earn her affections. But, when Dynamite is dispatched to Alaska, it’s up to Tulsa to melt Lili’s heart and as his friends Cookie (Robert Ivers) and Turk follow the couple and watch Tulsa negotiate his way into Lili’s affections from nearby, a baby enters the picture when Cookie falls for Lili’s Italian roommate Tina (Leticia Roman) … An unremarkable service comedy by screenwriters Edmund Beloin and Henry Garson gets the musical romcom makeover starring the King. This gained traction because of course Elvis Presley was himself stationed in Germany, as part of the post-war occupation, curtailing his musical career. This was the first of nine films in partnership with Norman Taurog and it curdled his screen persona and his film performances thereafter. However it is beloved of many fans precisely because of the echoes in his own life – he finds Blue Suede Shoes by Elvis Presley in a jukebox! – and the songs are outstanding.  There’s some excellent location photography, including on a cable car ride. Juliet Prowse is remarkably charming and her presence alone elevates this in the canon. The King died on this day in 1977. Long live the King!

What’s Up, Doc? (1972)

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Ryan O’Neal is the absent-minded musicologist whose rocks are upset by scatty accident-prone college dropout Barbra Streisand in this Peter Bogdanovich homage to and adaptation of the great screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby. A San Francisco hotel is the location where a kiss-chase on a mammoth scale proceeds, with thieves and assorted academics and hotel staff running in circles, all because of a very popular type of plaid suitcase. With Streisand crooning as Ryan tickles the keys and a to-die-for supporting cast – Madeline Kahn! Kenneth Mars! Austin Pendleton! – this is a sheerly hilarious, swoony delight from start to delectable finish. Amongst the many movie references is an homage to the car chase in Bullitt! Written by Buck Henry, Robert Benton and David Newman, and Bogdanovich himself. One of the funniest films ever made.

La La Land (2016)

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I left this singing the songs and wiping tears from my eyes. Hardly a typical exit from a movie on a viciously cold winter’s day but confirmation that everything you’ve heard about this is true:  it’s absolutely, unexpectedly wonderful. The opening is casually breathtaking, a pass-it-along song among disenchanted motorists stuck in a traffic jam on the freeway in LA, singing and dancing as far as the eye can see in an utterly joyous spectacle. Ryan Gosling is playing and re-playing a piano sequence on the tape deck of his vintage car while Emma Stone is in the car in front, talking on the phone and looking at a scene for an audition. She doesn’t see the traffic move along, he overtakes, glares at her and she gives him the finger. This meet cute is in three parts and the second is at a club where he gets fired for playing his preferred jazz tunes;  then a pool party where he’s playing in an 80s covers band and she requests I Ran. He invites her to see Rebel Without a Cause (my favourite movie!) at The Rialto and then the romance begins in earnest, under the stars at the Griffith Observatory, over the course of the seasons, with everything colour coded, in tribute perhaps to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg but with liberal references to a slew of other musicals that have soundtracked our lives. Everything is perfectly judged as they move in together, she attends hilariously awful auditions, he has to slowly forego his dream of a jazz club and must earn his crust playing with John Legend (I know), just as he’s persuaded her to love the musical form she associates with Kenny G (exactly). He explains to her what jazz is:  Conflict and Compromise. And that’s how the story works. There is wit and smarts to spare, not just movie references, since the score by Justin Hurwitz is its own animal and the free jazz improv daubs this Damien Chazelle work with its own singular mojo. The narrative combines the integrated musical, the backstage musical and straightforward musical drama in a discursive work which posits settling against success, love against loss, against a bedrock of millennial failures and wannabes – baristas, waiters and jobless performers, living in an LA rarely seen on screen with its rackety streets, vintage accoutrements, nouveau restaurants and old style clubs, not to mention the Warners’ lot. This is just brilliant filmmaking, with an audacious ending and fantastically good performances by the leads who are terrific given their deliberately limited dancing and singing abilities. Gosling has improved so much (wasn’t The Nice Guys the making of him?); and Stone gives a gracious, complex, fully rounded empathy to a role that beautifully complements his sardonic but passionate dude. A widescreen valentine to Hollywood, music, movies, and La-La-Land, that destination for dreamers everywhere. Stunning.

The Passionate Friends (1949)

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In which David Lean commences his passionate affair with le cinema du tourisme. This adaptation of HG Wells’ novel of adultery (of which he knew a little) is full of fabulous awkwardness between banker hubby Claude Rains and perpetually cross wife Ann Todd, who relives her early affair with pre-WW2 lover research scientist Trevor Howard – who turns up unexpectedly in their destination Alpine hotel one fine day after the war, where she awaits her husband’s arrival. His unfounded suspicions drive the old lovers back together and social homicide awaits them all in London… Adapted by Eric Ambler, Stanley Haynes and Lean himself, who did like a bit of Freud, this is a fine exploration of marital issues, decency and class, with an exceptional score by Richard Addinsell underlining the wracking feelings bedevilling the lovers and the betrayed. Rains is brilliant, undercutting the relegation of this to ‘woman’s picture’ and entering into something closer to finely tuned emotion. His upstaging of Todd after a romantic evening she has covered up by a supposed theatre trip is outstandingly tense;  his speech about German romanticism a chilling reminder of the times in which it was made. Todd isn’t up to communicating anything of real value despite the flashbacks she narrates but Howard reminds us of Brief Encounter and all those things that remain unsaid. The ending is quite shocking in many respects and brings it close to those Russian classics we love and admire but don’t really want to experience.

Second Chance (1953)

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RKO made some pretty fast-moving, fun noirs and this is one of them – shot on location in Mexico with good looking people, as was the wont of Howard Hughes, by now in charge of the studio. The screenplay by Sydney Boehm and Oscar Millard was based on a story by DM Marshman Jr who shared writing credit on Sunset Blvd and went back east after this to join the world of advertising. Rudolph Mate was directing for 3D so other than the pulchritude of stars Robert Mitchum as a boxer and Linda Darnell as a singer – he’s helping her escape the attention of her mobster boyfriend Jack Palance – there’s a stunning climax in a cable car. Palance was at the peak of his Hollywood heaviness and he’s as good as you’d hope.

GI Blues (1960)

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Elvis was the US Army’s most famous conscript so it only stood to reason after his career was so drastically interrupted that the situation be turned to everybody’s advantage. Location shooting in Germany was done before he got out of his service, the interiors were shot back at Paramount when he got out. He’s Tulsa, planning on opening his own club back home but needing cash. He and his bandmates make a wager about spending the night with a girl. She is dancer Lili (Juliet Prowse), an ice queen who turned down one of their colleagues. He takes her for a trip on the Rhine and she starts to melt but when she gets wind of the bet there’s trouble on the horizon … Presley’s slide into a kind of fatal sentimentality really began here – there’s an unfortunately all-too-real in-joke close to the start when a drunk puts Blue Suede Shoes on the juke box to drown out Tulsa.  This began as Christmas in Berlin, then it was known as Cafe Europa before Edmund Beloin and Henry Garson’s script was finally called GI Blues. There are amazing songs and the standout scene is Presley with the puppets singing Wooden Heart. The sensational Prowse, most famous for being affianced to another singer, Sinatra, for a spell in 1962, and shocking Soviet leader Khrushchev with her routine in Can-Can, won the role after (Sister) Dolores Hart, Joan Blackman and Ursula Andress tested. Presley is good – so much so this caused a riot in Mexico City  – but you can’t help but wonder what might have been after this became the go-to formula following the relative failures of Flaming Star and Wild in the Country. Hmm.

Where Eagles Dare (1968)

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If you don’t like this, there’s a high probability that you’re either dead or German (preferably both) and you definitely hate Top Gear. So stop reading now. This, like The Great Escape and The Guns of Navarone, is the only litmus test for a common humanity amongst right-thinking viewers. The story of Allied agents trying to break into a castle (Schloss Adler) held by the Nazis to break out a British colonel, it has Eastwood and Burton and Mary Ure working their way into the fortress to stop losing headway on the planned D-Day landings.  Or … something else???? Twisty Twister McTwisted! Fabulous stunts, great scenery, terrifying cable-car scenes, amazing tension, wonderful action. Just what you want, really, from a film. Another reminder that the prolific Alistair MacLean wrote brilliant books. Happy New Year.