Esther Waters (1948)

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Esther Waters (Kathleen Ryan) is the maid at a big house where she is seduced by handsome footman William Latch (Dirk Bogarde) – but when he disappears with another woman Esther finds herself pregnant. She leaves for home but her mother is dead and she gives birth alone in a workhouse in Lambeth. Returning to service her childminder offers to kill her baby boy Jackie for a fiver. A kindly policeman helps her and then she meets a nice vicar, Fred (Cyril Cusack) who romances her. When William spots her on a tram however she allows him see her now six-year old son.  He’s a bookmaker with his ex long gone after his forays in Europe. Fred wants to marry her but she protests I’m a woman too and we know her sexual desire for William is overwhelming. It’s quite a moment in a British film of the era. She and William marry and she has to get over her disdain for his profession of gambling – until he falls mortally ill and she must enter the world of risk. The first section of the story is quite visually inventive with a particularly nice moment happening in silhouette. Bogarde is an excellent and louche romantic lead in his first such role. Then it descends into a social problem tract as Esther gets the Dickensian treatment in the city after her abandonment. Their reunion is as a fairly average married couple when he purveys his business – until medical issues twist everything … So the film both in terms of content and style works naturalism and melodrama into the fashion of the post-war period.  Ryan is very good in a complex role, never turning on the tears despite her desperation but it really works best when that attractive man Bogarde is front and centre. There’s a terrific climax at the Derby.  Adapted from George Moore’s novel by Michael Gordon and William Rose with additional dialogue by Gerard Tyrrell. Directed by Ian Dalyrymple and Peter Proud.


The Blue Lamp (1950)

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An inordinately popular crime drama that begat Dixon of Dock Green, the long-running TV show – despite the fact that Dixon (Jack Warner) is killed by ambitious thug Tom Riley (Dirk Bogarde) while he tries to reason with him during the robbery of a cinema.  Basil Dearden was directing from a sharp screenplay by T.E.B Clarke, who adapted a treatment by Jan Read and Ted Willis (of TV fame). There was additional dialogue by Alexander MacKendrick. This was the rather parochial but BAFTA-winning production that earned the ire of critic Gavin Lambert writing (pseudonymously) in Sight & Sound of its “specious brand of mediocrity.”  And it’s certainly true that it cannot hold a candle to the noirs coming out of Hollywood at the time. Nonetheless, its value lies precisely in the cosy post-war vision of England being promoted by Ealing Studios, the documentary approach, the narrative style of interlinking stories, Bogarde’s startling impact as the glamorous crim and the lush photography of London by night shot by Gordon Dines. How wonderful to see Little Venice, the White City dog track, Paddington and the dazzling lights of the West End. Mmmm… Look out for Anthony Steel as a constable.

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

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Fool’s courage. Operation Market Garden was the code name for the failed attempt to take the bridges around Arnhem in Holland as winter drew in during 1944. The Allies led by Montgomery and Eisenhower had the idea to power through to the damaged German factories on the Ruhr – and a combination of bloody mindedness, poor planning, bad luck and bad weather made it a pretty disastrous sortie and certainly did not end WW2 as anticipated.  The great Irish writer Cornelius Ryan’s stonking blockbuster books about the era yielded this (published in 1974) and Darryl F. Zanuck’s independent production The Longest Day (1962) and his brilliance as a journalist and investigative historian have cleared up a lot of myths about certain WW2 events, this not being the least of them. Both films have an A-Z list of stars in common but Richard Attenborough was the sole helmer here and William Goldman adapted the book, published in 1974.  General Browning (Dirk Bogarde, a real life WW2 soldier) is the man poised to lead Montgomery’s plan but when a doubting Private Wicks (Paul Copley) carries out an extra recce and supplies him with photos of concealed armoured German tanks in the area where the landing is planned he has him put out on sick leave. Bad idea. With seven days’ notice the paratroopers, infantry and air service both US and UK are sent in. It’s well set up with the Dutch underground – a father and son carry out some spying for the Brits on the Nazis assembled in the area – and the putting together of a team of doubting Thomas Allies with Sean Connery in particular being given some great moments as General Urquhart – confessing to air sickness before takeoff;  landing in a forest where the lunatics from the local asylum are literally laughing at him;  and in a lovely touch and a symmetrical moment after the disaster has happened, arriving at Browning’s Dutch HQ being greeted by geese – who are clearly laughing at him too. That’s good writing. Never mind the naysayers, and there have been a lot over the years amongst the critical posse, who probably wish this had had a very different outcome (don’t we all):  this is fiercely exciting, mordantly funny and has memorable moments of sheer bloody minded bravery, not least when James Caan pilots a jeep through a Nazi regiment with the body of a young captain he has promised he wouldn’t let die. If you’re not cheering at this then you’re not breathing, mate. Maximillian Schell is terrific as the German General who applauds his opponents’ courage and hands Anthony Hopkins a bar of chocolate upon capture. After he’s given the order to raze Arnhem. Thrilling, splendid and a history lesson we still need to learn – bad project management, not heeding early warnings and then stopping the Poles from parachuting in because of fog when it was too late to rescue those poor men who were being slaughtered by the thousand. And those bloody radio crystals. Why’d they bring the wrong ones when the drop zone was eight miles from the river? Sheesh. Exciting as hell. And with a bigger body count. Fantastic, with every Seventies star you could wish for, be they given ever so little but with a special mention to little known Paul Maxwell and Erik Van’t Wout. There is an absolutely iconic score by the great John Addison:  hear it and you know exactly where you are. What a shame Ryan didn’t live long enough to see it:  he died two months after the book was published. What a gentleman and scholar he was. His contribution to our knowledge is immense. Just the thing for a rainy summer’s day when you should be watching Wimbledon but they shunted it back by a fortnight. Again.

Hot Enough for June (1964)

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Aka Agent 8 3/4.Dirk Bogarde is a louche unpublished London writer who happens to speak Czech so he’s whipped off the dole queue by British Intelligence and winds up hapless in Prague, trying to bring back a coded message he doesn’t understand, not even realising he’s been hired as a spy. This breezy spoof was one of many films riding on the coat-tails of the James Bond phenomenon and the versatile Bogarde is perfect in a role originally intended for Laurence Harvey, in this colourful mix of homage, pastiche, satire and romance, with buckets of tension as he eventually makes a connection in the Gents’ at a glass factory and makes out with the gorgeous Sylvia Koscina (making her English-language debut) who conceals her role for the secret police. There’s great byplay between spymaster Robert Morley and his opposite number, Leo McKern, and some wonderful dressing up as Bogarde tries to get back to London in one piece. Great location photography (in Padua, since the Cold War was ongoing!) by Ernest Steward distinguishes this attractive time piece. Adapted from Lionel Davidson’s The Night of Wenceslas by Lukas Heller. Directed by Ralph Thomas and produced by Betty Box, this was one of the later of their thirty-plus collaborations.

For Better, For Worse (1954)

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Dirk Bogarde often bemoaned the quality of the films he was obliged to do and this was one of those time-fillers, the story of a pair of broke newly weds in a one-room modern flat. He and Susan Stephen (soon to be the wife of DoP then director Nicolas Roeg) do their best with thin material and the jokes are about the plumbing, the furniture and of course the stresses of waiting for the creditors to arrive. She’s the daughter of well-to-do Cecil Parker who arrives in the nick of time to pay up. Rather like Barefoot in the Park without Neil Simon’s incisive writing. There is however some really nice colour cinematography by Guy Green, making London like bright as a button and the delightful Dennis Price is at hand as an enervating neighbour. Look out for the wonderful Peter Jones and Thora Hird down the ensemble. Adapted from Arthur Watkyn’s popular play and directed (Ripley’s here) by J. Lee Thompson. Notable for a light musical score by transgender composer Wally Stott  (who became Angela Morley).

The Night Porter (1974)

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The infamous S&M movie about a Nazi who posed as a doctor in a concentration camp to take salacious photographs and the young inmate with whom he developed a kinky relationship:  they meet by chance in a hotel 12 years after the war has ended. He is about to go into a mock trial with his fellow abusers and they find out that the girl, now the wife of a conductor, could be a witness. He and the girl resume their relationship … And therein lieth the knotty problem. We know about the Nazis in our midst, they continue to holiday around Europe in a self-congratulatory orgy  in destinations such as Alicante and Portofino annually, according to Jonathan Freedland. And we found out in the 70s how they organised, thanks to Frederick Forsyth. And there are a fair few of them and their descendants in Argentina, Brazil and Chile. We are loath to admit it, but we also know that they were reabsorbed into German life post-WW2 and the only people who lost their State pensions were anti-Nazis in a regime funded by American money (so much for nation re-building). We also know that Hitler’s backup plan – the Fourth Reich, as it were – was a European economic union governed by Germany. That’s the revolting European reality:  tell that to PIGS. We rest your case. So why does this explicit linking of pornography, violence and Nazism exert such a negative critical energy? Precisely because it is personalised. It is given a name, or rather, two: Max (Dirk Bogarde) and Lucia (Charlotte Rampling). And like it or not, howsoever it was forged, they love each other. Yes, it’s sick. But in that sickness is revealed a truth about human survival. It is also indicative of a truth about every relationship – it’s about power. Director and writer Liliana Cavani took a lot of heat for this but she remains a notable filmmaker and this is a testament to bravery, if nothing else. And Bogarde is fantastic in a deeply troubling role. Rampling was so young and beautiful – she does everything she can. And they must have trusted each other greatly to shoot those scenes together.

They Who Dare (1953)

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Operation Anglo is the subject of this screenplay by novelist Robert Westerby. It’s the story of six Special Boat Service men plus their local guides as they land on the Dodecanese in the Greek Islands with orders to blow up two German airfields. Loyalties are compromised, tempers fray and men are captured. At the end just two have kept going and  the tension is nigh-on unbearable:  Denholm Elliott screams at Dirk Bogarde, “I hate you for never giving up!” This is not great WW2 drama but it’s pretty damn good and Lewis Milestone makes particularly good use of the beautiful landscape.

King and Country (1964)

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The pairing of Bogarde with Losey had unleashed an unfathomably brilliant performance in the previous year’s The Servant, but here we are in more subdued territory – even if it happens to be a war zone. Adapted from a stage play by John Wilson it is the story of a WW1 deserter who is defended by officer Bogarde at the court martial that follows. The original play apparently had a homosexual subtext which is obviated here in favour of a more pragmatic approach to issues of loyalty without complicating personal preferences (homosexuality was still illegal when this was made and Bogarde had been brilliant in Victim, 1961, which is about the subject). Tom Courtenay is fine as Private Hamp and Bogarde offers a very good interpretation in this take on class and justice. He himself served in WW2 and was at the concentration camps so he had firsthand knowledge of the evil that men do. This portrait of trench warfare is suitably grim and the issue of cowardice under fire in that war was also treated in Paths of Glory (1957), a classic of the sub-genre.

The Servant (1963)

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Robin Maugham’s devastating novel about the class system receives an elegant adaptation by Harold Pinter working with director Joseph Losey. Dirk Bogarde is utterly hypnotic as the sleazy contemptuous manservant hired to keep house for aristocratic James Fox. Superior staging, performances and psychological detail make this a keeper. For anyone who’s ever feared the malevolent motivations of their occasional household help (me!), this is unfortunately recognisable, even in a small way. Photographed by the late great Douglas Slocombe – who died this very week. Look for that first shot – Dirk Bogarde exiting an establishment bearing the name Thomas Crapper. And Pinter has a small role in a restaurant.Brilliant.

The Password is Courage (1962)

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Today is Dirk Bogarde Day at Mondo Movies (well, it’s Saturday, but to be honest it could be any day of the week such is my admiration for this Great British actor.) This was in the period when he was negotiating a different way through his problematic stardom and this is a pretty straightforward if underrated WW2 POW escape story based on the story of Sgt Major Charles Coward.  He spent years planning and making his way out of German captivity. There are some funny moments and the disconcerting sight of a Carry On ensemble actor jars slightly. Writer-director Andrew Stone (working since the 20s) manages the tone well in the face of the problematic scenario. Sometimes we forget that Germans in the main got on with their lives, to some extent, so seeing Bogarde mingling with the hoi polloi on the streets is disconcerting. (Let’s face it, the Germans came out of the war pretty bloody well, didn’t they?!) Onward.