Flashdance (1983)

It’s her social security number, asshole – she works for you! Alex Owens (Jennifer Beals) is an eighteen year old juggling two odd jobs in Pittsburgh – welding by day at a steel mill, dancing by night in a working men’s club. But she aspires to become a successful ballet dancer. Nick Hurley (Michael Nouri) is her boss and he becomes her lover and he supports and encourages her to fulfill her dream; so does her mentor Hanna Long (Lilia Skala) a retired ballerina who once danced in the Ziegfeld Follies. Her best friends are Jeanie (Sunny Johnson) a waitress and an aspiring ice skater and Jeanie’s boyfriend Richie (Kyle T. Heffner) who works as a short order cook but dreams of making it as a stand up comic and going to Hollywood. Alex is afraid to push herself when she sees that fellow competitors for Pittsburgh Conservatory of Dance and Repertory have years of training and it takes her friends’ botched efforts and a nudge in the right direction to make her take that big step towards her future … Dreaming is wonderful but it won’t put you closer to what you want. This was a cultural phenomenon back in the day and it’s the music video dream brought to life via the extraordinary backlit cinematography (by Donald Peterman) favoured by auteur Adrian Lyne, a simple plot borrowed from the backstage musicals of Busby Berkeley and the most thumping soundtrack ever dreamed up for the screen. And it is a dream, this story of a beautiful teen who fears failure but keeps on truckin’ and despite the huge warehouse loft apartment, the amazing figure and the somewhat grave demeanour, she’s oddly relatable precisely because she lacks confidence and gets around on a racing bike. Beals is a wonderfully charismatic performer who looks good in or partly out of clothes. Her casual attitude to what she wears is disarming, particularly when she takes off her tux in front of Nouri’s ex Katie (Belinda Bauer) and we see underneath is a fake shirt and it’s backless and barely there. Somehow everything she does feels empowering and sexy. There was some controversy stirred up over the fact that the dancer who (clearly!) performs the electrifying routines for Beals, Marine Jahan, was mysteriously uncredited and she called out the producers herself but it didn’t stop this going gonzo at the box office.  Super Bowl XXI made up for it when she was the featured dancer in the half-time performance. (Sharon Shapiro did the body flips but no word on any further acknowledgement). The soundtrack is by Giorgio Moroder with the songs led by Irene Cara’s What a Feeling, doing for this what her theme for Fame did for that other sassy youthful production with a dark side and legwarmers. This is what feminism looked like in 1983 and it’s hot stuff, if you ask me.  The first collaboration between producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, this fabulous fairytale was written by Tom Hedley and Joe Eszterhas from Hedley’s story and directed by Lyne, a man who clearly loves women. Don’t you understand? When you give up your dream you die

Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)

There is no whole thing. You have to make it work. Divorced thirtysomething recruitment agent Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson) begins a romantic relationship with glamorous sculptor Bob Elkin (Murray Head), aware that he’s also intimately involved with lonely middle-aged Jewish doctor Daniel Hirsh (Peter Finch).  Bob takes off from the weekend babysitting for Alex’s friends the Hodsons (Vivian Pickles and Frank Windsor) in order to spend time with Daniel. The younger man represents a break with the pasts of both Bob’s older lovers, and neither is willing to let go of the love and vitality he brings to their mundane lives although he’s planning to leave for New York … I know you’re not getting enough of me but you’re getting all there is. Film critic Penelope Gilliatt’s screenplay, suggested by material she plumbed in her novel One by One, is a deep delve into the compromises and deceptions people make in order to have a little happiness. The North London setting with its population of slightly boho middle class types conceals the fact that the story is told rather cleverly, through the shared answering service, tales that Daniel is told by his patients, the insights of the precocious children Alex is minding and her mother’s truisms about marriage. The autumnal scenes carving out a season of political unrest hint at the melancholy truth that these are people who live in fear of rejection, hesitant about commitment, afraid to make a permanent display of emotion in a film which wears its protagonists’ pathology on its shirt sleeve, a patina of loss.  It’s amusing to see both Alex and Daniel cruise past Bob’s flat late at night, fearful there might be yet another person claiming his affection. Alongside the brilliant performances of the leads, with Finch a standout, there’s legendary silent actress Bessie Love as an answering service operator; Tony Britton in search of a job and winding up with a one night stand; and a very young Daniel Day-Lewis as a car vandal. How apposite for Jon Finch to be hustling his namesake, narrowly avoiding a late night arrest in Piccadilly Circus. Directed by John Schlesinger, whose best film this is, about a world he fully inhabits. He also contributed to the screenplay for this landmark in gay representation, along with David Sherwin and Ken Levison, who are thanked for their assistance in the credits. Some people believe something is better than nothing, but I’m beginning to believe that nothing can be better than something

Sabotage (1936)

Sabotage Hitchcock

Aka A Woman Alone/I Married a Murderer. You don’t need second sight in a case like this. A ring of foreign saboteurs is causing havoc in London with a series of explosive terrorist attacks. Karl Verloc (Oscar Homolka) is part of the group, but he maintains a cover as a cinema proprietor. His wife (Sylvia Sidney) is beginning to suspect something, though, and so is Scotland Yard undercover Detective Sgt. Ted Spencer (John Loder) who has been assigned to work at the shop next door to the cinema. What neither of them knows is that Verloc uses his wife’s little brother Stevie (Desmond Tester) to deliver the bombs in film canisters… You made London laugh. When one sets out to put the fear of death into people, it’s not helpful to make them laugh. We’re not comedians. Hitchcock always regretted having something major happen in this production – something he never permitted again because he felt it was a mistake, breaking the rules of suspense he was so careful to engineer the scaffolding his narratives. Nonetheless this impressively constructed story of terror on the streets of London between the wars is hugely atmospheric with excellent effects, a great chase and a startling conclusion. Adapted (loosely) from Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel The Secret Agent (confusingly the title of another Hitchcock film the same year) this is updated by Charles Bennett and action takes place at Piccadilly Circus, Simpsons’ restaurant and other familiar locales including the cinema that is Verloc’s base which allows some meta comments about the viewing experience with the film within a film being Disney’s Who Killed Cock Robin? one of the Silly Symphonies. The acting wasn’t all to Hitchcock’s taste however and he altered dialogue on set when he was forced to hire Loder instead of an ailing Robert Donat and the film probably suffers a little as a result but this is a tense, serious and exciting work. Shot by Bernard Knowles and edited by Charles Frend. Made at Gainsborough Studios and around London. They’re the people that you and I will never catch. It’s the men they employ that we’re after

The Sleeping Tiger (1954)

The Sleeping Tiger

He’s wrong. People are born the way they are. When brash young thug Frank Clemmons (Dirk Bogarde) attempts to rob psychiatrist Clive Esmond (Alexander Knox), the doctor surprisingly gains the upper hand. Instead of sending Frank to prison, Clive offers to have the criminal stay at his home, where he’ll attempt to reform the delinquent via in-depth analysis.  Esmond’s assistant Carol (Maxine Audley) is very wary of the guy. Settling into the doctor’s house, Clive meets Esmond’s wife, Glenda (Alexis Smith), who arrives back early from a holiday and initially dislikes her coarse guest who warns the housemaid Sally (Patricia McCarron) not to leave, instilling fear in the young woman. When Glenda begins to fall for Frank, intense conflict ensues and he returns to his old ways before introducing her to a different kind of life but the police Inspector (Hugh Griffith) returns to the property every time Clemmons is identified at the scene of a crime and Esmond proves too willing to provide an alibi…  He’s got courage. Under that bravado of his there’s something rather appealing. This erotically charged tale of crime, psychoanalysis and adulterous sex is the British debut of blacklisted director Joseph Losey who was forced to ‘borrow’ the name of Victor Hanbury for exhibition purposes. It’s twisted into a coil of jeopardy and perversion as Bogarde seems to bring out the worst in others – to his own chagrin as he realises halfway through when Smith’s psychopathology becomes clear during a chase with the police. There’s a look in his eyes, cast toward the passenger window, that expresses everything: what kind of married couple did he disturb?!  I wish I were a man, declares Smith through gritted teeth. Her past is another country too. The title isn’t just her lover’s own sorry backstory as a boy abandoned to a wicked stepmother, it also refers to what’s going on in Smith’s head as she responds to the interloper in their midst who seems to be gaming her husband – but the revelations of each character’s weakness is set against a crime thriller drama, with a Gothic staircase providing the scene for many confrontations and Bogarde’s bedroom and the horse riding enjoyed by the troubled pair giving this an electric and lurid charge. His and Smith’s feline barbs can only end in one way. The final images are superbly literal in a story where the doctor might actually know what he’s talking about. That’s young Billie Whitelaw in the office Bogarde holds up. Adapted from Maurice Moiseiwitsch’s novel by ‘Derek Frye’ a pseudonym that was created as cover for blacklisted screenwriters Harold Buchman and Carl Foreman. Made at Nettlefold Studios. Maybe you shouldn’t tamper with people

Palm Beach (2019)

Palm Beach

It’s what they’ve dreamed of for themselves is not what they’ve turned out to be. Frank (Bryan Brown) is flying in his lifelong friends for his big birthday at his beautiful home overlooking the bay at Palm Beach, north of Sydney. Now retired from his tee-shirt business which made him very wealthy, he and his wife Charlotte (Greta Scacchi), feckless son Dan (Charlie Vickers) and medical student daughter Ella (Matilda Brown), are hosting the remaining members of The Pacific Sideburns, the band he managed in the Seventies who made the cover of Rolling Stone back in 1977 when they had their one big hit song. Now Leo (Sam Neill) is a journalist based in New Zealand, married to teacher Bridget (Jacqueline MacKenzie) and stepfather to her teenage daughter Caitlyn (Frances Berry). Billy (Richard E. Grant) is an ad man married to actress Eva (Heather Mitchell) who thinks at 60 she’s too young to be cast as Nicole Kidman’s mother. Holly (Claire van der Boom) is the daughter of their late lead singer Roxy and she arrives with her lover, an older man called Doug (Aaron Jeffery) in tow. Tensions erupt over money, career, cars and homes and then there’s a secret which has been niggling at someone’s conscience … The Pacific Sideburns go down as the voice of adult incontinence. Directed by that lovely actress Rachel Ward (who is of course married to leading man Brown), who co-wrote the screenplay with Joanna Murray-Smith, in her second theatrical outing behind the camera, this is a kind of Big Chill for a different generation and at a different stage of their lives. Fans of Australian cinema will be thrilled with the cast (which also includes blow-ins Grant and Scacchi), with Neill and Brown co-starring for the fifth time. This time out they’re in a production about rites of passage among friends (and frenemies) which isn’t afraid to be tough on its characters, none of whom is without baggage or post-60 year old issues. There are all kinds of relatable tensions over ageing, health and money with the added frisson of questionable DNA. The issue of whether Dan might be fathered by Leo becomes the main plank of the narrative particularly since Frank and Dan are permanently at daggers drawn. But Billy – who has made an ad for adult diapers in France using the band’s big hit – is envious of Frank’s money and taunts him about the chimneys on a neighbouring property blocking the view so often that Frank does something about it, leading to the film’s comic high point:  retirement is not for chickens, as his anti-depressants prove. Bonding over building a pizza oven is no picnic. It’s pretty hard to bond with the Gestapo, growls Sam Neill. The women have their own problems but try to get them out of their system with some therapeutic white wine-assisted yoga by the pool and tough conversations with their terminally self-obsessed men. The father-son relationship between Frank and Dan results in a terrible accident and it finally brings them all to their senses in a well managed conclusion to the comedy drama. This family affair also involves Brown and Ward’s real-life daughter as Frank’s daughter; while the film within a film is Ward’s 2001 short, The Big House. The songs are by the band The Teskey Brothers in a soundtrack peppered with great tunes. An extremely winning production with fantastic performances and smart writing, this is an amazing showcase for New South Wales in a location familiar to viewers of TV’s Home and Away. Very easy watching indeed. I’m on my way ASAP, especially if I can stay in that magnificent beach house. I call it uninvited clarity

 

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

 

A Man About the House (1947)

A Man About the House 1947

It may be an advantage to have a man about the house. The unmarried British Isit sisters Agnes (Margaret Johnston) and Ellen (Dulcie Gray) unexpectedly inherit their uncle’s Italian villa and have to deal with his sinister major-domo Salvatore (Kieron Moore) who manages the villa and vineyard. Agnes is overwhelmed by him and they marry, so he ends up owning the estate that once belonged to his family, believing Agnes to be the sole inheritor. Ellen’s suspicions are aroused when Agnes’s health begins to deteriorate and she consults Agnes’s former fiancé, visiting English doctor Benjamin Dench (Guy Middleton) …  Spinsters aren’t safe with such a man. A fun Gothic melodrama with an early opportunity to see Gina Lollobrigida in English-language cinema the year she came third in the Miss Italia pageant. Moore had played Salvatore in the theatre production of Francis Brett Young’s 1942 novel (which is adapted here by J.B. Williams) and he relishes his badness here – his speechifying about the differences between dried up Italian women and young unmarried Englishwomen has to be heard to be believed. Watching the sisters’ emotional unfurling as the vines are harvested is well done, their suppressed instincts vividly described against the emotional Italians nicely gauged in montages and changes of hair and costume.  It’s supremely ironic that it’s the stiff upper lipped older sister played by (the frankly weird) Johnston who succumbs to the determinedly sexual lure of the sleazy butler with murder in mind. Directed by Leslie Arliss. It is our duty as Englishwomen to set an example and not succumb to their lax foreign ways

 

 

Air Force (1943)

Air Force

Don’t talk – shoot! On December 6, 1941 nine B-17 bomber sets off on a flight from San Francisco to Hawaii en route to the Philippines. The Mary Ann is commanded by pilot ‘Irish’ Quincannon (John Ridgely). Bombardier Tommy McMartin (Arthur Kennedy) has a sister living in Hawaii and his co-pilot Bill Williams (Gig Young) is sweet on her. Cynical rear-gunner Joe Winocki (John Garfield) is intent upon leaving the air corps. They arrive at Hickam Field on the morning of December 7, just as the Japanese are attacking Pearl Harbor and other military facilities. As Roosevelt announces the US’ entry into the war, all of the men prepare to face the enemy, including Winocki whose bitter attitude changes quickly in the course of combat in the Pacific … What kind of lunatics do I have in this air corps anyhow? Don’t any of you know what’s impossible? With a screenplay by Dudley Nichols (and a deathbed scene written by an uncredited William Faulkner), this Howard Hawks film is an indelible picture of a cross-section of American society at the helm of a bomber, made at the height of WW2 and based around an actual incident when a flight of B-17s journeying to reinforce the defence of the Philippines flew into the attack on Pearl Harbour. The characters are based, more or less, on people Hawks met while consulting with Lt. Gen. Henry H. Arnold, Commander of the Army Air Force, in Washington DC and the production was made in conjunction with approval of the War Dept. Originally scheduled by producer Hal Wallis to be released on Pearl Harbour’s first anniversary, the shoot was repeatedly delayed and WW1 aviator Hawks’ insistence on altering dialogue led to him being temporarily replaced by Vincent Sherman who then remained as assistant when Hawks returned. Garfield’s outsider character is the barometer for everything that occurs as he becomes integrated into the group and he is paid tribute by Tarantino in Pulp Fiction. There are historical inaccuracies but it packs an emotional punch in its vivid, electrifying violence and humour and Jeanine Basinger says it is “perhaps the purest combat film ever about the air service … It is like some hideous wagon train west, with problems of supplies and hostile forces constantly attacking the wagonload of heroes. It fits perfectly with the tradition of American films, and yet it is a unique and original film, not quite like any other.” Shot by James Wong Howe, Elmer Dyer and Charles A. Marshall, this is a bona fide classic. We’re gonna start a war, not a fight!

The Eiger Sanction (1975)

The Eiger Sanction

Why am I the only one that can perform the sanction? Art professor and collector Dr. Jonathan Hemlock (Clint Eastwood) a retired assassin for C2 a secret Government organisation run by albino Dragon (Thayer David), is blackmailed into returning to his deadly profession and do one more ‘sanction,’ a euphemism for killing. Duped by C2 operative Jemima Brown (Vonetta McGee), he agrees to join an international climbing team in Switzerland planning an ascent north face of the Eiger Mountain in order to complete a second sanction to avenge the murder of old friend, Wormwood aka Henri Baq who fought with him in the Green Berets back in Indochina.  He trains with another friend from his climbing days, Ben Bowman (George Kennedy) who runs a school in the desert where another Indochina ally, flamboyant gay hit man Miles Mellough (Jack Cassidy) turns up and tries to kill Hemlock. Ben is leading the Eiger team and when Hemlock is tracking the killer, he finds himself on a treacherous mountain passage, unable to identify his target … You’re getting religion a little late. A barmy enterprise for Clint Eastwood to star in and direct but not without its consolations – a deal of wit; awesome photography (by Frank Stanley) of the locations in Monument Valley, the southwest and Switzerland; and terrific characterisation – but that all depends on caricature, homophobia and race stereotyping typical of the era.  So it goes in a text that was fatally misunderstood:  the novel on which it was based by the pseudonymous ‘Trevanian’ was a spoof – and in a later book he called it ‘vapid’ in a footnote! Eastwood did his own stunts, training for months and it is actually astonishing to see a star of his magnitude defying death at such extreme heights. One of the experienced mountaineers employed on the team wasn’t so fortunate:  British climber David Knowles died on the second day of filming in what was a very dangerous shoot. It’s good to see Kennedy and Eastwood working together again after Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and the romance with blaxploitation star McGee is certainly progressive but it’s Cassidy as the unbelievably dangerous cissy who steals the show in an unforgettable performance. Adapted by Trevanian (actually film scholar Rodney Whitaker) and mystery novelist Warren Murphy. Wish-fulfilment writ large, this is a lot of stylish fun. Here’s to the selfish killer and patriotic whore

Road to Perdition (2002)

Road to Perdition

Where would this town be without Mr John Rooney? In 1931 Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) is a hitman and enforcer for Irish-American mob boss John Rooney (Paul Newman) in the Rock Island area. His son Michael Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) hides in the car one night after the wake for one of Rooney’s henchmen and sees his Connor Rooney (Daniel Craig) administer a shot in the head to the dead man’s brother Finn (Ciarán Hinds) who talked too much at the event; while he understands for the first time what his father does for a living when he witnesses the bloodshed. Rooney sends Connor to kill Michael and the boy but Connor instead kills his wife Annie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and other son Peter (Liam Aiken) in cold blood and Michael goes on the run with Michael Jr in an attempt to gain revenge for his family’s murder. He finds that he has no friends and no protection and is advised by Mafia man Frank Nitti (Stanley Tucci) to give up. He reckons without a freelance corpse photographer Maguire (Jude Law) following him and thinks that by uncovering Connor’s theft that Rooney will accept him as the son he never had … A man of honour always pays his debts and keeps his word. I like this far better now that years have passed, Newman is gone and what I originally thought of as directorial heavy-handedness is more readily recognisable as a comfort with the excessive expressionistic qualities of the source material. Hanks’ doughy face with its deep-set eyes seems peculiarly unsuited for this kind of role but paradoxically lends the performance an unexpected quality. His six-week road trip with his son gives him an opportunity to impart lessons and learn about the boy for the first time. He makes us know that Michael Jr is not to follow him into this deadly business. His scenes with Newman are marvellous – a kind of trading off in acting styles, one legend passing on lessons to the next, borne out in the storytelling. What Michael doesn’t know is that blood means more than sympathy, no matter the horrors involved in being part of the Rooney family. Of course Connor would betray his father;  and of course his father knows. It’s a hard thing to watch Michael learn the truth. Loyalty sucks. This is a gallery of masculine roles – Craig as the ever-smiling psychotic son, Law as the rotten-toothed shooter masquerading as the photographer of death – a correlative of the film’s own morbidity; Hoechlin as the boy learning at his father’s elbow as the guns go off. Hinds impresses in those early scenes, quietly seething then mouthing off at his brother’s wake, a crime which will  not go unpunished. Dylan Baker’s accountant Alexander Rance has a decidedly old-fashioned homosexual taint of prissiness. This is a linear story of fathers and sons, cause and effect, crime, punishment and revenge in an Oedipal setting dictated by the rules of inevitability that can be traced to Greek tragedy. There are no surprises but the pleasures of the production design by Dennis Gassner, the cinematography by Conrad Hall (who earned a posthumous Academy Award) and the performances make this worth a re-viewing. Screenplay by David Self from the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner. Natural law. Sons are put on this earth to trouble their fathers