A Farewell to Arms (1932)

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This gloriously romantic if somewhat synoptic adaptation of Hemingway’s partly autobiographical classic is let down only by the occasionally ill-chosen shot of lollipop lady Helen Hayes, whose disproportionately short stature and large head look hugely comical beside the elegant Cooper, the forever Hemingway avatar. He’s the WW1 ambulance driver who falls in love with an English nurse over the objections of jealous CO Adolphe Menjou. When they are reunited and have a proper relationship Menjou deploys her to another hospital and the lovers’ letters are intercepted by him to try and split them up. Cooper eventually deserts his post to find her, now dying after delivering their stillborn son. Filled with brilliant setpieces and moments of true romance by screenwriters Benjamin Glazer and Oliver H.P. Garrett and the master director, Frank Borzage whose compositions (shot by the amazingly talented DoP Charles Lang) are quite breathtaking. A Pre-Code masterpiece with some astonishing intimations of sex. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Dressed to Kill (1980)

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A film that practically embodies the term Psychosexual. Brian de Palma’s outrageous, explicit Hitchcockian homage (some might say rip off, Hitch called it fromage) still has the power to shock, with its jawdropping opening sequence – married Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) masturbating in a shower while her lover shaves in a mirror. She fesses up to her psychoanalyst Robert Elliott (Michael Caine) that she’s faking it because her lover’s not really up to it then asks him if he’s attracted to her. She does the  Vertigo shtick at the Metropolitan in Kim Novak’s off-white coat and when she drops a glove (fetish alert!) she attracts a man in shades (another warning).  He gets her off in a taxi (yes, this has to be seen to be believed) then wakes up to find a medical notice in his apartment …. and enters an elevator to leave the building when she suddenly remembers her wedding ring and presses the button to return to the scene of the extra-marital crime … You had me at hello!!! Call girl Liz (Nancy Allen) is the only witness to the murder – while the killer is a mysterious tall blonde in shades. Dickinson’s teenage inventor son Keith Gordon plays private dick, Allen becomes the woman in peril stalked by the tall blonde in shades, the shrink gets taunting messages from Bobbi, a transgender patient, and it all ends just the way you want:  blonde on blonde. Crazy, classic warning cinema – beware of shrinks and nooners! The soundtrack by Pino Donaggio is brilliant. Wild!

Venus in Fur (2013)

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A writer-director in a Paris theatre is despairing of finding a lead for an adaptation of von Sacher-Masoch’s dominatrix fantasy when into the building sweeps a foul-mouthed ball of fire who happens to be late for her audition and is line-perfect. Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Seigner are reunited after The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and the adaptation of David Ives’ play by Roman Polanski (M. Seigner!) is a delectable, clever, compelling and triumphant two-hander. The leads are absolutely stunning in this study of power playing as she persuades him she is just the right actress for this particular role. Amalric is more than a little reminiscent of Polanski and fans will be recalling The Tenant with charged delight.  Baise mon pied!

Entertaining Mr Sloane (1969)

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It starts as it means to go on:  close on Beryl Reid as she licks an icepop at a burial in the local graveyard. She spots musclebound young Peter McEnery sunning himself amongst the stones and brings  him home. He thinks Pop Alan Webb might nail him from a four-year old murder but becomes the sexual plaything for nympho Beryl and her gay brother, Harry Andrews.  Bizarre, funny, totally perverse Orton with a decent translation by screenwriter Clive Exton and well directed by Douglas Hickox who handles a committed cast with considerable skill as Georgie Fame croons the theme song. The 1959 Pontiac that Andrews is driving used to belong to Syd Barrett. They just don’t make them like this any more. Ooh I say!

Bates Motel 2013-

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There can be no doubt as to Alfred Hitchcock’s incredible influence on culture and cinema and the great mould-breaker of them all was Psycho (1960). It changed the way films were made. Partly because Hitchcock had been making such a success of his career in TV. In the mid-1950s Hitchcock began a different phase of his career: the Film Director as Superstar.  He inhabited every American living room with the success of his weekly TV suspense series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, in an extraordinarily profitable deal negotiated by superagent Lew Wasserman.The director commented that “the invention of television can be compared to the introduction of indoor plumbing.  Fundamentally it brought no change to the public’s habits. It simply eliminated the necessity of leaving the house.”  Now everybody’s home was subject to a weekly fright night. Or, as Peter Conrad puts it, “Hitchcock brought fear home to us.”  Psycho would have its own double, triple, quadrupled life form as it multiplied and sequelised.  The second sequel was directed by Anthony Perkins, Norman Bates himself, doubling as star, and the original even got its own cover version, directed by Gus Van Sant in 1998 with the approval of Pat Hitchcock. It has been prequelised in TV series Bates Motel (Universal, 2013-).  Far from being the wack job that such a concept suggests, according to Stephen Rebello, Hitchcock had hoped to make a prequel to the film and discussed it with Robert Bloch.  (Rebello, 2013:  188) That didn’t come to fruition in his lifetime – but it has in ours, and thank goodness for it. It differs from Psycho IV:  The Beginning. Moving the action to Oregon in the Pacific North West, we are in Twin Peaks country and the series, now concluding Season 4, has all the hallmarks of lessons well-learned. Season 1 focuses on the move to the fabled haunted house, with Mom Norma (!) and son Norman, still in high school, trying to make a go of the business while a proposed bypass will bring traffic in the opposite direction. Dad died mysteriously in Arizona. A man attacks Norma, she kills him and Norman helps her get rid of the body. In Season Two Norman gets way too close to his teacher who winds up … dead. Another son shows up, Dylan. We get the strong whiff of incest. In Season Three, Norman’s close friendship with a girl is paralleled with his mental disintegration and the Sheriff who’d been close to Norma distances himself. In Season Four, Norman is introduced at full throttle drag and things are really heating up after he’s released from a local mental hospital. There is SO much more but those are the bones of it. Season Five is promising the appearance of a certain Marion Crane – which is where we all came in! This is A&E’s most successful scripted show and it is stunningly constructed. At the heart of it is the relationship between Norma and Norman:  the bravura performances of Vera Farmiga (executive producer) and Freddie Highmore as the creepily co-dependent deluded psychotic duo are just part of an extraordinarily brave hybrid of remake, sequel and prequel developed by Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin and Anthony Cipriano. Hitchcock’s fright night lives.  Roll on Season 5! I cannot WAIT!

Written on the Wind (1956)

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Thanks to UK’s Drama channel, Douglas Sirk’s cycle of 1950s American melodramas is being screened each Saturday (with commercial breaks, sadly) and the prints are pretty good!. This is the high point of the series, stylistically, thematically, dramatically. The cast is stunning, the music, sets, design and direction spectacular. If you need me to tell you that the staircase scene is a pinnacle of cinema then this is for you. A must-see classic.

The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968)

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Made at the height of the anti-censorship era this soft perv film from former cinematographer Jack Cardiff illustrates just how daft some 60s films were, erotic potential notwithstanding. Wifey cyclist Marianne Faithfull (pre-junk) rides off to see Alain Delon – well, wouldn’t you? The scene where he unzips her leather outfit … is matched only by the one where his genitals are concealed by a large bouquet of roses.He’s described here as ‘Typical Swiss. Despises German thought but exploits it.’ There are some exceedingly portentous ‘thought sequences’ written by Gillian Freeman, who was responsible for that other paean to motorsickle fetishism, The Leather Boys. Some great orgasmic hallucinogenic photography has the effect of sinking into a lava lamp.Produced by Ronan O’Rahilly who founded Radio Caroline and persuaded George Lazenby to stop doing Bond movies after the greatest one ever, OHMSS. As you do.

Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession (1980)

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One of the great modern films. Directed by Nicolas Roeg from a screenplay by Yale Udoff with costumes by Marit Allen. An incredible, mesmeric performance by Theresa Russell at the age of just 22, opposite Art Garfunkel. Vienna looks incredible. Watch. Listen. Learn. I’ve written about it at http://offscreen.com/view/bad-timing-costumes.