Hue & Cry (1947)

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Harry Fowler is the kid who reads the adventures of Selwyn Pike in the pages of the Trump comic to his gang of Blood and Thunder Kids and becomes convinced that the strip is used as code by black marketeers. The police won’t believe him and he takes on the criminals himself, first visiting the sinister writer Alastair Sim and then working for grocer Nightingale (Jack Warner) who turns out to be central to the smuggling ring. After some false attempts to capture the criminals and stave off a department store robbery, and tying up Rhona (Valerie White) from the magazine, the scene is set for a standoff using Sim to engineer it in his story … Tremendous entertainment from writer TEB Clarke, with vivid performances from the kids running amok in the rubble-strewn bombed-out East End right after WW2. Ealing Comedy was really up and running in a film whose Expressionist leanings (courtesy of DoP Douglas Slocombe) remind one of Emil and the Detectives. Directed by Charles Crichton.

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Touch of Evil (1958)

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Newlywed Mexican narcotics officer Mike Vargas  (Charlton Heston) arrives with wife Susan (Janet Leigh) in his part of the world in the most famous travelling shot in cinema history and a car explodes ahead of the border checkpoint. That’s the audacious start to one of the best films Orson Welles ever made, in this tale of police corruption, gangs and drug running along the Mexican border. An unrecognisable Welles himself plays the crooked cop Quinlan, Marlene Dietrich shows up as trampy but honourable Tana and we have a preview of Psycho when Janet checks into a motel where a twitchy Dennis Weaver admits her as his only guest … Look out for Joi Lansing and Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Mercedes McCambridge makes a very welcome appearance. A classic that took far too many years to restore to its intended version.

Cattle Empire (1958)

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My principal interest in this oater isn’t in seeing Joel McCrea acting for Charles Marquis Warren, for whom this would serve more or less as the basis for Rawhide on TV, also written by Endre Boehm and with some of the same cast.  It’s really the opportunity to see cult star Gloria Talbott. She’s Sandy Jeffrey, daughter of Tom Jefferson Jeffrey (Paul Brinegar) and she adores John Cord. Joel is Cord, the trail boss hired by the same people who had him put behind bars (after his men went on a drunken spree) to drive their cattle to Fort Clemson.  Hamilton, the man who hires him, is now married to Cord’s ex (Phyllis Coates). But he’s also hired by a rival cattle baron. The beginning really grabs you, seeing this man dragged around the streets until you think there’s going to be nothing left. Then it settles into a fairly standard trail story with participants who’ve got mixed motives and prickly personalities. The scenery at the Sierras and Lone Pine is very attractive and mostly well used and Talbott really enlivens what could be a rather stereotypical character. There’s an interesting part played by Don Haggerty – as blind cattleman Hamilton – and an opportunity to catch Kurt Russell’s dad, Bing. And the suspense, for as long as it lasts, is trying to figure out whose side Cord will take.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

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Why? It’s my favourite film. I have adored James Dean and Natalie Wood since I first saw this aged 11. I’ve been to the LA locations and stepped around the High School motto. I’ve read everything there is on the production and I have always admired the cinema of Nicholas Ray and the screenplays of Stewart Stern. This moves me like few films could. It is staggering to watch in so many ways. It is a film about feeling. And because it’s my 1,000th post on Mondo Movies. Scuse me while I kiss the sky.

Werewolves on Wheels (1971)

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What on this good earth could possibly be better than a biker film – unless it’s a biker horror film?! Adam (Stephen Oliver) and his crew The Devil’s Advocates (nominative determinism or tempting fate?!) are tooling around as bikers do until he falls under the influence of One (Servern Darden) and his cult… Donna Anders, appearing here as DJ Anderson (confusingly, her real name!) , plays his girlfriend Helen, who doesn’t like the hand of Tarot cards she’s dealt at the story’s outset. When they come across One and his gang in the deconsecrated desert church their food is drugged, she turns into a werewolf and soon infects Adam. (Is this a feminist act?!) They flee but get picked off one by one and when Adam and Helen transform in front of the others, the gang kill them. A few of them return to the church to kill the satanists but they recognise themselves in the procession …Notable for its footage of real-life bikers doing what they usually do, this was co-written by director Michel Devesque with David M. Kaufman. Oliver was best known for playing Lee Webber in TV’s Peyton Place between 1966 and 1968 and appeared in a number of other biker outings:  Motorpsycho (1965), Angels from Hell (1968), and Cycle Psycho (1973). You’ll recognise other cast members from The Last Movie. Cinematographer Isidore Mankofsky earned his stripes shooting for Encyclopaedia Brittanica but after this he made Scream Blacula Scream and in the following years got credits on films as diverse as The Muppet Movie, Somewhere in Time (sigh!), The Jazz Singer, Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer:  a versatile talent.  Likewise Levesque, who followed this with Sweet Sugar, another exploitation outing, but who also had an impressive career as an art director on such fare as Supervixens, Beneath the Valley of the Super-Vixens, Carquake and Foxes. There’s a notable psychedelic soundtrack provided by Don Gere. This is pretty good as biker werewolf movies go, which is to say, what more could you want from such a fabulously preposterous genre mashup?! If you’re hairy you belong on a motorbike! You read it here. PS cat lovers beware.

Rumble Fish (1983)

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If you could have written one book in your life and you had a choice out of everything what would it be? I’ll nail my colours here and say I would love to have been Susie Hinton and wish that I was capable of writing something so plaintively romantic and atmospheric and attracting Francis Ford Coppola to the camera when it came to adapting it for the screen. (Isn’t it better to have written a wonderful, meaningful, heartfelt book that is so small it fits in your pocket and everyone has read at an important time in their lives than a large tome nobody has?) He shot this back to back with The Outsiders, that other great short novel she wrote. And it all happened because her fans at a Fresno school petitioned Coppola to do it. It’s the story of smalltown Oklahoma teenage gangs. Rusty James (Matt Dillon) leads one of them. He lives with his drunkard dad (Dennis Hopper) and he’s not too smart. He worships his absent older brother, The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke channeling Albert Camus) who’s a pretty legendary guy around these parts, at least when gangs ruled the roost and he ruled the gangs. Rusty James breaks his brother’s anti-rumble pact, the Motorcycle Boy reappears and everything changes … A beautiful, stately, painterly work  (by Stephen H. Burum) in monochrome – with the exception of those colourful Siamese fighting fish! – when all the actors were young and oh so achingly beautiful (with the obvious exceptions of Hopper and trash star William Smith). This is one of those films you either get or you don’t. With an homage to Penrod, an amazingly choreographed fight scene or two, a love story with Diane Lane and a radical score by Stewart Copeland, there’s only one thing left to say:  The Motorcycle Boy Reigns.

Django (1966)

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What an iconic piece of work by the Italian auteur Sergio Corbucci, this spawned loads of imitators (c30) but none holds a candle to this nor stars that most beauteous of men, Franco Nero, except a very late ‘sequel’ in 1987, made without Corbucci. Of course it was influenced by Leone’s work but gained a major following for its equally laconic leading man who fought for the Union but is now drifting, dragging a coffin, in the company of a half-caste whore Maria (Loredana Nusciak) and becoming involved in a dispute between Confederate racists and Mexican revolutionaries. What can be in that coffin? All is revealed in highly symbolic fashion, with fighting in the streets and the graveyards. Exceptionally violent. What a delight it was to see Nero pop up in Django Unchained, but… The original and the best.

 

Peter Pan (1953)

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Watching the abortion of a film called Pan necessitated my return to the real thing – Disney’s magical, charming interpretation of JM Barrie which lit up my childhood. It was the first book I asked my parents to buy for me. It was the second feature animation I saw in the days when the studio was re-releasing the classics before they reactivated their animation division properly. The first I saw was Snow White and in point of fact Disney intended that this be his second feature but it took  him years to obtain the rights and WW2 intervened. London 1900. Practical Papa Darling banishes Nana the dog nursemaid to the yard and Wendy to her own bedroom – it’s time for everyone to grow up. Peter flies into the house at night looking for his shadow, which Wendy tries to stitch to his shoes. He teaches her and her younger brothers John and Michael to fly and they follow him and pixie Tinker Bell to Neverland and have encounters with the pirate Captain Hook who wants revenge for having his hand cut off. Tinker Bell is jealous of Wendy and gets the Lost Boys to shoot her down and Peter banishes her. John and Michael and the Lost Boys set off to find the Indians on the island but they are captured because they believe they kidnapped Tiger Lily, the chief’s daughter … Everything concludes in some marvellous scenes on the pirate ship walking the plank, a ticking crocodile pursuing Hook and his crew, and order restored. Sheer timeless wonder made by the fabled Nine Old Men at Disney with songs by Sammy Cahn. You’ll believe You Can Fly.

Internal Affairs (1990)

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All cops are crooked. As in life, so in movies. And low-ranked Dennis Peck (Richard Gere) is bad like Supercop. His coke-addled colleague Van Stretch (William Baldwin) is at his mercy so when overly keen IA Dept newbie Raymond Avilla (Andy Garcia) arrives to investigate Stretch, an old Police Academy friend, Peck senses the walls closing in around his corrupt real estate/murder empire which has made him ridiculously wealthy for a street cop but he knows what buttons to push: mainly sexual. This is a guy who does everything to excess:  three ex-wives, eight children and one on the way with his current one (Annabella Sciorra). Avilla’s Achilles Heel is gorgeous wife museum curator Kathleen (Nancy Travis). Peck has Stretch murdered and turns his attentions to Avilla and Avilla starts to resemble him. This is an excellent study in evil by screenwriter Henry Bean. Director Mike Figgis handles the explicit violence and shocking sex with incredible fluency and the great photography of Los Angeles is courtesy of Chinatown‘s John A.Alonzo. None of it would work however unless the characters convinced and they are brilliantly drawn in an ensemble portrait of LAPD, the gift that just keeps giving.Gere’s work here  is superlative and transcends most of his other work. Garcia’s phased changes as Avilla pushes him to the edge is notable. Laurie Metcalf is his IA partner, and she’s just one of the fabulous women here, and the only one not to truly succumb to Peck’s dubiously priapic charms principally because she’s Lesbian and he wants to kill her. This is really tough stuff and worth revisiting. While the film was in post, Gere had dinner one evening with Figgis. The next day a story about his supposedly simultaneous visit to the ER surfaced in Hollywood and has never entirely left him. Something about a gerbil. It was courtesy of Sylvester Stallone’s agent. Some urban legends you just don’t want, eh?

There Was a Young Lady (1953)

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‘The war upset people more than they realise!’ intones the Duke of Chiddingford. Quite.  Michael Denison fires fiancee Dulcie Gray (his real-life wife) from her position at his London jewellery store because she’s so super-efficient at her job she’s showing him up.Then she’s nabbed by a gang of jewel thieves led by Sydney Tafler and sequestered at a country house where she ingratiates herself with them and tries to escape while they pick her brains for what turns out to be unwelcome information about the real worth  of their booty. There is some surprisingly sharp wit in what is at first glance a rather mild comedy featuring an extremely young Geraldine McEwan, distinctively voiced as ever, and Bill Owen, decades away from being a Sunday evening staple. There’s an amusing coda featuring some Very Naughty Boys. Denison and Gray were famously long married, starring together in several films, including The Glass Mountain, and Gray was also a writer of mystery and detective stories as well as being a keen conservationist of butterflies.  She died just before her 96th birthday in 2011.Co-written by director Lawrence Huntington.