Escape to Victory (1981)

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Aka Victory. The talented and peripatetic director John Huston, a Nazi POW camp and a couple of dozen great footballers:  what more do you want?! It’s WW2 and  Allied soldiers are desperate to get out of their shackles when the prospect of an exhibition match against the Germans looms with the approval of Commandant Max Von Sydow. Michael Caine is the English Captain (a West Ham player) lured into the propaganda stunt with Sylvester Stallone, US Army Captain enlisted in the Canadian Army, allowed in as the team trainer to be with the potential escapees. But Caine doesn’t want his team killed and butts head with his opposite number so Stallone escapes and enlists the aid of the Resistance but is placed in solitary upon his necessary return …  The story was conjured from Zoltan Fabri’s novel Two Half Times in Hell by Yabo Yablonsky, Djordje Milicevic and Jeff Maguire, with a screenplay by Yablonsky and Evan Jones. Great if you want to see Bobby Moore, Ossie Ardiles, Pele and half of Ipswich Town (including Kevin O’Callaghan) in action, but it ain’t no Great Escape. Daft!

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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!

The Eagle Has Landed (1976)

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What’s weird watching this again today is the realisation that it’s now longer since this was made (40 years…) than it was between the end of WW2 (or the Emergency, as the Irish like to call it – still not lifted, BTW) and this going into production. Northern Irish writer Jack Higgins (aka Harry Patterson) had quite a run back in the day but this was really the peak attraction – a fictitious attempt to kidnap Winston Churchill, “for a negotiated peace,” as one-eyed Nazi Radl (Robert Duvall) puts it. He deploys IRA ‘soldier’ lecturer Liam Devlin (Donald Sutherland with the requisite eye-watering Oirish accent) and he turns up at the home of sleeper agent Jean Marsh in Norfolk and attempts to put the plan into action … With Michael Caine as anti-Nazi Kurt Steiner (an homage to Cross of Iron, vielleicht?) leading the mission this is really quite an unlikely mouthwatering actioner, but there you go. Caine had been offered the role of Devlin but didn’t want to be associated with the IRA, ditto Richard Harris. Adapted by Tom Mankiewicz, crisply shot by the great Anthony B. Richmond, and scored by Lalo Schifrin, this was the last film helmed by the marvellous John Sturges but Mankiewicz said Sturges didn’t bother making it properly and that editor Anne V. Coates rescued it in post-production. Great fun.

Bewitched (2005)

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Way back when, a friend saw a movie before me and her review was succinct:  “The fireplaces were marvellous.” And, aside from a wonderful cat called Lucinda who greatly resembles my own lovely Frodo, for a while that’s pretty much how I felt about this Nora Ephron outing – exacerbated in no small way by the fact that at the screening I attended there was a soundtrack of contemporary music for the first 10 minutes – the projectionist’s personal choice. So much for postmodernism – for that’s exactly what this is, an interweaving of the old TV show with a modern interpretation of how a reboot is put together by egomaniac freshly divorced and failing film star Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell) who bumps into the best nose-twitcher in LA, Isabel Bigelow (Nicole Kidman). She’s a newbie to the Valley in an effort to enter the mortal realm and be normal – so she becomes an actress. Only in LA. She falls hard for Jack but his weaselly agent Ritchie (Jason Schwartzmann) rubbishes the idea in her hearing. She wants to put a spell on him and it works, for a while. The scriptwriter (Heather Burns, who also acted for Ephron in You’ve Got Mail) gives her great lines and shows up Jack/Darrin. “Nobody likes Darrin!” he whines when the preview numbers are in and she’s a hit and he’s not. Nora and Delia Ephron wrote this with Adam McKay who’s long been house writer/director of that bromance crew led by Ferrell. Here, warlock dad (Michael Caine) isn’t too impressed with the real world translation of immortal shenanigans but co-star Iris playing Endora (Shirley Maclaine) literally puts a spell on him because she’s got a witchy secret of her own. Halfway through Isabel rewinds her spell on Jack and their story re-starts – right in the middle of his guest interview with James Lipton, which is absolutely appropriate. Steve Carell and Carole Shelley have nice bits as Uncle Arthur and Clara, Ferrell gets to go naked in front of Conan and Nicole has a ball in a light as air souffle, just as Ephron would have served up for one of her carefully constructed meals, with an I Love You scene that perfectly fuses the structural ambitions of this postmodern romcom. Are Isabel and Jack in love with each other? Their characters? The idea? Themselves? That is the question … “I’m about to be killed by a fictional character!” squeaks Jack at one point. Well, duh. And the kitchen is marvellous!

Harry and Walter Go To New York (1976)

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I will admit this true thing:  I have never managed to get through more than the first 20 minutes of The Sting. Something about the stultifying production design. Or the story. Or the characters. Don’t know. I try and fail, oh, maybe once a decade. But its success bred imitators and this was one of them. Admittedly I love Elliott Gould, that much you know.  And he’s directed by Mark Rydell, who did the dirty on him in The Long Goodbye. James Caan, sheesh, maybe I love him too: I always felt sorry for him after witnessing his horrifying death at the toll booth (Godfather alert). They’re two not very impressive vaudevillians who get into cracking safes and mastermind Michael Caine has an idea… Diane Keaton, looking quite odd (the hairdos emphasise the down-sloping eyes) and Carol Kane and Lesley Ann Warren (playing odd to the hilt) round out the cast but it’s a bit of a slog. Even the stage antics aren’t that hot. It’s not awful, but … maybe it’s all that brown. Caine is the only one who looks truly comfortable, IMHO. The Sting is on some channel today. I’m going to give it another go. Maybe. Or the FA Cup Final….

Zulu (1964)

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This is the film that really introduced Michael Caine to the world. He’s the posh officer whose advice Stanley Baker refuses to heed and the senseless Battle of Rorke’s Drift of 1879 takes place between a depleted British Army unit and 4,000 Zulus. Patrick Magee as the overworked medic gets the most telling line – “Damn all you butchers!” as the wounded pile up beside the bodies. Great, intense epic filmmaking, written by John Prebble and director Cy Endfield, adapted from Prebble’s article. Co-produced by the wonderful Baker. Superb cinematography by Stephen Dade, music by John Barry and narration by Richard Burton. Shot in Super Technirama 70.

Get Carter (1971)

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Star Michael Caine worked closely with producer Michael Klinger and novice director Mike Hodges to get this absolutely right. The adaptation of Ted Lewis’ novel by Hodges and Lewis himself reeks of authenticity: this was replicated in the decision to shoot in the grim North of Newcastle – a downbeat, gritty, grotty, horrible locale where Caine’s brother has been offed and he returns to bury him and seek revenge. A better visual correlative for 70s desperation, poverty and the vicious pornography of everyday life could not be dreamed up. Crimeland is peopled with characters convincingly played by, amongst others, Caine’s old mate, playwright John Osborne and Ian Hendry, whose very eyes summon up evil. It’s rare that I mention editing (by John Trumper) but from the start, the title sequence, the train ride, the blue movie shots and the landscape, a pace of relentlessness is established that is reflected in Caine’s hooded eyes and we hear too in the great upbeat score by Roy Budd the arbitrary choices that are forced upon people. The flat shooting style by Wolfgang Suchitzky enhances the nature of the story ‘s settings – all those awful clubs, nasty lino, formica tables and teacups… After it was made, Caine says in volume two of his memoirs, he met the London gangster upon whom he had based his stunning performance (he gives nothing away) and the man thankfully didn’t recognise any similarities but informed Caine that he had no choice in his actions – he had a family to think about. Ain’t that the truth. This is a Great British classic.

The Italian Job (1969)

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Oh you’d have to drag me kicking and screaming to a Michael Caine film … April Fool! LOVE THIS MAN! And this is insanely entertaining from start to cliffhanging finish. Now not many people know that … They nearly didn’t get the Mini Coopers – the Brit manufacturers didn’t see the point of the publicity – but Fiat totally got the concept and the Torino gold heist went ahead as planned – more or less! Director Peter Collinson called gang leader Noel Coward ‘Master’ because he’d been reared in one of the orphanages the man sponsored, Troy Kennedy-Martin wrote it for Caine, Quincy Jones did the music and the late great Douglas Slocombe shot it. What more do you want??? A sequel? Oh that didn’t happen – because the US publicists totally mis-sold the concept and put up bizarre girl ‘n’ gun posters. Shame! “You were only supposed to …” You know the rest. Cracking!

Funeral in Berlin (1966)

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Girls always make passes at spies who wear glasses. Horn rims. Cockney wit. Iron fists. That’s how this was trailed and why not? Harry Palmer is a legend and not just of film. Len Deighton is one of the best writers in the English language, Michael Caine is one of my favourite actors so this combo with its lo-fi take on the antics of MI6 and their ilk was always high on my radar of go-to movies. The first in the series, The Ipcress File, was a masterpiece. A year or so later this appeared under the direction of Guy Hamilton who had a little form in the area – he made the great James Bond film Goldfinger (1964). He would go on to do Diamonds are Forever, The Man With the Golden Gun and Live and Let Die. He would also film one of Deighton’s pet subjects, The Battle of Britain.  Deighton’s writing is effortless (to read) – sleight of hand manoeuvering of plot mechanics with a vocabulary that seems to glide from chapter to chapter: he may be the most stylish of modern writers with an enviable grasp of history and a Renaissance man’s culture. Evan Jones’ screenplay brilliantly captures its essence and we are transported to a rebuilt Berlin with its tower blocks and modernist hotels and interiors, production designed by Ken Adam. It’s spy versus spy and the beautiful woman is played by Eva Renzi. Bliss.

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

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This came out right after I’d spent my first summer in New York City. Seeing it was like being immersed in a very warm welcoming bath. And what a cherishable film it is, a Chekhovian comedy drama about the impossible lives and loves of a trio of sisters played by the incredible Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest and Barbara Hershey with Allen himself and Michael Caine and Max von Sydow rounding out the cast. This is on constant rotation chez moi. One of the greats.