The Other Love (1947)

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I’m tired of resting, tired of sleeping, tired of lying in the sun. Celebrated concert pianist Karen Duncan (Barbara Stanwyck) becomes seriously ill and is ordered to a Swiss sanitorium for some R&R where resident medical expert Dr Anthony  Stanton (David Niven) is unimpressed with her desire to socialise, particularly when she’s being squired around nightclubs and casinos down in Monte Carlo by suave racing driver Paul Clermont (Richard Conte). When she returns from a night on the town and sees her friend Celestine (Joan Lorring ) being removed on a gurney – dead – she realises she’s in real trouble and this is not a holiday. To complicate everyone’s plans a croupier (Gilbert Roland) has designs on her, leading to a very unpleasant late night encounter on the street… An old-fashioned romantic drama with added Alps, torchlit skiing and roulette. Adapted from a story by Erich Maria Remarque, it’s oddly compelling principally on account of Stanwyck who is always intense, even when she’s a victim of consumption. She rehearsed three hours a day for a month to get the piano pieces matched correctly to recordings by Ania Dorfman and did her own stunts on location. Directed by Andre De Toth, who shot the mountain scenes at Mount Wilson, near LA. Not Switzerland. Made for independent company Enterprise with a screenplay by Ladislas Fodor and Harry Brown, this is a bittersweet tale that might have needed a more finessed touch.

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Grand Prix (1966)

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The only thing to do here is drive as fast as you know how and hope your car doesn’t brake. Have you ever been to the racetrack at Monza? It’s eerie. It has an aura of death about it. It seems to be hanging in the gloom of all those tall trees. Probably the memory of those spectators killed trackside 1961:  and the final race here in the fictional reconstruction of the 1966 season told from the perspectives of four drivers is at Monza and the death is of a driver, whose broken body is strung up on a tree as his car flies off the north ridge. It’s shocking. This is a brillant film, still the best by far of all the motor racing films, with an opening 20 minute sequence on the street circuit at Monaco that is one of the best in the history of cinema. Of course it helps to be a petrolhead, but the screenplay, by Robert Alan Arthur, is clever and artful, blending action and storytelling and characterisation as efficiently as you’ll ever see in that opening, using the TV commentary to introduce us to Pete Aron (James Garner) who causes a terrible crash sending Brit driver Scott Stoddard into hospital with appalling injuries and destroying both their Jordan-BRM cars. Pete is forced to look for a drive in Japan with Toshiro Mifune doing a take on Soichiro Honda. Twice world champion, Ferrari driver Jean-Pierre Sarti (Yves Montand) is looking for another title but has young team-mate Nino Barlini (Antonio Sabato) to contend with. If there isn’t enough drama on the track, there’s a complex of love lives off it, with Scott’s wife Pat (Jessica Walter) looking for love and finding it for a spell with Pete while her husband continues to relive his late brother’s career despite being drugged to the hilt; the married Jean-Pierre falling for American journalist Louise Frederickson (Eva Marie Saint); and Nino meeting Lisa (Francoise Hardy – nope, she doesn’t sing!) in a bar with an amusing exchange of perfunctory sentences before they get together and she becomes the perfect racer girlfriend, attending the races, timing the laps. This is a great sports film and one that is redolent with both danger and romance. It’s amazing looking and I only wish I could have been around for the original release in Cinerama which would do justice to the split-screen and the amazing Super Panavision 70 cinematography by Lionel Lindon with Saul Bass. It’s as tightly wound as a suspense thriller with the threat of death on every corner and it’s tough on the business side of this most unforgiving sport and the obsession of its participants. For fans there’s the joy of seeing real-life heroes like Graham Hill, Jim Clark, Jack Brabham, oh, a whole host of legends. Adolfo Celi does a take on Enzo Ferrari aka Manetta and real-life BBC reporter Raymond Baxter interviews Nino at Brand’s Hatch. Years later, in 1996, my acting hero (Garner) met my driving hero (Jacques Villeneuve) at Monza to celebrate the film 30 years after its release:

Garner was a fine driver and after shooting this – doing all his own driving and one fire stunt with butane that nearly went fatally wrong – he founded the American International Racers team, running cars in Formula A (just below F1), driving in the Baja 100, all leading to his eventually being inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame.

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The Racing Scene is a documentary following the team in 1969 when he finally broke it up because of the money and time commitment. He drove the pace car at the Indy 500 in 1975, 1977 and 1985. What a mensch. He said after making Grand Prix – thanks to his Great Escape castmate Steve McQueen dropping out! – he simply had to be involved in the sport.  This won Academy Awards for editing, sound and sound effects (none for the magnificent Maurice Jarre score) but it is so much more than the sum of its parts. Simply sensational. Directed by John Frankenheimer, whose wife, Evans Evans, has an uncredited role.

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Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977)

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It’s a wet miserable windy horrible day in the Easter vacation and it’s two whole DAYS until the F1 Grand Prix in Bahrain so what better way to while away 100 minutes than in the company of the affable Dean Jones and the coolest car this side of KITT? Here we start racing in Laguna and Monterey then wind up in Paris and Monte-Carlo with diamonds in the trunk. Groovy cars, cool locations, mellow mystery. Hell yeah!

Grace of Monaco (2014)

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Another jaunt to the Riviera, or, more precisely, the principality of Monaco. As a fan of the great Grace Kelly this was one of the three films I anticipated most in 2014 and it couldn’t but disappoint. Written by Arash Amel and directed by Olivier Dahan (who had made the incredible La Vie en Rose) and starring Nicole Kidman, it seemed like a dream team. The shooting style is a homage to To Catch a Thief, the locations are obviously beautiful … but the exploration of the Princess’ inner life at a time of political turmoil doesn’t grasp the nettle of her reality, daunted as she must have been by the pressures of royal duty, family and marriage with the prospect of a film comeback with her favourite director, Alfred Hitchcock. The palace high jinks are fascinating, if true.  Therefore it was not a subject wanting for drama yet the combination doesn’t quite gel. Kidman doesn’t remotely resemble Kelly which poses a mighty obstacle. And yet the film is a valiant effort, despite being criticised by the Grimaldis. It must have been a tough watch at the Cannes Festival. And never got a cinema release in the US – where it became a TVM, acknowledged at the Golden Globes earlier this year.

Once Upon a Crime … (1992)

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Eugene Levy is best known as Jim’s Dad in the American Pie series but the comedian has a sideline as a director and this was his theatrical debut after some TV movies. He got Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers to rewrite an Italian film from 1964. They had used him to play a small role in Father of the Bride and he would have a larger supporting role in I Love Trouble a few years later. (Steve Kluger also gets a writing credit – it looks like they rewrote his adaptation). One of the great luxuries of watching movies is visiting places you now have exceeding difficulty in reaching because you have to strip off and wait for 2 hours at every airport you enter. The travelogue film really took off in the 60s but the title sequence is misleading: that and the first 5 minutes of this take place in Rome and the remainder of the story in its entirety takes place in Monte Carlo. So far, so good, but it’s shot kind of flatly and the meet-cute over a lost dachshund between Richard Lewis (you will know him from TV’s Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Sean Young never really materialises in the antic humour you might expect. There’s a murder, compulsive gambling and some serious eye candy in the form of Ornella Muti. There are Levy’s colleagues from SCTV – Jim Belushi and the late, great John Candy – Cybill Shepherd, George Hamilton. Giancarlo Gianinni and even the wondrous Elsa Martinelli in the opening sequence – but it’s just not the comedy you want it to be, even in that fabulous setting, despite the efforts of a very game cast. When Patrick McGilligan asked Meyers what she recalled of the script, she claimed it was a rewrite she couldn’t remember. I have written a book about Meyers, the most successful woman filmmaker in American history. You can get it on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Pathways-Desire-Emotional-Architecture-Meyers-ebook/dp/B01BYFC4QW/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1481117503&sr=1-1&keywords=elaine+lennon.