Another Man’s Poison (1951)

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I want him. I wanted him from the first moment I ever saw him. Mystery writer Janet Frobisher (Bette Davis) lives in Yorkshire and has been separated for years from her husband, a man with a criminal past. Her nearest neighbour is nosy veterinarian Dr. Henderson (Emlyn Williams). Janet has been having having an affair with Larry (Anthony Steel) who is years younger than her and he just happens to be engaged to marry her secretary Chris (Barbara Murray). When her estranged husband unexpectedly appears, Janet poisons him by administering medication given to her by Dr. Henderson for her horse. One of the deceased man’s criminal cohorts George (Gary Merrill) arrives as she’s preparing to dispose of the body in the local lake. When Chris and Larry arrive at the secluded house, the mysterious man, who has assisted her with her scheme, impersonates George, the long-absent spouse of Janet and Chris learns of the affair between Janet and Larry. When George kills her beloved horse Fury she sends him after Chris in an unsafe vehicle left at her front door by Henderson. He crashes, but survives and she determines on revenge … The night air teems with unexpected guests. Sounds like Shakespeare but isn’t. With additions to Val Guest’s screenplay by actor/playwright Williams (whose credits include The Corn is Green), this is a stage adaptation from Leslie Sands’ play Deadlock whose origins remain somewhat despite efforts to open it out and it lacks the visual panache in interiors that Hitchcock would manage to demonstrate with his take on Dial M for Murder. For all that, Davis bristles as a barnstorming man magnet, delighting in the viciousness of her mystery writer role and the woman’s insatiable desire for sex with her secretary’s fiancé. The barbs fly. Of course the second pairing of Davis and (now husband) Merrill is worth watching a year after they met and seemingly enacted the main couple’s relationship on All About Eve:  here there is real hatred between the two. She relishes the chance to play nasty and her manic laugh at the highly ironic conclusion is filled with gleeful appreciation, a creator of mystery entrapped by the machinations of her own deadly plot. We see some of the ingredients for Baby Jane right here. This is a narrative of barely suppressed, sometimes shockingly overt, violence and it’s unique in the canon of her work for that reason. This interesting instance of British film noir was produced by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. who spent a number of years in the UK making independent movies and it was directed by Irving Rapper who had made the classic Now, Voyager with Davis a decade earlier. Shot on location in Yorkshire’s West Riding and at Nettlefold Studios by Robert Krasker, best known for his work on The Third Man. There’s an extremely witty use of Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust on the soundtrack.  Out of evil cometh good. That is, occasionally

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

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Alan Sillitoe adapted his short story for this film directed by Tony Richardson. It tells the story of teenage rebel Colin (Tom Courtenay), a boy whose burglarising has brought him to borstal, where he excels at running. The governor sees an opportunity to best the nearby public school in competition and for him running is rehab. Brilliantly organised flashbacks illustrate Colin’s deprived background, his mother’s adultery, his father’s enforced death, a beach outing with his mate and their girlfriends, the stupidity that leads to the theft. We return to the occasion of the race and jump cut back and forth to everything that has passed and Colin just stops. Stops. He stops running. This film is incredible. It never fails to move me. Even as Colin has stopped. A work of genius. You simply have to see it.

The Entertainer (1960)

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John Osborne’s dramatic work was like a rocket under the theatrical establishment of mid-Fifties Britain and this excoriation of the disintegrating Empire was lit up by Laurence Olivier’s extraordinary performance as the leering seedy fifth-rate comic Archie Rice at the Royal Court. Osborne wrote this for Olivier and he reportedly delivered a shockingly good performance, bringing him right up to date with the seismic changes in contemporary theatre. Tony Richardson directs this screen adaptation by Osborne and Nigel Kneale, shot on location in Morecambe with Oswald Morris’s glistening cinematography shining a torch on the social decay that Rice embodies in his adulterous and failing private and professional life. Joan Plowright, soon to be Olivier’s wife following the breakdown of his marriage to Vivien Leigh, plays his daughter, who is enduring her own troubles; Brenda de Banzie is the long-suffering second wife; Roger Livesey (Colonel Blimp) is his retired (and revered) vaudevillian father; and Albert Finney makes his film debut as the unfortunate son sent to Suez. Alan Bates also makes his screen debut as the other son (he had starred in Osborne’s Look Back in Anger on the stage) with Daniel Massey rounding out an impressive ensemble that includes the wonderful Shirley Anne Field and Miriam Karlin. John Addison contributes a brilliant score (as ever) to a film of awfully convincing despair as a music hall career comes to a brutal end. “Why should I care?” warbles Archie as everything falls to pieces. Unforgettable.

A Taste of Honey (1961)

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Or, how a plain teenaged Northern lass gets knocked up by a black sailor and she only has her gay friend for company. Young Shelagh Delaney adapted her own play for the screen with a co-writing credit going to director Tony Richardson, who had put it on the stage. This was part of the vanguard of the kitchen sink realism movement and you can feel the damp buildings and the misery seep off the screen. Richardson elicits brilliant performances: Rita Tushingham is extraordinary and charming as the sympathetic girl and Murray Melvin is startling as her gay BFF, while Dora Bryan is great as her trampy mother and Robert Stephens impresses as Mum’s younger fancy man. Everyone has to learn how to remake the idea of family. Dreary never looked so good (courtesy of Walter Lassally) and the sounds are from John Addison’s typically inventive score. A Woodfall film.

Grimsby (2016)

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Aka The Brothers Grimsby. Where to start in this ode to Northern British scum? Liam Gallagher lookalike kebab-munching Nobby Butcher (Sacha Baron Cohen) keeps a tribute wall to the brother from whom he was separated 28 years earlier. It means as much to him as his football team in his awful council house where he’s shacked up with knickerless flatulent Dawn (Rebel Wilson), their 11 bastards and sundry grandchildren. He finds brother Sebastian (Mark Strong) at a London gathering for healthcare philanthropist Rhonda George (Penelope Cruz) and disrupts his work as a crack secret agent preventing an assassination, causing calamitous results including infecting Daniel Radcliffe with AIDS. They have to go on the run to protect Sebastian and go back home while MI5 boss Ian McShane unleashes ‘Chilcott’ (hmm!) on his black ops man turned supposed rogue agent, information helpfully supplied by Isla Fisher who’s hairless Sebastian’s on-off love interest. After some family bonding and flashbacks to their separation, the burst of post-Thatcher social realism amid the feral underclass shifts from one favela to another, in South Africa, where Nobby puts his daytime TV knowledge too good use, gets on down with the drug dealers (big up to LinkedIn!) and proves an idiot adept at the old spy game. The outrageous story complete with anal and phallic acts, animal abuse, defecation, fellatio, football hooligans, paedophilia, miscegenation, murders accidental and otherwise, takes place in a narrative of fraternal empathy, foster care, the World Cup, politics, eugenics and global germ warfare. And it’s literally jaw-droppingly tasteless, Jeremy Kyle Does James Bond, with a very large if flaccid and out-dated swipe at the kind of people who despise the shameless amoral creatures at its centre. I winced, I gasped and yes I did laugh on occasion:  more than I did during The Girl on the Train. And there is a suitably explosive ending. Plus an unnervingly up to date joke about a certain TV sleb turned US Presidential candidate. I do hope the elephants weren’t hurt as this action bomb lands on its footballs.Where to next for Baron Cohen? F**k knows, as he would undoubtedly say. Un film de Louis Leterrier.

Agatha (1979)

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In 1978 writer and notorious drama critic Kenneth Tynan’s wife Kathleen devised a speculative account of crime writer Agatha Christie’s mysterious 11-day disappearance in 1926. It was initially proposed as a documentary for the BBC.  Christie had died shortly beforehand and her representatives tried to get it stopped. This elegant and suspenseful big-screen account is daubed in an autumnal palette shot by Vittorio Storaro and effectively contained by Michael Apted.  Tynan’s story is a pastiche of Christie tropes in a screenplay she co-wrote with Arthur Hopcraft (and her novel came out to chime with the film’s release). Vanessa Redgrave is simply luminous as the shy, introverted writing genius whose husband Archie (Timothy Dalton, Redgrave’s real-life long-term boyfriend) has confronted her about his affair with a woman in his office and his desire to get a divorce in order to marry the other woman. Agatha takes off and arrives in Harrogate, the destination spa town where his mistress is heading with her aunt, in order to plan a ghastly revenge. All of Britain is searching for her. The police don’t like her husband’s reaction and suspect him of murder. In a story where practically everyone is pretending to be someone else, the only occasional downside is the effect of Dustin Hoffman’s pantomime as (fictional) US journalist Wally Stanton, obsessed with tracking down the world-famous woman who had just published The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Perhaps that’s what they call star power. This lies somewhere between mystery and romance, biography and faction. Christie notoriously refused to address this episode in her autobiography and it was officially attributed to amnaesia. We shall never really know. Now that’s REAL star power.