Snowbound (1948)

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Terrifically tricksy adaptation of the Hammond Innes (remember him?!) novel The Lonely Skier.  Dennis Price (you had me at hello!) is a former soldier recruited by his WW2 CO Robert Newton (Price is an extra on his film set) to pretend to be a screenwriter at an Alpine resort where a motley assortment of characters is gathering – the most English Englishman ever, Guy Middleton, Italian comtessa Mila Parely, Marcel Dalio. Stanley Holloway and a self-announced Greek, Herbert Lom (yeah, right!).  Price is producing reports for Newton in between ski runs and it eventually transpires that they’re all in search of a horde of gold stashed during the war. There’s wads of tension, a Christie-esque scene in which Holloway laughingly disrupts a gun quarrel by dint of opening a door, a marvellous torchlit search on the mountains when Price is inevitably injured by Lom – a Nazi, obviously – and left for dead, and a conflagration for a conclusion. It’s a bit too clever by far but give me mountains, give me snow, give me gluhwein, I’m there. Wonderfully atmospheric. Adapted by Keith Campbell and David Evans directed by David MacDonald. A Gainsborough production.

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Winter Sleepers (1997)

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Was hast du wahrend der Weihnachtsferien getan? Gegessen. Gelesen. Geschlafen. A cinema projectionist with memory issues unwittingly causes a catastrophic accident when he ‘borrows’ a sports car that is left unlocked outside a house. The father of the injured child swears revenge;  meanwhile the projectionist starts sleeping with a nurse who lives at the house, where her translator roommate is dating the car’s owner, a ski instructor. A deadly chain of events is set in motion. This adaptation of Anne-Francoise Pyszora’s novel Expense of Spirit by writer/director Tom Tykwer, making his debut, is one of the best films of the Nineties and remains his best work. Simply brilliant, layered storytelling in a great snowbound milieu with screwed up twentysomethings trying to live like adults in the post-Christmas gloom. Terrific.

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

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I read about this long before I saw it. Francois Truffaut’s comments in the Observer magazine one Sunday tickled my kiddish fancy but even in the 1980s Hitchcock screenings were a hard find on TV particularly of this vintage. The fact that it’s Hitchcock is rather moot (or controversial!) from an authorship perspective: it wasn’t written with him in mind at all (it was intended for Roy William Neill) and yet the tropes became part of his evolving cinematic signature. It was adapted from Ethel Lina White’s novel The Wheel Spins by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliatt, a formidable pair who would become one of the more fascinating partnerships in British cinema. On the train trip back to England from her pre-marital ski holiday with her girl squad, socialite Iris (Margaret Lockwood) befriends an old lady governess Miss Froy (May Whitty) but when the woman disappears nobody believes her until she finds an ally in musicologist Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) whose kick-dancing kept her from going to sleep in the hotel. Every time Iris finds proof of the old lady’s existence it simply (and literally!) evaporates. Is she going mad? Everyone else seems to think so. The cast on the train are a rum sort:  Charters and Caldicott (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne), the cricket-obsessed Brits (who would appear in a handful more movies as these characters!); the adulterous couple the Todhunters (Cecil Parker and Linden Travers); a weird baroness (Mary Clare); a doctor (Paul Lukas); and a nun (Catherine Lacey):  all of whom seem intent on keeping Iris quiet from her apparently paranoid observations for various reasons of their own. Some turn out to be more political than others … This eve of WW2 comedy thriller persuaded David O. Selznick to invite Hitchcock to try his hand in Hollywood:  after three relative box office failures, this was a surefire hit. The effects are good (miniatures), the suspense never lets up and there is a rare menacing tension which the political subtext amplifies as quickly as the train steams ahead to the various troubled border controls. Quick-witted, smart storytelling with a winning cast:  who could wish for anything more? What did Truffaut say about this? He said he saw it once a week at a cinema in Paris and every time he tried to figure out how it worked he forgot because he got so caught up with the story. Oh yes. That’s it!

Bridget Jones The Edge of Reason (2004)

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Catchy title, eh? And that’s just the start of this film’s problems. Time to revisit given the third in the series has just been released after … a mere dozen years. Helen Fielding herself did the screenplay (with Adam Brooks, Richard Curtis and Andrew Davies) and was presumably induced to make it more ‘cinematic’ and therefore introduces highly implausible elements that occur on foreign trips and Beeban Kidron was also assigned to directing duties. Once again we start at the turkey buffet with Mrs Jones and once again Bridget is ensconced with a non-committal Darcy. Then there’s that rivalry for Bridget’s affections between him and caddish Daniel Cleaver.  In this take on Persuasion we are cast slightly adrift on a ski slope and a Thai prison. It’s not terrible – it’s like second album syndrome – just rather lacking in the raffish charm that marked out the original. Not that this harmed box office receipts. Handled correctly, this could have been more satisfying. Note to makers:  must do better.

Caprice (1967)

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Or, the spy who came in from the cold cream, as Day has it, in this spy spoof/pastiche set in the world of cosmetics and industrial espionage. Deemed a failure at the time, it’s a fun spin on that genre with more than one nod (setting and music score) to Charade, the great Hepburn/Grant/Donen comedy thriller from a few years earlier. Doris works for Edward Mulhare and tries to obtain the secret behind another company’s new hairspray developed by mad scientist Ray Walston that keeps wet hair dry.  It’s a product that would render all others obsolete. She has to figure out how to get past Richard Harris, her opposite number, with whom she teams up. There is lots to cherish – it starts with a James Bond sequence on a ski slope, the costume and production design is to die for (colour coordination you will not believe) and the cinematography is by Hollywood great Leon Shamroy, making one of the last two CinemaScope films. If the directing is a bit lame blame it on Frank Tashlin, that cartoon-bright auteur who isn’t in top form here – mainly because the script by the director and Jay Jayson from Jayson’s story with Martin Hale is quite complicated.  Day’s black eyebrow/white hair combo led to Judith Crist calling her a drag queen on national TV – despite the fact that her performance in a demanding seriocomic role is very good indeed. Harris said he learned more from working with her than he ever did at drama school. Day would only make two more films following that lousy lambasting which is a matter of eternal regret to her fans – including myself. Jack Kruschen makes another good supporting appearance following Lover Come Back. This may have looked dated when it was released  but strangely the mod stylings look very attractive now and the jokes still work.

Charade (1963)

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One of the great entertainments, from the pen of Peter Stone (aka Pierre Marton – get it?!) with a story by him and Marc Behm, and directed by the estimable Stanley Donen. Audrey is the befuddled widow whose husband turns out to have been in on a wartime heist and she’s expected to know where he stashed the loot; Cary’s the guy from the US embassy keen to help her out … or is he? With hubby’s ex-gang after her for the money, nobody is who they seem in this play on identity, a pastiche of thriller tropes that is betimes gleefully black – George Kennedy’s hook for a hand lends itself to a lot of interesting outcomes! Walter Matthau is brilliantly cast as the CIA man. Great romance, wonderful locations in Paris and Megeve, incredible stars and extremely slickly done. This is pure Hitchcockian enjoyment with the difference being that the gender roles are switched and we care about the McGuffin. On a meta level, the use of names is particular to people on the production – eg Cary is called Peter Joshua after Stanley Donen’s sons. Stone plays the man in the elevator, Jim Clark edits and Charles Lang does the incredible cinematography. Audrey is dressed by Hubert de Givenchy – qui d’autre?!  For lovers of Paris you get a travelogue of practically everything you want to see – the Comedie Francaise, the Eiffel Tower, Les Halles, the Theatre de Guignol … Watch for that classic titles sequence by Maurice Binder and music by Henry Mancini. This came out the week after JFK was assassinated so maybe its humour wasn’t loved that winter, but it’s going with me on that desert island for sure. Totally delightful.

To Catch a Thief (1954)

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Always regarded as a lesser Hitchcock, this really came alive when I saw a decent dvd transfer, with sparkling seas and diamonds, brilliant aerial photography of the South of France and of course the beautiful Kelly and Grant, both simply stunning to watch. The witty screenplay by John Michael Hayes, adapting from local adoptee David Dodge’s novel, glides over some unnecessary plot elements, highlights both stars’ finer points and blesses everyone concerned with some delightful double entendres. Watching this one is reminded of true glamour and how fleeting it is in reality. Sensational. You can read about the three legendary collaborations between Hitchcock and Kelly in my essay Alfred Hitchcock & Grace Kelly on Offscreen:  http://offscreen.com/view/hitchcock-kelly.