Trapeze (1956)

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Burt Lancaster is Mike Ribble, a disabled acrobat who walks with a limp because of a triple somersault that went drastically wrong years ago. Now he’s working as a rigger. Tino Orsini (Tony Curtis) wants to learn the triple and Ribble’s the only guy who can teach him. He doesn’t want to but his ex Rosa (Katy Jurado) persuades him to do it. The men form an act and try to crack the big time but when Italian trampolinist Lola (Gina Lollabrigida) gets between them their plans start to come apart at the seams … Vivid, colourful and atmospheric circus film directed by Carol Reed from a script by Liam O’Brien, adapting a novel called The Killing Frost by Max Catto. The screenplay was credited to James R. Webb but there were uncredited additions by Ben Hecht and Wolf Mankowitz. La Lollo makes her American debut in a starry, well-performed production that shows off Lancaster’s acrobatic skills, well documented by Robert Krasker’s photography (he was responsible for all those tilted angles for Reed in The Third Man.) Curtis is an excellent leading man, full of beauty, brio and bravery. Malcolm Arnold’s score captures the jauntiness and terror of the circus with its captivating sense of danger and daring. The bromance is great fun and La Lollo is an alluring femme fatale, as you’d expect! This was damned by the critics but huge at the box office. Quoi de neuf?!

 

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The Jungle Book (2016)

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I was indisposed to the idea that the classic Disney cartoon would get a revamp. Part of my problem with photo-real animation is that when things get dark they get very lifelike and sinister indeed, as we found with the beyond-creepy Spielberg takes on Tintin and The BFG (where the villainous giant seemed like a big ole murderous paedophile). So when man-cub Mowgli gets separated from his wolf family and taken away to his own people by black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) the shifts in tone from good nature (Baloo the bear, Bill Murray) to bad (Shere Khan the tiger, an almost incomprehensible Idris Elba) are very jarring. The musical interludes while entertaining seem like they’re dropped in from another movie. Overall however, it has to be admitted that it all works out in the end. Good stories are sometimes immune to strange interpretations. And how nice is it to hear Garry Shandling voicing the porcupine?  Written by Justin Marks, directed by Jon Favreau.

Ten Little Indians (1974)

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Everyone knows the story of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Niggers, one of the most perfectly constructed of her mysteries and brought to the screen with the title And Then There Were None, by Rene Clair in 1945. It’s a classic. It was made again in the Sixites, set in an Alpine chalet. I didn’t much like the recent BBC mini-series which gave it a realistic colour scheme and took it very seriously which really isn’t the point, despite the casting (Aidan Turner, amongst others). It’s a rather nicely judged narrative experiment in human behaviour and as such has something of a scientific bent:  so this interpretation, which plays and looks like Antonioni took a hold of it, is a graphic and visual delight, all angles and space. It’s set in an Iranian hotel, the Shah Abbas, and  has a totally modernist scheme at odds with the historic location, which just enhances the concept. The cast of ten includes Richard Attenborough, Stephane Audran, Charles Aznavour, Adolfo Celi, Gert Frobe, Herbert Lom, Oliver Reed and Elke Sommer with a certain Orson Welles playing a rather cool cameo. Written and produced by Harry Alan Towers, who also made the 1965 version (with an uncredited contribution by Enrique Llovet) and directed by Peter Collinson.

The Planter’s Wife (1952)

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Aka Outpost in Malaya. Colonial pictures can present problems nowadays for the kind of people who wouldn’t dream of exiting their own parish for a pint of milk. But if you know anyone who settled anywhere more than a day’s travel away, you’ll know it’s never easy and it’s often done for reasons that are simply not relevant these days:  duty, opportunity, adventure, a desire for the exotic. Not a gap year, more a life choice. This was originally going to be called White Blood (a reference to liquid rubber) but that title was rejected by the Colonial Office (it was a thing – until 1966) on the basis that it could incite racial problems. It’s not often we see one of these stories set in the Malay peninsula and this is set in the Emergency that started in 1948 between the Commonwealth forces and the terrorist wing of the local Communist Party. Claudette Colbert and Jack Hawkins are under pressure with the local bandits threatening their livelihood – and lives – as rubber planters. Parents to a small boy, Mike (Peter Asher of Peter & Gordon fame), it’s time for him to go back to England to boarding school and Colbert thinks she’ll go with him and leave her husband for good. A local policeman (Anthony Steel) urges her not to bring Hawkins with her or her marriage will really be dead in the water. They give a sympathetic Malay a lift to town and he’s murdered after the Brits arm him;  then the plantation comes under sustained attack, Colbert uses a gun and the tension is non-stop until a lot of people are killed as the family are under siege. A neighbour/rival reluctantly calls for help but it takes a long time to come … A surprisingly violent and engrossing outing with some very exciting scenes, one of the best involving a cobra and Mr Mangles, Mike’s mongoose;  and Colbert using a Bren gun. (A sight I never thought I’d see. She was delighted to get the opportunity, and allegedly became very useful with small arms.) Based on the novel by Sidney Charles George which was adapted by Guy Elmes and Peter Proud and directed by Ken Annakin. It’s well edited by Alfred Roome and the cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth camouflages the fact that it was most of it was made at Pinewood with a second unit shooting in Malaya, Malacca, Singapore and Ceylon. Bill Travers and Don Sharp, who would become a noted writer and director, have uncredited roles as soldiers.

 

Westworld (1973)

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Boy, have we got a vacation for you! Michael Crichton hadn’t wanted to make a science fiction film as his feature directing debut. The successful doctor and writer (now that’s a real multi-hyphenate) had however visited Disneyland and been fascinated by the robotised Pirates of the Caribbean ride and saw the potential for a story.  (Not the one that made Johnny Depp rich as Croesus. Ira Levin similarly had a  lightbulb moment following a visit to the Hall of Presidents and the result was The Stepford Wives.) This corresponded with Crichton’s interest in machine and human interaction, technology, systems failure, and things going awry, so he came up with the concept of a theme park for adults where they could safely live out their fantasies for a few days and a thousand bucks. There are three worlds at Delos:  Roman, Mediaeval and Westworld, which is where Richard Benjamin and James Brolin hole up to de-stress – it’s Benjamin’s first time, Brolin’s second. The plan is to shoot some harmless rounds,enjoy a drink at the saloon and the attentions of some robotised whores. They don’t figure on a a robot rebellion or getting involved in the revenge fantasy of The Gunslinger, an android programmed to instigate gunfights. He’s played by Yul Brynner, equipped with pixellated point of view which was a first for cinema and necessitated an expensive animation process. The rebellion appears to be infectious and spreads through the three worlds and those guns that are supposed to recognise body heat start killing humans as the technicians start to die, locked into the control lab … A lot of the fun is seeing Brynner reprising his garb from The Magnificent Seven and imbuing his droid with that inimitable charisma, this time in villain mode. Not so much fun in real life, by some accounts. When he was playing in The King and I at London’s Palladium, one of his fans waited for him by the stage door at the conclusion of every evening’s performance in the hopes of getting his autograph.  He refused. Finally, she bought a bunch of flowers which he brushed off. So she hit him over the head with them. The Palladium’s manager, John Avery, who died recently, famously said, “It was the only time I saw the fan hit the shit.” A TV series Beyond Westworld was made in 1980 and lasted just five episodes;  we are however about to see a new TV interpretation, co-created by Jonathan Nolan (yes, that one), exec’d by JJ Abrams and starting in October. Can’t wait!

Foul Play (1978)

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Beware the dwarf! I just love Goldie Hawn. And I love pretty much every single thing she’s ever done: now how many actors or actresses can you say that about? Seeing her puts a smile on my face. And this Hitchcockian farce from the pen of Colin Higgins is screamingly funny. She’s quiet divorced librarian Gloria Mundy who picks up Scotty, a hitchhiker with a roll of film concealed in his cigarette packet, and gets embroiled in a plot to assassinate the Pope in San Francisco. There’s an albino killer, a dangerous dwarf, a snake, a sexy cop (Chevy Chase) and a most unseemly setup at the Catholic bishopric. There’s a brilliant sidebar relationship with sex addict Dudley Moore, regular interludes with a fellow librarian who’s convinced every man is after her for sex and all the while Goldie is trying not to get killed for something she knows nothing about. It’s laugh-a-minute hilarity from the get-go with Barry Manilow’s songs to soothe the fevered brow as the antics proceed at breathtaking pace performed with gusto by a wonderful cast. A must-see.

Shadow of the Hawk (1976)

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As a child I had a crush on Jan-Michael Vincent. After all, he was The World’s Greatest Athlete and The Mechanic! (And that was before I saw Big Wednesday … oh golly.) Here he’s a half-Indian computer programmer who experiences a weird underwater event with a strange masked body pulling him under. When he throws a party at his duplex apartment who shows up but Chief Dan George, his medicine man grandfather Old Man Hawk who’s had some strange warnings himself and fetched up in a hospital far from home. Journalist Marilyn Hassett convinces the guy to take grandpa 300 miles back to his village to battle the evil sorceress Dsonoqua, who’s trying to destroy their strong medicine because their ancestors put her to death two hundred years earlier after she killed her family. (Talk about holding a grudge.) Their road trip is filled with bad voodoo including a 1958 Pontiac appearing and disappearing and reappearing and putting them off the road. Bad things just happen, rather randomly, with some flashbacks to totemic owls and the like. And then Little Hawk (as grandpa christens him) has to battle a bear, kinda like Leo did in The Revenant. And it seems to be a real bear, not a metaphorical bear. This never comes together at the screenplay level but it’s diverting and a preparation for that near-masterpiece Wolfen, a few years later, when these kinds of themes would be crystallised more clearly in a civilisation clash.  This looks very nice but really, you can’t blame Old Man Hawk for wanting to go fishing after his grandson has risen to the challenge. It’s not easy to battle a 200lb Alsatian – I should know. I have the scars from just such an encounter. Having to watch it go down must be exhausting.

The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

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This isn’t really a 3D animation about the secret life of our companion animals:  it’s a highly derivative rewrite of several other movies starting with The Incredible Journey and winding up in a NYC back alley slinging it out with Lady and the Tramp and Toy Story and … but hey! as a committed aiurophile I’m with it most of the way.  Much to his irritation, comfortable little terrier Max gets a Big Brother dog called Duke, they escape their apartment and get caught up with feral cats, flushed pets and then eat themselves almost to the dog pound in a sausage factory. Before joining forces to survive animal control. The war between humans and animals is one of attrition, after all. The backdrops are superb, the voicework is fine for the most part (Kevin Hart doing Snowball the bunny is … odd) although even at 91 minutes it feels, like all animation features, a tad long. If only all humans and their animal friends had happy endings.