The Secret Place (1957)

What you haven’t got you can’t lose. In East London 14-year old Freddie Haywood (Michael Brooke) has a crush on kiosk attendant Molly Wilson (Belinda Lee) who is engaged to Gerry Carter (Ronald Lewis). Gerry is a member of a criminal gang working from a car dealership where Molly’s brother Mike (David McCallum) also works. Gerry, Mike and their friend, Steve (Michael Gwynn) are planning a diamond robbery and need a policeman’s uniform. Molly asks Freddie to borrow the uniform of his policeman father (Geoffrey Keen) without telling him why. After the robbery of a jewellers in Hatton Garden, Gerry hides the diamonds inside Molly’s record player. Not knowing this, Molly gives the player to Freddie as a thank you gift. Freddie discovers the diamonds and the gang go after him to retrieve them… You men. Always taken in by a pretty face. Film editor Clive Donner made his directing debut with this startling film noir. It’s an incredible portrait of a good-natured teen’s misplaced admiration (or love) for the local beauty who’s in with a bad ‘un and dreams of escape, symbolised by the posh apartment he’s chosen for them to live in when they cash in. The potent setting of post-war London in ruins plants the conclusion in an early wide shot with scaffolding in the background – it forms the setting for the fantastic penultimate scenes, beautifully set up by cinematographer Ernest Steward. Tragic beauty Lee is terrific and Lewis is typically impressive as the gangster – how awful that he died by suicide at the age of just 53. But it’s Brooke as the youngster you’ll really remember:  this was in fact his last screen appearance, he later trained in law and was called to the Bar, renowned for obtaining compensation from the NHS for haemophiliacs who received blood transfusions contaminated with HIV. He died in 2014. Written by Linette Perry – her sole screenplay – this is a true British cult classic. You never know what goes on in a child’s heart really

 

The Last Picture Show (1971)

Everything is flat and empty here. There’s nothing to do. In 1951 Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges) are high-school seniors and friends inAnarene, North Texas. Duane is dating Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd), who Sonny considers the prettiest girl in town. Sonny breaks up with his girlfriend Charlene Duggs. Over the Christmas holiday Sonny begins an affair with lonely Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman) the depressed wife of high-school “Coach” Popper (Bill Thurman) who is secretly gay. At the Christmas dance Jacy is invited by Lester Marlow (Randy Quaid) to a naked indoor pool party at the home of Bobby Sheen (Gary Brockette) a wealthy young man who seems a better romantic prospect than Duane. Bobby tells Jacy that he isn’t interested in virgins and to come back after she’s had sex. Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson) bans the boys from his cafe, pool hall and cinema when they mistreat their retarded friend Billy (Sam Bottoms) taking him to a prostitute who beats him for making a mess. Sam dies while the boys are on a road trip to Mexico and leaves his property to different people, including Sonny. Jacy invites Duane for sex in a motel and eventually breaks up with him by phone, eventually losing her viriginity on a pool table to her mother’s lover Abilene (Clu Gulager). Sonny fights with Duane over Jacy  and Duane leaves town to work on the rigs out of town. Jacy sets her sight on Sonny and they elope to her parents’ fury. The war in Korea provides an escape route for Duane but there’s one last picture show on before the cinema closes down forever … Nothing’s ever the way it’s supposed to be at all. They say the third time’s the charm and so it was for neophyte director Peter Bogdanovich in this adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s novel about kids growing up in small town North Texas which he co-wrote with the author as well as wife Polly Platt, who was the production designer and collaborator with Bogdanovich on all his films. (Then he fell in love with his young leading lady Shepherd, but that’s another story). The film was shot in black and white following advice from Orson Welles, Bogdanovich’s house guest at the time (and the best book on Welles derives from this era of their wide-ranging conversations, This Is Orson Welles, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum).  The cinematography rendered by Robert Surtees is simply exquisite, the attention to detail extraordinary but this is no nostalgic trip down memory lane. The universally pitch-perfect performances exist in this very specific texture as a kind of miracle, duly rewarding Johnson and Leachman at the Academy Awards. But Ellen Burstyn as Jacy’s mom Lois has some of the best lines and delivers them with power. She and Shepherd have one amazing scene together. This is a coming of age movie but it’s also about ageing and loneliness and deception and disappointment and it’s the acknowledging of the sliding scale of desperation where the emotions hit gold. And there are juxtapositions which still manage to shock – like when Sonny looks out the window to see one horse mount another while a great romantic poem is being read in class. The realisation that Sam’s great love was Lois and vice versa. The callous way sexual manipulation is used as a casual transaction for the bored. There were controversies over scenes of sex and nudity which didn’t make it into the initial release but those parts were restored in 1992 by Bogdanovich so that the full potential of the story could be contextualised. A poignant Fordian masterpiece now firmly imprinted as an American classic.  You couldn’t believe how this country’s changed

The Russia House (1990)

You live in a free society; you have no choice. Publisher Bartholomew ‘Barley’ Scott Blair (Sean Connery) is caught in a conspiracy when he receives manuscripts from a Russian scientist, Dante (Klaus Maria Brandauer) claiming that the Russian nuclear programme is a sham. Ned (James Fox) from British intelligence and Russell (Roy Scheider) and Brady (John Mahoney) of the CIA have the book intercepted en route to Blair at his Lisbon home because they consider it to contain crucial information.  They recruit him to investigate its editor, Katya Orlova (Michelle Pfeiffer) a divorced mother of two. As Blair goes to Moscow and learns the origin of the manuscript and discovers Russian military secrets, he falls in love with Katya and fights to protect her family even as he realises that Katya may have another admirer. The two intelligence agencies have a shopping list of questions to check that Dante is for real but Ned begins to wonder where Barley’s loyalties really lie … How the fuck do you peddle an arms race when the only asshole you’ve got to race against is yourself? Adapted from John le Carre’s novel by Tom Stoppard, this elegant look at Russian-British relations at the tail end of the Glasnost Eighties may have been overtaken by real events but it’s nonetheless a wittily constructed espionage story with one of Connery’s best performances as the sax playing book publisher whose heart is stolen by Pfeiffer, an atypically stunning editor with Pfeiffer turning in a really nuanced performance as the semi-tragic Russian. Only the second major American film to be shot in the Soviet Union, it’s picturesque indeed, using so many beautiful settings in Leningrad and Moscow and enhanced by the fantastic cast among whom film director Ken Russell makes a splash as Walter, the Brit spy, in his inimitable fashion; while the tension between the British and American agencies supplies much of the suspense. A superior entertainment directed by Fred Schepisi. If there is to be a hope we must all betray our country, we have to save each other because all victims are equal and none is more equal than others. It’s everyone’s duty to start the avalanche

Baby Driver (2017)

Baby Driver poster.jpg

Ansel Elgort is the super speedy getaway driver with tinnitus and a soundtrack to beat the band as he works his way through a debt to heist mastermind Kevin Spacey and there’s the One Last Job that must be carried out. How much you like this depends on your identification with the leading man (it took me a while since I don’t like the actor);  your tolerance for minimal characterisation but some snappy one-liners (even if you can’t comprehend the poor delivery of one Jamie Foxx); the use of a sub-Freudian scenario (aspiring singer Mom was killed in a car crash and love interest Debora sings B-a-b-y when he first sees her in a diner);  and your capacity to take a story that more or less falls apart in a big-budget Kenneth Anger dream blowout (weelllllll……!!!) at the conclusion. Jon Hamm is the psycho banker turned Satanic cokehead robber but that’s as much development as you’ll find here in this fabulously OTT car chase of a movie from Edgar Wright who’s finally almost living up to expectations and even aspires to doing a Jacques Demy in those street scenes in this musical wannabe. Makes me want to see The Driver all over again and you can’t say fairer than that.

  1. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – ‘Bellbottoms’
  2. Bob & Earl – ‘Harlem Shuffle’
  3. Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – ‘Egyptian Reggae’
  4. Googie Rene – ‘Smokey Joe’s La La’
  5. The Beach Boys – ‘Let’s Go Away For Awhile’
  6. Carla Thomas – ‘B-A-B-Y’
  7. Kashmere Stage Band – ‘Kashmere’
  8. Dave Brubeck – ‘Unsquare Dance’
  9. The Damned – ‘Neat Neat Neat’
  10. The Commodores – ‘Easy (Single Version)’
  11. T. Rex – ‘Debora’
  12. Beck – ‘Debra’
  13. Incredible Bongo Band – ‘Bongolia’
  14. The Detroit Emeralds – ‘Baby Let Me Take You (in My Arms)’
  15. Alexis Korner – ‘Early In The Morning’
  16. David McCallum – ‘The Edge’
  17. Martha and the Vandellas – ‘Nowhere To Run’
  18. The Button Down Brass – ‘Tequila’
  19. Sam & Dave – ‘When Something Is Wrong With My Baby’
  20. Brenda Holloway – ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’
  21. Blur – ‘Intermission’
  22. Focus – ‘Hocus Pocus (Original Single Version)’
  23. Golden Earring – ‘Radar Love (1973 Single Edit)’
  24. Barry White – ‘Never, Never Gone Give Ya Up’
  25. Young MC – ‘Know How’
  26. Queen – ‘Brighton Rock’
  27. Sky Ferreira – ‘Easy’
  28. Simon & Garfunkel – ‘Baby Driver’
  29. Kid Koala – ‘Was He Slow (Credit Roll Version)’
  30. Danger Mouse (featuring Run The Jewels and Big Boi) – ‘Chase Me’

Westworld (1973)

Westworld poster.jpg

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!