Ivanhoe (1952)

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Wilfred of Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor) is determined to right the wrong of kidnapped Richard the Lionheart’s predicament, confronting his evil brother Prince John (Guy Rolfe) and Norman knight Brian de Bois-Guilbert (George Sanders). His own estranged father Cedric (Finlay Currie) doesn’t know he’s loyal to the king but feisty Rowena (Joan Fontaine) is still his lady love although his affections are now swung by the beautiful Jewess Rebecca (Elizabeth Taylor), daughter to Isaac of York (Felix Aylmer), who is almost robbed by the knights and whose fortune can aid the King. Robin Hood appears and Ivanhoe joins forces with him and his men, there’s jousting at the tournament and love lost and won, and a trial for witchcraft ….  Adapted by AEneas MacKenzie from the Walter Scott novel, this was written by Noel Langley and Marguerite Roberts, whose name was removed subsequent to her being blacklisted. It’s glorious picture-book pageantry in Technicolor, such a wonderful change from those grim grey superhero and historical excursions to which we are being currently subjected in the multiplex. Everyone performs with great gusto, there’s chivalry and action aplenty, a great baddie, a kangaroo court, a ransom to be paid, a love triangle, a king to rescue, costumes to die for and properly beautiful movie stars performing under the super sharp lens of Freddie Young to a robust score by Miklos Rozsa. It was the first in an unofficial mediaeval MGM trilogy shot in the UK, followed by Knights of the Round Table and The Adventures of Quentin Durward, all starring Taylor (Robert, that is) and shot by Richard Thorpe. Prepare to have your swash buckled. Fabulous.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017)

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Aka Pirates of the Caribbean:  Dead Men Tell No Tales. Thanks to the Australian government’s tax incentives, that Pirates-shaped gap in my life has finally been plugged with a new instalment in the delayed series. I love these films, and all pirate films, and have had to sate myself with the genius Black Sails in the interim (I have one series to go, so no spoilers please! I’m still not over Charles Vane’s execution!). This is number 5 in the franchise and it operates as a kind of unofficial reboot because it has been (gasp) 14 long years since the first film, Curse of the Black Pearl, was released. And it’s aptly returned to this for most of the bones in terms of story, character and structure, even if this has way more shaggy-dogness about it in an untidy set of plot mechanics. Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann vows to find Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) to right the wrong on his father who’s abiding in a watery limbo on the Flying Dutchman. He knows that the Trident of Poseidon will break the curse. Death meanwhile lurks on the high seas in the form of Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his ghostly crew who cannot set foot on dry land – also condemned and cursed by Sparrow’s antics. An astronomer Carina Smith (Kaya Scodelario) is being executed as a witch in St Martin where a bank is being opened – and this is where Captain Jack makes his spectacular reappearance with his unruly and disgruntled crew led by Kevin McNally, with their awful ship in dry dock where they’re all broke. Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is summoned by Henry to help out and he is ironically reunited with a daughter who doesn’t know the provenance of the map she seeks … Colourful, silly, not entirely logical and definitely rehashing plot points from the earlier films particularly the first one, this is handled pretty well by Norwegian directing duo Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg working from a screenplay by Jeff Nathanson, with a story by Nathanson and Terry Rossio.  The young lovers story gets a run-through, the Barbossa plot gets a very fitting conclusion, there’s a fascinating flashback (I want one to give me skin like that in real life) and there are homages here and there to make you smile – the zombie sharks being a reference to the original summer blockbuster granddaddy of them all, the ghost crew a nod to the original’s skeleton crew, Depp taking his Robert Newton/Keith impersonation to new heights of pantomime, a great Paul McCartney cameo and a bank robbery like no other. Some of the lines could have done with a rewrite – especially the jokes which are heavy on the misogyny; and there’s no real mad surrealism which has graced previous episodes (is there anything as wild as the hallucination of the ship on dry land and the multiple Jacks?!). While most of the legendary tropes are present bar a real Brit villain the last action sequence is so darned complex I genuinely forgot what it was about. But it’s full of fun and wild adventure and I for one love this series even if number 4 fell far short of expectations. Thwaites and Scodelario make a pretty useful couple to base the next set of films, kicking some new plotlines into touch. What do you want – live action Space Mountain?! Hoist the mainbrace! Wahey me hearties! More!

The Black Shield of Falworth (1954)

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The Fifties enjoyed a bout of jousting, knights, chivalry, swords and damsels in distress, cruel aristos and injustices righted by decent kings. Tony Curtis is a peasant who discovers he and his sister Barbara Rush are actually the children of a man who was falsely accused of treason and murdered by beastly David Farrar, who aspires to the Crown of Henry IV;  Janet Leigh is the daughter of Herbert Marshall who will ultimately reinstate them as their protector and a friend of their late father. Curtis trains to be a knight and gets revenge by killing Farrar in trial by combat and America’s sweethearts get together in the end after some very funny scenes, with Craig Hill bringing up the rear very handsomely indeed. Lushly photographed by Irving Glassberg with a rousing soundtrack by Hans Salter and well directed by Rudy Mate. Oscar Brodney adapted Howard Pyle’s novel, making several crucial plot changes. A Universal Production.

The Great Race (1965)

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Extremely long and lavish but fun and entertaining comedy version of the 1908 transcontinental land race from New York to Paris – using every means, fair and foul. Jack Lemmon is the moustache-twirling villainous Professor Fate while cleancut white-suited Tony Curtis is the good guy and Natalie Wood is the feminist journalist who joins in but whose car breaks down midway and she hitches a ride … Director Blake Edwards (working from Arthur Ross’s screenplay of Edwards’ original story) pays homage to the slapstick comedies of his youth with pratfalls, barroom brawls and piefights – the film is dedicated to Laurel and Hardy. There’s Jack times 2 in a Ruritanian kingdom so we have a comic take on The Prince and the Pauper with swordfights for good measure. There are some nice performances including Peter Falk as as Fate’s sidekick, Keenan Wynn as Wood’s mechanic and the delightful Dorothy Provine showing up as a showgirl in the western parody sequence. Wood’s recent divorce from Robert Wagner meant he didn’t get the lead as intended and she only agreed to do this in exchange for doing Inside Daisy Clover, the Gavin Lambert adaptation. She looks incredibly pretty and her costumes by Edith Head undoubtedly help. Lambert and Wood became close friends and he wrote a brilliant biography of her. The title cards are a lovely Pop tribute to late nineteenth century French paintings. It was billed as the funniest comedy ever made, it’s not – it’s the most expensive – but it’s good for a laugh.

Happy 100th Birthday Olivia de Havilland!

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“Walking through life with you, ma’am, has been a very gracious thing.” Errol Flynn’s final onscreen lines to Ms de Havilland in They Died With Their Boots On. Two-time Academy Award winner, rebel, survivor, lady and the better half of one of the most glorious screen couples. She is part of our classical Hollywood dream and we are all the better for sharing it. Thank you and Happy Birthday!

The Black Swan (1942)

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Twentieth Century-Fox knew how to make good plotty films and this rip-roaring swashbuckler is at the top of the entertainment heap. Adapted by Ben Hecht and Seton I. Miller (they both wrote Scarface, Miller wrote The Sea Hawk) from Rafael Sabatini’s novel, shot by Leon Shamroy in glorious Technicolor, scored by Alfred Newman and directed by the always reliable Henry King, what more could you want? Oh, there’s Tyrone Power as Jamie Boy, supporter of privateer Henry Morgan (Laird Cregar) who’s just taken the King’s shilling and wants to clean up the Spanish Main and Maureen O’Hara as Lady Margaret, daughter of the Governor he usurps. They’re after Leech (George Sanders, splendid as a brigand in a ginger wig) who’s done a deal with Lady Margaret’s fiance to divest the Prince Consort of a pile of gold and taken off in the titular galleon. Thomas Mitchell provides comic relief and you must sit back and relish the witty banter between the mismatched lovers as Jamie Boy kidnaps the lustrous lady to lure Leech into a trap. Oh my! How wonderful is this!

Sinbad the Sailor (1947)

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RKO’s overlong and occasionally stolid  vision of the Arabian Nights and the stories of Sinbad – as told by the man himself, robustly played by Douglas Fairbanks Jr, emulating his father. He falls for Maureen O’Hara as Shireen as he attempts to get the legendary treasure of Alexander the Great from the Emir (Anthony Quinn). Walter Slezak is amusing as Melik, his ADC and it’s quite a bit of fun. O’Hara was born for Technicolor and is ravishing in her role. With Jane Greer as siren Pirouze.

The Crimson Pirate (1952)

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Galleon? Check. Skull and crossbones? Check. Velvet loons? Check. Someone shouting ‘Avast’? Check. Swashbuckling? Check and check and check!!! This is one of the supreme entertainments of the studio era. Burt Lancaster is the piratical Captain Vallo operating in the Caribbean in the late 18th century. He and his men capture a frigate belonging to the king that’s carrying Baron Gruda to the island of Cobra to crush a rebellion led by El Libre. Gruda suggests they exchange the leader for a reward.  The crew say this isn’t pirate business so Vallo and his mute henchman (Nick Cravat) are sold out. The deal with Libre’s fellow rebel Pablo Murphy (Noel Purcell) falls asunder. Vallo has a gruff approach to romance with Libre’s daughter Consuela (Eva Bartok) – “What we have for each other we just have to get over!” When Professor Prudence (James Hayter) gets working on his scientific experiments to take back the island things get seriously funny. This is elegant, energetic, exuberant entertainment. It is a film for all ages, for the ages. Working from a first screenplay by blacklistee Waldo Salt, Roland Kibbee fashioned an amazing, tongue in cheek action adventure with oodles of quips to spare. Christopher Lee, who has a supporting role with the Brits (boo hiss!) said of the turn of events in his memoir,

The script started life as serious, nay solemn, but Robert Siodmak, the director, with all the sure touch of real tension behind him in The Killers andThe Spiral Staircase, took stock of the material in forty-eight hours and turned it into a comedy. It was like a Boy’s Own Paper adventure, except that Eva Bartok was in it.

— Christopher Lee, Tall, Dark and Gruesome[4]

					

The Flame and the Arrow (1950)

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One of THE great romantic adventure movies – and probably a veiled comment about the Nazi occupation of Italy written as it was by the great Waldo Salt, a blacklistee. Incredible to look at with great swashbuckling scenes from Burt Lancaster as Dardo, the mute  acrobat Nick Cravat and love interest Virginia Mayo, one of those unsung actresses who did such good stuff for several years post-World War 2.  Remember her in White Heat, The Best Years of Our Lives, Wonder Man and Colorado Territory? She has a dazzling silver dress in this as well as a decent role – not her last opposite Lancaster. Watch those  buddies square up to the representatives of evil Mediaeval tyrant Barbarossa! This is a wonderfully colourful affair with good direction by Jacques Tourneur and great stunts by the leading man who really was trying to be the new Douglas Fairbanks. And the little boy who plays Dardo’s son is Gordon Gebert – the same scene-stealer from both The Narrow Margin and Holiday Affair. He grew up to become an architect and professor. Classic.