The Other Love (1947)

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I’m tired of resting, tired of sleeping, tired of lying in the sun. Celebrated concert pianist Karen Duncan (Barbara Stanwyck) becomes seriously ill and is ordered to a Swiss sanitorium for some R&R where resident medical expert Dr Anthony  Stanton (David Niven) is unimpressed with her desire to socialise, particularly when she’s being squired around nightclubs and casinos down in Monte Carlo by suave racing driver Paul Clermont (Richard Conte). When she returns from a night on the town and sees her friend Celestine (Joan Lorring ) being removed on a gurney – dead – she realises she’s in real trouble and this is not a holiday. To complicate everyone’s plans a croupier (Gilbert Roland) has designs on her, leading to a very unpleasant late night encounter on the street… An old-fashioned romantic drama with added Alps, torchlit skiing and roulette. Adapted from a story by Erich Maria Remarque, it’s oddly compelling principally on account of Stanwyck who is always intense, even when she’s a victim of consumption. She rehearsed three hours a day for a month to get the piano pieces matched correctly to recordings by Ania Dorfman and did her own stunts on location. Directed by Andre De Toth, who shot the mountain scenes at Mount Wilson, near LA. Not Switzerland. Made for independent company Enterprise with a screenplay by Ladislas Fodor and Harry Brown, this is a bittersweet tale that might have needed a more finessed touch.

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The November Man (2014)

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Pierce Brosnan had his eye on Bill Granger’s books for a number of years and acquired the rights to There Are No Spies (the seventh in the series) long before he brought it to the screen under the umbrella of his own production company.  Roger Donaldson is the man he hired to direct this pretty grim actioner set in eastern Europe and Russia about a betrayal in the ranks that brings retired CIA agent Peter Devereux (Brosnan) out in the open to try to rescue his former lover. It ultimately involves the kidnapping of Devereux’s young daughter – whom he had by the woman who is killed off in the first twenty minutes in a violent action sequence that clarifies that nobody is taking prisoners. The fact that his former protege David Mason (Luke Bracey) is now apparently on the opposite side of right causes all sorts of moral quandaries in a story concerning double-crossing and political expediency and rivalries.  It’s all about a former Russian General now in line to become President and the refugee case worker (Olga Kurylenko) who wants to expose him for very personal reasons that go back to the second Chechen war. That and a hatchet-faced Russian hitwoman (like Gisele Bundchen before the rhinoplasty) who has a nasty habit of shooting people in the head. There’s no doubt Brosnan was a fantastic James Bond – he played him as a dark character with some terrifically droll lines – but this is a humourless outing and the post-communist world does not look like a very attractive place. Another film has been announced but it would require a much defter hand than what’s on display here.  It was adapted by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek.

A Farewell to Arms (1932)

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This gloriously romantic if somewhat synoptic adaptation of Hemingway’s partly autobiographical classic is let down only by the occasionally ill-chosen shot of lollipop lady Helen Hayes, whose disproportionately short stature and large head look hugely comical beside the elegant Cooper, the forever Hemingway avatar. He’s the WW1 ambulance driver who falls in love with an English nurse over the objections of jealous CO Adolphe Menjou. When they are reunited and have a proper relationship Menjou deploys her to another hospital and the lovers’ letters are intercepted by him to try and split them up. Cooper eventually deserts his post to find her, now dying after delivering their stillborn son. Filled with brilliant setpieces and moments of true romance by screenwriters Benjamin Glazer and Oliver H.P. Garrett and the master director, Frank Borzage whose compositions (shot by the amazingly talented DoP Charles Lang) are quite breathtaking. A Pre-Code masterpiece with some astonishing intimations of sex. Happy Valentine’s Day!

The Passionate Friends (1949)

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In which David Lean commences his passionate affair with le cinema du tourisme. This adaptation of HG Wells’ novel of adultery (of which he knew a little) is full of fabulous awkwardness between banker hubby Claude Rains and perpetually cross wife Ann Todd, who relives her early affair with pre-WW2 lover research scientist Trevor Howard – who turns up unexpectedly in their destination Alpine hotel one fine day after the war, where she awaits her husband’s arrival. His unfounded suspicions drive the old lovers back together and social homicide awaits them all in London… Adapted by Eric Ambler, Stanley Haynes and Lean himself, who did like a bit of Freud, this is a fine exploration of marital issues, decency and class, with an exceptional score by Richard Addinsell underlining the wracking feelings bedevilling the lovers and the betrayed. Rains is brilliant, undercutting the relegation of this to ‘woman’s picture’ and entering into something closer to finely tuned emotion. His upstaging of Todd after a romantic evening she has covered up by a supposed theatre trip is outstandingly tense;  his speech about German romanticism a chilling reminder of the times in which it was made. Todd isn’t up to communicating anything of real value despite the flashbacks she narrates but Howard reminds us of Brief Encounter and all those things that remain unsaid. The ending is quite shocking in many respects and brings it close to those Russian classics we love and admire but don’t really want to experience.

White Cradle Inn (1947)

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Aka High Fury. This is one of the more unusual post-WW2 films, about a couple whose marriage unravels when mountain innkeeper Madeleine Carroll wants to adopt Roger (Michael McKeag) the orphaned French boy who was billeted with them throughout the war, and adulterous husband Michael Rennie objects. Ian Hunter is the doctor who tries to broker a truce. This being a mountain film, nature has the final say. There are some marvellous scenic sequences and the climbing shots are well achieved despite the obvious budgetary limitations. The poised Carroll was of course best known for her appearance for Hitchcock in The 39 Steps and despite the Swiss setting she is noticeably less blonde here. Her performance is well modulated and Rennie does well in an essentially unsympathetic role. This is fairly slow moving but the dramatic ending is worth it. Written by Basil Mason and Lesley Storm:  Storm would become the better known of the screenwriting duo, with credits for The Heart of the Matter and The Spanish Gardener.  Directed by Harold French. Alpine madness ahoy.

Our Kind of Traitor (2016)

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I was mystified by the title sequence to this film – slomo images of ballet dancer Carlos Acosta. Then a Russian family get murdered in the snowy forests. It wrong-footed me as I suspect it was meant to do. Because this is really a very long howl of protest by the great John Le Carre about the horrendous nature of corruption at the heart of the British establishment and the City of London, that sacred cow of Labourite and Tory alike, whose exponential development has led to the nicest residential areas turned into bulletproofed enclaves for Russian mobsters. Perry (Ewan McGregor) is a lecturer in poetics, in Morocco with his lawyer wife Gail (Naomie Harris) on a holiday we realise is intended to repair their marriage following his relationship with a student. He meets loud and noisy Dima (Stellan Skarsgard) at a party, becomes embroiled with his family and secretly agrees to bring a memory stick to London for the attention of MI6 who send Hector (Damian Lewis) to examine its contents. Dima launders money for the  Russian Mafia. Hector’s aim to get Dima and his family away from the Mafia’s clutches in exchange for information  is quickly disavowed when it becomes apparent he doesn’t yet have enough to get ‘the Prince’, head of the Russians, who wants to go legit with the help of a politician (Jeremy Northam) by laundering money properly through setting up a bank in the City. So Perry and his wife are asked to help a rogue mission for MI6. Danger, Will Robinson … This is a very specific kind of spy thriller and one that quietly sneaks into your brain, rather like a political worm unsettling your conscience, as Dima contaminates Perry’s. Hossein Amini’s adaptation does a fair job structuring what is hardly a classic spy tale but its morality lingers, as does the  realisation that Dima’s ultimate situation has been triggered by the classic act of familial  entrapment, witnessed, funnily enough, by Gail. Susanna White had the pleasure of directing Le Carre as a doorman to the Einstein Museum in a production of which he had an Executive role: those famous images of the scientist sticking his tongue out replay when it hits you what a confidence trick this film has pulled off. It makes you THINK.

Youth (2015)

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With The Great Beauty, it seemed Italy had found in Paolo Sorrentino an heir to Fellini, in a film that consciously re-worked elements of Marcello’s dilemma in La Dolce Vita, from the perspective of an elderly socialite/writer. Here, it seems like he’s revisiting themes from 8 1/2, with old friends composer Fred (Michael Caine) and filmmaker Mike (Harvey Keitel) staying at a Swiss spa and ruminating on the past. Fred is urged by an emissary to appear before the Queen to perform his best known work, Simple Songs, but he continuously refuses – a mystery that forms the heart of the narrative; Mike is writing his new work with a team of young scriptwriters for his new project with long-term collaborator the actress Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda). A famous actor best known for his robot role, Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano) is finding his way into a new part – a character from history whom he inhabits all too well. He’s one of a sequence of the ensemble who offer up a range of ideas about how to live (I particularly loved the interpretation of the most famous footballer in the world…) Sorrentino frames his shots and stories like nobody else. This offers up humour and pathos in surprising ways. It has people talking about modes of living:  feeling, touching, walking, climbing, writing, performing, directing, composing. It’s about the future and the past. It’s moral, intellectual, sensual, sentimental. And sad. What a pleasure.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

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How innocent do JR’s Who’s That Knocking At My Door fantasies appear in the welter of sexual spectacle on display here. Stockbroker Jordan Belfort’s memoir of his outrageous drug and sex-fuelled exploits on Wall Street at his firm Stratton Oakmont are pure outrage:  nothing succeeds like excess. It’s in your face from the first moment in Terence Winter’s adaptation for director Martin Scorsese, his last film to date. Leonardo DiCaprio’s fifth collaboration with the NYC filmmaker is nothing if not exact:  he shepherded the project into production over a prolonged period and his performance is extraordinary – and he’s matched by Jonah Hill as Donnie the totally crazed acolyte who has married his own cousin and publicly masturbates upon first sight of Jordan’s new crush, Margot Robbie, whom he marries after cheating with her on his wife. The scene when Jordan and Donnie ingest out of date super ludes has to be seen to be believed:  DiCaprio’s voiceover explaining his trip straight to cerebral palsy is just … beyond description. Trouble is, FBI agent Kyle Chandler and the Securities Commission are onto Jordan and people start getting careless in their sales methods and there’s so much money they’re running out of hiding places. The viewer is effectively subjected to an onslaught of nudity, sex, drug-addled mania and hilarity in this horrific inversion of Horatio Alger. If your eyes don’t explode your brain will. (Remember all the little people whose money they took…) Nothing less than brilliant.

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.

Madame X (1966)

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Lana Turner is simply magnificent in the sixth movie adaptation of Alexandre Bisson’s classic melodrama, written by Jean Holloway and directed by David Lowell Rich. She is Holly Parker, the unworthy shop girl who marries Clayton Anderson (John Forsythe) an ambitious politico – and moves in with him and his mother, her arch rival with razor sharp cheekbones, the marvellously anorexic Constance Bennett who died before this was released. Hubby is away semi-permanently and she is pursued by bedhopper Ricardo Montalban, who has the deathless line, “Never end on a dangling insult,” one of the finer grammatical points I must have missed in my neo-classical education. Then he promptly dives down a staircase. Mommie Dearest persuades Holly to fake her death and live incognito in Switzerland and she falls for a musician – literally – but refuses to marry him and leads a dissolute life on the international scene. Blackmailed by fellow drunkard Burgess Meredith, she kills hims rather than expose her Governor husband and their son (Keir Dullea) to her life and … he winds up defending his nameless client in court. And he never knows! It’s just a splendid, glossy Universal melodrama from producer Ross Hunter, who knew a thing or too about such things. For fact fans: Lana co-produced; the Playboy Mansion serves as the location of the Anderson ice palace;  Kurt Russell’s pop Bing is Sergeant Riley; and if you recognise the music that’s because it’s Liszt’s Consolation No. 3 in D flat major and you heard it in another great Hunter production, All That Heaven Allows. This is my consolation for a day of lashing rain.