King Rat (1965)


Why are you so different? American Corporal King (George Segal) is a fast-talking wheeler-dealer stuck in Changi, a squalid Japanese prisoner of war camp near Singapore, a place so awful there is no need for walls because there is no means of escape and nowhere to go. Mired with some very proper British officers including Flight Lieutenant RAF officer Peter Marlowe (James Fox) whom he employs as a translator, as well as some Australian inmates, he  barters for everything. That includes medicine to save Marlowe’s arm from but it’s not clear why he has done so.  He has a different kind of relationship with the more obviously lower class First Lieutenant Grey (Tom Courtenay) who has contempt for him but no evidence and has his own dilemma when he realises Colonel Jones (Gerald Sim) has been stealing food supplies. He reports the matter to Colonel Smedley-Taylor (John Mills) who advises him to forget about it and assumes his silence is consent to promotion. Meanwhile King is breeding rats and persuading the guards it’s mouse-deer meat. Everyone is in a quandary when a diamond comes into the camp and the issue of who is on the side of the prisoners, the guards or the officers, decides the issue at least temporarily and then King’s own position is called into question … When do I have to kiss thee in the arse? James Clavell was a POW in Malaysia and his 1963 novel was based on his own experiences but for the cinemagoer it would have seemed as if Stalag 17 had been fused The Bridge on the River Kwai with Segal in the Holden role of the cunning spiv who really has a heart of gold (sort of) and Guinness’ treacherous misanthrope undertaken by a combination of British officers too blinkered by class and self-involved to even know when they’re eating a poor soldier’s dog. The various sub-plots, character rivalries and efforts at one-upmanship make this a broader, tougher work delving into the thorny depths of psychology and it’s wonderfully captured by Burnett Guffey’s photography – the very screen seems to be bathed in the sweat of these wretched starving men. The cultural differences are clarified when the war finally ends and Changi is liberated:  the officer asks why all the Brits are in rags and shell shocked while Segal has evidently taken good care of himself. Therein lieth the plot – the individual who rises above his circumstances, rescues people and enables their revenge. Perhaps the Biblical lesson is that no man shall profit in his own land because at the end of the day no good turn goes unpunished. There are nice supporting roles for James Donald, Patrick O’Neal, Denholm Elliott, John Standing, Geoffrey Bayldon and Richard Dawson who turns up at the conclusion. Written and directed by Bryan Forbes whose voice we hear on the radio broadcast while the immersive score is by John Barry.  The war will be over. Then you’ll get yours

Young Guns of Texas (1962)

 

When two men fight it’s a duel. When somebody tries to stop them it becomes a war. After the Civil War cadet Tyler Duane (Gary Conway) is expelled from West Point military academy when his brother, a Union officer, is accused of stealing $30,000 of Army payroll. He sets out on his trail encountering trouble en route. He is befriended by Morgan Coe (James Mitchum) and preacher’s son Jeff Shelby (Jody McCrea). Morgan is in love with local beauty Lily Glendenning (Alana Ladd) but her father Jesse (Robert Lowery) opposes the marriage and wants to get his hands on the stolen money. Jeff’s father Sam (Chill Wills) initially refuses to perform the wedding ceremony but relents when the youngsters plan on going to the Mission to have a priest do it after Morgan has killed the ranch foreman. Glendenning forms a posse believing Lily has been kidnapped. Then the youngsters are attacked by Apaches and find out what happened to Tyler’s brother …  This country needs this money. Then we’ll see changes.  Of interest principally for its cast, the offspring of Hollywood royalty, this is neither good nor bad enough to enter the realm of cult. It’s a fairly standard low budget oater distinguished by the use Cinemascope photography albeit it’s to no evident visual effect. There are some nice moments with Barbara Mansell as Martha Jane Canary (the real name of Calamity Jane) who washes outdoors – Always meant to put a door on this bathroom! Otherwise, no surprises except to marvel at the physical similarities (and not a lot else) between the offspring and their famous and talented fathers. It was Ladd’s final screen appearance. The title song by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter is performed by Kenny Miller.  Written by Henry Cross aka Harry Spalding and directed by Maury Dexter. Either you’re going to be an orphan or a widow?

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

 

Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (2020)

Aka Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. I lost all sense of who I was. It’s open season on Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) when her explosive breakup with the Joker puts a big fat target on her back. Unprotected and on the run, Quinn faces the wrath of narcissistic crime boss Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor)), his right-hand man, Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), and every other vile thug in Gotham. But things soon even out when Harley becomes unexpected allies with three deadly women – Helena Bertinelli aka Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) out to avenge the murder of her entire Mafia family as a child; club singer Dinah Lance aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) who’s forced to become Mask’s driver; and hot-tempered suspended cop Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) who’s keen to make her mark in a hostile male environment. And then there’s the tricky street thief Cassandra Cane (Ella Jay Basco) who’s swallowed that diamond with the mob’s bank account details in its mutiple surfaces and that’s what everybody wants most of all Nothing gets a guy’s attention like violence. The sole bright spark in the otherwise execrable Suicide Squad was Robbie’s Quinn so you can see how she might have wanted to bring this powerhouse character back in a more equitable narrative. The driving force is to get the attention of the man who broke up with her, Joker, but as we know from other films, he’s kinda tied up elsewhere  and is quickly forgotten here. The idea of the girl gang that comes to fruition in the final 25 minutes is the MO but intriguingly it’s Harley who needs to be told to ‘focus’ – the other characters are more precisely delineated: the frustrated cop whose throwaway lines are from an 80s cop show, the ingenious pickpocket who unwittingly causes everything, the action babe singer, the highly creative crossbow killer with a serious revenge motive (whose name The Huntress everyone forgets, a nice running joke) which ironically leads to the whole premise being diffused, albeit for a higher feminist purpose. Each of them (bar Harley, who has a penchant for glitter) has a particular fighting style (and the stunts are real something.) McGregor’s psycho villain is thinly drawn and characterised. The fact that the penultimate sequence/showdown takes place in a fun house just exacerbates the cartoonish impact of DC’s all-women superhero squad. Yet it fizzes with antic, frantic, anarchic energy and a sense of its own ridiculousness expressed in many ways but most obviously in the title cards introducing all the characters and the batshit baby doll voiceover. Not to mention that rollerskating Harley’s pet hyena is called Bruce.  And yet it’s a story about female empowerment, diversity and righteous vengeance and is all done with effortless humour because Harley ultimately realises their talents are best deployed against their common enemies – scummy men. Robbie is charm itself and channels her inner Marilyn/Madonna with her performance of Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend. Written by Christina (Bumblebee) Hodson, produced by Robbie and directed by Cathy Yan. It almost makes you yearn for Tank Girl and Barb Wire, a pair of female action movies from the 90s that just missed their target. Almost. What a breakup movie – it even has a hair-pulling scene. Well what else would you expect from the fractured psyche of a PhD in Psychology? Girl Power kicks ass! You know, vengeance rarely brings the catharsis we hope for

The Appaloosa (1966)

This horse ain’t for sale. Mexican-American buffalo hunter Matt Fletcher (Marlon Brando) returns home only to have his beloved horse stolen by a powerful bandit, Chuy Medena (John Saxon), ending his dream of owning a stud farm. Matt begins to hunt down the bandit to recapture the horse but finds matters more complicated than expected when he meets Chuy’s girlfriend Trini (Anjanette Comer) in the border town of Ojo Prieto. Trini was sold by her impoverished father to Chuy at the age of 15 but has been brutalised and discarded. Fletcher is subjected to torture and humiliation by Chuy and his gang. A foray into Medina’s camp results in a brutal arm wresting match in a bar between Fletcher and the bandido. Fletcher loses and is stung on the arm by a scorpion.  Fletcher is rescued by Trini, who despises Chuy. They get help from a kindly old peasant, which later costs the old man his life. Fletcher is then forced to choose between Trini and his beloved Appaloosa … Chuy’s not just one man – Chuy’s an army. Adapted from Robert McLeod’s novel by James Bridges and Roland Kibbee, this stately drama directed by Sidney Furie and lensed by Russell Metty retreads Brando’s slightly eccentric One-Eyed Jacks characterisation and blocks out the action with obvious obstacles forcing a psychological perspective in every scene. Pauline Kael may have christened it ‘a dog of a movie about a horse’ but it has other interesting qualities, not least in the performances, with Saxon a standout as the sadistic bandit and Comer (who would be in the later, fabulously perverse The Baby) offering wonderfully precise contrast to Brando’s masochistic rebel with a cause. And what about Mexico’s finest,  Emilio Fernandez as Lazaro and Alex Montoya as Squint Eye!  They sure had faces then. I don’t want no more trouble. I just want a peaceful life

 

The Souvenir (2019)

You are lost and you will always be lost. London, 1980. Shy Knightsbridge-dwelling film student Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) gets involved with a mysterious older man Anthony (Tom Burke) who claims to work for the Foreign Office. While she starts working on a project and he disappears from time to time, she doesn’t suspect what is revealed at a dinner party by a guest – that he’s a junkie. When he steals all her belongings to score she appears to be reeled in to a deeper relationship with him. She doesn’t socialise as much with her old friends but they visit each other’s parents. Then following a trip to Venice when he realises she is aware of his habit she starts bringing him to housing estates to buy drugs and finally sees what is going on in his life until finally she sees him out of control … Don’t be worthy, be arrogant. It’s much more sexy.  Writer/director Joanna Hogg’s quasi-autobiographical tale turns on the passivity rather typical of her characters, upper middle class types stuck in situations they can’t quite recognise and then have trouble leaving.  Here it’s a story of her own youth when she fell in with a much older man who concealed his serious heroin problem from her and given the prevalence of that drug among the arty set in the era (read Will Self on the subject) her naivete is somewhat hard to credit. Realism is introduced by a very welcome soundtrack of songs by bands like The Pretenders and The Fall with those awkward dinner conversations punctuated by political talk – the IRA, the Middle Easterners holed up at the Libyan Embassy:  we even get to re-live the bomb that ended that particular siege.  There are urgent exchanges about movies. Then there are the barely comprehensible phone calls. The letters we can’t read.  It is amusing to see Swinton Sr. turning up in twinset and pearls – definitely not how she spent the Eighties, after all, with her forays in Derek Jarmanland. But it takes 83 minutes for Julie to do something active to end the relationship and it’s only when she sees Anthony’s drug paraphernalia at the flat and then he appears, strung out.  That’s a long time after he robbed all her possessions for a fix. She may be rather innocent in that sense but she has big ambitions and continues with her film: her obvious class status arises only when her Head of Production comments rhetorically, I don’t suppose you really have to think about budget in Knightsbridge, do you. Richard Ayoade gets a great scene when he obnoxiously ponders how a heroin addict and a Rotarian got together and Julie is utterly baffled:  she doesn’t know what track marks are.  The photo of Anthony in full beard in Afghanistan circa 1973 didn’t arouse any suspicions. For such a sophisticate you have to wonder, don’t you. The formation of an artist is tough to put together in the frustrating first hour but somehow in the second, it works, when you finally get intimations of an emotional undertow about to burst in a film that is chiefly of memory rather than strict narrative or depth psychology. I do what I do so you can have the life you’re having

The Sleeping Tiger (1954)

The Sleeping Tiger

He’s wrong. People are born the way they are. When brash young thug Frank Clemmons (Dirk Bogarde) attempts to rob psychiatrist Clive Esmond (Alexander Knox), the doctor surprisingly gains the upper hand. Instead of sending Frank to prison, Clive offers to have the criminal stay at his home, where he’ll attempt to reform the delinquent via in-depth analysis.  Esmond’s assistant Carol (Maxine Audley) is very wary of the guy. Settling into the doctor’s house, Clive meets Esmond’s wife, Glenda (Alexis Smith), who arrives back early from a holiday and initially dislikes her coarse guest who warns the housemaid Sally (Patricia McCarron) not to leave, instilling fear in the young woman. When Glenda begins to fall for Frank, intense conflict ensues and he returns to his old ways before introducing her to a different kind of life but the police Inspector (Hugh Griffith) returns to the property every time Clemmons is identified at the scene of a crime and Esmond proves too willing to provide an alibi…  He’s got courage. Under that bravado of his there’s something rather appealing. This erotically charged tale of crime, psychoanalysis and adulterous sex is the British debut of blacklisted director Joseph Losey who was forced to ‘borrow’ the name of Victor Hanbury for exhibition purposes. It’s twisted into a coil of jeopardy and perversion as Bogarde seems to bring out the worst in others – to his own chagrin as he realises halfway through when Smith’s psychopathology becomes clear during a chase with the police. There’s a look in his eyes, cast toward the passenger window, that expresses everything: what kind of married couple did he disturb?!  I wish I were a man, declares Smith through gritted teeth. Her past is another country too. The title isn’t just her lover’s own sorry backstory as a boy abandoned to a wicked stepmother, it also refers to what’s going on in Smith’s head as she responds to the interloper in their midst who seems to be gaming her husband – but the revelations of each character’s weakness is set against a crime thriller drama, with a Gothic staircase providing the scene for many confrontations and Bogarde’s bedroom and the horse riding enjoyed by the troubled pair giving this an electric and lurid charge. His and Smith’s feline barbs can only end in one way. The final images are superbly literal in a story where the doctor might actually know what he’s talking about. That’s young Billie Whitelaw in the office Bogarde holds up. Adapted from Maurice Moiseiwitsch’s novel by ‘Derek Frye’ a pseudonym that was created as cover for blacklisted screenwriters Harold Buchman and Carl Foreman. Made at Nettlefold Studios. Maybe you shouldn’t tamper with people

Advance to the Rear (1964)

Advance to the Rear

My wife wouldn’t believe half the things that go on around here. In 1862, during the American Civil War, a company of Union infantrymen, commanded by Colonel Claude Brackenbury (Melvyn Douglas) who has a comfortable arrangement with his opposite number to exchange a round of gunfire for an agreed amount of time each morning to avoid any real conflict. However the status quo is disrupted when his junior Captain Jared Heath (Glenn Ford) captures some of the enemy. When he receives an order to attack the Confederate positions. his horse stampedes toward the rear of the front by accident. The confused soldiers, deployed in assault formation, follow their colonel in a rush. The consequent Board of Inquiry sees this as plain cowardice in the face of the enemy and Colonel Brackenbury is demoted to the rank of Captain while his executive officer,, is demoted to Lieutenant. As further punishment, together with a few of their NCOs they are deployed west to Fort Hooker where they are to take charge of a company of misfits and rejects. The new company is designated as Company Q (army slang for ‘sick list’). On the way, the demoted officers travel on a river-boat. Among the passengers there are several prostitutes, led by Madam Easy Jenny (Joan Blondell) being run out of town by the decent townsfolk. But it’s saucy Martha Lou Williams who tickles Heath’s fancy, particularly when he figures she’s got a scam going. It turns out she’s a spy for the other side but he decides to do nothing except keep her out of trouble because he wants to marry her. Then things come to a head when they arrive at their destination and the unit is required to escort a gold shipment and are captured by Thin Elk (Michael Pate) an Indian chief West Point graduate who’s in league with Hugo Zattig (James Griffith) of the Confederates …  I ain’t never seen no troops that looked quite so defeated. A period variation on the service comedies so popular in the post-war era, this Civil War gang could serve as a model for The Dirty Dozen, minus the violence or cynicism. Ford had starred in a series of military comedies since The Teahouse of the August Moon but this is the first one to be set in the Civil War. It’s mild material but Douglas scores as the unruffled General who believes in not fighting like a West Point gentleman when tea can be enjoyed instead. Jack Schaefer’s non-comedic 1957 novel Company of Cowards was adapted from a Saturday Evening Post story by William Chamberlain and the screenplay is by Samuel A. Peeples and William Bowers with uncredited work by Robert Carson. It’s a rather thin piece of work, lacking focus on the main event and coasting on Ford’s easy personality and Stevens’ charm with some nice scenes featuring Alan Hale and Whit Bissell while Blondell is fun as the blowsy madam. There are some interesting sound effects and songs by the New Christy Minstrels. Directed by George Marshall. When are we going to stop doing all this?

 

Hell Bent for Leather (1960)

Hell Bent For Leather

I used to love this country but now it seems so ugly.  Horse dealer Clay Santell (Audie Murphy) has his horse stolen where he’s camping in the hills and the culprit drops his ornate rifle when Clay shoots at him. Clay stops in the town of Sutterville. He is mistakenly identified by townspeople for a murderer named Travers (Jan Merlin) because of the gun he’s carrying, and is handed over to Marshal Harry Deckett (Stephen McNally) who wants to return him to Colorado for a jury trial. Deckett knows the truth but decides to kill Clay and pass him off as the real Travers to enhance his reputation and collect the reward money. Clay escapes and takes mother of seven Janet Gifford (Felicia Farr) hostage until he can prove his innocence. She knows the hills and after they arrive at the way station where she grew up a wounded man Ambrose (Robert Middleton) and his two brothers, who are his thieving accomplices show up in a rainstorm … How far do you think you can run? Adapted by Christopher Knopf from Ray Morgan’s novel Outlaw Marshal, this is a stunning looking wrong man pursuit western, shot by Clifford Stine in Widescreen and Technicolor in and around Lone Pine, CA. and the first of seven low budget productions Murphy made in collaboration with producer Gordon Kay. The template of three major characters in single locations kept the films profitable and this is tautly constructed, exceptionally well characterised (Farr has a decent backstory) and makes great use of the setting with intense use of shadows paying off in this morality tale. The sonorous score is by Irving Gertz and William Lava. Directed by George Sherman, this is one of Audie’s best. All you had in mind was glorifying yourself

 

The Eiger Sanction (1975)

The Eiger Sanction

Why am I the only one that can perform the sanction? Art professor and collector Dr. Jonathan Hemlock (Clint Eastwood) a retired assassin for C2 a secret Government organisation run by albino Dragon (Thayer David), is blackmailed into returning to his deadly profession and do one more ‘sanction,’ a euphemism for killing. Duped by C2 operative Jemima Brown (Vonetta McGee), he agrees to join an international climbing team in Switzerland planning an ascent north face of the Eiger Mountain in order to complete a second sanction to avenge the murder of old friend, Wormwood aka Henri Baq who fought with him in the Green Berets back in Indochina.  He trains with another friend from his climbing days, Ben Bowman (George Kennedy) who runs a school in the desert where another Indochina ally, flamboyant gay hit man Miles Mellough (Jack Cassidy) turns up and tries to kill Hemlock. Ben is leading the Eiger team and when Hemlock is tracking the killer, he finds himself on a treacherous mountain passage, unable to identify his target … You’re getting religion a little late. A barmy enterprise for Clint Eastwood to star in and direct but not without its consolations – a deal of wit; awesome photography (by Frank Stanley) of the locations in Monument Valley, the southwest and Switzerland; and terrific characterisation – but that all depends on caricature, homophobia and race stereotyping typical of the era.  So it goes in a text that was fatally misunderstood:  the novel on which it was based by the pseudonymous ‘Trevanian’ was a spoof – and in a later book he called it ‘vapid’ in a footnote! Eastwood did his own stunts, training for months and it is actually astonishing to see a star of his magnitude defying death at such extreme heights. One of the experienced mountaineers employed on the team wasn’t so fortunate:  British climber David Knowles died on the second day of filming in what was a very dangerous shoot. It’s good to see Kennedy and Eastwood working together again after Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and the romance with blaxploitation star McGee is certainly progressive but it’s Cassidy as the unbelievably dangerous cissy who steals the show in an unforgettable performance. Adapted by Trevanian (actually film scholar Rodney Whitaker) and mystery novelist Warren Murphy. Wish-fulfilment writ large, this is a lot of stylish fun. Here’s to the selfish killer and patriotic whore