Scarlet Thread (1951)

An East End spiv. A 1950s wide boy with cinema accent. Petty thief Freddie(Laurence Harvey) likes to talk jive in an American accent in London’s Soho where he hangs out trying to impress the ladies. He joins forces with suave gangster Marcon (Sydney Tafler) to commit a jewel heist in the University town of Cambridge with (Harry Fowler) driving their getaway car. But loses his never, fires his gun and the victim, an elderly man gets dragged away in the car. When the men are chased through the streets of Cambridge by students they take refuge in the garden of the Master’s house and are greeted by his daughter Josephine (Kathleen Byron) who takes them for graduates and invites them in. Marcon introduces himself as an old student – Aubrey Bellingham – and passes himself off to a visiting vicar but Josephine’s romantic interest Shaw (Arthur Hill) is suspicious and then her aunt (Renee Kelly ) arrives – the woman the men ran into as they escaped their pursuers. And womanising Freddie then takes a fancy to Josephine, then it transpires the man he shot was her father – and the radio news reports the man has died … This university is packed with young men who talk in inverted commas. Lewis Gilbert’s early noirish film provides a great opportunity to see a callow pulpy youthful Laurence Harvey, learning which side of his face was more photogenic and doing the old cheap romance thing with (bizarrely enough) charismatic Byron, she of Black Narcissus with the crazy lipsticked mouth – and the clue to his real British identity recalls that film. How bizarre it is to see these gangsters come a cropper in the rarefied setting of Cambridge University, chased by students in flapping gowns. There’s some genuinely interesting cinematography by Geoffrey Faithfull – over the shoulder tracking behind Tafler (Gilbert’s brother-in-law) and Harvey after the heist goes wrong; point of view shots in the getaway car piloted by Harry Fowler alongside a policeman on a motorbike making good use of the rear view mirror as he sweats at the wheel. The contrast between these surprising crims and the fish out of water setting is jarring but also pleasing, the early Soho scenes with Dora Bryan and the presentation of Harvey as spiv quite fascinating. Not great but it is has its moments, not least when Harvey’s mask (and fake American accent) slips and Tafler’s act as the ancient graduate is very convincing. Adapted by A.R. Rawlinson and Moie Charles from their play. You dance too well. It makes me think of all the women you’ve danced with

Our Girl Friday (1953)

Aka The Adventures of Sadie. She is entitled to benefits commensurate to her sex. After a collision at sea, a haughty, wealthy young woman, Miss Sadie Patch (Joan Collins) is stranded in a lifeboat with three men: Carroll (George Cole) a journalist, Professor Gibble (Robertson Hare) an expert in civilisation, and Pat Plunkett (Kenneth More) an Irish ship’s stoker. They wash up on a desert island, where they build huts and catch fish and amorous rivalries soon spring up, with Carroll and Gibble making fools of themselves in a bid to win Sophie’s affections while she secretly hankers after Pat, who has a bit of a problem with drink and a devil may care attitude that makes him hard to approach… Where do you go when you can’t stand the sight of yourself? This mild comedy isn’t especially well directed by Noel Langley (who also wrote the screenplay, adapting Norman Lindsay’s 1931 novel The Cautious Amorist) but it’s certainly something to see all these men fall for young Joan Collins who busies herself making a fetching bikini from Kenneth More’s shirt. More probably fares best as the Oirish joker stoker who just waits to be caught. There is great battle of the sexes banter between Collins and Cole but it’s not well staged. A pleasant breeze of exotic colour in British cinema with a nice opportunity to see expert farceur Hare and how amazing to see Hattie Jacques playing Joan’s mother! Filmed in Mallorca, Spain. We must throw off our shackles. We must go back to the simple life. We must return to Mother Nature!

Miranda (1948)

There’s a dreadful shortage of men below sea. With his wife Clare (Googie Withers) uninterested in fishing, Dr. Paul Martin (Griffith Jones) goes on holiday in Cornwall.  There he snags mermaid Miranda Trewella (Glynis Johns) and is pulled into the water. She keeps him prisoner in her underwater cavern and only lets him go after he agrees to show her London. He disguises her as an invalid patient in a wheelchair and takes her to his flat for a month-long stay. Clare reluctantly agrees to the arrangement, but gets him to hire someone to look after their house guest and he selects Nurse Carey (Margaret Rutherford) for the eccentric nature that previously caused him to get rid of her and takes her into his confidence. To Paul’s relief, Carey is delighted to be working for a mermaid as she always believed they exist. Miranda’s seductive nature earns her the admiration of not only Paul, but also his chauffeur Charles (David Tomlinson), as well as Nigel (John McCallum), the artist fiancé of Clare’s friend and upstairs neighbour Isobel (Sonia Holm) arousing the jealousy of the women in their lives. Clare starts to follow her instincts and starts reading up on her suspicions. Nigel breaks off his engagement, but then he and Charles discover that Miranda has been flirting with both of them ….  You’ve hated me ever since I set tail in this house. The delightful Johns has fun as the beguiling mermaid who insinuates herself into the life of a doctor living quite the de luxe life in his well appointed London apartment with his lovely wife Withers. And then she drives every man mad with desire. There are lovely moments when she can’t help herself – snacking on the goldfish straight from the bowl, scarfing cockles at the fish market and depriving a sea lion of his lunch on a trip to the zoo. Witty and surprising, this wastes no time in introducing Johns – two minutes – and once she fishes Paul out of the water and into her cave she wastes no time in telling him she had to throw the last two men back because their legs were too short. She has a disarming way of critiquing men’s physiques to their face. Withers plays opposite offscreen husband McCallum while the redoubtable Rutherford has an amusing scene in a museum with a mummy and off-screen husband Stringer Davis. Witty, charming fluff with Johns as bewitching as ever as the flirty fish out of water and some timely references including the novel Forever Amber – which plants the suggestive conclusion. Adapted from his play by Peter Blackmore with additional dialogue by Denis Waldock, this was produced by Betty Box and directed by Ken Annakin. Tail by Dunlop. There is a sequel, made 6 years later, Mad About Men. If you ask me there’s something very fishy about this case

The Running Man (1963)

You’re not in Croydon any more. Stella Black (Lee Remick) returns from the memorial service for Rex, her late husband, a pilot who died in a gliding accident. He (Laurence Harvey) is in fact alive and well and in hiding at a secluded seaside boarding house having defrauded his insurer Excelsior out of a huge sum of money for his premature death after they failed to pay out for an accident involving his airline business. Stella joins him in Malaga, Spain where he has changed his appearance and is living under the assumed name of Jim Jerome. Things start to go wrong when an insurance investigator Stephen Maddox (Alan Bates) appears to be following Stella as she drives her expensive car and enjoys the high life at a lovely hotel … He shouldn’t have married her. Adapted by John Mortimer from Shelley Smith’s novel The Ballad of the Running Man, this starts out as a sunny neo noir suspenser and turns into something quite different with a nice twist that dictates the outcome. Harvey and Remick are superb as the beautiful blonde married couple whose fate alters irrevocably and their relationship with it; while the issue of mistaken identity regarding Bates is wonderfully played out, subtly inverting the entire premise so that it rebounds with catastrophic consequences. Thanks to Robert Krasker’s cinematography (a very different experience to the kind of exploitation of locations in The Third Man) Spain looks stunning and the sinister nature of the story comes entirely from the construction and playing. Never was misunderstanding so well portrayed: everything here is lost in translation. Watch out for Fernando Rey as a policeman and Noel Purcell and Eddie Byrne have small roles in a production partly shot at Ardmore Studios in Ireland.  Directed by Carol Reed. They’ll have to put up the insurance premiums on anyone who wants to make love to you

The Teckman Mystery (1954)

Why all the mystery about him? Novelist Philip Chance (John Justin) meets a beautiful woman named Helen (Margaret Leighton) on a flight from France to London just when it’s been announced he’s researching a biography on a pilot Martin Teckman (Michael Medwin) who died during the test flight of a new plane. He’s her brother. As Chance uncovers more about the test flight, people connected with the case begin to die: the engineer Garvin (George Coulouris) who used to work with Martin; and when Chance fails to fly to West Berlin for a high-paying magazine job calculated to divert his attentions,  he has a third meeting with the mysterious magazine publisher Reisz (Meier Tzelniker) but the man is dead on Chance’s arrival.  Scotland Yard inspectors (Roland Culver and Duncan Lamont) are on the case, uncovering Martin’s secret marriage to Ruth Wade (Jane Wenham) who might have persuaded him to join a conspiracy. Then the supposedly dead Martin makes contact with Chance … We don’t want anything political – no sir. From a story by Francis (Paul Temple) Durbridge and a screenplay he co-wrote with James Mathews, this is a nifty thriller cogitating on matters of family, loyalty and patriotism in the middle of the Cold War – not that our handsome but dim hero puts any of that together, always one step behind. Leighton is excellent as the potentially duplicitous femme fatale designer and Tzelniker has the juicy kind of role a bigger budget would have had Peter Lorre play. It all concludes at the Tower of London in a production which makes terrific use of its smog-free locations – practically all of which are shot in broad daylight. Justin was himself a test pilot during WW2 and appeared in The Sound Barrier! Directed by Wendy Toye. You’re asking me to kill you

 

 

 

Passport to China (1960)

Aka Visit to Canton. The city lives on whispers – all of spies. Former US pilot Don Benton (Richard Basehart) is running a profitable tour company out of Hong Kong when he is persuaded to perform a dangerous undercover mission following a plane crash in Formosa involving his good friend Jimmy (Burt Kwouk). He travels to Canton to rescue lovely American Lola Sanchez (Lila Gastoni) but following some dealings with casino operator Ivano Kong (Eric Pohlmann) she asks him to transport refugees out of Red China … I’ve never been so scared in my life. Suave Basehart puts his genial persona to good work in this unusual entry from Hammer – because it’s so conventional even as Cold War thrillers go. The screenplay by Gordon Wellesley has some nice quips and action and it’s quite a surprise to see Athene Seyler playing Mao Tai Tai, grandmother to Kwouk, not to mention Bernard Cribbins as a junior wheeler dealer type.  The sophomore outing from director Michael Carreras, such a huge figure at the studio, has some exotic backdrops to enhance a studio-bound production. A wise man never arrives too early – or too late

The Comfort of Strangers (1990)

My father was a very big man. And he wore a black moustache. When he grew older and it grew grey, he coloured it with a pencil. The kind women use. Mascara. English couple Mary (Natasha Richardson) and Colin (Rupert Everett) are taking a return holiday in Venice in an attempt to repair their relationship. They are befriended by suave Robert (Christopher Walken), a British-Italian bar proprietor, unaware that he has been stalking and photographing them. When he brings them to his palazzo apartment and introduces them to his wife Caroline (Helen Mirren) they become enmeshed in a game of psychological and erotic roleplay and wind up experiencing a terrifying drama of decadence in which nothing and nobody is as they appear … I mean that you’d do absolutely anything for the other person, and you’d let them do absolutely anything to you. Anything. Adapted by Harold Pinter from the 1981 Ian McEwan novella, this picturesque exploration of perverse relationships practically wallows in morbidity. Teetering on the verge of horror and luridness at all times, this never tips into typical genre expectations, always erring on the side of suggestiveness, surprise and eerieness. Until a swift end is brought to proceedings. The irony replete in the story is all in the title and in creepy Walken who declares, They want to destroy everything that’s good between men and women. It’s expertly directed by Paul Schrader with densely beautiful cinematography by Dante Spinotti, permitting the full strangeness of the city to express the moistly malevolent mystery, sinister and lustrous, terrifying and thrilling, all at once, inhabited by just the right performers in wondrous sets by Gianni Quaranta. Some people don’t like the ending. As in life, etc. Although if you’ve read Thomas Mann or seen Don’t Look Now you’ll have a justifiably familiar feeling of foreboding. A sensual nightmare of innocents abroad. I knew that fantasy was passing into reality. Have you ever experienced that? It’s like stepping into a mirror

Dr No (1962)

Dr No

You are carrying a double 0 number. It means you are licensed to kill, not get killed. British agent 007 James Bond (Sean Connery) by head of the Secret Service M (Bernard Lee) is sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a fellow British agent, Strangways (Timothy Moxon) to determine if it is related to Strangways’ decision to co-operate on a CIA case involving the disruption of rocket launches from NASA’s base at Cape Canaveral in Florida by radio jamming. When Bond arrives in Jamaica, he is immediately accosted by a man claiming to be a chauffeur sent to collect him who is really an enemy agent sent to kill him. Before Bond can interrogate him, following a struggle, the agent kills himself with a cyanide capsule. After visiting Strangways’ house, Bond confronts Quarrel (John Kitzmiller) a boatman who was collecting mineral samples from Crab Key for Strangways and who reveals that he is aiding the CIA, introducing Bond to agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), who is also investigating Strangways’ disappearance. Local geologist Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson) claims the samples are normal but Bond is not convinced. Dent travels to the underground base of megalomaniac Dr Julius No (Joseph Wiseman) a Chinese-German with prosthetic metal hands who is the operator of a bauxite mine on the Caribbean island of Crab Key (and a reclusive member of SPECTRE) who is plotting to disrupt the US space programme … Cyanide in a cigarette? Fantastic! The first in the series, based on Ian Fleming’s 1958 novel (the sixth in the book series) this really introduced Connery to the world. Shot with a relatively low budget, it’s fast-moving, whip smart and set the tone for a secret agent trend that has never really ceased. Fleming originally came up with the idea for the story as a screenplay for a film called Commander Jamaica with Dr No a riff on the character of Fu Manchu. That film never got made so Fleming adapted it into a novel. The screenplay for this was based on that as well as several other strands of Fleming’s work: Richard Maibaum and Wolf Mankowitz did the original draft which the producers rejected then Maibaum did one while Mankowitz removed his name; Irish writer Johanna Harwood who worked for Harry Saltzman rewrote that draft with thriller writer Berkely Mather. SPECTRE wasn’t mentioned until Thunderball, the 1961 novel that the producers had originally wanted to adapt first before legal issues complicated that plan. This may not have the bells and whistles of later films in the series but it has many of the iconic elements that became part of the identity of this long-running franchise including Ken Adam’s production design, Bond being introduced to the Walther PPK and an undertow of S&M. Connery’s performance is nigh-on perfect, a combination of violence, suave intelligence and droll wit; while shell diver Honey Rider’s (Ursula Andress) arrival like Venus on the beach is for the cultural ages. Directed by Terence Young. I do not like failure

Havana (1990)

Havana theatrical

Now I want a shot. One shot. At a game I could never get in before. Christmas Eve 1958. On the eve of revolution, Navy veteran and professional high-stakes gambler Jack Weil (Robert Redford) arrives in Cuba seeking to win big in poker games. Along the way, he meets and falls in love with Bobby (Lena Olin), the wife of a Communist revolutionary Arturo Duràn (an uncredited Raul Julia) and gradually becomes convinced that the anti-Batista campaign is a cause worth fighting for… Nobody should be here. Redford’s seventh collaboration with director Sydney Pollack is their final work together and is a rather uneven experience once it veers away from its inherent genre identity of romantic melodrama. Perhaps the problem is inherent in the premise linked to previous Redford characters and his meta perception as an enigma:  the lack of commitment to a cause which reeks of Casablanca.  In truth it’s a problem with the screenplay which takes too many stances too quickly. This also suffers somewhat in comparison with treatment of broadly related subject matter in The Godfather Part II with Mark Rydell making an appearance here as Meyer Lansky and that film’s outrageous sex show is in another dimension from the tame act Redford brings American tourists Diane (Betsy Brantley) and Patty (Lise Cutter) to see, the foreplay to their inevitable threesome. In fact the role of ‘Rick Blaine’ is actually split between Redford and Alan Arkin who plays Joe Volpi, Lansky’s front guy. Then Arkin gets to essay a variation on Claude Rains in the penultimate scene with Redford adopting a more straightforward heroic stance, not that that was ever in any doubt because of how the story begins. It starts out with an ill-advised voiceover by Redford and gets right into action which involves his going out on a limb for no perceptible reason to help a total stranger escape the attentions of SIM (Batista’s secret police) onboard the Cuba-bound ship, forcing the meet-cute with Olin. Olin’s character is an out of work Swedish actress who was inspired by Garbo – shouldn’t it have been Bergman?! – while her former husband, a blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter got her exiled to Mexico and then marriage to Duràn, son of a well-connected Cuban family (we’re non-torturable, he explains). There’s talk about American citizenship. A lot of talk about moving to Miami. There’s a great character – a ‘fake fairy food critic’ called Marion Chigwell (Daniel Davis) and he is – what else – a CIA spook. Somewhere here there’s a great movie but it’s badly organised and the sub-plot with the journalist friend Julio Ramos (Tony Plana) seems under-explained. There are great poker scenes with the military chief Menocal (Tomas Milian) who of course is not what he appears. After Olin’s character loses her naturalistic diffidence in the first two-thirds it shifts into a different and more convincing gear. Even if we never believe Redford is in real trouble. Despite this there is an uncannily evocative atmosphere throughout and some great lines. Pollack was an inveterate messer with scripts, perhaps that explains it. There are major compensations in Owen Roizman’s cinematography (of the Dominican Republic, where this was shot) and the dreamy production design by Terence Marsh is something of a miracle. Written by Judith Rascoe (from her original idea) and Pollack’s usual collaborator, David Rayfiel. A fascinating work for students of Hollywood stardom as Redford edged into his mid-fifties. History is overtaking us

Six Days, Seven Nights (1998)

Six Days Seven Nights

It’s an island, babe. If you don’t bring it here you won’t find it here. Robin Monroe (Anne Heche) is a New York City journalist who works for Dazzle, a fashion magazine run by editor Marjorie (Alison Janney). She is invited by her boyfriend Frank Martin (David Schwimmer) to spend a week holidaying with him on the South Sea island paradise of Makatea. The final leg of their journey via Tahiti is in a small dilapidated aeroplane, piloted by disgruntled middle-aged American Quinn Harris (Harrison Ford). They are accompanied by Quinn’s dancer girlfriend and co-pilot Angelica (Jacqueline Obradors). Frank proposes marriage but Robin is immediately needed on a photoshoot on Tahiti and hires Quinn to take her there.  They crash in a storm on a deserted island with no beacon – they are lost. While they fight pirates led by Jager (Temeura Morrison) who they’ve witnessed murdering a yacht owner, Frank and Angelica console each other on Makatea and spend the night together. Robin and Quinn escape into the island’s jungle where they find an old Japanese warplane which Quinn manages to get up and running with Robin’s help. They are falling in love with each other. As they start up the plane on the beach Jager spots them and trains his weapons … I’ve flown with you twice. You’ve crashed half the time. Ivan Reitman knows how to handle stars and this Michael Browning screenplay plays perfectly to the strengths of Ford and Heche (and even Schwimmer, doing a Ross from Friends-type schlub act) keeping just this side of outrageous screwball antics (it helps to introduce some vicious armed pirates). It’s breezy fun, with some shrewd observations about the sexes, the virtues of being with the right person and even addresses the age difference between Robin and Quinn – You deserve someone fresh, he observes. Cute romcom fare with glorious location photography. Great fun. This experience has tested me and revealed no character whatsoever