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

Elizabeth of Ladymead (1948)

Elizabeth of Ladymead

I want to live here and really feel it’s mine. Liz (Anna Neagle) lives in the beautiful Georgian mansion of Ladymead and awaits the arrival home of her husband  (Hugh Williams) who’s been away for five years fighting in WW2. They soon argue about what he must do – she’s put the house on the market with the intention of returning to London so that he can resume his career in politics, as she and her mother (Isabel Jeans) plan. He however just wants to stay at home and tend the garden. During a fight she walks into a wall she thinks is a door and drifts asleep and dreams about other women who lived in the house who have shared her name and plight. Beth, lives in 1854 London, as the Crimean War rages thousands of miles away. When her husband (Nicholas Phipps) returns he expresses disgruntlement at her ideas that she should even have an opinion about anything. The second, Elizabeth, lives in 1903, just after the Boer war. She has made the farm profitable and embarrassed her husband (Bernard Lee) by becoming a suffragette and sympathising with the Boers. The third, Betty, is a girl of 1919, the year after World War I. She has led a life of such independence she no longer requires a husband (Michael Lawrence) since she has been taking lovers since his departure. Each of the four Elizabeths emerges as a woman of independence while the menfolk are off to war and some of the men do not survive the return … Miss Nightingale is very remarkable but as a woman she’s a freak. From the husband and wife team of producer/director Herbert Wilcox and actress Anna Neagle this is an imaginative way to tackle post-war malaise and the changing roles of the sexes or as the titles inform us, The changing role of the girl he left behind. Adapted by co-star (and regular Wilcox collaborator) Nicholas Phipps from a play by Frank Harvey, the transitions from the framing narrative of post-WW2 dissatisfaction are neatly achieved, Neagle has a range of emotions to play in each incarnation and it’s very well managed from era to era, shot in stunning Technicolor. An intriguing picture of society and how women are perceived as they struggle to attain individuation as part of a married couple. We must put it down to the instability of the female

I Was a Male War Bride (1949)

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If the American army says that I CAN be my wife, who am I to dispute them? French Army Captain Henri Rochard (Cary Grant) is assigned to work with American 1st Lieutenant Catherine Gates on a mission to locate a German lens maker Schindler (Martin Miller) in post-war Occupied Germany. Henri and Catherine worked together before and are at daggers drawn. However despite the initial problems between the two, with only Catherine being allowed to drive a motorcycle to Bad Neuheim and Henri forced to sit in a sidecar, it’s not long before their battling turns to romance and they hastily arrange to get married. But a steady stream of bureaucratic red tape ensures the couple cannot be together and with Catherine receiving orders that she’s to be sent home, there is just one option – Henri will have to invoke a War Brides Clause in army regulations and be recognised as Catherine’s bride but to do that he has to disguise himself as a WAC … Oh, no! You mean you and ME? Well, I’d be glad to explain to them. The very idea of any connection is revolting. Shot in the last months of 1948 in post-war Germany, this is resolutely apolitical in the typical manner of producer/director Howard Hawks but it was plagued by problems. Illness meant that the beginning and end of the midpoint sequence – Grant vanishing into a haystack and coming out the other side – were shot several months apart, with Grant 37 pounds lighter from hepatitis when we meet him again. Sheridan was also ill, with pleurisy. Hawks got hives. Even co-writer Charles Lederer got sick and Orson Welles stepped in to write a scene (allegedly). When the production moved to London for the interiors they were subjected to work-to-rule habits of the British unions which prolonged things further. However it’s still fun to watch for its low-key fashion rather than the antic hilarity of Hawks and Grant’s earlier Bringing Up Baby.  Despite its being promoted on the basis of Grant’s cross-dressing, that only takes place in the last 10 minutes and it works because Grant listened to Hawks and didn’t do effeminate, he plays it totally straight, a man dressed in women’s clothes – and it ain’t pretty. This is a whip smart attack on bureaucracy and transatlantic misunderstandings and the whole plot basically revolves around coitus postponus because even when the squabbling couple agree to the three marriages deemed necessary to be legal they still can’t get five minutes together, not even in a haystack (which led to their marriage in the first place). It fits nicely into that crossover between screwball and army farce with the entire construction designed to be an affront to Grant’s dignity and an essay on sexual frustration. That said, it’s slow to set up and a lot of the jokes are sight gags, relying on Grant’s acrobatic background to pull them off, while Sheridan is a great broad in the best sense, fizzing with common sense and sex appeal, the very incarnation of a good sport. Hawks’ very young girlfriend Marion Marshall has a nice role as her colleague who gets to relay verbally what women see in Grant and the whole thing is a very relaxed entertainment, the antithesis of the circumstances in which it was apparently produced. It marked Hawks’ and Grant’s fourth collaboration and Grant always said it was his favourite of his own films while it was the third highest grossing of Hawks’ career. Adapted by Lederer & Leonard Spigelgass and Hagar Wilde from  I Was an Alien Spouse of Female Military Personnel Enroute to the United States Under Public Law 271 of the Congress, a biographical account of Belgian officer Henri Rochard’s [the pseudonym for Roger Charlier] experience entering the US when he married an American nurse during WW2. My name is Rochard. You’ll think I’m a bride but actually I’m a husband. There’ll be a moment or two of confusion but, if we all keep our heads, everything will be fine

Tawny Pipit (1944)

Tawny Pipit

This is meat and drink to me. Fighter pilot Jimmy Bancroft (Bernard Miles) is recuperating from injuries sustained during WW2 in a Cotswolds village. He and his nurse Hazel Broome (Rosamund John) come across two rare birds they find nesting in a wheat field and have to stop two evacuated boys from stealing the eggs. Together with Colonel Barton-Barrington (Bernard Miles) and others in the local community they band together to save the area from roads development that would encroach on the nesting place, stopping army tanks from crossing the field and getting a boost from a visiting Soviet sniper Olga Bokalova (Lucie Mannheim) …  Most people have to start from the bottom and work up. We’ll start from the top and work down! Written and directed by star Miles and Charles Saunders, they created a rare propaganda picture of the bucolic home front during World War Two. Not only that, it dares to paint a portrait of deep eccentricity, silly officialdom and a bizarre scene of a female Russian soldier who inspires a moment of flag-waving solidarity between Britain and the Soviet Union. And in the middle of this romance about birds is an affecting narrative about a pilot getting better from his war wounds by saving those feathered creatures while developing a relationship with his nurse. The link between the thriving pipits and his successful mission is encapsulated in the final images of his aeroplane Anthus campestris swooping over the village’s church tower. Barmy and lovely, with beautiful cinematography by Eric Cross and an uplifting score by Noel Mewton-Wood. These eggs are yours and mine and his and his and his … they belong to England!

Lady Macbeth (2016)

Lady Macbeth poster

Could you do without me? Northern England 1865.  Newly sold into marriage to an older man, rich industrialist Alexander Lester (Paul Hilton), Katherine (Florence Pugh) finds herself confined to the house and starved of companionship. Her husband can’t or won’t have sex with her but makes her strip and masturbates while she faces a wall. Forced to spend her days in endless tedium, dining with his bullying father Boris (Christopher Fairbank), when her husband is called away to one of his collieries she starts to spend more time with maid Anna (Naomi Ackie) and begins a passionate and fiery relationship with a young groom Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) from the estate, beginning a conflict that will end in violence. Following her husband’s demise at her hands and after hiding his body, a surprise arrives on her doorstep in the form of her husband’s illegitimate son Teddy (Anton Palmer) accompanied by his grandmother Agnes (Golda Rosheuvel) throwing Katherine’s plans into disarray .You’ve got fatter. Adapted by Alice Birch from Nikolai Leskov’s novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, this austere treatment of a rural tragedy is as contained as anti-heroine Pugh by corsetry and decency until sensuality spills forth and all hell breaks loose.  This is the distinctive Pugh’s breakout performance following The Falling and TV’s Marcella and her polarising character anchors a narrative which is ostensibly feminist but ultimately offers a critique of female power and how it is achieved and sustained. Perhaps the casting of black actors in the story complicates the issue of power by raising another issue, that of of race, in what is otherwise a melodrama of sex and class. Ultimately what happens when people are undone by desire can be murderous. It is a drama entirely without ornament. Directed by William Oldroyd. She is a disease

Noose for a Lady (1953)

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We’re all of us a little delicate these days. Margaret Hallam (Pamela Alan) is sentenced to death for murdering her manipulative husband and her cousin Simon Gale (Dennis Price) arrives from Uganda determined to prove her innocence with only seven days to clear her name. He works with her stepdaughter Jill (Rona Anderson) to investigate all lines of enquiry including everyone in Margaret’s immediate circle of family, friends and neighbours.  He encounters a situation that could implicate any one of their number because the victim knew each of their past indiscretions and was practising extortion. Meanwhile the clock is ticking and the hangman’s noose awaits but as Simon closes in on the real culprit they start tying up loose ends …  Let’s stop theorizing. A decent B-movie whodunnit, Price sleuthing Poirot-style with the theatrical touch that he gathers all possible suspects at the beginning so that we then follow each plot thread with a little foreknowledge until the twist ending. The revealing of a slew of personal secrets gives a melodramatic spin to things, making it logical that each character has skin in the killing game – except of course more lives are at stake. There’s a shifty housekeeper (Doris Yorke), a man with a sleeping pill habit (Charles Lloyd-Pack), a woman with an illegitimate child (Alison Leggatt), a nasty old gossip (Esma Cannon) and so forth. To heighten tension, the policeman (George Merritt) is given a spot of insight that you’d think would be attributed to Price, whose usual villainous edge is toned down to permit him to play decent and enjoy a spot of romance with Vanessa Lane (Melissa Stribling). The gang is assembled again at the climax, Christie-style and even if you see the outcome telegraphed in advance, it plays very well and there are some good exchanges. Adapted from Gerald Verner’s novel The Whispering Woman by Rex Rienits and stylishly directed by the prolific writer Wolf Rilla in his debut:  this was the first of four features he made in 1953 alone. Shot at Merton Park. So much for Chesterton. This is a miracle that isn’t going to happen

A Christmas Carol (1938)

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Keep Christmas in your own way and let me keep it in mine. On Christmas Eve, Ebenezer Scrooge (Reginald Owen) is visited by the spirit of his former partner, Jacob Marley (Leo G. Carroll). The deceased partner was as mean and miserly as Scrooge is now and he warns him to change his ways or face the consequences in the afterlife… Humbug, I tell you. Humbug! Charles Dickens’ sentimental novella gets a fine adaptation by Hugo Butler and a delicate, sprightly production by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and director Edwin Marin. Everything is beautifully staged and nicely played by a very apposite cast. There is a deal of magic with the ghosts (Lionel Brabham, Ann Rutherford and D’Arcy Corrigan) and some excellent scene-setting and romance between Fred (Barry MacKay) and Bess (Lynne Carver). The atmosphere is well sustained and it’s a very enjoyable rendition that tugs at the heartstrings even if the 1951 British adaptation is a personal favourite. The countdown begins… It’s the only time when human beings open their hearts freely

The Spy in Black (1939)

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Aka U-Boat 29. Who’d be a U-boat captain? A German submarine under the command of Captain Hardt (Conrad Veidt) is sent to Hoy in the Orkney Islands in 1917 in order to determine British fleet movements around Scapa Flow where he is supposedly helped by The School Teacher (Valerie Hobson) assisted by disgraced British Naval Lt. Ashington (Sebastian Shaw).  However they are double agents who actually want Hardt to bring together many U-boats for the attack on the Grand Fleet and then have a destroyer flotilla wipe out the U-boats with depth charges. The arrival of the original schoolteacher’s fiancé (Cyril Raymond) complicates matters …What an idea, putting a motorbike in a submarine. From Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, brought together for the first time by Alexander Korda, armed with a scenario by Roland Pertwee (Jon’s dad) adapted from Joseph Storer Clouston’s novel, and the best German ever, Conrad Veidt (loved him since Terry Wogan used to play his Lighthouse song at the crack of doom), this World War One tale has all the best aspects of that new collaboration – an exciting premise, taut plotting, attractive characters and a great setting, these islands off Scotland. The early kidnapping of schoolteacher Anne Burnett (June Duprez) in a scene reminiscent of The Lady Vanishes, Hobson as a sort of femme fatale, the sight of Veidt with his big eyes and goggles and motorsickle leathers among the sheep, the fog shrouding night time action, witty banter, romantic betrayal, spy and counter-spy, memorable shot after memorable shot – all combine to make this much more than a propaganda film – it was released on the eve of World War Two (in August 1939). It’s a hugely entertaining and well-turned thriller that’s just bursting with atmosphere and irony because who wouldn’t begrudge Veidt? And yet, and yet … You almost persuade me to become a British subject

Black ’47 (2018)

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Soon a Celt will be as rare in Ireland as a Red Indian on the shores of Manhattan. Martin Feeney (James Frecheville) is an Irish Ranger returning to Connemara from the British Empire’s war in Afghanistan to discover his family home destroyed like that of other tenant farmers and everyone dead from starvation, his brother having been hanged for stabbing the bailiff during the family’s eviction. He stays with his brother’s widow Ellie (Sarah Greene) and her children in the property where they’re squatting, making plans for everyone to emigrate to America, until the Anglo-Irish landlord sends in the bailiffs to remove them and Feeney’s nephew is killed.  Feeney is taken away for questioning and burns down the barracks. He returns to find Ellie and her daughter dead from exposure and swears revenge but murderous British Army vet and RIC officer Hannah (Hugo Weaving) is ordered along with Colonel Pope (Freddie Fox) to apprehend him.  Hannah and Feeney served together in Afghanistan and it transpires that Feeney is a deserter but Hannah acknowledges that his former colleague is the best soldier he ever met.  Hannah’s wiles are tested when Feeney goes on the run leaving a trail of grisly destruction behind him and when they encounter Lord Kilmichael (Jim Broadbent) they find they are the ones being chased … The peasants are all the same. No appreciation of beauty.  Described elsewhere as a revenge western, this is a generically apposite form for a story that seeks to describe the psychological wound and schematic genocide caused by the famine enforced by British occupying powers in Ireland 170 years ago as well as delivering a revisionist resistance punch to the oppressors in entertaining fashion. We see the bodies dead from starvation mounting up in corners; food is held under armed guard before being exported to Britain;  we understand that the term ‘taking the soup’ derives from people who really were served broth to convert to Protestantism in a countrywide evangelical drive.  The Famine has featured recently in British TV series Victoria but this is the first time it’s been properly dramatised on the big screen, a strange fate for such a significant disaster that lives as trauma in the folk memory. The title is based on this fact:  in 1847 4,000 ships exported food from Ireland while 400,000 Irish men women and children starved to death during a blight on the potato crop which was their sole food.  The disease affected whole swathes of Europe but Ireland’s position was far worse than that of other countries due to the geographical island location and the British occupation. Taking the action movie approach to this emotive history is smart because it immediately personalises the motivation in an easily digestible narrative that fulfills a kind of empathetic nationalist fantasy about a horrific political crime. While it mostly moves like the clappers in several action sequences, there are almost surreal expressions of violence. There are two rather irksome elements:  the decision to use subtitles that bob about distractingly all over the image; and the failure to engage a major Irish star in the lead. This may seem like cavil but Frecheville’s dour expression isn’t assisted either by a huge ginger beard that wouldn’t look out of place on Santa Claus and camouflages him. And it’s an odd choice in a film that is ultimately speaking an historical truth to power when your protagonist is Australian, no matter how good Frecheville is in the Clint Eastwood role, the ranger turncoat; but Stephen Rea does his usual thing as tracker/guide Conneely, while rising stars Barry Keoghan and Moe Dunford get extremely good supporting parts; and Broadbent is brutally effective as the vicious absentee landlord inspired by an ancestor of the notorious Lord Lucan. Weaving is typically good and the ending at a crossroads is apt for a story rooted in a nation permanently playing both ends against the middle with tragic outcomes. It’s not perfect but it’s gripping and who ever knew there were so many shades of grey before Declan Quinn photographed those Galway skies?! Some compositions could be out of a Paul Henry painting. Adapted by P.J. Dillon and Pierce Ryan from their short film An Ranger with further writing from director Lance Daly and Eugene O’Brien. Everyone’s starving and they’re putting food on boats

Jamaica Inn (1939)

jamaica inn film

Bah, stop crying! Stop it, you little fool! Be beautiful! Oh, ply those tears if you like, but you must be beautiful. Well, you have to be hard now. The Age of Chivalry is gone! England in 1819, the reign of George IV.  After the death of her mother, young orphan Mary Yellen (Maureen O’Hara) travels from Ireland to the Cornish coast to live with her Aunt Patience (Marie Ney). Stranded on a windswept, isolated road, Mary meets the bumptious Humphrey Pengallan (Charles Laughton), who escorts her to Jamaica Inn. There, Mary meets her aunt and bullying uncle, Merlyn Joss (Leslie Banks) – who secretly leads a band of pirates that pilfers the goods from wrecked ships. Suspicious, Mary turns to Pengallan for help, only to discover another dark secret… Why not a toast to beauty, Sir Humphrey?  Written by Alma Reville, Sidney Gilliat, Joan Harrison and J.B. Priestley, this adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s novel about wreckers still has some of that book’s atmospherics despite too much staginess and the overt theatricality of Laughton’s performance. O’Hara is luminous in her first major role and along with the gripping opening wrecking scene, it’s her scenes with Jem Trehearne (Robert Newton) that give this its tinge of excitement.  It’s disappointing in many production respects and Du Maurier reportedly wasn’t happy with the result.  It’s not really a Hitchcock picture – even he realised that, since it was produced by Laughton’s company – but it still has some touches of gallows humour and bright moments of dark humanity. That’s women for you – save your life one minute, frightened of you the next. I guess I’m not a very pretty sight at the moment, but I don’t bite, you know