The Mirror Crack’d (1980)

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Oh joy! An Agatha Christie murder mystery set in the 1950s on location in England with … four of the era’s real-life stars in the leading roles! What a brilliant idea, at least. Elizabeth Taylor re-enacts a story Christie knew about Gene Tierney who was embraced by a fan at the Hollywood Canteen while Tierney was pregnant with her first child by husband Oleg Cassini. The fan had left quarantine where she was languishing with German measles. Tragically, Tierney’s daughter was born blind and deaf and severely retarded as a result of the woman’s selfishness. Christie took the idea and ran with it, bringing movie star Marina Rudd on location to film the story of the sisters Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots with old rival Lola Brewster (Kim Novak) a production being directed by her husband Jason (Rock Hudson) and produced by Lola’s husband Marty (Tony Curtis). This was Taylor and Hudson’s second film together twenty-five years after the epoch-defining Giant. A chance meeting at the launch party brings Marina into contact with the woman who she now realises had infected her at a theatre during WW2 and the woman is murdered then anonymous letters start arriving … Jonathan Hales and Barry Sandler adapted the novel, John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin produced and Guy Hamilton directed, with Angela Lansbury playing Miss Marple in what proved to be an audition for Murder, She Wrote. She is accompanied by her nephew at Scotland Yard Dermot Craddock (Edward Fox):  there’s a top-notch cast list with Pierce Brosnan to be spotted in a small role. And when was the last time you saw Anthony Steel?!  This isn’t the tense mystery that it should be, but it provides vast pleasures for those of us consumed with Hollywood in all its iterations. The cinematography by the great Christopher Challis doesn’t hurt but the final shot of the fabulous Ms Taylor is deeply unflattering and should have been rethought (Natalie Wood had been the first choice for the role).  On the other hand, there are close shots of her eyes that are not in any of her other films – and they are legendary!

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The Naked Truth (1957)

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Aka Your Past Is Showing.The wonderfully smooth Nigel Dennis (Dennis Price) is a London tabloid magazine publisher who makes a fortune blackmailing his subjects to stop horrible stories about them going to press. After a couple of his targets expire – naturally and by suicide, he goes after a new lot of slebs:  TV star and fake Scot, Sonny McGregor (Peter Sellers), Lord Henry Mayley (Terry-Thomas), novelist Flora Ransom (Peggy Mount) and model Melissa Wright (Shirley Eaton). After some very funny schemes taken independently to tackle this noxious man (who drives a very neat car), they team up to try and take him down rather than pay him off. Sellers gives his first truly comic feature performance, with an array of impersonations which would be a preview of later work, including an almost Behan-like trip to a Dublin pub looking for gelignite, as you do. There’s a very amusing sendup of Agatha Christie by Joan Hurley. Written by Michael Pertwee and directed by Mario Zampi, who gets an amusing shoutout by Terry-Thomas prior to the ill-fated conclusion. A product of its time but gives you a clue as to why some of those cleaner-than-thou names appear with alarming regularity at the Daily Mail‘s annual yacht party at Cannes, hmm???

The Holly and the Ivy (1952)

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The new channel Talking Pictures has brought back British films long out of circulation.  This adaptation of the Wynyard Browne play is one I haven’t seen since Channel 4 showed it in the 1980s during what was undoubtedly a horrible Christmas…. It is an interpretation of a troubled postwar family dreading spending the holiday with their vicar father whom they wrongly presume to be very unknowing. The cast is wonderfully anchored by Ralph Richardson as the wise patriarch and there are some lovely renditions of carols including the titular one, my favourite. Proper Christmas viewing.